WHAT A WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD
APT's roving reporter needed to go to the inner west one afternoon recently. He was struck to find that down trains leave MacDonaldtown at 4:34, 4:38, 4:55, 5:22 and 5:48.
We are told that because running trains costs money, not too many per hour can be sent along a poorly patronised line. Maybe. But at least the few that do run could be spaced more evenly than are public holidays!
We hope that this aberration will be fixed in the new timetable (see below).
APT find amusing the experience of a commuter who bought two BusTripper tickets from his local bus depot on days two months apart. The tickets had consecutive serial numbers! So much for the suggestion that special tickets will sell themselves - they must be promoted. We would not be surprised if they were discreetly withdrawn.
MARSHAM STREET, S.W.1.
The state Ministry of Transport is at 267 Elizabeth Street; the RTA/DMR are at 260 Elizabeth Street This coincidence makes us think of one of the first strides of the road lobby under Thatcher, when the Departments of Transport and Environment moved to share premises in London. Although in the name of efficiency, the real effect of the move was to give the road-builders easier access to Ministerial ears, facilitating approval of questionable road projects. Will the Greiner cabinet move the Ministry to 260?
"We are a road-building Government."
APT research shows that plenty of people still have no idea what a NightRider bus is. How can they be expected to know? As we pointed out in December, night services are not mentioned in CityRail timetable booklets. In some suburbs, the bus stop is not in the obvious place. In Turramurra, the southbound bus stop is 500 metres further away than it might be, apparently due to 24-hour stopping restrictions. APT would be surprised if congestion were a problem after midnight out there; how about stopping the bus at the nearest point to the station?
If you had occasion to use the railway between Oatley and Wollongong between Boxing Day and Australia Day last then you would know that the whole line was shut down for a month for maintenance. The docile acceptance by the travelling public of this bodes ill for other lines. Which line will be next? Should extended shutdown be mooted for your line, you might ask whether the shutdown is essential, even though the maintenance may well be. A possible alternative might be the electrical isolation of the two tracks and then single-track working.
APT doubt that such a shutdown would happen in London, New York or Paris. The world's best cities all have civilised public transport systems, which might be the reason those cities are the best.
Returning to the Illawarra line, one pretext for the work was to make the line more suitable for coal haulage. Do you remember one of the first actions of the Greiner government was to stop construction of the new Campbelltown to Wollongong railway, which would have kept many coal trains off busy city lines. The payout to the contractors was about half the estimated completion cost.
GILDING THE LILY
APT are concerned at the growing tendency of various Government authorities to issue statements implying that everything is just fine or that proposed changes to services are an improvement. Often, even the most uninformed can see that the real situation is not as depicted.
Take for example the new computerised ticketing system introduced for State Transit's ferry services. One has only to stand at Circular Quay for a few minutes to see that at least half the ferry passengers haven't a clue how the thing works and that they are completely unable to follow the lengthy and complicated set of instructions displayed for their guidance. APT suspect that Einstein himself would have stopped in his tracks.
The ferry effort paled into insignificance when railway chiefs started telling us how much better off rail travellers would be when two XPT trains in each direction daily replaced three daily express services (Grafton, Murwillumbah and Brisbane). There was to be "a 23 per cent increase in capacity".
One cynic took the trouble to count the seats and sleeping berths available before and after the "improvement". The old services could accommodate 2,674 passengers per day; the new, only 1,720! And anyone who tried to book sleeping accommodation on the trains would quickly repudiate the official story that they were under-utilised. APT hear that the figures were altered by regarding as vacant a position not filled from Central to South Brisbane. That is, a trip from Strathfield to Brisbane would count as an unfilled place. Promotion of the current station rebuilding program is another case. Some of the stations in the minister's recent announcements can hardly be counted as new, e.g. the work at Artarmon had been completed by the time of the announcement. The work at Pymble is being financed by local corporations so perhaps CityRail should not claim it as their effort. After seeing the drawings, APT find amusing the depiction of the Pymble architects of what a train looks like. Our worst fears that rail planners have no idea what travel by train is like are confirmed.
