by Crikey intern Flint Duxfield
If Martin Pakula is feeling the heat after taking up the post of Victrian public transport minister, maybe he should tell Melburnians to take a holiday – to Sydney.
As someone who hails from north of the border, I’m amazed at the number of number of people I’ve encountered bemoaning the state of the city’s comparatively excellent public transport system. The public sigh of relief when Lynne Kosky resigned last week was so pronounced it really felt (as some twits tweeted) like the wicked witch had died.
Sure, your trains suffer a bit of heat stroke now and then, and Myki has had its fare share of problems (let’s face it, Melbourne isn’t Perth). But without wanting to add fuel to the ever-smouldering Sydney vs. Melbourne fire, here are a few points Melburnians should consider before they cause any more ministerial resignations:
Trams: Sydney’s trams were abolished long ago, and I’ve never quite been able to work out where their current incarnation (the Light Rail) actually goes. Not only are trams more spacious, efficient and comfortable to ride than busses, they actually seem to run to some kind of schedule which is conveniently displayed on those little electronic screens at the tram stops – just brilliant.
Sydney’s buses on the other hand seem to think they’re trains – paying no attention to timetables, their strategy for dealing with irate Sydney commuters is to gang up in packs. The result is that you often have no busses for an hour and then four all at once. When they do finally arrive, they’re often full so they don’t stop at all.
A unified ticket system: Being able use the one ticket across trains, busses and trams might seem like an obvious thing but it still hasn’t caught on in Sydney. Catch a bus a train and a ferry and you’ll probably have to buy three different tickets. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney has over 500 different types of transport tickets while Melbourne has just 54. What’s more, Sydney’s system is destination-based, not time-based, so if you forget your keys, you’ll have to buy a whole other set of tickets to go back and get them. The one ticket Sydney has which has a go at unifying these three systems costs 2-3 times as much as its Melbourne equivalent.
For all the problems with the Myki system, at least it’s halfway near completion. Sydney’s equivalent (the Tcard, which was initiated in 1996 and was supposed to be finished a decade ago for the Olympics) now has the NSW government embroiled in a $200 million legal saga after the system was scrapped in 2008, only to be put back on the table three months later. In fact scrapping transport plans is almost a state sport; the 5.3 billion Sydney metro plan also now seems off the agenda … again.
So dire are the NSW government’s efforts on public transport that the Sydney Morning Herald has launched a public inquiry to develop some form of extra-governmental public transport plan. When your newspaper starts planning your transport system, you know you’ve got problems.
It actually goes across the city. Many of the northern suburbs of Sydney are close to inaccessible by public transport, which probably explains why just seven per cent of people on Sydney’s northern beaches use any form of public transport at all.
People not patrollers. Some may call it inefficient, but having real people at stations and tram stops (as opposed to machines) providing information about how to get to your chosen destination is a refreshing change. An encounter with a human being in Sydney (bus drivers excepted) usually entails being gruffly asked for your ticket by a squads of paramilitary-esque ticket collectors.
And on that note, to the constantly smiling woman at the Balaclava station who says ‘Good morning’ to nearly every passenger and farewells us all with her cry of ‘All aboard’, thank you, you make my day.
I know I’m probably skipping over any number of glitches, delays and disasters which aren’t immediately apparent to an out of towner, but it seems to me that in a game which is near impossible to win, Melbourne at least pulls a draw, while Sydney has scored so many own goals the coach has lost count.
That said, all the benefits of Melbourne’s public transport system would largely be lost on me if I lived here permanently. Melbourne’s cycle infrastructure is so much better than Sydney’s that I would probably chose to ride instead.