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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
30/03/2009
Investment of Commonwealth and state funds in public passenger transport

CHAIR —Welcome. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Prof. Currie —I am the chair of public transport at the Institute of Transport Studies, Monash University.

CHAIR —You have lodged submission 34 with the committee. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to that submission?

Prof. Currie —No.

CHAIR —I invite you to make an opening statement.

Prof. Currie —The committee will not have any problem in identifying issues about public transport in Australia, but it would well directed if it were to focus on the fact that most of the issues arise because we do not have very much of it. Most of our cities do not have any reasonable form of public transport. By that I mean that most of the residents of our cities do not have any real access to any quality services; hence most people do not use it. The services are very uncoordinated and disjointed because of the lack of service. As a result people do not like public transport very much, but I think that is fundamentally because there is not much of it. That is a problem, because there are significant benefits to the nation in having good public transport services, and my submission details these.

I would like to highlight a significant gap between the federal approach to these issues in Australia versus all of the OECD nations. The federal approach has been to leave public transport to the states, but I think there are some major structural reasons why the federal government should be involved. You can look at all the OECD nations and see that they are significantly involved in ensuring the quality of investment and, in fact, the quality of management and knowledge. I believe Australia has a significant knowledge management problem in urban public transport because state governments manage services. They are very sensitive about information and do not share it very well. Planning studies, which are usually undertaken by consultants with confidentiality deeds, are very rarely shared. As a result, we get very localised coverage of the issues and we get research duplication. So we are actually spending more money for less sharing of knowledge and we limit the benefits that any research that is undertaken can provide.

Because state governments are funding it, we have extremely reactive planning approaches. In fact, I would not call it planning; I would call it reaction. That means that new industry professionals have extremely an large learning curve to go through. Indeed, one of the features of how we have managed our public transport systems is that we have corporatised and privatised them and had a huge turnover of staff, so we have to continuously train staff, yet we do not have very good training systems. There are real knowledge retention risks when we get rid of staff and have a very high staff turnover and, in the end, we have a barrier to industry potential. Another remarkable feature of this problem is that we yet again stand out in the world as the only country that has got this. In the United States there is a very well-organised federal program run to the Transportation Research Board to coordinate knowledge and share it evenly. Because George Bush put an awful lot of funding into urban public transport in the United States, it comes with lots of ties that ensure quality and sharing of knowledge. I can go to a computer now and download all the accounts for all of the United States transit agencies, whereas I find it very hard to find out what is happening in Australia. This is true of Europe. It is a real problem, and it is something that the federal government may be able to help with.

In relation to best practices, there are so many things I could talk to you about best practices but I would start and finish by saying that we need to be expanding our public transport systems to be able to provide some. I think those expansions should be based on the benefits and costs of doing so, so that we might have an open and defendable case about where we should spend our money. I thought I would keep this presentation short, as I have given you a detailed submission and you want me to answer questions, so that is it.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator BACK —I read your submission with great interest, Professor. What is the reaction of state planning authorities to you and your views? You have obviously expressed them and you have no doubt been called upon. Have you been listened to; if not, why not? If you have been listened to, where have you been listened to?

Prof. Currie —That is a really good question. I have certainly said these views many times and I think there is a general agreement. The question is: what can they do about it? All states find it difficult to fund transit. On the knowledge management issue, one of the interesting points is that all the road authorities are very well organised and do not have these sorts of problems. Indeed, the federal government helps the road authorities through funding through Austroads, yet this does not happen in public transport. So the road sector is very well organised; the public transport system is extremely badly organised. I think most of the authorities in public transport would agree with that. Of course, each of these different authorities are going to find it a real problem to actually do anything about it. What we need is some leadership at the federal level to tie this together for national reasons and for national benefits.

Senator BACK —You make a very interesting point, and it is a remarkable figure: $58 billion versus $1.8 billion over time. Is it because the road-using industry have been very good lobbyists in the past or is it because we grew up with a love of the motor car? Has the community yet turned its mind to wanting governments to spend more on public transport and less on private road transport for their convenience?

Prof. Currie —I think the community has. All of the evidence I have seen from community services, a lot of them actually run by NRMA and RACV—the road authorities—shows great support for public transport, but the decision makers seem to lag behind this community support. Indeed, what is remarkable in Australia at the moment is the huge growth in ridership that we are seeing in places like Melbourne, despite what are really very poor quality services. It is a demonstration that people are willing to use it, despite the fact that it is quite hard for them to do so.

