To the surprise of no-one who commutes into the Sydney CBD these days, Sydney’s transport system got tired and emotional and went to take a Bex and a lie down last night just as all the fireworks-trippers were trying to get themselves home.
Listening to ABC local radio this morning to frustrated travellers and various planning authority apologists:
Clover Moore is pointing smugly to the transport success of last weekend’s Chinese New Year celebration, planned and organised by the City of Sydney, as a shiny contrast to the multiple failure points of the Cunard Queens celebration, which seems to have been vaguely noted on a few State government and bureaucratic calendars and then improvised on the night.
Yes, there were extra trains and buses, just as there are for New Year’s Eve. However, as thousands of people decided to drive into town instead of catching public transport, quite probably because there had not been adequate publicity about extra public transport provisions, the buses got caught up in the gridlock and the extra train services were inadequate.
Routine maintenance of the Cross City tunnel went ahead instead of being rescheduled, blocking lanes at a crucial time. Train services around Central Station were disrupted and there appeared to be no extra staff on hand to provide directions, keep timetable boards updated or direct travellers to alternate transport.
Tourists blocked the ferry-wharves and rail-platforms at Circular Quay to get a good view of the QE2, making it impossible for regular commuters to reach their trains and ferries home. Buses changed routes to avoid gridlock around harbour vantage points, meaning that some passengers had to walk home along the normal route and that others waiting for buses to arrive waited in vain.
Many public gathering points around the harbour that are well-policed every New Year’s Eve to manage access, parking and safety had no police presence at all last night, resulting in parked cars blocking access roads and crowds pressing dangerously close to the waters edge in places. Too bad if an emergency vehicle had needed to get through.
In the current climate of fear, this certainly raises issues of how ready is the State and the City administration for any major incident that might require an urgent evacuation of the CBD when they can’t even manage it on a well publicised and allegedly long-planned event. Have all the other big event nights in Sydney only gone well because they weren’t on working days, and thus didn’t have to cope with the normal commuter peak hour as well?
Peak hour commuting in Sydney has been simmering as an issue for a while. Up until now the water issue has dominated as an election talking point, but for this week at least the candidates are going to be talking transport, and how commuting to the CBD is taking ever longer, whether one uses public transport or a private vehicle.
Public transport in Sydney has been in decline ever since the Greiner government introduced the idea that public transport had to “pay its own way” instead of being viewed as an essential infrastructure worth subsidising due to its carrying capacity minimising the expense, inefficiencies, congestion and pollution associated with road infrastructure. As ticket prices rose, fewer passengers therefore less revenue therefore less capital available for maintenance and expansion of the public transport system. Rinse, lather, repeat under successive State governments, the Labor party no better for public transport than the Liberals.
Despite nice shiny baubles like the Millennium trains, new buses, new tunnels etc the underlying system is creaking and leaking at the seams. We need fewer vehicles on our roads, but how is that going to happen when public transport can’t be relied upon due to decades now of cheeseparing funding from the State?
So how can it be fixed and who do we trust to do it?