Must do better: STA report card gets low mark

NSW Transport Minister John Robertson’s STA report card looks good on the surface, but ‘disturbing’ in its contents

Must do better: STA report card gets low mark
STA report card gets low mark

By David Goeldner | September 16, 2010

NSW State Transit’s annual report card has been given a low mark, despite Transport Minister John Robertson saying on Wednesday that Sydney’s bus fleet was performing well.

Robertson says the figures show buses, ferries and trains performed well against on time running benchmarks for 2009-10.

"It also shows service reliability remained strong across all three forms of public transport, with service cancellations and breakdowns falling across the board," he says.

But the bulk of STA’s annual performance report paints a different picture – almost a tale of woe – leaving Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies Adjunct Professor John Stanley perplexed at what he sees as a ‘disturbing’ result.

"What concerns me most is the fall in STA’s bus patronage, which is about 1.5 percent," Stanley says.

"Seeing patronage fall is a bit of a surprise."

Bus boardings dropped by more than 3 million people over the past 12 months, which Robertson’s report blames on lower fuel prices prompting commuters to get back in their cars, and that high unemployment also caused passenger decline.

And while there were 100 new buses added to the fleet since 2009, the number of service kilometres actually dropped by 1.2 percent.

Stanley says blaming lower fuel prices as the primary reason for the passenger decline is nonsense.

"The main reason why patronage fell is in fact there was 1.2 percent less kilometres, rather than the fact that fuel prices dropped over that period," he says.

Stanley says having a hundred new buses and seeing the kilometres drop is an odd thing.

"It suggests they are not working their bus fleet as efficiently as they were before," he says.

"You would expect if you are buying new buses, you would use them more rather than use them less."

Stanley also noted Sydney’s bus fleet age, which appeared to be rising.

"The age of the fleet has increased by about half a year, and I think that – too – is a curiosity."

Even with newer buses on the road, the average age of Sydney’s 2163 buses has risen by half a year.

"It may well be that if you look at the amount of use of buses of different age, that some of the older buses aren’t used very much," says Stanley.

"So the ‘effective’ age of the fleet on the road might well be dropping."

Stanley says his experience with Melbourne bus operators draws a clear link between services offered to the commuter and bus patronage levels.

"There is a really strong link between service and patronage," he says.

"If you want to grow patronage that’s what you’ve got to work on, and we’ve done that very seriously in Melbourne."

Stanley says patronage in Melbourne has grown by about 30 percent in the past five years across the Government-controlled, yet privately operated bus fleet.

"Patronage and service kilometres have grown by about the same rate, which is a fantastic result."

He believes the NSW Government has misunderstood the real cause of bus patronage decline in Sydney.

"The report says a drop in employment might also be a factor, but I think they’ve missed the really significant reason in terms of service kilometres."

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