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Sharples: Public Transport Management Bill

Public Transport Management Bill

Thursday 11 September 2008

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Tena tatou katoa i tenei huihuinga o te rangi

Ten days ago a cloud descended over Wellington.

Well, to be more precise, tension spread through the Metlink buses, trains and ferries as commuters came to grips with a price increase of between fifty cents to a dollar per trip.

To compound the situation, the extra costs come from paying for the privilege of jostling for a seat; fighting for space; with only the ticket collector game enough to run the gauntlet between the crowded crush of the commuter traffic.

The one consolation was at least they weren't in Auckland.

For those who live north of the Bombay Hills, like I do, are now rushing to grab that bus or train, in far greater numbers than before. Patronage on Infratil buses, for instance, has increased about seven percent in the last year - in real terms, an extra 6000 trips.

We celebrate this congestion as a marker of the further development of public transport systems and initiatives to reduce road traffic.

It is a tangible measurement of the way in which we are lessening the nation's dependency on oil and to reduce carbon emissions. It gives us hope that we, as a nation, are making humble efforts to address the peak oil and global warming crises.

But there is little to celebrate, if we, as a Parliament, are not doing what we can to make life easier for those choosing the option of public transport.

We must make it a credible option.

We must make public transport fulfil the expectations of the people to respond to their needs, in terms of frequency, capacity and times of public transport services. I remember five years ago in June 2003, when the Britomart railway station was officially opened. Ngati Whatua o Orakei officiated, the kaumatua Takutai Wikiriwhi blessing the site and the station platforms at a dawn service.

The first train arrived at 5.40am on 23 June - and from I have been told, commemorating the historic moment 73 years earlier when the first scheduled train set off from downtown Auckland.

As the train arrived a large crowd gathered and a lone piper released the call. As passengers disembarked, the kapa haka group, Te Puru o Tamaki, Ngati Whatua let forth haka and waiata to truly herald in the moment.

Some less informed among us may say, why have a dawn ceremony for a train?

And I say, why not?

It is entirely appropriate to clear the way, to embrace the new dawn, that we envisage would come from the opportunities that come with more comprehensive public transport.

For many of our whanau, before they embark on a journey, they may have karakia to ensure safe travels ahead.

In much the same way, opening Britomart at dawn, te ata tu, is imbuing the provision of public transport with that same significance. It is about ensuring the population are safe, protected, and are able to travel well.

This Bill continues that goal.

The Bill will enable regional councils to adopt controls on commercial public transport services in order to implement any policies which can meet the unique needs of their region.

While we would assume that the regional public transport plans would take into account issues of vehicle quality and service reliability; the provision of integrated systems such as ticketing and fares; we would also expect them to consider special provisions for the people that they service.

Provisions which will enable them to respond sensitively and appropriately to passengers who are elderly, disabled passengers, children, and all groups that may require special services.

The aim of this Bill is also to help regions obtain the best value for money in public transport. While it makes particular mention of the impact of competition for commercial operators, we would hope the balance weighs in favour of efficient and effective services for customers.

Attracting and retaining new passengers is a challenge that regional public transport services must turn their minds to. There is no point in having a competitive and efficient market in place if value for money is compromised, or services are congested, slow and unreliable.

This Bill will enable regional councils to decline registration of a commercial service if there are reasonable grounds to believe the service will not meet the controls specified in the regional public transport plan. The Bill can also force services to deregister for non-compliance. These are all positive initiatives which are about improving the quality of existing public transport services.

You've heard people speaking in the House before describe how Aucklanders were forced back on to their own cars and that's the culture that we are attempting to break.

But in the space in the market that appears from non-compliant providers, we would expect there to be other initiatives and alternatives introduced which will 'fill the gap'.

Many of you may be familiar with the overhead call that echoes through the station platforms of the London Underground, 'Mind the Gap'.

It has in fact it has become so popular that London Transport even sells the tshirts with the branding, Mind the Gap, to remind passengers of the dangerous gap between the train door and the station platform.

This Bill must also mind the gap.

We in this Parliament must mind the difference between what is real and what is not real.

We must look beyond the limitations of what currently constitutes our public transport system, and think creatively around ways of achieving an integrated, safe and sustainable public transport system which will make immediate progress in lessening our dependence on oil.

We must do everything that we can to mind the gap, between public perceptions of the problems of public transport, and making it a viable option.

The Sustainable Energy Forum has recommended that one possible positive intervention that Government could take up, would be to increase present subsidies for public transport, even to the point of making public transport free.

We believe that this option should be investigated further. It may well be useful in considering this further, to apply an analysis based on the Genuine Progress Index (GPI). In such an analysis we would envisage that the 'whole of economy' costs would be weighed. The health and environmental costs of allowing private transport to continue unabated must be recognised as a significant constraint.

The unequivocal truth is that New Zealanders are almost totally oil dependent for transport. We cannot delay action in terms of developing public transport options.

The ability to register services commercially provides opportunities for operators to establish innovative public transport services that would not otherwise be provided.

We encourage all those in the transport sector to take risks, to be bold, to stretch our thinking in terms of achieving an integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable public transport system.

Opting to explore the electrification of public transport or rationing schemes to respond to short term fuel projects might be other projects worthy of further review. We need to prioritise urban design around walking and biking. And this is just the start.

I believe that what happened at Britomart five years ago was right.

We are at the dawning of a new era, and we must engage all our energies into planning for our future.

The Maori Party supports this Bill.

ENDS

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