The Victorian government’s plan to compulsorily acquire bus companies has driven private operators to emblazon ‘Don’t trust Labor’ on their vehicles.
A group of operators have refused to sign up to 10-year deals that would force them to hand over their buses and depots to the state at market value at the end of the contract.
The government has also offered five- and seven-year contracts, which would not require operators to relinquish existing assets.
A handful of buses – covered in the words ‘Don’t trust Labor’ – began driving around Melbourne, Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat from Thursday to protest the offer.
“Next week, there’ll be an even bigger handful,” Bus Association Victoria Director Chris Lowe told The New Daily.
They are not following bus routes and do not have any passengers on board.
Dr Lowe said they were not necessarily sticking to marginal electorates, but said they would likely choose to protest in “electorates that will make them [the government] realise they shouldn’t be wanting to have a fight with bus operators in an election year”.
The small- to medium-sized family businesses had been delivering “an effective and efficient, safe community service” for between 60 and 90 years, he said.
“They’re not cheap and nasty. They do a damn good job and they deliver a quality service.”
Negotiations are continuing, before a deal is made by June 30.
“I can’t comment on where it might be going, because I don’t know. The industry remains, as it always has been, willing to negotiate to find a solution that meets the needs of both parties,” Dr Lowe said.
The government is operating directly with independent operators, not with the Bus Association.
Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan said bus patronage had been declining, while tram and train patronage was “going through the roof”.
“It is time to change things,” Ms Allan said on Thursday.
“Melbourne deserves a bus network that puts passengers first – a network where buses go where people want to go.
“We’ve already successfully negotiated with two-thirds of the industry and we’ll continue to negotiate with other providers so they get a fair deal.”
Ventura, CDC Victoria and Donric are the operators which have agreed to the new deal, according to The Age.
The government argued it was abolishing outdated components, including exclusivity provisions that guarantee an operator’s rights to new routes in the area.
The operators had already agreed to the other “onerous” terms, including tougher performance standards and non-exclusive contracts, according to Dr Lowe.