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Investment of Commonwealth and state funds in public passenger transport

CHAIR —I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of the department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and should be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim. Mr Ward, do you wish to make an opening statement before the committee asks questions?

Mr Ward —Yes. I will just briefly refer to the information that I forwarded to your Senate inquiry. I think it is important to say that what I am about is social justice, the environment and health and wellbeing. I do not just deliver public transport. I think it is also important for you to note that I have been a senior executive officer in local government both in New South Wales and Victoria for over 30 years. I also worked for the Roads and Traffic Authority in New South Wales and managed a regional airport and I am currently a regional manager for the Department of Transport in Victoria, so I have a fairly clear perspective of how public transport functions interstate, within Victoria and federally, under the federal legislation to do with aviation. I also believe that there were some myths in some of the answers to the questions directed to our local government colleagues previously, and I think I could give clarification. I think that is very important.

As a regional office, we have a complete handle on the dynamics of our Grampians region. I think that is important, because my opening remarks set the scene. It is all about social justice, it is all about health and wellbeing and it is all about the environment. Whatever we deliver, we are acutely aware of those elements of what we do within our communities. We have all of our public transport network plotted on Google Earth, and we will show you the extent of the public transport network in the Grampians region. To pick up on what Senator McGauran said, it is quite amazing to have a look at public transport networks in Victoria compared with New South Wales. They are actually quite extensive. The frequency, the temporal coverage and the area penetration are quite extraordinary in the state of Victoria. If you have a look at the return services into regional centres, you will see they are actually quite amazing.

I will use a quick example. If you were living in Wagga, which has a population of 60,000 people, you would have one return train service to Sydney and one to Melbourne. Ballarat has 18 return services a day, Ararat has three, Warrnambool has three, Bendigo has about 19 and the list goes on. If you have a look at the frequency of just the rail services alone, it is quite extraordinary. All of our services are totally integrated and connected. Again, Senator McGauran referred to the V/Line long haul coach services. The state introduced a major overhaul to the services on 4 September 2006, and that was totally integrating and refurbishing—if you like—the regional public transport network right throughout the state. It was the major significant event in 50 years. That introduced 440 new rail services across the network in regional Victoria. Along with that, every long haul coach service was totally integrated and connected to that rail service. You might ask: what am I talking about? If you catch a coach from Naracoorte, you can integrate with a long haul service that comes through Horsham and that connects with a train service at Ararat. When you arrive at Ballarat you can catch a long haul coach service to Bendigo, Geelong or Warrnambool or you can catch the train to Melbourne. That is how integrated it is. The transfers are anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes. Sometimes they are cut down to 10 minutes, depending on the reliability. Generally speaking, that was a major event and that integration occurred right across the state.

The other element that I need to talk about is the hierarchy of public transport. We administer rail services, which is delivered to us by franchise contract by way of V/Line, a state government corporation. We look after all of the long haul coach services—inter-region, intertown and interstate. We do all the transit services, the free school bus system, community transport, cycling and walking—it is all integrated. We run a whole range of programs in relation to all of those elements of public transport. For example, in Ballarat we have the TravelSmart program, which is delivered by the department through the City of Ballarat and the University of Ballarat. We deliver the Transport Connections program, about which you spoke extensively. We have six coordinators throughout our region who deliver community transport options under the TC program. They are procured and delivered by our department. We predominantly use school buses and we use community transport options. We have an enormous amount of flexibility in the way we can deliver public transport in the region, right down to the community transport level.

Community transport is delivered in the region by a whole range of organisations. In Ballarat it is delivered by Pinarc, the Red Cross, UnitingCare and other private service providers.

CHAIR —What was the first one you mentioned?

Mr Ward —Pinarc. It is a community based NGO which provides community transport for transport disadvantaged and socially disadvantaged people. The Red Cross is self-explanatory. UnitingCare is the Uniting Church, which provides a similar suite of services under a similar program. Ballarat has a totally complete transit service. It has 19 services across the city. It has complete spatial penetration and complete temporal coverage. It is on a half-hour frequency. It has 18 return train services to Melbourne, and that is supplemented with 56 taxis and 15 community transport service providers. For a city of 90,000 people, it is pretty well covered. I would compare that with the City of Wagga Wagga, where I lived for a short period of time, or even Albury-Wodonga, which is of a comparable size but has nowhere near as extensive a public transport network as Ballarat.

