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Infrastructure and Transport – Metro Services

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Tags: Metro Tasmania, Public Transport, Infrastructure, Transport, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, Mr Swain. Minister, on your watch, it would be fair to say that Metro Tasmania is a disaster. We are hearing of cancellations in the order of 70, 75, 100 services a day and we'll get to those sorts of questions in a bit, but is it your expectation that this dinky little busway which would cost us light rail would be run by Metro?

Mr FERGUSON - That decision has not been taken at all. I want to address the first part of your question. It has been a real challenge in an effectively full labour market in Tasmania with very positive unemployment numbers at a state record low of 3.8 per cent. Metro, along with every other bus contractor in the state, is struggling with workforce supply so it's a cheap shot that you make in relation to that and we acknowledge the impact that has had on passengers. While this is not the Metro GBE scrutiny, I'm happy to tackle the matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not a cheap shot.

Mr FERGUSON - It is a cheap shot.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not, it's lost productivity.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please.

Mr FERGUSON - We appreciate the hard work that the Metro executive team are doing to recruit new drivers and support the absolute minimal impact on passengers. One of the reasons that people are having to deal with cancelled services from day to day is the fact that Metro, quite properly, prioritises bus services to get kids to school and that does have an impact on the general access contract that they hold.

Ms O'CONNOR - You've got a lot of drivers off sick too, though, haven't you?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please let the minister answer.

Mr FERGUSON - If a driver is sick, I hope you would support them not having to go to work.

Ms O'CONNOR - It would be nice if you had COVID safety measures on public transport.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please let the minister answer.

Mr FERGUSON - I realise there were two parts to the question and I will come to the next part in a moment, but I will just say that on any given day, particularly on a school day where there are the most services, Metro is contracted to operate approximately 2440 services every single day. While you are quite within your rights to raise the 60 or the 70 trips -

Ms O'CONNOR - Or 100.

Mr FERGUSON - on some days and sometimes higher numbers, in the context of 2440 services, that really is a cheap shot. The importance here is for Metro to give people the earliest possible notice of those dropped trips so they are able to plan accordingly. None of us like it. It's far from ideal but obviously communication is the key.

Ms O'CONNOR - When was the last time you got on a bus?

Mr FERGUSON - In respect of the numbers, I'm happy to say that the average trips dropped on average in the month of February was 92, in March it was 87, in April it dropped to 49 and in May, 64 trips. It's not ideal but I can tell you, Ms O'Connor, that the team at Metro in part supported by the Department of State Growth, are working hard not just to actively recruit more drivers but also to support the existing workforce so that they feel comfortable and supported, not to mention the many measures we're doing around antisocial behaviour. In respect of the rapid bus transit solution, the current attitude we hold is that we would go to market and test for the best provider to deliver the new services, but I haven't excluded Metro at this stage.

Mr SWAIN - Because you'd want that introduction of rapid buses to be positive and a mode-shifting development -

Ms O'CONNOR - Good luck with that.

Mr SWAIN - the idea is it would overlay on top of the existing general access service, so it would come on top of that service. Initially we would expect the patronage on rapid buses to be relatively low and then build up over time and then there will be incremental changes to the GA. That means that there is the live option of being able to go to market on it because it's not resulting in a one-to-one change or an immediate change to the GA network.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you confirm that during the free Metro trial towards the end of last year, there was a significant drop in the number of incidents of antisocial behaviour? Do you have some data on that?

Mr FERGUSON - I will certainly seek any data that I am able to. I understand that is the case. It was in April of 2022, wasn't it; for a six-week period.

Mr CRANE - It was a smaller trial they did on specific routes.

Mr FERGUSON - Let's start again. We have been asked about the fare-free incentive period. Feel free to open up in relation to any evidence of reduced antisocial behaviour.

Mr CRANE - I'm not quite sure of the Metro numbers or reduction in antisocial behaviour during the fare period. Certainly, non-payment of fares is an issue, particularly for our younger members of the public. From my memory of discussions with Metro, there was not a significant reduction in antisocial behaviour.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is interesting. I might get you to check that, because we had a briefing with the CEO of Metro about three months ago and she reported a significant drop in the incidence of anti-social behaviour.

