COVID CONTRADICTIONS IN MELBOURNE: I’M ANGRY

I’m angry and frustrated.  After 8 weeks of hard lockdown, which followed 4 weeks of significant lockdown, finally – yesterday – restrictions were ‘eased’.  But so limited are the changes, and so full of contradictions, with another 3 weeks before anything else happens, it’s very depressing.

The ‘Easing’ of Restrictions

So, with average case numbers down to around 15 a day, a 14 day average of 25 (against a target range of 30-50), very few community transmissions, here are the generous ‘easing’s:

  • No curfew (no justification was ever given for this anyway)
  • Up to 5 people from 2 families can gather outside  (previously 3)
  • Childcare to resume without permits (previously only certain ‘essential’ people)
  • Personal training for groups of up to two participants
  • Garden maintenance services
  • Outdoor swimming in pools
  • In-home childminding allowed for all
  • Dentists can resume non-urgent work (previously urgent only)

All within an unchanged 5km distance from home, and an unchanged 2 hours outside for exercise.

The Current Situation

Almost all daily cases are related to existing clusters.  Most of these cases relate to aged care homes and/or health workers.  We are rarely given the specific information of how many unknown community transmission cases occur, even though this is the main target for future easing.  Yesterday, there was only 1 – yes, only 1 – community transmission case.  There were apparently 31 over the last 14 days (the next target is less than 5 for a 14-day period…).

Most postcodes have zero cases.  Only a few council areas have more than 10 active cases.  In any country or area of the world (except possibly New Zealand, Taiwan and a few others with small populations), Melbourne would be a shining star.  Yet we continue to be treated as if we are criminals, with heavy fines for violations of the rules.

Contradictions in the ‘Easing’

  • If swimming is allowed, why not outdoor sports, such as tennis, golf and cricket (where players are rarely near each other at all)?
  • Why can’t we drive to larger outdoor parks and gardens for exercise?
  • If physios and dentists are operating, why isn’t hairdressing allowed?
  • Why can’t large, well ventilated retail stores, such as Bunnings, Target, Kmart which have good covid track records, open?
  • If builders and maintenance workers can go, why can’t people travel to holiday houses for maintenance (the fridge hasn’t been opened for 6 months…), if they observed the same rules there?
  • Why can’t cyclists cycle further than 5 kms from home (that’s about 15 mins or less for a reasonable cyclist)?

I’m sure there are lots more contradictions you can think of.  There have been lots with every set of new rules, which seem to change every few days.

What is the Government’s Aim Now?

In the first wave, the aim was to ensure the hospital system wasn’t overwhelmed, though this was rarely made explicit.  In the second wave, due to slow decisionmaking, covid almost got away from us.  Fear that this might happen again seems to be driving the current extremely cautious policy ‘easings’, though no one seems too sure what the ‘policy’ is. 

Implicitly it seems the real policy aim is to reach zero cases, as the rest of Australia has reached (more or less, excluding international travel quarantine cases).  If that is the aim, why not state it?  Why state ‘less than 5 community transmissions in a 14 day period’ (and why that level (scientifically speaking)?

Why Am I Angry?

I’m angry for lots of reasons.  Angry, because the government was too slow in getting control of the second wave.  Angry more, because it refused to admit it did anything wrong, and seemed unwilling to learn from its mistakes.  Angry, because the hard lockdown rules have been left in place too long (decisonmaking too slow again).  Angry, because for all the stated stakeholder consultations, the government doesn’t seem to be listening to those who are most affected.  And angry because, when the ‘easing’ has finally arrived, it’s so minimal for most people, it again fails to offer the hope and motivation that could so easily have been offered (decisionmaking too slow yet again!).

Hopefully, we the people will save ourselves.  We’ll act better and get better results and eventually force ‘our’ government to reward us.  But for now, it’s back to Netflix, Zoom and gardening.

MELBOURNE: ‘LIVEABLE’ OR ‘UNLIVEABLE’ CITY?

Standing in the empty car park on top of Westfield Doncaster shopping mall on a cold, clear early morning while waiting for my car to be express serviced, I looked out to the Dandenongs to the east, the CBD to the west, the suburbs all around.  I startled 20 swallows and two eastern rosellas.  Melbourne lay below us (and the other Doncaster high rises), draped across the gentle rolling hills.  It was a beautiful picture (mostly), appreciated by no one else.

I remember being surprised – and pleased – that Melbourne’s liveability was recognised several years ago.  Being named the world’s most liveable city inevitably invites the Australian tall poppy syndrome.  There’s only one way to go – down.

