Transport for NSW documents obtained by the Herald under freedom of information laws reveal the agency was initially expecting to lose more than $400 million in the three months to June.
Mr Constance said the pandemic had hit the government’s bottom line “for six”, and he warned that the impact would be felt for years.
However, he has ruled out cuts to public transport services to offset the loss in revenue.
“The reality is when last year’s budget was set, no one predicted a global pandemic and that has knocked assumptions for six; it’s knocked budget aggregates for six; it’s knocked our revenue for six,” Mr Constance said.
Despite the slump in ticket revenue, Mr Constance said the government’s plans to inject $55 billion in capital expenditure into transport projects needed to be immune from budgetary constraints given the stimulus it would provide the economy.
“It’s important to me that we get that capital expenditure out the door … that’s the game-changer; that’s where we can make a real difference to the economy,” he said.
The internal Transport for NSW documents show the agency’s drop in revenue was primarily due to a slump in patronage. “COVID-19 has impacted the transport operating environment, with the largest impact being in patronage and farebox revenue,” it said.
The government was subsidising about 75 per cent of the cost of public transport services before the pandemic.
University of Sydney senior lecturer in transport and logistics Geoffrey Clifton said the only way the government could recoup the losses was with taxpayer cash.
“There’s not a lot they can do to claw that back either … that money is lost to the system and what that means is the transport network will be putting more of an impost on the taxpayer,” he said. “We’re talking here about a substantial amount of money to have been lost in a short period of time.”
Opposition transport spokesman Chris Minns said the government needed to address the disparity between cost of running public transport and the fare revenue it generated.
Mr Minns said the government should consider allowing its transport department to develop a property arm to “feed a new source of revenue into the system”.
“The worst of all worlds would be the Transport Minister allowing the Treasurer to sell transport land in and around stations to developers with the money going to Treasury rather than the starving public transport sector,” he said.
Mr Constance said the government would not consider cutting services because of the importance of maintaining social distancing on the network.
“In terms of recurrent spending, we’ve got no plan whatsoever to change the election commitments we made in terms of services.”
He also ruled out drastic changes to ticket pricing. “We’re not going to do anything silly because we know people are really hurting,” Mr Constance said.
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Tom Rabe is Transport Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.