Monday, April 18, 2011

Another Late Train

Public transport remains one of the biggest issues for the O'Farrell government.

There are a number of problema that they, as the incoming government, have been lumped with.

Decades of under-investment (predating the Labor government) have left public transport networks that lag behind the road system that we now have.

The transportation system has been described as shambolic, abysmal and even (with disturbing frequency) "third world" which is surely proof that the writer in question has never actually been to any third world country.

Of course there is massive room for improvement - but the base we have is not a poor one.

The obvious missing feature, however, is integrated ticketing.

Sydney's "T-card" was meant to be in use by the Olympics. The Olympics! The year 2000! That was the year we got the GST; the year we learnt the Y2K bug was a fizzer; and the year that the Airport Link opened.

THAT'S how long ago it was.

Since then, it has been delay after delay.

Nothing typifies the problem better than these little beauties (picture from this website).

I don't know how many stations have had these "things" erected, but anecdotally it appears to be a very large number.

A couple of years ago they appeared almost overnight.

For a while there was confusion as to their intended purpose. Eventually it was revealed that they were to be used to mount the machines that would read the T-cards and record the commuter's travel.

I have no idea what they cost to install, but given it was a government contract, and given the materials involved, it certainly would not have been a small amount.

These things have never been used. They still sit at stations unadorned - a constant reminder of the governments failure to actually accomplish anything.

Unsurprisingly, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has announced today that Labor's timeline for imlementation of the T-card is wholly unrealistic, and that testing is unlikely to begin by 2014.

No doubt this is at least in part an exercise in lowering expectations so that any progress whatsoever can be a brilliant example of just how wonderful it is to have a Coaltion government, and another reason to give them 4 more years.

But, unavoidably, it means further delays and excuses.

The strangest thing is that the excuse that has been repeatedly proferred for the delays is that the pricing structure is the issue.

This seems plainly ridiculous, as pricing is probably the easiest thing of all for the government to amend. Just change the price. How hard is that?

The MyMulti system is an obvious example of how easy it is.

I have a ticket that gives me unlimited travel on any bus, train or ferry across the network. At train stations and ferry wharves I put it through the machines. On busses I flash it at the driver, not that they seem particularly fussed anyway.

I happen to know that CityRail records every use that multiple use tickets get (as long as, of course, the ticket is used in a machine).

So why is integrated ticketing such a massive step? How can it have taken so long?

A few responses spring to mind: constant inter-departmental bickering and buck-passing. A lack of political will. A tightfisted government only willing to spend money on things that will improve that sacred statistic, "on-time running".

Barry O'Farrell has declared his intention to be the man that "fixed" NSW public transport. That is why he has put one of his "most trusted" colleagues in charge of this vital area.

It will cost money, and will require recources, and political will. But if it is done, and done well, he can take a big first step to making an efficient and expanded public transportation system a part of his legacy.

It seems like there could not be a better place to start.

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