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Bus And Coach Association Speech - Mark Gosche

Introduction

Kia ora, talofa lava, greetings to you all.

Thank you for inviting me here this morning to speak to you at your annual conference. I like the theme - Busing to the Future - and I’m going to talk to you today about some of the things the Government is doing now to ensure that future is a bright one for your industry.

Before I begin, though, I would like to take this opportunity to thank John Collyns, Executive Director of the Bus and Coach Association, who kindly invited me to speak to you this morning, and Neil Dobson, President of the Bus and Coach Association.

I would also like to say welcome to Wolfgang Schilha, Vice President of Driveline Technology Business Unit in Germany. Both Herr Schilha and Hans Rat, Secretary General of the International Union of Public Transport, have travelled a long way to be at this conference. I know that their thoughts and experiences will be invaluable to those involved in the bus and coach industry in New Zealand.

This morning I want to bring you up to date on a range of issues which I know are of interest and concern to your Association. The Government has been working hard to address these concerns. In particular I am going to talk about:

- Driver licensing and road safety

- The progress being made in public transport

- The costing and funding of our roading system.

Driver Licensing

Driver licensing is an issue which, perhaps more than any other, generates a range of opinions from people - perhaps because most of us are affected by it in some way or another. The number of letters that I receive on this issue can certainly attest to this fact!

Many driver licensing issues are sensitive. The Government’s response therefore needs to fully reflect New Zealanders’ driving behaviour and our driving environment if we are to find the best solution.

The Government has taken time to fully consider the implications of recommendations made in the independent report on the “Costs and Management of the Driver Licensing Regime’. I know the Bus and Coach Association is keen to see this report publicly available and I expect to release it soon. I will save my detailed comments until then but what I can say now, is that some initiatives outlined in the review - such as novice driver education - are already being explored and proposed in the Road Safety Strategy to 2010.

Another issue which I know to be of concern to you, is the time it takes to complete the Police “Fit and Proper Person’ check for those wanting to get their Passenger Licence endorsed. There is no doubt that having the check at the end of the training process is a barrier to drivers gaining employment as soon as they are qualified.

I have asked the Land Transport Safety Authority to place the check at the beginning of the process, so that by the time drivers are suitably qualified, they can begin employment immediately. I’m sure we all agree this would be a win-win situation. Bus drivers could start work as soon as they are qualified and we would help fix the current shortage of bus drivers which is hurting many companies around the country.

Axle Weights and Vehicle Dimensions

I am aware that discussions between the Bus and Coach Association and the Land Transport Safety Authority have highlighted the Association’s interest in the issue of axle weights and vehicle dimensions.

The Authority has released a draft rule for the size and load bearing capacity of vehicles. This is part of a wider programme to convert regulations into transport rules. The proposed rule sets the mass and dimension limits for heavy motor vehicles and establishes a new safety performance-based regime.

As a result of initial consultation, Transit New Zealand prepared a paper for the Authority discussing an increase in the overall dimension and mass limits for heavy motor vehicles. It considered two options: one, to allow existing vehicles and vehicle combinations to operate up to about 50 tonnes; or second, allow a specific vehicle combination of increased mass and dimension to operate up to about 60 tonnes.

The Land Transport Safety Authority recently released a draft of the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule which, essentially, proposes a continuation of the status quo. This was released for public consultation together with a paper that describes the issues raised in Transit’s paper. I note that Robin Dunlop, General Manager of Transit New Zealand, will be speaking in more detail to you on this issue later today.

I have not taken a position on the proposal and I look forward to the outcome of the consultation on the draft rule and the issues paper. I am especially interested in the views of key stakeholders and the general public.

When the consultation process is finished, Cabinet will consider the matter and I expect to see the Rule in place around the middle of next year, with or without an increase in vehicle weights.

Operator Licensing (and Courtesy Vehicles)

Many of you here today will know of the progess the Land Transport Safety Authority is making on the issue of operator licensing and, specifically courtesy vehicles.