Now, many residents are querying whether the city is in fact becoming unliveable – citing traffic congestion, population size, multiplying high rises and government planning failures.  Yet our personal international visitors invariably enthuse on discovering Melbourne’s delights on their short visits.  I wonder myself now, just how ‘liveable’ Melbourne is.  Do I even want to live here myself? Read More »

OH, SYDNEY! FIX YOUR OPAL TRANSPORT CARD FOR VISITORS

Many visitors to Melbourne complain about its myki public transport card, particularly the need to pay $10 for the card before you can use it.  But my visit to Sydney last weekend – wonderful in all other aspects – was spoiled by the ripoff Opal public transport card pricing experience at Sydney Airport.  Visitors to Sydney be warned.  I was shocked.  Let me explain.

First Experiences:  Visitors Arriving in Sydney

Like most visitors to Sydney, I arrived by plane.  I’m a public transport advocate and user whenever possible.  The huge ads in Sydney Airport claim (correctly) that it only takes 15 minutes to get to the CBD on the train, so it was a no-brainer to go down the escalators to the underground stop.  Very modern, very sensible (memo to Melbourne:  copy this connection please).

I went to the window to buy the Opal card.  Told the seller that I was going to the city, then the Blue Mountains next day (which I knew cost $8 each way for a 2-hour train trip), that I would be in Sydney for 4 days, returning to the airport.  He told me I should put $40 on the ‘free’ compulsory card. Some gem this Opal must be!

$40, I said??  Two years ago, I went into the CBD from mascot and it only cost a couple of dollars, thanks to the advice of a friendly customer service officer, recognising me as a senior.

Senior?, he said.  We can’t give you a senior card here (it’s advertised at the office).  You need to go to Central station to apply for one.  Cost to get to Central?, I asked.  $17, he said.  $17 I exclaimed??  It was only about $2 last time from Mascot, a station just across the way from the airport.

A captive market…at the Airport!

I walked away to assess my options.  They were few and not good (about the same as you have trying to park at a privatised airport).  Back into the queue I went, chastened, to buy the free adult (not seniors) Opal, put $40 on it and chugged it down.

6 stops later, I arrived at my hotel, some 200 metres from the station.  Fuming, I asked the concierge about the public transport system.  Smiling knowingly, he told me I could travel virtually anywhere on the system (train, bus, ferry) for a low price, that there was a maximum price of $15 a day and a maximum of $2.50 on Sundays (due to some recent government decision – perhaps an election is looming…).  The only place where this did not apply was….Sydney Airport.  I could travel to Mascot (before the airport) or Wolli Creek (after the airport) for a low price ($3 he suggested), but if I went to the airport, it cost $17. (Seniors  prices may be lower, but it was unattractive to go separately to Central to apply there for a separate card with unknown benefits, especially given it was almost 5pm on a Friday afternoon, so I didn’t ask him about that.)

This is market pricing at its best!  But what a terrible welcome to visitors to be so obviously ripped off at virtually the only station they are likely to enter (or leave) the system at.  And how depressing that a desired non-road government-owned public transport system charges prices that make a private cab fare to the CBD look economical and socially attractive, especially if you have to drag a bag more than a couple of blocks.

Fixing the Opal Pricing System

Perhaps I missed something. I’ve not heard others complain about this system, yet in Melbourne complaints about the $10 myki10 card are frequent.  But at least in Melbourne you can buy the card you need at the airport entry point and you only pay the $10 once, whereas in Sydney you pay the $17 twice (arrival and departure)!

Fixing Opal pricing would be easy.  NSW Government Departments of Tourism and of Transport, please take note!

  1. Treat Sydney Airport as a regular – not a special – station, thereby reducing fares to normal fares.  (This would of course encourage many local passengers to also take the train, thereby recovering revenue quite quickly through increased volume.)
  2. Provide a facility at Sydney Airport for seniors Opals, where it is needed.
  3. If there is any significant revenue loss from these moves, raise revenue by, say $0.10 per journey or per stop across the system. I’m sure this would be more than enough to compensate for the loss of revenue at Sydney Airport station itself.

Comparing the Sydney Airport and Blue Mountains public transport experience

The following day I took friends to the Blue Mountains on the same train system.  The journey lasted 2 hours each way.  It was very pleasant travelling, a cleaner came round during the journey to collect rubbish, the tap on/tap off system worked well, signage was good.  It was a remarkable experience for $8 each way.  Indeed, here the NSW general public is probably being ripped off by only charging $8, which seemed ridiculously low.

Such a pity to start – and end – my trip to such a wonderful city as Sydney with such a poor public transport experience.  Come on Sydney.  Lift your game!