Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fare Increases - The Confusion Continues

I trust everyone's had a great time over the past few weeks, what with work holidays, kids off school and all that other stuff. Drivers had a fair amount to contend with, including the sad passing of Lenny Bates, a legendary driver whose career spanned longer than most people live. 

Anyway, I've been hearing plenty of complaints about the recent rise in ticket prices and it seems like it's a bit of an annual bitch and moan. I hate the rises mainly because they often get treated like some sort of political tool. It always makes the news and it's never good. The party in power always blames the previous party and so on. Well, it's time to put on those cabin-like glasses and have a look at it from another angle.

Trams use electricity to run. The price rises in electricity are something trams are not immune to, so there's an increased cost right off the bat. And if you're wondering, the power bills we get run into the millions of dollars. Various other things increase in cost, such as spare parts (which are becoming more and more like "sparse" parts for the older trams). Then there's also the spares for newer trams ($6000 windscreen anyone?). Already this is an expensive process before we include other issues such as human resources (yes, we get pay rises too, but the RTBU is not always clear about what it's in exchange for until it's all been signed and sealed). Sadly, public utilities such as power and public transport must be run at a profit by private companies, so there is that added to it as well. However in the case of PT, are these profits generated directly from fare increases? Or are the punctuality bonuses part of it too? With Metro, the train operator, these bonuses have been few and far between, so my bet is that fare increases across the board would be a factor, the size of which I can only speculate.

As for the rises themselves, who is behind it all? Back in the ignorant days, MX seemed to think that Connex was behind each and every rise. Depending on the source, various places reported rises in such a way that it portrayed the operators as behind it. I find it difficult to recall a bus being used as footage for a news item, as buses aren't really the attention-grabbing hot potato that trams and trains are.
Anyway, it's not obviously clear, but the Transport Ticketing Authority seems like the culprit. The government minister and Department of Transport would also be involved, but if you read any articles relating to this issue, you see classic political public transport role-playing. For example, this article involves both Liberals and Labor and the buck passing begins. "It's the last mob" "No, we budgeted for it" and this goes on for about a day until the media lose interest. Sure, the Transport Minister appears to be taking a hit, but this disappears when the specter of "cutting services and maintenance" rears it's head. Useless comments as these are bound by contracts between the government and operators and would be super-expensive to break or even vary. However, it's classic PT buck-passing - "I was forced to do this by (insert variable here) and we have no choice". Bullshit. Bull. Shit.

The other aspect is the type of whinging PT fare increases seem to bring out of the woodwork. Apparently many people think that PT fare rises should automatically bring about a similar increase in services, improvement of vehicles, or miraculously friendlier staff. Using this same, painfully ignorant logic and applying it to my power points at home leads me to a rather pointless argument with am outsourced call centre operator. It's unreasonable to demand 8.6% more electricity (or 8.6% improved electricity, whatever the hell that is), so why does this logic only really seem to apply to PT?
The rage against PT fare increases and the expectation that services will rise at a similar level has only really existed during privatisation. The fact that fares on trams and trains appear to be "voluntary" doesn't help, but I'd say much of this can be blamed on the process of privatisation. We were promised so much in terms of service improvements. In some sort of ideological orgasm, the free-market was going to be forced onto a profitless public transport system that held no place for "competition" as such. Conductors and station staff would go, along with their horrendous wage bill. Never mind that they were the collectors of fares. I digress.

Over the years, the evils of private public transport have become painfully obvious and on the whole, the general public are much better educated about who does what. However, when it comes to fare increases, the buck well and truly stops with the government in power at the time and in particular, the Transport Minister. If you want to complain to anyone, I suggest you send an email to this guy:


Oh, and he also happens to be Minister for Roads as well as Minister for Public Transport. I'm sure that works out just fine.