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"Uncomfortable" ride ahead for Adelaide public transport: Knoll

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Transport Minister Stephan Knoll warns “uncomfortable change” is in store for Adelaide’s public transport system, as the Government continues to eye off privatisation of its rail fleet.

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Speaking at a forum in Adelaide last night, Knoll described the public transport system he oversees as “disrupted”, “extremely limited”, “really hurting” and unable “to work as well as it should”.

The Minister is presiding over $46 million in cuts to services, but continues to present his vision for a “customer focussed” service model that will drive increased patronage.

“What I think we’ve got at the moment is a system that hasn’t evolved to meet the changing needs of the people it’s supposed to serve, and that’s why we’re going to see what is going to be sometimes uncomfortable change happen in the next 12 to 18 months,” Knoll told last night’s audience.

“Our public transport system is being disrupted… by new technology and by the fact our city is evolving.

“I know that there is a lot of…. unknown about what’s going to happen going forward, and I know we’re having to work in a very difficult budget environment, and unfortunately there’s no way that we can get around that.

“There’s only so many ways you can slice the existing pie.”

The warning comes as the Government considers privatising the state’s train and tram network, with Knoll last night insisting, “we haven’t made a decision, but I don’t want to close off my mind to any idea that’s going to potentially improve the service”.

The idea has sparked widespread criticism from unions, the opposition, social service advocates and public transport experts, who argue services would be more expensive and less efficient under private hands.

Knoll said he had spent the past couple of months investigating public transport models across Australia and in Europe, and was aware of the pitfalls of privatisation.

“That took me last month to the UK and going out to have a look at Manchester, which has done phenomenal things by increasing their tram network… essentially taking a disused rail line and converting it to light rail,” he said.

“But Andy Burnham, the Mayor over there… said the ‘Biggest problem I have at the moment is that my buses are completely privatised (and) I have no control over anything – the asset, the fare costs, the routes, nothing.’

“In some senses you can say, ‘Hey look, this is an idea we should look at’ (and) in other senses you can say, ‘This isn’t something we should look at’.”

Despite acknowledging looming service cuts, Knoll spruiked his vision for a more “integrated” system that better connects users with different modes of transport.

That would be achieved, he said, with the arrival of on-demand bus services – similar to Uber – that will be trialled on Adelaide roads once the current tender process is finalised.

Those services could replace the 1170 bus services that are set to be axed or shortened as part of the State Government’s bid to claw back $3.5 million in efficiencies.

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