Beat the car — increase public transport

February 13, 2009

Sydney residents of the lower north shore and inner city are increasingly "electing" to drive to work "despite living a relatively short bus ride from the heart of the city", a report in the February 10 Sydney Morning Herald concluded.

According to key transport figures released by the NSW Ministry of Transport, trips made from these higher-income "inner and middle-ring suburbs" of Sydney by private vehicle each day far outweighed public transport use, at the time of the 2006 census.

In most cases, private vehicle usage accounted for more than 50% of trips while the use of buses and trains hovered near 10%.

"I think they drive to work because they can afford to", the convener of Action for Public Transport, Kevin Eadie, told the SMH.

"They've got high disposable incomes and there is a perception that public transport is below them, even if catching a train or a bus is the quicker, cheaper option."

Hunters Hill was among the "affluent" suburbs mentioned. While 53% of trips are made by car, only 2% and 7% of Hunters Hill residents use trains and buses respectively. But can these figures be adequately explained as an incidence of personal choice?

The figures may appear to suggest that wealthier Sydneysiders have made a "choice" against public transport. But in reality 4000 residents in Hunters Hill still use public transport each day. This occurs even though they have the option of only two bus services and no nearby train service.

The case is similar is Lane Cove and Mosman, serviced by frequent buses, where 17,000 and 9,000 trips are made each day respectively.

These figures, contrary to the conclusions advanced by the SMH, suggest high patronage of the available transport services.

According to one Sydney commuter and regular public transport user, these buses are often packed and spend long periods in congested Sydney traffic.

"There's always at least one point where they get ridiculously packed and you just have to stand still for ages", Rosa Phillips told Green Left Weekly. "At peak hour, it's outrageous."

Those who use the services attest that overcrowding is normal on many north shore bus services, even outside peak commuter-hours.

"There are not enough of them, that's the problem", Phillips continued. "They need to run more, and run them where they count."

Other relatively high-income suburbs, such as Baulkham Hills in Sydney's north-west, were also mentioned in the government transport report. There, car usage totals 63% of utilised transport.

However, the Hills district is also known in Sydney as a public transport "black hole". The area's lack of public transport infrastructure clearly forces people in the area to drive cars more often.

Individuals who drive their car rather than stand on a crowded bus to get to work should not be blamed when the problem results from an drastically under-serviced transport system.

Infrequent, unreliable and over-crowded public transport should not be considered an acceptable norm.

Sydney's notorious traffic congestion only acts to compound the stress and anxiety of getting to work. The provision of free and frequent public transport would bring significant social, health and environmental benefits.

Making a choked and polluted Sydney more livable, along with confronting the highly urgent problem of climate change, demands that public transport be rapidly addressed.

Existing services must be upgraded to meet future demand. But a massive increase in public transport infrastructure for Sydney's western suburbs is essential.

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