Calls for Federal intervention in passenger transport

By: Graham Gardiner

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) Chairman Scott Grenda has called for the Commonwealth to get more involved in public transport

The Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) Chairman Scott Grenda has called for the Commonwealth to get more involved in public transport to deliver better outcomes for the Australian economy, environment and community.

In an address to the Confederation’s annual dinner in Canberra on March 18, the head of the Grenda Group appealed for leadership from the highest levels, and a change in mindset, to recognise public transport is part of the solution, and not the problem, and not a cost, but a saving.

"Public Transport is part of the solution to the challenges of climate change, urban congestion and social isolation. The decade 1997 to 2007 saw a 25 per cent increase in public transport patronage, across our major cities," he says.

"The fuel price crisis last year caused drastic increases in public transport patronage, with a 12 per cent increase in bus patronage recorded in Melbourne, while State Transit buses in Sydney serviced 5.6 million more passenger trips than the previous year, and city rail services saw 17 million more trips.

"To keep meeting growing demand for services, the industry needs two things; support from state and Commonwealth governments in helping us grow, and good people, to fill all the new jobs created in the industry.

"To do this, we need world class public transport systems in our urban centres, to make sure we achieve the best results for people switching from the car to public transport. When I say urban centres, I include specifically outer metropolitan areas. The reality is outer metro areas, in general, have the worst levels of access to public transport, but the most need for services. The highest unemployment impacts and the least transport choices.These facts are most stark now in our current economic circumstances.

"Building major rail metro systems is important, but let’s not forget where people mainly live. It’s not all about inner-city metro services. The public transport needs of outer metropolitan and regional centres are just as dire, and just as important. In many cases, they have no options at all."

Grenda says the Brisbane City Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is an example of "world-class public transport", and what can be achieved by governments.

"BRT (bus rapid transit) makes buses sexy, and its success in Brisbane can be highlighted by a simple statistic: from 1997 to 2007 Sydney public transport patronage increased by 15 percent; in the same period Brisbane public transport patronage increased by 50 percent," he says.

"The difference between these growth rates is the difference between world-class public transport and governments chasing their tail, between forward planning and investment, and treading water. It is in this, the strategic decision making area, that the Federal Government has a role to assist the states in getting it right.

"And better still, BRT has proven that it can move as many, if not more, passengers per hour as light or heavy rail, at a fraction of the capital and operating costs, and with better environmental outcomes.

"The North East Busway in Adelaide moves 7 million passengers a year. When it was built it attracted a ridership growth of 24 percent on its corridor, and of this 24 percent almost half were people who previously drove. All at the cost of $14 million per kilometre.

"The South East Busway, at the cost of $24 million per kilometre, moves 26 million people a year in Brisbane, and has attracted a ridership growth of 56 percent, of which one quarter previously drove. It can be done; we just need all of our governments to rise to the challenge.

"The figures, as compared to light and heavy rail, are significantly lower per kilometre dollar, and deliver an equal, if not better outcome in a far shorter period of time.
"My point is, if you get public transport right, people will use it. They will get out of their car. It is time to get it right."

To "get it right", Grenda specifically calls for:
  • The development of an annual audit of public transport infrastructure, rolling stock and services by states, as a requirement for funding public transport through Infrastructure Australia.
  • Agreement by the Australian Transport Council to adopt national minimum public passenger transport service levels that recognise major geographical areas.
  • Incentivising public transport use, through the elimination of favourable FBT benefits for the use of cars for work purposes, or at least balance the situation, by providing FBT benefits for public transport travel by employees.
  • Making the cost of periodic public transport tickets, for the purpose of travel to and from work, tax deductible.
  • If the taxation approach doesn’t work, or has no political appeal, to run a trial of free public transport, effectively subsidising the current fare revenue collected by the states, through a one-off annual payment by the Federal Government.

Under the final recommendation, Grenda says public transport patronage would be monitored by the states, which would apply for compensation from the Federal Government based on the need to increase service levels, to match increased demand. The compensation would be paid on a per extra passenger basis to assist states in increasing and improving services.

"The benefit of building a public transport culture in Australia, and slowly but surely reducing reliance on cars, and the urban congestion, pollution and fuel demand that goes with it, is priceless. Public transport will save money, it is not a cost," he says.

\Additionally, Grenda called for the establishment of an Australian Transport Research Board, to be the peak body coordinating Australian transport research.

"It is also time that some investment is made into the innovative and growing Australian bus manufacturing sector, to assist us in developing and building innovative, environmentally friendly buses and creating green jobs," he says.

"And finally on the things the Commonwealth can do, we think there is a place for a Minister for Public Transport … to work with the states on these issues specifically, and there is scope for the new Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure to fill the policy vacuum that has existed in the Department in regards to these issues for the last decade, and play a more constructive and strategic role in how we move people."

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