Inquiry outcomes good, but dont go far enough

By: Jason Whittaker

By Nicole Holyer A Senate inquiry report into public transport funding makes a compelling case for increased spending on public transport

By Nicole Holyer

A Senate inquiry report into public transport funding makes a compelling case for increased spending on public transport services and infrastructure, but "sadly" falls shy of recommending substantial Commonwealth funding for public transport, Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says.

Ludlam’s position is echoed by the Bus Industry Council (BIC), which says the report fails to identify what level and type of investment the Federal Government should put into public transport.

BIC welcomes the report's recommendation to review fringe benefit tax (FBT) rules so that the scope of exemptions is consistent between car transport and public transport.

A spokeswoman for Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese says a response to the report will be considered "in due course".

She says the government already has an independent infrastructure funding body, which considers planning an investment in public transport systems: Infrastructure Australia.

After the Investment of Commonwealth and State funds in public passenger transport infrastructure and services report was tabled yesterday afternoon, Ludlam told the Senate investment in public transport has not kept pace with Australia’s rapidly expanding communities.

"This did not happen by accident; it happened by design," Ludlam says. "While states retain the responsibility for planning decisions and shoulder a lot of the cost of transport, the Commonwealth, for many decades, has made a conscious decision to vastly favour road funding over public transport.

"There is nothing in the Constitution that says this should be so.

"The report that we are tabling today notes that in the 30 years to 2004 the Commonwealth spent $58 billion on roads, $2.2 billion on rail, much of it for freight purposes, and $1.5 billion on public transport.

"This is finally starting to change, and it needs to change urgently, but we have five decades of catch-up ahead of us."

BIC Executive Director Michael Apps says the report clearly recognises the value of public transport in addressing a range of issues of national interest—including emissions, congestion and peak oil—however funding detail is lacking.

"If it’s a good thing to address congestion, I would have hoped the inquiry would have made some recommendations about the types of investments the Federal Government might be able to literally do to address urban congestion and help states do something about it," Apps says.

"Nowhere does it go anywhere about what the criteria should be.

"They’ve left it hanging a bit, which is a bit disappointing, which comes back to: what’s the minister responsible going to from a government perspective with the recommendations? Are they just going to lie in the Senate of Inquiry’s cupboard of reports and not go anywhere?"

The report strongly warns that funding by the Commonwealth should only be allocated to states and territories with integrated, well-planned transport and land use planning systems.

Ludlam says changes to funding systems should be a trigger for some states to urgently reassess their attitudes to public transport.

"The report is really a shot across the bows—that there will not be any blank cheques on public transport spending coming from the Commonwealth," he says.

"States and territories with coherent public transport plans and proposals will benefit, and states that retain outdated planning policies favouring freeways over public transport will miss out."

The report also calls for better land use policy and planning, to ensure public transport is made available to communities with the greatest need.

"Public transport is meaningless without land use planning that supports it so that we do not continue to strand people, many of them on very low incomes, in the far reaches of our cities," Ludlam says.

"In this report, the committee agree that significant catch-up investment in public transport infrastructure is needed."

Some report highlights:

  • Notes a universal call for better public transport services: route coverage, operating hours, speed and comfort.

  • Recognises that building more roads does not alleviate congestion, but rather encourages growth of traffic and entrenches patterns of urban development that create high car use.

  • Recognises the need for more bus and tram priority measures to attract motorists from congestion traffic onto public transport.

  • It would be wise for Australia to pay more attention to 'peak oil' concerns, and to adopt strong policies to reduce its oil dependence in the long term.

  • That the Carbon Pricing Reduction Scheme alone is not enough action from the Federal Government to take to mitigate transport emissions.

  • Connection between car-dependent lifestyles, inactivity and incidence of overweight needs action in both public health and urban planning fields.

  • Agrees that significant catch-up investment in public transport infrastructure is needed.

  • That cost-benefit analysis of public transport investment should give adequate attention to externalities and matters hard to quantify.

Economic Issues

  • It is estimated that $3 billion per year is saved through reduced traffic congestion due to walking, cycling and public transport use at current levels. This is expected to double by 2020.

  • BITRE estimate that a congestion charge could reduce peak hour travel by 20 percent and overall travel time by 40 percent and fuel consumption by 30 percent.

  • Public subsidy for public transport is high – around $3.3 billion per year ($4.9 billion cost less $1.6 billion in revenue raised through fares) for the five capital cities.

  • Cost of transport per passenger km (Sydney):
    • 47 cents for trains
    • 57 cents for bus
    • 86 cents for cars

    Externality cost of car travel is car travel is roughly equal to the subsidy of a bus or train at 38 cents per passenger km.

  • 72 percent of journeys to work in Sydney's CBD are made using public transport, 60 percent in Melbourne and 35 percent in Perth, thus existing congestion free rail services are very important for supporting the economic life of central business districts.

  • The report confirms there has been very little Fed investment in recent decades in public transport i.e. "In the 30 years to 2004 it spent $58 billion on roads, $2.2 billion on rail, and $1.5 billion on public transport."


  • Transport emissions from cars make up roughly 7.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Transport emissions are the second greatest source of emissions growth after stationary energy.

  • On present trends urban traffic will increase by 37 percent between 2005 and 2020.

  • Public transport trips increased by 14.7 percent from 2004 to 2008, and the public transport mode share increased from 9.3 percent to 10.6 percent in the eight capital cities. This growth is well above population growth and is said to be increasing petrol prices and 'changing community attitudes'.

  • Only 1-2 percent work trips are made by bike.

Public transport Senate committee calls for tax review

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