Turnbull’s city funding plan still no more than a pamphlet

COMMENT: The budget paints a picture of higher debt, little relief for growing cities crying out for infrastructure investment, and no detail of how City Deals might work to fix this, Phillip O’Neill writes.

Mounting public debt has sucked infrastructure spending capacity from the nation’s public balance sheets. The federal government proposes a new way forward, called “City Deals”. But the budget papers contain no further details, which is disappointing.

Infrastructure provision in Australian cities, especially for transport, is in crisis. Our cities are growing rapidly, they are congested and they lack planning direction.

The crisis has been elevating for some time. It has many origins – most notably in the aggressive paying down of government debt under four successive Howard governments. Between 1996-97 and 2006-07, net Australian government debt fell by more than A$125 billion. With the sale of Telstra, a further A$50 billion was made available to establish the Australia Future Fund.

There are good arguments for lowering public debt and setting aside savings to cover liabilities for public servant pensions. However, under the Howard government, actions to enhance the liveability of our cities were not given spending priority.

A continuing story of rising debt

The election of a Rudd Labor government in 2007 came with the promise of major infrastructure spending on our failing cities.

Instead, a global financial crisis led to the federal government balance sheet exploding with debt to fund massive spending injections and shovel-ready infrastructure projects, especially in the education sector. By the end of the 2013-14 financial year net Australian government debt exceeded A$200 billion.

The Abbott Coalition government eased back on spending with non-metropolitan roads spending preferred to the urgent refits our cities cry for. Now the 2016-17 budget papers tell us debt will exceed A$325 billion in the coming financial year, or 18.9% of GDP. That is Australia’s highest debt ratio in modern times.

When the Howard government was elected in 1996, Australia had just over 18 million residents. Since then another six million have been added; all are urban dwellers.

In this 20 years, Sydney has grown by one million people and Melbourne by 1.2 million; yet neither city has been the target of significant transport infrastructure spending by government. The major transport investment in each city has been by the private sector on motorways.

Private sector role favours roads

Look closely at this recent history and perhaps the logic of the City Deals initiative becomes clear. In 1994, the Kennett Coalition government granted Australia’s first tolled-motorway concession to the CityLink consortium.

Motorway deals in New South Wales and Queensland, for all their start-up failures and hiccups, have reproduced the CityLink model in three major ways.

First, they have used private finance to pay for the capital investments required.

Second, users must pay tolls to use the service the infrastructure provides, which, after deducting the minimal operating costs needed to keep a road open, forms the basis of a reliable return to private investors over many decades.

Third, and unlike the operation of a public transport system, the user fully bears the costs of providing and running a vehicle on the motorway.

Not surprisingly, cash-strapped governments have encouraged motorway investments in our cities and remained wary of new public transport investments. The latter depend heavily on public finance – and are also hideously expensive to run with low cost recovery from fare revenues.

For instance, after fare revenues, each of Sydney’s and Melbourne’s public transport systems still needs annual taxpayer injections of around A$5 billion to cover operating costs. Roads cost governments significantly less.

So what about City Deals?

In announcing City Deals as part of the Smart Cities Plan last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the days of the federal government acting as an ATM for the states’ infrastructure spending were over. This seems a most peculiar warning given the major role of the Commonwealth as a collector of taxes and their efficient deployment.

But if direct federal government spending on infrastructure is scaled back in favour of encouraging private finance into the void, then the rules of financing and funding infrastructure need to be obeyed.

The parameters are clear. Where there is risk – be it construction risk or revenue risk – then private finance will demand government pick up the tab for cost blowouts and revenue shortfalls. Then reliable funding streams must be created to feed competitive returns to the private capital investors. Funding can only come from two places: taxes or user fees.

Funding is the harsh discipline of private infrastructure investments. Public transport deals especially will be starved of private finance because in Australian cities commuters refuse to pay the full costs of their train, bus, ferry and tram rides. But without higher fares, or continued public sector fare subsidies, private sector finance won’t be attracted.