Senator BACK —You make the point that there really is a strong role for the Commonwealth government. In the past it has clearly been a state government function. Certainly my state minister for transport made it very clear to me in a discussion I had informally the other day that his view, and probably it reflects the views of the other state transport ministers, is that the Commonwealth should continue to pass over whatever funds it has available and let the states handle it. Your argument, I think, is not just for a one-off injection of funds by the Commonwealth but an ongoing commitment. If there is that commitment, how does the Commonwealth satisfy itself and its constituents, being the taxpayers, that the money is being well spent? What sorts of governance processes can we put into place?

Prof. Currie —There are plenty of models of this, given that all the OECD nations do it. So it would not be too hard to find governance methods. I think you should do it an open, clear and defendable way. I do think the commitment should be permanent. It does not necessarily have to cost your more money, interestingly enough. Your GST dollars end up in the states somewhere, but it is not necessarily clear on how they are spent. If you were to tie performance of the authorities to that money, you would find them being more open about giving out information. This is what happens in the United States through the Federal Transit Administration. They give out money every year, but if you want that money you have to fulfil certain obligations and have certain policies, which the federal government could state. It is sort of a way of keeping them honest. I am sure the state authorities and the state governments quite like the existing situation, but I think there are significant national concerns which could be protected through the federal government organising its funding in this way.

Senator BACK —I was distressed, when I read this report, by your comment on how many reports are commissioned by various groups, be they state, local or whatever, that simply never get released and therefore do not see the light of day and do not have the opportunity to be picked up and benchmarked, for example. Is this peculiarly Australian, and how do we reverse that? If public funds are going to be used to commission reports, how do we ensure that the public at large gets the benefit of the outcomes?

Prof. Currie —Is it particularly Australian? More so here than anywhere I have ever seen, largely because there is no requirement for them not to be. Administrations are naturally conservative, so they tend to avoid doing anything unless they have to. How do we solve that problem? Why don’t you tie all the funding you currently provide to them making it open? That way they would have to do so. There will be some commercial concerns, but I am sure the bow goes far further than it should. I think everything that is produced for government should be on a website so everyone can look at it. To give you some indication, in Melbourne this is at least a billion dollar a year amount of subsidy. In fact, it is a lot more than that, I am sure. So it is $1,000 plus per household that goes into subsidising these things. Do not get me wrong—the benefits are certainly there, but I think there is a great public interest in sharing all of this knowledge. As a consultant, I have many times done the same study in different states. We have very good consultants and experts in this country, but they are all hidden. I would rather have that expertise open, working on new projects and developing new knowledge than have it hidden and not used efficiently.

Senator BACK —Being on this committee you get advice in one particular city in Australia; then you sit there thinking to yourself, ‘Does that not have application elsewhere?’ If our committee—however inexpert and unable to allocate time to these sorts of activities—can see that, people like you must be very frustrated by that process.

Prof. Currie —Yes, but my aim in life is to increase knowledge and learning not just in an academic sense but even for Joe Public, and I do not think we are going to get very far until that is the case. I do not think Joe Public understands the problems that we are facing now. These are not small issues. They are actually fundamental to our future.

Senator BACK —Thank you.

Senator HUTCHINS —Do you think referring to passenger transport as ‘public transport’ is a problem?

Prof. Currie —There are many definitional problems in the field and they do not help to make it clear; but, to be frank, in the massive range of issues and problems in the field, I do not think it is a massively big problem. I do worry that, particularly at a federal level, urban transport is either road funding or something to do with freight. In national conferences around the nation there is far too much that talks about those two issues and leaves out urban public transport. Given the scale of the issues involved and the nature of the solutions that public transport can give, I think it deserves to have its own field.

Senator HUTCHINS —We had the Bus Industry Confederation of Australia, who have called for a federal minister for public transport. It seems that here in Melbourne you have a great degree of private investment in urban passenger services. We get people here like the Public Transport Users Association this morning. I am pretty sure they know what they are talking about, but other people in the rest of the country would probably think that they are an advocate for publicly owned trams, ferries, buses and trains.

