Transport Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2021
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens to the Transport Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2021. It is always good to be up and speaking on transport bills and bills that relate to my portfolio area of transport. Now, this is an omnibus bill that makes a number of technical changes to a wide range of transport acts—and some not insignificant changes, I might add, as well. It replaces the existing bus accreditation scheme with one that covers all bus types and is now a standardised accreditation process. It outlines new penalties in relation to commercial vehicles. There is a number of increases in penalties for driving offences, allowing for non-Victorian licence-holders who have committed offences to be disqualified from driving, as well as increasing penalties for unlicensed drivers and for learner drivers who are driving without being supervised.
There are also some changes to the fisheries authority; I believe it is now being moved. The recreational boating duties which were under the Department of Transport are now being headed off to the Victorian Fisheries Authority. Then there is the amendment to the Road Management Act 2004 to allow for the Alphington link project, which connects to the Darebin Creek Trail, for that land to be acquired there. I think this is a really important amendment, with the Darebin trail upgrade being largely complete. I believe cyclists in the north for many, many years have been wanting that link to the Darebin Creek Trail. This will now provide for land to be acquired off the Latrobe golf course of around 600 metres and will allow the community in Alphington to be able to access the improvements to the Darebin Creek Trail and to access that pathway. I always welcome initiatives to really improve cycling across Victoria and in Melbourne.
Following the pandemic, we are at a time when I think there are a number of challenges and a number of really big opportunities for transport and to actually reshape transport. And we have seen the challenges, being that public transport patronage is low; it is going to take some time before that brings itself back up to full capacity. We have got a real risk of our cities and our streets becoming congested with cars as people return to work, but we have also got a fantastic opportunity. Throughout the pandemic people’s travel habits changed. More and more people are walking, more and more people are riding their bike, and we saw governments around the world take advantage of those changes—you know, cities installing hundreds of kilometres of bike lanes and new pedestrian facilities to really seize the moment when it comes to people now changing their travel behaviours and shifting towards more sustainable forms of transport and riding a bike.
I was glad to see after some time the government announced its initiative of pop-up paths in Melbourne. It was a bit late to the party—but better late than never, I believe. It is really time to make sure that cycling infrastructure is fast-tracked. I think some councils are doing some fantastic work. If you look at the City of Melbourne, they are rolling out new bike infrastructure at a very rapid rate, and that is going to have a really positive impact on getting more people cycling, lessening congestion and making sure that we are not faced with a congestion crisis once more when people return to work. This is an approach that really needs to be taken statewide.
Certainly on behalf of the Greens we are strongly pushing for cycling projects in our community to be fast-tracked. In Prahran I would like to see the St Kilda Road bike lanes being fast-tracked. We cannot wait until 2025 for that—for one of our busiest and most dangerous cycling routes to be upgraded and made safe. We cannot wait another four or five years for that to occur. I know the member for Brunswick is a very strong advocate for separated bike lanes along Sydney Road, again one of our busiest and most dangerous cycling routes, as the member for Melbourne is with Flemington and Royal Parade. Again there have been plans and advocacy for those routes to be upgraded for a very long time. I think the opportunity there for those to be upgraded and be really safe, well-used cycling routes through our communities and into the CBD will have massive benefits for many people.
I also want to recognise the government for introducing A Metre Matters, the 1-metre passing distance laws which came into effect the other week, and really acknowledge the hard work as well of the Amy Gillett Foundation and other cycling groups who have been advocating very strongly for those laws. So Victoria is now coming into line with just about every other state and territory in the country for a mandatory 1-metre passing distance for cyclists, which will go a long way to making cycling safe for everyone.
In terms of more sustainable transport investment, one of the things that I did notice during the lockdown on the odd occasion when I did do the travel from my home to my office was people were actually using the streets—kids and families. Everyone was actually using our streets as public spaces, as they should, whether it was playing games or rollerblading or skating or what have you. Again I think this is something that we need to take advantage of—make sure that we are taking advantage as people are changing their habits about how they use our communities. Our streets are valuable places. They should not just be for cars. They are actually valuable public spaces. I think it is very interesting that when you listen to a lot of the constituency questions or adjournments from members in this place, a lot of them are about pedestrian issues. It is about that pedestrian crossing; it is about that unsafe street near a school or what have you.
There is a really big opportunity now for big investment in pedestrian projects, whether that is crossings, shared zones or what have you. I think there is some really innovative work that has been happening in a lot of communities in terms of the treatments that they are putting on their roads to slow down traffic, and I think this is now an opportunity that the government can take up. They have got their big infrastructure projects. What I would put to them is: where is the Suburban Rail Loop for pedestrians? Where is the Level Crossing Removal Project for pedestrians? Where is the North East Link for pedestrians? Where is the big dollar figure that can be put towards projects that will actually help people walk around and make their communities safer?
