Federal Transport Minister, Mr Peter Morris, proudly announced at the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association's Conference in Sydney on 28th January that motorists will be able to drive around Australia and across it from north to south on sealed roads by the end of this year.
The Federal Government also aims to raise the 16,000 kilometre national highway system linking capital cities to an all-weather standard by 1988, and hopes to see a four-lane Hume Highway completed by the same date.
A total of $1,250 million will be spent by the Federal Government on road construction this financial year. With recent moves by the Inter-State A Commission to investigate levels of cost recovery in interstate land transport A.P.T. wonders whether Mr Morris ( and the Commission) will take into consideration such factors as:
It is interesting to note that while Mr Morris is trumpeting his round-Australia sealed road system, Federal Government investment in railways has fallen to an all-time low in 1983/84. Excluding the Australian National rail system, Federal allocations to the States for railways amounted to $4.6 million. Federal allocations for roads totalled $1,261.1 million during the same period.
Mr Morris's generous allocations towards state road funding must be contrasted against his refusal to consider Federal assistance for the troubled Maldon-Dombarton railway in N.S.W. on the basis that it is a "state responsibility".
It would appear that this country has a Transport Minister who gives generously the States for road construction, refuses to give to the States for rail development (on the basis that it is a state responsibility) and brushes aside the real cost of road transport's deficit - a word Mr Morris has so far reserved for rail transport.
(Acknowledgement is made to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Railways Union journal "The Railway Advocate" for material used in this item.)
RAIL DISRUPTIONS AND THE PATIENT PASSENGER
You know the old riddle - where was Moses when the lights went out? A modern version is - where are the passengers when the trains are late? The answer is the same - In the Dark.
When there is a disruption to regular train running because of a breakdown or accident, it is not unusual for passengers, either stuck in halted trains or waiting on silent platforms, to be kept in ignorance of what is going on. Mishaps occur on the best run systems, and we are not questioning the reasons here. Our point is that, in such cases, passengers should be given a reason for the delay, an estimate of when things might get moving again, perhaps a suggested alternative means of continuing the journey, and, of course, an apology.
After a particularly poor handling of a morning peak hour disruption late last year, A.P.T. wrote to the State Rail Authority seeking some improvement in the procedures to be followed in such cases. The Authority's Chief Executive, Mr Hill, requested a meeting, and on l2th February two members of A.P.T. met with Mr Hill, his Deputy (Mr Christie), the Chief Operations Manager (Mr Gill) and the General Manager Passenger Services (Mr Cooney).
It is indicative of the priority that the S.R.A. gives this matter that such senior levels of management were prepared to spend time to talk to A.P.T., and we appreciate their co-operation. Mr Hill assured us that all train and platform staff have instructions to keep passengers informed during disruptions. The problem seems to be in the occasional inability or unwillingness to act upon the instructions.
Another contributing factor may be the inability of the S.R.A.'s "Trouble" telephone service to give sufficiently detailed and up-to-date information about the state of disruptions to operations staff who enquire.
At the meeting, A.P.T. made a number of suggestions for improving the communications between all operations staff (on the platforms, on the trains, or in the control room) and the waiting passengers. Mr Hill asked that we put these in writing for his consideration and this has been done.
A.P.T. feels confident that, with such high level concern being displayed in the S.R.A., a definite improvement in the flow of information can be expected.
BUS DESTINATION SIGNS
The Urban Transit Authority will not be buying any more electronic destination signs for buses. There is general consensus that the canvas roller blinds (when properly lit!) are superior. The existing 2O electronic signs will be retained to monitor their long term performance.
Two development proposals for the Chatswood station area are currently on display at Chatswood Library in Victoria Avenue. One includes a bus station for passenger interchange with trains. The other is an office and hotel complex tn be built over the railway tracks to the north of the station.
ACTION FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT ? ..... OR ACTION AGAINST PUBLIC TRANSPORT?
One of the dilemmas that faces a consumer watchdog group such as A.P.T. is that it must, on occasions, criticise those who provide public transport services, if it is to effectively represent the interests of those who use public transport.
In doing this, A.P.T. has sometimes alienated itself from a proportion of those people engaged in the public transport industry - even though that criticism may be carefully documented and, in the eyes of the consumer, entirely justified.