Prof. Currie —My view about the issue of public or private is that it is a little bit of a distraction. Do not get me wrong—I am sure we do have to manage these resources well, given the scale of them. But for years we have had corporatisation reviews and privatisations. I have seen good public sector operators and bad public sector operators; I have seen good private operators and bad ones. In the end, what is good and bad about the public transport systems they operate is fundamentally about the investment that goes into it. In your statement before, you said there is private investment in public transport here. That is only because there is public investment. In the end, although we have private bus operators here and we have a franchisee, they are all here because they are being paid large subsidies by government to run the services. In general, virtually none of them would operate unless there was government subsidy. Our cost recovery from fare box here is something like 20 per cent because our city is of such incredibly low density. There are a lot of furphies about this. For example, in Sydney the STA believes it is a cost recovery operation. This is not the case; there are many subsidies that have been hidden in concession fare schemes and so forth for various political reasons.

Senator HUTCHINS —That brings me to my next question. We have had the view of Mr Paul Mees that the main problem for the public transport of Melbourne is poor management rather than lack of investment. What is your reading of that statement? Do you agree with him?

Prof. Currie —I think there is always room for improvement but I do not think it is fundamentally the biggest problem. Two-thirds of this city is covered by buses. Even though we have the largest tram system in the world and a very large railway, two-thirds of residents do not live anywhere near trams and trains, and the average bus, at the time that I measured it, was every 40 minutes. Buses then ran from about 7 am to 7 o’clock at night. On Sundays only 20 per cent of them ran. I put it to you that that is not public transport—there is none. You could nationalise that if you wish. It might end up costing you a little bit more; there is an argument that private sector contestability and contracts can save money. You could nationalise that, and you might even be able to run it a little bit better than it is run now—or not; I do not really know. But I put it to you that, if there is none, it does not matter whether it is privatised, nationalised or whatever; it just cannot be very good because it is so basically not there.

Senator HUTCHINS —It would appear, as you just said then, that a number of the people would not have access to the trains or trams. Buses are probably a common use of transport that they might have access to. Is there an argument for, as I asked a previous witness, having within five kilometres of the CBD—a radius in which we have a lot of affluent people but there are undoubtedly pockets that are less affluent—some sort of differential charge for that zone because people there can get to work in 10 minutes on a tram or a train? They do not have to think about having to get to the station and having an hour’s ride into the CBD if that is where they work. Rather than having a distance rate, where if you travel 40 kilometres you pay more than if you travel five, you can identify these social services in that radius and have the people there pay more to cover the cost of the person who travels 40 kilometres. Does something like that apply to any countries in the world?

Prof. Currie —You are now referring to the rationale for your fare-and-ticketing system. The most common ticketing system in the world is flat fare. However, that is a real problem in gigantic cities like Australian cities because it means someone travelling a very long distance would be paying the same fare as someone just running up and down Collins Street. But you have raised the issue of inequality in fare payments, and almost certainly most Australian cities would have what is called a regressive subsidy system—in other words, the subsidies that go into public transport systems are mostly received by richer people. I think that on an equity basis there would be a case to consider higher fares for those people; however, at the same time, providing public transport and having them use it rather than the car is a very attractive alternative in centre cities, which are highly congested. I do not know if you are aware, but Australian congestion is world leading. As a share of our GDP, the congestion costs in Australia are much higher than the United States and, in fact, higher than the OECD. All fare systems and the design of public transport systems are compromised between the many objectives we have. I am sympathetic to the idea that higher-income users should pay more, but there are wider objectives for designing these things and I think they might be more important than the equity issue in that case.

Senator HUTCHINS —In Sydney, with what you can pay for a parking spot in the CBD you could almost buy a block of land on the outskirts. That is not the case here in Melbourne, where there seem to be fairly reasonable, if not low, car park fees here.

Prof. Currie —Melbourne’s CBD has been a huge success story in sustainable transport. Although we had massive growth in car parking in the CBD, it is not well used now because in our CBD the public transport mode share has been rocketing. At the same time, we have had about a 40 per cent growth in employment in the last five or 10 years. In the end, because car travel to the CBD has been going down, there has been a bit of a glut in parking here.

Senator LUDLAM —Thank you for coming in. A lot of people have pointed out to us the asymmetry between Commonwealth funding for roads and funding for rail. Has anybody bothered to put together state and local expenditure for road and for public transport over any period of time?

Prof. Currie —What you are referring to here is one of the many examples where we do not have knowledge about what happens with our money. I have not seen that. I have quoted some data I have been trying to find in my research, but that data is old. What we need is someone to go through the data in a credible way to give us an answer to that question. The answer is no.

Senator LUDLAM —When we try to do that—and perhaps that is something this committee might attempt to do—how much are we going to find is blacked out, commercial-in-confidence and so on?

