BY JOSHUA KINDL
Disgruntled NSW residents and commuters gathered in the Sydney CBD last Saturday to protest recent transport decisions made by Gladys Berejiklian’s state government.
Approximately 1000 individuals marched together through the Sydney CBD, commencing at Hyde Park and finishing at Martin Place, as a demonstration of concern and frustration with the NSW State Government and their handling of the state’s public transport.
Greens MP for Balmain, Jamie Parker, said the rally should serve as a wakeup call to a state government that many feel has fallen asleep at the wheel.
“It’s a really clear demonstration of the frustration that people feel not only about public transport but about the direction the state government is going.
“This is a demonstration of everyday people saying they’ve had enough.”
The rally drew protestors from within The Greater Sydney Region, The Blue Mountains, Newcastle and Wollongong, with many advocacy and local government groups represented among those attending.
NSW Secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (TRBU), Alex Claasens, said the anger of many protestors at the rally stemmed from a lack of effective community consultation between residents and the state government.
“We’ve had a transport minister that just hasn’t bothered talking to anybody; doesn’t consult people, and; this is what happens.
“Most people just want to hear that somebody is listening to their issues and at the moment, a lot of people think that nobody is.”
Indeed, the anger directed at the NSW Government by those marching was palpable. Secretary of Penrith Valley Community Unions, Mary Court, drew the loudest cheers of the day when she evoked Peter Finch’s iconic monologue from the 1976 film, Network.
“We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” she said to a rapturous reception.
Speaking further, Ms Court said that many Sydney residents felt it was time for the state government to start listening to their concerns.
“The whole community is sick to death of politics. This is our issue, and we’re taking it straight to the voting booths,” she said.
Issues raised by individuals at the rally included the F6 Tunnel Route, tollways along the M4, privatisation of public transport in Newcastle, and WestConnex Stage 3, each of which has faced significant public backlash throughout their respective developments.
Greta Werner, F6 Action Group, said that she hoped to appeal to the NSW Government to fix issues she fears may harm her community.
“The [exhaust] stacks are spewing pollution over schools, roads and parks. It’s not safe for our kids,” she said.
Another principle concern of many attending was the recently completed sale of the Inner West’s bus transport systems to a private operator by the NSW State Government.
Transit Systems, a Perth-based public transport group, recently won the eight-year tender and will begin handling principle operations on July 1.
Colin Schroeder, Co-Convenor Eco Transit, says that the new plans have not been made with the best interest of Inner West residents in mind.
“It won’t serve the Inner West at all. You just have to look at Newcastle with the privatisation of the transport up there. There are less routes; the bus stops are being reduced in number so they can speed the busses up, but they don’t get the same service.
“Transport in the Inner West is going to become a bigger and bigger problem. They don’t really have any answers [for] it,” he said.
Bus systems in the Inner West are Sydney’s second busiest, with over 4 million fares across Adult, Senior and Concession passengers during the month of October 2017.
The public transport zone currently operated by Transit Systems serviced slightly more than 800,000 fares across the same variety of passengers during that time period.
Despite an approximate jump of 3.2 million passengers per month, NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance, said in a recent statement that the privatisation of these bus systems will deliver marked improvements to Inner West commuters and residents.
“More services on key routes will be progressively introduced over the first four years, with an extra 4.8 million of bus service kilometres – that’s a 21 per cent increase across the Inner West by the end of 2021.
“This means services will be high frequency and turn up and go, with customers eventually able to tear up their timetables, knowing a bus will arrive at their stop regularly.”
Further, Minister Constance stated that the government would not allow the sale to negatively affect bus systems within the inner west, citing contractual obligations agreed to by the new operator.
“Transit Systems is contractually committed to deliver reliable bus services and make catching a bus a better experience in the Inner West and we’ll be holding them to it,” Mr Constance said.
However, MP Jamie Parker said that it was vital for the government to listen to community feedback and to adjust their plans accordingly.
“I think Gladys is very aware of the fact that her minister, Minister Constance, has not performed well.
“If we can’t get public transport right, then we lock people into tollways, we fleece the people of Western Sydney in particular and that’s a direction we shouldn’t be going in,” he said.