Private infrastructure investment is a complex process, especially in multi-billion-dollar projects. The detail matters and is different in every case. Yet last week’s announcement of City Deals as a solution to the nation’s failing urban infrastructure systems was, in the end, the launch of a brochure.

Perhaps an election campaign will tell us more.

The Conversation logoThe Conversation

Phillip O’Neill is Director, Centre for Western Sydney, Western Sydney University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Morrison tipped to favour Asset Recycling states for transport funding

Federal treasurer Scott Morrison reportedly plans to allocate Federal Budget funding to transport projects in states that engage with the controversial Asset Recycling Fund set by the former Abbott Government.

According to an interview with The Australian, the treasurer, who will deliver the Federal Budget on Tuesday night, plans to bring a “sharper economic focus” to the national infrastructure plan, which will include funding projects like the Melbourne Metro, the Sydney Metro, Perth’s airport railway and a light rail network in Sydney’s west.

To do this Morrison plans to lean on the Asset Recycling Fund, set up by Tony Abbott’s treasurer, Joe Hockey.

The Asset Recycling Fund gives federal money to states when they sell public assets like ports and other infrastructure in order to fund major projects.

It has been criticised by opponents for essentially forcing states to privatise significant assets if they want to build critical infrastructure.

But according to The Australian, Morrison believes this influence over state policy to be one of the benefits of the controversial approach.

“What I think the asset recycling initiative has demonstrated is we cannot only focus the state spend but we can also leverage the way that they manage their own assets to achieve that, not just to invest in the projects they invest in,” Morrison was quoted by The Australian on Monday.

“So you’re getting a multiple dividend there from fiscal and financial policy at a state level as well as the economic outcomes of the infrastructure.”

The Australian’s exclusive report suggests this year’s infrastructure budget funding will therefore go to states who have shown they will willingly privatise major infrastructure to fund new work.

According to The Australian, the budget will include $2.19 billion for NSW projects, including $1.7 billion for the Sydney Metro project and $78.3 million for the Parramatta Light Rail project.

Victoria is tipped to get $877.5 million for the Metro Tunnel project, while more spending on Victorian roads is likely to push the state’s total federal infrastructure spend to $2.4 billion.

Perth’s Forrestfield-Airport Link is also tipped to get funding.

But there are no projects listed by The Australian for South Australia, and Queensland’s only listing is funding for the Ipswich Motorway.

Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt was angered by the news, saying his state was being mistreated.

Pitt warned Morrison – a New South Wales representative – to “short-change” those north of the border at his own risk.

“If NSW and Victoria receive the lion’s share of a suggested $5 billion for public transport infrastructure in the Federal Budget, then Queenslanders will have every right to feel drastically short-changed,” Pitt said on Monday.

“On population share alone we would expect $1 billion of that amount and we have an essential major project in Cross River Rail that should be supported.”

Pitt’s Labor Party, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, won the 2015 state election after the previous Coalition Government vowed to sell off major infrastructure if they were re-elected.

The election was thus positioned by Labor as a referendum on asset sales, with the Queensland people voting against them by voting Palaszczuk into power.

“Voters spoke clearly at the January 2015 state election on asset sales,” Pitt said.

“If the Budget allocations for infrastructure are to reward states engaging in asset sales, then Queensland voters will make their views known at the coming federal poll.

“Queensland should not be penalised for the simple fact that the Palaszczuk Government is keeping its election commitment not to sell our revenue-generating government-owned corporations.

“Scott Morrison has a clear choice — either he allocates a fair share of federal infrastructure funds to Queensland in tomorrow night’s Federal Budget or he abandons our state.”

Australian Greens senator Janet Rice also criticised the news.

“It is disappointing that funding public transport is being made in exchange for the privatisation of vital public assets,” Rice said on Monday.

“After years of neglect of our public transport networks, something is better than nothing, but this budget measure would be no different from what Tony Abbott was proposing as Prime Minister.”

Albanese presents high speed bill to Canberra

A special authority will be created to progress the development of a high speed rail line along Australia’s east coast, if legislation tabled by shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese is successful.

