National policy framework a new beginning for transport

By: Jason Whittaker

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has presented to governments a national policy framework it calls a new beginning for transport. The

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has presented to governments a national policy framework it calls a new beginning for transport.

The Federal Government-commissioned report acknowledges the transport system is "at risk of choking under a massive forecast increase in passenger and freight movement", calling for a whole-of-government solution to a number of key areas.

Federal and state transport ministers agreed to implement a new national transport policy at their Australian Transport Council (ATC) meeting last Friday.

Each jurisdiction will chair a working group to tackle key areas including regulation, infrastructure, safety and environmental issues to produce a final plan.

At a speech to a Roads Summit in Sydney yesterday, NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos called the NTC framework a plan for "significant and decisive action to keep this nation moving".

"Australia’s passenger and freight networks are now at a crossroads," he told the conference.

"The ‘new beginning for transport’ is an opportunity to work together and ensure transport policy is redefined as a verb, not an adjective.

"Congestion, mobility, emissions, efficiency, safety and better infrastructure are all interlinked. A national coordinated effort on all these fronts will deliver the transport system Australia deserves."

The framework calls for a "shift in culture and thinking" in ten key priority areas.

On the need for more efficient transport pricing, to be examined by New South Wales, the report says "inefficient market signals lead to poor modal choices".

Dimopoulos says the new charging regime agreed to by ministers on Friday has "drawn a line in the sand", with the ATC mapping out a move to incremental pricing in the future.

"For heavy vehicles, incremental pricing will allow truck operators to carry bigger loads and pay for the extra road damage," he says. "Mass-distance-location pricing will encourage the right truck on the right road; and influence the right investment on the right road at the right time — if you like, let the money follow the truck."

On infrastructure planning and investment (Victoria), the report highlights a lack of coordination between jurisdictions and the lack of a national plan for investing in priority projects. Urban congestion is another priority area, in the face of increased light commercial vehicle use to serve just-in-time distribution systems.

Dimopoulos calls for long-term planning, land banking and performance benchmarks in infrastructure investment.

"If we fail to plan and support the growth of our airports, rail freight terminals and shipping ports, we will leave a legacy of small inefficient and poorly connected transport facilities with angry communities on their doorstep," he says.

Along with infrastructure investment, the report calls for greater supply chain coordination to better use existing assets. South Australia will tackle this priority area.

Dimopoulos says this requires "the biggest shift in our thinking".

"Australia can’t afford to build its way out of trouble," he says. "Smarter regulations, better pricing signals, targeted investment and simply working together can help sweat the asset harder and ensure trucks, trains and ships carry less fresh air."

Environmental management is another priority area (Western Australia) with no national plan for action, according to Dimopoulos. Emissions from the transport sector are growing at 2 percent annually, according to the report, and there are "no substantive plans" for better use of alternative fuels.

On safety and security, the working group to be chaired by Queensland, the report says the transport and logistics sector is the most dangerous workplace in Australia, with incidents costing the country $17 billion a year.

The NTC has proposed a National Road Safety Council (NRSC) as a "cut through" opportunity to bring the best minds together to tackle transport safety.

"Ambitious targets, a strong process and political will is needed to effectively implement road safety measures," Dimopoulos says.

A workforce planning and skills working group (Northern Territory) will address an expected shortfall of 10,000 transport workers in five years, according to the NTC report.

The ACT has been charged with examining social inclusion, including transport solutions for growing urban sprawl.

Tasmania will be responsible for collecting new data on the industry — the NTC report says current research is largely modal-focused, technical and uncoordinated — while the Federal Government will look at governance issues of inconsistent reform implementation.

Dimopoulos senses a new dawn.

"After attending the ATC meeting last week, I think there is a genuine sense of breaking with the past and pursuing a fresh approach to cooperative Commonwealth-state relations," he says.

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