GOVERNMENT BUS CONTRACT
My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Transport. What impact will the Government’s order for 300 new gas-powered buses have on jobs in New South Wales?
Earlier this year the Government announced a capital expenditure program for public transport in 1997-98 of $866 million.
Order! I place the honourable member for Vaucluse on three calls to order.
That extensive program includes the acquisition of new rolling stock, the upgrading of railway stations and track infrastructure, the continued construction of the new southern railway and the acquisition of new buses and ferries. In March the State Transit Authority invited tenders for the supply of 300 new buses. I am delighted to inform the House that following an extensive tender evaluation carried out by the authority I have approved the awarding of a contract to Mercedes Benz for the supply of 300 new buses. That contract fulfils the Government’s commitment to public transport growth and enhancement, to clean air and to job creation. The contract represents a significant capital expenditure, with an estimated cost of $115 million. The expenditure of much of amount in the rural areas will mean more jobs and more growth for New South Wales.
While the buses will include an imported Mercedes Benz chassis frame, the bus bodies will be assembled and fitted out by an Australian-owned company based in Sydney’s west. I am pleased to inform members who represent electorates in western Sydney that Custom Coaches, which has operations at both Smithfield and Guildford, will be the subcontractor to Mercedes Benz for the assembly and fit-out of the new buses. The benefits for Sydney’s west are already apparent. Custom Coaches is set to expand its production capacity to cope with the new work. It is anticipated that as a result some 100 new full-time jobs will be created in Sydney’s west.
The 300 new buses will bring the total number of compressed natural gas powered buses in the fleet to more than 400. That number of buses will make a significant contribution to the reduction of smoke and pollution output from vehicles in Sydney. The new buses will cater to the current growth in public transport patronage and will bring comfort, convenience and safety to Sydney’s bus commuters. The buses will be fully wheelchair accessible, thus fulfilling the Government’s commitment to an accessible public transport system, a commitment that I take seriously and one that I am determined to make further progress on. The buses will be fully airconditioned and will feature ultra-low floors, which are already a feature of Sydney’s fleet, with air suspension and wheelchair ramps to provide full accessibility for people with all levels of disability, as well as convenience for passengers with prams, luggage or shopping.
The new buses will complement the State Transit Authority’s existing fleet of ultra-low floor, accessible buses, which already numbers more than 150. An additional 170 buses are already on order. Other features of the new buses include anti-lock brakes, graffiti-resistant seats and fittings, and brightly coloured grab handles and railings for passengers with visual impairments. One of the most important features of the new buses is that they will be powered, as I have already informed the House, by compressed natural gas, which has many benefits for the environment and the economy. First, CNG provides cost savings over diesel fuel of about 11¢ a kilometre. That represents a saving of about $4,000 per bus per annum. More importantly, CNG powered buses are among the most environmentally friendly public transport options available. Recent research has shown that they produce even less pollution per passenger than trains, which run on electricity generated by coal.
Compressed natural gas powered buses are better for the environment in another way: they represent a 30 per cent reduction in engine noise. Combined with a huge reduction in particulate emissions and other pollutants, that will be welcome news for Sydneysiders. CNG is in abundant supply in Australia, making it an even more attractive alternative. The State Transit Authority will call a separate tender for the supply of CNG to State Transit bus depots and for the associated infrastructure in the near future. The decision to purchase 300 ultra-low floor, CNG powered buses underlines the Government’s commitment to improving air quality and public transport patronage and to providing environmentally friendly transport infrastructure for the 2000 Olympics.
The total value of the contract is almost $115 million over three years. This is almost too much good news in one go, but I am delighted to advise the House that yet again the buses will be financed completely from within the State Transit Authority’s resources and there will not be a direct call on the taxpayers of New South Wales. This is an important step towards the complete replacement of State Transit’s bus fleet with state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, CNG powered vehicles. This contract is clear evidence of the Carr Government’s commitment not only to expanding public transport but also to making it accessible and environmentally responsible.