RAMPANT fare evasion and a systemic failure to adequately promote Bendigo’s public bus network have contributed to the service’s poor performance data over the past three years.

That’s the view of commuters and the Bus Association Victoria who have spoken out following last week’s revelation the overwhelming majority of buses operating as part of Bendigo Transit Network contracts worth $107 million over a decade do so at less than 25 cent of their capacity.

Residents have contacted the Weekly in recent days to express their concern and alarm at the level of fare evasion they have witnessed on the Bendigo network, claiming the level of fare evasion was a major factor in the poor data reported by the state government.

Bus Association Victoria network planning and public policy general manager Parry Serafim said fare evasion was an issue for the Bendigo Transit Network, and that most patrons do not tap on when they board a bus. He added fare evasion was also understated.

“Our research suggests it’s a lot worse than what the government reports. Making the network free is not the solution.

“We need cultural change.”

State government data shows that approximately 1.6 million passenger trips were recorded on the Bendigo Transit Network in the year to February, and the Weekly understands about $3 million in myki fees were registered.

A Department of Transport spokesperson said fare compliance across the public transport system has remained high over the past few years, and that the department continued to work with operators to maintain these levels.

“Authorised Officers are regularly deployed to buses in the Bendigo area to support bus drivers and to ensure passengers travel with a valid ticket.

“The Department of Transport works closely with local bus operators to ensure deployments of authorised officers are targeted to maximum effect.”

Despite data showing the Huntly to Kangaroo Flat service that operates via Bendigo Station with an average 23 passengers per trip is the only bus that carries more than 14 passengers, Weekly readers have cast doubt on the official data and spoken of buses that operate throughout the day and are often packed to near-capacity.

Mr Serafim said performance data and the number of myki transactions recorded were being compromised by a stipulation that bus operators were not allowed to promote the service they provide.

“It’s exclusively up to the government. If the operators were more involved and had contractual obligations I am sure we’d have a more productive network.”

He said the community and government both have a role in making sure the network is relevant and sustainable, but in the end, the government has the legislated responsibility of promoting the network.

“The network would be far better if other stakeholders were more free to contribute.”

Mr Serafim said local government was the missing link when it comes to public transport.

“Local government currently has no say in what public transport transpires in any area, but they should. For a public transport network to be dynamic and responsive to the community’s needs, it needs input from the local level, not planners who sit in an ivory tower in Spring St.

“The state government should be obligated to take on board the operator and other local stakeholders’ input and plan services with their knowledge in mind – after all, they are of the community, the know what the locals want.

“All too often the community’s needs get overlooked when government undertakes their reviews, and changes rarely ensue.”

He said the state government has a duty to provide a legislative transport framework with minimal regulatory oversight that enables economic resilience, environmental sustainability and quality of life.

“At present we don’t have that, the transport regulatory framework is not integrated, as much as some might say it is, and the money’s simply not there for the bus to take a front and centre role like rail does in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Bus is a recurrent industry whereas government likes capital investment. That outlook is going to have to change if the bus is to play a more meaningful role in our economy.”

Mr Serafim said the bus industry has a role in showing government how economic, social and environment outcomes could be improved if the community significantly invested in bus services and bus infrastructure and encouraged commuter mode shift from private transport to public transport.

“Runaway population growth has been accompanied by a lag in the commencement of government services like bus services, and this needs to change.

“The benefits of the reduction in urban congestion, the reduction in transports share of greenhouse gas emissions and the improvement of our sense of community and well-being would outweigh the financial costs of such an investment.”.