Prof. Currie —There will be that problem. The state administrations are mightily sensitive about issues. I do not think it is very fair that that is the case. I am not convinced that commercial-in-confidence reasons are a reasonable rationale in every case.

Senator LUDLAM —You are suggesting, though, that it actually is going to be quite tricky to put together a picture of state funding over the period of time for which we do have accurate information for Commonwealth funding?

Prof. Currie —I know it is going to be.

Senator LUDLAM —Great. Professor Newman, when we spoke to him this time last week in Perth, talked about agglomeration economics and the benefits of packing things in tightly. Can you give us your thoughts on that?

Prof. Currie —I will be very simple about this—I could start quoting lots of economics for you if you like. Why do people pay such massive rents to be in these tower blocks? Why would they do it if they are not getting a really good benefit out of it? Agglomeration economies say that people are in these tower blocks because it is good for them and businesses like it. One of the most amazing features even in Australia where we are highly car dependent is, wherever we have high density, railways and public transport dominate access to the city. What agglomeration economies are saying is that there are significant economic benefits to the nation of having CBDs. Some recent research, which I quoted, shows that something like 78 per cent of the growth in the last five to 10 years in Australia has been in the service sector in CBDs, and of course they are in cities where we have high density. Where does transport tie in? One railway tunnel can be the equivalent of many, many freeways. It is just ludicrous to think that city centres like this could be realistically serviced by freeways. The car parking would take up so much room and it would be such an ugly thing. What I am saying is that there are significant economic benefits from businesses being able to locate together—agglomeration—which are not commonly included in the economic evaluation of projects such as railways. They are included in Germany and the Netherlands, but they are not in Australia even though it is quite clear there are significant benefits.

Senator LUDLAM —If we incorporated those benefits in our modelling, would that help make the case, for example, for creating middle-ring or outer suburban centres?

Prof. Currie —It does not just work with CBDs; however I think we are focused on CBDs at the moment. I think that multinodal development makes sense and agglomeration economies can work in smaller CBDs as well as the main ones. In Sydney, if you look at North Sydney, Chatswood and so forth you can see that this is occurring. Will it improve the case for investment? Absolutely. The best example I have seen is the Crossrail project in London, which was largely justified on the basis of the agglomeration economies through work from a researcher called Rod Eddington.

CHAIR —We know of him.

Senator LUDLAM —A familiar name. You say in your submission on page 10 that there should be priority for public transport using the road network. I asked the previous witness this as well: what is the cost of slowing down the traffic, or are we borrowing part of the road network for public transport?

Prof. Currie —You can be a rationalist economist with this argument. Each tram in this city is way over a kilometres worth, equivalent, of traffic. Traffic is killing our cities at the moment. It really is growing at an enormous rate. All the state governments tell us they are managing congestion. No, they are not. They are doing the best they can with a problem that is not going away. We have had investment in urban roads and they are just generating more and more traffic and creating the need for more investment. Public transport priority is just common sense. One train is 1,000-plus people, and 1,000-plus people on a road is several kilometres of traffic. Not giving priority does not make any sense, so it is just a logical thing to do. Are we doing it and should we slow traffic down? Absolutely, because it makes common sense to give the space to the most efficient mode. I have an excellent photograph in one of my research papers of Hoddle Street, which is entirely covered in traffic, right into the distance. There are three buses at the side of this picture and there are more people on those three buses than in the entire traffic stream. This is just a no-brainer to me. Any sensible city that wants to be economically efficient should be doing these sorts of things.

Senator LUDLAM —Great answer. Thanks.

Senator HUTCHINS —Do you have a view about whether urban passenger transport should be free?

Prof. Currie —Yes. The economics of this are quite clear. In Melbourne we get maybe $300 million or $400 million from fares at the moment, so we will have to pay that money or effectively have subsidies of that nature. We will probably get a 20 to 30 per cent growth in patronage—fare elasticity is extremely well-documented, for centuries virtually. So it is going to cost us $300 million to $400 million to get a 20 to 30 per cent growth in patronage. Now, do we really need patronage growth at the moment!

There is another problem. My central thesis in my submission is that we do not have public transport, so most of the people in this city will have a free public transport system when they do not actually have any—so it does not really matter. I asked that question at a conference of disadvantaged people—I do a lot of work in transport disadvantage. Disadvantaged people living on the fringe of cities have very little public transport but they are very sensitive to fares because they do not have much income. I asked them to vote on whether they would like to have free public transport or to have more investment in public transport. There was about a 98 to 99 per cent vote for more investment because, from their point of view, there was not a lot of point in having it free because if they do not have any they cannot use it anyway.

