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Transperth runs under review

ONE of the most publicly-scrutinised initiatives in the WA Government’s competition reform agenda – the contracting out of Transperth bus services – has been revisited by the WA Auditor General Des Pearson.

The Auditor General found that cost efficiencies had been achieved but several issues including the reliability of bus services needed to be addressed.

The report on the progress of bus reform since 1993 titled Down the Road – A Follow-on Examination into Competition Reform of the Transperth Bus Services was tabled in Parliament by Mr Pearson.

The Transperth comment line received 6,018 complaints, of which 44 per cent complained about reliability issues including failure to stop or failure to run.

A 1999 passenger survey found dissatisfaction with service was highest for contractor South Coast Transit with around 28 per cent of respondents complaining.

Swan Transit recorded the lowest dissatisfaction rate with 13 per cent unhappy.

Overall, the report found bus reform had halted a long-term trend of increasing annual bus operating and management expenditure.

Cost efficiency has improved substantially with 15 per cent more bus services being provided for lower total cost.

The biggest concern expressed in the report was that bus reform had not reversed another long-term trend – declining bus patronage.

Bus boardings per head of population have nearly halved over the past 20 years and actual boardings fallen about 7 per cent since the advent of reform in 1993.

“Having outsourced the daily operation and maintenance of buses to the private sector, the Department of Transport now faces the challenge of cost-effectively reversing the decline in bus patronage,” Mr Pearson said.

“However, it is difficult to see how Transport’s ambitious growth targets from 35 million journeys to 75 million by 2010 will be met through improvements in service quality and efficiency alone.”

Of the nine bus contract areas across the city, only the Midland contract area had managed to meet the timetable reliability standards set by the Department of Transport.

Transport has not yet evaluated its contracts to reliably compare performance between contract areas.

“The reform has progressed well beyond the transition stage but the challenge of encouraging more car users to travel by public transport remains,” Mr Pearson said.

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