Buses – keeping the nation moving: Keynote address Bus Industry Confederation National Conference, Canberra
It’s great to be invited here today to open your conference, so soon after attending your annual dinner in March.
And who’d have thought I’d be arriving in such style?
It says lots about the flexibility of the humble bus – any place, any time, a bus can do the job – even the stage of the National Convention Centre.
I was interested to learn that this year is the 350th anniversary of the first public bus service.
It never hurts to consider lessons from the past.
The horse-drawn service was launched by the Frenchman Blaise Pascal in 1662.
Pascal had a great concept, and at first his service proved very popular.
But his business model went seriously wrong.
His service was expensive and was limited by law to the aristocracy.
Not surprisingly, the service eventually folded.
Pascal’s failed enterprise offers us several useful lessons.
Firstly, an industry must always be responsive to its market – especially in price and accessibility.
Secondly, Pascal’s bus shows that regulation must stimulate performance and not throttle it.
Finally, the story of Pascal’s bus shows the need to prepare for the future.
Launch of Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport
So let me turn now to something I believe has enormous implications for the future.
How to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, onto bicycles or simply onto their own two feet.
I will begin with three uncomfortable facts.
Firstly, urban congestion is costing Australia $13 billion a year and, if not tackled, will cost us $20 billion by 2020.
Second fact: eight out of every ten commuting trips in Australia today are still undertaken by car.
Third uncomfortable fact: Obesity is now overtaking smoking as the greatest cause of preventable disease in this country.
I could add a final uncomfortable fact.
Australia lags well behind most other OECD countries when it comes to embracing alternatives to the car.
That is why today I am releasing a draft report prepared by my department called Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport.
It is a comprehensive position about where Australia finds itself today, and what we can do about addressing these issues in the future.
It also provides an international snapshot of what other cities are doing to attract people away from the car.
We all know that Europeans are leading the revival in cycling with some cities having a fifth of all daily journeys made by bike.
But in some areas of the United States there have also been massive improvements to the way walking and cycling are being integrated into transport systems.
In fact, all federally-funded transport projects must now by law include bicycle and pedestrian policies.
New York City has built 430 kilometres of bike paths since 2007 and the number of New Yorkers who ride to school or work has doubled since then.
In Portland in 1990 just one percent of commuters used a bike.
Portland has put in almost 500 kilometres of bike lanes since then and today the mode share has grown to more than 13 percent.
Portland has integrated cycling throughout its transport network and has set a target of 25 percent bicycle mode share by 2030.
In fact 26 American states have now introduced what’s known as a Complete Streets policy, where different road users are given priority, depending on the road and time of day.
This maximises safety and ease of movement for the various transport modes.
VicRoads here in Australia has adopted a similar approach with its SmartRoads program in Melbourne and is now looking to extend it throughout Victoria.
In Australia, only 1.5 percent of commuter journeys involve a bicycle.
That said, cycle traffic is increasing by up to 18 per cent along cycle routes in mainland state capitals.
This is encouraging, as is the strong growth in public transport we are also seeing.
But there’s much more we need to do.
The Report proposes a raft of ways to get more people cycling and walking primarily for short trips but also for the commuters travelling longer distances, to public transport points.
It gives examples such as Perth, where secure bike lock-ups are appearing on train platforms so that cyclists can step straight from their bike onto a commuter train.
Or in cities such as Canberra where commuters can load their bikes onto the front of a bus, or in Darwin and Sydney where bike lock-ups are sometimes provided at bus and rail interchanges.
The report suggests we should focus our attention on improving cycling and pedestrian opportunities in areas located within 20 minutes of CBDs, transport hubs and education and health campuses.
If even a small percentage of short trips could be undertaken by a mode other than the private car, think what this could do for productivity.
We’d cut congestion and our carbon output and raise the liveability of our cities.
I stress that this report is simply a starting point for a national discussion.
Submissions are open until 31 January and I urge all of you here today read the report and be part of this important process.
I’d like to also release today the latest report from our Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
It looks specifically at ‘Population growth, jobs growth and commuting flows in Sydney’ and is part of a series the bureau is undertaking in capital cities across the country.
Public transport use has risen in all Australia’s capitals since 2004 – with the total passenger kilometres travelled by bus increasing by 15 per cent.
BIC – DOOR SAFETY ADVISORY
Turning now to safety.
There is much we can do to reduce deaths and injury on Australia’s roads.
Last year Federal, State and Territory Transport Ministers agreed on a new ten year National Road Safety Strategy.
Part of that strategy was a call to vehicle manufacturers to incorporate safety features into new vehicles.