That is a grab of what our public transport is about, and I will physically show you exactly what it all does very shortly. I will leave it at that and take questions. But I know you are really interested in the limitations and obstacles to providing public transport. In the City of Ballarat, passenger transport trips are predominantly done in private motor cars—87 per cent of them. What are my obstacles? It is very simple. It will take you 15 minutes to drive from one end of the city to the other. Petrol is cheap and cars are cheap. When you get to your destination, there is an overabundance of parking, which either costs you nothing or is cheap. So if the weather is not the best, why would you catch a bus?

It is very simple. I believe we should go back to the future. I grew up here in the fifties, when households were lucky to have one car, petrol was relatively expensive, people were not affluent and you relied heavily on the tram and bus networks to get around. If you live in the estate where I live at the moment, you will see six cars parked out the front. Mum and dad each have a car, and all the teenage kids have a car. There is no way in the world they are going to use public transport network, because it is not cool to do that. Our lifestyles are so busy and complex that public transport is not flexible enough for what we do. Most couples go to work. One of them drops kids off to the childcare centre and the other one drops kids off at school. They buy groceries on the way home. The public transport network is not flexible enough to take in that complex lifestyle.

The other figure that I referred to—and I picked up on what the senator said about cycling—was that, in 1974, 75 per cent of children’s passenger trips were done on a bicycle, 15 per cent were done on public transport and 10 per cent were done in a private motor car. Do you know what the statistic is today? It is completely reversed—75 per cent of children’s passenger trips are done in a private motor car. It is called ‘the little prince and princess syndrome’.

Senator STERLE —It is probably a four-wheel drive, too.

Mr Ward —Absolutely. In China it is called the ‘little emperor syndrome’. In Australia, I deal with TravelSmart and get people to ride bicycles. People just will not let their kids ride their bikes to school. The neighbourhood is full of paedophiles and paediatrists! The traffic is too intense, it is wet and they say, ‘I don’t want little Johnny to get a cold,’ and all the rest of it. That is the reason why kids do not ride bikes to school. If you go around all of the major schools in Ballarat, they have actually removed their bike sheds. I went to the Ballarat Junior Technical School here. There were 420 students and 380 of us rode a bike to school. Today, if you went to any of the major secondary schools in town, you would be lucky to see 15 per cent of them ride a bike to school.

Similarly, they tend to use the free school bus system, they tend to use the transit service, but most of these kids are dropped off by their parents. When you talk about obstacles to using public transport—and I am about to show you what the network is like—it is all about behaviour. It is about changing behaviour. One thing I can proudly say about our region is that we have been very creative and innovative in doing a whole range of initiatives to try and change that behaviour. One is the TravelSmart program. We offered free travel Tuesdays when we changed the Ballarat transit network last year. We had the Ballarat challenge, which is run like a treasure hunt, and that got people involved in public transport. We have the Ride to Work program and Walk to Work program. There is a lot of behavioural stuff that we have been doing out there to encourage people to use public transport.

As the previous speaker said, on the rail network we have enjoyed an increase in patronage of 63 per cent since 2006. On the long-haul coach services, surprisingly enough, we have had a 27 per cent increase in patronage. Remember what I talked about: it was totally integrated and connected. A transformation occurred in 2006 and, along with that, the state government reduced fares by 20 per cent. On top of that they introduced two other initiatives. If you have a V-Line ticket you can use Ballarat transit for nothing. When you travel to Melbourne you can use the whole network for nothing—that is, trams, trains and buses—as part of your V-Line ticket. That is worth about 30 per cent of your ticket if you travel around Melbourne all day. If you live in Ararat and you come to Ararat by bus on a V-Line ticket you can actually use Ballarat transit all day for nothing as well.

What I am saying is that a whole raft of initiatives were implemented. There was the increasing level of services, the connectivity and integration, the reduction in fare levels and, on top of that, the integration of fares. The other initiative that was introduced was free travel on Sundays for anybody who is a senior. You get a seniors travel pass and you can travel on Ballarat transit and Melbourne transit for nothing all day on Sunday. With the federal government’s two free rail trips that you get with your seniors pass, you can have two days in Melbourne from a regional centre as far away as Mildura for nothing, twice a year. So you get your free V-Line pass and, when you get down there, you get free travel on the network in any case.

I tried to do a grab so you can understand where we are coming from, totally, within the region. We will show you a spatial of what actually exists. There is a network out there that is hidden—people do not realise it. We run the free school bus system. We look after 217 free school bus contracts within our region. Contrary to what you were told, it is very flexible. You can ride on it if you are a public passenger. That has always been the case. You have never been denied access. The only restriction or requirement is that the school community, the school council and the school principal will have to give approval for that passage to occur. We have, right across the region, a lot of non-state, private and secondary school students who ride on the public school bus network. They are TAFE students, adult students who are attending TAFE courses et cetera. I could cite hundreds of examples throughout the Grampians region where that is actually occurring. We use school buses as part of our community transport connections solutions. Woomelang to Swan Hill is a classic example of that. It is actually a school bus and all the people pile on at Woomelang to catch the bus over to Swan Hill.