The importance of suitable propaganda has been realised elsewhere in the transport world. In January, the RTA advertised two positions for advertising coordinators for its advertising campaigns. APT have long felt that expenditure of DMR (now RTA) funds on persuading us to buy more of their roads is immoral.
SYDNEY HARBOUR IMMERSED TUNNEL
You may well have missed the announcement that the Bridge toll is to be held at $1.50 until the tunnel opens. APT did some calculating. Monthly payments to the tunnel consortium, laid down in the SHT Act, increase gradually during the construction period. At present, for each $1.50 taken, NSW Inc pays the consortium about $1.60 and also incurs collection and maintenance costs of about 25 cents. From August 1991, you can say that each $1.50 toll will cost about $1.90. At about 2.5M tolls per month, the Treasury will have to cover about one million dollars per month shortfall. Had the tunnel not been undertaken, toll collections were sufficiently close to collection and maintenance costs that the treasury would have been neutral. Do you remember promises that the tunnel won't cost the state treasury a cent?
It came out recently at hearings into the proposed Castlereagh Tollway that DMR engineers knew when they were advocating construction of the Tunnel in 1987 that the Benefit-Cost ratio (BCR) was 0.34, i.e., the costs are almost 3 times the benefits. That they nevertheless supported the memorable Tunnel push is a huge indictment of their professional ethics.
THE NSW GOVERNMENT - PUTTING VOTES FIRST BY MANAGING TRUTH BETTER
APT are concerned about the methods being used to sell a service reduction to the community. 300000 leaflets are being circulated calling for responses. How can the commuter respond - there is no real information available in the leaflet or elsewhere.
With a State election just 21 months away, the Government is moving deeper into Marketing (read Bulldust) Mode. Totally unembarrassed by its less-is-more public relations fiasco on the North Coast trains in February (see above) , State Rail is again flogging the idea that fewer trains can provide a better service in the proposed re-vamp of the Sydney suburban train timetable. Nervous about election backlash, minister Baird has told the SRA not to proceed if there is significant public objection to the proposals. Except perhaps the Eastern Suburbs line, if you rely on trains it would be worth your while to contact your Line Manager to ascertain just what reductions are proposed for your service. Check carefully how evenly spaced your trains are to be or you may end up like MacDonaldtown (see above).
A rising APT membership, and a number of new pro-public-transport groups, indicate that whatever it is that the govermnent is managing better, it is not public transport. Add these groups:
Train-Watch (Sutherland area)
Rally-Rail (long-distance trains)
NSW Transport Action Council (rural transport)
MEDIA WATCH 1
If you thought that coroner Kevin Waller was stepping outside his brief in recommending the construction of a fully divided Pacific Highway, whatever the cost, then you were not alone. Paddy McGuinness of The Australian (24 April) thought the same. Note, however, that authority on separation of powers under the Westminster System, ABC TV's Quentin Dempster, who used Waller's outspoken opinion on Australia's priorities in transport engineering as a stick to beat the federal Land Transport minister Bob Brown.
APT are discussing the scope of coronial enquiries with the Attorney General. We wonder (i) why shifting freight and passengers by rail didn't get a plug in either coronial finding (ii) why it is okay for a coach driver to fall asleep at the wheel.
MEDIA WATCH 2
"Balanced Bruce" Baird, the NSW transport minister who thinks that ridding NSW of the evils of socialist public transport subsidies is not only a good thing but is also achievable, is now well aware of the massive government subsidies paid to truckies by way of under-recovery of trucks' road damage costs. So is every voter in NSW, even if (s)he is not remotely interested in transport. But when asked by ABC TV's Kerry O'Brien whether he, Bruce, was going to get tough and make truckies pay their way, Big Bold Bruce's response was "I'm not about to start World War Three". Full marks for funnies - too bad though that truckies don't represent a majority of voters.
