Bus passengers across large parts of Sydney are travelling for free after drivers and their union declared Thursday a “fare-free day”.
In the latest escalation of an industrial battle between the Rail, Tram & Bus Union and NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, the drivers’ union initiated the fare-free day to draw attention to the impending “franchising” of buses in the inner west region.
The decision to allow passengers to travel for free is also affecting the provision of real-time transport information to bus passengers.
If drivers turn off Opal ticketing machines, transport information apps are denied the location and running times of bus services.
“Private operators will put profits before people,” the union’s bus division president David Woollams said.
“As a result, the community will get higher fares, fewer services and the removal of local bus stops.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Constance said: “It is disappointing that this action is occurring despite the ongoing conciliation process and direct orders from the Industrial Relations Commission last night that this action not take place.
“Once again the union bosses are showing absolute contempt for the law, customers and the people of NSW,” the spokeswoman said.
The union said the fare-free day would apply across the 12 Sydney depots currently managed by the government-owned State Transit.
Those areas are in the inner west, eastern suburbs, north-west suburbs to Epping, and across the lower north shore and to the northern beaches.
Bus drivers in the inner west last month conducted a 24-hour strike over Mr Constance’s decision to put services in that contract region out to tender to private operators.
Mr Constance has said the government will retain ownership and control of all buses, depots, timetables and fares. Bus services across much of western Sydney are already operated by private companies.
Mr Constance, who has argued that restrictive workplace practices have led to poor service quality in the inner west, said on Wednesday he would not rule out franchising further services.
“If cabinet resolves to make a decision … that’s what we will do,” he said. “I wouldn’t rule it out into the future in terms of franchising those other regions.”
Mr Woollams said the franchising of the inner west services was being rushed through without consultation or community support.
“It’s an absolutely disgraceful way to conduct yourself in public office,” Mr Woollams said.
“Trying to flog off the public assets before they get the chance to realise what you’re doing and oppose you.”
The RTBU said about 3500 drivers would take part in the fare-free day.