Senator STERLE —What is the distance between Swan Hill and Woomelang?

Mr Ward —About 70 kilometres.

Senator STERLE —So the school bus will do its run—

Mr Ward —No, it does it with the passengers on it. It does both.

Senator STERLE —So the school is in Swan Hill and anyone can jump on it. I am confused.

Mr Ward —What I am saying is that we have the free school bus system—

Senator STERLE —So we do not waste your valuable time, I have got that. You correct the myth from the previous witnesses that people can and do use the school bus system, but then you talked about using school buses to do Woomelang to Swan Hill.

Mr Ward —Yes, I used that as an example.

Senator STERLE —But that is a school bus run?

Mr Ward —Yes.

Senator STERLE —Okay. I thought they did their school bus run and then they provided some other service.

Mr Ward —We have situations where the school bus does its school run and then delivers a transport connections service and we have situations where they pick up public passengers as part of the school run.

Senator STERLE —I got that very clear.

Mr Ward —And we do that right throughout the region. There are many hundreds of examples of that.

Senator STERLE —Can you clarify for me one last thing. Do you have situations where school buses do their school run and then are used for public transport?

Mr Ward —Absolutely.

Senator STERLE —That was what I was leading to on the first bit. That is great; that is fantastic.

Mr Ward —I have a pack here for you which shows a lot of the intertown regional bus services which are delivered by school bus.

Senator STERLE —I think that is wonderful. I am not ambushing you. I had a lot to do with school buses in Western Australia. If the flexibility you have just told us about were in Western Australia, it would be a far greater system.

CHAIR —Would you like to table that for the committee?

Mr Ward —Yes. I will give you an example. The Wimmera Southern Mallee Transit Service is three services—Birchip to Horsham, Hopetoun to Horsham and Kaniva to Horsham—using school buses to deliver public passengers and VET and VCAL students to Horsham and Longerenong to do courses. That is a classic example.

Senator STERLE —Good.

Mr Ward —We have lots of examples in this pack. I also want to highlight the fact that the state is actually delivering these public transport information packs right around the state. This is one for the Stawell region and I have another one here for Horsham. In my region we have delivered a lot of these. These talk about rail, long-haul coaches, community transport, taxis, school buses—the whole works and jerks. They go to every resident in the state of Victoria.

CHAIR —Would you like to make your PowerPoint presentation now?

Mr Ward —Yes.

A PowerPoint presentation was then given—

Mr Ward —We are the only region in the state of Victoria that has all of its public transport plotted on Google Earth. I will show you the intertown bus network for the Grampians region. I will fly in you from the moon.

CHAIR —Forty years later.

Mr Ward —These are the intertown services in the Grampians region. The Mildura to Horsham service is one way Monday to Thursday, and Friday return. ‘One way’ means that it comes down Monday and goes back on Tuesday, comes down Wednesday and goes back Thursday, and then goes down and back on a Friday. The frequency on that corridor is not bad for that service. The Yea-Hopetoun to Ballarat service is a Monday to Friday and Sunday return service, so six days a week. The Naracoorte to Horsham is a Monday to Friday return service. We just have got approval to put in a Friday early morning and late evening return service to enable people on that corridor to go to Melbourne and back for the day.

We have Warrnambool to Ararat; that is interregional. In other words, that links both the rail services from Melbourne to Warrnambool. You can catch the coach service up to Ararat and catch the train back to Melbourne. So we have some interregional services: we have Bendigo to Ballarat, we have Geelong to Ballarat—

Mr Gross —Basically, that is the Grampians region.

Mr Ward —That is the Grampians region. So we have a lot of interregional and intertown services. This slide shows the rail network as it currently exists; now we will put the inter-regionals on. Can you see how it all links up?

CHAIR —And this is all accessible to Joe Public through Google Earth?

Mr Ward —We can give you the files.

CHAIR —Okay. If you could do that for the committee, that would be really helpful.

Mr Ward —What I wanted to point out is the day link, which goes from Melbourne to Bendigo, through my area to Horsham and on to Adelaide. When you talk about public transport, even just in our corridor you have the Great Southern Rail service that goes Melbourne-Geelong, up through Ararat and Horsham to Adelaide; you have Greyhound; you have Firefly; you have the day link service; and then you have the V/Line services that come through Horsham to connect with the train services in Ararat. So a town like Horsham has about 10 return services a day to Melbourne. It is pretty good compared with Wagga, the example I used before; Wagga has two return services a day to Melbourne and two to Sydney.

