Tag Archives | australia

Mind the Gap

What can public transport tell us about a city’s character? Danu makes an unlikely comparison of the public transport experiences in Melbourne and Singapore and thinks through how to make sense of the differences.

Melbourne-Singapore Transport

I have what many would consider to be a peculiar fondness for public transport. Sometimes I will catch trains and buses just to see where they go. The logic and layout of a city’s public transport network, it seems to me, reveals a lot about the character of a place. Thus, whenever I find myself in a new city, I make a point of getting to grips with its public transport system.

In the course of my travels I asked myself an innocent question. Why is it that in Singapore (one of my favourite cities) I can get from the airport to anywhere in the entire city in a clean and comfortable train that leaves every 6 minutes, for less than $2, while in Melbourne (also one of my favourite cities, and where I live) I have to get a $17 bus that connects to an unreliable, expensive and often filthy train network where I have to spend another $3.70 using a different ticket that may or may not work? Melbourne is, after all, the second most populous city in one of the richest countries in the world. Singapore is now a rich and developed country also, but this is a comparatively recent development. To put the comparison another way, Melbourne’s last new suburban train line (Glen Waverley) opened in 1930. The last major work was the city loop, completed in 1985, whereas Singapore’s entire 150km island-wide rail network was constructed since then.

Without quite doing so consciously, I now realise I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to find good ways to make sense of this. Among other things, this has included taking a course in contemporary planning issues as part of my postgraduate policy studies, as well as relocating to Singapore and working for a time as a researcher inside the country’s Land Transport Authority to get an inside perspective. Not to mention a lot of time riding road and rail in both places.

A large part of this search for answers has consisted in deciding what terms of understanding are appropriate to the situation. Many people would reject a comparison between Melbourne and Singapore out of hand, given that one is a city and one is a nation in its own right, or on the basis that one is a liberal democracy while the other is perceived as an authoritarian state. Would it not make more sense to compare Melbourne to somewhere like Berlin?

Rather than rejecting the comparison on such a basis, this to me seems an excellent reason to pursue the question. What if the different political arrangements are not merely incidental factors, but part of the explanation? What would be the implications of this? In any event, the comparison I want to make is based on experience and conceptual rationality rather than demographics, so I have deliberately chosen Singapore as an extreme, or limiting, case. That is to say, I am mostly interested in what it is like to experience public transport in Melbourne and Singapore as someone who uses it, and how the city’s respective attitudes towards public transport result in that kind of experience. Continue Reading →

Then it’s agreed: she won’t be allowed near the phone again

Jonathan Green, assessing the new election contest, is on the money as usual:

Some strange sense of normalcy has been restored; it is has a lot to do, as Katharine Murphy observed yesterday in The Guardian, with an almost subconscious sense that an office left neglected through the Gillard years has been refilled.

The incumbency factor is what psephologist Peter Brent is always going on about — he has always said the 2010 election was fought between two Opposition leaders, without the authority of an incumbent government. I’m inclined to agree with that.

With irony turned up to eleven, Green observes the change in the political climate since Rudd came back:

Somehow it lifts the tone; it takes personal denigration and demeaning abuse out of the equation. It is days now since anyone called our prime minister a bitch or a witch; criticised the prime ministerial dress sense, or body shape; drew obscene caricatures; wished anyone drowned in a chaff bag; sniggered at her “big red box”; or pondered her dead father’s lingering sense of shame.

Much has changed: misogyny has done its worst and the big-arsed bitch is silenced; pure vengeful politics has had its day too and the numbers have tumbled toward Rudd, in self-preserving rush for electoral survival and hope.

Meanwhile, everything is back to normal:

There were “Kochie’s angels” on the Channel Seven morning show, the lissom sidekicks of our fish-eyed host presenting a segment featuring Laura Bush and Michelle Obama titled “Women on top”, because, hey, how could you talk about women of dignity and accomplishment without wrapping the whole thing in entendre?

Onya Straya, we bloody love ya.