Thursday, 21 June 2018

The problem of knowledge and culture, revisited

“Users, and the general public, generally have a low opinion of Melbourne’s trains and trams (note: buses are not even mentioned).”
Public Transport Users’ Association
“What will I do for public transport? I will improve the economy so you can find good enough work to be able to afford a car.”
(Quote from George Walker Bush during his presidential campaign)
“Public transport, that’s something they use in socialist countries”
As I noted in my previous post, knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is essentially zero among non-users. It has occurred to me that knowledge of how bad Melbourne’s bus services are is equally negligible among the users themselves.

On old print bus timetables there were numerous times marked with “S” for “school days only” and whenever I rode a bus that was not substantially empty, it was invariably filled with school children. It took no intellectual foresight to recognise that the majority of users of Melbourne’s buses were school children, who weren’t yet old enough to have a driver’s licence. It’s obvious that with their workloads, these school kids had no time to comment upon the services they were using whether they were dissatisfied or not. Although school courses as I experienced them did demonstrate benefits of using public transport instead of cars, they were exceedingly superficial, ignoring that:
  1. Australian cities have a public transport use share about one-seventh to one-eighth those of cities in East Asia and one-fifth those of cities in Europe
  2. Less than ten percent of government and private sector transport investment in Australia since 1968 has been in public transport
  3. Metabolic ecology demonstrates that Australian residents are bound to a sustainable per capita energy consumption no more than one-third that of residents of Europe, East Asia or the Americas
  4. No attempt is made to compare bus timetables in Australia with those in Enriched and Tropical World cities
    • Bus timetables are of course much easier to explain that complex ecology based on understanding of large amounts of data on chemical differences between soils and oceans
Without those explanations, bus users in Melbourne grow up exactly according to the PTUA’s George Bush junior quote. They have no desire but to own a car, and almost all do when they become old enough. Outer suburbs and rural areas where most families form and live have no desire to live the atomised lives led by public transport users in Enriched and Tropical World cities. These suburban and rural residents have cannot tolerate paying taxes for the inner cities, instead believing that environmental and social services should be provided by private communities.

Public transit is, no doubt, one of the services suburban and rural taxpayers most loathe to pay. As most work near home, these taxpayers require nothing bar a few school peak services, possess strong family ties to provide the services inner-city students need government to provide. and believe that their money is not to be spent on other people because that money is private property. In effect, Australian transport policy is dictated by an unofficial alliance between outer metropolitan and rural taxpayers and mining companies, who would lose severely if car sales were dramatically reduced. Discussing or proposing public transport services of comparable quality to European or East Asian cities is utterly taboo even within public schools, although Australian ecology dictates its public transport should be by far the best, fastest and most efficient in the world.

This is a taboo that has to end: school curricula must illustrate Australia’s unique low-energy ecology that dictate its people consume by far the least energy per capita the world, and that if road building were ended plentiful money would be available to pay for it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A severe indictment of Melburnians’ knowledge

Over the past two days, searching for a bookshelf for my brother’s new home and even for my mother’s birthday, I have undergone some quite substantial travels around Melbourne – to Ringwood, Watsonia, and Williamstown.

In comparison to the “galloping round the countryside” of twenty years ago, these trips have been rather less undisciplined and I have come home to actually eat dinner with my mother – something exceptionally rare even in the days before the Queen’s Birthday.

“Lack of public transport that can compete with the car leads to heavy car traffic” (Public Transport Users’ Association; ‘Driven around the bend Melbourne’s meandering bus routes’, May 2012)
Even if I have not been randomly “galloping round the countryside”, the desire in me to travel on as many bus routes as possible has never really been lost. With increasing runaway climate change observed everywhere, I have often joked that riding Melbourne’s awful bus services can show where global warming is coming from. Although it is true that all one-occupant car journeys being replaced by public transport would save a lot of energy, with age I have come to realise that almost exclusive focus on roads at the expense of rail is not the cause of Australia’s almost uniquely dreadful record when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, cars account for only about one-fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and both coal power and land clearing stand as equal culprits in giving the country the worst emissions record in the world, especially considering its uniquely low-energy ecology amongst extant continents.

What really struck me hard about these trips to inspect bookcases was that none of the sellers knew even the local bus routes whose stops they must have seen when driving! This ignorance is rendered easier by the extremely low frequencies (never more than every forty minutes) of many if not most buses in Melbourne, so that casual drivers may never see a bus when not looking. This gives the illusion that there is no public transport whatsoever away from rail lines and the old inner suburbs.

In fact, public transport more often than not does exist, but is of such abysmal quality that nobody with a car would dream of using it even if concerned about the effect of cars on out climate. Nonetheless, having to use such extremely bad public transport is something people from countries where road lobbies are less politically dominant needs to experience. It will show them how vested interests can ruin the environment and create traffic congestion, and how fortunate most of the Enriched World is regarding its public transport, and how I have had to sacrifice proposed library trips today to do shopping to pay for my brother’s new bookcase because of the slow and very infrequent public transport in Melbourne.