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Saturday, 17 January 2015

Senate Report Favours Public Transport

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Reference Committee

Role of Public Transport in Delivering Productivity Outcomes (report downloadable at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/Public_transport/Report)

The Australian Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Reference Committee (subsequently referred to as “the Committee”) published a report of its enquiry into the Role of Public Transport in Delivering Productivity Outcomes in December 2014.

The committee made the following recommendations:
1.  Public transport infrastructure should be considered as nationally-significant infrastructure, alongside private transport infrastructure such as road construction.
2.  Wider economic costs and benefits, including social and economic connectivity, environmental factors, active lifestyle benefits, safety factors and avoided costs and benefits be factored into transport project analysis.
3.  Given the productivity cost of capital city congestion, all levels of government interested in increasing national productivity consider backing solutions to congestion, including public transport.
4.  When addressing congestion and other transport problems, a range of reasonable solutions be examined, including the publication of cost-benefit analysis, before decisions on funding are made by government.
5.  Smaller cost projects, especially so-called smart projects involving the more efficient use of existing infrastructure, or the more effective integration of routes and modes, be prioritised according to the positive benefits they produce.
6.  The Australian Government fund transport – including road and rail projects – on a mode-neutral basis, based on assessed merit.
7.  The Australian Government take a leadership role on urban policy, working with the states and territories, given the strong link between transport and urban planning.

STCWA made a public submission to the enquiry and provided evidence at a hearing in Perth.  STCWA applauds the Committee for being engaged with this timely issue and is pleased to note that a number of recommendations we provided to the enquiry are reflected in the Committee’s recommendations.

The STCWA’s submission is consistent with the Committee’s recommendations that:
·       - Public transport be considered nationally significant infrastructure;
·       - Wider Economic Benefits (WEB’s) be included in project appraisals;
·       - Smaller cost projects being prioritised according to the benefits produced.

The Committee’s recommendation the Australian Government take a leadership role on urban policy, given the strong link between transport and urban planning is consistent with the spirit of our recommendation that simply providing more transit in the absence of sound urban design practices conducive to the creation of walkable cities will be futile. In the words of our submission: The issue is locality design that supports walking and cycling, that will also support public transport that leads to well-functioning cities.  

The recommendation to publish cost-benefit analysis prior to funding decisions being made is strongly endorsed by the STCWA and is entirely consistent with our submission to the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development on a proposed Project Appraisal Framework, to be developed by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, in consultation with state and territory governments.

Notwithstanding a number of sound recommendations made by the committee, the STCWA is disappointed the Committee has failed to recommend support for the application of land value capture techniques to help fund the cost of future transit.   Evidence provided to the Committee by a number of credible experts underscored the viability of funding public transport infrastructure from increases in land value linked to the provision of transit.  The key is to hypothecate the extra revenue generated by rates and taxes from the additional increase in property prices generated by the provision of public transport to fund the capital and/or operating cost of mass transit. Government may also wish to enter into Public Private Partnerships with the private sector that takes expenses off the Government’s books and couples transit infrastructure provision with development of new Pedestrian and Transit Oriented Developments (POD/TODs).

The STCWA would also have liked to see the Committee recommend the Commonwealth Government develop new national guidelines for the consistent application of road user charges. Congestion charging and parking levies can help spread the peak, encourage mode shift to space-efficient mass transit systems, and provide funding streams to meet capital and operating costs of public transport. In particular, STCWA argues State Governments should plan location and time specific road user charges as a means of congestion management as part of a whole of city strategy. However, STCWA cautions against using tolls to recover the cost of individual road projects as they distort the potential for a whole of city approach.  Moreover, recent investments in toll roads have been loss-making due to forecasting errors informed by flawed traffic models over estimating projected traffic flows.

In conclusion, the STCWA is pleased to note the Australian Senate has become engaged with the issues pertaining to urban public transport and recognise transit’s key role in fostering productivity growth and enhancing quality of life.   STCWA is concerned the Federal Government refuses to fund urban public transport in light of the fact the Commonwealth collects 80% of the country’s tax revenue.  Australia is one of the world’s most highly urbanised societies and is experiencing rapid population growth.  In order to compete successfully in a highly globalised world, the country will have to bolster its productivity growth. Public transport (coupled with sound local initiatives to enhance walkability through improved neighbourhood design) can play a key enabling role in this transition. Better urban design coupled with enhanced provision of mass transit infrastructure will also help improve Australia’s resilience to future oil supply shocks and fuel price rises associated with the peaking of conventional global oil supplies. A less car dependent urban future will also help play a role in mitigating climate change by reducing the transport’s sector’s production of carbon pollution.  

Written by Stephen Kovacs, Committee Member. Posted by Ian Ker, Convenor, STCWA

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