Oh the places you won’t go with Metro

Luba Grigorovitch 
Branch Secretary

None of us should really be surprised by Melbourne’s current rail crisis.

After all, Dr Seuss warned us all that this day would come – the day when everyone is just waiting:

“Waiting for the train to go, or a bus to come or a plane to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a yes or no, or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.”

There are upsides, of course, to be being stranded on a rail platform.

You can catch up with friends on social media, sharpen up your crossword skills, or read the Herald Sun from cover to cover.

But the problem is that most of us really can’t afford to be stranded by a failing public transport system day after day.

The regular delays not only affect us personally, but they are costing the Victorian economy millions of dollars.

The Rail, Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) has been doing its best to hold Metro to account, and to pressure the company into lifting its performance.

We have exposed systemic failures in the way track maintenance has been managed, and a culture of putting profits above service.

The company, however, continues to make the same mistakes.

While investigations are still underway into the cause of the problems, the Metrol meltdown which paralysed the entire network on Thursday 13 July exposed the fact that our train control system does not have an adequate Plan B when things go wrong.

Metro’s $80 million Disaster Recovery Centre was unable to be activated.  What’s more – it was unstaffed, and workers from the main site in the CBD had to somehow travel from one side of the city just to get in the door.

Meanwhile, questions also remain over the cause of derailment on the Lilydale line, just days later, which again saw services cancelled and commuters stranded.

It was not supposed to be this way.

When Jeff Kennett privatised Victoria’s rail and tram operations he promised more services and better performance at a much lower cost to the taxpayer.

We would turf out the crusty old Victorians who had been running the system for decades, and replace it with companies from overseas – who would bring all their wonderful overseas expertise and cleverness with them.

The new operators would turn the old system into something shiny and new using their special powers of private sector magic.

Oh the places we would go!

Sadly for Victorians, it hasn’t turned out that way.

The only thing that Metro has proven to be good at it is cutting corners, with chronic understaffing right across the network…

When it comes to under-investing in track maintenance, skipping stations, an failing to recruit, train and deploy adequate numbers of qualified staff to meet basic operational needs – Metro is indeed world-class!

So while Metro is sending fat profits back to its overseas shareholders, commuters are wondering when things are actually going to improve.

Perhaps its time that we, as a State, moved beyond our cultural cringe, and gave ourselves some credit.

Despite what people in Spring Street may think, Victorians are not stupid.  We have some extremely talented and highly-qualified people right here in Victoria who are eminently capable of running our local train and tram services.

The RTBU has been running a campaign to return our train and tram operations into public hands.

We believe this is the best way to ensure that Victorians get value-for-money from their investment in public transport.

Most importantly, returning these operations back to the people means that control of important decisions is taken out of the hands of foreign companies.

But it’s not just unions who are calling for a rethink of privatisation.

Last year the head of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission Rod Sims, admitted that the privatisation of public assets was not delivering the promised benefits for the people of Australia.

Other countries are also finding that the shine is wearing off the privatisation agenda.

A recent Parliamentary Report in the United Kingdom found that rail privatisation had failed to deliver on the key benefits that were initially envisaged.

It’s little wonder that sections of the UK rail network that were handed over to the private sector in the 1990s are now coming back into the public sector.

In fact, last year Transport for London brought a maintenance contract for works on three Tube lines back in-house.

It was estimated that re-nationalising maintenance operations on the Tube would save around $131 million in private sector management fees over the next decade.

I’m sure that putting Victoria’s train and trams back in public hands seems like climbing a mountain to many of our politicians.

But they shouldn’t be so timid.  Victorians more than ever, need their leaders to stand up and show some courage.

As Dr Seuss said “today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”

luba-op-ed

MR4 UPDATE – TIME FOR SUPERCOACH ANDREWS TO REBUILD THE LIST ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Luba Grigorovitch
Branch Secretary

Every SuperCoach knows that leadership occasionally requires being ruthless.  There’s no room for plodders who are not performing on the field.

I don’t know if Premier Daniel Andrews plays SuperCoach, but he could certainly take a leaf out of the SuperCoach playbook when it comes to management of Victoria’s public transport network.

Let’s face it, the operators of Melbourne’s Train and Tram networks are not exactly Brownlow Medallists.

Since they were drafted in 2008, these two highly-paid overseas recruits have been missing performance targets and frustrating passengers right across the state.

Now, however, they’re contracts are up, and the State Government has a chance to rebuild the list.

The big question, however, is whether or not the Andrews Government has the courage to swing the axe on its underperforming Public Transport operators.

The word on the street is that transport bureaucrats have recommended keeping the status quo.  That means we could be stuck with Metro Trains Melbourne and KDR (the operator of Yarra Trams) for another seven years.

It’s a multi-billion dollar decision that will have a significant effect on the lives of everyone who lives in Melbourne.

At present, the private operators take about $65 million a year out of the system in profits.  This money goes back to overseas shareholders, when it could be used to upgrade infrastructure or provide additional services.

At the same time the service standards are getting worse and maintenance backlogs are getting longer.

So what are the State Government’s other options?

The first option is for the State Government to put the two franchises out for an open tender, as it did in 2008, when it decided against renewing the contracts of the previous private operators, Veolia and Transdev.

In essence, it could enter the draft and see what other talent is out there.

A bolder step would be to bring the contracts back into a more transparent public administration where corner cutting profiteering is forced to sit on the bench.

This would give the opportunity to set up Victoria’s own talent academy, build team capacity within the operation and increase our ability to draft local players.

