Where’s the Doubling in Service?

User group demands public control of public transport

The Public Transport Users Association has called for an efficient public agency to assume control of services and immediately double service levels, following the results of an analysis of privatisation by researchers at four Melbourne universities.

“The Auditor-General found last year that subsidies to the private operators have doubled since the last year of public ownership in 1999,” said PTUA secretary Tony Morton. “Now, the experts have done the sums and found that we’ve already spent $1.2 billion more to run a privatised system than to run a publicly-owned one. Yet all we passengers have seen for that extra $1.2 billion is more lateness, more cancellations and some new but substandard rolling stock. Why aren’t we getting double the level of services in 1999, given we’re paying double the subsidy?”

Crucially, the experts found that if the State Government chooses not to renew the franchise agreements with Connex and Yarra Trams, then our trains and trams will revert to public ownership on 30 November 2008. “There’s no compensation required other than a token payment for the rolling stock,” Dr Morton said.

“What this means is that we have a golden opportunity in the next two years to set up an efficent public transport agency modelled on those in the world’s best cities,” said Dr Morton. “They could run the services themselves, or hand them over to private contractors, where the agency tells the operators exactly what services to run. And we could hire international experts who could tell us whether we really need a third track to Dandenong or not.”

Based on current expenditures, the public agency would have a budget of approximately $1.2 billion a year (including fare revenue). “This is about one-third more per capita than Vancouver’s Translink agency has to spend on public transport. So a new public agency could hit the ground running and immediately boost off-peak services to one-third better than Vancouver, where trains run every five minutes and suburban buses run every ten. The experts have shown just how easy this would be.”

Dr Morton concluded by urging the State Government not to persist with what is almost universally regarded as an expensive and failed experiment. “Even Jeff Kennett now says that public ownership has to be considered as an option,” said Dr Morton. “The obvious thing for Melbourne to do now is follow world’s best practice and set up a public agency to run our public transport.”