The Wheels on the Bus…
If we think about the distinguishing features of our Eastern Suburbs, beaches probably come first, then lots of schools and churches perhaps, medium density housing, fairly narrow streets and a good smattering of parks, but not too far down the list most of us would include our public buses. If we consider the things we need in order to perform our daily work, our buses would figure fairly high on most of our lists.
The function that buses perform in our lives is important, but they are much more than just a means of transportation. Buses are part of our culture and what defines the nature of life in our suburbs. I often wake to their sound coming down Macpherson Street. Breakfast rituals and timed departures are scheduled to coincide with the bus timetable. For some of us the bus is a reading room, although these days it’s more often a time to catch up on emails!
Buses are a big part of our lives and often a source of memories. Remember when you were very young, going somewhere special with a parent or grandparent? The step was so high! Or the first time you were allowed to get the bus on your own and how tense you felt about missing your stop. Or, later in your teens, when the bus was a hot house of potential suitors. As we get older, it’s just nice to see someone you know and catch up with friends.
The very presence of buses on our roads and the sound they make contributes to what is different about living here from other places, particularly overseas. Our buses are iconic. They are also generally very reliable and clean. The behaviour on them is nearly always polite. There’s the occasional grumpy driver but many more who are a lovely source of interaction. On my local bus route we have always had lovely drivers who greet us and make a real effort to assist. During the hot months, it can be a bit tortuous in the afternoons competing with the crowds descending upon the beaches, but that’s just part and parcel of living in this area.
We know that our buses and their routes matter a lot to the people in the local area, not just because they are convenient and important for our transportation needs but because most people care a lot about the environment and believe in public transport. Our roads are already clogged and if our buses fail to meet our transportation needs, frankly, no one will move anywhere during peak hours.
In recent years, conservative governments have privatised bus services in other parts of Sydney and have both changed and reduced bus routes in the East. These were met by overwhelming opposition from people in the Eastern Suburbs. Indeed, the extent of community opposition caused the then NSW Liberal Berejiklian Government to promise to reintroduce the 378 Bronte bus, as well as commit to cease privatisation of public assets in NSW.
Figures from the state transport agency have revealed that since the Inner West buses have been privatised the punctuality of buses has worsened.
In late October this year, just a short time ago, the same Berejiklian Government announced their plan to sell off every last part of our public bus network. They also said they would build our next fleet of ferries overseas. Aside from the obvious issue of honesty, does this really matter? Does it matter who owns the buses we travel on, so long as they are reliable and cost-effective?
If you are up for a bit of personal research you could have a look at the expensive disaster that is bus privatisation in the UK. If you are feeling a bit more social than that, board your next bus and say g’day to the driver. You could even close your eyes for a minute and feel the ambience, or even actually talk to someone. After all, we are getting ready for the festive season.