A Bill passed by the Legislative Assembly on 19 May has the potential to radically modify the structure, organisation and function of transport administration and governance in New South Wales. This has wide-sweeping implications for information and communication technology provision in future years for up to 13 different transport agencies.
The Bill vests power in a single government body and effectively strips public transport agencies of the ability to self-regulate.
The Transport Administration Amendment Bill 2010, introduced to the Assembly on 13 May by then-Transport Minister David Campbell, amends the Transport Administration Act 1988 to alter the management of public transport in New South Wales.
The Bill establishes a new, all-encompassing agency, Transport NSW, as a method of integrating the planning and operations of all modes of transport, including trains, buses, ferries, cars and bicycles.
This will be primarily achieved through reform of the administration, governance and delivery of transport services and infrastructure by thirteen public transport agencies, including the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), RailCorp, Sydney Transit Authority and Sydney Ferries. These will cede a great portion of their regulatory powers to the Director General of Transport NSW.
The Director General of Transport NSW will be allocated an extensive set of powers under the Bill, including specific functions in relation to:
- Transport planning and policy;
- Administration and allocation of public funding for public transport agencies;
- Transport infrastructure;
- Contracting for the delivery of public transport services;
- Transport services coordination;
- Incident management; and
- Provision and deployment of staff to public transport agencies.
Public trading enterprises such as the RTA and RailCorp are, it appears, to be made virtually redundant without being officially dissolved (though the Public Transport Ticketing Corporation and Sydney Metro are abolished under the Bill), with Schedule 1.1  of the Bill denoting that public transport agencies are to manage their affairs ‘in accordance with any such directions of the Director General’ [emphasis added], while Schedule 1.1  abolishes the boards of directors of these agencies and allows the Director General to appoint their chief executives.
In his speech introducing the Bill to the Legislative Assembly, Mr Campbell justified the stripping of regulatory powers from public transport agencies such as RailCorp, arguing that ‘the community expects the Government to deliver a transport system that is integrated and coordinated... [and] has a single person in charge who is accountable for improved services, rather than multiple transport providers with separate transport priorities’.
He also placed great emphasis on the importance of accountability within the new model: ‘having the power to direct those public sector transport agencies in the future will, very importantly, strengthen the Director General's responsibility.’
‘At all times, the Director General is accountable to the Minister, and the Minister will still retain the ability to direct both the Director General and individual transport agencies.’
Mr Campbell also noted: ‘in circumstances that demand greater integration across modes, a board model is no longer the most effective way to deliver services to New South Wales.’
‘Instead, accountability will directly rest with me as Minister and with the Director General and the chief executives of the transport agencies’.
Campbell outlined three other key objectives (in addition to greater accountability), which will be achieved through vesting transport administrative functions in a single agency to:
- Create an integrated approach to the delivery of transport services and infrastructure which is responsive to the needs of the community as opposed to the priorities of the public sector agency;
- Better coordinate the delivery of budgets and resources to areas of community need; and
- Ensure the safety of transport in NSW.
Aspirational goals aside, one must question what the practical implications of this Bill will be on an area of administration encompassing $11.5 billion of NSW budget funding.
While bodies like the RTA and RailCorp are not officially abolished by the Bill, the all-encompassing functions of the Director General of Transport NSW, coupled with the abolishment of the boards of these enterprises and the requirement that they be unequivocally subjected to the directions of the Director General, seems to suggest that their existence has been reduced to a formality.
What will happen to these public transport authorities in terms of their future existence and how they exercise their current functions under this Bill is unclear at this point, given the silence of the proposed amendment as to how the Director General’s powers will integrate in practice with the existing responsibilities of bodies like RailCorp. However, logistical problems may arise within the new model if it is implemented in its current form.
As Liberal MP Gladys Berejiklian suggested in her response to the Bill in the Legislative Assembly, expecting the Director General of Transport NSW to monitor and oversee 13 agencies will be a logistical nightmare, and may result in reduced, as opposed to the increased accountability the Bill hoped to achieve.
It seems, therefore, while Mr. Campbell has argued that ‘the community wants this, the transport experts recommend it, and they already do it overseas—in short, this reform is essential’, and his successor, John Robertson, has echoed ‘these changes have the backing of the transport industry and experts alike’, that there may be some elements of the Transport Administration Amendment Bill which may be lost in transit.