Action for Public Transport (N.S.W.) Inc.
Action for Public Transport (APT) puts the government on notice that passengers will not tolerate a decline in service levels if private enterprise is allowed to run the State Transit buses.
APT has no inherent objection to private companies running the State Transit services, but they must offer more than just a promise to save money for the government. They need to comply with the government's demand that the customer must be at the centre of transport decision making.
On 1st May 2012 the Minister for Transport, Ms Berejiklian, announced that private bus operators in Sydney will be required to competitively tender for existing metropolitan bus contracts to drive service improvements for customers. At present the government only negotiates contract arrangements with the incumbent operators within their service regions.
Private operators hold contracts for 11 of the 15 Sydney contract regions. The government owned State Transit Authority (STA) holds contracts for the other four regions which cover the more densely populated, and congested, inner suburbs and the CBD.
While the Minister said that the tendering process will not include metropolitan regions serviced by State Transit, the industry expects that these regions will be put out to tender sooner rather than later.
All operators must comply with the terms of the contract regarding routes, frequency, hours of operation, punctuality, reliability, safety, driver training, fares, tickets, information, etc. These must be standard across all operators. State Transit achieves very good results in all these areas, as is evidenced in regular reports.
Size and Complexity of State Transit's Operations
A private company must show it is capable of handling the complex daily operation that is State Transit before it is given the keys to the depot. It is easy to promise clean buses that run on time, but any prospective tenderer is unlikely to have managed a system of this size. Even if the four STA regions are contracted separately, the inner city conditions will tax even the most experienced operator.
As well as the normal daily task, the franchisee must provide plans for managing the big events, and coping with any unexpected crisis.
State Transit has over 50 years of experience of managing buses during Easter Shows, Derby Days, football finals, Anzac Days, summer at the beach and the first weeks of the university year. A private company must show how it will oversee providing passenger services during these events.
A franchisee must also expect the unexpected. At times of sudden street closures and disruptions to rail services, the operator must have plans ready, not make it up as they go.
Unity of the Bus System
The unity of the bus system is important to passengers, and franchisees must submerge their identity behind the common name of the overall system. A person looking for a bus should not need to know the name of the bus company. Co-operation and connections with other bus operators, trains, ferries and trams must be maintained. Now that Sydney has common tickets, and the start of a common colour scheme, private operators must not be allowed to confuse the customer by promoting their own identity. There are enough different coloured buses running along George Street as it is.
Simpler Tickets and Boarding Rules
APT recommends that the government should use any change of operator to drastically simplify the ticket system and the pre-pay boarding rules to make bus travel easier for new and occasional customers.
Permanent Customer Consultative Committee
All operators must maintain over-the-table consultation with customers via a regular committee, or be represented on a central TfNSW committee. This is in addition to the standard complaints and feedback channels.
Loss of Experienced Staff
If a franchisee erodes the staff conditions of employment, many experienced STA staff could walk out the door taking their knowledge with them. The corporate memory of Sydney Buses is not something that can be gathered from a textbook, and this knowledge is vital if the system is to remain robust.
Most franchising contracts contain clauses preventing the construction or introduction of competitive transport services. Passengers could suffer if the clauses obstruct the provision of vital new public transport links in the contract area.
The government must be wary of tenderers who bid too low in order to win the contract, and then come to the government later for handouts to cover "unexpected" costs.
In general, employees of the private bus companies are members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and those employed by State Transit belong to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU). This could be a source of conflict in any franchising arrangement, but unless the service to passengers is affected, APT would prefer not to take sides. When APT does take sides, it is in favour of the passenger.