Transit, schmansit

This is a post I’ve been saving up for a while about the Transit Lane on the Freeway which I drive on every day I go to work. Be warned. This is a RANT.

The idea is that between 7am and 9:30am, cars with more than one passenger are allowed in the Transit Lane. Any car with a single passenger will be fined if they are caught. A friend of mine contemplated purchasing an old store window dummy to sit in the passenger seat of his car, but as far as I know he never put this plan into action. I wonder how many people do actually try it? I’m sure traffic cops would have some funny stories to tell.

What’s the policy behind the Transit Lane? Well, the idea is that single people driving into work alone is a terrible waste of petrol and resources. Therefore, single people in a car should be punished, and multiple people should be rewarded by getting a quicker drive into work. Presumably it is also meant to encourage car pooling and public transport use.

Car pooling

What a nice idea in the abstract. It is ridiculous to see all these almost empty cars on the freeway. However, I think this idea doesn’t really gel with the practicalities of modern life and workplaces.

When I was a kid, my Dad used to carpool with three friends, so that Mum could have the car to drive me to school. Then Dad’s hours started being more irregular, and he had to work later. It became problematic to carpool: everyone had to leave at the same time and go home at the same time, but everyone’s work hours had gotten longer and more irregular. Then one of the friends moved away from the area, another quit, another went to a different site…there was no one left to carpool with. Luckily Dad got a company car then, so that was okay.

I think the people who design these rules must have 9 – 5 jobs, and live in the vicinity of their co-workers. In that case, they are rare beasts indeed. Personally I don’t know anyone at my workplace who lives anywhere near me, so I’ve no one with whom to carpool . And it would have been totally impractical when I was a solicitor to carpool, because my working hours were long and irregular. No one wants to hang around until some crazy hour of the night to give me a lift home.

So I very much doubt that the Transit Lane succeeds in encouraging people to carpool. Life these days is too unpredictable, and workplace hours are much longer than they used to be, for many people anyway.

Public transport

Public transport in Melbourne is a crock. Dirty, crowded and unreliable.

A while back (before we were married) my husband broke his shoulder. Apparently it was a very interesting break, because he broke the ball joint into perfect halves. Obviously he was unable to drive for about 2 months. When he had been able to drive, the journey to work had taken him 15 minutes, or at maximum, 20 minutes. When he was forced to take public transport, the journey took him a minimum of one and a half hours. Sometimes longer. Either he had to get the train right into the city and right out again (problem of a radial train line system) or he had to catch two different buses which did not connect, and he had substantial waiting periods in between.

Public transport is passable in Melbourne if (a) you work in the CBD and (b) you live near a train line. Neither my husband nor I fit the above criteria. Who has the time to spend an  hour and a half of one’s life on public transport? I’d prefer to spend more time with my daughter, thank you very much.

Which brings me to another point – prams on public transport. I’ve only tried it once. What a nightmare. Although I don’t have one of those mega-monster prams that could rival a four wheel drive car, it is still big enough to block the aisle and inconvenience everyone. And getting the pram up the steps of the tram was terrible. There are no conductors any more – so you’ve got to rely on help from other passengers – which isn’t always forthcoming.

So public transport is not really a viable alternative to singular car travel for many people. And I doubt that the Transit Lane is going to encourage anyone to go on public transport if they don’t have to do so, because the service provided is so bad.


The Transit Lane looks all shiny and nice in theory, but in practice it’s just a bloody revenue raiser on the part of the State Government (I reckon I see people pulled over quite often). It fails in its objectives of encouraging people to share car use because (a) modern society and workplaces do not work in a way that facilitates this and (b) the alternative (public transport) is appalling. Furthermore, it means that the freeway is extra jammed as people try to get out of and into the lane, and all the other cars get squashed into a few lanes. It also may cause accidents – I have seen people try to dart back into the main stream of traffic when they see evidence of a cop car up ahead – because they panic, they can endanger other drivers.

P.S. I have to say that when I was heavily pregnant, I occasionally used the Transit Lane even when it was just me in the car, because technically speaking, there were two people in the car, weren’t there? Hmm, nice legal point there. I don’t think that a foetus is a separate person until birth, but then I think of those cases about murder of a foetus, where defendants are charged with murdering an unborn child.

P.P.S. Thank you for letting me have my rant (if you got this far).



Filed under cars, driving, society

15 responses to “Transit, schmansit

  1. So true, LE. I can’t complain as my workplace is a mere stone’s throw from home in the very next suburb. I only use public transport infrequently, despite my area being very well-serviced. One of my main bugears with the network is the prospect of encountering undesirables whenever I do use it. I’m a magnet for them!

