Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vital Safety Equipment Removed from Buses

The Public Transport Authority sent buses to be used in Geraldton with closed circuit surveillance systems removed, it has been claimed.

The allegations brought an extraordinary response from the minister responsible for the state's public transport system, who warned an open hearing that any publicity they generated could tip off mischief makers.

Seven buses were sent to Geraldton after the PTA took over running services in the town, but they each had closed circuit television cameras removed, a Legislative Council committee heard in Perth yesterday.

The cameras are used to record activity on the bus, and their contents are later downloaded by the PTA.

Labor transport spokesman Ken Travers said the camera casings were intact but did not hold any equipment.

PTA chief executive Reece Waldock told the hearing he was unaware the cameras had been removed, but it was possible the Geraldton depot, which the authority recently took over, did not have the technology to download any CCTV footage.

"You're better informed than I am," he told Mr Travers.

The claims brought a warning from transport minister Simon O'Brien, who said the committee and others present should not "jump to conclusions".

"It can sometimes send a very bad message if there's comment put out publicly about cameras not on buses," he said.

He defended the PTA, saying it did not remove security equipment "for the hell of it".

The committee heard there had been a surge in anti-social incidents on buses. Instances of swearing, spitting, standing on seats, smoking and littering had more than doubled in the past financial year, with 1228 recorded.

Mr Waldock said incidents of rocks being thrown at buses increased 30 per cent in the past two years "and certainly that (increase) has been maintained" this year.

He also hinted different types of buses could be seen on Perth streets as the popularity of this form of transport continued to grow.

Articulated "rail-type" buses, popular in Europe, were a real possibility on busy routes, while there a slight chance smaller buses could be used as feeders to railway stations.

However, the use of feeder buses was growing in popularity, with more than 60 per cent of commuters using Murdoch train station arriving that way.

Free travel for pensioners and seniors had also seen an 80 per cent increase in those users on off-peak services, while increases in parking costs in the CBD were also likely to lead to increasing patronage, furthering the cause of maintaining larger vehicles.

"We've got to be very careful, we don't want to undersize our fleet," Mr Waldock said.

About half the cost of running a bus was in the driver's wages, so more smaller buses could actually lead to greater expense, he said