Melbourne needs a public transport system

Contributed by Rail Tram and Bus Union Victoria (RTBU)

As November rolls around, the clock is ticking for the state government.

With contracts for the metropolitan trams and trains to expire on 30 November, the government must be prepared to shake up arrangements for how the system is run, how the information is shared and how accountability can be ensured.

Continuing to build the case for systematic overhaul that prioritises the public interest, the RTBU worked to facilitate a forum of different individuals, interest groups, experts and public transport workers, RTBU delegates and retired members, to build an account of public transport that reflects on 20 years of privatisation.

Held across the afternoon of 3 Jun, forum attendees discussed many issues in public transport – from governance to maintenance and service delivery.

The three main topics were:

  • The perils and pitfalls of privatisation
  • The system under public administration
  • A new path forward

One of the first topics covered was the critical question of understanding why public transport was privatised in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming number of attendees acknowledged governance issues, performance and funding issues as being central to pushing the system into private hands. Many who worked closely with the system through the years leading up to privatisation, perceived a deliberate degradation of the system, in preparation for privatisation.

What became evident was that while privatisation was Kennett’s response to a poorly governed public monopoly, he did little to address the underlying governance issues and just produced a poorly governed private monopoly.

To this day Victorians – transport workers, taxpayers and commuters alike – have been robbed of the transparency, consultation and oversight necessary for effective, well resourced public transport that is operated in the primary interest of the Victorian public.

Comparing the system under privatisation against public ownership, several notable differences arose. Training, career progression and organisational structure were identified as major differences:

  • Attendees reflected on how Victorian Railways was once a large trainer of highly skilled apprentices for the wider Victorian economy. As public responsibility has been eroded, the scope of service and value provided by the operator has diminished to boost profitability.
  • The railways used to operate as a more integrated system where freight, regional and metropolitan services would support each other and provide economies of scale. Where losses may have been made on passenger services, larger profits are found in the movement of freight, for example.
  • Career progression was once closer tied to experience and years of service. This system ensured experienced and committed railway employees, naturally most qualified for supervisory or managerial roles, could further contribute their acquired skills and knowledge to improving operations.

Under privatisation, more and more managers have been hired with little or no railway experience, which has contributed to a reduced level of industry and network specific skills in the workforce and the reduction of worker morale.

Reflecting on the changes that have occurred and what may constitute the public interest, attendees discussed path forward

The main feature was to continue work in building the campaign community and building stronger links with other community groups that share common interests.

Broadly acknowledged by the crowd was the scale of the campaign, the political resistance and overarching control and power the current operators have over network information and influence within the government and its respective agencies.

No doubt, there may be a long road to public justice, but importantly, the public discussion is underway. As we continue to build on community campaign capacity.

If you would like to know more about the forum or get more involved in the discussion, call or text the RTBU Industrial Campaigns and Research Officer, Amadeo on 0488305 088

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