Albanese introduced his High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill into Parliament on Monday.

The former deputy prime minister tried to introduce the same legislation in April, but was silenced by a vote led by the Government’s leader of the house Christopher Pyne.

On Monday his bill was read, and tabled for further debate in Tuesday’s sitting.

“The proposed high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is a project that requires vision,” Albanese told the House of Representatives.

“It is complex, necessarily involving the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory as well as dozens of local councils.

Albanese is proposing the creation of a high speed rail authority as a result of a report he commissioned while Labor was in power.

“We have done the research. We know that the project is viable,” he said.

“The experts said that high speed rail had huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades.”

Albanese’s legislation would create an 11-person high speed rail authority.

The authority would include one member from each territory and state affected – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory – and one member representing the Australian Local Government Association.

It would have one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association.

And it would include five expert members appointed by the minister for infrastructure.

“Vision is one of the obligations of leadership,” Albanese concluded in his Monday speech.

“True leaders do not just sit around waiting for the telephone to ring. They act.”

Albanese said if elected later this year, a Labor Government would make the legislation a priority, asking a high speed rail authority to call for expressions of interest from international rail companies.

Our cities need city-scale government – here’s what it should look like

COMMENT: The role both state and federal governments play in Australia’s urban regions is often incompatible with effective metropolitan governance, Richard Tomlinson writes.

For residents of Australia’s cities, federalism means state governments have the right to assert what is in their best interests. Vertical fiscal imbalance has given the federal government licence to presume to know better than state governments what is in residents’ best interests. The possibility that they might themselves know what’s best is not a consideration.

The Greater Sydney Commission’s chief commissioner, Lucy Turnbull, might disagree. The commission values “citizen engagement”. However, it reports to the NSW planning minister.

A metropolitan planning agency that engages citizens, but is not representative of – and accountable to – those people, cannot be represented as promoting democratic governance. This is especially so when state and federal governments control the budget for metro-scale infrastructure and services.

The federal funding largely takes the form of infrastructure grants and other tied grants that limit decision-making at the metropolitan level.

What’s the problem?

I recently wrote about Australia’s democratic, planning and governance deficits, and the infrastructure gaps.

The role both state and federal governments play in urban regions is often incompatible with effective metropolitan governance, planning, accountability, productivity, service delivery and fairness.

To overcome these problems, Australia needs representative metropolitan governments that meet the following requirements:

  • are accountable to a metropolitan constituency;
  • undertake strategic planning;
  • are responsible for metro-scale infrastructure projects and services;
  • generate revenue; and
  • are in large part fiscally autonomous.

Autonomy means that metropolitan governments are able to enter municipal infrastructure finance markets, issue municipal bonds and negotiate service-delivery agreements with the private sector and civil society. This enables them to distance themselves from state and federal governments when deciding metro-scale infrastructure and services priorities.

Top-down approach

Australian governments, both Coalition and Labor, have over the decades repeatedly promoted some or other urban initiative. Enthusiasm for these initiatives has never been matched by their success.

In 2011, many urban academics and professionals welcomed the Labor’s national urban policy. National urban or spatial policies were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2015, they welcomed the short-lived Coalition ministerial portfolio for cities and the built environment.

In a country that is 90% urban, few policies are not de-facto urban. Policies with no urban intent, but with unintended urban outcomes, arguably exceed the impact of policies with urban intent. Instead of building unintended cities, far better that such matters are left to the cities concerned.

Internationally, the metropolitan “renaissance” since the early 1990s is based on enabling various forms of metropolitan government and governance to determine their own path in collaboration with higher tiers of government. This decentralisation does not have the prescriptive characteristics associated with the top-down creation of metropolitan governments in the 1960s and 1970s.

The “constitutive process” of metropolitan governments is central to their legitimacy and effectiveness. In Australia, this can take the form of constitutional change and the creation of a third level of government.

