Opinion: Sorry Sydney, we need to break up

CHANGE DIRECTION: Traffic on the M4 following the re-introduction of the toll for western Sydney drivers.
CHANGE DIRECTION: Traffic on the M4 following the re-introduction of the toll for western Sydney drivers.

Transport for NSW says it is urgently striving to “meet customer demand” with its recently released new timetables. Trouble is, it's far from clear that this is what customers on the busiest public transport routes are demanding.

Sydney will be transformed into a metropolis of three cities under the new Greater Sydney Commission draft report launched by commissioner Lucy Turnbull, Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Planning Minister Anthony Roberts.

Same goes for WestConnex. The official line is the project will "make life easier" by providing "vital" access east. Thank goodness. Life is tough enough without being marooned in the burbs, denied access to Barangaroo's empty shopfronts.

And, this week, the steak knives were thrown in with a promise of "free rego for frequent Sydney toll road users". Government is determined to get us into "town". Hang the expense.

For those of us who live in western Sydney, who contend daily with average rail passenger loads of up to 141 per cent, and, on a good day, road commutes of around 90 minutes, the subtext is clear: you're cut off, disconnected and adrift, but don't worry we're throwing you a lifeline. Just sit tight and we'll get you out.

Thanks but, um, how do we say this? Sydney, it's not you, it's us. Western Sydney has moved on, albeit slowly due to repeated trackwork delays. And, sorry, but tinkering with timetables won't cut it. 

We're tired. Some 200,000 western Sydney residents are compelled to journey eastward into Sydney every weekday for work; decent paying, globally connected and fulfilling work. We're over it.  We want to get off. We want to spend less time on the road or huddled in disquiet on the "quiet carriage". Not even the promised 300 extra train services into the CBD on the T1 and T2 lines will change our mind.

We go through the motions. We've done it for so long. Like when an August 2016 poll commissioned by Fairfax Media asked 1600 NSW voters, "Do you think WestConnex will be good for Sydney?" Offered no alternative proposition, almost 48 per cent responded, "Yes”. Notably, around 40 per cent were "undecided".

Ask them whether they'd prefer to work closer to home, or not forgo untold hours of their lives each week stranded in traffic or crammed in a fragrant carriage. Nobody would oscillate.

The lion's share of investment in new transport infrastructure across western Sydney – $16.8 billion in WestConnex alone – winds its way back east via new or "improved" connections to inner Sydney and surrounds. But all is not lost. With its recent "Three Cities" plan, the Greater Sydney Commission proposes a progressive reorientation of the metropolitan area.

Put simply, there are insufficient jobs – and not nearly enough good jobs – in western Sydney to meet current or future population levels. We need a jobs solution. We need our lives back. Not a new timetable.

The airport at Badgerys Creek will give western Sydney a substantial jobs boost. And with targeted investment, industry incentives and continued government support it could even can fulfil the wildest ambitions of aerotropolis advocates. For that to occur, a commitment to a north-south rail connection is a must. Right now.

But honestly, if we are going to salvage this relationship, it will take more than an airport, as critical as it is. The most economically substantial and rapidly growing cities in the country need better connections. With that Blacktown, Campbelltown, Liverpool and Penrith can be the sites of a transformation in the way we relate to "Greater Sydney", not just as an east-west proposition.

It's not too late to change, Sydney. The new angle would really suit you, and would go a long way towards recapturing the magic. Plus, we'd have even more thrilling new timetables to bond over.

  • Dr Andy Marks, assistant vice-chancellor at Western Sydney University