PTV Woes23 March 2020
Like many of Melbourne’s international students, I hail from a little-known pinprick in that vague landmass that some condescending Caucasian prick once decided to name the “third world”. So, when I landed in Melbourne some ten months ago, a grass-green philistine whose closet contained nary a single tote bag, I did so with high expectations. Among these expectations was that this first-world metropolis would come equipped with a functional, if not flawless, public transport system.
Operating under this delusion, I decided against paying an arm, leg and kidney to live in a glorified box in the city, and instead shacked up with family some forty kilometres from it, at the very end of the Cranbourne line. Just one train ride, I told myself. An hour long, to be sure, but hardly an unreasonable price to pay for the luxury of being a rentless freeloader.
This plan, as you may have guessed, soon went spectacularly off the rails (pun absolutely intended).
‘Dear customers,’ a disembodied voice soon chirped. ‘Buses will replace trains on various sections of the Cranbourne line due to ongoing and apparently never-ending works. Alternative transport will be arranged, though it will be horrendously inefficient and drain you of time, energy and the will to live. Prepare for countless delays, spontaneous cancellations, and other such delights galore. Thank you for travelling with Metro Trains, as though you had a fucking choice.’
If you have not yet experienced the delight that is bus replacements, dear reader, I hope that you never do. Imagine sprinting through a drizzly half-dawn to catch a 7am bus to some obscure station halfway along your commute, and after shivering in line for a half-hour, being told by some nervous underling (who is fully expecting you to shoot the messenger) that it has been cancelled, and that the next will arrive in an hour, though he can’t guarantee that either. Picture ill-equipped stations buckling under masses of irate passengers being herded to buses like cattle through a labyrinthine maze of queues. Imagine hurrying home in the pitch-dark after three hours on the road, soaked through and terrified—jumping at every real and imagined noise behind you.
Hardly a surprise then, that two months after I’d arrived, with my tail between my legs and wincing from the recent removal of an arm, leg and kidney, I went to live in a glorified box in the city.
Now that I no longer led an ignominious non-existence in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and was instead a resident of the snazzy inner North, the transition from train to tram occurred. Metro to Yarra. Frying pan to fire (kidding, kidding). In all seriousness though, the tram is hard not to fall in love with—Melbourne’s own little vehicular peculiarity, as firmly ingrained into its public persona as the batshit weather and overly revered coffee. Even the tram’s inconveniences seem like quirks—that soothing, ghostly warble with which it snakes its way through the city, the old-staircase creak its doors make when they open and close, and the almighty lurch with which it stops, forcing passengers to clasp KeepCups and Kindles in a white-knuckled grip. Even more impressively, tram travel—especially during rush hour—is more effective than most fitness regimens. It is guaranteed to lead to the balance and coordination of an Olympic gymnast, being the only place one can learn to simultaneously:
- anchor one’s entire body upon two firmly planted calves
- grip a handrail using a pinky
- sip a scalding soy latte
- carry on an obnoxiously loud phone conversation, and
- stalk an ex on Instagram
all while on a moving vehicle. I am the opposite of a physically fit person, but I’d swear that the two almost muscular places on my left bicep did not exist before my tramming days began.
All in all, despite no Eden being complete without its serpent, and ticket inspectors (a plague upon your houses, racist scum, we see you targeting international students) remaining a spectre haunting this otherwise idyllic paradise, Melbourne’s trams are a far cry from the pungent clusterfuck that is its trains. I mean, could the free tram zone hypothetically be extended a few stops to include the city’s major universities? Sure. But, as the privatisation of Melbourne’s train and tram networks displays, lining the pockets of our capitalist overlords is obviously more important than providing financially struggling groups (an umbrella I’m sure most uni students fall under) with safe and affordable travel. But I’ll take what I can get—as Metro has shown me, it could be so much worse.
Love PTV or hate PTV, what’s nonetheless been made clear throughout my year here is how atrociously expensive it is. Students are entitled to concession cards, of course, but not international students. No, you see, to the City of Melbourne, we international students are little more than cash cows to be sucked dry through every possible orifice before our empty husks are spat back into wherever we came from. For us, there is a loophole. We are entitled to one specific concession card—the year-long pass—for which 800-plus dollars must be paid upfront. If you, like me, are a below-minimum wage cog in some giant corporate machine, this sum is no joke. The alternative is the standard eight-dollar-a-day fare, which is even less of a joke. Most days, I just end up putting on a podcast and making the hour-long walk to campus instead.
This is just one example of how those who bear the brunt of PTV’s failures tend disproportionately to be people of colour—international students, yes, but also recent immigrants, like my own relatives, who arrived with little and worked hard to build beautiful lives in this strange land, even if that meant spending hours on the road every day, commuting from the newer and more affordable outer suburbs to the CBD. For many, it takes everything they have to simply afford public transport. It enrages me that not only are they expected to sacrifice so much financially to simply get from one place to another, they are also expected to do so for a faulty service that does not value their time, safety or comfort in the slightest.
These are the times when I’m reminded of public transport in my country—sweaty, cramped, hellishly uncomfortable, but oh-so cheap— just a handful of loose change, really—cheap enough for even the poorest to use with abandon. Our third-world buses weren’t air-conditioned, and their seats weren’t cushioned, but despite their many imperfections, it seems to me that there was something truly public about their dependability and affordability.
Maybe PTV could take a leaf out of our book.