Getting from A to B not for private profit
Public transport has been run into the ground.
THE NSW government has again shown it doesn’t care about evidence, consultation or the longterm sustainability of our state’s second-largest city.
Fresh from cutting the rail line connecting the heart of Newcastle with Sydney CBD and the upper Hunter, the Transport Minister announced the privatisation of all buses, ferries and interchanges.
There is speculation that the government has put all public transport on the table because there has been little commercial interest in operating the light rail shuttle, and private companies want a bigger piece of the pie.
Who is the government running the transport system for? This announcement fits into the government’s broader goal of selling off NSW.
It is undeniable that there is a problem with public transport in Newcastle. I have highlighted the dismal patronage record of Newcastle buses. But by neglecting the buses, allowing massive drops in patronage and fare box revenue, and cutting the Newcastle rail line, the Baird government has created the problem it is now trying to fix. It is unforgivable that the system has been run into the ground to justify the privatisation of the network.
One day soon, Newcastle might wake up to a private sector monopoly of all public transport.
The government has failed to initiate a single publicly operated train service since coming to power. The Coalition suffered huge losses across the Hunter at the March 2015 election. These are seats they are unlikely to win back in the foreseeable future, so it seems that they have decided that the people of Newcastle will be the petri dish of their long-term goal of privatising public transport across the state.
The experience of privatised public transport has been poor around the world. In Melbourne, the trains skip stops up to 15 times a day to meet on-time running targets, massively inconveniencing commuters who never know if the next train will stop at their station.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal of renationalising British Rail to undo the mess created by the wholesale privatisation of its network is hugely popular.
In September, the Baird government scrapped its public transport mode-share targets, which included a target of 20 per cent of Newcastle peak-hour trips by public transport by 2016, opting instead for targets to build pet projects such as Newcastle light rail. It’s now no longer about improving public transport for the benefit of commuters, but about building what the government wants – without scrutiny or consultation – and letting the private sector benefit.
Public transport is an essential service and must be run for the public interest, not private profit.
Private operators may not be obliged to publicly release performance information or other analysis as state-run transport does. Transparency in transport is obviously off the agenda.
The people of the Hunter region need to stand together and challenge the sell-off of their public transport.
By Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC is Greens NSW spokeswoman for transport