AMPUTATION OF THE FOURTH ARM
The federal constitution creates a body called the Inter-State Commission. Legal problems prevented this authority from achieving much in the early part of the 20th century. It existed only on paper until Gough Whitlam's government enacted suitable legislation in 1975. The Commission was not physically established until the 1983 Hawke government saw a function. It inquired into several matters of inter-state trade and commerce, such as visible and hidden subsidies to Tasmanian shipping. Unfortunately for itself, the Commission also inquired into visible and hidden subsidies of the road freight industry and ways to make rail freight between Perth and Sydney more viable. The findings of these inquiries were not good news for the roads lobby; broadly speaking, they were that road users are not paying their way. The Commission has recommended a national registration and road user charging scheme. Such an arrangement would have benefits for the whole community. Later this year, the Government will consider these findings and recommendations
The Commission's enabling Act has now been repealed. A new Industry Commission is to take over its staff and functions. APT sincerely trusts that the new arrangements will not destroy the Commission's work.
That's the name of State Transit's plan for bus route changes in the area between Parramatta and Victoria roads in Sydney's inner west. In what has been probably the biggest public opinion survey in the history of Sydney bus services, STA distributed 300000 map brochures and received 1100 responses - 60% critical, 30% in favour and 10% "suggestions'.
STA says it is genuinely interested in the public response and has already cancelled plans to put large buses into Mort Street, Balmain, scene of the most vehement opposition to BusPlan. Instead it will experiment with mini-buses - a decision part forced upon it by the necessary temporary closure of the bus turning facility at Darling Street wharf.
STA is committed to a policy of increased bus transfers, between feeder and trunk services, mainly for operational reasons (although improved timekeeping is supposed to be a spin-off). This policy emerges in BusPlan. APT argued strongly that this inconvenience should not carry the added penalty of an additional fare payment on the second bus. This is not to be. No-penalty transfer will be offered to MetroTen multi-trip ticket users (the ticket carries a time and route stamp) but cash-fare payers (30% of users) will bear the added impost of a de-facto fare rise.
STA "plans" to have pocket timetables printed and bus-stop information plates installed before the commencement of BusPlan in September. Some services which integrate with STA's Eastern Region will change in July.
APT has asked STA to review its policies on early-running and express bus operation, and to address chronic overcrowding on some routes.
No new Tangara sets have appeared on the rails since December, We understand this to be because of drafty air-conditioning (fixed by re-designing outlet vents) and noisy brakes (not yet fixed), Meanwhile, Central Coast and Blue Mountains commuters have demanded the seats be re-designed. Despite the famous political power of these groups, CityRail have said they will not change the seats; they claim to have received very few complaints about the fixed seat concept.
APT mentioned the bad design of these seats in an earlier issue of this newsletter. In a typical adult, the centre of the lumbar curve of the spine is about 220 mm above the seat; Tangara seats have it about 100 mm! If the SRA's engineers do not understand this, they should go to their local pharmacy and ask to see the stock of contoured back supports. The ridiculous aspect of this story is that properly-shaped seats would cost no more; only SRA arrogance prevents the design being fixed.
You will recall the first double-deck set to be overhauled last year, that had four different styles of seats in it for public comment. Well, now we can see how much notice the SRA took of the comments. The second set has been finished. It has a distinctive livery - a broad band between the upper and lower rows of windows. The front has coloured bands, too. Some of the cars have hopper-type windows. The set has been parked at Hornsby car sheds for two weeks. We do not know what type of seats it has.
HOW TO VOTE
APT were bemused by a newspaper ad. for the Federal election saying that Call To Australia were opposed to all forms of pollution, including atmospheric pollution. Funny, we seem to remember them voting for the Sydney Harbour Tunnel Act
With effect from mid-1990, new homes in NSW must have their electricity supply wired through a safety device known as an ECB. Theoretically, these ECBs should reduce the number of home electrocutions. But they should be tested frequently; we doubt that this will happen. Also, because ECBs may trip spontaneously, there will be a few cases of freezer-loads of food being spoiled which may annoy some people enough to disconnect the ECB, thus destroying the protection.
The ECB decision smacks of knee-jerk reaction to a safety problem, resulting in not all factors being taken into account. The same haste was evident in the Government's handling of the trucking industry in the aftermath of the Clybucca coach smash. The ineptitude was an opportunity which the well-organised road transport lobby was quick to attack and exploit. If State Rail were as quick to respond to winnable situations, much more intercapital passengers and freight would go by rail.
