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Relieving the petrol price pressure

You know the message is starting to get through when Kerry O'Brien on ABC's 7.30 Report opens an interview with the Prime Minister by saying "isn't it time to look Australians in the eye and tell them the news is only going to get worse on oil?"

What a pity that the PM continued to ignore peak oil and blithely claimed that no-one can know what will happen to oil prices. Just because ABARE is so bad at it doesn't mean everyone is! One of the things we've been grappling with is how to provide immediate relief to commuters who don't have access to decent public transport at the moment - and there is no doubt that they desperately need relief - without perversely and artificially reducing petrol prices.

We believe we've come up with the start of a solution. Many people don't realise that there is a very large fleet of community buses, owned by the Commonwealth Department of Health, that are used only a small proportion of the time. Generally about 20% of their capacity is used for ferrying older people, for instance, to aquarobics and similar health and community activities.

Now these are extremely important services, and we don't want to do anything to undermine them, but what about the remaining 80% of the time, when they are sitting idle? Surely it makes sense for us to use that extra capacity. We could use those small buses (16-20 seaters, mostly) to ferry people around the suburbs and in to nodes on larger arterial bus, tram and train routes that already exist (or can easily by re-prioritised when it comes to buses).

These buses could even be used to free up some larger buses from services which tend to run mostly empty, and move those buses onto the arterial routes. The first step, which we are starting with some questions on notice to the Department of Health, is to audit the community bus network and find out exactly how many there are and how much of the time they are idle. We understand, as a starting point, that there are some 150 of them in Parramatta alone!

Once we have those figures, it's a few easy steps to train and recruit drivers and get the show on the road. If the Commonwealth and State governments work positively together on this, within a few weeks we could have a temporary solution in place that will relieve the tremendous and growing pressure on household budgets, reduce emissions fast, and buy us a bit of time to build the new infrastructure that we will need in the zero emissions cities of the next decade - light and heavy rail, cycleways, pedestrian paths and bridges, new community hubs, etc.

This is just the beginnings of an idea, which we're putting out as a bit of a mind-bomb to stimulate dicussion.

Would value feedback and suggestions.

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