Privatising entire Sydney bus network a $500m game changer: report

Placing Sydney’s entire bus network in the hands of private operators could result in almost $500 million in savings over five years, a report commissioned by a transport lobby group estimates.

A renewed push from the Tourism and Transport Forum for private firms to expand their reach comes weeks after the acting Auditor-General found the privatisation of Sydney’s ferries was justified, pointing to about $100 million in savings since 2012.

In releasing the latest report, the forum’s chief executive, Margy Osmond, said it made the case clear that private operators should be given the opportunity to competitively bid for the four contracts held by government-owned Sydney Buses.

“Our analysis indicates that there is the potential for up to half a billion dollars in savings over five years if Sydney Buses was run by a private operator,” she said.

However, the Bus, Rail and Tram Union, which represents thousands of drivers, said TTF had been calling for Sydney Buses to be franchised for years. 

“No matter what the government or the transport forum call it, this is privatisation,” the secretary of the union’s bus division, Chris Preston, said.

“The government is trying to sell off Newcastle Buses, and they will hide behind this report to privatise Sydney Buses by stealth next.”

In November, the Baird government unveiled plans to put into private hands the operation of Newcastle’s buses, ferries and light rail service after it is built.

TTF also cited the report by consulting firm LEK as evidence of the need to privatise government-run bus services in Canberra, Brisbane and Hobart.

While private companies such as Hillsbus and Transdev operate bus services in Sydney, state-owned Sydney Buses still carries the majority of the city’s passengers.

Ms Osmond said franchising was a “great model” because it kept the infrastructure such as buses and depots in public hands while contracting out their operation. 

“The management of bus networks is an area of transport policy in which the private sector has proven again and again that it can deliver quality services at best value for taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Private operators run all bus services in Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said in a statement that he was 100 per cent behind “driving better and more services for customers”. 

Matt O’Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald

February 29 2016

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