Senator HUTCHINS —I am from Sydney. We have had evidence before us in our inquiry and there is definitely anecdotal evidence that there has been congestion around the railway stations in the outer suburbs because buses trying to get in to the station are competing with more cars trying to find parking because people did not to pay $1.40 or so a litre for petrol. And because there was more patronage the trains were delayed because more people were getting on and off. The schedules are for the trains to take two or three minutes at stations but, with more people, it was taking five minutes, and that accumulated, impacting particularly on the outer suburbs. Do you have any magic wand?

Prof. Currie —There is no magic wand—

Senator HUTCHINS —There is also the size of the stations: built for eight carriages not 15 or something like that.

Prof. Currie —The reason we have these problems is because we do not have much public transport, so as soon as people start to use it we have all these issues emerging. We have chronically underinvested for decades. One problem I have not raised yet is the issue of park-and-ride. We have a park-and-ride rail system in Australia in our urban areas. Something like 40 per cent of all railway journeys in the morning are people going from home to work who come by car based access. Why is that? Why are we world leaders in park-and-ride? It is because there is not much walk-on catchment for many of our stations and because the bus access is so poor. We are highly reliant on park-and-ride and kiss-and-ride—kiss-and-ride is where you get dropped off.

I put it to you that this is not an efficient use of land. I think a lot of you are from Western Australia, where I have been involved in designing the northern suburbs railway. There are massive parking lots. I was worried when we were designing them whether people would use them, but of course they do, in swathes, because they have no alternative. This is inefficient because it is prime land next to railway stations. A real benefit might be to sell the land, put high-density development there, get more trips out of it as a result and also make some money. That would be a very hard policy to put in place, but that is another example of the types of problems we have. You mentioned the conflict of buses and cars. That is well documented in all of the overseas literature that details what best practices. We do not actually have any in Australia, of course, because we do not have any knowledge management.

Senator HUTCHINS —Inevitably it leads to overcrowding on the trains, the frustration of trying to get on the train in the first place and then the delays. If the price of fuel drops, people will get back in their cars, having had a very bad experience in trying to catch a train and get to work on time.

Prof. Currie —Our infrastructure is not built for the large volumes we are getting. The carriages are not designed for mass entry or exit. We have double-deck trains in Sydney which are hard to load and unload unless you manage them very carefully. These are fundamental structural problems.

CHAIR —I think one thing that is becoming very clear as we are travelling around the country, Professor Currie, is that there no one size that fits all. Every city is completely different and has its own intricacies that do not match other systems in other states. I would be interested in your view on this. We heard in Brisbane and Perth that so much of the traffic movements in or through the city were people crossing the city to get to work on the other side. Perth and Brisbane matched in that, but it could not be further from the truth in Melbourne. I am still gobsmacked—and you mentioned that you have to wait 40 minutes in between as an average—that you have to wait 30 minutes for a bus to get from Carlton to Collingwood.

Prof. Currie —That is the norm. That is not an unusual case, by the way.

CHAIR —Yes, I fully understand that, and that is between seven o’clock in the morning and seven o’clock at night. On Saturdays there are even fewer buses. We talk about sustainable transport, but how the heck does that get fixed?

Prof. Currie —As I have said from the beginning, the fundamental problem is that we do not have much public transport, and that is why waiting times are so long. That is why the quality is a problem. That is why we have overloading when people try and use it. We have to provide more. I think there is a common national constant in all of these cities, although they have local flavours, and that is the word ‘investment’. Brisbane has achieved great things with its bus network because it invested in providing quality. Perth has changed its mode share a lot from a low level because it had investment in railways. Each of these cities, if they invest in the quantity and the quality of the services, will get higher usage. It is simple. I would add an extra flavour to that: you could go and spend many billions of dollars—and you would have to: many tens of billions—but you are always going to be struggling to get the money.

I put it to you that a sustainable long-term way of going about it would be to do what George Bush did. He has more than doubled investment in urban public transport in the United States through creating a fund from the fuel tax. Something like 13c from every gallon goes into a fund to invest in urban public transport systems. They give that money to all the states, and there are always ties to that money, such as the production of reports. Every year they have to produce an annual report on ridership, where their costs are and what their efficiencies are. There is a fund that goes into research to make sure that there are best practices guides which are shared on the internet every time. They have literally 200 reports on the internet now on best practice in urban public transport. I would put it to you that there is not a single one in Australia. There are reports around but nothing that is seen to be an agreed national approach. I think is a common sense-way forward that is sustainable. We do not have to have this argument every now and then about how much we put in.

—Of course, the difficulty that we are hearing about around the country is that there is no argument that if there is an efficient heavy railway system and there are bus links—whether it be rapid bus transit or whatever—to get the suburbs to the railway line, it is successful. But it is not just a case of saying, ‘Let’s build more railway lines’.

—No. We should be efficient in how we go about this. There is almost consensus now amongst the academic community that strong networks with high-frequency and very high-quality transfers are part of the solution for these cities. I would emphasise that Australian cities are gigantically huge. It is really useful to see them in the context of European cities and how small those cities are. In Perth, the distance from the north to the south is almost like a national scale in some countries. Why am I telling you this? It is because having railways everywhere is just not going to be a possibility. We get one or two railways every few years in Australia and, honestly, to fill the gaps in Melbourne we probably need 30 or 40 more. We are never going to get that. I think we should look for cost effective investments.

I do think the new generation of what are called bus rapid transit systems are an opportunity. And every state is doing this. Even Perth has its Network 21. Brisbane has its busway network now. Melbourne has its SmartBus network. Even though Melbourne only has about five SmartBus routes now—these are high-quality bus services—that network is already bigger than the whole of our tram network, and no-one would ever have imagined that we would have invested in twice the tram network we had because of the money involved. We have to be clever about how we use our money. I think getting the problems out there to help solve and fund solutions, such as congestion-pricing type taxes or car based taxes on fuel, to solve the problem are a very sensible way forward. Then we have to be clear that the investment we make is the most cost effective way of using the money.

CHAIR —That is very interesting. Not too many people have come out with the same views as you have. It is all very well to say rail is fantastic and leaves a lesser carbon footprint, but the truth of the matter is it takes land; then we start talking about ploughing through people’s backyards or whatever it may be. There has also been the line from some witnesses that, if there is a road there, you can take away a bit of the road and put a railway line on it, but it is just not that simple. I have said to the Bus Industry Confederation that, with rubber wheels, there is flexibility. Of course, the argument then is on what powers those buses. That is a good argument to have, but when all is said and done we still have expanding suburbs. Sydney is a classic example of where there was no forethought of: ‘What are we going to do for public transport before we build this suburb?’ They have got themselves in a huge pickle. It is hard to believe in this day and age that public transport cannot be part of the planning for a new suburb in some states, but that problem is there and it is alive and well. Even if we are talking bus rapid transit, busways or whatever, we still have a problem with what they are going to run on.

Prof. Currie —Yes, the question of fuel. Light rail is an interesting and very progressive alternative to these things. It is a quality alternative and it is more expensive, so you have a trade-off between expense and quality. What do I mean by that? There is a lot of evidence that people prefer light rail to buses, but I think the evidence is a little unclear about light rail versus good quality bus rapid transit. In the end, we are talking about the same thing—the mode does not matter. We are talking about reserved rights of way, high frequency and platform entries, not that any these features are currently in place in bus rapid transit in Australia by the way, although they could be. Light rail could have capacity advantages, and it definitely has an environmental advantage at the moment because it uses electrically based fuel, although it depends on how you power that fuel, of course. If it is brown coal it is still problem. I do not want to get caught up in what mode it is. All I would like is quality. If some states are willing to pay the extra money to get that quality, good on them, although it is quite likely their investment will be more focused in a smaller area than a bigger one, and that is a horrible trade-off each of the states is going to have.

CHAIR —Continuing with buses as an example, the catch is that you still have to provide dedicated lanes. I do not go too far out of the Melbourne CBD, but there do not seem to be too many roads where you could just take out one lane and dedicate it to buses.

Prof. Currie —There is a flexibility with bus rapid transit—when things get really tight you can run on the street. But in some ways a benefit of light rail is that it does not let you do that. The Gold Coast is going through these issues now. They have some very tight locations where they want to run the trams, and it is not going to give them much option. They have to segregate it, protect it and make it more reliable or not. I think they probably will have to, and that is a good thing in a way. You are concerned about taking road space; I am not because in the long-term future it is going to be the sensible thing to do. I completely agree that it is hard politically. It is a case of conflicting objectives between local people who want to have access by car—and particularly traders want parking. But these issues are holding us back in achieving many of the things that we want to, and we are going to have to make a hard decision.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your time and assistance to the committee.

[11.45 am]