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King: Opportunities ahead for public transport

King: Opportunities ahead for public transport

The Government plans to introduce legislation to enable regional councils to provide better local public transport services, says Transport Minister Annette King.

Ms King says the changes follow a review by a group, comprising representatives of central government and local government and public transport operators, of current public transport legislation.

The proposed legislative changes will give regions the power to set standards that all commercial services will be required to meet over time, she says. These will apply to scheduled bus and commuter ferry services nationwide, but not to long-distance coach and ferry services (such as the Interislander) or rail, school services provided by the Ministry of Education, or taxi operators.

"Improved public transport services are a key to achieving our goal of environmental sustainability. The proposed legislation will give regions tools to improve their public transport services so that they provide better value for money for users, local and central government and taxpayers,"Ms King says.

"For example, it will enable regional councils to require operators to meet quality and performance standards for commercial services which include integrated ticketing. It will also enable regional councils to maintain their existing public transport services without change where this is deemed appropriate, or opt to bundle services together if this best suited the needs of the region and its community."

Ms King says one of the key aims of the proposed legislation is to ensure fair competition and an open market for all public transport service providers. "Under the proposed legislation there will continue to be scope for commercial services to play an integral role in providing public transport."

The Land Transport Management (Transport Services Licensing Act) Bill 2007 is currently being drafted and will be introduced into Parliament within six months. When it reaches the Select Committee stage there will be an opportunity for the public and stakeholders to make further submissions.

Questions and Answers

Which legislation will be affected? Both the Transport Services Licensing Act 1989 and the Land Transport Management Act 2003 will be affected. There may also be some consequential amendments to other legislation such as the Local Government Act 2002 and the Land Transport Act 1998.

Why have these changes to the legislation been proposed? It is an opportunity for the Government to help regions provide improved public transport services throughout the country that align with national transport objectives in the New Zealand Transport Strategy (NZTS) - a system that is affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable.

Under current legislation, regional councils have very limited control over commercial services - those which are not contracted or funded by the council. This legislation would empower regional councils to impose controls and make it compulsory for commercial services to comply with them. The controls would be set out in the Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP), which would be the result of consultation with the community itself. The ability to impose controls would give local government more power to ensure that commercial services are meeting the standards expected by the region. For example, there would be the ability to require integrated ticketing or to set standards for ease of access for passengers into vehicles. At present, operators of commercial services are not required to provide any ongoing information about their services, such as the demand in particular areas or for certain routes, or on the cost of services. This type of information is crucial for region s to establish systems that are integrated and responsive to community needs. Controls set out within RPTPs could require operators to provide this information as a way for regions to better manage their public transport system.

What are the benefits for New Zealanders? This legislation will enable local people to develop local solutions for local problems. It will give each region tools to ensure that all public transport services in that area comply with the local Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP). This will make it easier for regional councils to implement affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport systems for their regions. Benefits will include better value for money and more consistent public transport services.

Are RPTPs required under the current legislation? Regional councils currently prepare Regional Passenger Transport Plans, but have extremely limited powers of control over commercial services. The proposed legislation will enable councils to specify controls that they need.

What is the difference between a contracted and a commercial service? Commercial services are identified and provided by operators without any financial assistance from regional councils. Commercial services operate indefinitely, unless an operator withdraws them. Contracted services are identified by a regional council.They then go through a public tender process before an operator is contracted for a specified period --- commonly three to five years.

How will a more consistent public transport system be created? Under current legislation public transport operators can register and de-register services, which may be a single trip at any time on any day, not necessarily a complete timetable for a route, with a maximum notice period of 21 days. Regional councils are then obliged to replace this service, but it leaves them inadequate time to implement the best possible service for the community. It restricts their ability to offer a reliable, consistent and sustainable service for the local people. The changes will mean a longer notice period of 90 days and better control over other aspects of the public transport services, such as the ability to set quality standards, in accordance with the RPTP of that region. It will also mean that regions can opt to bundle services together if this best suited the needs of the region and its communities.

How would this legislation improve services for people with disabilities? It will enable regions to better cater for those with disabilities by allowing regions to stipulate in their RPTP appropriate controls intended to address this need. Currently, regional councils can only ensure those with disabilities are catered for on the contracted services they fund. Operators of commercial services are not required to ensure appropriate facilities are available on the services they run.

What are the potential environmental benefits under this new legislation? This change will empower regions to insist on better environmental practices from commercial services through the RPTP. For example, regional councils can now specify EURO4 buses on contracted services, but not for commercial services. At present, any bus that meets the minimum standards set by Land Transport New Zealand can be used on a commercial service.

Why does this legislation not apply to long-distance coach and ferry services, rail, school bus services or taxi operators? The changes have been designed to address concerns raised by local government regarding public transport services. No concerns were raised around these other services. Rail is already a contracted service through regional councils and further development of rail networks is a transport sector priority.

When are we likely to see changes from this Bill implemented in regions? This will depend on each region and decisions councils make. It is likely regional councils will be required to review their RPTPs every three years.

How would these changes affect the commercial industry? Commercial operators will still be able to operate existing commercial services, but will, over time, have to comply with any RPTP controls. There will still be scope for innovation in terms of the services they provide. A key aim of the legislation is to provide fair competition and an open market for all public transport service providers, and to enable councils to shape public transport services to best suit the needs of their region and communities.

Will these changes mean cheaper fares? The changes will mean a fairer, more open market for contracting public transport services. This may alter fares in some regions over time, but the aim is essentially to achieve better value for money, rather than a flat reduction of fares.

Will these changes result in a safer public transport system? The safety of all public transport services is managed through the transport services licensing regime and various transport rules, but it is anticipated the proposed changes will positively affect safety through the standards and controls stipulated by councils and their communities in their RPTPs.


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