For the benefit of friends of mine who read this blog, I’ll be in Sydney for the latter half of next week visiting friends — if you want to catch up with me, let me know.
Russell Coker writes on the comparison of costs of Public Transport as compared with that of using a car. I see two key flaws with his argument:
Firstly, the costs of travel that he uses are fairly specific to Melbourne, where there exists a very good ticketing system amongst all forms of public transport, therefore a trip involving a bus to a train station, a train to the CBD, followed by a tram to final destination is all covered within the same ticket, and $2.76 is certainly a very cheap price for this. I believe that this argument only applies to cities with such a system (or cities like Hobart, where there is only one primary form of public transport, with a single supplier). For example, in Sydney, tickets only apply to the provider of transport that the ticket is purchased from: so, a trip involving, say, a bus, a train and then a second bus would require three separate fares (in fact, fares are not even consistent within a single provider — the Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this year that there exist more than 100 individual fares for the rail system there. Sorry for the lack of a proper citation — SMH appear to have removed the relevant article).
Secondly, Russell’s argument relies upon a definite choice between public transport, and private car ownership: this is since, as he rightly points out, the cost of registration and insurance tend to be flat, annual fees, that do not depend on how far you travel in the year. Therefore the only way to decrease the “per kilometre” cost of car travel is to travel more. This implies that the choice to occasionally travel by car, and occasionally by public transport will actually increase the total cost of owning a car. At least one friend of mine does not travel by public transport for this reason.
Whist the sole use of public transport may be a viable option for people living near the centre of large cities (such as the relatives I stayed with during LCA this year, the trains were very regular extending well into the night), it is not an option for many others. Transportation here in Hobart into the night is very sparse, and implies either the choice of perfectly timing one’s evening to coincide with a once-every-three- hours bus service, or paying for a taxi, which costs considerably more than a private vehicle per kilometre (for example, a trip from the airport to where I live, approximately 15 kilometres will cost $40 — a cost of $2.66/km). This therefore makes access to a car imperative in many places.
In summary, I’m not surprised by the relative lower cost of trips by public transport, but in a circumstance such as this where not owning a car is a serious inconvenience, the collateral costs that the use of public transport entails makes it a less appealing option.