A packed forum at Sydney's Town Hall on Monday night overwhelmingly endorsed plans for a light rail line down George Street, and rejected the proposed underground bus tunnel through the city.
The forum, organised by the City of Sydney, tackled the two and competing plans for the city sitting before the O'Farrell government: a tram line through the city, against the bus tunnel put forward by Nick Greiner and Infrastructure NSW.
A show of cards at the forum, attended by about 700, showed almost unanimous support for the light rail proposal, while the bus tunnel met with ridicule from industry lobbies and experts.
The vote followed a panel discussion featuring, among others, the Infrastructure Australia board member and professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, Peter Newman and the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore.
Professor Newman, citing international evidence showing rapid growth in rail patronage, said the Infrastructre NSW plan looked like 'the last gasp of the old way of thinking' and that it had been 'put together by a series of lobby groups'.
The O'Farrell government is deliberating over what it should do with the centre of the city. The transport bureaucracy, under Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, is working on a proposal for a pedestrianised George Street featuring trams with two-minute frequencies.
But in its State Infrastructure Strategy, the advisory body Infrastructure NSW rejected the idea of running trams through the city, saying it would cause too much disruption.
It instead proposed the $2 billion underground bus tunnel running off the Harbour Bridge under Wynyard and Town Hall.
The chief executive of hospitality company Merivale, Justin Hemmes, said he spoke for many large businesses on George Street in saying the light rail plan was a 'much better' concept.
'We need to activate George Street, not take people off it,' Mr Hemmes said.
'We've got a beautiful city, I don't want to go underground, I want to stay up top and enjoy it,' he said.
The chief executive of the Australian National Retailers Associaton, Margy Osmond, concurred, saying there was no point in removing 'wallets' from the street level.
Ms Osmond also warned Wynyard and Town Hall stations would have to close while the bus tunnels were built.
The deputy chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, Trent Zimmerman, said the underground bus tunnel plan had come from nowhere, when Infrastructure NSW was meant to assess the best projects for the state.
'This is a clear case where the gate keeper has become the kite flyer,' Mr Zimmerman said.
The chief executive of the Committee for Sydney, Tim Williams, said the bus tunnel was a 'strange counter-intuitive answer to the wrong question.'
Cr Moore said the city was at a crucial moment. 'We don't need separate bureaucracies competing for dominance, ' she said. She said the city risked going backward if the Infrastructure NSW proposal was adopted.
Infrastructure NSW, chaired by former Premier Nick Greiner and under chief executive Paul Broad, was invited to sit on Monday's panel but did not.
The O'Farrell government has said it would respond to the competing plans by the end of the year.