This evening I was invited to discuss the discuss the ongoing dramas and inconvenience suffered by Melbourne’s rail passengers on ABC’s Radio 774.
The interview, which included a number of talkback callers, focused on the endless excuses used by Connex to defend its ever diminishing performance in operating Mekbourne’s rail network. While it is correct that the Kennett Government initially privatised Melbourne’s rail system, the Bracks Government chose to re-privatise the system in 2004 and in doing so removed a number of checks and balances that existed within the initial contracts.
In fact, when M>Train abandoned Melbourne’s rail network in 2004, the former Minister for Transport Peter Batchelor, stated publicly that the government was not going to consider inviting new tenders, or return Melbourne’s rail network back to government control. As a result Connex succeeded in diminishing reporting and accountability requirements and the State Government is now in a situation where the subsidy for Connex increases every year without any corresponding service improvements.
The State Government knew there was both a looming train and driver shortage when it entered into the new contracts in 2004. Connex was offered lower reporting standards so that the State Government could avoid taking responsibility for a problem it created. Despite annual subsidiary to Connex the State Government is now taking on responsibilities that were previously the domain of the private operators. In 2004 the State Government refused a request by M>Train to fund additional driver training programs, citing that it was the responsibility of the operator to fund its own driver programs. Despite this, the State Government through its Meeting Our Transport Challenges document, is now funding additional driver training programs and purchasing additional trains, which will be delivered almost a decade after the government knew about impending train shortages.
The issue of the fare boycott was also discussed and while Melbourne’s public transport users should voice their disgust over the latest rail debacles, this must be directed towards the State Government which holds ultimate responsibility for the rail network. Public transport users would achieve better results contacting their local MP, the Premier and the Public Transport Minister rather than attempting a fare boycott.
It is clear that the State Government must take responsibility for its poor handling of Melbourne’s rail network rather than simply trying to hide Connex as it lurches from one blunder through to another.