State mum on timing of privatisation

THE state government says it will leave it up to an imminent ‘‘market sounding’’ process to determine how long a new operator would control Newcastle’s transport services under a proposal to contract the lot out to the private sector.

The same process would also determine whether the government or the private operator would be responsible for procuring light rail rolling stock or new buses as needed.

The government announced last week the controversial plan to tender the operation of the city’s bus, ferry and planned new light rail services to the private sector, which would be a new authority ‘‘Transport for Newcastle’’.

But is staying tight lipped on the likely parameters for the new arrangement, including the contract period it has in mind, saying it will consult the private sector.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said: ‘‘We’re calling on the best transport operators around the world to tell us how they could partner with the community to deliver a modern transport network for Newcastle’’.

Asked if a separate fare structure could be established, Mr Constance said Opal fares would continue to be set the same way but added ‘‘the operator’s key incentive will be increasing patronage in Newcastle so they may have some ideas about how fares could be better integrated or improved to get more people onto services’’.

In Sydney, a public-private partnership has been established to deliver its city centre and south east light rail project.

A 19-year contract covers maintenance of the 12-kilometre project.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union is expected to be briefed further on the Newcastle proposal shortly, but claims the light rail would be a dud and should be scrapped in favour of rapid buses. The government had previously foreshadowed scrapping Newcastle bus services that would double up with the short light rail route.

By Michelle Harris, Newcastle Herald

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