Public Transport: An Rant

Unrelatedly again, I love Melbourne’s public transport. Integrated ticketing across bus/tram/train. Generous, sensible zoning (I don’t think I’ve ever travelled outside Zone 1, even in a car). Cheap fairs. Reliable, frequent services. Rebates if service levels drop below set thresholds. Is it any wonder that patronage seems to be so high?

When I was in Melbourne last week, I was both impressed and amused by the posters on trams and trains detailing reliability and on-time running: reliability (percentage of scheduled kilometres that actually get covered) was at about 99% for both trams and trains (both tram operators); on-time running was in the high 90s. Contrast that with Sydney, where over a month we’re lucky to get 75% on-time running and 90% reliability.

What’s the big difference? Melbourne’s public transport is privatised. There are incentives for the companies running the transport to make sure the system works. There are penalties – which hurt – if they let things break.

In Sydney, public transport is still government-owned. There are incentives for the beauracrats in charge to do little except talk – after all, they’ll be replaced by another appointee soon anyway. There are no penalties if they break – Sydneysiders have by and large come to accept unuseable public transport as a fact of life, and don’t bother complaining any more. No matter how bad the service gets, there’s no financial penalty, no-one is in any danger of being fired..

I’d love to see Sydney’s public transport privatised. I’d love to see a for-profit company, with incentives to do things properly, run the system. I realise this isn’t, on its own, a complete solution: there are infrastructure issues which need to be sorted out as well. However, I believe it’d go one heck of a way towards improving things.

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