John Singleton with Bob HowardRip Van Australia (Stanmore: Cassell Australia, 1977), pp. 245-49, under the heading “Transport, Public”.

In recent State elections, in N.S.W. and Victoria, public transport has emerged as a major election issue. Public transport systems, particularly in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra, have degenerated so far they now try the patience of even the most tolerant user.

Poor services, filthy facilities, breakdown, accidents, late arrivals, over-crowding, strike disruptions and huge losses are some of the problems these systems are plagued with. The N.S.W. Public Transport Commission last year (1975-76) chalked up a massive $240 million loss. Estimates for losses Australia wide reach $400 million, which is ten times what it was a mere four years previously.

Public transport services could well be the largest employers in Australia — even larger than the gargantuan Australia Post and Telecom. The N.S.W. Public Transport Commission has over 47,000 on its payroll, while the Victorian Railways employ another 24,000. This enormous size allows plenty of scope for the empire builders to get to work in its bureaucracy, and the Unions to wield their muscle.

Usage of public transport is down, and continuing to decline. Peter Samuels has quoted figures, in The Bulletin, that show a decline from 1122 million passengers in 1960 for the six State capitals to 948 million by 1970. As population growth over that period was around 30 per cent, this represented a per capita usage decline from 196 trips to 126 trips a year. Samuels predicted that this would be now well down below 100.1

Available evidence suggests overwhelmingly that fare reductions will not bring about sufficient increases in patronage to pay their way. Under Gough Whitlam the Federal Bureau of Transport Economics estimated that, at most, patronage would increase by one-half of one per cent for every one per cent reduction in fares. A one-third of one per cent increase is more likely. The N.S.W. Government still cut fares. To win votes. Not customers, or profits. It is not their money.

Four years of avoiding price increases by the Melbourne Tramway Board only managed to chalk up an annual loss of $21 million, whereas it had previously been profitable.

The situation of our public transport systems is the same as that of similar services in Great Britain and the U.S.A. It’s the same as exists in those countries for postal services as well, and for the same reasons. Our governments can call in consultants, seek reports, set up Royal Commissions, until they’re blue in the face. None of them will do any good, because they will all try to figure out a solution that solves the problems without changing the fundamental system. They will spend more millions of taxpayers money trying to come up with more efficient ways to run the bureaucracies, new equipment (like Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Railway and Melbourne’s Underground disaster areas), or better technology, but the fundamental cause of the problems will remain untouched. That cause is very simple: it is the fact that these systems are government bureaucracies and not open, competitive, private companies.

Turning transport over to private enterprise without at the same time encasing it in a maze of regulations will solve our transport problems at one stroke. It would not do it immediately, but it would inevitably do it. Anything less than turning transport over to private enterprise is putting Band-Aids on sores. It might buy a little time, but it won’t solve any problems, because it does not touch the causes. At most, it suppresses some of the more annoying symptoms — temporarily. We have avoided this fundamental fact for years now, at the cost of increasing deficits and declining services. We can’t afford to let it go any longer.

Free market forces of supply and demand should be allowed to operate, to determine routes, timetables, transport type, and price. Bureaucratic decisions will not do this efficiently or accurately, and paradoxically, the closer they are to doing so the more unnecessary they become. As was the case with road tolls and parking fees, transport fares would be highest in peak periods and in high demand areas. This would help spread usage, decrease congestion, and have the secondary effect of benefiting the old, the young, the unemployed, the handicapped and students, who all tend to travel off-peak.

As we saw in the case presented for privately owned and operated roads, some, and possibly a lot of public transport, would be provided by both road, shop and other business owners. There would be economic incentives for all of these. Trade unions could do something constructive for a change and operate either “free” (paid for out of dues) or at least cut-price bus services for their members. Suburban shopping centres in particular would probably find it a distinct advantage to run local bus services to bring people into their business area.

