Transport is an essential service: Submission to the Tasmanian Draft Transport Access Strategy

Margie Law Blog, Transport

By Margie Law, Policy, Strategy and Development

Addressing years of public transport under-funding

Tasmanians suffer from the “perfect storm” of disadvantaged access to transport: low income, low density cities, dispersed rural population and high fuel costs. Many Tasmanians on low incomes rely either entirely on limited public transport or on a car that strains their weekly budget. Anglicare’s clients tell us of the social isolation that results from not being able to travel to participate in essential social, economic and personal services, events and activities.

Access to transport is an essential service that successive State governments have underfunded. Tasmania’s per capita spending on transport is the lowest in Australia. TasCOSS argues that the State Government should increase its level of transport funding from under $200 per capita per year to $300, providing an annual total of $150 million (TasCOSS 2015). These increased funds would assist the State to move away from a focus on transport efficiencies and better explore innovative service provision.

Raising state funding to $300 per capita would be a great start. However, it is worth remembering that this increased level of funding would only just bring Tasmania to a comparable per capita level with South Australia, and would still see us $200 per capita behind Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

Tasmania’s transport disadvantage is further exacerbated when household income is considered: in a recent national study on transport affordability, transport costs per household were found to be less affordable in Hobart than Canberra, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth (Australian Automobile Association 2016).

Our response to the Draft Transport Access Strategy

Anglicare Tasmania believes the Draft Transport Access Strategy does a good job in articulating the need and proposing strategies for providing better integrated and coordinated transport services for all Tasmanians.

We appreciate the draft strategy’s acknowledgement that transport needs to be looked at in relation to housing, land use, urban planning and employment and that there needs to be better integration between community transport, private transport and public transport. Its strong focus on people who are transport disadvantaged provides an opportunity to ensure the strategy has a real impact on the most vulnerable in our communities.

We also appreciate the draft strategy’s acknowledgement of the good work of TasCOSS in this area and in particular their 2014 report on transport in the community. This report found that Tasmanians face multiple barriers to accessing transport and that the different services need to be integrated and expanded in areas and times covered.

The Tasmanian Government faces significant public transport challenges, with our small dispersed population providing limited financial returns. However, public transport is an essential service that our Government must prioritise.

Anglicare’s overarching concern with the draft strategy is that it appears to continue to require public transport to be economically viable. Such an approach forces the system to be “efficient” rather than focus on providing a service to the public. We believe a large number of our clients have become resigned to diminishing timetables and routes in the name of “efficiency”, which has increased the problems of falling behind in their access to health, education, essential services, places of employment and opportunities for social interactions.

Our recommendations to improve the draft strategy

Anglicare Tasmania recommends the Strategy addresses the following key areas:

  1. Set the level of transport funding at $300 per capita per year.
  2. Include initiatives that will improve transport services to urban fringes such as the Sorell area and similar satellite areas outside Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.
  3. Introduce family concessions for travel on public buses.
  4. Commit to the ongoing provision of the Taxi Fare Concessions for eligible Tasmanians and propose opportunities for its expansion should taxis become adjuncts to regular public bus services.
  5. Initiate a project to work with community services such as Neighbourhood Houses to identify areas and systems for car pooling to be effective.
  6. Immediately investigate the integration of land use planning and passenger transport provision, rather than setting this aside for future consideration.
  7. Develop further initiatives that assist the formation of partnerships between community and government service providers to improve access to transport for a wider range of Tasmanians.
  8. Evaluate and compare all recent trials such as the North-West Coast project, car pooling and services for specific rural employment such as orchards, for targeted programs to be developed for each currently under-serviced geographical or demographical community.
  9. Introduce programs that assist disadvantaged people to get their driver’s license and to share cars, particularly for people living outside urban and urban fringe areas.
    1. Include governance structures to require the Department of State Growth, as lead for the Strategy, to bring all relevant stakeholders together regularly to create and share a long-term vision for better transport services in Tasmania.

You can read our detailed reasoning and evidence for each of these recommendations in our submission which you can find here.