By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
Picture credit: Transport NSW
You can find people with their nose out of joint over the state of their public transport and trains in just about every major city in the world and Sydney is certainly no different, but with the latest string of issues, fixing the city's transport infrastructure could well be the biggest talking point of the upcoming March election.
As news of major delays and cancellations began circulating early on Monday morning, no doubt bringing with it the familiar feeling of dread that frequent users of Sydney's train network know so well, key powerbrokers at ALP headquarters were putting the final touches on a catchy plan.
Right now, it's still pretty thin on detail, but if Luke Foley and his team can deliver a solution to wringing better performance out of Sydney's aging train network, they're likely to have a half a foot through the door and be in government when the ballots are counted in March next year.
Foley's plan, for what it's worth, is to offer full fare refunds to any commuter who suffers an "avoidable" delay of 30 minutes or more and while the sitting LNP government rubbished the suggestion, it's a likely vote-grabbing move.
For too long Sydney, the biggest and (my bias aside) best city in the country has been plagued by a substandard and mismanaged transport system and if the idea of financial penalties to those in charge are the only way to improve the performance, then I'm all for it.
What actually constitutes an "avoidable delay" remains to be fully fleshed out, but Foley targeted driver shortages, mechanical breakdowns and other events that are the fault of the rail system, whatever they might be.
The latest round of dramas faced by commuters on Monday came about in the wake of some adverse weather and a rush of sickies from drivers and support staff, leaving the network threadbare on the busiest commuting day of the week.
Authorities touted it as an "operational issue" but the frequency with which Sydney's notorious train network grinds to a halt is making the issue a key sticking point between the sitting government of Gladys Berejiklian and Foley's ALP opposition.
In fact, the Premier did say she was open to Opal card refunds on their end as well, but provided no plan or commitment of any kind.
Despite no official costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office, Foley estimated his plan would cost $5-6 million over a four-year period and said, if elected, his government would bear the cost because "there's just no incentive on the people running the railways to do better."
On behalf of the government, Transport Minister Andrew Constance lashed out at Foley's plan, labeling it "impossible" and claiming it would cost more than $100 million in technological upgrades to the existing system to be achievable.
"This so-called policy shows just how out-of-touch and unfit for office Luke Foley is," he fumed.
The current system involves users 'tapping on' and 'tapping off' at each station and does not monitor exactly which train a commuter gets on, so there would need to be serious questions asked of Luke Foley and the ALP about how they'd plan to achieve full refunds without resorting to asking each commuter to mail in receipts or requests online.
For her part, shadow transport spokewoman Jodi McKay said the current system was already designed to handle refunds to commuters.
She painted an interesting picture for frustrated commuters, talking about a 28-day window for those affected to apply for a refund online and confirming the ALP's plan would call on the involvement of IPART, the independent pricing regulator.
Could this be yet another case of an opposition throwing up fanciful, pie-in-the-sky ideas to take pot-shots at the sitting government over a contentious issue, or could the ALP be a little more in touch with the frustration of Sydney's commuters?
Only time will tell.