Taxis helping make up V/Line shortfall

V/LINE is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on replacement taxis as a result of constant train breakdowns and delays, including on the Traralgon and Bairnsdale lines.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information by shadow regional public transport minister Steph Ryan show V/Line had spent $343,589 in an 18-month period on replacement taxis.

Taxi trips in Gippsland totalled $102,644.15, including from stations at Bairnsdale, Bunyip, Drouin, Eagle Point, Longwarry, Moe, Morwell, Nar Nar Goon, Rosedale, Sale, Stratford, Traralgon, Warragul and Yarragon.

Some trips cost in the hundreds of dollars, including one from Bairnsdale station at a cost of $753.90. Nearly two-thirds of the 621 taxi trips in Gippsland cost more than $100.

Ms Ryan drew on the spending to criticise the running of the V/Line service, saying it was an indication of just how often country trains were being cancelled, breaking down or were inaccessible for people with disabilities.

“VLine trains are breaking down so often that hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxis have had to be called in to ferry passengers around the state,” she said.

However, a V/Line spokesperson said the company’s policy was to “ensure our passengers can get to where they need to go – we will not leave passengers stranded, so we use taxis occasionally if required”.

“While we make every attempt to ensure train and coach services are accessible, there are times when taxis are also used for passengers with a mobility aid to ensure they can get to where they need to go,” the V/Line spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the regional rail network was undergoing an unprecedented transformation through record investment in the Regional Rail Revival program.

“We run a stringent program of regular maintenance on all our trains to help ensure a safe and reliable service for our passengers.

“Coach replacements are used predominantly when trains are not running but at times, taxis are the most viable option to ensure passengers can reach their destination as quickly and safely as possible.”

A total of 2069 in replacement taxis was charged to Victorian taxpayers between July 2018 and November 2019 as a result of V/Line train breakdowns, cancellations and accessibility issues.

V/Line has a total annual operating budget of more than $600 million each year, and about $300,000 of that is allocated for passenger taxis across the entire V/Line network.

The spokesperson said the allocation represented 0.05 per cent of V/Line’s total operating expenditure, and there were strict audited policies and processes in place to ensure taxis were used appropriately.

In the event of an unplanned train cancellation, which also includes incidents such as trespassers, police requests and animal strikes – all external factors outside of V/Line’s control – replacement were usually the first option to help passengers get where they needed to go, with taxis only used as a last resort to ensure travellers were not stranded.

Ms Ryan rejected V/Line’s claims the $4 billion Regional Rail Revival program would give Gippsland passengers a vastly improved service.

“Gippsland passengers deserve a reliable, fast, modern, comfortable service, but we are missing out because the Andrews Labor government isn’t prepared to make the investment needed for better train services,” she said.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien renewed his call for increased and more reliable passenger services on the Gippsland line.

“For Wellington Shire and East Gippsland we have just three train services in each direction each day, compared to 19 from Traralgon, 31 from Ballarat and 21 from Bendigo,” he said.

“I have been campaigning for many years now to correct the imbalance in public transport services between Melbourne and Gippsland, and these figures show that the little service we do have is simply not reliable.

“It is a completely inadequate service and is holding back our local economy.”