Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Flying High

Tonight I am not interested in writing about Keneally's "gaffe" that the Coalition has saturated the airwaves with. If you haven't heard about it, I wouldn't bother.  It's all about whether Keneally's view on the compensation to be offered under Gillard's Carbon Tax plan is different to Gillard's view.  The fact that Keneally may be a little too busy being slaughtered in her state election to worry about Federal issues appears to not matter very much.

Rather, I'm very interested in Keneally's announcement today about slashing the fees for the Airport link.  Well, that's not quite what she did, but I'll come to that later.

First, some background.  For those of you not aware, the price of a ticket to disembark at one of the stations on the Sydney airport link (Green Square, Mascot, Domestic and International) have always been, in my view, extortionate.  By way of example, a ticket from Town Hall station to the International terminal costs $15.80.  If there are two of you, a cab is cheaper.

This is compared to a ticket from Town Hall to Bondi Junction that costs $3.20

In fairness, travel to the airport from other parts of Sydney becomes economical compared to a cab as the fare doesn't increase much as you get further away, but I think it is fair to say people are generally put off using the line because of the price.

The relevant detail is that there are two other stations on the same airport link (see for a map, if you like) that, despite not being in any way part of the airport, attract the same surcharge.  Until now.

Keneally announced today that, from Monday, the government would be "subsidising" the fares to the two non-airport stations, effectively bringing the price of tickets to that station in line with the rest of the CityRail Network.

A number of reports today have commented on the fact that these two stations lie within Keneally's electorate of Heffron.  The Opposition Transport Spokesman Gladys Berejiklian called the move "cynical pork-barrelling" (SMH), although I can't see why it would be necessary - Keneally holds the seat by 23.7%, and no matter how awful things go for Labor on 26 March I think we can mark this one into the Labor column.

Labor of course tried to sell the move as being the chance to correct a "legacy" from the previous Liberal government, although why it took 12 years to correct this was conveniently not explained. Keneally even went so far as to explain that at the time the airport link was signed off, O'Farrell was chief of staff to the Liberal transport minister, which seemed a silly point to make as it only emphasised just how long it's been since the Coalition were in power.

In truth, my theory on the announcement was simply that it was a way to get people thinking positive thoughts about Labor and transport.  One of the concerns we constantly see ranked highly by voters is transport - by announcing this new subsidy, the government has had pretty solid coverage of them "doing something" to improve the transport system.

According to the SMH story, this move will cost $4 million per year, just 10% of what it would have cost to include the Domestic and International Terminals in the subsidy.  Odds are, many people watching the story won't notice the distinction between the two pairs of stations and will simply understand that the government has done something to decrease the fares on the airport link.

The Coalition can't say anything much because they don't want to be on the other side of a CityRail Fare Reduction Story, so the move is really a certain win for the government.  And I suspect it would have gotten a lot of airplay if not for the distraction of Keneally's non-gaffe.  Not doubt she'll be livid that this savvy bit of politicking has been drowned out by the carbon tax issue, which was always going to get traction because of the present controversy about the carbon tax in the Federal arena.

It remains to be seen how many more state issues are drowned out by the Carbon Tax, and which side of NSW politics will profit the most from it.

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