I was lucky enough to go to a Sydney selective high school. To get there I had to walk, catch a train and then a bus. It took time, and on the days that I had school band rehearsal, I left home at 6am. It was brilliant. The trains came no more than 15 minutes apart (usually between five and eight minutes) and the buses were the same. I had a school pass and that one ticket got me where I needed to go.
For six years, I lived and breathed what is now the vision for public transport of the citizens’ coalition I lead. At the Sydney Alliance, we describe this vision in a formula – 400:15:1 SCA2. Public transport should be 400 metres from where you work or live (so you can walk to it) and come every 15 minutes (so you don’t need a timetable). You should be able to use it on one ticket (so it’s not complicated). It should be safe (S), clean (C), affordable (A) and accessible (A2).
It’s a straightforward formula that has been enthusiastically embraced by our massive diverse coalition of 52 civil society organisations. In the Sydney Alliance, we bring together Catholics and construction workers, nurses and Cancer Council volunteers, Jews, Baptists and union leaders with one thing in common – we all agree that we need to make Sydney a better place to live.
When we listened to 6500 people across our collective membership, transport was one of the top issues that brought us together. The vision we settled on was about making transport close (400) and, very importantly, frequent (15).
In the maps by our transport chairman, Dr Kurt Iveson, a senior lecturer in urban geography at the University of Sydney, that were published by Fairfax Media on Sunday, you can see much of Sydney is out of reach of close and frequent public transport. The 500,000 or so people in the 52 partner organisations involved in our alliance believe this needs to change.
This year the alliance has lobbied state and local governments to make our interchange train stations safer. Next year, we want to engage with the government’s master plan and look at affordable ways in which we can enhance the city’s transport system. We are pragmatic and ambitious in the solutions we are seeking.
For years now in Sydney, the public transport debate has been dominated by proposals for competing infrastructure projects. The North West Rail Link, the Sydney light rail extension, metros, tunnels – all of these projects with their own relative merits and multibillion-dollar price tags.
All are or were supposed to be the answer to our public transport problems. But at that price we want to be sure of what these projects are aiming to address.
With two big reports on transport – one from Transport for NSW and one from Infrastructure NSW- our politicians look divided on the future of transport. In contrast, the Sydney Alliance plans to bring into this debate what has been missing – the commuters who do the daily grind by train and bus passengers stuck in peak traffic on the M2, often referred to each morning as a car park. Not advisory groups, committees, or current or former politicians.
We know good public transport contributes to social inclusion. We know it is environmentally sound. And we know our city is clogged with cars, and that thousands of us spend hours stuck in traffic every day.
For that reason, we should be working to provide public transport that offers a genuine alternative to driving, no matter where you live, what you do or when you do it.
How do we make this happen? Fixing our public transport system is not all about multibillion-dollar investments that take decades to complete.
Don’t get us wrong, some judicious infrastructure investment can go a long way. But we could also be doing a lot better with what we already have.
The Sydney Alliance plans to bring into this debate the voices of citizens – the public transport users – who need to be at the centre of the discussion about the transport system, not stuck on the fringes. We are working together to fill in the gaps in the maps.
Amanda Tattersall is the founding coalition director of the Sydney Alliance.