This legislation also, as I said, changes the Bus Safety Act 2009 to require that all operators of bus services be accredited rather than just those operating commercial and local services. I think when it comes to buses again we have a great opportunity in Melbourne and across regional cities and across Victoria to improve bus services. A lot of our buses are infrequent and unreliable and have meandering routes. I think when you have seen success stories when it comes to buses, whether it is the SmartBus routes or other....
I will just continue on talking about buses. There are some changes in this bill to the Bus Safety Act 2009, and I was talking about the success story with buses actually in Melbourne. It has been found if you put on buses frequently enough, sure enough, patronage grows and people catch them, and that has been a success story with the smart buses, which were introduced, I believe, around 10 to 15 years ago. But unfortunately we have not seen that level of investment or those new sorts of high-frequency services being invested in since, so there are a lot of opportunities for the expansion—
Ms Green interjected.
Mr HIBBINS: Well, it is quite interesting that we have just had one member bagging these guys for creating an inner city-outer city divide, and now I am getting heckled by a Labor member telling me I would not know about buses because I am from the inner city. I invite you to jump on the 246 bus that goes along Punt Road—
Ms Green: You wouldn’t know about high-frequency bus services that have been introduced under our government.
Mr HIBBINS: Well, I would actually know because I have actually been advocating for a very long time for the Punt Road bus—
Ms Green: In growing suburbs.
Mr HIBBINS: to have increased services, and I really welcome the investment and the increased services along Punt Road for the growing population that we have in the seat of Prahran. But there are some really big opportunities I think for the government to have more high-frequency services and to get some more buses. I do not think we should be waiting until 2025 to be buying electric buses. We could be manufacturing the buses now. There are factories in Australia that are producing electric buses. Let us get those buses on the road, get those high-frequency services and not have these meandering routes that are turning up once an hour or so. They are not effective services. That does not serve the outer suburbs or other parts of Melbourne. In fact I know certainly in regional cities there are really some dire frequencies out there, so there are some big opportunities. I know the Bus Association Victoria and a number of transport lobby groups have really been pushing for far more of these high-frequency smart bus style services right across Melbourne. Even with the Suburban Rail Loop you could be having services along the Suburban Rail Loop corridor instead of waiting for the tunnelling. It will be decades before that is finished. You could put the buses on now.
But to conclude just more broadly on transport, whilst I recognise the infrastructure that is being built at the moment, it is really important that you have got the services to go along with it and that you have got climate-friendly and people-friendly transport. That means having accessible trains and trams and buses. I note the Disability Resources Centre’s campaign, which has been going for decades now—decades—to have tram stops upgraded so people with a disability or mobility issues, the elderly or parents with prams can actually access our trams. The Auditor-General found that just 15 per cent of our tram services are actually accessible for people with a disability. That is supposed to be 100 per cent quite soon, so that is a real big shortfall. Not only that, I think we saw in the Herald Suntoday some of the most dangerous tram stops. So many near misses are occurring—particularly, it was noted, at the one on the corner of Toorak Road and Chapel Street, which is an incredibly dangerous tram stop. We really need to get a much faster rollout of those safer level-access tram stops across the network so everyone can access our trams.
I think we need to be putting more staff back on our trains and trams. Prior to the privatisation of the network there were people at train stations that would sell you a ticket and help you on your journey, and I think if we can get PSOs—someone who can arrest you—at every station, then I am sure we can employ someone to sell you a ticket at every station from first to last, someone who could help you on your journey, someone who could provide customer assistance. That would go a very long way to creating a much more people-friendly public transport system and of course reducing those waits between services.
Even in my electorate and even in the outer suburbs you have got waits of 15 to 20 minutes to 30 minutes to 40 minutes for a train or a tram. For a bus it is even worse. That is not a people-friendly transport system. That is not going to get people back on our network. As I said before, as we come out of this pandemic we have got some big challenges with transport. We need to get people back on public transport. We cannot risk a congestion crisis in our city. If everyone is going to be driving, we will not get those patronage numbers back. But we have also got a fantastic opportunity as well as people are changing their travel habits, as more people are riding and walking and as more people are using our streets as public spaces. We have got a real opportunity, just as governments around the world are investing too in more sustainable transport and separated bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure. There is a really big opportunity there, and I urge this government to seize the moment and to take up that opportunity. And with that I will conclude my remarks.