  2. jgrab1

    Here in the SF Bay Area we have casual carpools. People stop in designated areas (they basically become “designated” by being places people have stopped at for years), and pick up others going the same way, and drop them at a common point in the business center of San Francisco. You might think this would be a great way for thieves to pick people up, drive them off somewhere, and mug or rape them, but in fact this has hardly ever happened. Most of the regulars know each other by now so they know whose car they’re getting into. Works well here and we too have the carpool lanes. They are well-used, though I’m still amused by all the people who’d rather travel in alone and wait in long toll plaza lines (and pay $4 to cross, vs. the carpoolers who go in for free and use special express lanes that shave 15-20 minutes off the average commute).

    So see, it can work.

  3. of course, public transit is unworkable when you live in an area that was designed for the automobile.

    people make decisions in life: where to live, where to work, etc. if one lives fairly far from their work, wouldn’t they consider moving closer to their workplace?

    yes, moving is an inconvenience, but imagine the time saved in the long-run.

  4. Jgrab, the casual carpool is a good idea. If you’re going to have a transit lane, then you should have something which will make it workable!

    M Kushnir, nice idea, and I’d love to live closer in so that I didn’t have to commute so far… In fact, I’d love to be able to walk to work so that I didn’t have to use a car at all.

    The problem is that the closer in to the city that one lives, the higher the cost of property. We could barely afford to purchase a house which is 30 minutes drive from the city. The prices of places close into the city is now astronomical, and unlikely to ever be within my price range. And rents have also become astronomical as well in the last year or two. I know barely any young families who can afford to buy anywhere near the city, and renting can also be difficult (short term leases, never feeling like you really “live” in a place). In fact, compared to some of our friends, we live “close” (they live a hour or more out of town).

    In our recent Federal election, housing affordability was an issue. I only hope that the new Rudd government follows through on its promise to do something about it.

  5. Casual Sex is a good idea too sometimes, but most times it’s just better to take care of things on your own (!!!)

  6. Well you should be happy to have any effective mass transit. Here in Las Vegas our bus system (which is the only mass transit) is intentionally made to be a last option. We’re totally dependent on automobiles. Whenever the price of gas inches up all we can do is whine about it and get in our cars.

  7. Personally, I favour bus-only lanes at peak hour. Unless you provide people with a viable alternative (i.e. functional buses, in most Australian cities) then you cannot justifiably deter them from driving – what the hell are they supposed to do?

    But as someone who generally buses in and out of a CBD, I can attest to there being NOTHING more frustrating than catching public transport only to sit in the same traffic jam you are in if you drive your car. At least in the car you can listen to Tom Waits at a decent volume, have some personal space, talk on the phone, etc etc etc

    An idea I always think would work in gentrified areas (where more roads are just not an option) is to take roads that are four lanes total – two in each direction – and make the middle two lanes switching lanes, so that in the morning it’s three into the city, one out, and in the evening it’s the opposite.

    Of course light rail is the real solution, preferably buried. But it costs a lot to build, and most Australian cities just can’t fit it in.

  8. Oh, and hello LE – I hope you’re well! I’m back from various places/states of mind (mostly Africa/fugue state).

  9. Good to see you back at full blogging strength, LE!

  10. You might be interested in (the concept, at least, of) “slugging” (check Wikipedia), which is an ad hoc car pooling culture that developed here outside Washington, D.C., and oddly enough it lets people reliably get rides without coordinating or setting schedules — just show up at the slug stop and go. I think part of the reason it works is because the highways have fast-moving “HOV-3” lanes (States-speak for three people must be in the car, not just two or a pregnant mother) or they outright prohibit single-driver cars and there is a huge flow of workers going along the same basic region/direction toward the city, with complementing bus and train networks (to pick you up when you miss the slugging peak hours). I’ve never tried it because I don’t live along one of the slug routes, but I’m amazed whenever I hear of it working for people.

  11. Don’t forget that motorcycles and scooters can also use transit lanes and they can also “filter” through traffic snarls and congested city roads however in a place like Melbourne where the weather can be very changeable it is not always the most desirable way to travel.

  12. Iain, when I see those scooters push through traffic, I have to suppress a wave of jealousy. But then I think of my friend’s husband, who has a Vespa, and broke his foot extremely badly last year in an accident with it. And then I think of the rain…and helmet hair…

    Yeah, probably not the best option for a clutzy Melbournite like me. And there’s no place of a bubba.

  13. I’ve ridden Bikes for years, up until recently. But I agree that they are not at all child friendly. In fact one of the reasons that I now have a sports car is because my wife made me promise to never take our children on the bike.and I yearn for the wind in your face driving experience you get on a bike.

  14. On the matter of unborn children, I can probably enlighten you – death of an unborn child is not murder, it is child destruction (maximum penalty equivalent to manslaughter). However, if the child is injured, and then born (fully extruded from the mother and dependent on itself to sustain its life), then dies as a result of the injury, it is murder, as long as the causal link can be established.

    So no, technically you were not two people!

  15. Ha ha! I knew I should have contacted you, Cherry. My knowledge of criminal law is…well, very small.

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