Action for Public Transport (N.S.W.)

Sydney's public transport

Sydney's present electric train system was planned by Bradfield from about 1914 (see 'Report on the Proposed Electric Railways for the City of Sydney' - 86MB, 280 pages). Not all of it was built but much was. However, not enough has been done since 1932 to expand the rail system. It is operated by a subsidiary of the Rail Corporation

Sydney once had a tram system to rival Melbourne's. However, it was dismantled between about 1939 and 1960 by governments starting with Stevens removing Manly trams. The Burwood and Enfield systems followed in the 1940s. With post-war fuel shortages affecting bus services, 250 corridor trams were ordered in the late 1940s but the Cahill government which came to power in the 1950s cancelled the 200 undelivered trams.

The existing public transport concentrates on the older areas (east of about Lidcombe); much of the newer West is not well-served. Government-owned buses serve the city and inner suburbs, many of them running along the same routes that trams used until their withdrawal in about 1956. The buses are adversely affected by the chronic traffic congestion they work in. There are many privately-owned bus services, but these are organised more for the benefit of the proprietors than for the passengers. Consequently, many residents of the West are up to 2 hours from their jobs by public transport, causing great social problems.

Sydney has a famous ferry system running on the Harbour (yes, most of the boats go under the Harbour Bridge or past the Opera House!) but these do not carry enough passengers to be a significant transport force. The Darling Harbour monorail closes permanetly on 30 June, partly because it was not maintained well enough but probably mostly because it is in the way of big-dollar developments in Ultimo.

A small light rail system opened in 1997. It does not run very far. It mainly carries staff and a few patrons to the casino and Lyric Theatre. An extension under Glebe to Lilyfield opened in 2001. The light rail badly needs a quick connection to the city heart but this was deferred until after the Cross-city [road] Tunnel was constructed under Park and William streets, and then deferred indefinitely.

The present light rail system exemplifies several things that can go wrong with public transport. One is that its honour system for fare collection was destroyed by large numbers of fare evaders, with the result that vehicles usually carry a "hostess" whose real job is to sell tickets. The extra crewing costs must be detrimental to the system's financial health.

Sydney's air pollution

Most residents recognise that Sydney's air quality is unacceptable. The air is polluted both summer (LosAngeles-style smog) and winter (brownish NOx); prevailing winds often blow the plume a few miles out to sea in the morning and back in the afternoon. On several occasions after a few days of light winds, world-class pollution levels have been recorded in the Camden area. At least half of this air pollution comes from car exhaust emissions. Generally, the worst air is found in a 40km-diameter circle centred on Parramatta. On the other hand, the suburbs north of Mona Vale enjoy the cleanest air.

Numerous government inquiries into air quality have been conducted, all of them reporting findings similar to the above. Yet none of them has been translated into serious pro-public-transport action.

The roads

Un-coordinated growth of the city since the 1950s, combined with obsessive road-building, have resulted in a road transport system whose vehicles travel more than 84 million kilometres per day. (This figure, from "2003 Household Travel Survey - 2005 Release" published by NSW Department of Planning Transport and Population Data Centre, covers the whole Sydney-Newcastle-Wollongong area. Its recent growth has been strongly constrained by shortage of road space at peak times.) Roads run everywhere already, but that has not stopped the roads lobby from getting over a thousand million dollars per year put into roadbuilding recently. Funds have been swelled by privately-financed roads, including the M2, the M5, the Harbour Tunnel, parts of the M4, and now the Airport Motorway (officially but inaccurately called the Eastern Distributor). In each case, the current Government has announced these roads in terms that their construction would not involve any public finance. Yet hundreds of millions more dollars has invariably been needed to "mitigate" (or more accurately, to spread) the disastrous effects of extra traffic generated when the new capacity opened. Also, the private finance receives hidden subsidies in other ways, including generous income tax concessions available to investors in these roads, and government guarantees which remove many of the risks inherent in such things. One could jocularly say that the financial and legal structures which support these projects are as wonderful as the engineering! However, oil depletion is likely to sap the profitability of these investments before long. Curiously, lobbyists pressing for roads to be built seem oblivious not only to the risk that people's travel habits might change but also to the risk that the projected traffic won't materialise. A case in point is the M2, which seemed to be carrying only about 40,000 vehicles per day after about two months' operation; the loans which built the road need more than that.

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