‘Fare free day’: Sydney bus drivers offer free travel on June 1

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A commuter bus drives across Anzac bridge during peak afternoon traffic in Sydney August 23, 2004.
A commuter bus drives across Anzac bridge during peak afternoon traffic in Sydney August 23, 2004. Reuters/Tim Wimborne

Commuters in some parts of Sydney can travel for free Thursday as drivers and their union announced the day a "fare free day.” The free bus trips apply across the 12 Sydney depots currently under the government-owned State Transit.

That means commuters from areas in the inner west, eastern suburbs, north-west suburbs to Epping and across the lower north shore and to the Northern Beaches are the ones who will benefit from the free rides. At least 3,500 drivers are taking part of the fare free day. They are expected to wear “loud and colourful” shirts as part of a protest against the transport minister's plan for privatisation.

Rail, Tram & Bus Union and Transport bus division president David Woollams said that fare free day is about telling commuters their local buses are being sold without their approval or consent. "The expressions of interest period for private bus operators has been brought forward and closes today 1 June, after only being open for just one week," he added in a statement, according to Nine News.

The union initiated the fare free so it can draw attention to the looming "franchising" of buses in the inner west region. Transport Minister Andrew Constance previously said that ownership and control of all buses, timetables, fares and depots will remain in the hands of the government. However, bus services across some areas in western Sydney are already under private companies.

Woollams expressed concern about the situation, saying privatisation will put profits first instead of people. He warned that the act would result to higher fares and fewer services as well as the elimination of local bus stops. According to Woollams, the franchising of the inner west services was rushed without consulting the community.

The move to let commuters have a free bus ride may also affect the provision of real-time transport information to bus passengers. If the Opal ticketing machines are turned off, transport information apps are denied the location and running times of bus services.

Constance said on Wednesday that he did not rule out further privatisation of Sydney bus services. He said they would start with the privatisation of inner west bus services and see how it goes.

Last month, drivers in the inner west declared a 24-hour bus strike. The driver’s union blamed Transport Minister Andrew Constance over his decision to place services in the said contract region out to tender to private operators.

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