If there were no government controls over what routes were set up, where the stops were, what the fares (if any) were or what sizes the buses were, services could and would spring up wherever there was a demand. A new area would be added to the small business field — the operation of small jitneys or mini-buses. These could fill in the gaps left by the larger main bus and rail routes and add additional strength to the main routes during peak periods. None of this is allowed to happen today. Some private bus services are provided, but they are severely regulated as to where they are allowed to go and stop, and what they charge.

We have a choice at the moment between a taxi or full size bus for public road transport. There must be ample space in the market for small mini-buses, to fill out the demand between these two. These mini-buses could follow fixed routes and timetables, or cruise freely and be radio controlled. The market would quickly determine what was or was not viable. All the government has to do is to let it happen.

As far as the government services themselves go, they should be all put up for sale. Until they are sold, sub-contracting should be used immediately for maintenance, traffic scheduling, and depot operations. Once more, private enterprise under the force of the profit motive, would bring a lot more efficiency, imagination and innovation to bear in all these fields. Bus lines could be made up of an operating company and a number of driver owned or at least privately owned buses, as taxi and transport companies now operate.

The closed field of taxi licences should be thrown open to anyone who wanted to set up in it. There should be no licensing, no government fare fixing or regulation. The market should be allowed to determine the fare level. The granting of taxi licences has set up a privileged coercive cartel which, as we have stated many times, is something government has the power, but not the right to do. A system of compensation should be worked out for existing taxi-plate holders, based on the purchase cost (or even market price — the cost would be tiny compared with the principle) of their plates, with the funds coming from the sale of other public transport facilities and equipment.

The railway system presents a slightly more complicated problem because of the high capital costs involved and the limited amount of track. Essentially, however, the process to be followed would be the same — de-regulate the system, allow competition, and as soon as possible, turn the service over to private enterprise. For a start, private companies should be allowed to lease track track time from the government and run their own trains. Rolling stock could either be bought new — here or overseas (and free of tariff) — or bought or leased from the government. Transport companies could construct special terminal facilities and run, for example, specialised container freight trains. Special trains could be constructed to carry wheat, sheep, cattle, wool, coal, iron ore, and, in many cases, carry one product exclusively. Signalling functions, and train scheduling could be sub-contracted. Some of the large computer companies would no doubt be eager to install and operate the necessary equipment. Needless to say, once again the profit motive would ensure more efficiency, imagination and innovation, were brought to the task — particularly with private enterprise trains running.

Maintenance of track and government rolling stock could be sub-contracted. At the moment, it appears very little (if any) preventative maintenance is carried out on the N.S.W. rail system. All track should be put up for sale and sold as buyers became available. Contracts of sale would have to include clauses (permanent or temporary, depending on circumstances) guaranteeing access of trains to the track, is small sections were sold off.

Fares and freight rates should be set on normal commercial principles. Space over city railway lines could be sold for road expressway construction, saving the necessity for land resumption.

This only provides a quick sketch of some of the possibilities of a private enterprise transport system. What we have to bear in mind is that, whether the service is government run or privately run, we pay for it. Under the government service, we pay indiscriminately, that is, whether we use it or not, because of the huge amounts of tax money that are spent on transport every year. If we have to pay for it anyway it makes sense to ensure that the amount we pay is as small as possible. Commonsense and hard, bitter experience both show that the cost of privately operated services is smaller than that of government services. Private services also provide a more varied, efficient and relevant service, because they are constantly being tailored to consumer needs, rather than running in accordance with bureaucratic traditions.

Wherever there is a need, there is an opportunity for someone to make money. Private enterprise public transport systems would answer that need, in terms of quantity, quality, type and price. Bureaucracy, as we have seen, does not, cannot, and will not.

Further reading for Economics.org.au readers

— Mark Tier, “Sell Government Transport,” Quadrant, September, 1975, pp. 93-96.
— Bob Howard, “The Discipline of Necessity,” The Optimist, July-August, 1985, p. 9.

