Keolis Downer given Newcastle transport contract by Baird government

FRENCH CONNECTION: Premier Mike Baird announcing the 10 year contract with Keolis Downer to operate Newcastle’s transport system. Picture: Simone De Peak

FERRIES will run every 15 minutes instead of 25, light rail services will run every seven-and-a-half minutes instead of 10, and Newcastle’s bus network will be overhauled to include “night owl” and “on demand” services.

That’s the pitch to Novocastrians from the Baird government, whichannounced on Monday that the Hunter’stransport system wouldbe privatised andrun by French firm Keolis Downer.

The 10-year contract will see Keolis Downer form a new company –Newcastle Transport – to take over the city’sbus andferry operations in July next year,and its future light rail service when it begins in 2019.

“We said we would only proceed with this [transport deal]if there was a better service outcome for Newcastle,” Premier MikeBairdsaid on Monday.

“We have taken a bid that delivers enhanced services, more bus services, more light rail services and more ferry services.”

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the contract was “historic”, and would “cast aside” the traditional transport timetable.

“We’re going to see the development of a new network that will meet the needs of the people of Newcastle, which hasn’t always been the case,” he said.

“We’re going to see more frequent ferry services …more frequent light rail services [and] a better bus network.

The government has long been displeased with Newcastle’s falling public transport patronage, which in turn places more pressure on traffic and parking in the city.

“I think anyone who comes into Newcastle everyday would see a lot of empty buses running around the streets,” he said.

“What that says to me is there is a need for patronage to get back up to where it should be and Keolis Downer are going to deliver that.”

Mr Constance said the new privatised network would be “more dynamic”, and include “on demand services”.

“The current network is not working for the people of Newcastle [and]very pleasingly what we’re going to see is the casting away of the old timetable and the delivery of a new timetable that is more dynamic, more off-peak services, a night owl service, and also on demand services,” he said.

The deal includes a five-year employment guarantee for the city’s transport workers, and was “cautiously welcomed” by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union’s NSW Secretary Chris Preston.

“It’s a great step forward for Newcastle transport workers who can now finally put a face to their future employer, and will soon get some clarity about future work conditions,” he said.

“Whilst it’s business as usual for the public transport workers of Newcastle, the RTBU will be in contact with the new operator at the very first available date, to continue to advocate on their behalf throughout this transition.”

Keolis Downer chief executive Campbell Mason said the contractwould deliver “more reliable” transport that would help “breathe new life” into the city.

“Newcastle is undergoing a major transformation,” he said.

“The investment in light rail will breathe new life into the CBD and a more reliable and efficient public transport system will create a network that is attractive to new users.”

But in the wake of reports that the cost to the NSW government of paying a private consortium to operate Sydney’s new light-rail line for 15 years has blownout to almost $938 million has prompted Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp to again call for the government to release the business plan for the Newcastle Light Rail project.

“I have been calling on the government to release this case since last year,” he said.

“I have requested this information under the GIPA Act as well as through the Information and Privacy Commissioner but the government continues to evade this request.

The big question is what is this government hiding? There seems to be a lot of secrecy around this business case. The government is treating Newcastle like fools.”

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