When Victoria’s publicly operated rail and tram systems were privatised by Jeff Kennett in 1999, better service at less cost to the taxpayer was promised.
Next year the contracts end and the Andrews Labor government has offered Metro Trains and Yarra Trams the exclusive right to bid for a seven-year renewal. This is despite the fact that under Metro the cost to the public of this contract has blown out by 229% to $1.3 billion per year.
Maintenance across the system has been cut to the bone, resulting in derailments last summer, as well as regular delays across the network. This is precisely the opposite of what was promised under privatisation. Even Jeff Kennett has commented that privatisation has failed!
Metro and Yarra Trams have acted as any private companies would, cutting costs in order to maximise profits. They skip stations and cut services short to cook the books and meet punctuality targets.
Last year staff were forced to strike against attacks on pay and conditions. In 2014 Metro made profits of $46 million, with around $11.8 million of that due to running a ‘punctual and reliable’ service. Regular users of Victoria’s public transport system will see this as a terrible joke.
Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) leaders are calling for the operation of the rail and tram networks to be either brought back into public hands, or put to an open tender. Not one cent of public money should go to private profits for these essential public services. But government transport bureaucrats are also divorced from the realities and needs of public transport workers and users. Socialists argue that staff and commuters should directly elect a board to oversee the services.
Bringing the public transport system back into public hands would help to build a punctual and reliable service. Public transport should be expanded to reduce road congestion. If done together with a transition to renewable energy it would greatly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. International examples have shown that when privatised rail systems are brought back into public operation, passenger satisfaction increases.
These exclusive negotiations should be called off and public transport put back in public hands.
By Alex Foley