Ad for Henry Halloran Lecture
Opinion //

The death of the 610X

The loss of familiar transport to a city of change

Artwork by Mei Zheng

The Great Barrier Reef. The old Sydney tram network. The 610x to Rouse Hill. Three seemingly strange bedfellows united by one transcendental quality of solidarity: being decimated and reduced by human activity to shells of their former selves.

To the uninitiated observer, it may seem strange to be sentimental over a bus and bus route. Yet in the same way that people grow attached to their cars, a bus route can develop into a major feature of one’s life. The bus itself takes on all the hallmarks of an automotive symbol. It becomes a finished portrait of past memories, and a sketch of future adventures. The silent third through sixth wheels  throughout many of life’s iconic moments.

Your bus was there when you were unable to drive home having had a drink or two (or twenty). It was present when you were feeling elated, or disappointed, after a first date. There is, of course, that time you admittedly can’t quite remember getting on the bus, but you remember just enough  missing your stop and waking up somewhere slightly familiar, before frantically pushing the stop button. Your bus was there throughout all the laughs, the sadness, the angsty staring out the back window, and the jovial fighting over your favourite seat with your favourite people. Throughout it all, there was always one constant. Your bus was there. 

The spectre of change haunts public transport. It always has. Yet the qualms with Transport NSW’s new arrangements run deeper than mere sentimentality over the death of familiar transport.  We must ask whether, amid the major upheaval inherent in the supposed progress of the metro, if what we are losing are merely memories, or more perniciously, convenient and accessible transport options.

The noble Rouse Hill variant of the 610x was brutally cut down in the middle of its prime, but the metro as it stands now is a youth on the precipice of its peak, a mere portion of its possible glory, reaching only from Tallawong to Chatswood. The changes did not wait until the city link was finished to connect the west to the city without transferring to train lines. Transport NSW is not merely encouraging people to use the new (unfinished) metro, but in many cases actively forcing them by dramatically reducing the reach and frequency of certain services.  Surely the benefits of new, convenient, and most notably additional modes of transport are lost if they fail to add flexibility as an alternative, and instead become a necessity denigrating the quality of the trip for travellers.

Buses to certain areas, especially between the city and the Hills, now inexplicably start later and finish earlier, harming the potential for those relying on them to enjoy Sydney’s nightlife. This is compounded by the fact the Metro services currently finish earlier than buses previously did. Even when the Metro is an option, it again relies on numerous changes. Commuters previously blessed with a direct line to the city now face having to change modes of transport multiple times, worsened by often late — or sometimes mysteriously missing — buses or trains, resulting in missed connections and further delays. For example, one of the Transport NSW TripPlanner website’s suggested means of travelling from QVB to Kellyville in the very early hours of Sunday morning after a Saturday night in the city — previously a single trip on the blessed 610x — now involves waiting for close to an hour to transfer to a different bus. Even if nominal transit time is reduced, recent changes pose numerous safety issues for vulnerable people­, especially people travelling alone, young people, or those somewhat intoxicated. Those safety issues can only really be circumvented by those who can afford an expensive Uber.

The reduction in peak time direct bus services — the only slot where buses like the 610x are temporarily restored to their former glory — also guarantee crowding on certain services, dictating access to the bus by means of a lucky draw for commuters at the right stop at the right time. This adds unforeseen delays rippling through the rest of the bus schedule, hampering the ability for people living in the West to travel to work in the city. The changes to routes on top of times also mean that many commuters may not have an easy way to actually access Metro stations, especially if they are unaware of the new “On Demand” public transport trial, or unable to use it unless they walk substantial distances. This poses serious problems for those less mobile and those simply without the time to do so.

More than mere sentimental dismay, these changes have had the effect of increasing commute time, confusion and cost. The nature of these harms are likely to be disproportionately felt by those who can afford them least: The parents that combine their career with their caretaking now have less time at home, those who face an uphill struggle in constantly changing transport, and those in unforeseen circumstances at now inconvenient times needing transport quickly and directly.

The Rouse Hill 610x is dead, at least when measured to its former heights and frequency. It has gone where many buses like it have gone, to the waste bin of convenience, nostalgia, and simpler times. Those who will be unduly hindered by the changes to Public Transport will forget the 610x one day, but not soon enough.