Sydney’s public transport use soars, even as its buses run late

Patronage on Sydney’s train network grew by about 10 per cent last year Photo: Dominic LorrimerPublic transport use is soaring across Sydney, putting more pressure on crowded trains and buses.

An annual snapshot by the NSW Audit Office shows patronage across the public transport network increased by 12 per cent last financial year.

But the Audit Office also highlighted the failure of buses, in particular, to run on time. The report said buses operated by private companies “almost never” met punctuality targets for the middle or the end of their trips, while the government-owned State Transit bus operator “did not meet any punctuality targets during the year”.

The Audit Office attributed the huge growth in passenger trips across Sydney – there were 72 million more public transport trips in 2015-16 compared to the year before – partly to the increased take-up of the Opal card.

Trips on the rail network increased 10.7 per cent last year, from 328 million to 363 million.

Trips on Sydney’s buses increased 12.8 per cent, from 257 million to 290 million. Trips on the light rail line increased by 66 per cent, from six million to 10 million, while ferry trips remained stable.

“The continuing rise in patronage increases pressure on public transport crowding, punctuality and capacity,” the report said.

In some areas, however, management systems used by transport authorities are failing to capture the strains on the system.

The Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, who on Thursday released a scathing report into the management of Sydney’s central business district light rail project, drew attention to the failure to hold bus operators to punctuality targets.

Her report noted that private bus operators can only be fined if their buses do not start their trips on time; they cannot be fined if their buses run late after starting their trip. Most private and publicly run buses failed to run on time after they had started their trip.

“Because public transport services are crucial in getting customers to their destinations on time, TfNSW should consider including financial penalties for not meeting punctuality targets in future contracts with bus operators,” Ms Crawford said.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said everyone wanted to see better on-time performance for government-operated buses.

“I expect [the State Transit Authority] to better the performance of the private sector, if they can,” he said. “We have invested, in the state budget, for around an additional 3800 weekly services when it comes to the bus network.”

But Mr Constance said one of the major challenges for STA-operated buses was that they operated in parts of Sydney where there was significant traffic congestion.

“There are no plans to franchise Sydney Buses at this stage,” he said.

The Auditor-General’s snapshot also highlights the crowding pressures on trains and buses. The number of train services above the benchmark for overcrowding increased from four per cent in September 2014 to 6 per cent in September 2015.

“The average load during the morning peak increased on 11 of 12 lines surveyed,” the report said.

“The Western Line had the largest increase in average load from 113 per cent to 134 per cent,” it said.

Also on Thursday, Mr Constance announced an extra four express services between Parramatta and central Sydney in both the morning and afternoon peak, as well as the purchase of another 24 Waratah-style trains.

Ms Crawford’s report showed that 94 per cent of peak period Sydney Trains services ran on-time, a slight improvement on the previous year.

And it highlighted problems with a $196 million internal computer system to be introduced across transport agencies. The majority of the budget for the Enterprise Resources Program system has been spent, and it has not yet been delivered to NSW Trains or Sydney Trains.

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