Mar 14, 2012

Speech to Bus Industry Confederation annual dinner – Keeping the nation moving

Canberra

It feels right to be speaking to you this evening in Canberra, a city where buses wear the public transport crown.

No other city in the nation is so dominated by buses, not just for city commuters, but for interstate travellers where road far outranks rail and air as the dominant mode of travel.

Much of this intercity travel is done by fleets of coaches – fast, affordable, well-patronised and frequent.

As Richard Branson once said, business opportunities are like buses – there’s always another one coming.

RECOGNITION AND IMPORTANCE OF THE BUS INDUSTRY

The growth of cities and easy access to cars has seen a more than four-fold increase per person in the total number of vehicle kilometres travelled since 1965.

In fact in 2010, Australians travelled some 225 billion kilometres.

Yet something has happened in the last five years.

A report from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics called Traffic Growth in Australia, shows that after peaking in 2004/05, the growth in personal travel on our roads has flattened in all our capital cities and has actually gone backwards in Melbourne and Brisbane.

BITRE puts this down to a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there is a finite amount of time that people are prepared to devote to commuting.

Secondly, the global economic downturn has made people more cautious about discretionary spending on things such as petrol.

If these trends continue, what we can infer is that traffic growth in the future is almost certainly going to come from population growth.

With three out of four Australians living in our major cities, this throws up some interesting policy challenges.

Congestion is one of the greatest hand-brakes to our national productivity.

That means reducing the hours Australians spend behind the wheel of a car goes to the core our decision-making.

It points more than ever to the need for high-quality public transport that is so reliable, so frequent and so affordable that it becomes a far better choice than reversing the car from the garage.

Interestingly, this saturation and even downward trend in travel is not happening just here in Australia.

A second report by the Bureau called: ‘Traffic Growth: Modelling a Global Phenomenon[1], analyses 25 countries and reveals declines in kilometres travelled per person in many of them including France, the United States, New Zealand and Italy.

I thank BITRE for this valuable work.

Serious, factual research such as this helps us make better decisions about the traffic growth challenges facing our cities.

In light of the findings, there is a clear and growing role for the bus industry.

Buses are uniquely suited to help ease congestion.

You are the work horses of the public transport network.

Here’s proof.

Figures also from BITRE show that people are taking to buses like never before.

In 2010 Australians travelled more than six billion kilometres[2] in buses.

The trend is increasing.

Your own report ‘Moving People – Across Australia’ highlights that the coach sector contributes more than $5 billion to the Australian economy and supports almost 16 million nights of tourism[3].

In the last five years, Australia has produced $3 billion worth of buses.

More broadly, you are part of a sector that generates almost five percent of Australia’s GDP[4].

Any efficiencies in this sector will translate directly into national productivity gains.

Let me bring you up to date with some of the changes we are making to support your sector.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT

As you know – the Government is committed to revitalising and expanding our nation’s road, rail and public transport through our unprecedented $37 billion dollar capital works program.

Our infrastructure spend this year alone will top a record $8 billion.

We’ve finished the duplication of the Hume Highway.

Work continues on the Pacific Highway with six major sections of road under construction right now and 1600 workers on the job.

The outcome is smoother, safer highways – not just for long distance holiday makers but all those people who live and work in towns along the way.

Then there is the City Link project in Perth.

We’ve partnered with the WA Government – an investment of $236 million from the Federal Government – and the project will sink part of the Fremantle to Perth train line and see a new underground bus station[5].

It is a terrific example of the Government’s historic decision to invest Federal dollars in urban public transport and infrastructure.

In fact this Government has committed more to urban public transport since we came to office in 2007, than all previous Federal Governments collectively since Federation in 1901.

It’s a record I mention whenever I can and it’s a record I’m particularly proud of.

We have committed to at least one major public transport project in every mainland city – in Queensland there are two.

Such improvements free up our roads from congestion making people’s daily lives easier, and giving them more time with their family, friends and at their workplace.

NATIONAL REGULATORS

A more productive transport system must also have the right regulatory environment.

The regulatory environment we inherited was antiquated – heavy vehicle operators alone currently have eight separate regulatory regimes.

The result is a myriad of different interpretations and rules that confuse and cost users in time and red tape.

Hardly an environment conducive to productivity.

After many failed attempts, setbacks and false starts over many decades, we are on track to implement one single set of national heavy vehicle laws and one single National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to administer the law, starting from 1 January, 2013.

Bruce Baird will Chair of the Regulator’s Board and the remaining board members will be appointed shortly.

