Beyond the spin, how many pollies are on the bus? 

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A bus stop at Turner… The bus timetable issue has not been well handled and when queries are raised the responses lack empathy. Photo: Paul Costigan

“Listen to how bureaucrats and their ministers talk about public transport and it becomes obvious that they don’t base their comments on personal experiences but rather on the spin,” writes Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

AT the June Woden Community Council meeting an audience member raised issues around the new bus timetables. She had two horror stories based on personal experiences. 

Paul Costigan.

It was obvious that this sort of problem was not matching the model the government wanted everyone to believe was in place for the new 2019 timetables.

It was then I realised that despite all the spin about how the bus timetables provide faster transport more often (or something like that), I wondered how many ACT politicians have first-hand experiences of these new bus services. 

Listen to how bureaucrats and their ministers talk about public transport and it becomes obvious that they do not base their comments on personal experiences but rather on the spin developed by a cabal of spin doctors.

The bus timetable issue has not been well handled and part of the problem is when queries are raised and people tell their stories, the responses lack empathy. And why not – the politicians and most chief bureaucrats would have little regular experience with how the buses are operating. 

Surely, if it is as good as the government spin doctors would have us believe, then it would be logical for the politicians to be joining the queues for the tram and for those very efficient buses. The obvious question must be: how many of the many ACT politicians catch the bus and tram as their regular means of transport?

Then a question asked about the provision of a new Woden bus interchange. A resident asked that surely the government is not going to proceed with this until it has finalised the whereabouts of the tram stop so that the two modes of transport are integrated. 

An oblique answer from a transport bureaucrat followed that the new bus interchange was about more than just the tram, it needed to link in with other forms of transport – being cyclists and pedestrians. When it was suggested that the Gold Coast tram integrates beautifully with the buses – the response was: “Well, that’s the Gold Coast – things are different there”. 

What people heard that evening was that the design of the new Woden bus interchange was not necessarily to be linked to the yet to be decided tram stop in Woden. Really?

Then came this latest weirdness. Several weeks ago, Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury floated the possibility of allowing motorised scooters on to Canberra’s footpaths and roads. 

Residents know that things are already dangerous out there given that the city still has not worked out successfully how to have bicycles and cars together – and that the footpaths are very contested spaces with people trying to walk peacefully while being harassed by cyclists and the occasional motorised thingy whizzing past – and a couple of motorised scooters have been spotted. 

Canberra has outstanding matters around having more appropriate infrastructure for cars, bicycles and for people to feel relaxed about walking – without introducing something dangerous to please the lobbyists. 

Check out the statistics for Brisbane – one serious incident almost daily since the introduction of motorised scooters. Singapore is having huge problems with personal mobility devices (PMD) and several European countries are on the verge of banning motorised scooters.

The same business opportunists now have Rattenbury and his need to look modern in their sights. 

Dear Shane, walking peacefully while enjoying the outdoors is great – so please encourage more walking by making footpaths and shared pathways safer – not more dangerous.

This wonderful city has numerous transport and related infrastructure matters that should have been sorted by now. Getting the appropriate attention and resources allocated remains difficult when residents’ experiences are very different to the elected politicians. 

Google “no perks for Swedish MPs” and you will find an example that should be adopted as realistic and relevant employment conditions for ACT politicians.

And next time you meet a local politician, please ask: “Do you catch public transport regularly – and if not, why not?”

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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