Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Public ownership the answer to public transport crisis

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Public transport is in crisis all over the country and is set to be a dominant issue in the run up to the Victorian State Election in November. The need for drastic improvements to the system has never been clearer but the question is how will improvements be best carried out.

Public transport was generally operated by the various state governments up until the 1990’s. In Victoria the trains and trams were privatised in 1999 by the former Kennett Liberal Government. Kennett’s argument was that private operators, motivated by profit, could cut costs and prices while boosting the quality and amount of service. Today, it is clear that the absolute opposite has happened.

Since then, the Victorian Labor Government has renewed the privatisation arrangements. Metro has replaced Connex as the private operator of the rail network but the changes have been at best cosmetic. One in five trains continues to be late, carriages are still over crowded and ticket prices continue to increase.

Figures from 2009 show that privatisation has cost tax payers over $2 billion more than public operation would have over the last 11 years. This figure is incredible in light of the job losses, timetable cuts, and cuts to maintenance that have taken place as a result of private operators being given control.

According to a 2009 analysis of the system only 10-15% of Melbourne residents are serviced by ‘appropriate and timely’ public transport. This is yet another example of the failure of privatisation. There is a clear need to expand public transport infrastructure on a massive scale while making sure that trains, trams and buses are properly integrated.

Both the Labor Party and the Liberals have proven that they are incapable delivering for anyone except the big transport companies. It’s clear we need a radical overhaul of the system.

Disappointingly the Greens stand for no such overhaul. Their policy of a new unified public transport authority is an inadequate response to the problems commuters face. Even if it was implemented, the underlying problems would not be solved. The main problem that needs to be addressed is the profit driven basis on which the system is currently run.

At the heart of the crisis in public transport is the fact that the private operators run the system as a money making enterprise not a service. Because of this they will forever seek to cut staff, maintenance and time tables while they continue to raise ticket prices and invest as little as possible in infrastructure.

The Greens have been consistently ambiguous on the question of privatisation. Without removing the big business operators a unified bureaucracy would be a toothless tiger. In order to expand public transport, increase services and reliability, and make the system free, it’s necessary to have the public transport system in public hands.

With a single public body responsible for all aspects of the system it would be possible for public transport users and staff to democratically control the network through elected representatives. There is no one in society better equipped to understand the improvements needed than the staff and users.

The Socialist Party is campaigning for free, expanded and integrated public transport that is publicly owned and democratically controlled. This is the best way to solve the crisis in public transport all over Australia. Anything short of this will not deliver the type of service we need.


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