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Dear Premier

You can’t be responsible for everything, but as the political leader of NSW, you have a right to know where Sydney fails its citizens and its visitors, especially on the eve of hosting the Olympic Games. But even without the spectre of the Olympic dream becoming an Olympic nightmare, Sydney prides itself on being a major international metropolis. If so, it needs and deserves much better public transport services around the clock.

Of course, you do not have first hand experience of personal transport problems, being chauffered everywhere (and rightly so) but that’s why we are writing this open letter; if we simply whinge about it amongst ourselves, nothing will change. Please accept this letter in the spirit in which it is written – that is, constructive criticism.

Following the high profile, televised PEOPLE'S CHOICE Awards night * and professionally organised, entertaining party on Friday November 27, 1998, the 2,000 or so guests had the same problems that 2,000 or so guests had after the AFI Awards party two weeks earlier at Pyrmont.

No way to go home. No buses. No trains. No cabs.

And the award night guests weren’t alone. Between 2 am and 3 am, small bands of people from all sorts of functions, parties and general Friday night outings roamed George Street – this is the centre of the city, Premier, not George Street in the outer suburbs – and congregated around the Regent Hotel in the (unsatisfied) hope that cabs would serve the hotel.

Some, like me, tried booking a cab via mobile phones, without success. We even tried a couple of limo companies in desperation. Nothing.

Many if not most people on a Friday night prefer to take a cab or public transport for an evening out – a sensible choice, you would think. Wrong.

Faced with continuing delays, after 3am – nine hours after leaving home to begin the evening – we had little choice but book into a city hotel for the night.

Imagine the badmouthing this sort of frustration breeds in locals, visitors and foreign tourists alike.

Why is this so? A uniform 3 am driver change-over time drains the streets of cabs at a crucial time – especially on weekends, festive season and other peak times. Staggered cab driver change-over time is one step in the right direction. One veteran cabbie told us (on Saturday morning as we cabbed home in our evening gear), that the extra cab plates issued to try and overcome this problem were not being properly used. Perhaps this could be investigated by the relevant Department in conjunction with the Taxi Council.

Mini buses could provide basic midnight to dawn services from the city to suburbs. As the driver explained, parties and functions drawing people from outer suburbs mean that as people want to go home, cabs are taken out of the city to various outer suburbs.

Night security guards outside the Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday told us that in their observation, cabs start to disappear from about 2 am, and start reappearing around 4 am. One could make a Monty Python joke about the service being unavailable exactly at the time of peak demand – but I won’t, since this is a serious issue.

It also links to the whole question of public transport around the suburban fringes of Sydney. Our Seaforth location is not alone in the northern beaches area in being transport-challenged, to put it in today’s idiom. Our teenage children have documented over recent years the miserable failings of the dis-service public transport provides here.

Please Premier – don’t appoint a committee, but get someone with enough common sense to look into this late night transport problem. It’s urgent.
Cordially yours,
Andrew L. Urban

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* Sidenote: Trying to approach the State Theatre in Market Street from Elizabeth Street for the awards presentations, traffic was blocked at the top of Market Street, making it necessary to circumnavigate half of the CBD to get down to Pitt Street to be able to drive up to the entrance. While the idea was well intentioned – to keep general traffic out of Market Street for the celebrity arrivals, it seems someone was overzealous in instructing police to block even those who were actually going there. It not only frustrated guests and drivers, it added to the congestion. This is the sort of bureacratic stupidity that Australians joke about when they encounter it overseas.

Let’s get our act together.


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