Some people argue that criticism of public transport's shortcomings should be made through internal channels, while advocacy for the general development of public transport should be conducted in the public arena. In theory this argument has merit, but when those internal channels are slow and ineffective a consumer group often has little alternative but to publicly ventilate the issue.
This situation has certainly arisen on many occasions in endeavouring to raise issues, via the Commuter Council, with the State Rail and Urban Transit Authorities. Inordinately long response times and fob-off replies are unfortunately all too common. A.P.T. realises that resources (or lack of them) slow down the workings of consumerism, but while these frustrations exist there will be a tendency to air criticisms of transport shortcomings in the public arena.
Employees of public transport authorities can be assured that A.P.T. is not intentionally working against their industry. In fact, the group spends a great deal of time advocating increased funding for public transport and greater public recognition of the benefits it bestows on the community. It is interesting that some of the criticism of A.P.T.'s alleged lack of defence of public transport development has come from the State's two transport authorities. Yet the S.R.A. and U.T.A. do little on their part to publicly defend the role of public transport in a generally pro-private transport environment.
The Department of Main Roads will often indulge in "pro-road" publicity campaigns. In contrast, the two authorities seem strangely silent when public transport needs defending from the attacks of the road lobby or when a community education programme is required to increase awareness of the benefits of good public transport.
A.P.T. will be endeavouring to place increased emphasis upon publicly high-lighting the important contribution public transport makes towards a more rational and equitable society - it is hoped the two transport authorities will do likewise.
THE SMOKE IS ENDED ...... BUT THE MALODOUR LINGERS ON
The question of smoking on inter-urban trains is still unresolved. The smell that remains in smoking cars after they are re-designated "non-smoking" is unacceptable to non-smokers.
Commuter Council policy is that inter-urban cars should be entirely non-smoking but the State Rail Authority doubts that community consensus would be forthcoming.
A.P.T. is pleased to note a subtle shift in the State Government's policies A for controlling the horrific road toll. As recently as a few months ago, the then Minister for Transport, Mr Unsworth, was advocating the licensing of cyclists and the "education" of elderly pedestrians as practical means of reducing their collisions with motor cars. Someone even blamed the kangaroo, whose plague numbers were causing more collisions.
More recently the Government has announced increased penalties for speeding motorists. This policy would appear to enjoy community support, if the recent Victoria road safety phone-in can be taken as a guide.
THE OMBUDSMAN ACTS
The State Ombudsman has upheld A.P.T.'s claim that a l984 committee of inquiry into freight services on the Cootamundra-Batlow railway should not have described itself as "independent". Each of the committee members was employed either by the State Rail Authority or by the Transport Ministry.
(STATE RAIL'S CATERING ON AND OFF
A.P.T. has noted with approval the improvements that have been initiated in the area of on-train catering under the auspices of Mr Don English, Manager of the State Rail Authority's Trading and Catering Services. Many N.S.W. country rail travellers have commented on the wider choice of menus and other marketing improvements such as the acceptance of Bankcard for meal payment.
It is therefore disappointing to have to mention that recent A.P.T. country train journeys have revealed some problems which it is felt Mr English could speedily put right.
The Central West XPT on 2nd and l3th January carried food which was, to be polite, not quite up to scratch. On the southbound Intercapital Daylight Express on 27th January the staff of the dining car did not see fit to open up until after 9.00 a.m. (Normally the dining car opens shortly after the 7.45 a.m. departure from Sydney.)
The thrice weekly Northern Tablelands_Express, although carrying a dining car and a cook, does not provide a full dining car and meal service. This is despite the fact that during discussions between S.R.A. officials (notably Chief Operations Manager, Mr Gill) and rail unions concerning changes to country passenger services, the relevant unions were given an assurance that a full dining car service would be provided on the Northern Tablelands Express.
Over to you, Mr English. We hope that our valuable newsletter space does not have to be taken up in the future with problems that can be easily rectified by the Trading and Catering Services Manager.
YE CANNA GET 0WT POR NOWT
We have often heard motorists say, "They should provide more parking." In this case, "they" usually means the local municipality which. of course, is expected to find the money to pay for the parking station. In some cases, such as Parramatta, the money is raised by imposing a levy on firms that construct new buildings. These 'developers' include this amount in their costs, and raise the rent or the prices charged for goods sold in the building to compensate.
