Infrastructure Australia (IA) report signals changes to the delivery of public transport
A major shake-up of the way route bus services are delivered is likely, following the release of a new long-term plan by Infrastructure Australia (IA) recently.
IA’s 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan recommends the gradual privatisation of state owned bus operators, the likes of which currently exist in Tasmania, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle.
Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) executive director Michael Apps says while it has supported the tendering of previously untendered bus services in the past, international experience shows the repetition of this process each time a contract is due to expire delivers few savings.
In his view, once a contract has been won through a competitive tender process, from then onwards, honest and transparent negotiation with bus operators should be the norm.
“I think the IA plan is focused on government owned and run public transport services to be franchised to the private sector and especially rail, but at this point I am concerned that blanket competitive tendering is being suggested for all public transport,” he says.
“BIC is seeking clarification of this aspect of the plan and will be meeting with Infrastructure Australia in the near future.
“BIC has in the past supported the tendering of previously un-tendered services.
“Just the once though, and then we support negotiation as delivering the best value for money outcome for governments”
The report does recommend road pricing for the future, to replace fuel excise and vehicle registrations as a core funder of roads, but Apps suggests this is likely to be about 10 years off, adding that care must be taken by policy-makers with the treatment of bus in heavy vehicle charging.
“It is very important that in calculating a future per kilometre charge for using the roads, that all of the costs associated with using roads are factored in, It can’t just be about road use and road wear,” Apps says.
“Externalities such as air pollution damage, health and accident costs need to be factored in, but IA seems to have missed this in its plan.”
Many of the recommendations and ideas presented in BIC’s submission to IA appear to have been considered and appear in one form or another in the IA report.
“There is a good focus on value capture, as a future innovative funding mechanism to build infrastructure that BIC has been championing for some time,” Apps says.
“However, land use and transport planning and integration unfortunately does not have the strong focus that the BIC has been calling for.”
In his view, the plan is still too focussed on specific infrastructure projects and not the planning and governance that need to go hand in hand with the identified priority projects in the plan.
“This is required to deliver the compact city outcomes BIC outlined in its 20 minute city research,” Apps says.
“The recommendations in the plan reflect a lot of BIC research and policy and our submission to IA but there is more to be done and this will form the basis of the BIC’s response to IA and the Federal Government.”
The IA report conveys the notion that current state government-owned public transport services should eventually be franchised to the private sector, as a preferred arrangement which may improve efficiency and lead to the delivery of better services to the public.
IA chairman Mark Birrell says Australia can get the infrastructure it needs and improve living standards and productivity, if it acts now to introduce nation-shaping reforms.
“Our plan sets out 78 recommendations for reform and provides a vision and roadmap to address today’s infrastructure gaps, and set us up to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” he says.
The plan recommends reforming the funding and operation of transport infrastructure and, if properly delivered, Australians can expect more affordable, innovative and competitive transport services, Birrell says.
IA’s has also released its Infrastructure Priority List, to outline which projects each state and territory should focus on as a matter of urgency.
Priorities on the list includenew metro rail systems and roads in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, road and rail initiatives in Perth, public transport improvements in Adelaide and Canberra and urban renewal in Hobart.
“The priority list is ultimately a platform for better infrastructure decisions – it provides rigorous, independent advice to governments and the public on the infrastructure investments Australia needs,” Birrell says.
Tourism and Transport Forum Australia (TTF) CEO Margy Osmond says ultimately it is up to the everyday citizens of Australia to decide what infrastructure projects they support and need.
“Speak to any Australian in our major cities or regional centres and they will happily tell you what they think we need to build or improve to make our country more productive and reduce congestion she says.
“We’ve been debating our nation’s infrastructure challenge for many years now and we don’t appear to be growing any closer to a resolution – just a larger and larger list of what we want to build, but what we just cannot afford to deliver in the timeframe we want.”
“If we aren’t prepared to think outside the box and embrace innovation and a new approach to building infrastructure, then we need to be prepared to live in congested cities that are only becoming more expensive.”
The IA plan recommends limiting Federal Government payments to only those state and territory government projects that reinforce national reform objectives, as a means of influencing the way infrastructure projects develop.
The plan was developed following consultation on last year’s Australian Infrastructure Audit report and IA will update the plan at least every five years, and the priority list every year.
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Photography: Nigel Walsh