I thank the Bus Industry Confederation for your work to produce the new Door Safety Advisory which I am also launching today.
Many hands were involved in its preparation – government and private bus operators, State-based industry associations, chassis and bus body manufacturers and government agencies.
The Advisory will help make bus door closing systems even safer.
I look forward to receiving the results of your further work on bus fire safety.
SEATBELTS ON SCHOOL BUSES
The Australian community rightly values safe travel for children over anything else in transport.
That is why in the last Budget we extended to June 2016 the Seatbelts on Regional School Buses Program.
This program offers subsidies to operators to voluntarily install seatbelts in school buses.
We encourage operators to take up this offer and protect the children in their care.
HEAVY VEHICLE SAFETY
Accidents involving heavy vehicles and buses are enormously traumatic and expensive.
We need to do everything we can to prevent them.
I understand that the Confederation has presented a proposal under Round 3 of our Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which we have extended to mid-2019.
This important program has received additional funding of $150 million.
BIC is also of course very actively involved in adopting safer technology on buses.
Over the next couple of years, the Confederation will be invited to comment on three improvements to the safety of heavy vehicles:
- new design rules for anti-lock braking systems
- Lane Departure Warning Systems and
- Advanced Emergency Braking Systems.
As always, the Government appreciates the commitment to collaborative policy development which the industry has consistently demonstrated.
ECONOMIC IMPORTANCE OF THE SECTOR
The dominance of the car during the 20th century dictated the growth and nature of our cities.
We see that particularly in this great 20th century city of Canberra, whose very creation was built on the future of the car.
Yet as I mentioned before with the latest report from BITRE, more and more Australians are moving to trains, trams and buses to get around.
The facts are that of all the public transport modes, you are the most flexible.
A new bus delivered today could be on the road tomorrow or very soon after.
Other modes need new infrastructure before new services can roll-out, and this takes time.
Technological advances from the 1820s to today’s hybrid and fuel-cell buses have kept buses on top of the game – literally for centuries.
Your own statistics show that more than 87,000 buses operate around Australia today and at least 80 percent were built here.
It is a genuine manufacturing success story with a turnover of around $3 billion over the past five years.
The sector employs about 10,000 Australians across 19 manufacturers, located in our capital cities and regional centres.
Your vital statistics are good indeed.
In just a couple of months’ time, we will have our first common set of national heavy vehicle laws across Australia.
There will be one single National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to administer these laws.
Achieving this near miracle was, as the Confederation knows, arduous.
From next year, bus operators will no longer have to deal with a mountain-high pile of compliance papers that differ, depending on which side of the border you are on.
These national transport reforms will boost the Australian economy by up to $30 billion over the next 20 years, and make our roads safer.
It remains vital that key industry bodies such as the Confederation continue the goodwill and commitment they have shown throughout the reform process and work closely with the Regulator.
I will also be welcoming BIC (Michael Apps) to the meeting in Perth next month of the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure, better known as SCOTI.
Michael will be one of several observers at the meeting.
I believe it’s important to have industry in the room when you’re making decisions that directly affect their sector.
BUS AND RELATED GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT
Modernising regulations and smart investment are two sides of the one reform coin.
We are revitalising Australia’s road and rail through a $36 billion investment package.
It includes a quantum leap in the Commonwealth’s commitment to public transport.
We’ve committed more than all previous Federal Governments combined since Federation, consistent with Labor’s long tradition of nation building.
For example, we’re investing $365 million in one of Australia’s largest public transport projects – the Gold Coast Rapid Transit Project.
This project will transform how people move around one of Australia’s fastest growing regions.
The local bus network will connect the Gold Coast airport and the Brisbane heavy rail network with the light rail system.
We’ve also partnered in the City Link Project in Perth, which will link the Fremantle to Perth train line with a new underground bus station.
Again, an example of strategic transport investment yielding benefits across different modes.
Finally, I look forward to the release early next year of your Moving People 2030 Report.
It will prove to be, I’m sure, another valuable contribution by the Confederation to our transport future.
You’re preparing it in partnership with planners, logistics experts, representatives from the cycling, rail and public transport associations and even the Heart Foundation.
The fact is, public transport is crucial to our future.
Here in Australia we must make it so affordable, so safe and so reliable that the natural choice is to leave our cars at home.
Buses – those grand workhorses of our roads – will become ever more important as that happens.
And with that I’d like to formally open this conference.
 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), 2012 Yearbook, 2012 Australian infrastructure, BITRE, Canberra ACT Table T 3.3i, p.69.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.