Darwin seeks ‘flexible’ buses

By: David Goeldner

The Northern Territory’s review of commercial passenger vehicles seeks flexible bus use

The Northern Territory government’s announcement of a commercial passenger vehicle (CPV) review will seek to add more flexibility into bus services.

Territory Transport Minister Peter Styles says the CPV review includes taxis, mini-buses, private hire vehicles including limousines, motor omnibuses, courtesy vehicles, special passenger vehicles, special purpose vehicles and tourist vehicles.

Styles has invited Territory passengers, drivers, operators and all CPV industry stakeholders to provide comments and suggestions to the review process through submissions which close on January 25.

The recent release of a position paper on the proposed reforms focuses primarily on the Territory’s taxi industry, however it does call on the use of buses to aid flexibility of ‘on demand’ services which larger vehicles can provide.

The NT Government’s 64-page CPV position paper called ‘Come along for the ride’, reviews the Territory’s current passenger transport scenario, offering some preliminary recommendations prior to endorsement through the review process.

The position paper says feedback from stakeholders provides evidence of unmet demand for flexible bus services with more formal routes and fares than minibuses, but which would use similar vehicles.

"Such services would suit initiatives such as the Palmerston Hospital shuttle service which is designed to get passengers to medical appointments that are difficult to access using an urban bus service," the position paper states.

"In addition, such a service would provide an opportunity for new businesses, providing more than a single door-to-door service, but having greater flexibility in terms of frequency and span of service."

The position paper also says current regulations do not allow for the development of such services.

"Increased flexibility in regulating bus services would allow vehicles such as minibuses to extend into new passenger service markets.

"It is recommended that urban and school bus routes, airport shuttle services, sightseeing and hop-on hop-off services remain within the bus category.

"All other pre-booked bus services should be within the charter category allowing both greater flexibility and clarity for the industry."

The CPV position paper notes a Public Transport Strategy currently being developed by the Department of Transport, which is an adjunct exercise more specifically targeted at route bus services.  

"This strategy will outline a framework for future service delivery and plan for the long-term sustainable growth and improvement of the Territory’s urban and school bus networks."

The CPV position paper says the adjunct review into public transport will be completed in 2015 and will contain ‘high-level principles and policies’ for planning and delivering public transport services in the NT.

As for the CPV review, Styles says the NT Government aims to improve and create a modern, safe and innovative commercial passenger vehicle industry in the Territory. 

"The Northern Territory Government is responsive to the pressures of population growth, has a focus on quality service and holds the needs of customers as its primary driver," says Styles.

 "It is necessary to review the regulatory framework so we can offer opportunities for drivers and operators to achieve growth in the industry in a competitive market environment."

The review process will also involve amending the Northern Territory’s Commercial Passenger (Road) Transport Act to replace nine licence categories with four categories, being bus, taxi, private hire and charter.

The new proposed bus category would include only route and flexi-route bus services such as urban services, airport shuttles, sightseeing and hopper services.

The new taxi category would include taxis and minibuses and renamed taxi bus.

The private hire category will remain unchanged and the new charter category would include tourist vehicles, pre-booked private bus charters, special function vehicles and special passenger vehicles.

Limousines will have the option to be either ‘private hire’ or ‘charter’ with relevant fees and market access.

Styles says the aim of the position paper and consultation is to provide the basis for a competent and sustainable model, allowing for industry growth and development in the Northern Territory.

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