This principle has been recognised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where, by arrangement between retailers and bus company, special discounts off the prices of goods and services are made available only to people who travel to town by bus, and thereby reduce the demand for parking.
How much money is involved? Well, Parramatta Council has just signed a contract for the construction of an 8-floor, 668-place car park at a price of $3.68 million, which excludes the cost of the land. This works out at $5,500 per car space, and a number of lucky motorists are going to get the use of this costly parking space all day, every day, free of direct charge. Were they to be charged an economic rent, it would be about $5.00 a day, assuming 200 working days a year. In the centre of Sydney, Goulburn Street parking station charges $8.50 for nine hours.
We realise that a problem of equity would arise if a council made a charge for the use of parking places built wholly or largely out of the proceeds of a levy on developers. 0ur concern relates to a separate issue - the effect that free parking has on the car users' perception of the relative costs of travel by car and by public transport.
A person who drives only 3km each way to and from work perceives the cost as being only the cost of petrol - about A8 cents a day. They compare this with bus fares at $l.80 a day and cannot be persuaded to use the bus. How different their reaction would be faced with a parking fee of $5.00 a day! Collection of charges for short time parking may be uneconomic, and may be justifiably resented, but a charge for long term parking would probably fill some bus seats left vacant by the reduction in the number of free rides by school pupils.
A SIGN 0F THE TIMES?
In the past, A.P.T. has highlighted the State Rail Authority's shortcomings in the vital area of passenger information, particularly in respect of written material.
lt is therefore pleasing to be able to compliment State Rail on the installation of portable whiteboard signs at metropolitan railway stations. These are being used to alert rail customers of any disruptions or alterations to train services. Sometimes they merely bear the welcome message 'No Delays'.
In terms of the S.R.A.'s overall expenditure the cost of these signs is small and yet, as in so many areas of passenger information, the expenditure can have an immediate and positive impact on the rail traveller.
IT'S THE SAME THE WHOLE WORLD OVER
Increasing the availability of taxicabs does not automatically mean increasing the number of taxicabs : cutting "misuse" of taxicabs has to be a goal of city policy. Stress transit and paratransit where appropriate to avoid the waste of valuable street space in midtown or the unproductive "storage" of cabs at airports. Restructure CBD bus service to get short-distance riders back from the taxicab; consider L- and O-shaped routes, as well as contraflow bus lanes. Improve group-transit to airports, particularly from non-CBD points; use taxi- cabs as feeders to line-haul airport service. Provide incentives for cabs to operate in areas where there aren't good transit alternatives. Don't let the taxicab takeover transit's job. (No, not Sydney, but New York. The above comments were lifted unaltered from the January 1986 journal of the Committee for Better Transit, Inc, New York. With Thanks.
Commendations are (again) directed to the Urban Transit Authority for their newspaper advertisements for Christmas and New Year holiday timetables. It is particularly pleasing to see that the U.T.A. advertisements included hard timetable information, not just vague messages exhorting us to use public transport to avoid random breath testing.
Of special interest was the U.T.A.'s advertisement on 24th December which included a detailed list of last trains (suburban and interurban) for a number of the following holidays. Perhaps the U.T.A. has shown this initiative in view of the State Rail Authority's reluctance to advertise timetable information in the daily press.
To bring this item up-to-date (it's been sitting in my bottom drawer for some time. - Ed.) the recent Easter holidays show the difference in value of paid advertising and free press releases. The paid U.T.A. advertisements during the week preceding Easter clearly stated that buses on Easter Saturday would run to Saturday timetables. The 'Holiday Schedule' in Good Friday's newspaper, presumably compiled by a journalist, said that buses on Easter Saturday would run to Sunday timetables. The error was repeated in Saturday's paper. The moral - only paid advertisements will deliver the correct message.
ALMOST A FLORIST'S SHOP!
During January some of A.P.T.'s management committee members were given a guided tour, courtesy of the State Rail Authority, of repair work on the Stanwell Creek Viaduct (Illawarra Line Electrification Project).
This inspection enabled A.P.T. to obtain an appreciation of the difficulties under which everyone connected with the project worked to repair the viaduct in a little more than seven weeks. Special thanks are due to the S.R.A. team, the engineering consultants and sub-contractors for a job completed speedily and efficiently.