As government advice has encouraged people to stay at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, passenger transport numbers have plummeted.
This has led to train and tram network operators working closely with governments to ensure that public transport, deemed an essential service, can keep running.
In Melbourne the impact on transport operators is most severe, as Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne are one of only a handful of private rail transport operators in Australasia that do not operate on a gross cost model. Instead, their net cost agreement with the Victorian government allows them to keep a percentage of the farebox revenue, 40 per cent according to The Age.
Both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne have been in discussion with the Department of Transport to enable trams and trains to keep running.
“We are working closely with the Department of Transport to ensure we can continue to offer a safe and reliable service, while protecting the health of our people and those who must travel,” said Julien Dehornoy, CEO of Yarra Trams.
While services continue to run to a standard timetable, the falls in patronage have never been seen before.
“We have seen passenger numbers drop significantly as people heed the call to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel,” said Dehornoy.
While neither operator has cut staff numbers, Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty acknowledged that mitigation measures are in place.
“The pandemic is unprecedented, rapidly evolving and is impacting every organisation and business,” he said.
“We’re putting in place sensible measures to support our people and ensure we can keep providing an essential service for Melbourne.”
In a statement to Rail Express, the Victorian Department of Transport reaffirmed that the networks would remain operating. If changes do need to occur, they will be made based on medical advice and communicated ahead of time.
“Public transport is an essential service and continues to run for people who need to travel – but the clear advice is: if you can stay home you must stay home,” said a Department of Transport spokesperson.
“There has been reduction in the number of people traveling on our public transport network in line with people following the advice to stay home.”
In Western Australia, metropolitan train services have been reduced in Perth. From Sunday April 5 until Sunday April 26 Transperth Trains will operate on a Saturday timetable from Monday to Saturday. The Sunday/Public Holiday timetable will remain the same. To ensure that social distancing is maintained, the Public Transport Administration (PTA) will monitor patronage, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.
“COVID-19 has had a big impact on patronage and this temporary adjustment in services is in response to that drop in demand.”