On February 6th 2015, the Public Transport Authority (PTA) announced that all weekend late-night rail services will be cancelled after the weekend of April 4th and 5th. The removal of the 1:00am, 1:15am and 2:15am rail services will cut a vital transport link for weekend party goers and city workers alike. However, this is not the first time significant changes have been made to late-night public transport services in Perth. Such services have been introduced and abolished by both sides of Government over several decades. Using archival hansard and media statements it is possible to piece together a rough timeline of the fragmented history of Perth's late-night public transport services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that trials of late-night services occurred as early as the 1970s and '80s, however, this article will document late-night bus and rail services following the introduction of the "NightRider" epithet in the early 1990s.
In late 1993, the Metropolitan Transport Trust (MTT, trading as Transperth) undertook a short-term trial of late-night bus services during the Christmas and New Year period under the NightRider guise. The short-lived service departed on the hour from the Wellington Street Bus Station between midnight and 3.00am on routes to Joondalup, Midland, Fremantle, Armadale and Morley. The Department of Transport floated the idea as an approach to tackle increasing alcohol fuelled violence in the Northbridge entertainment precinct and growing concerns from taxi operators. The MTT initially declined to be involved, however, the PTU (Public Transport Union) guaranteed to provide staff and cover all costs, and so the trial went ahead. The services were also supported by taxi companies, which allowed bus drivers to radio ahead and coordinate taxis to connect with bus services at designated destinations, a handy feature in an era without mobile phones. This trial ended following the New Year.
Subsequently, the following year there were calls from the public to reintroduce the NightRider bus services. On November 4th 1994, a full 6-month commercial trial was commenced by the MTT. The service again operated hourly on Saturday and Sunday mornings from the Wellington Street Bus Station between midnight and 3.00 am, with an additional pickup point on the corner of William and Aberdeen Street. The service was not subsidised and a flat fare of $5 was charged irrespective of the distance travelled. The scheme also included the addition of security cameras, enhanced lighting, security guards and a centralised taxi rank within the Wellington Street Bus Station. By April 1995, an average of 100 people were utilising the service each night on weekends, peaking at around 300 on some nights. The service continued beyond the initial 6-month trial period, however, by November 1995 the NightRider scheme was cut by 50% due to falling patronage, which was owed to poor advertising of the service.
In 1996, trial of weekend late-night rail services was undertaken over a two-week period from December 14th. The rail services ran hourly on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 1:00am, 2:00am and 3:00am on all lines stopping all stations, with return services up to 3:00am. NightRider buses also continued to run until 3:00am between Perth and Fremantle, Joondalup, Midland, Morley and Armadale. The trial was said to be "very successful" with almost 1,500 people using the services on the first weekend alone.
In 1997, late-night rail services were re-introduced on a more regular basis over the summer holiday period during December and January, again running hourly services up until 3:00am. These services were designed to replace all NightRider bus services, with the exception of the Morley route due to the lack of rail infrastructure serving the area. The new rail services were considered a "resounding success" by the WA Government. In the first weekend 1,295 people utilised the services on Saturday morning and another 2,305 on Sunday morning, with almost half the total number travelling on the Joondalup Line. It appears these late-night rail services became a permanent feature, however, the services were cut back to 1:00am and 2:00am trains only sometime in the early 2000s.
In October 2006, a new NightRider bus service was trialled in Fremantle over a six-month period. This service was made up of three separate routes along Canning Highway, Leach Highway and Stock Road. Buses ran between 12:30am and 4:30am on Sunday mornings for a flat fare of $5, and allowed passengers to alight anywhere along the route. Later in the same year, three new NightRider bus services were introduced in Northbridge, with routes along Scarborough Beach Road, Beaufort Street and Canning Highway. Both the Fremantle and Northbridge services were subsidised by the State Government, with the Northbridge service also receiving a level of funding from the City of Perth. Each bus had two onboard security guards and security cameras, as well as a mobile security patrol supporting the NightRider fleet. The timetabling of these buses was adjusted several times, with services eventually being expanded to include Saturday mornings. However, due to falling patronage one of the Northbridge NightRider bus services was cancelled in May 2007, and in July 2009, the remaining NightRider services from Northbridge, as well as the Leach Highway NightRider service from Fremantle, were cancelled.
In late 2009, the departure of the last train on weekends was pushed back from 2:00am to 2:15am and was made free of charge. The change was again part of a State Government initiative to improve night time safety in Northbridge which included new lock-out laws and reduced closing times.
In December 2011, following a high-profile social media campaign the PTA undertook a six-month trial of free "ultra-late" 4:00am rail services on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The Saturday morning 4:00am services were cancelled after only six-months due to low patronage, however, the slightly better patronised Sunday morning services were continued for another 18 months to determine their longer-term viability. The Sunday morning 4:00am service was eventually axed in June 2013 along with the remaining Fremantle NightRider bus services, again as a result of falling patronage. The Transport Minister at the time, Troy Buswell, stated, “In total, there are about 500 people using all five [train] lines each weekend. This means this Sunday morning service, which is provided free of charge, is costing the taxpayer about $60 per passenger - and that cannot be sustained.”
Currently late-night rail services run on the same timetable that was introduced in 2009, with the last train leaving the city at 2:15am. But while other cities both nationally and internationally are expanding their late-night public transport services, Perth is moving to scrap all NightRider rail services. As a result, a widespread public backlash has gained momentum with the creation of several social media pages, protest events and a petition. Despite the online backlash, the PTA has so far been unwavering in its decision to cull the late-night trains, a move that will save a meagre $1.5 million annually. Transperth spokesperson David Hynes stated that the late-night rail services ostensibly carry "an average of around 80 passengers per train, and some are only carrying 20 to 30 passengers." The Taxi Industry Forum has raised concerns that current taxi services may not be able to keep up with the expected increase in demand. Additionally, the Australian Hotels Association wants the decision suspended until proper consultation is carried out with the hospitality industry. Nevertheless, the history of late-night public transport services in Perth has shown that patronage is both unpredictable and seasonal, and ultimately, the only way to keep the late-night rail services running all year round is to vote with your feet and utilise them.