If the federal government were to conclude that metropolitan government is desirable – and that constitutional change is improbable – it has the option of creating an incentive framework for the creation of metropolitan governments.

This would involve tying access to federal grants to their use by metropolitan governments. That would create an incentive for state governments to legislate the creation of metropolitan governments.

The federal government has previously used incentives in this way. An example is the National Competition Policy that the Keating Labor government introduced in 1995 and Howard Coalition government carried forward.

By agreeing to share the productivity (tax) dividend from a more competitive economy, the Commonwealth was able to persuade the states and territories to undertake far-reaching reforms to infrastructure ownership, trade and professional licensing, other market access laws and utility pricing. All these matters lay outside the Commonwealth’s direct jurisdiction.

Independently of the federal government, the constitutive process can also take the form of negotiations among state and local governments. As Gabrielle Appleby has written:

Internationally understood, federalism … emphasis[es] the democratic importance of subsidiarity and localised, accessible governance that facilitates diversity, creativity, experimentation, competition and participation.

A possible way forward

What principles of metropolitan government would form the basis for negotiations?

The first is subsidiarity. Metropolitan government should provide the infrastructure and services that are best provided at a metro scale and reflect the priorities of metropolitan residents.

The second is that user charging and taxes should reflect responsibilities for the infrastructure and services expenditure. Higher levels of government devolve responsibilities far more willingly than they devolve resources. Unfunded mandates are to be avoided.

All this is more easily said than done. The services best provided at a metro scale can be debated – as can who should provide the service.

Debate is desirable when it occurs among providers and users of infrastructure and services. Undesirable outcomes are likely when those making decisions are not users who decide what they want and can afford.

A metropolitan government’s essential features should be:

  • Democracy: the government should be representative of a metropolitan constituency and accountable to it for infrastructure and services, and adopt transparent decision-making and budgeting processes.
  • Responsibility: the government should be responsible for ensuring the delivery of metro-scale public goods and services, and for strategic planning, integrating transport and land-use planning, city-shaping infrastructure investments and land-use guidelines for lower levels of government.
  • Autonomy: metropolitan government should generate its own revenue, be fiscally sound and have access to municipal infrastructure finance markets.

Creating metropolitan governments and enfranchising a metropolitan constituency becomes substantive when the government is autonomous.

The Conversation logoThe Conversation

Richard Tomlinson is Professor of Urban Planning, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Rio Tinto train - Photo Rio Tinto

Rio delays rail automation, cuts iron ore guidance

Mining giant Rio Tinto is experiencing delays in its automated rail scheme in the Pilbara, and has cut into its iron ore export guidance as a result.

Part of Rio’s Mine of the Future program, AutoHaul is an initiative to create a fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance railway system to move hundreds of millions of tonnes of iron ore from mine to port in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Rio fitted trains with AutoHaul for testing throughout 2015. The miner has said 2016 will see the system reach full functionality, so it can be put through the regulatory approvals process prior to official integration into operations.

But the AutoHaul rollout has been delayed, the miner announced on Tuesday.

“Testing and verification of AutoHaul is continuing, with over 75,000 kilometres of mainline trials competed,” Rio said, “however, some delays are being experienced.”

The miner didn’t go into specifics, but said the delays would impact production in 2017.

Rio updated its Pilbara iron ore guidance to be between 330 and 340 million tonnes in 2017, down from 350 million tonnes.

It did not adjust its global outlook for 2016, of 350 million tonnes of iron ore production on a 100% ownership basis.

This forecast was based on a solid first quarter, where the miner exported 80.8 million tonnes of iron ore from its operations in the Pilbara and Canada, up 17% compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Elsewhere, aluminium production was up 10% year-on-year to 887,000 tonnes in the quarter, and bauxite was up 13% to 11.01 million tonnes.

Chief executive Sam Walsh said the result demonstrated the miner’s commitment to operational excellence.

“However, we continue to experience volatility in commodity prices across all markets,” he conceded.

“In the face of a testing external environment, our focus remains on delivering further cost and productivity improvements, disciplined capital management and maximising free cash flow, to ensure that Rio Tinto remains strong.”

