Public Accounts and Estimates Committee Report on the 2021–22 Budget Estimates

17 Nov 2021

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I rise to speak on the 2021–22 budget estimates report from the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, of which I am a member. In particular I refer to page 83, relating to the accessibility of the tram network. The committee found that despite 73 per cent of tram stops in the network being non-level access, just four tram stops were funded to be upgraded in the next budget. That leaves still more than 1200 non-level tram stops to be upgraded. Furthermore, the report states that:

The Committee notes that the Next Generation Trams project that will deliver 100 new low‑floor trams is not due for completion until quarter 4 of 2028–29.

Now, when you compare that to the rolling stock strategy, it is still going to leave over half the trams on the network inaccessible and well behind what was planned for in that strategy.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires that all tram stops must be fully compliant by 31 December 2022, and all trams must be compliant by 31 December 2032. It is clear, as it has been for a long time, that the government simply will not meet these targets. This has the biggest effect of course on people living with a disability, people who use a wheelchair, who really do not have any other form of readily available transport. It has been stated by members of the community during one of the Disability Resources Centre’s many campaigns that it is just not public transport unless everyone can use it, and they have been campaigning for decades—decades—to get this fixed.

During the 2020 lockdown advocates ran the Lifelong Lockdown campaign to highlight the inaccessibility of Melbourne’s transport network, which highlights just how people with a disability feel about not being able to access public transport and the impact that it has on their lives. This is a statewide issue, from people in the inner city to those needing to catch regional public transport. Level-access tram stops are part of a modern network. They have wider benefits. They can contribute to the revitalisation of shopping strips and neighbourhoods. Just look at, say, High Street in Northcote or Acland Street in St Kilda, and the safer connections between trams and trains like are now at South Yarra station. Whilst I certainly appreciate the government is developing a strategy for the rollout of accessible tram stops, we are now at the point or will be at the point where significant and rapid investment needs to be put in place. I note that advocates have met with the minister, but certainly that rapid and significant investment is required to make the public transport network accessible for all.

We have had the Auditor-General’s recent report into the accessibility of our tram network. When you look at both the inaccessible stops and inaccessible trams, just 15 per cent of the tram network is accessible. The current situation is a mishmash of accessible trams and stops, so even if you have an accessible tram stop, certainly there is no guarantee the next tram will be accessible. There have been some missed opportunities, as has happened across Melbourne, when tram tracks have been dug up and replaced. You have had entire roads shut down for a considerable time, a week if not more, but the opportunity has not been taken to upgrade the tram stops alongside those works. I think that would have been an opportune time to do so. The estimated cost of upgrading the tram stops is around $2 billion, and that comes from the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report. It may be less, because often when the tram stops are upgraded some rationalisation occurs. But when you put that figure into context, it is certainly less than some of its bigger projects but very much similar to the investment in many of the government’s other infrastructure projects.

So it is certainly not a figure that is unachievable or is out of reach. And certainly given the length of time that disability advocates and people living with a disability have been advocating for this, now is the time for that significant and rapid investment to upgrade our tram stops and in fact to make the entire tram network and the wider public transport network accessible for all.

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