There is an obvious precedent for making this decision – the re-nationalisation of V/Line in 2003.

Jeff Kennett privatised V/Line in 1999, handing the business over to UK-based company National Express.  Three years later National Express walked away, and left RTBU members and the Bracks Government to clean up the mess.

While sense was seen on the regional network, the government cut its losses, and took back control of V/Line, the political will to take responsibility for the metropolitan Trains didn’t exist. No-one had the guts to drop the coach’s son.

Since then, V/Line has been put back on a sustainable footing by the State Government.

Of course, as footy fans know, it’s not just the players on the field that count: culture, facilities and tactics are crucial.

For the Public Transport network, it’s infrastructure, maintenance and timetabling.

Victoria’s Trains and Trams have to deal with an ever-increasing number of people living in the outer suburbs and commuting into the CBD.

It is dauntingly true that our century-old Rail infrastructure is creaking under the weight of this growth however these challenges shouldn’t be an excuse for the Government to walk away, or to hide behind the private operators.

In fact, these challenges are exactly why it is so important for the State Government to take full control.

The network needs to be brought under the management of an ambitious and determined government, with clear vision for the future of our State.

Renewing the franchise contracts with the current private Train and Tram operators would be throwing good money after bad.

That is the exact reason why the end of the existing franchise contracts is a golden opportunity for the State Government to take control of Melbourne’s public transport system, and to ensure that it operates for the benefit of Victorians.

There is only one thing that we all agree on – the current state of franchise contracts and asset maintenance standards sell Victorians short, and a secret negotiation won’t fix our transport woes.

SuperCoach Andrews, Victorian’s know the game so please, don’t let us down!

WHY IS THE RTBU RUNNING THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT, PUBLIC HANDS CAMPAIGN?

Luba Grigorovitch mr4-campaign-launch-group-photo
Branch Secretary

While members working for Metro & Yarra Trams have overwhelmingly called on the RTBU to run this campaign, the Union believes that it is the right campaign to run in the interest of not only RTBU members, but also the Victorian community. You know as well as I do that Victoria’s public transport system is being pushed to the limit and RTBU members are on the front line.

With a rapidly increasing population, pressures on our train and tram services will only get worse.

So you’d think the Victorian Government would be making sure every available cent in the public transport budget goes into more infrastructure and better services.

Wrong.

If you follow the money trail, you’ll see that the taxpayers and commuters of Victoria aren’t just paying for local public transport, they’re also paying to subsidise the public transport systems of other countries.

The current operators of the rail and tram franchises are Metro Trains Melbourne and Keolis-Downer Rail Victoria (Operating as Yarra Trams).

Metro Trains Melbourne is 60 per cent owned by Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation, and the remaining 40 per cent is shared equally by UGL Rail Services and John Holland.

In turn, MTR Corporation is 76 per cent owned by the Hong Kong Government.

Victorians have helped swell the coffers of MTR Corporation, with its subsidiary the Melbourne trains operation making a solid $223.8 million in net profit after tax since taking over the contract at the end of November 2009.

Metro Trains Melbourne hasn’t released its 2016 financial year figures yet, so you can probably add another $50-60 million in profits for 2015-2016 on top of that.

As for the tram operations, KDR Victoria is a joint venture between the French transport operator Keolis, and the Australian-based engineering firm Downer. Keolis is the senior partner in the joint venture, with a 51 per cent stake.

Keolis is a massive global business based in Paris, and it is 70 per cent owned by – you guessed it – the French Government, through the state-owned railways company French National Railways Corporation (SCNF).

The French Government has every reason to say merci beaucoup to Victorians for the money that we send back to Paris, via profits from the Yarra Trams Franchise.

The Yarra Trams contract has so far generated over $78 million in net profit after tax for its owners.

All up, the two operators have raked in over $10 billion in revenue, and $350 million in profits have been drained from the Victorian public transport system over seven years under the franchise agreements.

Which begs the question, why can’t our own government run public transport?

The answer is: of course it can. In fact, it already does.

V/Line is successfully run by a Victorian Government-owned corporation, so there is no reason why the metropolitan train and tram services can’t be run under the same model.

The argument that the private sector is always better at running public transport doesn’t stack up – the experience of commuters around the world, especially in Melbourne, shows otherwise.

And the argument for contracting out to the private sector becomes completely farcical when you follow the money trail and realise that the private companies are actually owned by other governments.

Can you imagine the Hong Kong Government paying the Victorian government to come in and take over the Hong Kong metro? No way! They wouldn’t be so stupid.

That’s why the Rail, Tram and Bus Union has launched the Public Transport, Public Hands campaign, and already over 4,000 people have signed our online petition.

The time has come for the Victorian Government to stand up and admit that the privatisation of public transport has been an expensive and embarrassing failure.

Everyone makes mistakes, but wise men and women own up to their mistakes and learn from them.  Only true fools dig in and continue once the depth of their error becomes apparent.

With the contracts for the metropolitan train and tram franchises about to expire this year, the State Government appears to be digging in – negotiating behind closed doors to roll over the existing contracts.

But there is still time to change course.

Premier Daniel Andrews has an opportunity to show genuine leadership, to show the State Government has learned from the mistakes of the past, and to return Melbourne’s train and tram services to the people.

If you are yet to support the campaign please do so by visiting https://www.publictransportpublichands.com/ and signing the petition. If you would like to get more involved contact the office directly on 8630 9100.