Winners and losers in transport pork barrel

February 13, 2010

On February 1, NSW premier Kristina Keneally announced changes to public transport fares and ticketing at a Parramatta railway station press conference.

Unusually, many public transport users will get a fare cut — benefiting from the state ALP government's desperate need to rescue its dire electoral prospects. The February 3 Parramatta Sun said: "The changes are understood to be partly aimed at voters in marginal seats in western and southern Sydney who travel more than 35 kilometres each way."

The new fares will apply from April 18. In a major change the 20 different fare zones will be reduced to five. Other changes include being able to use train, bus and ferry tickets on private as well as government buses. Travellers on longer distance suburban and inter-city train services will get the biggest fare reductions, while shorter distance inner-suburban bus and ferry trips will become more expensive.

The overall reduction in fares will cost the government $30 million, but transport minister David Campbell told the February 2 Daily Telegraph: "My view is that we will attract patronage and that will reduce our cost."

While the fare reductions are a welcome contribution to encouraging people onto public transport, cutbacks in station staff that have increased the number of stations without staff are going to cause major headaches if passenger numbers significantly increase.

Likewise, an overhaul of the run-down public transport infrastructure is needed to make increased usage sustainable.

The simplification of the fare zones, and the integration of the private bus services into the ticketing system, indicates that the reintroduction of the Tcard is likely. The Tcard was a "smart card" ticketing system that the NSW government abandoned in 2008, after 12 years and $95 million spent.

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