Rio’s iron ore outlook cut for 2017 comes a week after rival Fortescue Metals Group said it was running ahead of schedule for iron ore exports in the 2015/16 financial year, thanks to kind conditions for exports at Port Hedland during the March quarter.

FMG exported 42 million tonnes of iron ore in the March quarter 2016, up 4% year-on-year.

Albanese backs Adelaide tram network

Labor will work with South Australia to deliver a massive expansion of Adelaide’s tram network, if it wins at this year’s federal election, Anthony Albanese has said.

Albanese, the shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, as well as cities and tourism, made the announcement on Wednesday.

AdeLINK, which appears on Infrastructure Australia’s current Infrastructure Priority List, is an ambitious plan to revive a tram network in a city where light rail once thrived.

Adelaide already has the Glenelg Tram, a 15 kilometre line which runs from Hindmarsh, through the CBD, to the beach at Glenelg, which has been running in some way or another since the late 1800s.

In a project Infrastructure Australia anticipates could materialise could materialise between 5 and 10 years from now, the South Australian Government wants to build six new lines in the city:

  • PortLINK would convert the existing Outer Harbor railway line to deliver a new tram service to Outer Harbor, Port Adelaide and Grange, and construct new tram lines to West Lakes and Semaphore
  • EastLINK would be a tram line running along The Parade to the University of South Australia campus at Magill
  • WestLINK, which would incorporate the existing Glenelg Tram, would create a line running along Henley Beach Road to Henley Square, with a branch line to Adelaide Airport
  • ProspectLINK would be a tram line running from Grand Junction Road along Prospect Road and O’Connell Street
  • UnleyLINK would run along Unley Road and Belair Road to Mitcham
  • CityLINK would run in a continuous loop at regular intervals along the Morphett Street, Sturt Street, Halifax Street and Frome Street corridors, with transfers available from other tram lines and railway stations

Click to enlarge

AdeLINK network proposal. Graphic: SA Government

“I’ve been meeting with the South Australian ministers respectively, Stephen Mulligan and Tom Koutsantonis, the Treasurer, about the expansion of the tram network here in Adelaide,” Albanese said on local FiveAA radio in Adelaide on Wednesday.

While he said the network may be cheaper to build than in other cities, thanks to Adelaide’s relatively flat topography, and relatively wide roads, Albanese conceded that projects like AdeLINK are not cheap.

The shadow minister indicated the project should be funded, in part through value capture.

“One of the things that would happen with such a project is that you would have uplift value along the route, so you’d look at ways you could get some private sector financing into the project,” he said.

“While I’m here I’ll be having more discussions with the South Australian Government.

“They’ve identified this as I think a visionary project.”

Albanese’s other priority during his visit to Adelaide was the upgrade of the rail line between Gawler and Adelaide, a project Labor committed to fund late last year.

The Gawler line is expected to see a near-doubling of patronage by 2031. The proposed initiative is to electrify the line, and install a new signalling system.

Infrastructure Australia anticipates the project should take place in the next five years, if it passes the assessment process.

Bob Herbert, chairman of ARA. Photo: ARA / Shutterstock

Herbert makes pitch for rail White Paper

Australasian Railway Association chairman Bob Herbert has floated the idea of a ‘White Paper’ for the rail industry, along the lines of that recently released for the defence sector.

Speaking to the ARA’s networking dinner in Sydney last week, Herbert compared the rail and defence industries, highlighting the comparable contribution rail makes to the community in terms of employment, and impact on GDP.

“However, unlike defence,” he told the room, “in rail it is each state and territory government that makes the expenditure decisions, each setting its own standards and priorities with little coordination.

“By contrast, in defence it is our sovereign Commonwealth Government that makes national expenditure decisions resulting in substantial benefits to that sector.”

The 2016 Defence White Paper, released  on February 25, outlines plans for approximately $195 billion of new investment in the sector through to 2025/26.

