South Australia’s public train and tram services could soon follow the lead of Adelaide’s bus services in the privatisation of its operations (Image source: Chrystianna Konidis)
By Chrystianna Konidis | @ckonidis
South Australian train and tram commuters have been cautioned of more planned service disruptions in the coming weeks.
The state government announced on Friday, August 9, that it will soon deliver mass information sessions for its current tram and train employees on potential outsourcing models.
Last month, the Marshall government confirmed speculation of its plans to privatise the operation of Adelaide’s tram and train services.
Since then, the government has promised service frequency and standards will continue, and “strongly expects to be able to increase service levels” once private sector tenders succeed.
“The state government will still own and control the assets, control fare prices and set service level requirements in the same way we do for Adelaide Metro buses,” Stephan Knoll, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government said in a press release last month.
A current Adelaide Metro tram driver* has told On The Record that employees are looking to leave the public transport system for good if the outsourcing gets the green light.
“We don’t know what will happen to us (employees) or how many of us will get to keep our jobs. Some have said they’ll move out of the industry completely if it (privatisation) goes through,” they said.
Questions surrounding the decision and the benefits for South Australians in outsourcing the remaining two-thirds of the state’s public transport system are still being raised.
“The government has been running trains for 160 years. Now all of a sudden they don’t have the expertise to do that – I find that strange,” Rail, Tram and Bus Union SA Secretary, Darren Phillips, said on Friday, June 9.
“South Australians deserve to know exactly what the impact of privatisation will be on jobs, and how much money will leak out of the public transport system in private profits,” Mr Phillips said.
Commuters who are reliant on Adelaide’s public transport network to travel to their place of work, education, and accessibility to local services, fear they may bear the cost of privatisation through continued rises in fare prices and less frequent services.
Second-year university arts student Alisha Patel said she struggles to see how tram users will benefit from the private tender.
“Adelaide only has one suburban tram service to Glenelg which runs quite well. What are the benefits of privatisation other than increased fares and a reduced timetable for tram users,” Ms Patel said.
The government has admitted that there is room for improvement.
“We know that public transport patronage growth has stalled, and customers want a better level of service than is currently provided, and the Marshall government agrees with our customers,” Mr Knoll said in a press release last month.
The Adelaide train network consists of four major lines from the Adelaide Railway Station on North Terrace to outer suburbs, which extend for a combined 131 kilometres, and operates over 3,200 services per week.
New and existing tram lines in Adelaide’s CBD have recently undergone upgrades, which disrupted commuters and motorists for two-and-a-half weeks in July, including during AFL matches, as part of the City South Tram Line Replacement project.
The move towards privatisation has come under fire from the state opposition who said a private operator would prioritise profit over service.
“Public transport is for people, not for profit,” Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said.
The reality for South Australian commuters is that privatisation can mean an increase in fares, axed routes, reduced service timetables, slower upgrades in services, and the loss of jobs.
However, these customer-impacting decisions can be made with or without privatisation on the discussion table.
South Australian train and tram users are also concerned by the government’s plans to sell another portion of the state’s assets to private operators.
Regular Seaford to Adelaide train commuter Glenda Morris, 52, said she does “not understand how the government has the right to sell the train network”, which has run under the government since its inception.
“They [government] is elected to only manage the people’s property and the state. It [train services] belongs to taxpayers who continue to pay for it to run,” Ms Morris said.
Adelaide Metro’s tram services, extending from the Entertainment Centre to its Botanic Gardens line and South Terrace tram stop, are currently free to customers travelling within the city tram lines.
ADELAIDE RAILWAY STATION: Seaford, Gawler, Belair and Tonsley train lines are in the privatisation firing line (Image source: Chrystianna Konidis)
Recent University of South Australia graduate Elise Nicole, 22, said the free city centre tram service is essential for university students and city workers, and is concerned of its continuation as a free service under privatisation.
“Catching the tram from my lectures to my student placement in the city’s south is a service that many students and financially struggling people in our community rely on because it’s free,” she said.
“At the moment, South Australia is the only jurisdiction in the country that does not outsource the operation of its tram services,” Mr Knoll said on July 2.
Mr Knoll said providing a cost-effective service for commuters was the essential factor to the outsourcing decision.
“This is a model that has worked around the country. It’s a model that has worked here in Adelaide,” he said.
“We’re keen to bring it to trains and trams so that we can actually improve our public transport network and see more people use [it].”
Adelaide Metro train commuters can expect service disruptions on August 20, due to the government employee information sessions, with substitute bus and tram services running instead.
Tram commuters can expect the same service disruptions on August 21, with substitute bus and train services operating to ease congestion.
A full transition of tram and train services to private sector operations is expected by mid-2021.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.