Australia hot debate over contract service prices

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Figures show investment in bus services is 16 times more costefficient than in tram and rail

Australia A renowned public transport academic has criticised the South Australia State Government’s decision to competitively tender Adelaide’s public transport bus services. Professor David Hensher, Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at the University of Sydney and member of the BRT Centre of Excellence, agreed with advice provided to the South Australian Government to not competitively tender the state’s public transport bus services. This advice was ignored by the Government, which competitively tendered the services in 2010.

Since then there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the bus system and patronage has declined significantly. The advice, from former public transport chief Heather Webster and two former consultants to South Australia’s transport department, favoured a process of negotiated contract extensions.

Prof Hensher agreed with Webster’s criticism of the investment in light and heavy rail, as compared to the bus system. A study he had undertaken comparing the operating costs of Sydney railways with buses, both private and public concluded a train costs about 14 times more to operate per service kilometre than a bus. Statistics also showed Sydney buses carried 13% more passenger trips than trains, meaning trains are close to 16 times more costinefficient compared to buses. “This is a staggeringly different sum and raises some serious questions about value for money in investing in rail versus bus,” he said.

Webster questioned the spending on trams and trains, when the bus network shouldered so much of the public transport burden in Adelaide and at a much lower comparative cost. Figures from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure showed in 2011/12, buses were responsible for 50.99m boardings, while trams accounted for 2.9m and trains 9.62m.