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Community transport is one step closer to official recognition as a public passenger service following the successful passage of the Passenger Transport Bill 2014 through the lower house of the NSW Parliament.

For the first time, community transport will be included under the Act; long awaited recognition that community transport plays a crucial role in our public transport system. The introduction of an accreditation framework will see improved protections for users, and will mean the industry is better placed to respond to growing demand.

The recognition of community transport is just one of many changes introduced in what is the first major overhaul of NSW Passenger Transport legislation in more than twenty years.

The Passenger Transport Bill 2014 aims to provide the settings needed for a modern and integrated public transport system. By streamlining contracting provisions across all transport modes, the Bill allows for greater flexibility around procuring services that better meet customer needs. As a result, we might one day see taxis operating more like buses, or buses providing more flexible or responsive services.

The Bill also contains good news for taxi users. New booking services – such as ingogo and gocatch – will now be included in the regulatory framework. These services can be much more user-friendly – particularly for people with disability, such as hearing impairment – than traditional phone-based services. The Bill also imposes caps on taxi fare surcharges, bringing down the overall cost of fares. In the first instance, Cabcharge’s 10% surcharge will be halved to a maximum of 5%.

While consumers stand to benefit from many of the proposed changes, NCOSS is disappointed that the legislation no longer includes any requirement for ongoing community and consumer consultation. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to influence decisions that affect them – especially people and communities experiencing poverty and disadvantage. Yet over the course of many years the requirements for consultation around public transport service provision have been gradually eroded; and they will now been entirely removed from the legislation. This means the extent of engagement will entirely depend on the attitude of the government of the day.

NCOSS is committed to continue working with Government towards identifying and improving opportunities for all people to become involved in the strategic decision-making processes that impact the delivery of public transport services. Such efforts are needed if these services are to meet the needs of everyone in the community, including those who are currently missing out.

Download: Passenger Transport Bill (NSW Parliament website)