Going backwards is the new going forward

Fix NSW Transport Coalition protests outside the NSW ALP state conference, Sydney Town Hall on June 30. Photo: Peter Boyle

Sometimes I wonder if New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance thinks he is a comedian with pranks like:

  • Insisting that the Hunter region’s new privatised bus routes and timetables help kids get to school quicker.
  • Ordering new intercity trains from overseas without bothering to check if they fit the tracks or tunnels.
  • Failing to upgrade the rail tracks so that the new trains can run faster (Victoria did this 10 years ago). 
  • Forcing passengers on the proposed new intercity trains to sit backwards.

Perhaps the NSW Coalition government thinks that Constance’s pranks will divert attention from it spending $45 billion on building privately-run toll roads instead of public transport. Giving private toll operators a near monopoly on the motorways is a rort, which continues every time a car passes a tollway.

Every beep from the motorist’s e-tag represents an easy transfer of cash into the pockets of the private toll operators. Each beep also means less money is allocated to sustainable transport options.

It means that those waiting at a bus stop or rail platform can expect a journey that is less comfortable, more inconvenient, slower and more expensive.

Thirty community groups from across Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra do not see anything funny about Constance’s pranks and the government’s transport policies.

These groups have formed the Fix NSW Transport Coalition to insist on transport options that will actually achieve a more liveable and sustainable NSW.

The first action of the Fix NSW Transport Coalition was a lantern walk from Sydney Town Hall on August 11. Supported by the City of Sydney, the walk highlighted the light rail fiasco in the Sydney CBD.

Sydney’s light rail, one year behind schedule and possibly $1 billion over budget, is symbolic of the government’s shambolic and neglectful attitude to public transport.

According to recent polling conducted by the Committee for Sydney, people prefer new public transport infrastructure over big road projects. The committee has also recognised the need for fast rail between Sydney and Newcastle.

People understand that more tollways mean more cars and more negative impacts on air quality, neighbourhoods, green corridors, public parklands and outer suburban farmlands.

People also realise that we need active transport. Walking and cycling should be the first choice for short trips such as getting to school and the shops.

Governments serious about a sustainable future would have policies and practices that facilitate both public and active transport.

The Fix NSW Transport Coalition understands that the rest of the state is being left behind while the infrastructure boom continues in Sydney.

The Fix NSW Transport Coalition is reaching out to communities across the state.

A focus on providing what the community actually needs, rather than making money for the private sector, would be a good start to fixing NSW transport.

In the Hunter, we could do with any number of projects that could be funded if state transport planning were focused on the local and the sustainable.

The Glendale Transport Interchange, for example, remains unfunded despite 20 years of planning and talking. Implementing the CycleSafe Network could make cycling much safer across the region.

The government might also consider jobs. Hunter workers built the outgoing rail fleet that has served us well for decades.

The new intercity fleet should be built by local workers with knowledge and experience of our tracks, tunnels and travellers. Is that really too much to ask?

In the Hunter, at this point, we can only dream of sustainable measures such as the Victorian government’s systematic removal of rail level crossings and replacement of these with bridges and tunnels.

Constance is not funny.

Like the seats on the new intercity trains, the government’s idea of going forward is having public transport users go backwards.

[Steve O’Brien is a member of the Socialist Alliance and a regular Newcastle-to-Sydney train commuter. An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Newcastle Herald.]

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