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Champagne Socialist
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http://www.theage.com.au/news/kenne...1146335799457.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Return public transport to public hands

May 4, 2006

Transport Minister Peter Batchelor is an expert at kite-flying to cover his failure.

Privatisation has been a costly, failed experiment, writes Kenneth Davidson.

WHY, ask Melbourne University transport planner Paul Mees and the secretary of the Public Transport Users Association, Tony Morton, in separate letters to The Age, is the Bracks Government toying with the idea of spending a billion dollars on a third track on the Dandenong line?

Let me give two possible answers. The Government will be able to waste another two to three years to show that building the third line isn't financially feasible. In the meantime, it can continue to have its tummy tickled by the two foreign franchisees, instead of allowing their franchises to lapse. It could then put in place a real transport authority to totally reorganise timetabling and service planning so that trains link with trams and buses to enable passengers to get around the city easily.

The Bracks Government is the master of spin. In the lead-up to the November election, it has to offer the prospect of improvements in public transport, especially as the system is already under strain because of higher oil prices that have encouraged commuters to switch to public transport.

When commuters vote, they have to be persuaded to think of a bright future rather than ponder why the Government has done nothing to improve the performance of the urban public transport system during the past seven years.

Transport Minister Peter Batchelor is an expert at kite-flying to cover his failure to develop and implement a strategy for Melbourne's transport network.

Instead, Melburnians are given piecemeal public relations exercises.

The latest is a proposal to terminate trams from the south-eastern suburbs to the city at St Kilda Road so that passengers would have to transfer to a tram shuttle.

The reorganisation fits with the French-controlled Yarra Trams' proposal that would require the Government to spend a billion dollars on an additional 250 French low-floor trams despite the serious design flaws apparent in the existing fleet. As well, the Government is expected to announce, in its foreshadowed "transport and liveability" statement, a reorganisation of the outer-suburban bus services and extension of the Smartbus network, which is expected to cost taxpayers an additional $50 million to $70 million a year.

All this sounds good. Melbourne's public transport system is bad because there hasn't been sufficient money spent on the system. There hasn't been enough money spent on the system because it conflicts with the Government's higher aim of being seen to be a good economic manager.

Wrong on both counts. The system doesn't need more money from taxpayers. It needs a new system of co-ordination and management to ensure the money is spent wisely on delivering services to commuters rather than profits to the private franchisees.

In 1999, the Met's last year, the taxpayer subsidy for the operations of the public monopoly's tram and rail network cost $280 million. The "privatisation" of the network promised private-sector efficiencies that would deliver improved services at lower cost to taxpayers.

The system failed to deliver. The franchisees threatened to walk away from their contracts.

Instead of taking back the system, the Bracks Government renegotiated the franchises, which offered higher subsidies, lower service obligations and abandoned the fig leaf that competition between franchisees would allow benchmarking, leading to service improvements.

Instead, the Government renegotiated the contracts and the annual subsidy to Connex and Yarra Trams is now $580 million — double when the system was managed by the Met.

Batchelor claims services have improved. But cancellations are almost three times higher now than in 1997. It is impossible to measure lateness because the definition of lateness has been relaxed from five minutes to six since privatisation.

When the franchises were re-organised at great expense between 2002 and 2004, Batchelor failed to negotiate any significant increase in services. In short, he has been captured by the private operators.

Batchelor has not attempted to refute the report to the Victorian community advocating the replacement of the existing franchises with a new public transport agency (employing no more than 30 specialists) modelled on the best in the world, such as those in Vancouver, Zurich or Perth. It was published last month by four Melbourne academics, including Paul Mees.

The report points out that the existing franchises run out in November 2008 so if the Government does nothing, they revert to public ownership without compensation. The operating cost to the taxpayer of the Melbourne system is higher than Vancouver and Perth though both have first-class services and lower population densities than Melbourne.

Thanks to our forebears, Melbourne has a far bigger rail network than either Vancouver or Perth, as well as trams. This suggests that given a commitment to the public interest, the reorganisation of Melbourne's public transport services should be easy and not even beyond the capacity of the Bracks Government.

Based on its record, the Government's game plan is probably to remain silent about the impending expiry of the franchises in the lead-up to the election so it would be free to renew after the election.

Saturday's ALP state conference is the last chance Labor Party members will have to raise this issue before the election.

Kenneth Davidson is a senior columnist.

_________

VicTransit sitting on the same level as VicRoads, a statutory corporation which controls:

* infrastructure
* operations - whether it's full nationalisation of services again or managing contracts with private operators.
* strategy, planning & capital works

relating to all things public transport, which has a dedicated new capital works budget and works directly with local councils to identify, plan and implement new transit cities.

Why can't the government see the huge gap they have in their current arrangements?

I'm off to write a letter to the Premier & Treasurer.
 

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tayser said:
VicTransit sitting on the same level as VicRoads, a statutory corporation which controls:

* infrastructure
* operations - whether it's full nationalisation of services again or managing contracts with private operators.
* strategy, planning & capital works

relating to all things public transport, which has a dedicated new capital works budget and works directly with local councils to identify, plan and implement new transit cities.
Now you Mexicans can experience a Public Transport Commission for an election or two until it becomes politically expedient to do the opposite and break them all up into independant statutory corporations...
 
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