Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Public vs Privatisation

Metro Trains Melbourne - trains every 10 minutes!
An article in today's Courier Mail website and mX newspaper has included negative comments from Melbourne's Public Transport Users Association about Melbourne's privatised rail network, and a warning about Brisbane going down the same path. Here is an extract from this Courier Mail article:

Melbourne's Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said privatising rail hadn't been cheaper or more innovative, with fares rising twice as fast as inflation since 1999.

Morton said the "privatisation experiment" in Melbourne caused fares to skyrocket above the CPI, with prices rising 20 per cent in two years.

He said Brisbane commuters "ain't seen nothing yet" when it came to fares.

"We have fundamental problems with the standard of maintenance and reliability on the system, which is giving us almost daily grief," he said.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union's David Matters said Brisbane shouldn't follow Melbourne's lead, warning private operators would "come in and loot the place".

A 2007 report on the first eight years of Melbourne's privatisation found over-crowding issues after a rise in patronage. But it also found there were no substantial savings.

BrizCommuter finds the last comment interesting. Overcrowding caused by a rise in patronage. Well, if patronage has risen, that using public transport must be considerably more attractive than in Brisbane where commuters are abandoning the infrequent and expensive train network!

In response to misleading panic about privatising rail services, here is a comparison between public Queensland Rail (QR) in Brisbane, and the privatised Metro Trains in Melbourne:

Single 5km peak adult train fare
Public/Brisbane $3.85
Private/Melbourne $3.50
The "sky rocking" prices of Melbourne's privatised train network are still cheaper than Brisbane's public train network.

Single 5km off-peak train fare
Public/Brisbane $3.08
Private/Melbourne $3.50
Off-peak, Brisbane's public train service is cheaper, unless of course you make more than 2 journeys (see below).

Maximum daily 5km train fare
Public/Brisbane $30+
Private/Melbourne $7 ($3.50 on weekend)
For frequent daily users such as tourists the privatised train service in Melbourne is miles cheaper, even more so on weekends.

Weekday midday off-peak train frequency
Public/Brisbane 15-60mins (typically 30mins)
Private/Melbourne 10-20mins
Melbourne's private train operator has a far more frequent off-peak train service than Brisbane's public operator which mainly has abysmal 30 mins off-peak services.

Reliability Target 
Public/Brisbane 94.93% (within 4 mins inner-suburban, 6 mins outer-suburban)
Private/Melbourne 88% (within 5 mins)
Brisbane has higher reliability, but it's pretty easy to be reliable when your trains are so infrequent!
Melbourne's rail network is generally run much closer to maximum capacity, thus resulting in less achievable reliability.

New Timetables
Public/Brisbane  - no significant changes to 7 lines since 2008
Private/Melbourne - multiple major timetable improvements every year

Cost per km data could not be obtained, however previous reports have shown QR to have the highest cost per km in Australia. So as we can see, using a private rail operator in Melbourne has resulted in generally cheaper fares, and more frequent train services in Brisbane's publicly owned rail operator QR. Is the potential privatisation of QR really that bad?


  1. Any data on Brisbane Transport? All the focus seems to be on trains.

  2. So you think fares will go down if Brisbane's rail network is privatised?

  3. The point of the article about trains in Melbourne was that the service and affordability was much better before privatisation and that privatisation does not actually solve anything, rather it makes the services worse. Can you imagine QR getting any worse? Think about it, private companies have no interest in investments other than making a massive profit. This leads to cutting costs (outsourcing jobs, less approachable staff, poor maintenance) and rising fare prices (maximising profits, not customer satisfaction). A comparison to the railway in the UK might be more apt as they have had more derailments and very poor maintenance due to privatisation and the highest fares worldwide.

  4. This whole privatisation talk is making me feel very uneasy and I can see many more negatives than positives.

    One of the main options we as voters retain at this point in time is if we feel that strongly about public transport standards is we can complain to our local minister, or Transport Minister, or at the very least vote them out at the next election.

    But with a private company, this is not an option. The only option is to not use the product. That might be all well and good when it comes to items were a free market exist and other options are available, but with public transport, this does not exist.

    Also, a tendering process for public transport encourages bids that list the lowest price. Would a tender win that says we are going to increase the amount of services, deliver comfortable carriages, but will cost more? So in essence, tells the truth about their plans.

    Doubt it.

    My suspicions are borne out of examples like the current stand off at the Brisbane Airport. I can easily see many more examples like this for public transport. Want a new train line, or an track, well pay for it Brisbane Airport style.

    And around we go. This does not mean I think what we have now is good (anyone read my other comments :P ), but I think privatising a public system for questionable benefits might be a bad move.

  5. Service was not better before privatisation. Some of us remember union bastardry like welding point bars across the tram tracks. The union stranglehold on the system was broken and that was the most positive achievement.

    The last 3 times I have been to Melbourne since 2008, the frequency on the Belgrave and Lilydale corridor in the off-peak has gone up by about 50% each visit. First there was a train less than every 30 minutes at times - then it was consistently every 30 minutes, then every 20 minutes. It will be 10 minutes all day long by my next trip there, and several of their lines (eg Frankston) already run at that headway.

    Private operators run successfully all over the world, same as public operators. The main issue is that unless there is a risk the operator will lose their contract, there is no impetus to do anything to become more efficient.

    I fully expect the fares will come down, for the simple reason that QR is spending shitloads of money on things that do not actually deliver service and mobility improvements, like the absurdly botched "upgrade" of Eagle Junction and the massive blowout in corporate and advertising, instead of running more trains more frequently. A private operator on a network in as relatively good shape as ours only needs to be focused on running trains and moving people, not all the fluff.

    I use private buses all over SEQ on a regular basis, I've never experienced anything like the stuff you are claiming about shoddy maintenance and work practices. I can't remember any non-BCC buses blowing up while being refuelled for instance...


All comments are reviewed before being published, and it may take a few days for comments to appear. If comments do not add to the conversation, or are just plain stupid, they will not be published.