NTC calls for a 'new beginning for transport

By: Graham Gardiner

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is proposing a ‘new beginning for transport’ in Australia, including new initiatives to reduce urban

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is proposing a ‘new beginning for transport’ in Australia, including new initiatives to reduce urban congestion and improve social inclusion.

In advice delivered to Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, the NTC is pushing for a national approach to transport policy in which the Commission’s Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos says "trains, trucks, trams, buses, cars, ships and planes all fit into the big picture".

"Transport is the ‘engine room’ of the nation’s economy. It gives working families better access to jobs, leisure, healthcare and education. It ensures products are delivered to supermarket shelves when we need them at the lowest cost," Dimopoulos said in an address to a Roads Summit in Sydney on Tuesday, March 4.

"Our ‘engine-room’ is at risk of overheating under a massive forecast increase in passenger and freight travel.

"Tinkering with bits of the road and rail system is no longer good enough. Our thinking needs to focus on lifting the performance of the national transport system as a whole.

"Our road, rail, air and sea transport systems must be planned and operated as an integrated network to meet the needs of its users."

With the Australian Transport Council (ATC) "enthusiastically" agreeing to support a national approach to transport policy at its meeting last Friday, Ministers have agreed to lead a number of working groups, which will report back to the next Council meeting in May.

Reform "hotspots" to be addressed by Ministers are:
  • Economic framework for efficient transportation marketplace (NSW)
  • Infrastructure planning and investment (Victoria)
  • Capacity constraints and supply chain performance (SA)
  • Urban congestion (Victoria)
  • Climate change, environment and energy (WA)
  • Safety and security (Queensland)
  • Strategic research and technology (Tasmania)
  • Workforce planning and skills (NT)
  • Social inclusion (ACT)
  • Governance (Commonwealth).

In the passenger transport area, the NTC cites key challenges as increasing public transport demand drives by population growth and fuel prices; a lack of a national co-ordinated action plan to meet rising demand and urban congestion; an absence of adequate price signals to manage demand, including some taxes and subsidies that create incentives for increased car use (private road vehicles now account for about 90 percent of the urban passenger task); and decades of urban sprawl that has left large areas poorly serviced by public transport.

To achieve its vision of a "safe, efficient, reliable and integrated national transport system that supports and enhances our nation’s economic development and social and environmental well-being", the Commission nominates possible actions to promote increased public transport availability and use.

In regard to infrastructure planning and investment, in the short term the NTC calls for an audit of nationally significant freight and passenger transport infrastructure to determine priorities; and, in the medium term, for competing infrastructure investment options to be modelled and assessed transparently using agreed forecasts and scenarios, and incorporating social policy objectives.

On capacity constraints and supply chain performance, the Commission suggests there’s a need for a better understanding of supply chains and shared infrastructure bottlenecks across different supply chains through mapping ‘nationally significant’ supply chains and networks (including passenger, minerals and export grain).

To tackle urban congestion in the short term the Commission calls for the development of national service standards for public transport based on measurable performance indicators, co-ordinated with land-use planning and population forecasts; and a national action plan that will collate the individual government responses to congestion, including pricing options, intelligent transport systems and funding priorities.

"In the absence of a co-ordinated national transport policy and plan to move people and freight safely and efficiently, our cities will become pretty ordinary places to live in, with urban congestion costing $20 billion by 2020," Dimopoulos told this week’s Roads Summit.

Controversially, it recommends a review of existing taxes and subsidies that can adversely affect congestion, arguing that the current FBT concessions for car use that provide incentives to increase annual kilometres driven should be completely phased out within three years.

"If we’re really serious about moving goods and people safely and more efficiently, we can’t ignore the potential of improved pricing signals for cars and other road users," Dimopoulos added.

In the medium term, the NTC calls for Commonwealth Government funding to be allocated to initiatives associated with improved mobility of people and freight, rather than funding solely for fixed infrastructure; and for sustainable public transport initiatives to be eligible under Commonwealth Government funding programs, based on performance indicators consistent with government objectives.

And to improve social inclusion in the short term the Commission calls on governments to identify and establish national minimum transport accessibility criteria for urban, rural and remote areas.

Dimopoulos noted: "Australia is one of the most decentralised and urbanised societies in the world. Over 64 percent of the population lives in nine capital cities. Over the last 20 years, as our cities sprawled outwards, public transport use has declined to between 5 and 10 percent of trips. Poorly designed public transport links have increased the community’s reliance on cars and vulnerability to rising fuel costs.

"How do we ensure the sustainable growth of our cities and provide transport options, with 6.3 million people expected to call Sydney their home by 2051?

"Australia’s transport policy should consider strategies to give remote and disadvantaged communities better access to jobs, schools and hospitals."

To read the NTC report in full, click here.

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