CHAIR —Can I just interrupt and ask: why the differences between a town like that and Wagga? Why is Wagga so deficient?

Mr Ward —I was going to give you a copy of the rail network in Victoria in 1939, which was the envy of any other developed nation in the world. That is one of the reasons why our public transport is the way it is: a lot of the coach services that we offer are actually rail replacement coach services. I will not get into the history of it, but a lot of them were closed and they were replaced with coach services. Victoria, historically, is small, it is compact, but it has always enjoyed an extensive public transport network. This grand city that you are in had a tram network, basically, for nearly 120 years until it was closed in 1970. What I am saying is that because it was a very wealthy community—there was a lot of gold wealth that was generated in the state—they put in infrastructure like that over the period from the 1800s to—

CHAIR —They were just on the ball.

Mr Ward —On the ball.

CHAIR —Okay.

Mr Ward —So I think it is important for you to realise there is a historical context to it: the reason we have a good public transport system is that it has been going basically for 150 years—and it has not changed. I grew up here, and Davis Bus Lines have been providing a bus service to Ballarat for 79 years. That just says it all, doesn’t it?

CHAIR —They will be appearing this afternoon, so we will be able to ask them all about it. Do go on.

Mr Ward —The other thing I think it is important to show you is the free school bus system. But, first, what we are showing on the slide are the taxis.

Mr Gross —Yes. So you can click on the Horsham link; it has got three standard vehicles and five wheelchair-accessible taxis.

Mr Ward —Show them the smaller towns. This myth about there being no DDA transport is just a myth. You have even got DDA compliant taxis in Stawell and Ararat.

Mr Gross —Yes. Dimboola has got two standard cabs. Stawell has got four standard and two wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Mr Ward —What I am saying is that our information drills down to the number of taxis that are in each town, and we can provide that information. Could you show them the free school bus system, Peter?

Senator STERLE —Are those orange buses over there school ones?

Mr Ward —No. I will explain how it works. All of our services are delivered by private enterprise under franchise contracts. This slide shows the free school bus network, keeping in mind that that operates in conjunction with the long-haul coach services, the transit services and the interstate, intertown and interregional services. If I put all of the public transport network up there in one hit, you would be staggered by how well covered the state is.

Senator BACK —And the free school bus service is funded by the state?

Mr Ward —Yes, absolutely. I have for you a copy of the profile. I will leave this summary with you. Basically, this shows you the information very succinctly. For example, in the state we have 341 school bus centres and 1,539 contracted services. Our patronage is 26.9 million passenger journeys per annum. We have 91 per cent loadings. Our vehicle capacities average 49. We have an average loading of 44.6 students per bus. It costs the state $170 million a year to run it, and an average contract price of $110,000. If you look at the Grampians region, we run 54 school bus centres, 217 contractors and we have 3.1 million passenger journeys per annum. Our capacity loading is 37.1 in our 49-seaters, and we are spending, in our region, $24 million a year just on the free school bus system. Turning to Ballarat, just to give you an example, I transport 2,800 students morning and afternoon. I use 46 contracted buses and 42 school special buses. So, at the moment, I am operating 88 buses morning and afternoon to transport the children around in the city to get to and from school each day. That is supplemented with the nine private school buses and there are 15 special buses—like the ones for the special schools, Pinarc, Red Cross and Uniting Care—which are all wheelchair accessible. We will talk about DDA compliance shortly. I will leave you with these statistics.

CHAIR —We might move to questions fairly quickly, Mr Ward, if you want to just finish this up. But first Mr Sterle has a question.

Senator STERLE —How many non-student passenger transfers are there in that? If you do not have the answer, take it on notice; we are running out of time.

Mr Ward —No, I could not tell you.

Senator STERLE —Okay.

Mr Ward —I will just show you very quickly Ballarat Transit. That is what it looks like. The other impressive bit is that we have every bus stop and long-haul coach service stop in the region plotted on Google Earth. If you hover over a stop, we can actually tell you what its characteristics are. For example, there is a stop—it shows you that it has a flag and a shelter, is wheelchair accessible, has a seat, a timetable, tactiles, a bin and a light and is DDA compliant. The numbers relate to the route numbers of the buses that go there. We have that information for stops across the whole region, even for the long-haul coach services. We are under federal jurisdiction, so as a state agency that delivers public transport we have to be DDA compliant, and the state actually currently is compliant in excess of what the requirement was for 31 December 2007 when we had to be 25 per cent; we are about 45 per cent.

