Monday, March 30, 2009

public passenger transport hearing

Today I attended the hearing in Melbourne for the Senate Inquiry into the investment of Commonwealth and State funds in public passenger transport infrastructure and services. The inquiry, the first ever Senate inquiry into public transport, was initiated by Senator Scott Ludlam, Greens Senator in WA.

I heard from a number of groups and academics from across Melbourne, including the Public Transport Users Association, Professor Graham Currie, John Stone from GAMUT, Jan Scheurer from AHURI , Paul Mees, operators Veolia & Connex and the Melbourne Transport Forum.

Most of the people who spoke painted a picture of poor public transport services across Melbourne, dogged by delays, lacking in connectivity with poor frequency of services. It was interesting, but no surprise, that it paralleled what the Yarra Ranges community says of its own local public transport services.

Senators were very interested in why the federal government should invest in public transport and if so what sort of accountability measures should be put in place if they did fund public transport.

Key messages from today’s hearings were:
· The public transport system should be coordinated by a central body (much the same way roads are via VicRoads) so issues around connectivity could be addressed and allow different modes to work together.
· There should be space set aside on our roads for public transport (be that trams or buses) as these modes of transport offer much greater efficiencies and assist in reducing congestion.
· There is a skew between the amounts spent on road infrastructure versus public transport with a great need for this to be redressed through significant spending on infrastructure and coordination of services.
· The planning around roads is done competently and efficiently, however the model of professional planning that is dedicated to roads is not mirrored in the state’s approach to public transport.
· There is a good business case to spend on public transport, despite the difficulty with using public transport there is still keenness by the community to take up public transport.
· The public transport system must be open, transparent and accountable. At the moment there are significant difficulties in gaining information and there is a lack of coordination of knowledge management.
· Public versus private operation is a distraction from the main aim of a well coordinated public transport system, the fundamental issue is the amount of money invested in public transport.
· Two thirds of Melbourne is covered by buses (rather than trains & trams), the average time for these services across Melbourne is a bus every 40 minutes between 7am and 7pm, this service average drops to 20% on Sundays.
· Public transport has been chronically underinvested in for decades.
· There is not enough focus on orbital linkages, rail efficiencies or growth corridors.
· There many gaps in services, particularly with no rail to Doncaster or Rowville, there are also gaps in growth suburbs and outer suburbs of Melbourne with no focus on orbital services.
· We have to catch up on 20 years of under investing.

From the operators:
· Policy makers have put too much focus on motor vehicles.
· Tax system doesn’t encourage sustainable transport options
· The states don’t have the capacity to fund infrastructure on their own. The Commonwealth should support the ‘right’ projects.
· There must be increased population densities to support sustainable transport.
· The Commonwealth should put funding into the tunnel and need to focus capacity on the inner areas before the outer areas.

It was interesting to note that no Senators from Victoria attended the hearing today.

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