There is a lot of talk constantly about small government and governments not owning infrastructure. A great amount of this talk is fuelled by “think tanks” like the IPA, which produces a lot of press releases repeating the line about private enterprise being the right way to do pretty much anything and governments shouldn’t be interfering too much with that. Little wonder, due to the fact they are funded by private enterprise to say just that. The astonishing thing is, though, media outlets publish it, the ABC feature spokespeople from it – as if anything the IPA says is actually news. It very rarely is. One thing you won’t hear Institutes like the IPA tell you is where private enterprise doesn’t work. Happily, The Preston Institute is here to tell you when it doesn’t. One such case is the privately owned and operated Sydney Airport.
Ever since the Howard government sold Sydney Airport in 2002, the airport has progressively become more and more rapacious in its desire to make money, with little to no improvement in customer service. Indeed, even airlines are critical of the level of service. What doesn’t help is the airport’s monopoly status, which means that the parking charges are amongst the most expensive anywhere in Sydney. Some achievement. Even the Sydney Opera House carpark is cheap in comparison. It is the carparking situation at the airport that helps to highlight where private enterprise does not run things more efficiently, it is in fact demonstrates that the opposite is the case.
Some time ago, Sydney Airport decided to stop people from picking up passengers from the domestic terminal. Instead, it created a short term parking area, giving people 10 minutes of free parking before the usual charges of $7 per half hour kick in. As in, park in this “free” parking area for 11 minutes, you pay $7. In addition, this “free” area is some distance from the baggage carousels, so co-ordinating the picking up of your loved one from the airport has become a delicate game of timing, if you wish to avoid the $7 slug.
As I stood out in the Short Term carpark the other night, I watched the result of this balance between amenity and corporate greed play out. The southern part of the carpark is very poorly designed, meaning that cars backing out are frequently narrowed missed by cars coming into the carpark. Add to that Sydney’s mix of mini trucks and arrogant Mercedes drivers, and it’s a mess of near misses. There is also the phenomenon of cars stopping in the middle of the carpark, loading their passengers, while others have to wait. The result is not only dangerous, but it creates a very slow entrance into the carpark – it took my partner 30 minutes to travel 500 metres the night I watched the near carnage. It makes you want to just give up and park in the non-free carpark. Might as well just pay the $7. And that’s how they get you.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a northern part of the carpark that is virtually empty while selfish drivers are busy swerving in the southern part. However, this night, there were no parking attendants directing people to that section. None. As far as I can remember, there have never been any – except at the gate where unlucky punters have to pay their $7 for waiting the extra minute. This part of the carpark is used, though, by one group – minibuses running passengers to parking stations operated in competition to the Airport’s abominably priced long term carpark. Sydney Airport doesn’t allow them to go any closer to the terminals, not even in bus bays.
The Sydney Airport Short Term Carpark and its nightly evocation of chaos is one of those occasions where private enterprise shows exactly why they should not be trusted with running public infrastructure, especially crucial transport hubs. Their focus is on the money, not the service. You can’t blame them for that – governments are the ones to blame for abandoning their responsibility for running public infrastructure for the gain of quick cash.