Infrastructure Australia recently suggested that the private franchise agreements the Victorian state government has with Metro Trains and Yarra Trams are “…a shining light that other states should follow”. The body went on to propose that Victoria should also put its bus network out to competitive tender.
It’s no coincidence that Infrastructure Australia’s chairperson is Mark Birrell, an ex-minister in the infamous Kennett government who were responsible for the privatisation of public assets in the 1990s.
The sell-off of public assets, particularly public transport, has been an absolute disaster. John Stone form Melbourne University has pointed out that private companies “are skilled at finding ways to increase revenue without improving service”. He said that ‘stop-skipping’ and the padding out of timetables were some of the “gaming measures” that they use.
The government has increased payments for the private operators by around 40% over the last ten years. This equates to over $1.4 billion! But since 2004 services have only increased by 30%. This may be “a shining light” for the private operators but for commuters and public transport workers it has been nothing less than a rort. Any other state that accepted this scenario would be mugs.
In fact, the Victorian government is now spending more to prop up the privately-run transport system than it did when it was publicly owned and operated. With all this being the case, the campaign launched by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) to bring public transport back into public hands is to be welcomed.
With public transport patronage in Melbourne on course to double by 2030, this campaign could get mass support if it was turned outwards to embrace commuters. If it included mass rallies and industrial action by public transport workers it would have a real chance of winning.
By Mike Naismith