The review of operating licensing examined, among other things, whether or not courtesy vehicles, not operated for hire or reward, should be included in the licensing regime.

The LTSA released an issues paper for consultation in May this year and the submissions it received revealed a division of opinions. Some people favour full licensing for all providers, while others oppose any additional licensing, supporting the status quo.

I understand the Bus and Coach Association wants to see full licensing for all providers. Your views will be taken into account when Cabinet makes its decision later this year. The Association will be able to make a formal submission when the issue of operator licensing goes to the Select Committee early next year.

Road Safety Strategy to 2010

One of my prime concerns as Minister of Transport is making sure our roads are safe for all New Zealanders. As professional drivers, you are best placed to witness the day to day driving behaviour of people on our roads.

Reducing the number of accidents and fatalities on our roads is a very high priority for the Government. We have consulted widely on the Road Safety Strategy to 2010, which articulates how we can best achieve this, and sets road safety targets for the next decade. The response we got from the public shows an overwhelming level of support for a lower road toll and I am committed to achieving this. It means working at all levels - with central government, local authorities, road users, the community and organisations like yours to achieve this goal.

Already we are investing more into community road safety programmes than ever before. After some six years with no increase in spending in this area, we have nearly doubled the amount spent on road safety. We have also introduced the Highway Patrol to step up pressure on drivers who speed, drink drive, or engage in other high-risk behaviours on our roads.

Of course, the importance of the physical road environment to safety cannot be underestimated. We are now considering a more comprehensive safety management regime which would clarify and formalise the responsibility road controlling authorities have for ensuring their networks are built and maintained to an acceptably safe standard.

Seatbelts and Standing on School Buses

The Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee has been considering the issues of seatbelts on school buses and standing on school buses. These issues have been raised through two petitions to the committee, which have in turn, been responded to by submissions from key stakeholders, including the Bus and Coach Association.

Your submission was welcome and the Government has agreed to encourage the Ministry of Education, when it reviews school bus contracts, to reduce the number of standing students, especially for routes that include the “open road’.

The Government has also initiated measures to introduce seatbelts to light vehicles through the Land Transport Rule: Seatbelt and Seatbelt Anchorages, which I will be considering in the next few weeks.

This Rule may be extended to require all large passenger service vehicles registered after a particular date, to be fitted with seat belts. I recognise, however, that this raises a number of operational concerns, many of which were raised by the Bus and Coach Association during the Select Committee process. Given these, I still believe it is important for us to consider this fully, including the cost of implementation. My colleague, the Associate Minister of Education, Marion Hobbes, will talk more about this issue later today.

Passenger Transport

I’d like now to touch on the progress being made around the country in public transport.

An important goal for this Government has been encouraging alternatives to the private motor vehicle. I am committed, as Minister of Transport, to seeking new and innovative ways to improve provision of public transport.

I am pleased to note that for the new 2001/02 year there is $9 million more allocated for passenger transport, increasing total expenditure to $61 million this year. In addition, Transfund has allocated an indicative $8 million to possible Alternatives to Roading projects, up from $0.5 million last year. I am aware the City Council here in Hamilton is seeking funding from this source for the new transport centre.

One method for encouraging passenger transport that we’ve introduced, with great success, has been patronage funding. So far, nine of the 14 regional councils and unitary authorities have opted to join the patronage funding scheme. This represents 90 per cent of our allocation for passenger transport.

We have also reached agreement on the funding and patronage baselines with four regional councils who have joined the scheme and we expect to reach agreement on the remaining baselines very shortly.

The introduction of “kick-start’ funding has also helped improve public transport provision around the country. By 1 June this year, 52 kick-start funding applications had been received, of which 40 were approved. By the same time, 19 applications for commercial trial projects were also received, of which 15 were approved. Of those not approved, these have either raised issues outside approved policy or Transfund is waiting for further information from the regional council involved.

These approved kick-start and commercial trial applications amount to $2.6 million of increased expenditure and support a range of improved services across the regions.

