19 April 2019

First up

It was a practical joke by son no.2 and I won it! He entered me in the draw for one of 150 double passes (from 6,000 applications) for a trip on the Light Rail Community Preview Loop and I won. Strange but true. It was a slightly difficult experience for someone otherwise disparaging of light rail for Canberra. The trip itself was as I expected. The tram was comfortable and quick enough. Most riders were excited and several spoke longingly of a city-wide network. Cost (and forgone alternatives) didn't seem to enter awareness or to be an issue. Mostly I kept quiet and listened. I mentioned my position to staff when asked and we laughed about me being there through a practical joke. The boss later came to talk/confirm/quiz me but otherwise I was left alone like the other elderlies. The only media on our tram (10 trams were running) was KIX106 or suchlike and their interviews were limited. But I enjoyed the trip well enough. It was nothing unexpected. For fun, given various aps, I checked speed (70kph in Gunghalin; 60kph on Northbourne) and noise level (~65db but up to 70db at speed). Not quite like the European fast trains that I downloaded the aps for.

But my issue is cost-benefit and other practicalities rather than trams themselves. So what would I have said if interviewed by mainstream media? "I like trams but I don't want to pay for them" was perhaps my favourite distillation. There are so many reasons why a tram is not optimal. It's expensive for what it does especially given we have no tracks already in place; the network requires frequent changes and has fewer stops; there are up and down tracks but no passing for express trips; it's inflexible. On the other hand, it's more comfortable than buses and it's fairly quiet and is promised to be quite frequent. It promotes density so developers love it and it's a commitment by Labor to the Greens for government. It also merges brilliantly with Hockey's Asset Recycling Fund (I understand our Labor government is the principal beneficiary) which promotes the sell-off of government assets (here, land up and down Northbourne Ave). It's a preparation for climate change (although there are alternatives, eg, electric buses) and a response to manic immigration by Federal government (ever frightened of a possible recession). It's a little like Brexit in the way it's divided the people, so you might like trams even if (or perhaps because) you don't think of the cost. I like trams well enough but the opportunity cost riles me (opportunity cost: what you could otherwise be doing with that money). In that, to my mind, it's like the cars-for-subs swap or the tragically inadequate NBN or the culture-war AWM expansion: bad decisions may be popular but they make us poorer. But many cities are doing it, ie, trams: it seems to me like a contrarian version of the time when most cities pulled out of trams in favour of cars and suburbia. I well remember a generous tram network in '60s Adelaide that's now just a single track to Glenelg. Now Melbourne and Milan are proud that they didn't join in the tram-removal mania. I wonder if we may regret our contrary decision soon enough, too, as I think on new (and often cheaper) technologies like trackless trams and self-drive cars and the rest. I expect we will still need public/mass transport and I fully support it, but I'm yet to be convinced trams are the answer for untracked contemporary Canberra, especially as tech changes over coming years. But a Woden track is in planning (I frequently see surveyors along the route), even part-funded as a Federal ALP election promise and the acolytes dream of a network (presumably into the tens of $bs). Woden alone is costed at ~$1.5b (less ALP's $200m election promise) for a much shorter route, more costly given the need to cross the lake. And it will come undoubtedly with its own tunnel of apartments. Development is never easy to promote, partly given the public (other than direct beneficiaries) has a comfortable preference for stasis, but it would be nice to be convinced. I may never be convinced, but it's a fact-of-life now and the responsibility is others'.

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