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The new light rail line is imminent, which by the standards of the project means it might arrive in the next 18 months. Skeletal shelters have sprouted along the route, reassuring commuters that the government will eventually deliver something besides traffic delays.
Are we there yet? Light rail vehicles at a stabling yard next to Randwick Racecourse have been undergoing testing.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY
So here’s a question – will the new light rail line be free in the CBD, like Melbourne’s popular Free Tram Zone? Will tourists be able to jump on and off, avoiding the confusion of an unfamiliar ticketing system? And will locals be able to use the service as a shortcut if we’re running late to a meeting or laden with shopping?
Free trams would replace the handy 555 shuttle bus that looped between Central and Circular Quay before George Street closed. When I was a CBD resident, I used it frequently, and it was always full of tourists.
Melbourne’s freebies have opened up the far corners of the CBD grid. They’re brilliant for zipping between venues during the Comedy Festival, and allow visitors to jump off the Skybus and grab a tram without having to get their heads around the confusing Myki system.
Sydney’s Opal system lets tourists use credit cards on trams, and has a much less silly name – but a free zone here would give tourists jump on-and-off ease to cruise from World Square to the QVB to Circular Quay. City workers would duck downtown for yum cha or uptown to check out Vivid after work. And the more of Sydney we see, the more we’d spend.
Free city trams would also compensate for one of our city’s most unpleasant visitor experiences – the airport train that costs a dollar a minute to the city for carriages without luggage racks.
And free trams would encourage visitors to check out the Fish Markets, Tramsheds and Centennial Park on the paid network.
It’s far from Sydney’s most urgent public transport need, admittedly, but it would be a great way to heal the wounds caused during those lengthy, frustrating construction delays. The businesses along the route that managed to tough it out through the years of drilling would be stoked to have full trams delivering new customers throughout the day. And it seems appropriate for the government to say: Sorry, here it is at last, enjoy.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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