In his speech – which was heard by NSW transport and infrastructure minister Andrew Constance – Herbert highlighted particular areas of spending, such as $230 to establish a ‘Centre for Defence Industry Capability’, $730 million for research on next generation technologies, and $640 million for a Defence Innovation Hub.

The ARA chairman lamented that similar commitments for innovation and to build Australia wide rail industry capability simply don’t occur.

He said rail is, in this way, a victim of the “frailties of our Federation”.

Herbert urged the states to come together at the upcoming Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) meeting in May.

The Commonwealth should work with the states to prepare a White Paper that would deliver for rail similar capability and innovation initiatives that are in prospect for defence, Herbert concluded.

The TIC will meet on May 20.

The ARA will hold its next networking dinner in Perth on Tuesday, May 31. WA transport minister Dean Nalder is scheduled to speak at the event. Click here for more information.

Tender seeks multi-modal operator for Newcastle

The NSW Government has begun consultation on a light rail line in Newcastle, and has launched the tender process for a local operator to integrate buses, ferries and light rail in the growing city.

State transport minister Andrew Constance visited Newcastle on Tuesday to announce a trio of “key initiatives” for the region: the launch of a tender process for Transport for Newcastle, the start of consultation about the design and construction of light rail, and the appointment of a Newcastle Coordinator General to work with community and stakeholders throughout the city’s revitalisation.

“The current transport system is not working,” Constance said.

“As the city grows and light rail gets underway, this is an opportunity to rethink how we deliver transport and create something that will benefit Newcastle and set it up for the future.”

The new model for Newcastle – which Constance describes as an Australian first – will see a single operator take charge of designing and running an integrated timetable across multiple transport modes.

“As part of the tender process, new operators will need to prove how they’ll partner with the community to boost declining patronage and provide transport services that go where and when locals want them,” the minister said.

“The community will be at the heart of this new model, which is why we’re calling on locals to tell us what they want from their new integrated transport network so we make sure we get the best people for the job.”

Discussing the launch this week of local consultation for the design and construction of a new light rail system, Constance said he wants building work to start early next year.

“From today we’ve got teams on the ground door-knocking local businesses and residents to talk about the light rail project, and from Thursday the formal planning documents will be open for public feedback,” he said.

Light rail will travel from the city’s new interchange at Wickham – where the heavy rail line from Sydney terminates – along the existing rail corridor before moving south into Hunter Street at Worth Place, continuing through the CBD down Hunter and Scott Streets, and then terminating at Pacific Park.

Stops are proposed at the new interchange, Honeysuckle, Civic, Crown Street, Market Street and Pacific Park.

Transport for NSW wants the line to feature accessible, air-conditioned trams, each able to carry at least 100 customers, along with luggage, prams and surfboards.

Finally, Constance announced Anna Zycki as the new Newcastle Coordinator General.

“I am pleased to announce the appointment of Anna Zycki as the Newcastle Coordinator General to oversee these transformational projects and work closely with the community and stakeholders over the coming years,” he said.

“Anna is an experienced transport professional, and is currently Regional Manager for RMS in the Hunter region.

“As a Novocastrian, Anna will be a strong local voice and important point of coordination on the ground.”

Crowding Sydney Trains. Photo: Transport for NSW

NSW passengers more satisfied than ever

NSW TrainLink and Sydney Trains recorded a steady increase in customer satisfaction in the second half of 2015, with statistics also showing the most needed areas of improvement.

A November 2015 survey conducted by Transport for NSW showed 90% of the state’s surveyed train customers were satisfied with their overall experience. The figure for light rail was 92%.

Both figures compared favourably to the bus network, which scored an 88% overall satisfaction index, and even more favourably to the urban taxi network, which scored 82%.

All other modes paled in comparison to Sydney’s ferry network, which scored an overall customer satisfaction rating of 97% in the November survey.

The 90% score for the state’s train network was up from consecutive scores of 88% in November 2014 and May 2015. Transport for NSW’s first customer satisfaction index, scored in November 2012, gave trains a rating of just 79%.