Footnote
  1. Peter Samuels, “Public Transport Shambles,” The Bulletin, 24 April 1976.
(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  2. Singo and Howard Propose Privatising Bondi Beach
  3. Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
  4. Singo and Howard on Compromise
  5. Singo and Howard on Monopolies
  6. Singo and Howard Support Sydney Harbour Bridge Restructure
  7. Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
  8. Singo and Howard Explain Why Australia is Not a Capitalist Country
  9. Singo and Howard Call Democracy Tyrannical
  10. Singo and Howard on Drugs!
  11. Simpleton sells his poll philosophy
  12. Singo and Howard Decry Australia Day
  13. Singo and Howard Endorse the Workers Party
  14. Singo and Howard Oppose the Liberal Party
  15. Singo and Howard Admit that Liberals Advocate and Commit Crime
  16. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  17. John Whiting's Inaugural Workers Party Presidential Address
  18. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  19. Singo and Howard on Aborigines
  20. Singo and Howard on Conservatism
  21. Singo and Howard on the Labor Party
  22. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  23. John Singleton changes his name
  24. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  25. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  26. Singo and Howard introduce Rip Van Australia
  27. Singo and Howard on Knee-Jerks
  28. Singo and Howard on Tax Hunts (Lobbying)
  29. Singo and Howard on Rights
  30. Singo and Howard on Crime
  31. Singo and Howard on Justice
  32. Singo and Howard on Unemployment
  33. John Singleton on 1972 cigarette legislation
  34. Singo and Howard: Gambling Should Neither Be Illegal Nor Taxed
  35. Holed up, hold-up and holdout
  36. The libertarian alternative vs the socialist status quo
  37. Workers Party Platform
  38. Singo and Howard Join Forces to Dismantle Welfare State
  39. Singo and Howard on Business
  40. Singo and Howard on Discrimination
  41. Singo and Howard on the Greens
  42. Singo and Howard on Xenophobia
  43. Singo and Howard on Murdoch, Packer and Monopolistic Media
  44. Singo and Howard Explain that Pure Capitalism Solves Pollution
  45. Singo and Howard Defend Miners Against Government
  46. Singo and Howard on Bureaucracy
  47. Singo and Howard on Corporate Capitalism
  48. The last words of Charles Russell
  49. Ted Noffs' Preface to Rip Van Australia
  50. Right-wing anarchists revamping libertarian ideology
  51. Giving a chukka to the Workers Party
  52. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  53. "A beautiful time to be starting a new party": Rand fans believe in every man for himself
  54. Introducing the new Workers' Party
  55. Paul Rackemann 1980 Progress Party Election Speech
  56. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  57. Voices of frustration
  58. Policies of Workers Party
  59. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  60. AAA Tow Truck Co.
  61. Singo and Howard on Context
  62. Singo and Howard Blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour
  63. Singo and Howard on Apathy
  64. Workers Party is "not just a funny flash in the pan"
  65. Singo and Howard on Decency
  66. John Singleton in 1971 on the 2010 Federal Election
  67. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John Pty. Ltd. Advertising Agents
  68. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  69. The writing of the Workers Party platform and the differences between the 1975 Australian and American libertarian movements
  70. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  71. Bob Howard interviewed by Merilyn Giesekam on the Workers Party
  72. A Farewell to Armchair Critics
  73. Sukrit Sabhlok interviews Mark Tier
  74. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  75. David Russell Workers Party Policy Speech on Brisbane TV
  76. Bludgers need not apply
  77. New party formed "to slash controls"
  78. The Workers Party
  79. Malcolm Turnbull says "the Workers party is a force to be reckoned with"
  80. The great consumer protection trick
  81. The "Workers" speak out
  82. How the whores pretend to be nuns
  83. The Workers Party is a Political Party
  84. Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
  85. My Journey to Anarchy:
    From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
