Bus services in Sydney’s Inner West will be snatched away from State Transit and given to the private sector to run.
NSW Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance said inner-west bus services had attracted the highest number of complaints in the Sydney metro area, “well above” complaints about buses operated by the private sector in adjoining areas. They also had some of the worst on-time running results, he said.
“There have been improvements in recent years, but State Transit still lags a long way behind its industry competitors in measures like on-time running and reliability,” Mr Constance said.
“If the bus industry can provide quality in western Sydney, the Inner West deserves the same, especially as Sydney grows.”
The services that will go out to competitive tender are in Bus Region 6, which services suburbs from the city west to Strathfield and Olympic Park with the tender beginning in July 2017 and likely to be completed by July 2018.
The government will retain ownership of the region’s buses and assets, including depots, continue to set Opal fares and timetables and regulate safety and operational standards.
But while Mr Constance was talking up his prediction that the “world’s best operators” would compete for the tender, which will come up for renewal every five to ten years, and deliver better services for customers the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) of NSW is predicting disaster.
RTBU Bus Division Secretary Chris Preston said the government’s decision to privatise bus services would slash routes, close bus stops and cost 1,200 public transport workers their jobs.
He called the privatisation “a complete betrayal” of Sydney commuters and bus drivers.
“We oppose privatisation because we know at the end of the day, it’s the commuters who’ll pay,” Mr Preston said. “Less popular, less profitable bus routes get the chop and commuters are left stranded.
“Private bus operators put profits before the public. To make money they’ll slash services and cut back on maintenance. We’ve seen it happen before.”
He said the State Transit Authority told bus drivers their jobs were safe for five years in December last year but they would now “get the chop”, something Mr Constance appeared to deny when he said the government would be “growing transport jobs because we want to grow and improve services”.
Mr Preston said the government’s intention was to privatise all public transport across NSW.
“Every Sydney commuter needs to be asking, ‘is my bus next on the chopping block?’ “.
Sydney Buses will continue to operate regions seven, eight and nine, which includes the inner metropolitan areas of the eastern, and southern and northern suburbs, including the CBD.
Meanwhile the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) waded into the debate and backed the minister.
Chief Executive of TTF, Margy Osmond, said competitive contracting would deliver “enormous financial and service benefits to both commuters and government”.
“The management of bus networks is an area of transport policy in which the private sector has proven time and time again it can deliver quality services at best value for taxpayers’ money,” Ms Osmond said.
“Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin already have bus networks that are completely managed by private operators, not government, and their experience is that franchising has delivered significantly better results across their networks.”
TTF’s 2016 report, On the Buses: The Benefits of Private Sector Involvement in the Delivery of Bus Services, claimed the government would save up to half a billion dollars over five years if Sydney Buses were run by a private operator.
The report also said privatisation would improve customer experience, increase operational efficiency and save taxpayers money that could be reinvested into public transport.
“Franchising also keeps the infrastructure, including the buses and depots, in public hands but contracts out the operation of these assets to experienced private operators for the period of the contract,” Ms Osmond said.
“Today’s [Monday] announcement the NSW Government will franchise the Inner West STA region is a very good start that hopefully signals a shift towards franchising more and more regions in due course.”