The Victorian Experience With Franchising

Early Franchisees

Through most of the twentieth century, Victoria’s trains and Melbourne’s trams have operated on a nationalised model, while bus services have (with some exceptions) run on a quasi-nationalised model.

Beginning in 1994, the Kennett Government began to privatise some formerly government-run operations, bringing them under early versions of the franchising model. These new private operators included the National Bus Company and Melbourne Bus Link (operating Melbourne bus services formerly under the control of the Tramways Board), and West Coast Rail and Hoy’s Trains (operating train services to Warrnambool and Shepparton that had been threatened with closure).

Over the subsequent decade these operators ran services roughly comparable in quality to those of Melbourne private bus operators or V/Line as appropriate. In the case of the bus operators this represented a significant decline in service, as these routes had previously run to Melbourne tram standards. (Taking one example, late evening buses in the popular nightlife district of Johnston Street reduced in frequency from every 20 minutes to once an hour.) In the mid-1990s, many National Bus services that had functioned reasonably well as feeders to railway stations were reorganised by the operator to feed into their Eastern Freeway trunk services instead, in most cases costing passengers extra travel time but providing additional revenue for the operator.

It followed that patronage on these bus services declined after privatisation, although the consultants that discovered this fact were instructed to delete it from their report to the Kennett Government (Mees 2005).

Under the Bracks Government all these early franchisees were eventually subsumed by the larger operators, and now rate a mention largely as historical curiosities (though there are important lessons to be learned in the case of National Bus).

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