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, we will get the data for you. There is an official data collection that we are occasionally are asked to report on. We will get that for that fare period and the months surrounding it.

Mr CRANE - Perhaps I could clarify that. Metro did tell us that, anecdotally, they had a reduction in some anti-social behaviour, particularly because of taking away the issue of fare evasion. That issue does cause some stress on buses and conflict between bus drivers and people not wanting to pay fares; and that issue was less during the fare period.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. You would agree minister, in all likelihood that is because poverty increases people's stress levels and the amount of cortisol coursing through their system. Why wouldn't you, as minister, consider free Metro transport in order to save the cost of transit officers, reduce anti-social behaviour and increase patronage?

Mr FERGUSON - I understand the question and I will confirm again that we will obtain the data and naturally there will be no fare evasion occurring during that trial period. To clarify, it was March-April -

Ms O'CONNOR - Last year.

Mr FERGUSON - Yes, last year. I am checking the dates - it was toward the end of March and all of April, so about five weeks. I am happy to have that data so you can scrutinise it.

Ms O'CONNOR - That would be great.

Mr FERGUSON - Additional to that, it is self-evident that anything that is free is nice; but that would take $120 million out of the transport system. It would potentially lead to reduction of services, because if you are withdrawing that financial input that customers put into the system, it's a reduction in resourcing overall. I have to challenge the question.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, governments subsidise all manner of public good services and infrastructure. In 2022, Metro earned about $11 million in fares revenue, as we understand it, and $67 million in total revenue. Given that your Government's prepared to spend in the order of a billion dollars on a stadium, it does seem relatively very affordable from the Government's point of view. It would certainly reduce anti-social behaviour, and conflict on the buses between passengers and drivers. Why wouldn't you consider some deeper level of fare access to take the heat out of the bus system?

Mr FERGUSON - Ms O'Connor, I should correct my earlier answer. We put in $120 million into public transport

Ms O'CONNOR - Over what period?

Mr FERGUSON - Revenue is a smaller number, more like $15 million per annum, that is the money that would be taken out of the system.

Ms O'CONNOR - The $120 million you keep talking about, that is over the forward Estimates?

Mr FERGUSON - No; it grows to that per year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I check, does that mean that private bus services contracted by your Government earn $90 million in fares revenue -


Ms O'CONNOR - or is the subsidy to the private buses in the order of $90 million?

Mr FERGUSON - The total provision of taxpayer subsidies to public transport, including school buses is about $120 million. It grows to that over the forward Estimates. Currently, it is about $110 million, I think.

Ms O'CONNOR - With respect, because we are curious, can you disaggregate the Metro subsidies from the rural and regional broader passenger transport subsidies?

Mr FERGUSON - The way that Metro works is different from the other general access (GA) providers. The fare revenue that is paid to non-Metro providers of GA comes to the department. It is part of our financial model, that non-Metro providers are subsidised for their services. But, when a passenger boards a contracted service outside of Metro, the fare comes to the department - to the Government - and that helps pay for the overall system. Metro keeps fare revenue.

Mr SWAIN - I can confirm, they keep fare revenue; and the payment they get from the Government is in the order of $52 million a year.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can we just be really clear? What's the subsidy to other bus providers beyond Metro annually? It's $16 million a year -

Mr SWAIN - To the non-Metro GA providers.

Ms O'CONNOR - So that's like Redline and others.


Mr SWAIN - And then obviously school buses on top of that, which is another $40 odd million a year.

Ms O'CONNOR - And they're buses that are not just run by Metro, they're buses that are Metro and private providers?

Mr SWAIN - The majority are private.

Mr FERGUSON - That's a broad calculation on this side of the table. I'd be more comfortable getting a considered answer if you're asking me how much we provide in general access subsidies to non Metro providers.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you want me to write that down and put it on notice so we can move on?

Mr FERGUSON - Yes, we should be able to get it through the morning. Gary's estimated $16 million, plus the $40 million that goes to school bus contractors.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.