  86. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  87. Singo and Howard on Freedom from Government and Other Criminals
  88. Singo and Howard on Young People
  89. Singo and Howard Expose how Government Healthcare Controls Legislate Doctors into Slavery
  90. Singo and Howard Engage with Homosexuality
  91. Singo and Howard Demand Repeal of Libel and Slander Laws
  92. Singo and Howard on Consumer Protection
  93. Singo and Howard on Consistency
  94. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  95. Political branch formed
  96. Government seen by new party as evil
  97. Singo and Howard on Non-Interference
  98. Singo and Howard on Women's Lib
  99. Singo and Howard on Licences
  100. Singo and Howard on Gun Control
  101. Singo and Howard on Human Nature
  102. Singo and Howard on Voting
  103. Singo and Howard on
    Inherited Wealth
  104. Singo and Howard on Education
  105. Singo and Howard on Qualifications
  106. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  107. Singo and Howard Hate Politicians
  108. Undeserved handouts make Australia the lucky country
  109. A happy story about Aborigines
  110. John Singleton on Political Advertising
  111. Richard Hall, Mike Stanton and Judith James on the Workers Party
  112. Singo Incites Civil Disobedience
  113. How John Singleton Would Make Tony Abbott Prime Minister
  114. The Discipline of Necessity
  115. John Singleton on the first election the Workers Party contested
  116. Libertarians: Radicals on the right
  117. The Bulletin on Maxwell Newton as Workers Party national spokesman on economics and politics
  118. Singo and Howard: Australia Should Pull Out of the Olympics
  119. Singo and Howard Like Foreign Investment
  120. Mark Tier corrects Nation Review on the Workers Party
  121. The impossible dream
  122. Why can't I get away with it?
  123. The bold and boring Lib/Lab shuffle
  124. Time for progress
  125. The loonie right implodes
  126. Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
  127. John Singleton on refusing to do business with criminals and economic illiterates
  128. Censorship should be banned
  129. "Listen, mate, a socialist is a bum"
  130. John Singleton on Advertising
  131. John Singleton on why he did the Hawke re-election campaign
  132. Sinclair Hill calls for dropping a neutron bomb on Canberra
  133. Bob Howard in Reason 1974-77
  134. John Singleton defends ockerism
  135. Singo and Howard talk Civil Disobedience
  136. The Census Con
  137. Singo and Howard Oppose Australian Participation in the Vietnam War
  138. Did John Singleton oppose the mining industry and privatising healthcare in 1990?
  139. Bob Carr in 1981 on John Singleton's political bent
  140. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  141. John Singleton on elections: "a Massive One-Day Sale!"
  142. John Hyde's Progress Party praise
  143. King Leonard of Hutt River Declares Defensive Just War Against Australia the Aggressor
  144. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  145. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  146. John Singleton bites into Sinclair Hill's beef
  147. Save Parramatta Road
  148. 1979 news item on new TV show John Singleton With a Lot of Help From His Friends
  149. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  150. Singo and Howard on Unions
  151. Singo and Howard Smash the State
  152. Singo and Howard on the big issue of Daylight Saving
  153. Come back Bob - It was all in fun!
  154. A few "chukkas" in the Senate for polo ace?
  155. Country Rejuvenation - Towards a Better Future
  156. Singo and Howard on Profits, Super Profits and Natural Disasters
  157. John Singleton's 1977 pitch that he be on a committee of one to run the Sydney 1988 Olympics for profit
  158. Thoughts on Land Ownership
  159. 1975 Max Newton-Ash Long interview on the Workers Party
  160. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  161. The great Labor Party platform: first or last, everybody wins a prize
  162. The politics of marketing - laugh now, pay later
  163. Singo and Howard call Australia fascist and worse
  164. The mouse will roar
  165. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  166. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  167. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  168. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  169. Harry M. Miller and The Australian disgrace themselves
