Thursday, June 25, 2009

Contracts Contracts Contracts

The last couple of days have been big ones for train tram and bus operator contracts. There's enough about trains and trams in the papers and on the DoT's website. But in case you haven't heard, both incumbent operators have lost to MTM (trains) and KDR (trams), who now have 'preferred bidder' status.

What's this about buses, you may ask? Buses have a lower profile than trams and a much lower profile than trains. Similarly, their operating contracts (negotiated a year or so back) are not widely known and have attracted little attention. Bus contracts have always been an arcane topic; one would have to go back to the acrimony of the late 1980s (bus contracts dispute) or the early 1990s (franchising of Met Bus routes to National Bus and Melbourne Bus Link) to find the last time they were prominent.

A report by the Victorian Auditor General's Office sheds light on Melbourne's new bus contracts, their drafting and the role of the Department of Transport. It is recommended reading, and can be downloaded here.

What happens if contracts don't work out? It varies. When National Express walked in 2003 their operations automatically reverted to government operation until the metropolitan portion was relet to Connex the following year. It was a bit different with the regional intrastate network. where the government 'bought back' the rights it had sold to a lessee who couldn't make it pay. Read all about it in another recent report from VAGO.

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