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A day after touting London as inspiration for the privatisation of Adelaide's passenger rail operations, SA Transport Minister Stephan Knoll blunders on-air by appearing to be unaware the Tube was back in public hands.
The London Underground train network was transitioned into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) by the Labour Government in 2003 but one of the private contractors, Metronet, went into administration in 2007.
According to a 2012 House of Commons briefing paper, the PPP was "plagued by problems" and "collapsed" when Government body Transport for London bought out Tube Lines consortia in 2010.
Asked repeatedly on ABC Radio Adelaide about the experience of the London Underground and whether it had been outsourced then brought back to public ownership, Mr Knoll said he did not know the "specifics".
"I don't have the details of those specifics in front of me, but there is a broad principle at play here, and that is [that] right across Europe, as well as in Australia, including every single light rail network in Australia, bar Adelaide, operates under this system," he said.
The London Underground's privatisation partnership also differed from the SA Government's plans, in that private companies contracted to attract investment and undertake maintenance and system upgrades across the network were not charged with operating the system.
Conversely, under the South Australian model, only the network's operation would be privatised, leaving all the assets, including trains, trams, tracks and stations, in public hands.
Mr Knoll said there was about 10 different parts to London's network, involving buses, underground and overground trains, and "quite a number" had been contracted to private operators.
At the same time, however, he was unable to explain which parts would be replicated in Adelaide.
"In terms of the specifics of which train is in and which train is out, I don't have that detail in front of me, but certainly, it [privatisation] is a model used in London, which is, I think a lot of people would say, one of the best public transport networks in the world," Mr Knoll said.
Tube privatisation a 'disaster'Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said he considered the Minister's responses "extraordinary".
"The Minister yesterday was touting London and Melbourne as examples of where privatisation has worked well and on the Premier's [Steven Marshall] own Facebook page they refer to the London Underground," he said.
Knoll taking Adelaide's public transport back to the future
"But the London Underground has been a classic example of where privatisation has been a disaster to the extent that the Tube is now back in the control of public hands.
"In most places around the world where this has occurred, it has resulted in less services, higher fares, and profits are being moved offshore at the expense of services to people."
Rosemary from Flagstaff Hill said in the past two years while visiting London it had cost her about ten pounds for a return trip to the city.
"And as far as other trains go, what used to be British Rail — they're all different now and different companies — it was 15 pounds one way, or about 32 pounds return," she said.
But Mr Knoll was adamant the Government would retain control of the network's fares and overall operation even if it was run by private companies.
"We guaranteed yesterday that we would control the fares and the frequency," he said.
"We guaranteed there will be no service reductions as a result of this.
"In fact, we expect there will be a strong increase in the services we're able to provide."
Where's the profit?In an interview with the ABC last month, Mr Knoll admitted that public transport "would never make money".
He said of the few public transports networks in the world that did return a profit, they did so by owning associated property such as hotels and retail rather than by providing the transport service itself.
Rail, Tram & Bus Union state secretary Darren Phillips said allowing private companies to operate the system created questions about where they expected to achieve profits in Adelaide.
"They [the Government] are saying they're not going to raise fares or cut services and they haven't said they're going to reduce wages and conditions," he said.
"All that's left is for the taxpayers to foot the bill for this supposed profit that a private operator would be seeking, understandably, as a business."
Mr Phillips challenged Mr Knoll to reveal the models "that work elsewhere", along with the "facts you're relying on, so we've got something we can actually challenge".
Mr Knoll said the outsourcing of Adelaide's bus operations in 2000 resulted in a 15 per cent increase in patronage in ensuing years.
In the Government's own survey released yesterday, however, participants said the bus network was more unreliable and unsatisfactory than the city's trains and trams.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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