The Daily Telegraph: Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins covers plenty of kilometres getting to know the system he runs →

The Daily Telegraph, November 21 2015

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.’’

f3d9015802c1ac87754da3aae42cea88Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins on his morning commute from Woolooware to Central Station. Picture: Jonathan Ng
aef9a175226e000ddc9813927a7b59d3Collins chats to a regular passenger at Woolooware on his morning trip to Central Station. Picture: Jonathan Ng

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.

Howard Collins: “I swept platforms, I did admin, I learnt to drive trains, I was a signaller, a booking agent.” Picture: Jonathan Ng

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.

Howard Collins in the rail management centre at Central station.
Jottings from the diary Howard Collins keeps.

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.”

2a195d2097275bc331449646d2fe5408Howard Collins talks to staff on his morning commute from Woolooware to Central Station. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Daily Telegraph: Taxpayers tapped out in $20m Opal card glitch →

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

Daily Telegraph: Opal is a nice little earner for operator →

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.’