Action for Public Transport greet delegates to the 1993 congress of UITP (International Union of Public Transport). We represent the community interest in Sydney public transport. We have been active since 1974.
We meet every Tuesday evening on Broadway; we would appreciate your interest and support - see telephone numbers below.
In this month's newsletter, numerous weaknesses in government support of public transport in Sydney are set out. Many have been with us for years despite being frequently pointed out by APT and others. Simply, there is a bias towards roads.
It is interesting that the recent Industry Commission hearings on urban transport by the Commonwealth government took three full days in Sydney. No other city, not even Melbourne, wanted to spend more than two days talking about transport.
ROAD SPEED LIMITS
It has been known for decades that the frequency and severity of road accidents in which people are injured is a function of traffic speeds. Yet the N,S.W. government is not brave enough to reduce speed limits. A careful look at road safety in 1990 by the Road Safety 2000 committee found that the best way to achieve a long-term reduction in road trauma was to reduce the amount and speed of car travel and encourage an increase in public transport ridership. This finding was ignored; speed limits were increased to 70 kph in some places and no limits were reduced.
More recently, the Community Advisory Group on Speeding has recommended to the roads minister that vehicles be limited to 40 kph in most residential areas. APT will watch with great interest to see how far this controversial recommendation is taken. Public transport services need to be competitive with car trips; it is necessary to put some restrictions on cars to encourage people to ride instead of drive.
SYDNEY AIR POLLUTION
It is now obvious that Sydney's air pollution is quite high by world standards. In particular, the sprawled western suburbs have measurably higher than normal incidence of respiratory diseases such as asthma. Two symposia on the subject were organised by the present government but the only action seen is a study to determine which method of measuring the pollution would be the most useful!
It is high time that the government took seriously the 1989 finding that fuel consumption in cities is increased by roadbuilding. Each new highway built in Sydney worsens the quality of air in the western suburbs. Extensions to public transport would improve the air.
TRANSIT LANE ABUSE
Some of Sydney's main roads have lanes reserved for buses, taxis, motorcycles, and any other vehicles carrying at least three people. They are called "transit lanes". They are designed to move more people on highways in peak hours but are not functioning, due to a minority of arrogant motorists and to an impotent police force.
More than half of the vehicles using the Victoria Road transit lane are doing so illegally. The concept is being abused by certain motorists, who have only contempt for the traffic laws and for their fellow motorists. Police are at present frustrated in their apprehension of these anti-social smart alecs by overly restrictive procedures for applying, infringement notices. The result is an expensive farce - a battle of wits between police and cheeky motorists which results in unfair delays to legitimate transit lane users, annoyance to law-abiding motorists, and a waste of police resources. The problem is compounded on occasions of abnormal traffic congestion by an even higher rate of abuse, reducing all lanes to less than walking pace. State Transit Authority, with most of the Victoria Road buses and hence arguably the most to gain from higher levels of compliance, seems strangely quiet. S.T.A. could win passengers and increase faxes revenue by offering faster and more predictable travel times, obtain a higher rate of cash flow, and reduce costs by requiring fewer buses with a faster turn-around. Is S.T.A. guilty of commercial apathy? APT challenge the state government to act in the public interest Give traffic police the extra power they need to ensure that Sydney's transit-laned highways carry the maximum number of commuters with the minimum of delay.
These new suburban trains introduced in 1988 were claimed to have "improved seating" for passengers. They didn't - the seating was widely criticised as uncomfortable as soon as the public tried it. A working party on seating was set up but so far as APT know, only four seats have been made to a newer design. Better seats would have cost no more than the old design.
The need for changing the seat design has been made more urgent by the discovery that the Tangara seats are not only uncomfortable, but they are ergonomically incorrect for the normal adult. The lumbar curve is much too low. Moreover, the squab should be slightly raised at the front like every other seat in the world.
Many other teething problems are being gradually fixed, such as noisy wheels, bogie cracks and air conditioning faults. Another problem with Tangara trains is the extremely noisy brakes. In underground stations, passengers are almost deafened by stopping trains. Why? - similar disc-braked trains in other cities are not noisy.
