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HomeNewsNorthern Beaches bus services go private; electric buses to roll out over...

Northern Beaches bus services go private; electric buses to roll out over eight years

Northern Beaches and lower North Shore public bus services have been officially awarded to a private operator in a $900 million dollar eight-year contract with Keolis Downer.

The move, which we flagged earlier this year in a broader story about timetable changes, is expected to be fully complete by October. While operations will be privately run, the Government has maintained that it is not a full privatisation of public transport but a franchising model, with buses and depots remaining government property.  It is understood the government will also still retain the right to regulate timetables, safety, service priorities and set fares under the Opal system.

Electric buses to arrive over eight years

Keolis Downer has been operating an on demand service on the upper Northern Beaches since 2017. They will now run the B-line too.

A public statement from Keolis Downer said that 125 electric buses will be brought into the fleet over the tenure period. Manly Observer phoned their corporate affairs branch, who confirmed the buses would be paid for and owned by the state government, and the electric buses introduced gradually over eight years as the older diesel buses reached their end of life.

They expect it will, eventually, be the largest and most visible roll out of electrical buses in Australia.

Keolis Downer is a joint venture between transport operator Keolis and Australian and New Zealand integrated services company Downer. Its CEO David Franks said the first priority would be to “ensure a smooth transition of all the employees and maintain high standards of customer experience and operations.

David Franks. Photo: Paul Sharp.

Additionally, we are focused on introducing global innovations like headway services, new electric buses, and wayfinding improvements that will deliver more connected and sustainable journeys.”

Mr  Franks said he looked forward to “further engaging with the community to deliver a safe, efficient and reliable transport system that supports the liveability and future prosperity of this vibrant, growing region”.

Union take on franchising 

The move has been predicably unpopular with the unions. David Babineau, who, as the Divisional Secretary of the NSW Tram and Bus Division of the Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union, has the world’s longest job title… said the franchising model is just privatisation with spin.

“Regardless that the government retains ownership, you could never argue that the private sector isn’t involved in controlling or operating that asset. Similarly with buses, the government touts continued ownership of the assets as the defining factor in the relationship but it’s not. The defining factor is the contractual relationship between them and a private company, who are incidentally being paid more than STA required to run things, for the next eight years,” he said.

Community still not happy with pre-privatisation changes 

While several improvements and additions to the B-line service were lauded late last year, the removal of a significant number of direct routes along Manly, Balgowlah and Seaforth (in favour of a hub and spoke model) and the introduction of more frequent services in some backstreets, has proven unpopular with many residents.

Residents in Balgowlah recently protested against a number of changes to bus routes and frequency in North Balgowlah.

Community outrage saw some service changes and reinstatements, but most timetable alterations have been maintained. See our previous coverage on this issue here, and here.

Manly MP James Griffin said he would be “ensuring any customer feedback is well understood by the operator and we can improve the bus services where possible. That includes finalising the changes to resolve issues in the Balgowlah and Seaforth area.”

Speaking on the introduction of the electric buses, Mr Griffin said electrification “is great for our local environment and will dramatically decrease the noise generated by buses. Importantly, the Government will continue to set the fares, own all the major assets included the depots and determine any changes to the timetable and routes.”

Eleven of the 14 bus regions across NSW are already franchised.

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