Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Socialist Alliance - Victoria: Say no to Brumby’s roads and tunnel madness!

Has the Brumby Victorian Labor government been hiding under a log? Hasn’t it noticed the reports showing that climate change is speeding up alarmingly and that transport is the fastest growing cause of greenhouse emissions in Australia?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the state government and its army of advisers had never heard about climate change. The Eddington report is titled “Investing in public transport: an east west link needs assessment” but it ignores the possibility of developing a public transport network which could actually be an alternative to private car travel. The report assumes that it isn’t possible for people to switch from cars to public transport.

This is scandalous but entirely predictable. Brumby got the report he wanted, one that will provide enormous contracts for big business. But the needs of th travelling public in the age of catastrophic climate change don’t get a look in.

Business as usual

Instead, Eddington’s recommendation is in line with the tradition of building more and more freeways while just tinkering with public transport. Remember former Premier Jeff Kennett declared that Melbourne needed Citylink because the Monash freeway was like a parking lot at peak hour. Now, we have an uninterrupted peak hour parking lot all the way from the Monash Freeway to the Westgate bridge and beyond, and they just want to keep building more of it

Implementing the $18 billion Eddington plan would mean that solving the issues of public transport would be postponed to the “never never” and road congestion and greenhouse emissions will increase with every road built. The main beneficiaries of the Eddington plan will be the construction companies that will make massive profits from building the tunnels, the banks that will finance them, and the petrol and motor vehicle companies that will continue to sell more cars and trucks.

The companies operating the public transport system also have no interest in such improvements, especially as the government pays them handsome subsidies. In fact, these subsidies have doubled since 1999 and are twice what they were when the system was publicly owned.

Why do people use cars instead of public transport?
# Services are unreliable, frequently cancelled and overcrowded
# There’s no public transport near where they live
# The private bus service near where they live doesn’t run at night or on the weekend
# Public Transport is too expensive
# For shiftworkers, public transport doesn’t operate when they start or finish work

# The low frequency of services at night and on weekend even where they do exist

Every one of these issues can be resolved.

People want to use public transport?

If it was more convenient to catch public transport than drive a car, tens of thousands would do so. People aren’t averse to using public transport.

Since petrol prices started to rapidly increase in 2007, people have been switching from cars to public transport in unprecedented numbers for travel to and from work. But the system hasn’t been able to cope with the increased patronage because the state government refuses to put the necessary resources into it.

During the Olympic Games in Sydney and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, there was a big increase in people using public transport because, for the time of the events, public transport was increased.

Patronage on V-Line country services has roughly doubled over the past year – due to a 20% fare cut, increased services and new carriages. There is still a long way to go in the country but this shows clearly what is possible – if the political will is there.

But the public transport system isn’t good enough for it to be a real alternative for most people at the moment.

What Socialist Alliance wants:
# The billions of dollars that Eddington wants for his insane project should instead be invested in public transport to extend services, introduce new services and increase their frequency. Thousands more staff should be hired, new rolling stock purchased and the necessary infrastructure put in place
# As a simple safety measure, and to encourage patronage, all train stations should be fully staffed from the first service to the last.
# Public transport should be made free
# Public transport should be brought back into public ownership and operation.
# There should be a moratorium on road building. Maintain the roads and keep them safe but with peak oil and climate change, motor vehicle usage must be massively downgraded in favour of public transport and rail freight.
# In addition to public transport, bike paths need to be upgraded and expanded to make cycling a safer and more convenient option to driving.

Given that both state and federal governments, whether Liberal or Labor, only listen to the vested interests of the oil and automobile industries, we have to organise so that the people’s voices drown out these vested interests. Until we develop a people’s movement that demands serious action for public transport and against the road lobby and climate change, none of the governments will be prepared to take serious action to make public transport a better option than using a private car.

Socialist Alliance is involved in trying to build such a people’s movement for serious action to avoid climate change. We are involved in campaigns against the desalination plant, against the rush to build more freeways. Socialist Alliance is also involved with other climate action groups in taking mass collective action dramatise that the government and the energy industry phase out the use of coal and shift to renewable energy.

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