In case you haven’t already heard, ACTION bus services in Canberra will be severely lacking on the weekend, and may be a tad underwhelming on Monday morning as well. Territory and Municipal Services are blaming a different union  this time around.
Due to industrial action by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), there will be disruptions to this weekend’s bus services, James Roncon, Director, ACTION, announced today.
“The AMWU has placed a ban on overtime work which means that buses cannot be maintained or re-fuelled this weekend which cripples the bus service,” Mr Roncon said. “In order to minimise any disruption to Monday services a decision has had to be made to run a Sunday timetable on Saturday and cancel Sunday services.
“There may also be reductions in the number of wheelchair-accessible buses which run on Saturday due to difficulties in re-fuelling them.
“While ACTION management will themselves assist with re-fuelling buses on Sunday evening to try and meet the Monday morning peak, it is simply not possible to run bus services on Sunday and not impact on Monday’s services.
Mr Roncon said that ACTION will do its best to minimise disruptions on Monday.
“Due to the action we are taking over the weekend, we are not expecting significant disruptions on Monday however there will be some buses off the road. We will ensure school runs operate and that any dropped services are on bus runs which are quickly followed by another bus. For more information on ACTION services please visit www.action.act.gov.au or call 13 17 10.”
So this time around it’s not the bus drivers, but rather the bus maintainers which are going on strike, so this strike doesn’t fit in with the regular-as-clockwork Transport Workers Union vs ACTION fights when the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement needs to be renewed, and if we’re going to see regular Australian Manufacturing Workers Union vs ACTION fights as well, then the question has to be asked: what can be done to make the contract negotiation process less disruptive to the public?
The answer seems fairly simple to me. At the moment, there is very little incentive within ACTION or the ACT Government to prevent these things from happening. ACTION will exist come-what-may; their TAMS overlords are public servants who will just end up somewhere else in the government during the next reshuffle; and the politicians have no real need to be concerned this far out from an election. On the other side, the unions have come to acknowledge that the only consequence to them from a strike is a small public backlash which is offset by public sympathy when the strikes are few and far between, especially when the TWU’s Klaus Pinkas is the man so effectively heading their public relations campaign. The strikes work well for the unions because they know that the public will ultimately blame the politicians and not the unions, and so the politicians will issue “fix it” directives to the public servants which, if the unions can hold their nerve for long enough, will result in a union victory, for the most part.
The trouble is, now that the AMWU have gotten in on the act, the strikes will become more regular. The couple of strikes once every few years at the behest of the TWU were tolerable…but doubling the frequency of strikes and making the effects last longer by adding another union in to the mix will just anger the public and lessen their sympathy for the unions. The public will demand corrective action from the politicians to prevent the regular strikes…and once it gets that far, the only two options are to either gut services so that less people rely on the service and therefore less people will be angered by strikes, or to sell it off and make it somebody else’s problem to deal with.
The latter option, privatising the bus service, is the more sensible option. From a political perspective, it’s better than minimising services, and from an operation perspective, it gives the new operator an incentive to prevent strikes as strikes equal lost revenue.
The government doesn’t really care about ACTION’s income as they are deliberately running it at a loss…and in a way, not running buses for a day or two saves them money, but for a private operator, the service is designed to make a profit, and when there is a strike, there is no income but the administrative overheads still exists, so they make a loss. These administrative overheads exist for the government as well, but they form part of the cost of running the government and don’t count in the equation.
The other benefits of a private bus service are that the bus service would actually have to meet the needs of the customers in order to turn a profit, and would therefore be more likely to run services which are wanted and needed instead of a gazillions indirect routes to distant locations via half the places in between. And then just to make the system even more responsive to customer needs, the government could issue a licence to bus operators and adjust the cost of their licence renewal based on factors such as on-time running and dropped runs. Additionally, multiple bus providers could compete for business within Canberra and/or focus on certain areas are types of services.
Having private operators instead of a government monopoly on bus services in Canberra is clearly the best option for both minimising the number of strikes and service disruptions, and for making the bus service a more desirable service by more closely meeting the needs of the people.