To give you an example: in our region, Horsham and Ararat are complete transit services. They are totally DDA compliant. All the stops are DDA compliant. They have all got Metlink branding on them. Every stop has a timetable on it. The bus is DDA compliant. It has total spatial coverage and total temporal coverage. Ballarat is satisfying all of those attributes. We have the temporal coverage and spatial coverage, and we have the timetabling in place, but we are only about 45 per cent DDA compliant at the moment. As you can appreciate, in a place like this, we have nearly 600 stops.

This is just another example of what we can do with Google Earth: we can just click onto the Loreto school bus interchange which we built and it will give you a visual of what it looks like. And we can pull that up and show you where our bits and pieces are anywhere in the state.

CHAIR —Modern technology! Mr Ward, we will have to move to questions because I am conscious that we might run out of time.

Senator STERLE —Let us talk about public transport around Ballarat itself. You said that Davis Bus Lines have been doing it for how many years?

Mr Ward —For 79 years.

Senator STERLE —Who owns the buses?

Mr Ward —If you have a look in my submission, public transport in the state is all delivered by the private sector. We undertake that by way of franchise contracts. Davis have now been bought out by another company. Davis deliver the transit network by way of a franchise contract to the City of Ballarat. What I mean by that is that it is no different from a McDonald’s franchise. In other words, another operator cannot come in and operate in competition with them. It certainly would not be viable. The bottom line with any public transport is that it is heavily subsidised by the state. No public transport makes a profit; I think that goes without saying.

Senator STERLE —Okay, so the buses are all owned by Davis themselves.

Mr Ward —Absolutely.

Senator STERLE —How many buses do they have?

Mr Ward —Here in this city they have just on 50.

Senator STERLE —So it would be difficult, really, for someone to compete against them. Is there a regular tender process?

Mr Ward —Yes.

Senator STERLE —How often is that?

Mr Ward —We have to put it in perspective. It is a franchise contract, so no-one else can compete.

Senator STERLE —I understand that, but for best value for the taxpayer, the people of Ballarat—

Mr Ward —That is comparable with other regions. In other words—

Senator STERLE —I did not ask you that, Mr Ward. I am just asking you how it goes to a competitive tender. Is it up every five years or 10 years?

Mr Ward —No, it is done on a renewal basis. In this case is the state is doing a total bus review. That has been completed in the metropolitan area. It will be completed in regional Victoria by 30 June next year. At that stage, all contracts will come to a conclusion. There will be some that will be competitively tendered. Others will be offered by way of a franchise contract to the current operator. As you can well appreciate, for another operator to compete, to start off with you have livery holdings, landholdings, depots, maintenance facilities, bus livery and all of that sort of stuff that has to be contended with. As I said, it just would not work going that way. There is an established routine and a relationship with the current contractor. But they are benchmarked, if you like, across other regional centres, so they are comparable in that regard.

Senator STERLE —I do understand that it would cost millions and millions of dollars for someone to come in with their own set-up. I get all that. But what is the benchmark?

Mr Ward —I suppose, from experience, what it is in other centres.

Senator STERLE —You said there are competitive tenders in other areas.

Mr Ward —If you like, I will use Bendigo as an example. There are two operators there. It is a historical situation. One operator had the northern part of the city and another operator had the southern part. Indirectly, they are competing. It was a bit like the Melbourne situation when they split the tram network.

Senator STERLE —It is similar in Perth. We have three companies that do it.

Mr Ward —If you go to Geelong, there are three companies operating down there. Ballarat is a historical set of circumstances. We had a tram network which closed in 1970. Davis were the predominant operator in the city at that time and they were offered the franchise contract to operate the tram replacement system. That is the reason we have ended up where we are.

Senator O’BRIEN —We had better get your version of the Transport Connections program.

Mr Ward —The state currently is delivering a Transport Connections program to the value of $22 million.

Senator O’BRIEN —Per annum?

Mr Ward —No, across the four-year period. Under the Victorian Transport Plan there has been a commitment for a further $80 million to the program over the term of the plan.

Senator O’BRIEN —Which is?

Mr Ward —It is 10 years. It started off as a trial and now there are 30 Transport Connections projects across the state. We have six in our region and we are currently delivering a whole raft of local transport solutions for transport disadvantaged people in our region. We are using existing livery that we have already paid the capital overheads on. It is really just additional bus hours and kilometres that we are paying for. There are a whole raft of those. I will leave them with you. The sorts of solutions that we have put in are listed in my submission.

