NSW set to privatise Sydney's remaining bus services

November 8, 2019
Sydney bus
Sydney bus. Photo: Victoria Ugarte

The New South Wales Coalition government has said it plans to privatise all remaining publicly-operated bus services in Sydney, despite having not raised this proposal during the March state elections.

This would include services covering the Inner North (Parramatta and Ryde), the Northern Beaches and East regions. Together, these regions represent more than half of the 1 million bus trips made each weekday in Sydney.

The Gladys Berejiklian government hopes to complete the process within 18 months and comes after the failed privatisation of Inner West region and Newcastle bus services.

Transport minister Andrew Constance said the earlier privatisations would improve performance. Yet, statistics collected by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) show that since private operator Keolis Downer took over in Newcastle, the rate of on-time buses has dropped from 87% to 52% and 150 bus stops have been removed.

A similar trend has occurred in the Inner West region, where private operator Transit Systems has failed to meet any performance targets.

RTBU Tram and Bus Division secretary David Babineau said workers' conditions have "plummeted" as a result of privatisation.

Unsurprisingly, Constance has said the new round of privatisations is not performance-related.

Under the proposed privatisation process, about 200 support staff will be out of a job and 3000 drivers and maintenance workers will get only two years guaranteed employment with any new private operator.

The public is right to be disappointed at the slow running times of Sydney bus services. But this has nothing to do with drivers, who do their best to deal with congested roads.

Rather, road congestion is part of a bigger policy failure that has encouraged more cars onto roads, through the billions of dollars spent on motorways such as WestConnex, while the city’s train network falls into disrepair.

A report obtained by the NSW Greens in 2017 under freedom of information revealed that public bus operator State Transit's attempts to improve running times and timetables was thwarted by the state government agency Transport for NSW.

The State Transit report said "many adverse findings and customer experiences would have been averted" if Transport for NSW had responded pro-actively to proposals made in 2014 to improve on-time running of buses.

Labor opposition leader Jodi McKay described the privatisation as a "disgrace", while Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey warned other public sector agencies could be next and that "nothing is off the table" regarding industrial action.

GetUp has initiated an online campaign “Get Your Hands Off Our Buses”.

In a time of climate crisis, Sydney needs to urgently improve its public transport system — not privatise it. Australia's excessive transport emissions continue to rise and have the potential to nullify any gains from improvements in renewable electricity generation.

Yet, the state government, it seems, is hell-bent on privatisations, union bashing and ensuring windfalls for their property developer mates.

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