The week before the March 24 NSW state election, the Socialist Alliance launched an initiative for a three-month trial of free public transport. Alliance members and supporters mass leafleted bus terminals and railway stations across Sydney on March 20, calling on the incoming government to undertake the trial and weigh up the cost and the environmental health benefits.
The Socialist Alliance has called for a massive injection of funding into public transport to get commuters out of their cars. But the switch required would need to be of such magnitude it would have to be aggressively jump-started. A three-month trial of free public transport would test out, in practical terms, the benefits of such a reform on the community's health and environment.
Every 10% switch away from cars and trucks to public transport would reduce the costs of air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, car accidents, traffic congestion, motor vehicle waste disposal, noise pollution and road maintenance by at least $1.4 billion.
But to foster the switch, the Alliance insists that public transport has to be free. That's what transport authorities have always done when they need people to use the public system, as happened in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Public transport needs this radical boost. Since 1945, the proportion of the population using public transport has fallen from more than 40% to just 10% today, as social and environmental good has been sacrificed to prop up the profits of the car industry.
Since trains are 40 times more energy efficient and buses 3.5 times more energy efficient than cars, a sustained shift to public transport would be of huge benefit to the environment. Moreover, even as public transport regains its place as the main transport mode, it can lead the way by incorporating the latest environmentally sustainable technologies (such as lightweight materials and alternative propulsion systems).
Free fares would not only be a major pro-environment policy, because it would dramatically slash car use and carbon dioxide emissions, but it would also be an anti-poverty measure as the majority of those who rely on public transport are on low incomes.
It is with practical proposals, such as this one, that the Socialist Alliance advances its case for socialism. It isn't socialism in the abstract, rather it is an attempt to present the case for how a different set of economic and social priorities would be of enormous benefit for the majority.
"Our socialist standpoint is based on the reality that capitalism must expand or die", said Socialist Alliance's candidate for Marrickville Pip Hinman at a community forum during the campaign. "Capitalism is profoundly and intrinsically anti-environmental. It is destroying the wellsprings of life on earth. But we are committed to ploughing our resources and energy into campaigns for reforms now, and in the process to involve as many people as we can."
The Socialist Alliance will be back on the streets campaigning around free public transport, Work Choices and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan when all the other parties have packed up their vote-for-me stalls. That's what the Socialist Alliance is about, and that's also why you should join us.
[To check out the Socialist Alliance's policies, visit http://www.socialist-alliance.org.]