Page 862 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022
The paper goes on to note, as Minster Steel outlined, that free transport can result in overcrowding, which does come at an obvious cost to the consumer—not being able to get onto the bus, or indeed not having a very pleasant experience on the bus. You can see that this would be a particular issue while we are operating on a reduced timetable and when we have the experiences of the workers front of mind.
I note that the idea of free public transport is seductive and, like others in this place, I have done a lot of thinking and a lot of research about this. Again, I think that the paper has eloquently underlined what the issues are, and particularly this point:
… ‘free’ is an artful word that hides the necessity that the costs of running public transport must still be met. Unlike the Australian Government, State and Territory Governments currently have narrower and less efficient tax bases. So any additional subsidies to public transport must require cuts to other crucial spending areas or rising inefficiencies associated with greater taxes.
I do not think that is what the opposition is looking for. It continues:
Free public transport would lead to a growing gap between fare revenue and costs with the need for ever rising subsidies and the risk of underfunding of services, which is unlikely to be a tenable policy strategy.
It goes on to say:
… Melbourne … case study suggests that the circumstances in which free fares are justified will be special. One circumstance when it is not is as a response to the massive reduction in public transport patronage associated with COVID-19.
It cannot be any clearer than that. In fact, it says:
Free fares would merely savage revenue by more and, given the low responsiveness of patronage to fares, would be an ineffectual way of increasing demand.
I think that the Productivity Commission’s report speaks for itself; it has effectively refuted the motion. This is not an old report; it was released last year, just four months ago, in December 2021. It goes into incredible economic analysis and provides a lot of other suggestions. I think that it irrevocably refutes what Mr Parton has proposed today.
I support Mr Steel’s amendment—that any consideration of this should be strategic. It has to be when there is network capacity, and it needs to be in a way that is most likely to drive genuine behaviour change, or in the special circumstances flagged in paragraph (3)(a) of the amendment.
I will finish by thanking the bus drivers, support staff and the Transport Workers Union. They have done the most incredible job in keeping our city safe and moving, in exceptional circumstances. I know that the workforce has been impacted, like all Canberrans have been, and we will continue to support them. I am a regular bus user,