Sunday, August 18, 2019

Making our public transport network job ready


Public transport doesn't just exist for its own sake; it runs because it's useful for people and good for cities.

A state parliamentary committee is currently inquiring into sustainable employment for disadvantaged jobseekers

I wrote a submission on the transport disadvantage dimensions of this.

A key theme is that the types of jobs that disadvantaged jobseekers may go for (eg low pay, casual, less skilled) tend to be especially difficult to reach by public transport. This may be because they are located in places where routes are limited (notably industrial areas) or the working hours required may not suit access by public transport.

The latter, as we currently run it, is biased towards the (middle-upper income) weekday CBD worker. It quickly falls away in quality for cross-suburban and evening/weekend travel, such as many jobs require. This is without taking into account the areas where many jobless live, which may only have limited bus services (for example Route 844 to Doveton or 538 to Campbellfield - both areas with high unemployment).

Other transport options

Non-public transport options are also not necessarily very good. Modern (ie postwar) zoning has put industrial areas away from homes (likely due to past noxious industries, which are less now). So even if one wanted to one often can't live walking or cycling distance from work.

Even if distances are modest (such as between the industrial areas of Truganina and where the housing now starts) one would be mad to cycle due to limited cycling facilities and high truck volumes. It's worth noting that casual workers don't get access to sick pay and workers compensation doesn't cover injuries sustained during trips to and from work. Not to mention interference to any family responsibilities that injuries may cause. Hence both the risk and consequences of injury are higher, and, in many peoples minds, outweigh the long-term health benefits of active transport.


And taxi/Uber fares can amount to an hour's pay, even for quite short trips. Especially for part-time workers transport for a single shift can amount to a high proportion of what that shift would pay, making work less worthwhile than it should be. That's bad for incentive and the social contracts our society is based on, e.g. reward for effort and being able to keep most of what one earns. 


Similar issues apply for car ownership, especially where a vehicle is only purchased due to the unavailability or impracticability of other transport options. The latter applies both for single people and low income working couples on the cusp of deciding whether they need one or two cars.

The structure of the labor market and trends such as casualisation makes long-term housing location or car purchase decisions somewhat risky if a new job doesn't last. However either or both may be necessary for a person transitioning to or between jobs.

Building a job-ready network

Public transport can become an enabler - not a barrier - of opportunity that could assist long-term unemployed find and continue in work.

However the network must first be made job-ready. For jobs at diverse times in diverse places, not just 9 to 5 in the CBD

This means bus routes need to connect employment areas with train stations all around and operate early and late enough to be useful.

The same goes for train services, with some important weekend and evening frequency upgrades required, like 7 - 10pm evenings and 7 - 10am Sundays.

On both we badly lag Sydney; many times when their trains are running every 15 minutes ours are still only every 30 or 40 minutes. Like on Sunday morning, as I write this. Local buses haven't  yet started running. That's apart from exceptions like the 582, a low patronage fringe route with a sparsely populated high car-owning catchment that you'd think would least deserve service. The buses to run busy routes like 220 between Sunshine and the city or the 733 between Clayton and Box Hill are still siting idle in their depots.

The good thing though is that most service upgrades just need our existing trains and buses to be worked harder for more of the day, with few if any extra new vehicle purchases required.


The above is just a taste. Read the whole submission here (Submission No 6). I'll await the committee's report with interest.

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