Sydney Ferries’ management privatisation moves forward

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The premier of the Australian State of New South Wales (NSW), Barry O'Farrell, and Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian, have announced that the NSW Government will begin the reform of Sydney Ferries with the aim of delivering commuters improved and expanded services.

The plan calls for the private management of the service, while retaining ownership with the state government, which would also control fares and schedules.

The proposal is expected to provoke a row with unions, including the Maritime Union of Australia, whose members operate the service. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said the plan would result in poorer reliability and service levels. Unions NSW was involved in blocking a similar proposal under the previous government, according to The Australian.

"Sydney Harbour is an international icon; the most beautiful harbour in the world, and it deserves a ferry service that matches its world class status," Mr O'Farrell said.

"In accordance with our longstanding commitment to greater involvement of the private sector in the delivery of ferry services, the NSW Government will seek registrations of interest from suitable companies to run our ferries," he said.

Ms Berejiklian said the government's "Fixing the Ferries" programme was great news for commuters because it would see the reinstatement of hundreds of ferry services that were cut under the previous Labor Government.  

"In October last year, the Labor Government slashed the number of weekly northside ferry services by 30 percent from 731 to 498, a cut of 233 weekly services," Ms

Berejiklian said. Sydney Ferries currently operates approximately 175,000 services per year.

"We want to hear from ferry service operators about what new services they can provide, which existing services they can improve and what they can do to deliver a ferry service commuters and tourists want to use," Mr O'Farrell said.

"This reform will deliver better services for commuters and expand the reach and appeal of ferries as a public transport option," he said.

"We believe ferry reform is essential," Ms Berejiklian said. "We will retain control over the fare structure and routes and the contract will include staff and safety obligations.

"The new operator will have a service contract with the Integrated Transport Authority which will set out all its obligations. The private sector has proved it can operate a quality service for commuters by delivering successful high speed ferry services between Manly and the Sydney CBD.

"Patronage on the Sydney Fast Ferries route has risen from 10,555 commuters in April 2010 to 46,635 commuters in March 2011 – a 341 percent increase. In contrast, the last Labor Government forecast planned for a 4.8 percent decline in Sydney ferry patronage over the next decade."

Registrations of interest for franchising existing services must be lodged with the Department of Transport by May 31. 

Sydney Ferries has become a "sheltered workshop" racket of the worst kind. For generations it has been run primarily for the benefit of its employees and their union bosses. Its passengers have been treated with disdain. Let us hope that that this new state government achieves this very important aim. -Ed

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