'Feel-good' funds favoured

NSW's transport budget appears to favour ‘feel good’ projects, raising questions about bus growth

'Feel-good' funds favoured
‘Feel-good’ funds favoured

By David Goeldner | September 9, 2011

While this week’s NSW budget handed down by Treasurer Michael Baird has spent up big on public transport not everything the bus industry asked for will be delivered.

A significant slice of the budget will be dangled in front of Liberal voting northern beaches residents with promises of a Bus Rapid Transit system, and a slice of the pie will go towards linking the much-criticised Barangaroo project with Wynyard station.

Baird’s public transport budget includes operating and capital expenditure of $7.7 billion, a 10 percent increase on last year’s budget.

The biggest spend in the Coalition’s first budget includes more than $600 million for the North West and South West Rail Links.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian claims the budget will deliver election commitments to fix public transport in NSW.

"In recognition of the essential role infrastructure will play in the future growth of our State, this Budget provides a solid foundation from which we can build an integrated public transport network that will provide better, customer-focused services," Berejiklian says.

However some items have a ‘feel good’ element, such as $51 million to build Wynyard Walk, a pedestrian link between the controversial waterside Barangaroo development and Wynyard Station.

"The Wynyard Walk will be essential in order to provide adequate access to public transport for the growing western corridor of the CBD, including Barangaroo and the King Street Wharf," Berejiklian claims.

However, there is no mention of BusNSW’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit for the inner west, and funding for new buses appears to be based on replacement rather than growth, according to the Association’s Executive Director Darryl Mellish.

Just one Bus Rapid Transit project will be considered for Sydney, targeting the northern beaches and still several years away, when and if it gets built.

"The feasibility BRT study for northern beaches is welcome but we feel it should have been a bigger amount and look at more than one BRT option," Mellish says.

"The cost of the north-west rail seems to be limiting BRT opportunities," he says.

Mellish says BusNSW had looked for improved bus priority and improvement in facilities in Sydney’s CBD.

"Drivers’ facilities are lacking in many interchanges which are not up to scratch for the passenger movements they accommodate," he says.

Mellish says he supports increased spending on public transport projects which could take NSW further into the ‘red’ in order to get the state moving again.

"But we would like to have seen an upward not downward trend in adding new buses and services," he says.

Mellish estimates the budget will provide about 250 buses below peak levels over recent years.

"The 261 new buses in the budget are probably mainly prescheduled replacement buses, but this is not very clear," he says.

"Some back of the envelop calculations of cost per bus looks as if the allocations favour STA."

He says any procurement tender process and cost per bus is meant to be equal between private operators and the State Transit Authority, the operator of Sydney Buses.

"We understand the budget contains a number of growth buses for private operators and it is important that they are positioned where they will have the most impact," he says.

BusNSW has a long-held policy of advocating the integration of buses with rail, but Mellish believes the NSW Government’s rail projects will take a long time to complete.

"Buses will have to fill the gap for the next decade in servicing developing areas like the north-west and south-west of Sydney," he says.

As expected, electronic ticketing appeared as a major item in the budget, with $110 million allocated to roll out the continued implementation of a smartcard program, starting on Sydney’s ferries in 2012.

Mellish says the NSW Government has made the correct decision to push ahead with the ticketing budget.

"But the size of the project team appears large in a preliminary look at the Transport for NSW structure," he says.

Mellish also welcomed the introduction of an accreditation system for community transport.

"This appears a good move and probably requires a change of the Passenger Transport Act," he says, adding the allocated funds appear small for the task.

"Sorting out the complex community transport funding mechanisms is worthwhile but complex because of the three tiers of administration – Federal, State and Local."

NSW Government 2011-12 Budget funding for public and private sector bus operations include:

• $118.8 million for 261 new buses – STA 95; Private 166

• $45 million for new bus depots

• $8.6 million for NightRide bus services in Sydney’s western suburbs

• $9.2 million over four years for free shuttle bus services

• $3 million feasibility study for northern beaches BRT.

• $76 million for commuter car parks and public transport interchanges, including completion of seven interchanges

• $12 million extra over four years for community transport services and to set up an accreditation scheme

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