I believe that program has been timely. It has been filling in gaps for communities. A lot of that is delivered through TCP project officers that are attached to NGOs. Very few of them are attached to local government. But, having said all that, I cannot do what I do unless I have an exceptionally good relationship with my alliance partners in local government. Probably I have a distinct advantage. Having been a senior executive officer in local government over a number of years, I understand the importance of that entity of government and what it is to us—because, at the end of the day, it invariably delivers all of the infrastructure that I require.

All the DDA compliant bus stops are actually delivered by local government for me right throughout the region. If we look at the new railway station car park in Ballarat, for example, that was delivered by the City of Ballarat on our behalf as the program managers. So those are just a few examples but they do a lot of stuff—for example, the shelter replacement program, the DDA bus stops and installing all of the roadside school bus set downs and pick-ups and all that sort of stuff.

The TCP program is an excellent program. It is an alliance partnership between four state government agencies. The TCP coordinators are assigned to either NGOs or local government. What happens is that the program is administered by the Department of Planning and Community Development and we do the procuring and delivering on behalf of that department for the TCP people. There is a very good reason for that: as you could well appreciate, there is a lot of contractual sensitivities associated with it and the TCP people cannot just go out in the field and start doing this stuff; it has to comply with a whole raft of requirements.

Our agency is a bit like local government—we not only set rules and regulations, so we have that governance responsibility in regard to delivering that requirement, but also procure and deliver services. So we are no different to a council, which has building regulations that provide overview but also delivers a private garbage contract—or procures and delivers that using a private contractor. We do exactly the same sort of thing with public transport. So it is very important that we are involved with those initiatives so we do not contravene any of the franchise contract arrangements. We have an understanding of course, as you could well appreciate, of the best value for money and delivering services in the most cost-effective way, because we cannot negotiate with our contractors to do that.

Senator O’BRIEN —What proportion of bus services in this state are delivered by the private sector not on a franchise basis but on their own initiative?

Mr Ward —I would say probably five per cent as a guess. I will give you some examples. I have Sandlants, who operate out of Stawell. They provide services from Stawell to Ararat, Stawell to Horsham and Stawell to Ballarat. They do it out of a fare box. I have Gold Bus, which provides private school bus services from Avoca and Maryborough to Ballarat. I have Bacchus Marsh Coaches, which provides a private school bus from Bacchus Marsh to Ballarat, from Blackwood to Ballarat, from Buninyong to Ballarat. The reason I highlight those is that historically Ballarat has had seven private schools and it has always been a centre, if you like, for private school education. So we have a lot of people who attend the range of private schools here, both Catholic and non-denominational schools, from the hinterland. These folk make a decision to send their kids to a private school so a private operator comes along and offers a direct service in and out so the kids do not have to be borders. That is the reason why that occurs.

Senator BACK —How are they funded? Is it by the parents?

Mr Ward —Yes, absolutely. They have to get accreditation. Remember I said that we wear several hearts. We also have that regulatory hat. If you are paying a fee for a public transport service then you expect to get there safely. So we regulate how the bus is managed, whether it is safe and whether they have those systems in place. It is an accredited service and an accredited operator. The driver has his DECISION. We do all that auditing. I have given you some statistics on the auditing that we do. We pull up as an authorised officer and have a look at the driver. Is he dressed appropriately? Are his tyres bald? Is his DC current? Has he had his recent health check? Is the bus compliant?

So even though they are private services we do have that regulatory responsibility to ensure that they are managed in such a way that you are being delivered safely. You are a paying passenger so you have that expectation. Coming from the aviation industry, I am acutely aware of that. When you board a plane, you expect to get there; and it is no different if you board a bus or a train.

Senator O’BRIEN —With the private operators who are contracted with the department, or state government, is there a mechanism where they can, for example, explore the expansion of services with the assistance of government?

Mr Ward —Absolutely.

Senator O’BRIEN —How does that work?

Mr Ward —Under the contract they are called operator initiative proposals. They have always been part of the franchise contract. Again, that is a myth. We had a very recent one. Our contractor in Ararat, which is Christians Bus Services, who run the transit service up there. He put a proposal in to us to provide a connecting service from the train out to Ararat prison on Saturday and Sunday for visitations. We have funded that. That was an operator initiative proposal under the franchise contract arrangements, which has always been in existence. We have a number of those proposals come before us from time to time. It depends on how the operator is placed, if you like; if they are keen to expand their business or not. They might be happy with what they are doing. There is that mechanism there. I might add that with the bus review it appears that that will remain as part of the contracting arrangements.