This newsletter has previously drawn attention to the promotion of roads by the Roads and Traffic Authority perpetrated annually at the Easter Show. Indecent though it is, the practice continues. At the 1993 Show, a huge display carried to hundreds of thousands of visitors the false message that the R.T.A. will cure our traffic congestion by building roads. Several individual pet projects were featured, especially the City-West Link and Glebe Island Arterial. According to the display, the Glebe Island Bridge now being constructed across Blackwattle Bay will bring
APT well remember an embarrassed R.T.A. engineer admitting to
television's "7:30 Report" some 18 months ago that such
roads actually do none of these things.
The D.M.R. (as the R.T.A. then was) made the same claims in 1987 for the Harbour Tunnel. As a result, the residents of East Sydney now live in a traffic jam which used to be located on the northern harbour bridge approach.
It has been generally accepted for some time (and privately acknowledged by some sections of the R.T.A.) that amplifying roads in cities does not lead to the things claimed above. And this City-West project suffers from the further defect that the bridge is being built much higher above the water than the shipping traffic requires, resulting in massive extra costs. In any activity other than road building, perpetrators of this sort of stuff would have been put in their rightful place years ago.
Will the N.S.W. government ever muster the courage required to control the R.T.A. in the interests of the community?
LONG BUS WAIT
Why are State Transit's expensive new Scania buses sitting idly in the depot? Because the protracted negotiations required for the larger buses were not finished before delivery took place. Some local councils are tardy in providing the extra three metres needed for each bus stop. Also, the new pay deal for operators is not settled yet.
MIDDLE HARBOUR TUNNEL
Headlines shrieked "Tollway from Manly to Airport". The occasion was the government calling for expressions of interest from private consortia to finance, build and operate new tollways in the northern and eastern suburbs. The main routes were a new tunnel under Taylor Square (completing the three-part Eastern Distributor) and a new tunnel from Castlecrag to Seaforth to extend the Fl Freeway from North Sydney to Manly Vale. Of course, the need for these works arises directly from extra cross-harbour traffic levels generated by the Harbour Tunnel. A public meeting at Mosman last December (referred to in the last issue of this newsletter) heard of extra traffic difficulties through Spit Junction caused by the same traffic. APT will be at a meeting early this month when a senior R.T.A. executive is to speak on the problems caused by this extra traffic and what is being done about them.
APT have been given to understand that not enough land is available around Castlecrag for approaches to any Sugarloaf bridge; we infer that the Transfield proposal for a new underground and underwater tunnel would be the favoured option. APT's analysis of the Middle Harbour tunnel is that the thing would have the same order of construction and operation cost as the Harbour Tunnel but would not have its funding potential. The present routes to Warringah (via The Spit, via Roseville Bridge and via Terrey Hills) have adequate capacity to carry the traffic except at peak hours and it would be politically impossible to toll them. The new tunnel would have to be funded by the traffic that used it; the high toll necessary would limit its off-peak use to people whose time was very valuable such as executives and operators of heavy vehicles. Despite what the Minister for Roads (Mr Murray) said, APT think that building the Middle Harbour tunnel would act against building a public transport system to the Manly-Warringah area and also against linking that system to a line from the city to North Sydney and off to the north-west. By increasing traffic levels in the north-east, it would attack the pleasant atmosphere which is a feature of Warringah. In short, APT think the Middle Harbour tunnel would have much in common with the Sydney Harbour tunnel - high cost, technological glamour, tiny benefits, plenty of extra traffic.
Older readers will recall the Kirby inquiry into completion of the Warringah Freeway: it found that the principal benefit was that some Warringah residents could expect to be able to leave home four minutes later. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose.
YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE
As public transport users, we are also frequently pedestrians. Ever noticed how armoured security vans flout the parking laws with seeming impunity? How do they get away with it when you and I cannot?
The answer may lie in a long-standing agreement with the police armed-holdup squad in which the van drivers were permitted (urged?) to park as close to their delivery or pickup point as possible. But, as with most concessions, this one is now being abused. APT recently asked a security van driver whether there was any formal agreement which permitted him to park, as he had, across a marked pedestrian crossing. His response was, quote, we do as we like, unquote.
It is APT's understanding that the parking laws exist principally in the interests of public safety - especially pedestrian safety. APT ask the parking police to rein-in these cowboys. If security companies can't go about their business without breaking the law, they shouldn't be in the business.
