The truckies' blockade at Yass (about the only positive contribution to road safety their industry has made since Razorback) was ironic for a number of reasons. Their calls for an end to "high" registration charges ignore the real cost to the community of the road damages and other side-effects (accidents, noise pollution included) they cause. Figures produced by the Bureau of Transport Economics last year put the road damage shortfall at about 1.4 billion dollars per year. Articulated vehicles alone are responsible for just over $1 billion of this in Australia. The N.S.W. figure is at least $283 million. Per 6-axle articulated truck, this works out at $33,000 per year - and the truckies say that $4,000 registration is too high!
Secondly, the association of the blockade with the Sydney-Melbourne route does not help the truckies' cause, as that route is the single road most amenable to reduced road haulage and increased use of rail. It is a very long run, it carries much heavy freight, and about one third of vehicles on it are heavy trucks.
And thirdly, the location near Yass reminds us of the planned Cullarin Range Deviation. This work (which represents an INCREASE in the subsidy to the trucking industry) will shorten the Hume Highway by 3.5 km, taking out a winding section. There is no corresponding plan for that section of the main southern railway, which is (measured by railway standards) even more hilly and winding.
Contrast the Hume Highway, where 70% of freight goes by road, with the trans-Nullarbor routes to and from Perth where about 70% is railed. The corresponding figure for Alice Springs is no less than 90%. This has happened because of positive planning and marketing by AN Rail. But between Sydney and Melbourne, piggyback loading of trailers onto rail wagons is not possible because of a few narrow-bore tunnels and a handful of low-clearance bridges. A comparatively small expenditure would allow more usage to be made of this system, with great community advantages by way of fuel savings (three quarters), less road damage and of course fewer accidents. Our balance of payments problems could be solved in one blow if such savings could be achieved. The recent decision of the Greiner government to suspend construction of the Maldon-Dombarton railway (see below) is unfortunate for the same reasons.
On the subject of the modal split between road and rail, we note the official introduction to N.S.W. of B-doubles, with legal loads of up to 59 tonnes. It is not clear that this will reduce the number of trucks on the road, because much of their load will be whole loads for long runs at the expense of rail loads. A more probable effect will be a few more small operators lining up outside the Bankruptcy Court. Perhaps the lending practices of some financiers should be examined.
We are pleased to note that during this blockade we were in good company in criticising hidden`subsidies to trucking - the list includes 2GB's Jane Singleton, various rail unions, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Federal Bureau of Transport Economics. Even the government railway systems are preparing to mount a public relations campaign to highlight these issues (not a moment too soon!) - we wish them all success. The proper solution to the acknowledged financial troubles of truckies is in their own hands. Businessman should be smart enough to take themselves out of an inherently money-losing business.
If you are an NRMA member, we urge you to attend the Extraordinary General Meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday 15th August in the NRMA building. One important item is a proposed amendment to the rules which should prevent retiring councillors from distinguishing themselves on ballot papers by asterisks. Other items include motions to remove two councillors, one each from the old guard and the new. Another motion apparently seeks, inter alia, to extend the term of office of some present councillors, but we are unsure about this as the official meeting notice states that the full details of this motion are too long to print. Nevertheless, the same official notice is complete with advice as to how the present council wants you to vote on each motion.
The importance of the NRMA to the public transport issue is great because it is continually calling for more funds to be spent on ineffective roads, invariably at the expense of public transport. Propagation of the myth that petrol taxes should be spent on roads has now reached the wrappers of the NRMA journal The Open Road, which bear in large letters the message "Where are the Roads our Petrol Taxes Pay For?" If you say it long and loud enough, Nick Greiner will believe it. How about some new ones:
Where are the banks our bank charges pay for?
Where are the shops our sales taxes pay for?
and, of course,
Where are the pubs our beer taxes pay for?
A little thought will remind us that we have armies, schools and police without an army tax, school tax or police tax.
On the other hand, the August Open Road does contain an interesting article on the subject of people who don't drive. Ten prominent Sydney people tell us why they do not, and in some cases, why they are not chauffered either. It is pleasing to see, in a motoring magazine, recognition of the fact that a full and satisfying life is possible without a steering wheel, and that public transport is not just for the YOPHS (Young, Old, Poor, Handicapped and Sick).
MALDON-DOMBARTON: ANOTHER SANDY HOLLOW?
Another broken promise, you might say cynically, with the fine print always having been there. "On election to government the Coalition is certainly committed to completion of this rail link" (N.Greiner, letter of 18/11/87). Ha, ha, we didn't say when! The Avon Tunnel, the most important single project on the line, was underway but the contractor has now been told to stop.
Sandy Hollow-Gulgong and the Eastern suburbs line were finished at last,
but many other "promised" lines have been abandoned (eg Alice Springs-
Darwin). Yet there is still an excellent case for completing the Maldon-
Dombarton line, which should perhaps be known as the "Campbelltown-
Wollongong" line to emphasise its significance.
* Perhaps 40% of the total cost has already been spent;
* The line would relieve the Sydney suburban system by enabling the diversion of freight trains.
* It would immensely relieve the people of Wollongong by enabling some transfer of coal haulage from road to rail. Not only cost but safety and pollution are important issues in this respect.
