The last time I rode trains in
I found a new inconvenience to train users, which is under-staffed stations. At the grand Flinders Station, there used to be a small both at each platform from which station employees kept their guard and answered questions from ticket holders. It is utmost important for travelling crowds to know where they are going with which train. Occasionally people feeling a little lost could make sure they were on the right track through getting answers from these on site employees. I once had a terrible experience in Sydney when boarding on a wrong train (it seemed correct from reading signboards) and taking over an hour to come back to where I started (the train, unfortunately, was an express one and dashed past a number of stations before stopping, so I could get off). At Flinders Station, people simply asked those conductors if unsure. Under Connex, such a helpful post is now removed, and one has to walk up and back to the front gate counter to find and reconfirm the platforms for their destinations. It is common everywhere in the world that public transport providers seldom design their operations from the point of view of end users. They blindly assume that people understand fully and immediately what they offer there, but a traveller would rather ask about directions from a nearby, informed employee in a massive central station. You have to be a regular train passenger, after numerous trials and errors, to confidently board trains of your choice without making enquires. For ubiquitous reasons of improved efficiency, those staff booths are gone, saving some money to the corporation on personnel, replaced by booths selling chips and drinks, bringing in some more money to the same corporation. It seems that the people touch, face to face at the moment of need, has clearly vanished amidst ambitious management goals for larger operating revenues and increased convenience of the operator.
If a system in operation, after privatisation, performs not visibly better but evidently worse, what is the point of installing this system in the first place and paying for its mundane work with the public money? If in a fair comparison and after adequately long trials, the new system does not excel above the old, as promised and desired, should there be the moment of a second thought and for a reversing action to be taken? If a private operation of public transport requires huge public funding to provide passable services at the most, what real, meaningful changes have this practice brought to the state government and the public? With common sense, the underperforming operator should be dismissed, and the system brought back to the hands of the government for further re-organising or open bidding. It is here that the enshrined economic rationalism demonstrated its unrivalled penetration into the mind of contemporary policy makers. The Labour government of
Comparable to privatised rail transport, toll roads around
This toll setting created some absurd scenes. Along a major toll road to the
The confidence on the market to do the tricks has not receded, but the performance of private companies in a market economy has been varied and unsteady. It could be disappointing or dismal, or at least not up to the expectation in many cases. Business failures on a large scale are exactly the reason for rescue actions taken by government agencies with public money. Closures of smaller sized companies are common place, even in good times of economic booms. Theoretically, these collapsed companies have themselves to blame and do not affect the public. However, every sizable bankrupt involved sufferings on the part of those dismissed and government actions are required as remedies, for example, the closure of Nissan’s Clayton complex in
The aviation industry in
A number of start-up airline companies sprang up under the sky of deregulation. Compass Airline is a particularly exciting example among them. The founder of the airline Bryan Grey was a private businessman and a former chief at a Pacific island airline. Many admired his courage in challenging the big two, his organising skills in assembling an airline from scratch, and perhaps mostly his ability to raise money for the first small air service provider. The airline was equipped with new aircrafts, purchased or leased, and flight attendants put on their coloured formal uniforms for the inaugural flight ceremony. That was a big, exciting occasion in the aviation industry of
Other contenders had similar fate, such as Impulse which ran similar budget flights along major routes and was eventually taken over by Qantas. The only exception to this series of failures so far is Virgin Blue, which differs from the above fruitless ventures in a big way, being financially sound with the support from the parent Virgin Air and keeping away from cut-throat fare wars. It remains to be seen whether the Virgin or another consortium of the considerable deep pockets could grab large enough market shares in a massive shake up. In short, throughout deregulation, the established Qantas has managed its affairs much better than the assembled bold private contenders.
There is of course no certainty that a private business would run a public service badly or face a destined failure. It is quite plausible that the market can be much livelier when public sectors make rooms for expansion of private businesses. The observation here is merely that private businesses carry risks of collapsing in their nature, and that the market has no guarantee of success for large numbers of private businesses. A well managed public entity could reach the desired levels of performance as well while shouldering set tasks of providing public goods. If private businesses have shown their shortcomings, incompetence, or disregard to quality of public services, it is time for a fair competition between private and public corporations in obtaining rights of operation, despite the ideological bounds of economic rationalism and market-supreme doctrines.
All things considered, economic rationalism calls people’s attention to the might of the market and has succeeded in making people believe in the power of money. It is an amazing transformation of prevailing mindsets from having confidence in public provisions on top of individual work effort to believing a myth of self made fortunes. Greed is excused as a necessary catalyst for many undertakings, public and private, to be possible and achieving. Logics based on economics drown out other plausible arguments; if you are not happy about certain occurrences in the running of this society, look at those pleasing headline figures and talk to someone who just made some money. This single ideology of sort contains certain truths in life and convinced many that state provisions stayed for too long, and that fresh air and liberalising actions are desired, but it may also prove to be an overkill in reversing the direction of social movement the hard way.