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Thu, Jun. 25th, 2009, 12:08 pm
Connex dumped, Victoria's trains sold out to somebody else.

For those not in Victoria, Connex is the unpopular train operator who has had control over Melbourne's privatised train network for the last few years. Until now, Connex has enjoyed a "culture of self-defense of incompetence" with the Department of Transport in Victoria, which has, until now, simply closed ranks with Connex to shield them from criticism.

A few months ago, Dr Paul Mees (RMIT lecturer in social science & urban planning) mentioned in an interview that Connex was being dumped by the State Government as a scapegoat for the problems plaguing the public transport system. Mees has argued that the people running the Department of Transport are basically pro-privatisation nutjobs. They have an ideology that they're obsessed with sticking to, and this is just another way to deflect criticism of that ideology itself.

If you ask members of the public, the problems with Melbourne's public transport can include:

* Insufficient rail coverage - despite ancient plans to put new tracks out to places like Melbourne Airport and Monash University (which would become a stop on a Rowville line) - successive statement governments have done nothing to expand the train network,

* Long wait times between trains at Flinders Street and in the city loop (which Paul Mees has accused the government and Connex of running at 40% efficiency - i.e. they could double train services, if they wanted to expend the effort), and frequently late trains.

* Constantly rising fare prices, which rise above inflation.

* Constant extortion of public money by private operators, who can demand large payments from the government (and have cost us something like $2 billion dollars above and beyond what would have been spent on the Public Transport Corporation since privatisation).

* Roving bands of ticket inspectors with sometimes thuggish attitudes.

* A generally disdainful attitude toward the general public, exemplified in those "Ticket inspectors have the power to..." adverts, that fail to mention what passengers own legal rights are, and that, in fact, lie about ticket inspectors having "rights" to detain you after you've left a vehicle (they don't).

* Complete lack of consideration of popular calls to reduce fares to token amounts, to extend concession cards to international and post-graduate students, and even to abolish fares entirely (which The Age newspaper editorials campaigned for a while back).

None of these problems are being addressed by the change in operator. What they're basically doing is selling the problems to somebody else. And, like Connex, they're putting them on an eight-year contract, which can only discourage any political will to end privatisation.

The eight-years figure seems significant; it's the length of two terms in state government. It's two elections. This is almost symbolic of the the core problem with privatisation - there is no democratic, public control over a public asset/resource!

Do they deliberately choose 7 and 8 year contracts, to span two election campaigns, to head off any possibility of the major parties treating municipalisation (the opposite of privatisation) as a serious election issue? I wouldn't be surprised.