Melbourne's new bus operator contracts announced

Melbourne's new bus operator contracts announced
Melbourne's new bus operator contracts announced

Foreshadowed in February 2017, Melbourne's bus operating contracts were flagged for review and the government has begun to announce which operators have re-signed on the dotted line.

The Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan, announced on Easter Monday that Ventura, CDC Victoria and Donric have all signed new operating contracts with the government.

The original Spring Street media release made mention of 'the new contracts provide more flexibility to improve and expand services where they are needed most' and that 'the contracts also emphasise on-time running and customer service, to provide passengers with a more professional and realiable service'.

Reports in The Age suggest that not all operators find the new terms to their liking with the Bus Association of Victoria's executive director Dr Chris Lowe telling the paper 'bureaucrats have been angling for decades at kicking the operators out.  They just want a situation where three big multi-enterprises are operating the entire Melbourne bus network'.

In a media statement from the 8th of March, the BAV said bus operators have told Spring Street they won't be cooperating with the Government as they want to compulsorily acquire all or part of their assets.

The Government wants the current model of small to medium-sized family owned bus operators to change to a model whereby there are only a few operators, probably mainly large foreign-owned companies.  

Under the Government's preferred model, the Government (or its nominee) would employ the staff and own the buses and the depots.  Bus services would be managed by either the Government or any other operator.

We are presently witnessing the government owned assets expierment fail in Melbourne. A large multinational enterprise won a tender to operate 30 per cent of Melbourne's bus services five years ago.  

Under that model, complaints have skyrocketed, vehicle roadworhiness has plummeted and on time running has gone through the floor.

The Government must stop listening to economic zealots with theories that do not work in practice.  They need to stick to the current model which has stood the test of time and serves the Victorian public well, and that is with the assets remaning owned and operated by the bus owners.

Comment

Reform is hard, no?

The acerbic media release from the bus association on March 8th has greater context now that some operators have signed on the dotted line for another ten years.  

Aside from the new performance targets that are apparently baked into new agreements (we'll find out when negotiations have been completed), one of the primary indicators of whether buses have been serving the community well are patronage figures.

As The Age reported, bus patronage has been either flatlining and even went backwards a few years ago - all of this in the context of a metropolitan area that has been growing by give or take 100,000 people per annum (and note tram and train patronage has been increasing over the same time).

There's some sympathy for the smaller operators - no-one wants to have their assets acquired by the government, however, to claim the current operating model has stood the test of time is borderline facetious in the context of faltering patronage in an expanding city.

The association and the smaller operators would rightly point out Spring Street and its roads agency VicRoads haven't helped all that much by not pursuing road projects giving buses greater priority on the roads - as one suspects the main culprit of on-time performance degrading would have something to do with increased numbers of cars on the road.

However, why haven't routes been altered and frequencies increased to cater for a growing population?  Some might say the business-as-usual contracts somewhat tie the hands of transport planners & government in this case.

Lead image credit: Wikipedia

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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