From Balmain to Camperdown in 100 minutes

Surprise, surprise: Sydney is bad at more than just nightlife.

Art: Maxim Adams

I’m standing by the side of the road waiting for a bus that is now 25 minutes behind schedule. A woman suddenly shouts “fucking shit fuck!” before calling to cancel a doctor’s appointment she no longer has any chance of making. To my right sits a tired, solemn old man with a leathery scowl on his face and a half consumed beer bottle hanging out of his back pocket.

Much like my comrades to either side, I find the daily transit to class infuriating — one I’m sure many of you can sympathise with. A typical trip to university will take me anywhere between 50 and 100 minutes; more if the traffic is heavy or if I miss a connecting service.

We often hear these complaints from those travelling intercity or from outer suburbs, where consecutive state governments ignore the need for upgraded mass transit systems. Horror stories about the Campbelltown line and the (hel)L90 bus route occupy my early classes. But I live in Balmain, less than five kilometres from the University of Sydney.

Perhaps this is part of the reason that I find myself so upset at the appalling state of Sydney’s transport infrastructure. I live in an Inner West suburb adjacent to the CBD, and it still takes me an exorbitant amount of time to get to class. If I can’t rely on our mass transit system, how could anyone in the outer suburbs possibly do so?

With a less-than-seamless rollout of Opal, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) took three years to implement a glitchy and expensive fare system, including the lengthy time it took to distribute student concession cards. Headlines congratulated then-Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian for completing the Opal roll out early, but only because TfNSW’s original deadlines were already extraordinarily long. I suppose everything is early when your deadline is essentially some time within the next decade.

Furthermore, the state government’s insistence that Opal would be cheaper than paper tickets held weight once they upped the price of paper tickets to encourage people to swap to Opal. Later, the government scrapped the free rides for Opal users had previously received once they’d hit their weekly rewards limit, in favour of a marginal discount. In a move that shocked no one, the free rides were discarded the same month paper tickets were formally discontinued.

Apparently our bus drivers seem to share my lack of faith in the state government’s ability to deliver adequate mass transit options, as more than 1,200 bus drivers in the Inner West and South Sydney area staged a sudden strike last month, despite the Industrial Relations Commission ruling it illegal. The strike was in response to the NSW Government’s proposal to privatise bus services in the Inner West, and was followed by a “free fare day” declared by over 3,500 bus drivers.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance told ABC News that he was “on the side of the commuter,” and that “they deserve better and more innovative service in the Inner West, they don’t deserve to be treated like this.”

If Constance were truly on the side of the commuter, he would have ensured Sydney buses were able to fulfill their obligations to the people of this city. As a commuter who missed two tutorials that day, I was not mad at the bus drivers for protesting, but at the Transport Minister for displaying an overwhelming degree of incompetence. A minister capable of doing their job would not be dealing with a 1,200 person strong illegal strike or a cold war with every bus driver within a 40 kilometre radius of the CBD.

Throughout the Inner West we are accosted by reminders of Westconnex and looking towards the city we see crane after crane, most involved in the construction of a behemoth casino tailored towards the internationally rich. So much is being built, but our infrastructure is rotting beneath us. As a resident of this urban mess of a city it makes me wonder: where are our priorities?

Sydney is a city of constant construction, but precious little innovation.