Time to put the public back into public transport!
Its well over a decade now since Melbourne’s public transport system was privatised. According to the state government at the time, the move was supposed to bring a more efficient and reliable service. Since then Melbourne’s trams, trains and buses have become synonymous with lengthy delays, poor service, thuggish ticket inspectors and serious safety concerns.
Last year saw a wave of discontent towards Connex, the then private operator of the train system. Mass public anger led to Connex being replaced by Metro, a Hong Kong based company.
Promises were given that performance would pick up under this new operator. Many ordinary people hoped that an end to the Connex regime would usher in a more reliable system. The truth however, is that replacing one private operator with another has not led to any improvements. After more than six months in the job Metro has proved to be just as bad as Connex.
A new timetable, released last month, includes many service cuts. Metro has also been plagued by safety concerns. The new Siemens trains have been failing to break properly and overshooting platforms causing a serious collision in April that left 5 passengers hospitalised. These serious problems are a result of a decade of under-funding and neglect.
On top of all this, Metro has consistently failed to meet its punctuality targets. Almost one in five trains has arrived over 5 minutes late. That is, more trains are running late under Metro than under Connex!
The problems that have plagued Melbourne’s train system have not been because of “bad operators”. The problems can be traced back to the private ownership of the system. Since privatisation began ticket prices have soared, thousands of workers have been sacked and cuts have become commonplace. The companies do not operate the service for public need instead they only seek to make profits.
It has been estimated that the selling off of Melbourne’s public transport system has cost taxpayers over $2 billion more than if the system had of remained in public hands. All this for a system that we do not control!
It is clear that regardless of the operator, privatisation is a hindrance to providing decent public transport. What we need to do is bring the public transport system back into public ownership. Not under the control of inept government bureaucrats but under the control of public transport users and workers.
Instead of subsidising private companies we could use the money to both expand the system and make it free. A democratic plan could be put in place to ensure that society’s needs are properly met. This would be a much better way of providing an environmentally friendly form of mass public transport.
By Corey Snoek