WORSENING PUBLIC TRANSPORT (IN BRIEF)
The present government missed an opportunity by failing to take both Harbour Bridge lanes 7 and 8 for public transport when the Tunnel opened. They took one for a bus lane but are now to release it outside peak hours.
Ever-heavier trucks are taking over our roads, rural and
metropolitan, to the detriment of safety and the quality of life.
These extra costs should be sheeted home to the user.
The recently-opened Gore Hill distributor takes buses AROUND the centre of Crow's Nest. The whole idea of public transport is that corridors run into dense centres on car-free routes. We are bound to the greenhouse gas emission targets in the Montreal protocol but there is little sign of any action to achieve them. Where are the new public transport systems we will need? For the sake of our cities, even motoring organisations now accept that traffic demand must be managed. Unfortunately, the government doesn't. Census figures announced in April showed growth in Sydney traffic from 1981 to 1991.
Sydney now has no single public transport timetable enquiry phone number; there are separate numbers for trains and UT.A. services but there is no service for private bus timetables. Around Sydney, new suburbs are being built for cars, even at Balmain where there are good public transport services. Fifty km away, the new north-west suburbs are being occupied BEFORE their skimpy public transport is opened.
We have a three-level government (Federal, State and local), with local government uninterested in metropolitan issues. This is contrary to sound planning; public transport suffers. Many councils like building huge car parks around their shopping centres; this actually works against public transport.
ROADS BUILT WITHOUT ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY
New South Wales was a world pioneer in legislation designed to reduce the environmental impact of modern life. All projects are required to pass the procedures of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Unfortunately, our leaders do not have the fortitude to put such restrictions on road projects. For instance, the Harbour Tunnel was the subject of special legislation which deemed it to comply with the E.P.A. Act.
This newsletter has in the past pointed out the glaring weakness in the application of the E.P.A. Act to roads projects. The decision whether to proceed with a road is invariably made by the R.T.A. itself - the R.T.A.'s chief executive receives a report from his staff on the environmental impact statement and on any matters raised during the period when the statement is open for comment. It is a fundamental principle of natural justice that no man can be judge in his own cause but in New South Wales, roads seem to be exempt from fundamental principles.
The present state government has done nothing to see that road environmental impact studies are examined by someone without an interest in the project The latest example, a new bridge to be built across the Woronora River between Sutherland and Menai, is but one of many in recent years.
Early in April, the case for increasing fares and making other changes to public transport services was argued before the state Government Pricing Tribunal. Transit bureaucrats advocated the increases; a contrary view was presented by APT and received pleasing publicity.
The official case seemed to have been prepared by accountants whose view of public transport did not extend beyond the revenue received from ticket sales. APT argued that if the contribution made to Sydney by public transport was taken into account, present fare levels are correctly set, despite the book losses shown by the operating authorities.
The authorities also argued that most of the multi-modal tickets (e.g. bus and train) currently being sold should be withdrawn in anticipation of automatic fare collection systems due to claimed anomalies with other tickets. APT pointed out that the Travel-pass tickets were admitted by the authorities to be their best sellers; it would be strange to withdraw the best-seller
The official submissions also revealed pressure to have buses replace inter-urban pins, as these could never be commercial. APT pointed out that if total community welfare is taken into account, middle-distance train services are well justified. APT note that other policies, such as expressway building and dispersed land use, contribute to the declining contribution and high subsidies.
This politically sensitive matter was settled the next day, with confirmation that rail services would remain, and a ministerial announcement of CountryLink rail projects worth $250 million!
WHERE GOES THAT FERRY?
Destination signs for State Transit Authority ferries are long overdue. It is now some years since Sydney Harbour ferry services were simply cross-harbour shuttles. Most harbour wharves are now served by at least two routes. Most ferries do not stop at all wharves on their route, certainly not at peak hours. And many weekend routes are totally different from the weekday services.
To witness the total chaos and confusion which State Transit imposes upon its ferry customers, you need only watch the arrival of a ferry at the tourist-dominated Darling Harbour Aquarium wharf. None of the intending passengers, often numbering up to 100, have any idea where the ferry is going. After the lengthy berthing procedures are accomplished, some of the passengers may be lucky enough to hear the deckhand yell a few place names, but he has to compete with the noise from the ferry engines and the creaking of the pontoon. Invariably, passengers make assumptions about the destination and board anyway, only to be seen beating a hasty retreat to the wharf some moments later. The whole shambles is unprofessional, and an insult to the travelling public.
