For two over 70’s, car holidays were becoming increasingly tiring and challenging, in terms of driving, and distance. So, in 2019 we had arranged to take a 10 day family catch up holiday from Tasmania to Adelaide using only public transport.
On paper, it appeared that this was entirely feasible and it was only in attempting to connect all the travel options that we found huge holes in the plan. As a result, we made yet another road trip, using our hybrid Toyota, and the car ferry from Tasmania to the mainland.
Theoretically, we could catch a bus from our town to the ferry terminal at Devonport, a suburban tram to the railway station in Melbourne, an interstate train to Adelaide, and a suburban train to our destination in Brighton, SA. In reality it proved much more difficult. First, the seats on the only connecting bus from our closest town to the ferry were fully booked. Then, the wait at the ferry terminal was over two hours in a facility mostly designed for much shorter stays, unless you placed your faith in a cross river ferry from Devonport town centre to the terminal, and it seemed that this wasn’t reliable in winter. In Melbourne, everything was fine and well co-ordinated, but in Adelaide the interstate train terminated at a railway station only connected by taxi to a suburban rail service. The return trip 10 days later from Adelaide to Melbourne was not possible, as the interstate line only ran on Mondays and Fridays, neither of which coincided with the ferry to Tasmania.
We are so focussed on competition between airlines being the main objection to travel without considering that the real competition should be between different ways of travelling between places. Ground travel, including buses and trains is a distinct poor relation in terms of infrastructure and expenditure.
Marketing gurus neglect a real and growing market of oldies who appreciate ‘slow travel’ and the different vistas available when you are no longer confined to stretches of grey tarred surfaces, fenced off fields, and changing speed limits, or being herded into small waiting rooms and queues, strapped into ever smaller spaces, and treated to vistas of clouds, sea, dry land and the occasional glimpse of the world below. In addition to that, in Australia, bus travel is seen as a very poor option, and, unless you are in a ‘tour’ bus, generally quite uncomfortable. Ordinary bus services even in places such as Chile, and Argentina, offer overnight services, comfort stops, refreshments on board and lights out at 10 p.m. so that you can sleep.
If there was some integrated planning our trip would have been possible. The bus service in Tasmania to the ferry is apparently insufficient for the numbers needing it. In past years, passenger trains used to run from Wynyard in the north west, to Hobart in the south, with frequent stops at small country towns. The transfer could be workable, if this train was re-established, or if there were more dedicated buses connected to the ferry. We still have the railway line but it is confined to freight. With the emphasis on holidaying in your own State, Tasmania is missing out on a golden tourist opportunity.
The local/interstate Victorian transfer system is a good model, although now the Tasmanian government has committed to a Geelong terminal for the Spirit of Tasmania, I’m not sure whether this will offer the same seamless system. However, the interstate train service from Melbourne to Adelaide is privately owned and apparently this causes the problem on arrival in Adelaide, as the local trains and trams are not connected either in times or in proximity to the interstate train arrival. This is despite the train terminal in Adelaide occupying the site of a former suburban station. It seems to me that if the Victorian government can make an arrangement with a private company, then surely the South Australian government can. As for interstate train services operating only twice a week between two major cities, this just emphasises how deficient our transport infrastructure is.
As we are attempting to emerge from the restrictions of Covid 19, and into the climate emergency, we should be re-examining our transport systems in order to make it possible for ordinary people to move around in comfort, without necessarily having to buy an EV, or to keep burning up the planet by flying.