A Reflection on Public Transport

It’s the bane of many university students existence. (I know it’s the bane of mine because I’m one of those really lazy uni students who doesn’t have their license yet.)

To be fair, no university student I know drives their car all the time. The whole going out and drinking thing that uni students like to do isn’t compatible with driving.

So if you go to uni or want to go out drinking, you have to take public transport at some point. Even though it’s wonderful that I live in Melbourne that has a public transport system, there are so many problems with it that makes me wish I had bothered to get my license sooner.

Or you know, I could just shamelessly complain about it instead.

Firstly, public transport is hardly ever on time. Hardly ever. From my experience of catching it almost everyday, it’s hardly ever.

I understand that there is peak hour traffic and there can be weather, accidents and various other issues that can cause problems for public transport. But it seems odd that trains can end up being delayed by up to 10 minutes when there’s no major traffic at all for them to contend with.

Also when the train operator, like Melbourne’s Metro, decides to cancel your train you are forced you to wait for the next one. Another enlightening experience to add to your commuting day. Oh, and your train could skip your station like this.

They also can run early during non-peak hours. So getting to your stop a few minutes before isn’t a conceivable option.

But at least these operators will let you know (you hope) when you train or tram isn’t coming via announcements. They may even have mobile apps for this purpose. For example, the TramTracker app is a great way to help you plan your commute in Melbourne on trams.

But most bus stops in Melbourne have the problem of just having a stop with only a paper timetable. So there you go turning up to the stop in the vain hope that you will make the bus, which you probably have either missed because it was early, or it will be late.

There is so much waiting involved for public transport, I can understand why people are willing to fork out money to pay and run their cars everyday. Impatience is a persisting problem in human society and punctuality isn’t public transport’s strong point.

Second, there are level crossings… Now any intersection can be a ‘hazard’. Just driving and being around roads is hazardous if you’re not paying attention. But an intersection involving buses, cars, trains, pedestrians, cyclists and occasionally trams is just a cluster of bad waiting to happen.

People are inherently impatient and rash, so there will always be problems at intersections. Let alone level crossings where these ridiculously heavy hunks of metal are hurtling down the track so fast that anything in its way has no chance.

But this point particularly irks me. After witnessing the death of a pedestrian at my local level crossing (which has a pedestrian underpass might I add) and hearing of the many deaths that have happened before at level crossings, it surprises me that these accidents still happen.

10 deaths in 10 years aren’t comparable to Melbourne’s road toll, but they’re deaths that are preventable. With all the warnings at the crossing and knowledge of how little chance of survival being hit by a train gives you, people still take risks and accidents happen. It’s just sad.

Another point is that public transport can be so crowded. Around this time last year, Melbourne’s public transport was carrying 227.1 million passengers.

More and more people are using public transport and whenever there is a major problem with the network, there is major overcrowding. As well as many accompanying media articles about the overcrowding such as this. Photo helpfully provided just in case no one knew what a crowded train looked like.

So you have two choices: Either get to the station/stop at a non-functional hour, like 6am, and avoid the congestion by being ridiculously early, or you spend 10 to 20 minutes losing practically all of your personal space while clambering near a post to hold on to so you don’t topple over. (Seat? Ha. Unless you live at the end of the line, in which case you probably deserve one.)

I tried to avoid public transport overcrowding by only picking classes after 9am. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work out and I have gotten to know many fellow commuters too well by either hearing their entire phone conversations or falling on them. Both are great invasive ways to learn more about someone you previously didn’t care anything about.

I’ll try and offset this predominately negative post now and try to be more balanced about public transport. It does have some good points; the main ones being its cheaper and greener.

However it can get you from kind of near A to somewhere near B. Amazingly it can. You just may be late, you will probably have to walk and you may not have any personal space for your commute. But hopefully, somehow, you will get near to where you want to go.

There is also a free afternoon paper provided on the trains where I live, the mx, which can make being pressed up to a stranger slightly easier to ignore.

But ever since they started interviewing Australian Big Brother 2012 contestants every week, I lost some faith in mx‘s ability to distract me.

However public transport does give you time to just think. Often you are alone, accompanied by your music and it’s a great space to be by yourself. In fact, when you’re actually moving, 20 minutes of reading or listening to music can be invaluable personal time you struggle to find.

You might just have to spend this personal time waiting ages for your ride, after its already been cancelled once, proceeding to then spending the trip not being able to move properly while simultaneously praying to the almighty God of traffic that there isn’t an accident which could slow your trip down even further.

By Olivia Clarke
Australia's Student Newspaper, trying to Improve Student Life. We publish articles written by students from across Australia and the world!

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