Working commuters; I feel for you.
Really, I do. Because overcrowded buses are no fun.
I can imagine what it must be like for you. You’re already tired from a full day at the office. You want to get home to your spouse, a glass of red wine, and Masterchef. You don’t want to have to endure a thirty minute bus ride sandwiched between ten different kinds of riff-raff.
It’s okay, though. There’s no need to worry. A wonderful little Sydney local rag, The Inner West Courier, is going to fix everything.
All we have to do, according to journalist, Naeun Kim, is get rid of all those pesky dole bludging pensioners who are taking up seats belonging to hard-working, tax-paying, Ordinary Australians.
Yup. An article last week, with the headline “Fare Way To Cut Crowding”, talks up a study by Professor Corrine Mulley, that recommends reducing pensioner travel to ‘off-peak’ times to help with chronic overcrowding on Sydney Public Transport. Kim’s article doesn’t make this clear, but I assume Mulley is referring to all kinds of pensioners; disabled people and carers, the unemployed, aged pensioners and students.
Mulley, who is Chair of Public Transport at the University of Sydney, supports her argument by claiming that the United Kingdom, South Australia, and Western Australia already ‘restrict’ pensioner travel by making it free after 9:30 am. She adds that Singapore already places even harsher restrictions on pensioner travel.
I’m not sure how free public transport in the UK, SA, and WA adds up to the need for restrictions in Sydney, and Mulley’s reference to Singapore, a nation with a less than perfect human rights record, just seems wrong. Mulley makes it seem as though us dole-bludgers should feel grateful right down to the soles of cheap our K-mart shoes for being so lucky as to be allowed on buses, trains and ferries at all, let alone being let on them in busy, peak-hour times.
Also creepy is Mulley’s smooth economic rationalism. She writes, “Society must provide accessibility to those on limited incomes, such as the elderly, but this needs to be balanced by an understanding of the costs of providing peak capacity and the impacts of crowding on public transport use.”
Translation: human rights are important, only if they don’t cost us too much.
And why does Mulley refer to us as ‘non-workers’ when ‘concession-card holders’ would do just fine? It’s almost as though she is trying to remind readers of the perception that pensioners aren’t useful contributors to Our Nation’s Great Economy.
Inner West Courier ‘journalist’, Kim, could have devoted several column inches to questioning the ideologies implicit in Mulley’s article. She could have balanced Mulley’s ideas against the need for provision of services to socially marginalised groups, and discussed the impacts such restrictions would have on pensioners. For some reason, Kim chose to devote almost the entire article to a bland, mostly positive summary of Mulley’s ideas.
Provision of public transport is unquestionably a human rights issue. Everyone, no matter if they are working, a student, unemployed, disabled, or on an old age pension, should be able to access services and participate in society. They should be able to do this when they want to, not at the convenience of the NSW government.
I think it’s great that public transport is overcrowded. Australia is a large producer of greenhouse gases, and public transport is one way of getting excess cars off the road. We don’t need to restrict public transport use, we need to increase services.
Mulley argues that this would take too long, and cost too much. But she offers no studies into whether or not pensioner restrictions would actually help the problem of overcrowded public transport. Overcrowding is such a huge problem, says Mulley, that we have to try it anyway, just to do something.
Another pressing problem that Mulley, and the Inner West Courier might like to tackle some day, is the lack of accessibility on Sydney’s Public Transport.
Many train stations do not have lifts. For me, this means making my way slowly up several flights of stairs, often stopping to catch my breath. It means feeling self-conscious and ‘in the way’, when hurrying, able-bodied, commuters crossly push past me, puzzled because a seemingly healthy young woman has inexplicably stopped, mid-climb.
Ascending stairs is also tiring, and it’s darn frustrating when your train is pulling into the station and you still have a whole flight to go. And there are many people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters who are even more adversely affected, being not able to access these stations at all.
Mostly, to the Kims, Inner West Couriers, and Professor Mulleys of this world, I want to say this:
Pensioners have lives to lead. We have places to go, things to do, and people to meet. Just because we are not full-time workers does not make our need to access shops and other services, or even just to get out of the house once in a while, any less worthy.
We might not contribute as much to the economy as that of the soulless corporate lawyer squashed next to us on the city-bound train, but our lives matter just as much.