Calls for NTC to get on board with public transport policy

By: Graham Gardiner

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) has called for an expansion of the National Transport Commission’s (NTC) role and charter to

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) has called for an expansion of the National Transport Commission’s (NTC) role and charter to include development and implementation of personal mobility and passenger transport to fill a vacuum at a national level with regard to passenger transport issues.

In its submission to the review of the NTC, the peak passenger transport lobby group argues the Commission should, through inter-governmental agreement, be granted a policy role to address passenger transport issues within the National Transport Plan and Policy Framework.

Executive Director of BIC says it is clear that Australia lacks a comprehensive national transport strategy policy framework that focuses on "how Australia moves people".

"The regulatory and policy focus has for the past decade or more been nearly solely focused on freight and the economy, at the national level. ‘Moving People’ policies have largely been the domain of states and has seen public transport delivered on a state-by-state basis with little focus on the national outcomes being sought to improve our cities, environment, living standards and most importantly the level of access to mobility and passenger services that an Australian citizen should be entitled to, no matter where they live or their circumstances," he says.

"If anything there has been a complete policy vacuum at a national level with regard to passenger transport issues. The biggest offender in this neglect has been the Federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (DITRDLG), which has shown no interest in passenger transport except in the area of road safety.

"At the same time the NTC has had no capacity due to its organisational charter to develop work programs in this area."

Apps says the biggest change required is greater Commonwealth Government involvement in passenger and public transport. The Federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, he says, has a strategic role and responsibility, in co-ordination with other federal departments, including Climate Change, and the NTC, to see the development of a ‘Moving People’ strategy become a reality.

This strategy, says Apps, should be developed taking into account existing travel and transport programs run by other Commonwealth departments and agencies such as Travel Smart (Environment), Community Transport (HACC – Health), Veterans Affairs and Indigenous Affairs.

"The NTC’s role and charter should be expanded to include, through inter-governmental agreement, a policy development and implementation role to address personal mobility and passenger transport within the National Transport Plan and Policy Framework," he adds.

"This should include links to Infrastructure Australia and the Major Cities Unit and any other relevant Commonwealth departments as signatories, for example the Department of Climate Change."

Given key transport challenges – urban congestion, climate change, efficient freight movement, road safety, social exclusion and isolation, and depleting oil resources – are national issues, and not just the domain of the Commonwealth, the NTC has a clear consultation role to undertake with the Commonwealth, states and local government, according to Apps.

"The NTC can provide as a commission a long-term policy outlook and undertake the required consultation without the constraints of a department. As part of the inter-governmental agreement on passenger transport, the NTC should, as part of renewed institutional arrangements, be provided strategic advice from a National Transport Policy Advisory Group," he says.

Additionally, Apps says a clearer role for the NTC on public transport policy would address the industry’s "frustrations" in relation to the lack of focus on bus-specific issues and, more importantly, the need to address bus issues separately from truck issues.

"The BIC has been able to establish a small specific work program for the bus industry through this relationship [with the NTC], but progress has been slow as a result of other NTC priorities and lack of state government buy-in to specific bus-related regulatory issues, for example, national accreditation.

"The industry seeks a distinct separation of bus and truck when addressing heavy vehicle regulatory reform and within any future NTC role that might emerge as part of this review.

"There is a clear need for this differential in the future to avoid the problems of the one-size-fits-al; approach for heavy vehicles of the past. This differentiation will deliver better outcomes between freight and passenger transport within the definition of heavy vehicles. To base the definition of heavy vehicles on mass and not the task is untenable if Australia’s future transport challenges related to personal mobility are to be addressed," he says.

And, more broadly, Apps says there is a desperate need to formalise how NTC consultations should be undertaken and agreed by the states.

He says overall the NTC has performed well in what have been at times been difficult circumstances due to state government differences on issues and on occasions lack of commitment to the inter-governmental agreement and NTC processes.

"The NTC consultation process is the biggest challenge and hurdle. State jurisdictions may attend NTC consultation workshops and forums, but often the communication within a jurisdiction both internally and externally has been inadequate. This has resulted in national positions or model legislation being agreed that is not even supported within jurisdictions let alone between states.

"This dysfunctional process is the result, in BIC’s view, of a waning in commitment to the NTC process by jurisdictions and their representatives. Internal consultation mechanisms within a state to ensure that all relevant sections within a department, between other relevant departments and state industry bodies do not seem to be taking place effectively, if at all.

"The outcome of ATC votes on NTC matters would indicate that ministers on occasions vote on issues, thinking it agreed, and then are subject to criticism from stakeholders in their own states and even their own state government entities for lack of consultation.

"If such a protocol exists already, a recommitment to it and the NTC process by state and territory jurisdictions is required."

A further issue for review, says Apps, is the disconnect that exists between COAG, ATC and NTC. There is a need to investigate how the outcomes that COAG seeks become reality and are tangible as issues make there way from COAG to ATC to NTC and individual states, he believes.

"An example is the work by COAG in the area of urban congestion. This work after being passed on to the ATC has resulted in very little if any ‘cut through’ in a national transport policy sense. This is because no strategic ‘national’ transport policy body existed to progress it to the next logical policy level and individual states were/are reluctant to progress urban congestion policy solutions on an individual basis. In fact, some projects may have been adopted by states as a project to ‘kill it’."

The NTC Review Steering Committee will present its preliminary findings to the ATC in May, with its final report set to be handed to the ATC in June/July. The ATC’s final review report is scheduled to be provided to ministers in September.

For more, click here.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive the ABC e-newsletter, digital magazine and other offers we choose to share with you straight to your inbox

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook