Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sydney Morning Herald Listens To Commuters Out West - Struggles To Get On Board

For many, public transport is now a private hell

Jacob Saulwick

Transport Reporter

WHEN Angela Plows heads to the bus stop - to go to the doctor, to the shops or to catch a train to visit her family on the central coast - she first slings a backpack over her shoulder, heavy with the weight of an emergency nebuliser for her asthma.

The bus used to be convenient for Ms Plows, 67. When she moved to her home in Shalvey, north-west of Mountt Druitt, in 1973, there was a bus stop one street away. Later there was a stop outside her house.

But about four years ago the weekday buses changed routes and weekend buses were slashed. The stop on her street vanished.

Valda Leate (left) and Alessandra Copeta

These days getting to a bus stop means a walk of at least 25 minutes, backpack on, through an unlit park, or a route around a school, or a paddock where Ms Plows is sometimes attacked by a dog.
''We've gone backwards, we've gone absolutely backwards,'' says Ms Plows, who has an eye condition and is unable to drive.
Her experience is unfortunate but not atypical.

According to maps developed by Kurt Iveson and Laurence Troy at the University of Sydney for an advocacy group, the Sydney Alliance, vast stretches of Sydney are without regular public transport services.
In some areas, particularly those with frequent services in the morning and afternoon peak, the maps might look overly harsh.

But in many places - from Penrith to Palm Beach, from Condell Park to Caringbah South - as soon as you get away from a main road and into the windy streets of low-density suburbia, the frequency of services and the accessibility of public transport falls away sharply.

In demonstrating this, the maps fit the alliance's agenda. That agenda is to promote public transport within 400 metres of every point across the city, running at a frequency of every 15 minutes.

To derive the maps, bus, train and ferry frequencies were averaged across a period from 5am to midnight.
''Most regions of Sydney, including outer suburban areas, actually have some patches of good, frequent services,'' says Dr Iveson, a senior lecturer in urban geography.

''But with the exception of the inner city, most regions also have significant gaps.
''For instance, around Fairfield and Liverpool, some train stations and main roads offer frequent public transport services. But if you live in some of the suburbs in between these stations and roads, your public transport options are far more limited and don't meet the 400/15 minimum standard.''

Ms Plows's transport options were reduced when bus runs around her Shalvey home began to be concentrated on main roads about three years ago.

This meant that the main roads received a more frequent service at the expense of streets such as hers.

''They don't do loops of suburbs now, they just go down the main road,'' says Ms Plows, who raised seven of her own children and took in several foster children.

''That's no good, you know, for elderly people or people with kids.''

Amanda Tattersall, director at the Sydney Alliance, says the gaps show what happens when ordinary people are left out of the development of transport policy.

''People are left in the lurch without access to transport that is reliable and usable, and therefore are left to suffer in congested traffic jams and forced to spend hours in parking lots on the M4 and M5 rather than with their family,'' she says.

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