MPI: Regional Fare Cap

22 March 2023

It is a great pleasure to rise and speak on this matter of public importance, noting this tremendous policy of the Andrews Labor government, our public transport regional fare cap policy for regional Victorians. In simple terms this is about fairness. This is a policy that will see fairness being delivered across the state and fairness for regional Victorians. But when you look a little bit closer at this policy, it is much more than that. I know as a regional MP this policy goes straight to the heart of the Bellarine and our regions, and it has been wholeheartedly welcomed in the Bellarine since it was announced last year. Consumers, users of the rail and regional Victorians are at the centre of this policy, and they will soon be paying the same price as their metro Melbourne neighbours.

Right now a daily full fare from Geelong to Melbourne costs up to $27.60, and for a family such as my own, with two adults and two children, when we travelled late last year it cost us nearly $83 to come to Melbourne. The kids do love tapping on and jumping on the train, but when you compare this to Melbourne prices it just does not seem fair at all. So this is about fairness and equity. When we announced this last year the Labor government recognised that regional people needed a better deal, and that is what we will be delivering. Fairness is important, but it is also about doing something meaningful for that and it is about addressing the cost of living. These fairer regional fares are going to help a lot of regional Victorians with cost-of-living pressures. I know we all feel the pain as we fill up our cars with petrol at the moment and families are watching every dollar that goes out of that household budget, so it is very important.

But if you are a regular traveller at the moment on the V/Line service, for example from Geelong to Melbourne, you are also racking up a pretty substantial bill, and I would like to share a little bit of an example of this from a Bellarine constituent who contacted me. The Bellarine constituent was so excited about this policy that she emailed me two days after the election. The election was on the Saturday. By Monday she was emailing me. She wanted to know more about the policy but also know when it was going to start. Stephanie explained that in her family her husband is a critical care nurse. He works as an associate nurse unit manager on a cardio ward in Melbourne, and she explained that he is really dedicated to his profession. He loves his job and is a very senior nurse, and he worked tirelessly during the pandemic. The only problem that they had really was the cost of his train travel back and forth to Melbourne. Their household was spending over $6000 a year on V/Line tickets. Stephanie explained that having this fare capped was probably the biggest change that they will see to their household in terms of cost of living, and she was very eager to know when that would be rolled out. Well, we did not waste a minute. We actually rolled this out and we got on with it fairly quickly, and we have turned this around in four months. We have delivered what we said we would deliver, and Stephanie will be counting down the days until 31 March. I am really pleased for families like Stephanie’s who are going to just have that easing of pressure on the household budget.

Of course, being a regional MP, I believe that regional Victoria is the best place to live, work and raise a family – and visit. It is no wonder that other people are also flocking to rural and regional Victoria. The secret is out: the Bellarine is a wonderful place to live. We have seen some massive growth across the Bellarine, and families are moving there for the lifestyle that it offers. Working arrangements have changed as well, though. Many are now able to work from home, and they have that flexibility if they would like to live in the regions. When I am out and about, if I am doorknocking, at street stalls or talking to constituents, I meet so many people who have moved from Melbourne probably in the last two years, and they say that they wish they had moved earlier and that they are loving it. Some do mention that they still travel to Melbourne, maybe for work, or as they have left family and friends back in Melbourne, they often travel back to catch up with them. This is the beauty of this policy: although you may use it for work purposes, I know that this policy and these fair regional fares will encourage more Victorians to connect with families and friends across the state – and how wonderful is that.

By reducing the cost of travel between metro and regional Victoria, people will be more inclined to take the train to visit loved ones, catch up with friends or gather for special occasions. I just want to point out here too that it is important to note that the seniors Myki will continue to give free weekend travel in any two consecutive zones and on regional town buses, so really there is no excuse to not go and see the grandkids anymore or visit the regions. As I have indicated and said before, I believe I have one of the most beautiful electorates in the state – beaches, rolling agricultural hills, wineries, historic townships and many tourism activities – so what an incentive this is. I encourage people, especially metro Victorians, to come and see our regions. Come and visit us. Do that by jumping on a train. Come and explore Geelong, and you can travel out to the wonderful Bellarine. I know that this is only going to grow our regional tourism. It will support our regional businesses, which are really going to see the flow-on effects and benefits of this cheaper travel. Easter is around the corner, and it is a great time to just come and visit us in regional Victoria. Also, if you do need a little bit of help, I know that the V/Line stations and call centre staff will be able to assist travellers with accessibility needs to reach their destination. I know they too are excited about this; they want everyone to have the best experience.

Our record does show that we get on with things that matter here in Victoria. We are a government that has been and is transforming our public transport right now. We know that regional Victoria is booming – record unemployment, strong agriculture, strong tourism, and just around the corner are the magnificent Commonwealth Games. This investment has been incredible. Since 2015 we have seen an investment of nearly $1.5 billion to build 59 VLocity trains, and guess what? It is about jobs. It is about good-quality jobs. It is about creating career pathways and secure jobs in our regions.

As much as the prices are now becoming fairer, and that is welcome, people do say that they want better services and more trains more often. Well, that is exactly what we are committing to do – 23 new VLocity trains, securing hundreds of jobs also over the next three years. As we heard from other members’ contributions, we have also provided an extra 800 services since 2014 to the V/Line network, and a further 200 weekend regional services have been committed. This is actually putting into action our core values of supporting people into employment in this state. It is very simple: Labor believes trains made for Victorians should be made by Victorians. These extra trains will run from 2024, and as new trains roll off that production line, I cannot wait to see that.

Just to highlight the difference here, though, with the alternative proposals that were proposed in the election, regional Victorians would have had to face cuts in services to keep this operational. The fact is that if the opposition had formed government in November with their $2 ticketing policy, it would have hurt not only regional commuters but the whole transport network.

We do things that matter for everyday Victorians. I am so proud of this investment. It will help people across the Bellarine electorate and across the state in regional Victoria. It is going to help with the cost of living. This is an investment into our future, it is investment into people and it is fair. It is a fair deal. That is what Labor governments do – we create fairer societies. I am excited about this regional capped fare. Excuse the pun, but this is going to keep Victorians on track for a better deal.