I love light rail. Light rail was my first love back in my teenage days (it didn't mind pimples). It all started with the computer game Sim City. I had figured out the code for getting limitless amounts of money and wasn't subject to any budget realities whatsoever, so, in my role as pimply benevolent dictator, I ran up the bill putting light rail absolutely everywhere in my city.
My love affair with this humble form of public transport continued into my planning studies. From day one I was scribbling 'MS 4 Light Rail 4 Eva' in my notebook. I'd draw light rail doodles in lectures, and hang out with other light rail devotees to talk breathlessly about what Portland in America had done. One of our cooler, more hip lecturers even brought in a map of Perth's old tram network and showed us while we all 'took a knee' and huddled around him.
A couple of weeks ago I rocked up to the Building a Better Fremantle Forum. I heard a lot about light rail being one of the keys to a better Freo. Instead of leaving excited, I left a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong, light rail and I aren't headed to the divorce lawyers just yet. My problem is that we've heard a lot of talk about light rail over the last few years and I'm tired of playing make believe.
Freo isn't in the game
It pains me to say this, but there is no evidence to suggest that light rail will be coming to Freo anytime soon. Last year, the State Government released its draft Public Transport Strategy for the next twenty years. Light rail for Freo is not part of the plan.
I'm afraid that when Senator Ludlum casually claimed that the State Government was 'playing around with light rail in the northern suburbs' he was being a tad disingenous. Rather, the idea is to connect three major activity centres with the Perth CBD. The plan is to use light rail to connect the Perth CBD with Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia/Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre and Curtin University.
Given that the state of Western Australia isn't run by a pimply teenager playing around on a computer game with a code for unlimited money, choices occasionally need to be made. And as much as I might not like it, I can see how the case for linking the above centres with the Perth CBD has merit compared to Freo's case. After all, we'll all be paying for light rail in some way and I personally want to see value for money.
Talking about the boring stuff...like buses
With light rail in vogue, I empathise with our young up and coming local politicians. Who wants to build a platform on buses? However, it's not acceptable to raise false expectations and that's what I believe has been happening here. Freo has presented its case to the State Government and been knocked back. Is it possible that certain politicians weren't included in the memo, or are they choosing to talk about what's popular instead of what's possible?
In the spirit of thinking about what's actually possible in the next decade or so, here are some ideas:
1. More train carriages on the Freo line
These days, if you're one of the people catching the train during peak periods to and from Freo, you probably spend at least half an hour each day with your face crammed in to someone's whiffy armpit. The State Government has dropped the ball when it comes to planning for catering to increasing demand and I hear new rolling stock will not be available until 2015.
I'd like to see Freoites benefit from our local politicians and the City of Fremantle being able to communicate with influence so that more carriages are put onto the Freo line and catching the train in the morning can be a little more comfortable.
2. Introducing LATTE: reinvented, expanded CAT services for Freo
Buses will always be the ugly duckling to light rail. Late in my planning studies, during my rooftop garden phase, I was introduced to Curitiba in Brazil. Curitiba couldn't afford light rail and instead revolutionised the bus system, using different buses to fulfill different functions. I'm thinking we could do something similar in Freo.
I'd like to see an expansion of the CAT service. With the support of the State Government, Freo could take this model to the next level. I'm thinking reinventing it as the Local Area Total Transit Experience or LATTE (second only to light rail and rooftop gardens, planners also love acronyms).
The buses could be smaller, run more regularly and to a greater distance from the city centre. There could be different colours for different suburbs (for ease of use) and the buses could originate in local centres (near parking) and head into Freo, possibly with a few stops along the way. If sponsored, the buses could have wifi and people could sign up to a service that alerts them when a bus was within five minutes of arriving. Best of all, five trips could score you a free coffee.
3. Get in front of the queue
Last but not least, I'd like to see the City provide the results of the 2010 survey it undertook on light rail. I recall the survey being comprehensive and I'm disappointed that there is nothing on the City's website.
I'd like to see some kind of value gleaned from all that work and information. So how about the City getting serious and preparing a 20 year plan for getting ready for light rail? We are kidding ourselves if we think that Freo is the only other locality that wants light rail. To help put us at the front of the queue it would be handy to have this kind of document.
I put it to Senator Ludlum and Mayor Pettitt that if they're going to continue to wax lyrical about light rail coming to Freo, they may get more satisfaction from playing a round of Sim City (I'm happy to supply the cheat codes).
I think that it's time that they divided their time into thinking about a Plan B and Plan C.