President’s column

THE 2017 NATIONAL Local Roads and Transport Congress held in Albany this week confirmed for me just how effectively we as a nation are responding to tomorrow’s transport challenges.

We often hear commentators in the media suggesting Australia is being outpaced by its competitors in the productivity stakes, and that we’re laggards when it comes to providing adequate and timely transport and community infrastructure solutions. 

What we learned from our national and international speakers was that runs are going up on the scoreboard, and that road safety, freight productivity, intelligent transport infrastructure, and design and engineering conundrums are being met and overcome.

That’s not to say there aren’t concerns. One of these is the recent surge of fatalities on our roads. According to a status report on the National Road Safety Strategy, road fatalities increased considerably in 2015, relative to 2014. And that’s continued, with 1296 people killed in road crashes in 2016.

Road safety was prominent in Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester’s opening address in Albany – as was his recognition of the important role Local Government plays in efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries.

Minister Chester’s initiative of linking future funding under the Roads to Recovery program to the safety benefits derived from local road upgrades will require councils to provide more detailed project outcome reports. The reports will require a particular focus on identifying the safety improvements each Council has been able to deliver using their annual R2R grant.   

However, improved safety outcomes will add ballast to arguments for increased R2R funding. And with Minister Chester appealing for renewed efforts to cut the road toll, we hope he gives fresh consideration to ALGA’s call for Black Spot Program funding to be doubled and made permanent.

Discussion of autonomous vehicles and smart mobility technology at the Congress revealed another problem – namely the lack of opportunity for councils to take part in trials.

The story of regulators and infrastructure providers failing to keep pace with technological change is an old one, but it needs to change. 

If councils are given the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of intelligent transport use –  particularly in the trial phases – the associated regulatory reform and infrastructure roll-out will be far more effective.

Council are more than capable of forging partnerships with both public and private sector stakeholders and, as this Congress demonstrated, capitalizing on those relationships to deliver concrete, measurable results. That’s a powerful take-home message, and one I hope inspires delegates to continue their good work after they’ve returned home from Albany.