  170. Ocker ad genius takes punt on art
  171. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  172. John Singleton mocks university students on civil liberties and freedom of choice in 1971
  173. Murray Rothbard championed on Australian television in 1974 (pre-Workers Party!) by Maureen Nathan
  174. John Singleton profile in 1977 Australian MEN Vogue
  175. I think that I shall never see a telegraph pole as lovely as a tree
  176. Ralph Nader vs John Singleton on Consumer Protection
  177. John Singleton's first two "Think" columns in Newspaper News, 1969
  178. Singo and Howard on Ballet
  179. Product innovation comes first
  180. Protect who from a 'mindless' wife?
  181. A party is born
  182. Tiny Workers' Party gives us a hint
  183. John Singleton on the ad industry, consumerism and innovation
  184. Workers Party Economic Policy Statement, December 1975
  185. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  186. John Singleton and Howard on Government Largesse
  187. Counterculture must exclude government handouts
  188. John Singleton's 1974 Federal Liberal Election Campaign Ads
  189. John Singleton believes in the Workers Party
  190. Write-up of John Singleton's 1978 speech to the Australian Liberal Students Association
  191. Singo in 1987: "Joh doesn't go far enough ... I want absolute deregulation of the economy"
  192. Maxwell Newton chapter of Clyde Packer's No Return Ticket (1984)
  193. Singo and Howard on Totalitarian Socialism and Voluntary Socialism
  194. Rip Van Australia on Ripoff Vandals Taxing Australia
  195. Singo and Howard beg for tolerance
  196. John Singleton's 1985 advertising comeback
  197. Singo and Howard Demand End to Public Transport
  198. John Singleton and Howard on Fred Nile, Festival of Light, FamilyVoice Australia and the Christian Lobby
  199. Capitalism: Survival of the Fittest
  200. Return Australia Post to Sender
  201. Singo and Howard on Public Utilities
  202. John Singleton and Howard say monarchy should be funded by monarchists alone
  203. John Singleton on cigarette advertising
  204. Singo in 1972 on newspapers' demise
  205. John Singleton farewells Bryce Courtenay
  206. John Singleton on Australian political advertising in 1972
  207. Gortlam rides again
  208. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  209. John Singleton on trading stamps, idiot housewives and government
  210. 1975 John Singleton-Sir Robert Askin Quadrant Interview
  211. Singo asks two prickly questions
  212. VIOLENCE, TV BAN, DRINK - SINGO SPEAKS HIS MIND
  213. Why John Singleton can't keep a straight face
  214. Why John Singleton Defends Smokers Rights
  215. Tony Dear on Paul Krutulis, the Workers Party and murder
  216. An Ode to Busybodies
  217. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  218. How many tits in a tangle?
  219. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
  220. John Singleton wants the Post Office sold and anti-discrimination legislation scrapped
  221. A speech from the Titanic
  222. A crime must have a victim
  223. John Singleton vs Australia Post
  224. Minimum wages the killer
  225. Has Fraser got his priorities all wrong?
  226. John Singleton says "the royal family should be flogged off to the U.S."
  227. John Singleton vs Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats
  228. John Singleton vs Don Lane
  229. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  230. John Singleton's 1986 reflection on the Workers Party
  231. Bob Howard in 1978 on libertarianism in Australia
  232. John Singleton on the stupidity of anti-discrimination laws
  233. Thou shalt know the facts ... before thou shoot off thou mouth
  234. Charity: An Aesop Fable
  235. Bob Howard announces the Workers Party in freeEnterprise
  236. New improved moon
  237. Announcing people ... YES, people!
  238. Creativity in advertising must be pointed dead on target
  239. John Singleton on barriers to, and opportunities for, effective communication
  240. Wayne Garland on John Singleton on Advertising
  241. John Singleton schools ad course
  242. John Singleton: advertising awards
  243. Mr Singleton Goes to Canberra for Australian Playboy
  244. John Singleton on his TV career for Australian Playboy
  245. John Singleton sacked for telling the truth about Medicare
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