Transport governance: Public transport management that works for passengers

In November 2010 a new Coalition Government was elected in Victoria under Ted Baillieu, on a comprehensive transport policy platform that includes the creation of a Public Transport Development Authority to coordinate the network. The PTUA has backed the creation of such an authority for many years, as a replacement for the confusing and dysfunctional bureaucracy that, in its various forms, has stood in the way of best-practice management of public transport in Victoria.

In the wake of the election the PTUA has prepared a short briefing paper on the essential elements of a successful transport planning authority.

Download the PTUA’s transport authority briefing paper (PDF, 156Kb)

The extended paper that appears on the following pages was published in early 2008. It provides more detail on the situation we find ourselves in and how to reform public transport management. While some portions have been overtaken by events since, it is still highly relevant to understanding the public transport governance problem.

Download a PDF version (204k)

Executive Summary

The ‘good governance’ of public transport systems means having the appropriate organisations with the necessary powers, skills and responsibilities to deliver services that compete effectively with the private car option. An international review has found that effective governance is the most critical requirement for ensuring ‘best practice’ in urban transport, more even than adequate funding, infrastructure or land-use planning. The lack of effective governance largely explains why public transport in Melbourne, and Victoria more generally, fails to be competitive with car travel despite its extensive train and tram infrastructure, generous recurrent funding, multimodal ticketing and a moderately public-transport-friendly urban form.

In the second half of the twentieth century Victoria’s public transport was managed by a defensive, self-serving bureaucracy demoralised by the postwar patronage collapse. Privatisation was supposed to radically overhaul the system but has simply allowed the old defensive practices to continue under private ownership. Worse, governance of the system now follows a flawed ‘franchising’ model imported from Britain, which operates on a presumption that individual private operators are responsible for both ‘tactical’ planning and service innovations. This creates a structural barrier against the introduction of a genuine multimodal network through tactical planning, as we can see from the fact that such integration is frequently promised but then radically under-delivered.

Significant change toward a success-oriented public transport culture is unlikely to occur if we do not take the opportunity, presented by the imminent expiry of the franchise contracts, to move away from the ‘franchising’ model and at the same time recruit international expertise to hasten cultural change. While the franchising model has rarely been taken up outside Victoria and the UK, the alternative ‘Transport Community’ model is used successfully in a multitude of European and North American cities as well as in Perth. The Transport Community model is eminently suited to systems with multiple operators, whether publicly or privately owned.

The essence of this model is that an independent public authority undertakes both strategic and tactical planning, and arranges for operators to provide the actual services using simple contracting arrangements based on fee-for-service. There is every likelihood that even after fifty years of failure and neglect, Victoria can still replicate and exceed the successes of other places if the right governance arrangements are put in place now.

Introduction >>