Transfund estimated that it will ultimately approve $4.3 million for patronage funding against the allocation in the 2000/01 National Roading Programme of $5.06 million.

I am very pleased with the results we have achieved through patronage funding and kick-start funding. Nationally as a result of patronage funding some areas have already achieved on average 8 percent increases in patronage and I expect that figure to continue to grow.

The Orbiter bus service in Christchurch is clear evidence of that city's success with patronage funding. This circular route around the city, linking key destinations such as shopping malls, schools, employment areas and recreational facilities, is now the city’s most popular bus route and carried its millionth passenger in mid March.

It would be satisfying if this level of public transport support could be mirrored in other parts of the country. Auckland is well on the way, with its North Shore Busway.

This project is now working through the funding and Resource Management Act process. Applications are likely to be made by this month and decisions by September/October. It won’t be known, however, until December whether or not appeals on the Resource Management Act applications will be lodged.

Given the current delays in the Resource Management Act process this timeline is optimistic but the Government has appointed another Environment Court judge to help reduce delays in Environment Court hearings.

Auckland Rail

Associated with the Government’s commitment to public transport, is a willingness to provide creative and viable alternative transport solutions in Auckland.

The Government recently announced that it will negotiate with Tranz Rail to buy back the lease for the Auckland rail network. This will protect the integrity of the network and ensure fair access to the rail corridor.

Cost Allocation Review

I’d like to talk briefly now about the costing and funding of our roading system.

As we began developing alternatives to the private car, it quickly became apparent that how we charge for the use of our roads is creating widespread problems. Road charges need to reflect the costs of road provision and maintenance generated by different types of vehicles.

The Government is now finalising a two-year review of the cost allocation model to help redress this issue. This review has looked at the principles on which road costs should be allocated, and analysed data on the generation of roading costs by various road user characteristics

A further review is being done on the cost of future land transport needs, including roading and passenger transport.

The results of the cost allocation review will be applied to these future land transport costs to help guide Government on how they should be recovered. I expect announcement on these to be made shortly.

I have also given the modernisation of Road User Charges a high priority. This will incorporate technological improvements and enhance the recovery of road user costs via Road User Charges. I am sure you are aware of the success some transport companies are already having in using these technologies to improve their fleet management.

Some options I am considering include:

- providing the option of electronic payment and credit for Road User Charges; or

- charging on the basis of actual vehicle laden weight rather than on the basis of the estimated average laden weight.

There are privacy issues that will need to be addressed, of course, but there are also benefits which this new technology can offer. I expect to make announcements on this within the next few months.

Tourism and Airline Policy

Finally, I would like to touch on an issue which the Association has asked me to raise with you this morning- tourism and airline policy.

There has been a lot speculation in recent weeks over the future shareholding in Air New Zealand. There are many issues surrounding the purchase of shares in Air New Zealand by a foreign airline. There are also many views on how the Government should approach this situation. I want to assure you that in assessing the benefits and costs of any such proposal, the Government will continue to place the highest priority on maintaining competiton in air services into New Zealand as well as continuing to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination. And we want to make sure that New Zealand retains control of its national airline.

Despite recent changes in domestic airline services, the overall policy framework remains consistent. The Government continues to seek to negotiate open skies policies for international air services. These policies remove all restrictions on the routing and frequency of services that airlines can operate and a great deal of success has already been achieved in this area.

The Government is also committed to a deregulated domestic aviation sector. Any entity, New Zealand or foreign, which meets safety requirements, can establish a domestic airline in New Zealand.

This is only part of the picture, however. The Government plays a role in providing the framework for aviation policy and encouraging an environment for competition but it is up to businesses to offer services to the New Zealand public.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to improving New Zealand’s transport systems. We are doing this:

- by creating a safer roading environment for everyone through driver licensing and road safety

- by improving public transport options, and

- by seeking creative ways to make our roading network more efficient and better able to meet the transport needs of the next century.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and speak to you today. I regret that I don’t have more the time to stay until this evening, but I look forward to answering your questions for the next while, and meeting with some of you afterwards.

Thank you.


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