Newcastle Herald: Opinion piece from RTBU Tram & Bus Secretary
A timetable for failure
While the Premier and Transport Minister have been in Newcastle recently, cutting ribbons and talking up the positive difference they’ve made to transport in the region; commuters are telling a very different story. The reality is, the current NSW Government has made a complete mess of transport in Newcastle – particularly the bus network.
In late 2016, the NSW Government ‘franchised’ the Newcastle bus depots of Belmont and Hamilton. That’s a polite way of saying they created political distance between themselves and the public service so they can’t be blamed when things go wrong.
To assist the new operator, Newcastle Transport went to town in January 2018, ripping out 140 bus stops and cutting routes and timetabled services. This happened for a very simple reason; it is no longer a public service but a service for profit. People looking at screens decided what should happen in the real world. As anyone but a politician could have predicted, the community backlash was immediate, intense, and completely deserved.
Commuters were not alone in sharing the pain of the new for-profit system. Bus drivers had to deal with an irate public on a daily basis, uncertainty about services and their futures, and due to a widespread payroll issue were being underpaid for the privilege. If a politician was being paid less than $10 a fortnight because of a clerical error, you can be sure they wouldn’t have to wait over six months for it to be fixed.
The inevitable result of this poorly managed chaos was that people stopped using our buses. The most recent figures show a telling drop of 10 per cent among school kids. When 10 per cent of parents decide they can no longer trust the bus to get their kids to school, you know there’s a massive problem.
This is completely unacceptable to the community and the hard-working drivers who take pride in providing a service in spite of the obstacles thrown at them. It clearly illustrates the reason the RTBU has been fighting for services to remain in public hands; because once profit drives the business, everyone one else loses.
To add insult to injury, the Transport Minister, Andrew Constance – having robbed Newcastle commuters of a reliable transport system – then claimed in April last year to have ‘rescued’ Newcastle buses with privatisation.
In his capacity as Minister and therefore overseer of the State Government run STA, he managed things so poorly that he had to rescue the service. That’s right – Andrew Constance rescued Newcastle bus services from his own mismanagement and then used it as spin. That’s how much respect this government has for the people of Newcastle.
The Premier and Transport Minister can stand in front of shiny new trams claiming to have fixed Newcastle’s transport until they’re blue in the face – Newcastle commuters, including the 10 per cent of parents who have had to find alternate ways of getting their kids to school, aren’t buying it.
David Babineau, RTBU NSW Tram & Bus Division Secretary