The NSW Labor Party, led by Kristina Keneally, is facing a State election and almost certain defeat in less than 12 months time. Not least in the electorate’s minds will be the shambles that passes for public transport. July 2009 saw a major reorganisation of government departments and the creation of thirteen “super departments” one of which is NSW Transport & Infrastructure.
Long suffering public transport users in Sydney will tell anyone that cares to listen that there is absolutely nothing “super” about the public transport network. The latest victim of this department is the scrapping of the CBD Metro, which was to be a rail link between Central Station and the harbour development site Barangaroo.
The abandonment of the CBD Metro project follows hot on the heels of the scrapping of other proposed rail links that were to service the people in the southwest and northwest of the Sydney CBD.
The scrapping of the CBD Metro alone will cost NSW taxpayers upwards of $330 million and at least 350 jobs. These are conservative estimates and do not include the compensation which will be sought by businesses who will be adversely affected by the cancellation of the project.
All of these projects are part of what the NSW Government has called the Metropolitan Transport Plan (MTP). The MTP was unveiled in late February as a 10 year plan with a budget of $50 billion.
The MTP contains an outline to revive the previously cancelled Northwest rail link but work on this line is not scheduled to begin until 2017 – a staggering 10 years later that when the project was first announced! The MTP as it stands is heavily biased in favour of roads with $22 billion of the $50 billion budget earmarked for new and bigger roads.
This is at a time when the Sydney rail, bus and ferry services are in dire need of investment. With one eye firmly planted on next years state election the MTP promises voters particularly in western Sydney the prospect of an improved public transport service, but they are just that, promises with little, if any, substance. As the people of NSW have learned in other areas such as health and education, the Labor Party are not averse to breaking promises. So why should transport be any different?
The MTP contains no measures which will assist in the effort to reduce the number of trips taken in private motor vehicles. The projected figures for these journeys are staggering with 16 million trips per day forecast for 2020, while journeys taken by bus and train are forecast at 1.3 million and 1.2 million per day respectively.
Time and again it has been proven that people resort to using their private vehicles because they find the public transport services unsatisfactory. Obviously this has adverse effects on the environment. There are plans in the MTP to improve bus and train services but they are nothing when compared to what is planned for roads. There is only $5 billion pledged for these services which is less than 25% of the total pledged to road infrastructure.
The Labor Party in NSW have indicated their penchant for privatisation in a number of areas, the power industry and the prison service being two stand out examples. This love affair with the profiteers can be seen in the MTP as well.
The MTP provides for $500 million to be given as a grant to private operator Veolia to upgrade and extend the Sydney light rail line. This element of the MTP is the only one with a definite start date and schedule of work. This illustrates the paucity of ideas coming from Labor; they would rather hand over the running of what is an essential public service to a private operator whose only motivation is profit and to whom provision of service is only a secondary consideration.
The public transport system should be exactly that – ‘public’. The system in NSW needs investment first and foremost and not hand outs to private operators. If the system is to reach its full potential it needs to be publicly owned and democratically run. Only on this basis will we be able to provide people with accessible and reliable public transport going into the next decade.