Fresh from his hour-long commute, squeezed in with thousands of Sydneysiders, Howard Collins plonks himself down at his desk, pulls out a diary heaving with appointments, and finds a little space to write down a number.
Today it’s 68,200. The number will grow before his head hits the pillow.
It’s his secret weapon, an indication of how personally he takes his formidable job, and emblematic of his unpretentious style of leadership.
The 68,200 are the kilometres of travel he has done on Sydney’s rail network since being lured from the plush job of running the London Underground to be chief executive of Sydney Trains a little over two years ago – the near-equivalent of two full loops around the globe.
Howard has been clocking the numbers and ticking off the 178 stations, one by one, until the station map on his wall is full of red crosses.
That distance buys you some street cred. It gives you empathy and unparalleled insight into the machinations of the business from the coalface. It cheers your workers and, apparently, wins you friends.
“See that lady over there?’’ Collins asks as he points down the Woolooware platform. “She volunteers at the zoo and only ever catches the train on Thursdays.’’
And that guy at the end of the platform? Rain hail or shine “he always wears his shorts. But then again, he is from Scotland. Lovely guy”.
Collins is pointing out his fellow commuters — the clutch of Shire folk he shares his mornings and evenings with, all now facing south across the railway tracks, heads bowed over smart phones, awaiting the 6.05am to Central. His fellow commuters, and his customers.
“The vast majority of people say that things have gotten better and that the place looks clean.”
This is his idea of pressing the flesh — just being a normal passenger on the vast network he runs, shunning the chauffeur-driven car that would be his right and riding his Dutch-made bike to the station, strapping his green helmet to his backpack and using his commute as an opportunity.
He is not seeking to be an anonymous observer, to spy on his staff, but a six-foot tall walking, talking complaints hotline, evident by the large name tag proudly pinned to his chest. Chief Executive, Sydney Trains.
By the time the 6.05am drags itself into Central, three passengers have taken an opportunity to talk to the boss with a mix of praise (“the trains have never looked so clean”) and queries (“why does this train wait an extra minute at Sutherland?”).
“The vast majority of people say that things have gotten better and that the place looks clean. Occasionally they will talk about a specific delay they experienced,’’ he tells The Saturday Telegraph.
Some days require him to delve into his backpack, digging around for his high-vis jacket to help clean up a platform spill or attend to an incident well below his pay grade, or to fill his ever-present garbage bag with stray rubbish. He carries two every day. Last month while attending an event in North Sydney, the boss heard a train seat had been “decorated” with syringes. So he donned the gloves and helped pull 100 needles out of the seat.
Six months into the job, one of the train cleaners mentioned they never see anyone in management. So Collins jumped on a train to Campbelltown in the dead of night, and spent the early hours cleaning trains.
This style of humble leadership, perhaps a little foreign in the gung-ho corporate realm of Sydney, is all geared around a culture that Collins has sought to bring to Sydney Trains, a culture he learned in 35 years with London Underground, including his leadership through the 2005 London bombings.
“We want to present the human side of the business, because we are public servants and that’s what we are trying to do,’’ he said.
He points to his policy of having stations staffed with the same people. People such as Brian at Woolooware, now leaning on his trusty broom and chatting to his CEO like a pal. “He’s the chief executive of the Woolooware Train Station,’’ Collins says.
“A familiar face at a time when people need it goes a long way. That’s what’s made a difference with customer satisfaction.”
But Collins also presents the human side of management.
“I’ve done most jobs in the railway, having started at 18. I swept platforms, I did admin, I learnt to drive trains, I was a signaller, a booking agent … the old days of military management are over. Some people who come from the ground floor, as soon as they get a white shirt on become the worst managers because they think this is the way to treat staff, that they can now talk down to them.’’
Collins stops talking to shake hands with the train driver who has just guided the train to Central.
“Now this guy,’’ he says pointing to the driver. “He has the most amazing Michael Jackson dance moves. Incredible.”
EDIT: Transport for NSW has issued a Media Release in response here
Richard Noone & Jim O’Rourke, The Daily Telegraph, 23rd May 2015
Opal Card ticket machine malfunctions are costing the state government tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Passengers and drivers on State Transit Authority buses have been complaining for months about the “tap on, tap off” travel smartcard machines breaking down on a daily basis.
Drivers on the fleet’s 5000 buses say faulty card readers are letting passengers travel free on “entire bus runs’’.
Tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue have been racked up, a shortfall to be ultimately footed by taxpayers.
Exclusive data obtained by The Saturday Telegraph reveals fare box revenue in the 12 months since the Opal card rollout is just $330.2 million.
That is $20 million less than the four-year average of $350.25 million identified by an Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal review from 2008-09 to 2011-12. Continue reading
ALICIA WOOD, The Daily Telegraph, 20th May 2015
Millions of Opal card users are unwittingly contributing to a $10 million state government fund, with the money sitting in their automatic “top-up’’ accounts accruing interest for government coffers.
Opal card users who choose to automatically “top up” their cards are charged as soon as their balance reaches $10 — and with at least half of the state’s two million users choosing the “auto top-up” system — the government is holding on to more than $10 million, on which it earned $176,000 interest in the last financial year.
Opposition transport spokesman Ryan Park said there was no reason commuters should be barred from using all the funds on their card: “Not only is the government pocketing the funds, they are making interest off money that isn’t theirs, it is absolutely outrageous. Opal card users who have activated the ‘auto top up’ option are essentially being charged a hidden $10 fee for the privilege of catching their train, bus or ferry.”
A Transport for NSW spokesman said the $10 amount was chosen because it covers the maximum single adult train fare of $8.30 to the Central Coast, Illawarra and Blue Mountains.
The spokesman said any interest earned on the held funds would pay for the operation of the Opal card system.
“When a customer tops up their Opal card, whether by auto top up or other means, the funds are securely held by the Commonwealth Bank who are part of the consortium working with TfNSW to deliver Opal,” the spokesman said.
“Any interest earned on the funds is used to contribute to the costs of operating Opal.’