Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 31 May 1995) . . Page.. 678 ..
What the Government is planning to do, and what it has said in about four million public forums, is to attempt to make ACTION buses more competitive, to cut the million dollars a week it costs to actually run ACTION buses for the ACT, to increase the level of service and, importantly, to get more people using our bus service.
One of the great problems we have at the moment is that the patronage of our public transport system is actually going down, and it has been going down every year for a quite long period of time. One of the things on which I am sure that Ms Horodny would agree with us is that we have to get a public transport system that people actually want to use. I am confident that everyone would agree with that. What we are planning to do is, over the next 12 months, to make some changes to the ACTION structure and the way ACTION operates, so that, when, in 12 months’ time or potentially longer, we are able to make some groups of bus routes available for competitive tender, ACTION will be in a position to win those tenders. That is the bottom line for this Government.
The best possible scenario for any government that adopts this approach - and, let us be fair, every single government in Australia is doing the same thing - is for the in-house entity, whether it be a corporatised entity or some other structure, to be the one that wins the tender. To do that, of course, they have to be more competitive than the private sector competition. Certainly, I know that, in other places where this is being adopted, the general view is that the in-house company, or whatever, regularly wins in excess of 75 per cent of the tenders, if the corporation - in this case, ACTION - is in a position, both structurally and operationally, to be efficient enough to compete on a level playing field.
I think another thing is being missed here. We are not planning to sell the buses. The buses will stay in public ownership. I repeat: The buses will stay in public ownership. The ACT people - the ACT Government - will continue to own the buses. The opposite has been done at least, I think, in Melbourne. That was one of the places that made the mistake, in our view, of allowing the ownership of the buses to go to the private sector. What that meant immediately was that the Government had very little control and that the private company which actually owned the buses and which was running the services was in a position, I suppose, to determine what services were available, at what cost and at what quality. That is the last thing we want to do.
We have had a look at other models, including those in Perth and South Australia, that we believe are adopting this process in a very sensible manner. They are maintaining the ownership of the buses. What that means is that the Government has total control over consumer service obligations - things like quality of service, the routes that are being offered and the times at which services are being offered. That is the bottom line for any government and for any assembly. Our whole approach is to get a more competitive bus service - one that is more reflective of what the consumers want from their bus service - and, therefore, to do something about the continuing drop in patronage. We want one that we can afford, very importantly, and one that changes with the changing marketplace, because inevitably, if you open public transport systems to competitive tendering, this must happen, by the very nature of competitive tendering.