The Bus Industry Taskforce has helped enormously throughout this long, arduous process.

It has made sure that the interests of bus and coach operators are represented in the development of the law.

The taskforce has made it very clear that a once size fits all approach will not work – your needs and challenges are distinctly different to heavy freight vehicles.

Coach operators who routinely cross state borders will welcome the removal of the differing, multiple requirements for fatigue management and work diaries.

I understand that network access, fatigue management and industry accreditation remain areas of concern to your industry[6].

You can rest assured these issues will be considered during the development of the second Bill for the Heavy Vehicle National Law over the next couple of months.

I have insisted on thorough industry consultation to ensure your voices are heard in this process.

‘MOVING PEOPLE’ & OUR URBAN POLICIES

Let me turn to the work we are doing to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable – work that is central to your sector.

Your ‘Moving People’ report understands the complexities of cities where you point out that ours are some of the most widely dispersed on the planet.[7]

Your report complements very well the Federal Government’s National Urban Policy, ‘Our Cities, Our Future’ that I launched last May.

At the heart of both our documents is the need to improve public transport and reduce our dependence on cars.

If public transport, walking and cycling were to double their mode share, we could vastly reduce congestion levels.

We recognise this.

That’s why my Department is preparing a paper on ‘Active Travel’ which I am confident will pick up on many of the themes raised in your ‘An Australian Vision for Active Transport’ Report.

If we are successful, the added benefit of almost every bus and train journey starting and ending with a walking or cycling trip, will mean that many commuters will meet their daily 30 minute of exercise requirement[8].

In support of this, I will shortly be announcing the successful projects in our ‘Liveable Cities’ program, which funds demonstration and planning projects to improve productivity, sustainability, and liveability.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS

One of the interesting things you’ve highlighted in your Moving People report is that not only do buses provide an alternative to car travel, they take up less space on the road.

This is best highlighted by the often quoted fact that a single bus lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge carries more people than all the other lanes combined.

One bus can remove on average 50 cars from our roads.

The environmental advantages become even starker with the Euro 5 emission standard.

Many of our urban buses, such as those running on gas, have surpassed the Euro 5 standard.

I am sure most of you are following closely talk of the Euro 6 emission standard.

On this point let me say that I recognise that your industry has only just moved to full compliance with Euro 5, so rest assured Government will be mindful of timing as it considers the merits of even more stringent standards.

Of course, this includes consultation with the bus industry on the implications of such a move.

CONCLUSION

Keeping our communities connected across vast distances in the face of climate change and population pressures is not easy.

Through the Bus Industry Confederation you have a strong and articulate voice representing your interests.

They are also the interests of the Australian people who need and deserve a first class network of us connecting us within cities, between cities and all the towns along the way.

I look forward to receiving your report Moving People 2030, due to be released in October.

I congratulate you on your newly announced Moving People 2030 Taskforce to help guide this important policy work.

Thank you for your active, energetic involvement in our public life.

It is most welcome.

 



[1] ‘Traffic Growth: Modelling a Global Phenomenon’, Report 128, Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

[2]Public transport use in Australia’s capital cities: Modelling and forecasting’  (forthcoming),

Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, p.14.

[4] Infrastructure Yearbook Tables 1.1b and 1.2a : http://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2011/stats_004.aspx

The transport sector contributes 4.8% of Australia’s GDP (or 5.1% for transport and storage)

[5] http://www.pta.wa.gov.au/perthcitylink/BusProject/tabid/328/language/en-US/Default.aspx http://www.pta.wa.gov.au/perthcitylink/BusProject/tabid/328/language/en-US/Default.aspx Australian Government funding is related to rail works, while the WA Government is fully funding the undergrounding of the Wellington Street Bus Station.

[6] BIC wrote to members of the Transport and Infrastructure Senior Officers Committee (TISOC), and members of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator Project Implementation Board (PIB), (and the NHVR Board Chair designate the Hon Bruce Baird AM) on 13 February 2012 raising these concerns. The NHVR Project Office is preparing a single response to the BIC letter on behalf of all recipients.

[7] ‘Moving People – Solutions for a growing Australia’, The Australasian Railway Association, the Bus Industry Confederation and the International Association of Public Transport, p.38.

[8] This is included as BIC have worked with the National Heart Foundation, the Cycling Promotion Fund and a number of other organisations to produce their ‘An Australian Vision of Active Transport’. This report specifically highlights the health and economic benefits of 30 minutes of daily exercise and how this can be incorporated into public transport usage and planning.