MDIA2003_19 Tues3.30 (2019)

Are we nearly at the end of the line?

By Sophie Dicalfas

Finally making it on board, commuter Jackie Hon-Mong scans the bus for a seat.

Hoping not to damage her sketches, she carries her Architecture work in hand.

Hon-Mong embarks on her one-hour commute from the University of Sydney Camperdown to her Matraville home. She blames the long commute on the traffic caused by the CBD & South East Light Rail construction which began in October 2015.

Commuter Jackie Hon-Mong waiting for the bus at her local bus stop

Nearly three and a half years later, the construction is embedded in the daily routine of commuters.

“I dread the time commuting to uni more than actually being at uni” says Hon-Mong.

The Light Rail project end date is continually being delayed as the project cost has risen from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion. This was according to a 2014 media release from Gladys Berejiklian, who was then the Transport Minister. Now the Premier, Ms. Berejiklian declined an interview about its current impact on commuters.

Many Sydney-siders have found that this project has come at a cost not only to the Government, but to the individual.

UNSW Kensington student Lauren Brenner lives in Coogee and has a half-hour commute.

“The bus in the morning often gets stuck in traffic”, Brenner says. She also admits that a forty-minute walk from Coogee is often “easier”.

While the Light Rail will transport commuters like Brenner from Coogee to Kingsford, the question remains of whether nearly four years of major inconveniences will be worth the 12km rail line.

As the Light Rail commences testing in Randwick, some commuters are anticipating the network’s operation. Recreational public transport user, Elizabeth Burke from Clovelly says, “I will be anxious to see it”. Whereas Marguerite Graupner from Maroubra, another recreational commuter, says she “can’t see the purpose of it” and is not enthusiastic for its operation.

Light Rail stop on High Street next to UNSW

Impacts have been felt in several ways including the wellbeing of commuters, such as cyclist Oliver Mullins who broke his thumb as a direct result of construction.

“Now they’ve filled in the actual rails with concrete, but at [one] point they hadn’t, so there was a gap in the road which unfortunately was the right width for my bike wheel, which slipped in and I fell off”, said Mullins.

Another impact includes confusing and incongruent signage which saw Mark Abercrombie lose his driver’s license from speeding as speed limits dropped from 70km/hr to 40km/hr, even though “there were no workers on the site”.

Current public transport options have seen commuters getting creative with their travel routes.

ACU student Meg McDonald combines trains, driving, walking and parking in paid shopping centres to get to campuses at Strathfield and Burwood. McDonald says that she cannot substitute driving for a bus as “that would triple the time”.

UNSW student, Nicole Power has a near two-hour commute from Lindfield to Kensington using public transport which would be a twenty-five-minute direct car drive. Power “drive[s] to [Rosehill] station then I get on the train then I catch the [express] bus from central”.

The Light Rail will make the commute from Central to Kensington easier for Power as the current express bus often has a queue as each bus is filled.

Commuters Christopher, Jarryd and Hayden wait as multiple buses fill to get home to Bexley, Seven Hills and Mount Colah respectively.

The Light Rail presents itself as a solution to this overcrowding as the infrastructure partner of the project, Acciona say “each [Light Rail] service will carry up to 450 passengers, equivalent to nine standard buses”.

Commuters queueing for the express bus from UNSW Kensington to Central Station

In the interim, commuters have found there is little support for the inconveniences caused. The administration department for the Light Rail project was difficult to contact therefore not allowing any inquires to be countered.

80-year-old Margaret Graupner finds this frustrating as she takes issue with the removal of main bus stops and their relocation in inconvenient places.

She says the “popular bus stop outside David Jones on Elizabeth Street is gone and is now nearly down at Circular Quay!”, requiring a twenty-five-minute uphill walk for an elderly person.

The NSW Government made a statement in October 2015 about new Sydney CBD routes.

“The new network will ultimately reduce the number of buses caught in peak hour traffic and make it easier to move through the city.”

While the number of buses has decreased, the number of commuters has not.

When approached to comment, Sydney Buses redirected information to their website. According to the Future Transport 2056 strategy, buses have been key to building transport infrastructure as “red bus lanes, bus priority at intersections and more efficient bus stop placement” have supposedly been enacted since 2015.

These adjustments are not felt by the public as full-capacity buses and extra cars are causing the congestion.

The NSW Transport Roads & Maritime Services published a Key Roads Performance Report in February 2019 which stated that Anzac Parade traffic peaks from 6.30am-9.15am.

Anzac Parade faces some of the largest variations of travel time. Many commuters such as Meg McDonald believe this is because “the lanes are [becoming] limited” to accommodate the rail tracks and terminals. Also, it “gets rid of parking options” as Kingsford’s tram terminal has eliminated a free parking station.

Likewise, Marguerite Graupner has struggled with the construction barricades in the middle of main roads saying “the rail lines don’t make sense, sometimes they’re this side, sometimes that side”.

Leader for Regional Assessments for the NSW Government, Silvio Falato gives his opinion saying, “I think it depends on how [the Light Rail] weaves through the traffic… as they can zip in their own lanes and travel faster. But they do converse over roads”.

Cyclist Oliver Mullins says, “[commuters] will have to stop at all the new lights so it could be slow and disruptive”.

Despite losing his license, Kensington resident Mark Abercrombie feels fortunate to live along the Light Rail route.

He says he is “eager to be able to commute to work in the CBD faster and easier”.

“I am one of the lucky ones, as I don’t have to travel to get on to the Light Rail route which I know most other people have to do.”

Overall most commuters interviewed said that they would need another mode of transport to get to the rail line, making it almost redundant. Hon-Mong said, “I don’t really see any point in getting off the bus and then catching the Light Rail” when she can get a bus directly. However, the future of these bus routes is uncertain.

A possibility theorised by Silvio Falato is that the Light Rail could continue further down Anzac Parade southbound, “where they’re doing a lot of [apartment] development… [so] it might get better if it expands more”.

Commuters continue to wait as their questions will soon be answered to decipher whether the long-term gain of the Light Rail be worth the short-term pain.

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