Northern beaches buses to stay in state hands

 

Source: SMH

Northern beaches buses to stay in state hands, despite inner west privatisation

A day after committing to privatise bus services in Sydney's inner west, the NSW government says a much-touted new route to the lower north shore and northern beaches will remain in the hands of the state-run operator.

Preliminary plans for the B-Line double-deck bus service to Sydney's northern beaches, due to open this year, assumed the service would be run by an operator other than the state-owned State Transit.

But a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Andrew Constance said State Transit would run B-Line services because they fell within a "contract area" it still manages.

"There are no plans to have B-Line run separately out of contract area eight," she said.

The decision to privatise services in Sydney's inner west, and not privatise a new route in the northern beaches, reflects the intensely political considerations involved in public transport delivery.

Brendan Lyon, chief executive at industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, said not franchising the B-Line would be a "missed opportunity for commuters in the northern beaches".

"NSW has done a lot to modernise infrastructure, but it would be good to see a consistent focus turn to modernising service models and costs too," he said.

Sources told Fairfax Media that Premier Gladys Berejiklian required Mr Constance to secure the support of local MPs before privatising, or franchising, any services.

An artist's impression shows a new B-Line style bus.

An artist's impression shows a new B-Line style bus. Photo: NSW government

The sole government Liberal MP in the inner west, John Sidoti, supported the plan to allow a private company to run buses in the area.

Sources said Mr Constance had not secured the support of two ministers from the northern beaches – Brad Hazzard and Rob Stokes – though that support may come.

The proposed northern beaches B-Line route.

The proposed northern beaches B-Line route.

Mr Sidoti, the Member for Drummoyne in the inner west, said transport was the biggest issue in his electorate, and something needed to change.

"From my perspective, privatisation is the only way we can fix the problem," he said.

"There is no excuse for buses not showing up. The services don't reflect the needs of today's people."

Mr Sidoti said services had improved.since the government franchised the operation of Sydney's ferries in 2012.

"We will have to pick a fight with the unions, most definitely," he said.

The government is likely to save tens of millions of dollars from franchising the bus services from four inner west depots: Tempe, Burwood, Leichhardt and Kingsgrove.

About $1 billion a year of taxpayer money is spent on Sydney buses. About 40 per cent of that funding is paid to private operators that run services through much of western Sydney, while the rest is spent on State Transit.

On Monday, Mr Constance said State Transit would continue to run buses in the eastern and northern suburbs.

According to an audit office report in 2015, the cost of running a bus service through a private operator is about $5.43 a kilometre. In comparison, State Transit services cost $8.94 a kilometre.

The audit office attributed part – but not all – of the gap to the higher congestion in areas run by State Transit buses.

About 50 drivers met at the Leichhardt depot on Tuesday, where union leaders talked to delegates from all bus depots.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union divisional president Chris Preston criticised Mr Constance for justifying the privatisation on the grounds of service complaints.

"Here at Leichhardt, drivers can't get out of the depot on time because of the congestion," he said.

"They are at the right place, at the right time, but they can't get out onto the road because there's a conga line [of buses] in front of them."


 

Upcoming Events
For Sale - Buy - Swap - Rent