Transport Governance: Introduction

Public transport in Victoria fails to serve the needs of the travelling public, and fails to serve the broader public interest in having an environmentally friendly transport alternative to the motor car, with which Victorians can do their part to avert the threat of climate change and oil depletion.

While this is documented extensively in other PTUA reports, the clearest evidence is the simple fact that even with the effect of recent petrol price increases, mode share for public transport has failed to increase beyond 7% of trips and 9% of motorised trips (Victorian Government 2007), despite an abundance of infrastructure on which to base a comprehensive public transport network. Other comparable jurisdictions, such as Metropolitan Toronto or the Canton of Zurich, achieve mode shares of 25% to 50%, in Toronto’s case despite having far less rail infrastructure. Other cities, such as Perth in Australia, Vancouver in Canada and Madrid in Spain, are increasing their public transport mode share consistently at a much faster rate than Melbourne, despite having less infrastructure, a lower population density, and less per-capita transport funding.

The continued failure of the system to serve the public interest is in no small part due to the management and ‘governance’ arrangements for public transport in Victoria. However, the poor understanding of these arrangements belies their importance. In 2005, a team of experts from the University of Toronto reviewed the factors that contribute to ‘best practice’ in urban transport and concluded that the most critical requirement is effective governance—more important even than finance, infrastructure and urban land-use planning (Kennedy et al, 2005).

‘Governance’ in essence means having appropriate organisations with the necessary powers, skills and responsibilities. Public transport governance determines how strategic and tactical decisions that affect the entire public transport network are made. Different approaches or models of public transport governance outline which organisations and stakeholders have the authority and responsibility to make and implement those decisions, ensuring appropriate accountability. A failure in governance leads to poor decision-making processes, a lack of accountability and a public transport network that doesn’t work.

The goal of 20% public transport use by 2020 is a key part of the government’s Growing Victoria Together policy statement. But that same statement also includes among its goals “greater public participation and more accountable government”. This paper explains how these important values of participation and accountability can be built into our public transport system.

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