Why is public transport so crap in Melbourne?

After fourteen years, the Melbourne public transport ticket system, Myki, is being replaced. Most of us won’t miss it. Myki’s successor is unlikely to offer any real improvement to the severe inadequacies of public transport in Victoria. But looking back at the confusing and costly Myki system in its dying days is yet another reminder of just how illogical and wasteful capitalism is.

The private running of public services like public transport has made services worse and simultaneously more expensive as companies try to profit at each step of the process. 

Purchasing tickets is confusing and complicated for first-time passengers who reasonably but incorrectly assume that they will be able to get them at any tram stop or from a bus driver. Instead, 7-Eleven and a random assortment of pharmacies and newsagents are the core infrastructure of Victoria’s public transport ticketing system. 

The introduction of the Myki system cost more than $1.5 billion and took seven years longer than anticipated to roll out. When the contract was renewed in 2016, the Victorian government paid out an extra $700 million. 

In comparison, estimates reported in the Age last year put the monthly cost of free public transport in Victoria at $75 million per month. In other words, the contracting fees paid out to Myki alone could cover close to two and a half years of free public transport.

Myki is only part of the problem. The private companies that run train services cut corners all the time. Leaked documents in 2015 found that Metro trains cancelled services and skipped stations to meet punctuality targets to get extra government funding. 

The capitalist class values public transport infrastructure because it enables millions of workers to get to work. But that doesn’t mean that transport needs to be efficient. The idea that workers are all individually responsible for their own transport means that it’s individual workers who end up bearing the costs of a failing public transport system. 

Where public transport is scarce or unreliable, workers are expected to put up with congestion while paying thousands for cars and petrol. When public transport is available, we’re expected to pay exorbitant fares to help the private companies that run it to turn a profit. 

It would be better, and cheaper, to put public transport back in public hands.

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