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RTBU branch secretary Nick Lewocki retires with optimistic expectations for New South Wales' railway and public transports. He calls for a co-ordinated strategy for Sydney transport and less easy cost-cutting.
Nearly 50 years ago, I started working on the NSW Railways as a station attendant at Glenfield Station. Ever since then I have worked on the railways or in the union movement, and for the past 12 years I have served as branch secretary of the NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU).
At the end of this year, I'll be hanging up the shingle and retiring as secretary to spend more time with my family, and to look after my health.
Obviously, a lot has changed in transport during my time in the industry, but perhaps the biggest change has been the resurgence of public transport use in the past decade. Traffic jams, the cost of petrol and concern about pollution are three of the main reasons why people are turning to public transport in record numbers all over the country.
For an old railways man, this is a welcome development. But it also has exposed the need for governments at all levels to start paying more attention to public transport. Decades of neglect and under-investment have left the system unprepared for the level of demand it now has to handle. We need to act quickly.
First of all need to make sure there are enough staff working on the frontline. Without extra staff, crowded stations, trains and buses will get increasingly difficult to manage. We need to make sure passengers are properly looked after and kept safe.
Short-term cost savings such as the recent station reforms do not provide the level of service required for the increasing number of people using public transport.
The next thing is to invest in better infrastructure – especially rail extensions to the outer suburbs of Sydney.
Sydney is evolving into a much bigger city. About 300,000 people are expected to move into the south west by 2030, and another 300,000 in the north west, while Parramatta is becoming Sydney's second CBD.
Earlier this year, the RTBU released a discussion paper titled Fixing the Network, which outlined three key rail projects to meet the demand for public transport: the North West Rail Link (Epping to Rouse Hill), finishing the Chatswood to Parramatta link, and the South West Rail Link from Glenfield to Leppington/Bringelly.
I'm pleased to say that our campaign for the South West Rail Link project to be revived has been successful, with the NSW State Government recently announcing that it will start construction of this project next year.
The third major reform needs to be the creation of an overarching transport co-ordination authority to make sense of the state's fragmented public transport system.
We need to make public transport easy to use. One co-ordinated network — instead of the hodge-podge of City Rail, Sydney Ferries, State Transit and a myriad of private operators – is the way to go.
Lastly, but not least, we need to put more effort into a building a public transport culture. We don't accept it when people vandalise our homes, nor should we accept people vandalising our trains, trams, ferries and buses.
We need to build a culture where fare evasion is considered stealing from your fellow passengers, where transit officers are treated with respect and consideration. We need to feel that the public transport system is our public transport system.
Over the past few months I've been meeting people from local councils, community groups and business leaders to discuss the RTBU's vision for public transport in NSW.
I've been getting fantastic feedback, and I can see a new coalition of people demanding more investment in public transport building.
The union has been fighting this battle for years, but it is no longer alone. Every day, I can see that more people are getting on board. Once the community bands and starts advocating for public transport together with one voice, the momentum will be unstoppable.
As I go into retirement, I will leave the RTBU with the satisfying sense that public transport's time has finally come.
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