Meeting change head-on

Out with the old, in with the new – BusVic is marshalling its resources to present a raft of proposals to Victoria’s new Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder

Meeting change head-on
Mulder meeting on BusVic ‘to do’ list

By David Goeldner | December 3, 2010

Victoria’s bus industry advocacy group – BusVic – will waste no time putting forward a list of proposals to the recently elected Baillieu Government, covering upgrades to country roads, sorting out cross-border accreditation red tape and presenting a model for the new Public Transport Authority.

"A new Premier, Treasurer, Ministers and administration like to affect change, and this new government was elected on a campaign for change," BusVic Executive Director Chris Lowe says.

Lowe says the new Premier has intimated an agenda of incremental change.

"It’s hard to forecast what they are going to do, and there’s been no formal engagement as yet, so I’m sure as the weeks transpire we will formally engage with the new Government," says Lowe.

"We will put to them some of our opportunities, and listen to what their priorities are, and consistent with a trusting partnership we will cooperatively try to deliver on those opportunities."

What is certain is that Member for Polwarth, Terry Mulder, is the new Public Transport Minister, also responsible for Victoria’s Roads in a combined ministry.

Mulder’s electorate is based around Colac, a regional centre located between Geelong and Warrnambool and where the Brumby Government had spent up on bus service expansion.

Lowe is keen to present Mulder with his list of priority measures, ensuring that all transport modes are adequately covered in the new transport-roads portfolio.

"The previous Government spent millions of dollars in going through a very lengthy process to determine what Melbourne’s bus routes should look like, and each local government area was reviewed," Lowe says.

Lowe says recommendations from this process came back with a ‘bus utopia’ which could be implemented if there was a bottomless pit of money.

"But there’s only so much money in the kitty, so we would be looking to the new Government to implement some of the recommendations from these bus service reviews."

On Lowe’s list includes implementing a minimum service standard for buses, running until at least 7pm in major regional centres, seven days a week.

"Because they are not doing that at the moment," he says.

"We would also like some more on-road priority measures."

These measures require at least two more Bus Rapid Transit systems, one for Epping Station along the Epping Plaza – North Epping transit corridor, and a BRT for Broadmeadows to Craigieburn via Aitken Boulevard.

Lowe will also push for an extension to the SmartBus network, which he says has been a success story for bus transport in Melbourne.

Moving beyond Melbourne, Lowe says infrastructure at tourist destinations in regional centres needs to better accommodate intra and interstate coaches.

"We want to see the Government commit to a program of eliminating the duplicate costs and the regulatory burden associated with operating in cross-border towns," he says.

"If you are a bus operator in Mildura you pay the cost pursuant to the vehicle and to the driver to get the driver behind the wheel in two states, NSW and Victoria, so you have double the cost of accreditation, and that’s expensive."

Lowe says harmonisation between the states would eliminate duplication and bring business and government costs down.

The school bus sector is also high on Lowe’s agenda, and sees a need to raise the road condition of country routes.

Given the new Minister will also be in charge of the state’s road network, BusVic’s ‘rough roads’ proposal may get some early action.

"We want the state to devise and implement a plan with dedicated funding to upgrade the quality of regional school bus rough roads for regional people for sporting and cultural events," Lowe says.

"It’s a fact that a lot of our regional school bus routes run on rough roads and it is a safety issue, particularly when they are crossing rail lines."

Lowe also has a neat idea to remove the red tape around idle school buses, bringing them into service for general public use when school students are in class.

"Rural school buses sit idle during the day and we need the Departments of Education and Transport to come to an agreement to give non-students more transport options."

And the hot topic of whether Melbourne should build an airport train elicits BusVic’s call to ditch the idea and upscale the Skybus service from Tullamarine to Southern Cross Station with increased frequency and improved facilities at each end.

Lowe says attaching Skybus to the Myki system would create a formidable Bus Rapid Transit airport service, delivered in half the time at half the cost of an airport rail system.

BusVic will also seek a meeting with Victoria’s Transport Ministry at the completion of a report – due early in the New Year – which presents their ideal model for the Government’s proposed Melbourne Public Transport Authority.

He says there is a case for a revised structure, but rather than wait for the new Government to decide what the new authority might look like BusVic has commissioned a study on best practice in seven other states around the world, including Canada and Zurich, and locally in Queensland and Western Australia.

The study is being prepared by Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies Adjunct Professor John Stanley, delivered to the new Government in the first quarter of 2011.

And as for Victoria’s public transport sector moving forward into 2011, BusVic has gathered compelling data to suggest that a new Government can’t ignore the economic importance of the state’s bus and coach industry.

Lowe says quantifying the value and size of the industry had never been done before, and the results are startling.

He says the net worth of the Victorian industry is $1.1 Billion with 8000 direct employees, 70 percent of those employees being fulltime.

"And this employment figure continues to rise," says Lowe.

"We also carried 140 million passengers on route services last year, 27 million passengers on regional school services, and carried 1.3 million passengers on special school services."

Lowe says the industry faired well with the previous Brumby administration, but realises that 11 years in Government was a ‘good innings’.

"We very much look forward to continue the trusting partnership with a new conservative government."

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