Sunday, September 27, 2009

A public transport dream

I read an interesting article in the SMH the other day about public transport. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, was in Sydney to give a public address on how to fix our public transport system. What interested me was not so much the congestion charge that he was famous for introducing in London, but the fact that he managed to change public perception from the "Thatcherian" view that anyone who catches the bus beyond the age of 26 is a failure, to one where so-called "failures" with Oxbridge accents were regularly found on buses and the tube.

In Australia, there is a real car culture that needs to be changed. People not only commute to work by car, but use their cars to drive to the gym and even to take their bicycles to the park. We take pride in the size, make and newness of our cars. Certainly we can learn from the examples of other, less petrol-guzzling countries.

In addition to London, there are many European cities that are shining examples of public transport success. In Geneva, high profile diplomats and dignatories are frequently found on the trams, bicycles and trains. In Amsterdam everybody gets around by bicycle and in Belgium's city of Hasselt use of public transport has increased expinentially since it became free in 1996.

So, while I am constantly reminded that I can't change other people, I would like to challenge norms in Sydney such as commuting by car to work, and the notion of car as status symbol. You see, I have a dream. I'd love to live in a city where a person is judged not by the make of their car, but by the strength of their commitment to public transport.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are absolutely right- Public Transport (PT) can be a great way to get around. However, there are only some people for whom this is a possibility. For many residents of Sydney, public transport is entirely viable (even if unreliable!), but there are so many situations in which there is not so much a reluctance to travel by PT, but rather an inability to do so. Here in Newcastle (Australia)- a rapidly growing city- the PT system is not great, nor do we even have footpaths everywhere. As I see it, PT is not always perceived to be the poor-person's transport, but rather a poorly-delivered transport system which is dirty, unreliable, often with rude and/or erratic drivers. I have caught a bus just once in the last three years.
If the government were to provide a better service (safe, clean, friendly, traffic-priority, more widely available and more accessible to those who are elderly or who have children) I have no doubt many more people would be happy to catch a bus or train.