Getting more specific, train customers were especially satisfied with accessibility, ticketing and safety and security.

Particular stand-out categories were ease of getting on and off the train (92% satisfaction, just 4% dissatisfaction) and the train turning up on time (91% satisfaction, just 6% dissatisfaction).

Problem areas raised by surveyed train passengers were the availability of car parking facilities near train stations (58% satisfaction, 29% dissatisfaction), frequency of train services (79% satisfaction, 14% dissatisfaction) and comfort at the train stop (83% satisfaction, 11% dissatisfaction).

Light rail’s overall satisfaction score of 92% was the same as the last two surveys, which were both up from the 89% rating scored in May 2014.

Customers were most satisfied with the safety and security of Sydney’s light rail network, with a significant percentage of respondents feeling safe on the light rail service (97% satisfaction, 1% dissatisfaction) and on the light rail platform (95% satisfaction, 2% dissatisfaction).

Comfort was the biggest problem area for light rail in the survey, with seat availability on the service (72% satisfaction, 21% dissatisfaction) and personal space on the service (76% satisfaction, 18% dissatisfaction) both raising particular concern.

Transport minister Andrew Constance said the overall improvement in the customer satisfaction figures was due in large part to the quality of staff employed by Transport for NSW  and its operators.

“We want more people to use public transport and having great people working on the network is one of the key ingredients in making this happen,” Constance said.

“We’re investing heavily in our staff whether they’re a train or bus driver, a customer service rep or a rail signalling expert, because it’s important they all play their part in providing a great public transport experience for the people of NSW.”

Turnbull. Photo: Veni Markovski / Creative Commons

Turnbull: “We should be more ambitious” about Western Sydney Airport rail

Malcolm Turnbull wants to work with the New South Wales Government to have a rail line operating to the future Western Sydney Airport from day one.

Rail has been a major sticking point in discussions over an airport at Badgerys Creek for some time. The Coalition Government has planned for a rail-ready facility should be built, but believes an actual rail line will not be necessary from day one. Qantas boss Alan Joyce has supported this argument, suggesting passenger forecasts did not justify a rail link from opening day.

But the Opposition – in a campaign led by shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese – has argued for a rail line from day one, suggesting such a line is needed to set the new airport up for success, and will support employment growth in Western Sydney.

Turnbull, who has had a strong public transport focus since he took over leadership from former PM Tony Abbott towards the end of 2015, made his intentions clear on Friday.

Speaking with Sydney’s 702 radio host Wendy Harmer, the prime minister said he wanted the state and federal governments to investigate an earlier rail option.

“[The airport] needs to have very good transport links,” Turnbull said.

“We’ve already committed $2.9 billion together with $700 million from the state government to ensure that there is a road network there.

“But it is plain that there will need to be more rail in Western Sydney, and not just to the new airport. Rail adds value, it reduces the congestion…”

Turnbull said traffic forecasts for the airport said there would not be enough demand at the airport to justify a rail link until the 2040s, and reminded the audience that the current plans involve construction of station boxes under the airport’s terminals, to enable the later installation of a pair of rail lines.

“We’re making the airport … ready for rail to be installed,” he said.

“But we believe we should be more ambitious.

“And what we are doing is working with the State Government to see how we can bring the rail to the airport and more rail to Western Sydney much sooner, ideally when the airport opens.”

The prime minister went on to suggest the state and federal ministers should investigate the potential of value-capture, to help fund the line.

“We’ve got to be innovative in the way we approach this,” Turnbull explained.

“We’ve got to recognise that rail adds an enormous amount of value to property, it enables greater amenity, greater development, greater density, more housing, more affordable housing, and all of, some of that value should be captured to fund the new rail.

“We’ve got to take a much more – a modern and innovative approach to funding urban infrastructure.

“Budgets are strained, both State and Federal, we know that, so we’ve got to look at investing in our cities as as much an economic exercise as anything else.

“I’m very confident that we will find a way to bring the rail to the airport and to Western Sydney.”

More on this topic: