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Local government key to tackling public transport woes: expert

There are better outcomes when councils run public transport, says Graham Currie.

One of Australia’s foremost public transport experts has called for greater local government involvement in Australia’s public transport system.

Professor Graham Currie, the world’s first public transport professor and director of Monash University’s Public Transport Research Group says the most successful public transport systems, both nationally and around the world, are steered by local governments.

Councils need to campaign for greater involvement in public transport based on their ratepayer’s needs if Australia is to drastically improve transport networks in line with international best practice, he argues.

 “There is a particularly Australian flavour to the problems we have in this country,” Professor Currie told Government News.

Professor Graham Currie

“We have a very strong central government, our states have all revolved around big cities and as a result we’ve had less local government involvement in public transport provision. That’s quite unusual internationally – France, the United States even, have much more local government involvement,” he said.

Professor Currie said that where local governments in Australia have had greater power, they have had markedly differently outcomes.

He points to Brisbane, where one of the largest bus fleets in Australia is run by local government.

“It’s one of best in the world and we have a local government running it,” said Professor Currie, who has published more papers in leading academic journals on public transport than any other researcher.

“Whenever we have local government involvement in running, managing, funding we get better outcomes,” he said.

The Gold Coast’s light rail and the Canberra and Darwin public transport systems are other examples where “local government involvement has been much more successful with public transport,” Professor Currie said.

“Councils should be doing facilitation, which means campaigning and working with other local governments to bring about change. Councils can do things better by encouraging better design and running transport systems themselves,” he said.

Urban sprawl a key issue

Urban sprawl operates as the greatest impediment to an efficient public transport system in Australia’s capital cities, according to Professor Currie. European-style high density inner areas and urban sprawl on the fringe is the “new dynamic” in Australia, which is creating a need for better public transport services, he said.  

Addressing urban sprawl through better planning controls could help to ameliorate the problem.

“We could do it with planning by having constraints on boundaries of cities and encouraging high-density development,” he said.

Funding model flawed

Professor Currie argues that state governments need to review the current public transport funding models, saying a reliance on fuel taxes to fund road maintenance is problematic as the road system is increasingly electrified.  

 “There are international funding models around which will help solve the problem and many cities now are pricing use of transport in congested cities.”

As Government News reported last week, the City of Melbourne is currently exploring long-term options to meet unprecedented demand for public transport.

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