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Public transport in Canberra

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 26 May 2010

Senator LUDLAM-That is probably about as far as we can take that one. Thank you very much for your help. I am interested to know about public transport in Canberra. This is deliberately cross-portfolio, so I am not expecting you to have the numbers to hand, but I want to put a question to you. For the federal government departments that operate in Civic, in the parliamentary triangle in particular, and I will give you a list in a moment; is it possible to calculate the annual amount of funds that are spent on taxis to and from the Canberra Airport, effectively for the Commonwealth Public Service and for people like me who effectively operate as fly-in, fly-out workers when we are sitting or during hearings?

Senator BACK-Except that we don't have the remuneration of the fly-in, fly-out.

Senator LUDLAM-What's that? At half the remuneration. The list is: DFAT, Finance, Treasury, DHA, DCC, ATO, DAF, DRET, Defence, DPS, the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House, MOPS, DEEWR, Department of Infrastructure-there are a huge number of people shuttling between the airport and either this building or the other key public service buildings in the city. Is there any way of finding out, and would you be willing to initiate a program to work out, what that is costing the Commonwealth in taxi fares annually?

Ms O'Connell-Some of those departments you mentioned are not actually in the parliamentary triangle. Our department is not. The main tax office building is not in the parliamentary triangle.

Mr Mrdak-I think it would be fair to say that it would be an enormous amount of resources to try to gather that. You are looking at taking, say, a period of time and looking at what the taxi fares are. In some situations it would be very difficult to determine which of those were actually trips to and from the airport or to and from the parliamentary circle. There would be an enormous amount of resources involved to cross those individual departments. I think in our situation we would have some degree of accuracy in relation to travel to and from the airport potentially but it would require a search of our records which I am not sure the systems are set up to do all that easily.

Senator LUDLAM-You would have an annual Cabcharge bill for the year but it would be difficult to disaggregate and tell us what were airport ones?

Mr Mrdak-Each of our employees has a travel credit card essentially, a travel card, which enables them to use all forms of transport and accommodation. It may be not be readily easy to interrogate the system as to how many of those are taxi trips between particular locations-an airport and the like.

Senator LUDLAM-All right. It could be done, but you are saying there would be quite a bit of work going through databases and pulling that out?

Mr Mrdak-Quite a bit of work. I cannot give you a scope of that or how long it would take, but it would be a considerable amount of work. I do not know what the other agencies do in terms of their systems.

Senator LUDLAM-Presumably every dollar is being tracked, otherwise you would not be able to budget for this kind of thing. I am not asking you to necessarily undertake that now. What I am looking for is an order of magnitude cost of two things. First of all, within Canberra itself, within/without the triangle, between the airport and the city or between the hill and the airport. The second thing is how much the Commonwealth spends on flights in the corridors Canberra-Sydney, Canberra-Melbourne and Sydney-Melbourne on an annual basis.

Mr Mrdak-The travel data, in terms of flights, should be captured by the department of finance. You may wish to put that to them.

Senator LUDLAM-Great.

Mr Mrdak-As you know, they have recently negotiated single contracts in relation to air travel. They may well be able to assist you in relation to that information.

Senator LUDLAM-That might be easier than pulling taxi data apart.

Mr Mrdak-I think so.

Senator LUDLAM-I am not going to let you off the hook quite that easily, though. I am just wondering whether you would undertake for us, on notice, without going back to the database, to come up with an educated guess of the Commonwealth's taxi budget in this city-some idea of either vehicle miles travelled per year or cost. Not to go back into the databases and try to pull out that specific information, but an order of magnitude cost. There must be some way of estimating that?

Mr Mrdak-Can I do it in two parts: firstly, do a bit of work on how easy it would be to estimate and then come back to you with that in terms of what can be done. That would be the easiest. I would not want to give you any guesstimate until I understood what the magnitude of the task would involve.

Senator LUDLAM-You have to guess how long it is going to take to guess. I understand that. I will give you the context now, in that I am not trying to create work for nothing. It has been estimated, for example, that for $10 million a year you could run a bus service free from the airport to Civic and up to the hill on a three to five minute rotation, like a rapid bus system or a shuttle bus from the airport to the areas where the public servants and people like myself are most likely to travel. There must be some point at which there is a break even, whereby public transport and simply putting on a free service is going to be better for the Commonwealth's bottom line than however big this indeterminate taxi bill is.

Mr Mrdak-I do not think it is as easy as that, in the sense that a lot of travel takes place-certainly I know in relation to a lot of my officers, who travel early morning to do a business trip, who might travel directly from their homes to the airport and not come through their place of work. Generally, we tend to do a lot of day business travel where officers will leave early in the morning and return in the evening, and do so from home to the airport, airport to home. So it may not be simple. There is a bus service running to and from the city with regular services now to the airport.

Senator LUDLAM-How well patronised is that?

Mr Mrdak-I think it is reasonably well patronised, but I do not know the exact numbers.

Ms O'Connell-I think, Senator, we would have to ask the ACT government. It is running that service. We would have to ask them. They would probably have data on their modelling for running the service and existing patronage.

Senator LUDLAM-Okay.

Mr Mrdak-I know the airport, for instance, has worked very closely with the ACT and ACTION Buses in relation to setting up those types of services. We can certainly inquire of the airport and ACTION in terms of what patronage they are getting.

Senator LUDLAM-I would appreciate that, acknowledging that that is not your budget that you would be asking about. The point I am trying to make is that there must be some break-even point with the amount of Cabcharging and travel credit cards that we are using in this city, which was designed to have a rapid transit system embedded in it although that has never been built, and whether with a rapid bus or a light rail system here in Canberra we could actually end up with some net savings. It sounds as though the modelling has not been done and it might be difficult to do, but that is why I am asking you to take it away and come back with some estimates.

Mr Mrdak-We will certainly look at what we can do but, as I say, the local Canberra bus system is a relatively efficient system to and from the airport and to the centrally located areas. I think there already is an effective system.

Senator LUDLAM-What incentives are there in public sector organisations-and just speak for yourself if you like-to encourage your employees to use public transport here in Canberra?

Mr Mrdak-It depends on the nature of the travel. Often our officers are attending meetings at other departments or are coming here to Parliament House, so it very much depends on whether public transport services fit that. Often officers are attending meetings at relatively short notice. That can often happen, particularly when they are attending here on the hill, which may not be all that amenable to public transport.

Senator LUDLAM-Sorry, it was not that so much as what incentives or encouragement do you offer?

Ms O'Connell-In terms of our own department, our physical location is right there at the city bus interchange and that is significantly persuasive for staff to use public transport, because there is immediate access from the front door to the civic bus interchange. That is perhaps serendipitous. In addition to that, we provide extensive bicycle parking underneath the building for people who ride their bikes in, and that is certainly well patronised, and we provide undercover parking at no cost to the staff who are cycling to work as part of that.

Senator LUDLAM-Are the travel credit cards that you spoke about before like cab charges? Do they work on the bus?

Ms O'Connell-If a staff member catches a bus in terms of their work duties-not to get to work but once they are at work; if they needed to go to the airport, for example-then that travel would be funded by the department. So where it is travel for work purposes and public transport is used, then it would be funded by the department.

Senator LUDLAM-Thank you.

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