ROADS POLICY INCOMPATIBLE WITH ECONOMIC POLICY
Instead of having more of their petrol taxes spent on roads, motorists should actually be paying more. APT's consultant has produced some figures on transport costs and revenues for the Castlereagh Tollway inquiry.
The figures show that the Roads policy of the Hawke government as stated at the recent election is incompatible with their Economics policy. If it matters, the Liberal policies had the same problem. Policies offering both increased road funding and an improved balance of payments are in conflict, as the claimed benefits of the former do not allow for the consequent increase in road use, which adversely affects Australia's external debt through increased domestic consumption.
Our consultant finds that the annual subsidy to commercial vehicles is $2.5 billion and to urban cars $7.8 billion. Rural car use is found to break even. His figures show that each urban car is subsidised $1625 per annum, or 10.8 cents per vehicle-kilometre. The figures are comparable with U.S. and Swedish findings.
Should you wish to see a two-page precis of the findings, contact APT.
APT have been unable to form a policy on the Vaguely Fast Train (its planned 350 kph seems a bit pedestrian by comparison with the French TGV's achieved speed of 515.3 kph). Some APT members are enthusiastic about undoubted significant improvements in travel conditions which it would bring. Others are concerned about the broader issues of land speculation, the extent of overseas investment and ownership and many environmental aspects.
APT concur with the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations and with Consumers' Transport Council that the VFT should not be at the expense of other rail services; whether or not the VFT is built, the need for more efficient rail freight services remains. This need can only be met by improvements to the infrastructure, including much work on track upgrading. Otherwise, more freight will be sent on the Hume Highway, resulting in more road fatalities and more road surface damage.
The proponents of the VFT seem to have found a novel way of advancing their cause. They held a "National Conference" recently; tickets were priced at a solid $750. One wonders how many complementaries were issued. Naturally, this was beyond the budget of most. Opponents held a simultaneous event (free) and picketed the high-fliers. You can get in touch with the Canberra anti-VFT people at P.O. Box 906, Dickson 2602.
The spirit of the old Traffic Authority still lives in the RTA. APT have received a circular describing Road Safety 2000, policies aimed to reduce the cost of road accidents. We are pleased to note that proposed measures include restricted access to neighbourhoods and cities though traffic control measures. APT had a delegate at the residential workshop which discussed these policies. He reports that RTA engineers are these days prepared to admit that new roads induce traffic, thereby increasing road accidents. It is a shame that private admissions are not reflected in the RTA's public policy.
NEW SUBURB FOR GOULBURN
Canberra trains have been changed yet again and now there are three trains per day each way from Sydney. With no more rolling stock, there could be four trains per day!
FOR YOUR DIARY
Land Transport Seminar 18th and 19th June, Holme Building, University of Sydney. RUILC 264-2511.
Transport Research Forum 26th to 28th September, Manly. Organised by NSW Ministry of Transport and Macquarie University Transport Research Centre. Ray Annson or Ian Farac, 268-2800.
NSW Transport Action Council Sydney meeting, Sunday 17th June. Klaas Woldring, (066)230851 (w) (066)242211(h)
Infrastructure Conference 30-31 July, Regent Hotel, Sydney. $995
APT meetings Every Tuesday, upstairs at 802 George St. 5p.m.
FOR YOUR LIBRARY
Current Affairs Bulletin. November 1989 issue, with articles on Sydney airports and the environment. $3, 72 Bathurst St.
Juggernaut. John Wardroper. Published by Temple Smith, 1981. Politics of the British trucking industry. Clouston's (062)80-4499.
It's a Matter of Survival. 5 lectures by David Suzuki. ABC shops. $30.
Mobility in a Clean Environment, Australian Railways Union & Australian Conservation Foundation. Argues for a major policy shift from road to rail transport. Copies were given to Messrs. Hawke and Richardson last month.
Page 4, December issue. Bus service 777 was quietly withdrawn while we were in press.
E. C. MACK, M.H.R.
The new Member for North Sydney is known to be pro public transport. His background as architect, mayor and M.L.A. uniquely qualify him to understand how cities work, He is on record as the only member of Parliament to vigourously oppose the Harbour Tunnel. APT wish him well.