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Freeze contracts, more action

BusNSW’s Action Plan has taken a serious tone with a call for an immediate freeze on bus contracts

By Ian Porter | May 19, 2011

All Sydney metropolitan bus contracts should be frozen for 12 months from December 31, 2011, according to the Bus Association of NSW.

In a wide-ranging public transport Action Plan put to the new NSW Government, the association (BusNSW) has also urged the Government to create an integrated transport authority to help co-ordinate the various arms of the public transport system and improve its overall performance.

And it also wants more toilets for drivers in an upgraded infrastructure network, says BusNSW’s Executive Director Darryl Mellish.

Mellish says it looked as though big changes were already on the way, with the NSW Department of Transport getting ready to appoint half a dozen new deputies to the director-general.

Mellish says the director-general of the Department of Transport, Les Wielinga, had already acknowledged the Action Plan and the need for a serious response.

“We understand the new government is in the process of restructuring the transport departments and has recently advertised 6 deputy director-general positions to head the revised areas of responsibility under a new structure,” he told ABC.

“The changes the new government is making are supported by the industry and form part of our action plan.”

A copy of the Action Plan will be presented to Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian when BusNSW is invited to meet the Minister.

However, drawing up a comprehensive new strategy for bus services would take some time, which is why BusNSW has asked for a 12-month freeze on metropolitan contracts.

“This would allow time for the Government and the industry to draw up a comprehensive new Bus Service Strategy underpinned by performance-based contracts, Mellish says.

“Negotiated performance-based contracts with step-in rights will provide the community with the best value for money and ensure service continuity,” he says in the Action Plan.

Mellish says an integrated transport authority, like Victoria’s Metlink or Tran slink in Queensland, would bring together planning, infrastructure investment and service delivery all with the one aim of improving the customer’s travel.

“Each of the Government agencies and private sector providers has had their own view of promoting public transport services in the absence of a co-ordinated strategy and proper budget,” Mellish says.

The pressure for change increased in mid-May when the NSW Department of Transport released its latest statistical survey, for 2008-09. It showed that train and bus travel were by far the fastest growing sectors of the transport system.

Bus travel was the larger of the two, with 986,000 passengers a weekday, up 2.4 percent, while train patronage averaged 890,000 a weekday, a rise of 3.1 percent.

While cars were still the predominant form of transport – 8.01 million drivers and 3.64 million passengers each weekday – both these figures were down slightly on the previous year.

All up, buses carried 231 million people in 2008-09 while trains carried 256 million a weekday. Add in 14 million ferry passengers, and the three main forms of public transport carried more than 500 million people in 2008-09.

Mellish believes that, thanks to their ability to react quickly to public demand, buses will be expected to carry more of the burden in coming years, highlighting the need for improved oversight and planning.

“With unparalleled flexibility, buses and coaches are key components in public transport, tourism, energy savings, environmental preservation, road safety, mobility and the economy,” he says.

“These benefits need to be promoted in an overall Government public transport strategy.”

Although the Action Plan covers many areas of concern, it did not overlook the needs of drivers and the call of nature.

“There is a serious lack of suitable driver facilities spread throughout public transport networks,” Mellish says in the Action Plan.

“The cost of not providing adequate driver facilities will result in a significant blow-out of operating costs if private drivers are required to return to depots for breaks.”

He says the Government needed to address jurisdictional issues with local Governments to support bus networks with sufficient infrastructure.

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