* Last year the railways paid $27 million in diesel fuel tax which went to Bicentennial roads projects but which could have paid for the Avon tunnel.
In other words, the government is stopping the wrong tunnel.
WE'LL BELIEVE IT WHEN WE SEE IT DEPARTMENT
For years, part of the ritual of every state election was the claim that there would soon be introduced a fleet of small, fast twin~hulled ferries that would run to points along the Parramatta River. Well, one can't be a cynic all the time: we do, at last, have a fleet of small, fast, twin-hulled ferries that run up the Parramatta River - at least as far as Meadowbank, and all of six daily trips. The latest step in this saga is a call for expressions of interest in providing a service to Silverwater. In the same category of promises, is the recent suggestion by the Premier that the central business district might in a few years be transformed to a pedestrian paradise, with large stretches of uninterrupted mall made possible by tunnels which would take motor traffic under the main streets. These announcements often occur when the public's attention needs to be distracted from other subjects. In this case, the plan was part of the sugar coating the pill of the division of the City Council; the mainly residential South Sydney council will face economic problems with a high need for services versus a reduced rate base.
Looked at seriously, though, the car-segregation plan is a new variation on an old theme dating back to the schemes of Leonardo da Vinci. The cheaper solution would be to ban cars altogether from the CBD, with appropriate exceptions for service vehicles; this is done, for example, in Singapore and many European cities. It is probably too late for this in Sydney, owing to a succession of governments' cowardly surrender to office and retail developers' demands for parking space in new buildings. While the Greiner plan might seem the best of both worlds to those strolling in or driving under a rebuilt George Street, it will not extend the solution to residents, visitors and businesses in the rest in the city and inner suburbs, who will have the nuisance of yet more traffic induced by the CBD tunnels.
IT WON'T HAPPEN TO US
One of our members went for a ride on Sydney's monorail during its first public fortnight when no fares were charged. He noticed a cleaner on Convention platform using the fire hose cupboard to store brooms, buckets and other paraphernalia. In the.event of fire, anyone trying to get at the hose would have to evade the buckets and then remove the broom and the duster which the cleaner had hung on the hose reel.
So long as transport officials are casual about safety, there will continue to be Kings Cross fires, Luna Park fires or even Granvilles. But this is amazing - a cavalier disregard for safety on an "up-market" system that has barely opened yet! Since this observation was made, the monorail has indeed been temporarily closed for reasons including safety procedures; the authorities at least are showing some vigilance.
SOME NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES COMING UP
Two major Bicentennial events still to come, a naval and an air display, will depend on public transport for their success with crowds being moved on a scale approaching the task of 26th January. The air show, at Richmond, will in particular need more efficient access than the very limited local roads. A rail shuttle will be necessary; how much easier if the line were electrified!
The proposed sale of Sydney Football Stadium and even of the entire Showground site, to be replaced by facilities at Homebush Bay, would make sense as Homebush is not only closer to most of Sydney's population, but has rail access via the existing Abattoirs line.(with the potential also for a connection to the Northern line - though land reserved for this link has now been used for a road instead). The same access is also important, should plans to redevelop the area on a large scale to hold the Olympics in Sydney go ahead.
PRACTISE SAFE TRANSPORT - USE A TRAIN!
was the slogan advocated by a recent letter-writers to the Sydney Morning Herald, comparing the road toll (in all its forms) with the toll of AIDS. In either case, prevention is better and a lot cheaper than cure. "Our addictive dependence on the excessive use of motor vehicles should count as our most urgent national problem".
THE FUTURE DOESN'T WORK
is the title of a recent article by Douglas R. Porter, a member of the U.S.A.'s Urban Land Institute. Its theme is that the long American history of car-reliant urban development has led to a point where local communities wish to avoid growth because everybody knows it will lead to traffic congestion. Individual suburbs or subdivisions can be havens of low traffic and pleasant environment, but the traffic from each such place combined is too much even for freeway systems to handle. The author concludes with the need to explore ways of re-orienting development patterns around public transport provision. For everybody to hold an attitude of "not near us" to any new development, and continue to use their cars to escape from the congestion and mess of everybody else's cars, is simply not good enough.
In a similar vein, a writer in Mass Transit magazine notes the need of major American cities' public transport systems for rehabilitation and expansion. "Transit should no more be required to be profitable or privatised than roads, libraries, schools, parks or other services, though each has some capacity for revenue generation". In contrast to the old-fashioned NRMA view (see above), it is now clearly on the American agenda that revenue from petrol taxes can and should go towards public transport improvements. Motorists will benefit from this, by way of reduced congestion, along with everybody else.
With all this becoming apparent in the world's most car-dependent country, Australians should take note before it is too late.
SRA DELAYS HOTLINE
State Rail now provides a "Sydney System Rail Line Update" as a recorded message on (O2) 281 4244, a welcome service if you want to know how any mishaps, bus substitution, etc. will affect your travels. It is available from 5.30 am to 8.30 pm Monday to Friday (ie. unavailable on weekends when most disruption due to track work occurs); but how many commuters would think it worth their while to spend the time and money on a call every morning?