“We are now paying billions of dollars in subsidies to the private operators, which was not the idea of privatisation”. That quote was not from the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), or the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA). It was from Jeff Kennett, the former Liberal Premier who privatised Victoria’s public transport system in the 1990s.
He made that statement more than a decade ago and since then subsidies (and profits for the private operators) have only increased while safety and service delivery are at all-time lows.
The contracts for the train and tram systems are due to expire in November this year. The Andrews Labor government has entered into exclusive negotiations to renew the contracts with the current operators, Metro and Yarra Trams.
This is despite the rorting of the system carried out by both of these private providers. Metro for example engages in practices such as “station skipping”, where trains fail to stop at scheduled stations, in order to meet timetable requirements. For their part, Yarra Trams have been “short shunting”, where trams are stopped before their destination and turned around.
These frustrating manoeuvres are loopholes the operators use. They claim they are technically meeting their contractual obligations which means they are eligible to claim billions in government subsidies. This rort literally leaves passengers out in the cold.
It is clear that the privatisation of Victoria’s public transport system has failed badly. Recognising this the RTBU has launched a campaign to bring public transport back into public hands. Given the widespread opposition to privatisation, a broad-based campaign with grassroots involvement could get mass support.
Protests coupled with strike action by public transport workers could force the government to bring the system back into public hands. Public ownership of the system would mean that decisions could be made in the interests of public transport users and workers, rather than profit.
By Alex Foley