The fitting of simple illuminated destination signs to State Transit's inner harbour fleet is long overdue.
AUTOMATIC FARE EVASION?
State Rail propaganda claims that its new automatic fare collection (AFC) system will reduce fare evasion.
For years, persons without tickets have been seen leaving Sydney's
largest railway station unchallenged. Whatever action State Rail may
have taken to counter evasion there has been ineffective. On Friday 9
April, APT yet again tried to get some action on the matter.
Passengers with tickets were queueing to exit the barriers at Sydney
Terminal, staffed by two people, with another person standing around.
Twenty-five metres away, people without tickets walked through an
open gate - without queueing, as they have done for years.
APT questioned the station master as to why this situation was allowed to
persist. His secretary said it wasn't his business and redirected us
to Revenue Protection. Their supervisor's response was "I know but
'they' [her supervisors] take no notice of me".
APT asks: how will AFC reduce this kind of fare evasion? We predict a possible increase in evasion, as frustrated passengers try to extract tickets from uncommunicative vending machines.
On a related topic, note that legal difficulties have recently been given as the reason for not pursuing many people detected evading fares. Why are the difficulties not being solved?
OVER-RULING THE UMPIRE
There is a clear trend by the New South Wales government to advocate roads even at the cost of fairness. The government does not scruple to ignore anti-road findings of "independent" bodies including some of its own. For instance, the proposed Castlereagh Freeway in Sydney's north-west was referred to a public enquiry (Woodward Commission) and found to be unwarranted on environmental, social and economic grounds. Nevertheless, the government caused a new study to be made in such a way that a more favourable finding was likely and a decision to build the Castlereagh may be announced soon.
A Commission of Inquiry held about fifteen years ago by David Kirby found that proposed roads from North Sydney to Manly Vale and from Kyeemagh to Chullora were unjustified. But in the past few years, enough has been built of the F5 Freeway to not only make the Kyeemagh to Chullora link practically inescapable but also to make unviable a major public transport development towards the south-west. And in the last month or so, the government has called for expressions of interest to build a new road to Manly Vale - see above.
The state Minister for Transport has said that if the 2000 Olympic Games are held in Sydney, twelve-car trains will be run to the games every three minutes during major events.
APT thought this one through. The trains would presumably come from Sydney Terminal station, since nowhere else are there platforms long enough. The run is about 18 minutes nonstop. Maintaining such a service would require probably 16 sets of 12 cars - 192 cars. How could this be without impact elsewhere?
AFT expect the Minister's favourite advisor to say that the job can better be done with buses!
RAIL SYSTEM CLOSED AT WEEKENDS
When late-night rail services were being replaced by "NightRide" buses in about 1988, one of the promises made was that the need to close suburban rail lines at weekends for track- work would be reduced.
The closures have not reduced. They have increased in frequency and extent. Over the recent Easter weekend, trains were replaced by buses from Strathfield to Epping and from Sydenham to Tempe, causing unexpected delay to many travellers. APT wonder whether worker preference for the high wages paid on weekends could explain the trend.
PROPAGANDA PRECEDES INFORMATION
APT were concerned to find a glossy leaflet advertising CountryLink services that obviously cost a pretty penny to print. Our concern is that timetables and other necessary matter are hard to find and so badly produced that plainly little importance is given them by management.
FOR YOUR LIBRARY
Beyond the Market - alternatives to economic rationalism. Book edited by Rees, Rodley and Stilwell. Several of its papers indirectly concern transport in cities. $19.95 ppd from Pluto Press, P.O. Box 199, Leichhardt 2040.
The Double Helix Car-park - that new feature of the Sydney Open House. Article by Jim Colman in Sydney Review, April. Private enterprise put up (put down?) about $33000 per space. This is shown to be yet another self-indulgent hi-tech car-based "fix" to the wrong problem.
A Transport of Delight - opinion by Ian Lowe in Consuming Interest April. "The road system is an empire on which the concrete never sets" because they're always building more roads.
FOR YOUR DIARY
The Politics of the Environment conference, 4 July to 6 July, Canberra. The National Environmental Law Association, (06)285-4233.
Victorian Transport Infrastructure conference, 31 May and 1 June, Melbourne. Several of the sessions concern privatisation. (02)954-5844.