Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Put public transport in public hands

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thousands of people find themselves crammed like sardines on our public transport system every single day. Late trains, a lack of seats, and poor service are all contributing to the stress working class people face. There is clearly a need for an urgent overhaul of the system.

Before the 1990s most public transport throughout Australia was publicly owned. While far from perfect, the sector employed thousands of people and ticket prices were much lower than today. For example in Melbourne public transport ticket prices have increased by 247% since 1990. Even since 2000 they have increased by 44%!

Since privatisation, thousands of jobs have been lost. Station staff and tram conductors have been replaced with often thuggish ticket inspectors while several lines have suffered timetable cuts. At the same time private operators have been given billions of dollars in corporate handouts. Between 2004 and 2009 Melbourne train operator Connex was paid well over $2 billion by the state government. Even The Age newspaper commented that free public transport would only cost about $340 million a year.

Connex proved to be an utterly incompetent operator and were replaced by Metro in 2009. Many people had hoped that a change of operator would lead to improved services but nothing could be further from the truth.

Metro, who will receive $3.8 billion from the state government over eight years, have failed to meet punctuality targets with almost 1 in 5 trains being late. On top of this they will earn almost $3.8 billion again from ticket sales and construction contracts. The State Labor Government has also wasted $1.35 billion on the Myki ticketing system.

It is clear that all of these problems can be linked back to the privatisation of the system. Public transport should be run as a service, not for profit. The alternative is to put public transport back into public hands. On the basis of public ownership and democratic control, we could implement a plan to expand and integrate the system. With the money saved we could also make it free.

An expansion of the system would not only create thousands of jobs but be good for the environment. At the moment motor vehicles produce 81% of greenhouse gases attributable to transport, while public transport only produces 3%. In order to reduce global warming we need to get people out of cars and into reliable public transport.

The best way to ensure an efficient public transport system is for it to be taken back from the profit hungry companies and democratically run by transport workers and users.

Labor and big business can not be trusted to deliver decent public transport. The only way we will achieve this is to fight for it. We need to bring together public transport users, unions, community and environment groups in an active campaign to fight for a public transport system that puts people’s needs before profit.

Profiteers suggest the poor pay to expand public transport

The Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) lobby group recently suggested that eligibility requirements for concession rates on public transport be tightened. They claim that the extra money raised by forcing more people to pay full price can be used to expand the system. While it is true that the public transport system desperately needs expanding, making the poorest section of society pay is no solution.

Currently people are eligible for concession rates if they are under 17 or are low income earners such as students or pensioners. The TTF suggested that the level of discount could be reduced, concession card holders could be means tested and that concession tickets should no longer be used in peak periods.

Not surprisingly, the Tourism and Transport Forum, whose members include private transport operators across Australia, did not suggest cutting corporate subsidies to save money.

In Victoria for example train operator Metro will rake in $3.8 billion over eight years and that figure again in ticket prices. It is estimated that Metro earns revenue of at least $50 million per month from the state government. The Age newspaper has reported that it would cost a mere $300 million a year to make the public transport system in Victoria free.

At the moment we have the ludicrous situation where, via our taxes, we are paying the government to pay the private operators who then charge us exorbitant prices to use the system that we paid for in the first place!

The best way to save money would be to cut out the private operators and bring the system back under public control. On the basis of public ownership we could run the system as a service not as a money making enterprise. A plan could be put in place to expand the system and make it free.


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