Senator BACK —I have some questions. Given the fact that we are looking at public transport as a national issue, I compliment you on your standard of excellence. There is no doubt at all that you would be benchmark, I would think.

Mr Ward —I certainly hope so.

Senator BACK —It makes me wonder as a non-Victorian whether there has not been a disproportionate of funding historically, but I will not get onto that particular question. How do we, from a national perspective, grab the best elements of what you are doing and present them and encourage their use in other local government or regional areas so that we can effectively encourage other areas of Australia to move in this direction?

Mr Ward —It is a fair call to say that the cross-pollinisation of ideas occurs across a whole range of groups. For example, I have been a member of the Institute of Engineers for 38 years. We have our annual conferences and meetings. When I was involved with the aviation industry, the Australian Airports Association had regular conferences and the like. Ideas do get spread around the nation through those various avenues. It is a fair call to say that even this state came to the realisation about four or five years ago that it needed a service level standard to be set for various community sizes. We have fundamentally met that right around the state. That might be something worth while having as a national aspiration. If you have a community of 300 people, you would expect a certain standard of service.

To pick up on what Senator McGauran said, if you are living in a place like Hopetoun you cannot expect to have a half-hour bus service to Melbourne. If you get a return service a day, that is not unreasonable, considering that Hopetoun is a five-and-a-half hour drive to Melbourne and if you are going to Melbourne it is probably for health or commerce or to watch the footy of whatever, so you are going to be down there all day anyway. But if you get to a city the size of Ballarat, which has 90,000 people, you would expect a frequency past your door of about half hour. You have a series of service level standards that are aspirational. They will depend on funding and on the standards that you can meet.

There is one aspect to this that you need to be very mindful of. Having worked in New South Wales in the aviation industry, Victoria is very compact by comparison. The only RPT services that operate here are from Mildura and Portland. If you look at New South Wales, there are RPT services that operate out of Wagga, Albury—

Senator BACK —What does ‘RPT’ stand for?

Mr Ward ——Regular public transport air services.

Senator BACK —Aviation services.

Mr Ward —Yes. You have Narrandera, Griffith, Wagga, Lismore, Albury-Wodonga and so on. You need to be very mindful that when you get into a place like Western Australia, Queensland or New South Wales that air services play a very big role in that particular mix. As I know from working there, Queensland and Western Australia subsidise air services for some of their isolated communities, such as Longreach. That is no different to subsidised long haul coach services from Naracoorte to Melbourne. When you look at benchmarks, it is often difficult. To do a comparison, Queensland and Western Australia are similar because of their size and the nature of their public transport mix. I suppose that you could throw the Northern Territory in there. It is very difficult to compare Victoria with another state because it does not have that mix of aviation services. We are so small and we are so compact that it is all road based. I would encourage you to continue to fund roads, because most of our public transport is delivered on roads. You need to be mindful of that. The steel based public transport solution is a fetish. It is very expensive and you cannot keep delivering that. The most flexible way of delivering public transport is by coaches and by buses, and you need good roads to do that.

Senator STERLE —We have problems with that—

Mr Ward —And I am just saying that we want to be mindful of that. The predominant source of public transport in our state is delivered on road, whether it is a transit service, a long-haul coach service, community transport or whatever. There are a limited number of rail services, mostly metropolitan based. I have to say that that solution is very fitting for a place like Melbourne or Ballarat or the major provincial centres, but to run a rail service to Hopetoun, for example, really would not be cost-effective—

Senator BACK —Just staying, if I may, with the Grampians region and benchmarking, would the other regions of Victoria deliver a similar report to yours this morning?

Mr Ward —Absolutely. We are all very similar and about the same level. The only thing I can skite about is that we are the only ones who have it plotted on Google Earth for you so I am glad that you have chosen our region—

Senator BACK —Then I will ask you about your branch values. I compliment you on them, but how do you measure them and how do you report their effectiveness to the community each year?

Mr Ward —Absolutely. In my Grampians region we undertake a stakeholder satisfaction survey every year. That is widely sent out to a whole range of stakeholders—NGOs, service providers, local government, bus drivers, you name it. We just select anybody and everyone; it is a scattergun effect. We have that feedback and I have to say that we are rating at the moment at very good to excellent in what we do in our region. I can give you a copy of that, if you like. I can forward that.

CHAIR —That would be very useful. The information that you provided for us you have referred to a couple of times this morning as a submission. Would you like to table it as a formal submission?

Mr Ward —The only thing I am a bit conscious of—and I talked to your secretary—is that I did mark it as confidential. There are some elements of that which relate to me and my staff and I really do not believe that that is open for public—

CHAIR —We can just leave it as a confidential document; that is fine.

