Public transport for many just a private hell

When Angela Plows heads to the bus stop  to go to the doctor, to the shops or to catch a train to visit her family on the central coast  she first slings a backpack over her shoulder, heavy with the weight of an emergency nebuliser for her asthma.

When Angela Plows heads to the bus stop  to go to the doctor, to the shops or to catch a train to visit her family on the central coast  she first slings a backpack over her shoulder, heavy with the weight of an emergency nebuliser for her asthma.

The bus used to be convenient for Ms Plows, 67. When she moved to her home in Shalvey, north-west of Mt Druitt, in 1973, there was a bus stop in the street behind. Later there was a stop outside her house.

But about four years ago the weekday buses changed routes and weekend buses were slashed. The stop on her street vanished.

These days getting to a bus stop means a walk of at least 25 minutes, backpack on, through an unlit park, or a circuitous route around a school, or a field where Ms Plows is sometimes attacked by a dog.

Weve gone backwards, weve gone absolutely backwards, says Ms Plows, who has an eye condition and is unable to drive.

Her experience is unfortunate but not atypical.

According to maps developed by Kurt Iveson and Laurence Troy at the University of Sydney for an advocacy group, the Sydney Alliance, vast stretches of Sydney are without regular public transport services.

In some areas, particularly those with frequent services in the morning and afternoon peak, the maps might look overly harsh.

But in many places  from Penrith to Palm Beach, from Condell Park to Caringbah South  as soon as you get away from a main road or thoroughfare and into the windy streets of low-density suburbia, the frequency of services and the accessibility of public transport falls away sharply.

In demonstrating this, the maps fit the alliances agenda. That agenda is to promote public transport within 400 metres of every point across the city, running at a frequency of every 15 minutes.

To derive the maps, bus, train and ferry frequencies were averaged across a period from 5am to midnight.

Most regions of Sydney, including outer suburban areas, actually have some patches of good, frequent services, says Dr Iveson, a senior lecturer in urban geography.

But with the exception of the inner city, most regions also have significant gaps.

For instance, around Fairfield and Liverpool, some train stations and main roads offer frequent public transport services. But if you live in some of the suburbs in between these stations and roads, your public transport options are far more limited and dont meet the 400-15 minimum standard.

Ms Plowss transport options started to suffer when bus runs around her Shalvey home began to be concentrated on main roads about three years ago.

This meant that the main roads received a more frequent service at the expense of streets like hers.

They dont do loops of suburbs now, they just go down the main road, says Ms Plows, who raised seven of her own children and took in several foster children in her Shalvey home.

Thats no good, you know, for elderly people or people with kids.

Amanda Tattersall, director at the Sydney Alliance, says the gaps exposed by the maps show what happens when ordinary people are left out of the development of transport policy.

People are left in the lurch without access to transport that is reliable and usable, and therefore are left to suffer in congested traffic jams and forced to spend hours in parking lots on the M4 and M5 rather than with their family, she says.


Sarah Sullivan: Palm Beach

When Sarah Sullivan was thinking of moving to Palm Beach from Wahroonga with her husband and four kids a year ago, she was attracted to the beach  and all the signs. There are bus signs all around the Palm Beach area and the Whale Beach area ... it says 7am to 7pm, says Sullivan, 50. So we figured - great, buses. 7am to 7pm.

But the signs arent real.

The reality is that there are three school buses a day ... and they dont stop at all those signs.

Sullivan, a receptionist, drives most days. She says there is still plenty of demand for public transport from people to the east of Barrenjoey Road.

We have a broad range demographic, I know that there are three elderly people across the road that dont drive themesleves anywhere, says Sullivan, whose two younger children suffer an intermittent school bus service.

Valda Leate: Padstow Heights

Valda Leate is very happy with where she lives, with one exception  public transport.

I live in a retirement village and we dont have public transport come down our street, and at the top of our street there is a phantom bus stop, says Leate. It is just a pole.

When I came here to buy this place I thought there was transport at the corner, she says. There used to be a bus, but they withdrew it from Saturday and Sunday transport.

Leate lives at the Beauty Point Retirement Resort at Padstow Heights. About two years ago the 927 bus stopped running weekends. But even before then, the 927 had stopped running all the way down the hill to Beauty Point.

This left residents of the retirement home, and surrounding streets, facing a long walk uphill.

It is probably only a kilometre or so, but when you are 83 thats a long way. Im spending an awful lot of money on taxis, she says.

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