On 13 February 2019, the Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, the Hon. Mark Bailey (‘the Minister’), introduced the Personalised Transport Ombudsman Bill 2019 (QLD) (‘the Bill’) to the Queensland Legislative Assembly. The Bill intends to help resolve complaints relating to personalised transport services. On 3 September 2019, the Bill was passed with amendments by the Legislative Assembly.
Once assented, the Bill will enable the Governor in Council to appoint a personalised transport ombudsman (‘the ombudsman’) whose primary function will be to provide timely, cost-effective complaint resolution for customers, industry and other parties.
Section 7 of this Bill defines a "personalised transport service" as falling into one of the following categories: a booked hire service; a booking service; a taxi service. This includes transport such as hire cars and ridesharing.
The Bill emphasises two key aspects of the nature of the responsibilities of the personalised transport ombudsman. Firstly, as per section 18 of the Bill, the ombudsman is obligated to perform his functions “independently, impartially and in the public interest”. Additionally, section 20 of the Bill explicitly states that the ombudsman is not subject to direction by any person regarding the way they perform their functions, exercise their powers or give priority to investigations. Secondly, the Bill outlines the specialised and confined focus of the role on resolving personalised transport complaints in order to prevent duplicating existing services. Personalised transport complaints are defined in section 8 of the Bill as complaints about personalised transport services or the business practices and decisions of people responsible for providing a personalised transport service. The scope of these complaints which the ombudsman is responsible for is further confined by Divisions 2 and 3 of the Bill. Division 2 refers to circumstances when investigations of a complaint must be refused, primarily when it involves legislation or government policy and Division 3 requires the ombudsman to refer the complaint to a chief executive if he reasonably believes the complaint constitutes a transport related offence.
The other key change that the Bill will instigate once it has been assented is facilitating the introduction of a new ticketing system which is intended to allow for greater choice of payment for public transport while supporting the continued enforcement of fare evasion offences.
Once assented, the amendments to current legislation proposed within the Bill will accommodate for greater choice of payment compared to the existing go card and paper ticket system, such as contactless debit and credit cards, smartphones and wearable devices. The purpose of the Bill to improve enforceability of fare evasion offences is primarily achieved through a series of amendments to the Transport Operations (Passenger Transport) Act 1994 (‘the Transport Act’). Once assented, the Bill will allow for fare evasion provisions which are provisions of regulations that create fare evasion offences relating to the use or hire of a public passenger vehicle. Further, section 90 of the Bill will allow for documentation signed by the ombudsman to be considered as evidentiary aids in transport offences including fare evasion.
The Bill passed with minor amendments which included:
Commenting in a February media release on the Bill, the Minister contextualised the Bill as part of the Palaszczuk Government’s 2016 reforms on transport related legislation:
“We are committed to reviewing these reforms, to look at what has worked well and what can be improved (…) That conversation is not over. We are constantly talking to the industry through this transition and acknowledge that it is still in the middle of the most disruptive chapter in its history.”
The Minister added in relation to the introduction of the new ombudsman role:
“The establishment of a Personalised Transport Ombudsman will be an independent umpire that acts as a common voice for industry accountability.”
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Personalised Transport Ombudsman Bill 2019 (QLD) and explanatory material, available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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