Mr Ward —I think that the other bits and pieces about what we deliver in the region is really open and that is on the public record.

Senator STERLE —We talk about myths and all that, and it is amazing what has been put out there to us as we have travelled around the country. There are certain elements of Australian society that have the belief that light rail is the way to go, that light rail is the future, because they do it in Antwerp or The Hague or somewhere like that. Would you like to go just a little bit more into why it is not feasible financially for an area like Victoria? I think it is important to get something on that on the Hansard record.

Mr Ward —I will give you some examples. This city in one of its grand plans for the central business district is currently going through a study and there is an element of the community that would like to see light rail up and down Sturt Street. It would cost $15 million to install it and there would be a million-dollar deficit per annum to run it. Then you would still have the problem of how you would connect that to the transit network. To run a light rail from the city out to the University of Ballarat would cost $34 million

Senator STERLE —How far is that?

Mr Ward —Ten kilometres, and it would probably have a deficit of $3 million to $4 million per annum. The biggest pitfall with it would be its lack of flexibility. If you have the critical mass like Melbourne, I would not have a problem with that, but if you have a look at our European neighbours—and I call them neighbours today because the world is such a small place—they have the critical mass. The cities are huge and the demand is there and people do not have private motor cars and they do not have other options. You cannot reintroduce light rail to places like Ballarat because it is just not viable. It is very simply that. The reason the light tram network was put in place was because people were still driving around in horse-drawn buggies. That is very simply the best way I can describe it. It is not financially viable in regional Victoria. You would be crazy to think that it is. Road based public transport is certainly the way to go and you do that with fuel efficient vehicles. You use alternative fuels—whether electric, or hybrid fuels or whatever. The beauty of it is that the bus can zap off the freeway, go into the town, come back onto the freeway and drop into the next place. If you use the example from Ballarat to Ararat, there were train stations at Buangor and Trawalla. They do not exist any longer. When train services were reintroduced just the cost of building a railway station was enormous. We have just finished Wendouree Station up here and it cost $20 million—for two passengers a week! You just cannot justify that. So we run a bus service there to complement that. It is horses for courses. The steel rail fetish is great for large populations in congested areas where it is not an option to use your private motor car. I think that is the way to go.

I want to quickly say again that cycling and rail are totally integrated in all the work that we do. We have integration with cycle paths. We have cycle lockers. We have park aids at railway stations so that, if you are cycling to a station, you can leave your bike there. You can take your cycle on every region rail service; there is provision for it. I just want to make that very clear. It is a nonsense to say that you cannot; you can. And a lot of people do, I might add. We are now transporting about 1,200 people a day from Ballarat to Melbourne. Some of the passengers who work in Melbourne take their bikes with them. They can cycle from the Southern Cross Station to their place of work and then cycle back to the station. They come back to Ballarat in the train and then cycle home again.

Senator STERLE —So there is room on the train.

Mr Ward —Sure.

Senator STERLE —How many bikes would be on the train? Do you have that information?

Mr Ward —There are what I call the commuter services—they start at 5.30 am and run about every 45 minutes—and you can get anywhere up to six cycles on a twin set velocity train. You have to keep in mind that, with your V/Line ticket, you get the Melbourne transit network for nothing. I will put it all into perspective for you: if you are a regular commuter to Melbourne on a day-to-day ticket, a weekly ticket costs you $60. For that $60, which basically works out at $12 a day, you can get on Ballarat transit to the station, which is totally connected to the train services. You get your train trip down to Melbourne, where you can catch the tram, train or bus out to zone 2. You can then come back to Melbourne, train back to Ballarat and transit home. That costs you 12 bucks. So why would you take your bike with you? Because of the inclement weather. And why would you drive your car? That is why rail services in Victoria have exploded. It is cost effective. If you drive your car down to Melbourne, you are up for $24 for your petrol. If you can get cheap parking, it is $15 a day, and then you have four hours driving time.

Senator STERLE —I have been one of the supporters of Victoria’s public transport system since we started this inquiry. I think I have made that very clear. One last thing: when we talk about road versus light rail for a city like Ballarat, let us not forget that those routes are not only public transport routes but also, as importantly, major freight routes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much Mr Ward and Mr Gross for appearing today.

Mr Ward —Chair, I will just very quickly show you one of our timetables. Do you see how it has the disabled sign on it?


Mr Ward —That shows you that the system is completely DDA compliant. We have put a whole host of stuff together for you to have a look at.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Ward.

Proceedings suspended from 12.42 pm to 1.16 pm