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Commuters face a year longer riding with bus company Transdev than the Andrews government intended, due to complications finding a replacement operator during the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2018 the government vowed not to extend the French multinational's contract to run one-third of Melbourne's bus services beyond 2021, following a woeful punctuality record.
A Transdev bus in Lonsdale Street.CREDITANIEL POCKETT
Data obtained under freedom of information laws revealed that in the five years to 2018, Transdev had only once met its contractual target to run 85 per cent of bus services on time.
On some bus routes, on-time running was as low as 57 per cent.
But in an apparent bid to save jobs and preserve stability in the industry during the pandemic, the $1.7 billion contract set to wind up in 2021 will be extended to January 31, 2022, when it will be put to tender. The extension will cost taxpayers $183 million and will not include additional bus routes or tighter performance targets.
The state's largest bus operator, Ventura, had planned to bid for the Transdev routes.
While Transdev's recent performance data is secret, the company and the government cite improvements. Transdev says it has met all performance benchmarks in its contract with the government this year, including punctuality targets for two consecutive years.
Transdev Melbourne managing director Loretta Lynch said customer complaints had reduced by 30 per cent over the past two years and complaints to the Public Transport Ombudsman had dropped by 70 per cent in the 2018-19 financial year.
A government order for 100 buses had allowed the company to retire "a significant number of less reliable older vehicles so we can deliver an improved experience for our passengers", she said.
"While we have faced challenges during our contract, with the government’s support we have transformed our operation over the past two years.
"Our drivers, mechanics and support teams are continuing to deliver an important service during the pandemic, to make sure people who need to travel for essential reasons can do so safely and reliably."
Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen called for a major lift in the quality of bus services under the new contracts.
"Under normal circumstances, pre COVID, there are huge problems with crowding on some of their routes, late running and cancellations, bus reliability. Cleanliness has been an issue, though that's recently improved," Mr Bowen said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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