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Plunging fare revenue due to coronavirus restrictions has left public transport operators in financial turmoil, with the Andrews Government preparing to step in with a rescue package.
Trains, trams and buses are still running in Victoria in a bid to get people to essential activities and jobs, with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on extra cleaning services to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
Operators are bleeding money however, with industry sources saying rail operator Metro Trains is now losing almost $2 million a week and the state-owned V/Line is losing about $1 million a week.
Talks about potentially shifting to a Saturday timetable rather than full weekday services to reduce costs have been held, but this could lead to fewer staff rostered on and potential job losses.
Flinders St Station is extraordinarily quiet at 9am on a weekday in Melbourne CBD. Picture: David GeraghtyIn a bid to try to shield the 19,000 public transport workers from joining others in Centrelink queues, the government is now moving towards a deal that could see compensation of fare box money if workers are quarantined from cuts.
Industry sources have pointed to the UK where the government is now collecting revenue and paying operators a fixed fee, in a bid to take on their risk and costs during the pandemic.
A government spokeswoman said that talks were ongoing with bus companies, Yarra Trams, and Metro Trains.
“The Department of Transport and operators are considering a raft of measures to protect employees and passengers in line with expert medical advice,” she said.
“The Government is working with operators to keep our network moving and support jobs during this unprecedented time.”
Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said although health advice would be critical to decision-making, public transport “is certainly an essential service”.
He also used the UK example as a template for a potential bailout.
“Like in England, if fare box revenue falls off the cliff as it has in Melbourne and statewide, a state government will have to step in and support the franchisees or look at all options,” he said.
Mr Davis also questioned why the premier was pushing ahead with the “big build” projects in Victoria regardless of potential health consequences.
He said this was a strange look when so many people were being told to bunker down and with stage three restrictions looming.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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