Monday, November 26, 2012

Opal of a Good Result

I've been spending some time recently thinking about how the Coalition is going to try and portray itself at the next state election in 2015.

I'm sure they would have loved to have shown a clean record of ethical conduct, to be weighed up against Obeid, Tripodi et al - but given the trouble the government had already had on that front it may be too much to ask for.
Photo from the SMH
That said, old perceptions die deep.

The one comparison that is likely to still be available, however, is that of building things.

True it is that Labor did build infrastructure while in power. The problem for them is that just about all the significant projects actually built were toll-roads that didn't require any investment from the government.

Those roads are important, and I'm not suggesting they shouldn't have been built. I'm also not suggesting that toll-roads should not be tolerated.

What I am saying is that Labor's expensive toll-roads that seem perpetually choked with traffic will not compare well to the Coalition is investing cold hard cash in the rail network - something that Labor constantly promised to do but never did.

One of the ads I have in mind is a collection of cuts from news conferences of the (various) Labor Premiers announcing the North-West Rail Link.

In case you've forgotten:

1998 - Bob Carr announces a link between Epping and Castle Hill. Completed by 2010

2001 - Plans to build the line shelved indefinitely.

2002 - Transport Minister Carl Scully releases report detailing possible route

2005 - Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan announced. Projected completion date 2017

2008 - Plans for North West Metro announced by Nathan Rees. Plan would run line all the way to the CBD

2008 - Plan revised to CBD Metro, running between Rozelle and Centrol

2008 - Plans announced to extend the CBD Metro to the original North West Metro stations once built

2008 - Metro plans indefinitely deferred.

2010 - Kristina Keneally cancels North West Metro and announced North West Rail Link. Construction to commence in 2017.

Labor left government in 2011, 13 years after having first announced the line, having not turned a single sod  on a train line to the fastest growing area in Sydney.

The last clip in the ad would be a bunch of construction workers actually making things happen on the line, probably with O'Farrell standing in front of it is his hi-vis gear looking pleased with himself.

The other major transport project that the Coalition has the chance to get right is the Opal Card - probably the only project that Labor spent just about its entire time in power getting wrong.

To get a ticketing project so wrong that you can spend 16 years in power and leave with absolutely nothing of value done is a real achievement - but that is exactly what Labor did.

The Coalition - well, on the weekend this happened:
Full story in the Tele
I'll be taking another look at the Opal Card in more detail later this week, which is when I understand the ticket prices and some other information will be released.

But let's be clear - people have long memories for governments that promise and don't deliver. The Opal Card and the North West Rail Link are the two most obvious ways in which the Coalition can sow up a long, long time in office.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Training to Fly

I'm back from foreign parts!

As coincidence would have it, just 3 days after I caught a train home from the airport, I saw this story pop up on twitter:
Full story at SMH
My wife and I both paid the utterly exorbitant fare to get from the Airport to Central because, frankly, it's cheaper and easier than the alternative.

Parking at Sydney Airport costs so much you feel a compulsion to check that they got the decimal point in the right spot. A cab to our place (or, realistically, even to central station) was still far more expensive, and likely would involve far longer queues.

At the end of the day, the Airport Line is the obvious option, And, on the rare occasion I get to fly anywhere, it's the option I almost invariably use.

The high fares date back to the opening of the Airport Line. The Labor government's enthusiasm for building infrastructure without having to pay for it gave us toll-roads all over the city - but how were they going to get a rail-line built in the same way?

Simple - charge an eye-wateringly high fee to use only those new stations. It creates an absurd situation and further complicates an already convoluted fare system, but I suppose that's hardly a priority.

From a purely commercial point of view, it makes sense. Millions of commuters (including myself) still find the airport line to be "good value" in the sense that it is cheaper and easier than the alternative - so why not?

Well, the answer should be obvious - governments have, as part of their role, the provision of public infrastructure. Building lines like the Airport Line are why we pay taxes.

Sydney is lucky enough (or unlucky enough, if you live under a flight path) to have an airport within a short train trip of the city. That it took as long as it did to build a train line is more than a little ridiculous.

Many people complain what an awful greeting the enormous fees are to an international traveller - what the complainers don't realise is that the typical traveller would happily drop $30 to get to their hotel from the airport. That's a pretty small number compared to many cities in Australia and internationally.

My gripe, however, is that "People will pay it" is not a good argument to charge people for something that falls well with the ambit of governmental responsibility.

Last weekend, as I left London to catch a Virgin Atlantic flight home, I caught the tube to Heathrow Airport. It cost me a little over 3 quid.

Of course, I also got to use the outstanding Oyster Card system, but that's another discussion.

People will pay more to use the Airport Line. But that doesn't mean that they should have to pay it.

Australian governments need to move away from the idea that public transport should be priced such that "user pays". When I use public transport everyone benefits - the car I don't use doesn't clog up the already over-crowded roads.

Of course, the only way this problem will get fixed is if the government buys the airport line, and given the (real or imagined) budgetary constraints, that hardly seems likely.

So, on we go, no doubt to the relief of the owners of the airport and taxi plates across the city.