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Why Sydney Is Hell In The Morning

Like many Sydneysiders, my work commute should be a pretty straight forward affair.

From my home base in Petersham it’s a straight run into the CBD down the big arterial routes of Parramatta Road or Enmore Road. What could be simpler?

Or it’s a quick stroll to a rail station (Lewisham, Marrickville, Dulwich Hill -- I’m spoilt for choice) and, again, if the fates are kind and the stars align, I’m shouldering my way out of Town Hall Station and onto George Street before I know it.

Easy peasy.

And like many Sydneysiders, this is rarely the case, and I find myself building an extra half hour each way into my schedule in case something goes wrong. More often than not, I need that extra 30 minutes of transit time. Increasingly, it’s not enough. Buses are late or don’t show up at all. Trains are delayed. Both are frequently crowded to the point of ridiculousness -- all the strap-hangers jammed in together, breathing in each other’s armpit sweat while hoping your own isn’t too pungent.

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It’s as bad going as coming. Earlier this week I needed to get out to Ashfield to leach some wifi at the library (NBN fault knocked out the home office Internet, but that’s a rant for another day).

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At the bus stop a printed sign advised that some changes to the route had been made “to improve performance”; both Transport NSW’s website and the faded yellow timetable at the bus stop gave the same timetable info. Meanwhile Google Maps’ trip-planning functionality -- as good an option as any of the plethora of timetable apps Transport NSW recommends -- said that the bus had left our stop on time, which came as a surprise to the half-dozen would-be passengers still huddled at the bus shelter.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every city thinks their transport system is the worst in the world. It’s a claim I’ve seen made by Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth at different times, but lately Sydney seems determined to put the argument to bed once and for all.

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The Sydney commute is officially ranked the worst in Australia, with the daily average travel time for office workers a depressing 71.1 minutes, up 17 percent from 2002. That includes driving and public transport, of course, but you’ll be paying through the nose for the privilege of not roughing it with the plebs on the bus or train: in metro areas the annual cost of car ownership per household is now more than $17,000, thanks to fuel prices, tolls, and the punishing wear and tear that comes with city driving.

For many, a long commute is simply unavoidable -- rising housing prices mean living close to work is no longer an option, with a fair whack of your day spent behind the wheel or on the rails being the trade-off for actually being able to afford to keep a roof over your head.

Which means, of course, more cars on the roads, more bodies crushed into buses and train carriages, more stress, more unhappiness and, yeah, hyperbolic as it might seem, more loss of life and limb -- there’s a body count attached to being on the road. The Church Street exit of the M4 near Parramatta, popular because it lets canny drivers dodge the toll on their way into the city, is called Crash Alley for a reason, and the simple fact of the matter is that the more people there are traveling during rush hour, and the further they have to go, the more accidents will happen.

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The New South Wales State Government is always playing catch up with transport issues, and while projects like the M4 East tunnels and the long-delayed Light Rail expansion promise to ease congestion and shorten transit time, it’s pretty clear that these are solutions to yesterday’s problems -- by the time these are implanted, conditions will have continued to worsen. We’re running to stand still.

Meanwhile, the Berejiklian government’s drive to privatise has left Inner West commuters -- including me --  in the lurch, with private bus operator Transit Systems performing worse than the ostensibly unacceptable State Transit Authority service it was brought in to replace.

It’s enough to drive you to despair -- or, at the very least, to Uber. Car pool, anyone?

Featured Image: Getty