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Public Transport Running at 8% Capacity - Richard Riordan MP Grills Transport Minister

By Rachael Dexter

The inquiry into the Victorian government's response to the coronavirus pandemic has shed light on how the state's transport authorities are preparing for the return of commuters when restrictions start to ease.

Speaking at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee on Thursday, Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan said Melburnians would emerge from the pandemic with vastly different travel needs.

Comparatively, passenger numbers in February were around 2.35 million daily trips across the public transport network.

"If working from home becomes more of a feature of people's work and life patterns, then yes we need to think about the public transport provision," she told the committee.

To address the reduced need travel to the city, Ms Allan said the government was in talks with Melbourne City Council about fast-tracking the construction of protected bike lanes on key routes.

She also suggested it was likely there would be fewer people moving in and out of the city centre, but more between suburbs on local buses, and pointed to the government’s urban city rail loop project as a means of supporting that.

During the hearing, Ms Allan also faced a grilling from Richard Riordan MP Member for Polwarth over the use of the Skybus service to transport returned travellers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Transport Department’s main role in the program was organising the transfer for passengers from Melbourne Airport to designated quarantine hotels.

When asked to explicitly name which agency was in charge of overseeing passengers on the Skybus Ms Allan said both ADF and Victoria Police had a role.

"Because we were dealing with international arrivals there was a role for Border Force in terms of the disembarkation of passengers off the various aircraft and also Victoria Police have a role to play," she said.

"So let’s be really clear, the responsibility the Department of Transport in this instance was to have a contractual arrangement in place with Skybus where the staff were appropriately trained, they were provided with PPE and that was the role that the Department of Transport has performed ... through that part of the operation." The Skybus service ferried returned travellers from Melbourne Airport to quarantine hotels.

She was asked by Nationals MP Danny O’Brien to name the minister "ultimately responsible for the hotel quarantine program".

Ms Allan replied: "You and your colleagues have canvassed this on multiple occasions during the course of this week. You will know that I have nothing to add to the comments that have been made already over the course of this week on that matter."

The Transport Minister was also asked whether it would have been cheaper for the government to stop trains and trams completely after curfew during stage four restrictions and providing essential workers with vouchers for taxis or rideshares. She responded saying that train and tram networks have "big fixed costs", including the maintenance of tracks and stations that is required regardless of how many trips are made.

She said paying staff to run those services between 8pm and 5am were "quite a modest additional cost" comparatively.

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