Monday, October 27, 2008

Take Action

The bus I’ve been catching to work since my car blew up (sniff) was late this morning. The other passengers at my stop were also getting nervous. My last experience with public transport was Sydney’s woeful train service, where there be days when you’d wait for hours before a train would come – if at all.

Before five minutes could go by, a couple of little white Action minibuses pulled up, and the drivers called for any passengers for route 62 to hop on. No charge. “Free service,” the driver explained cheerily. I got to work more or less on time – a few minutes late, but in my workplace it wasn’t worth noticing.

I never used to have an argument with the “user pays” model. Seems fair enough: the people using the service pay to use it. Capitalism. That’s what we’re all about, isn’t it? (Shut up, you commie pinko scum.)

Some public services need to remain apart from that model, though. Some public services are there simply because they are needed, and to withdraw them on the grounds that they lose money would be unthinkable. Libraries. Medical services. More controversially, some sectors of the arts. And Action.

Action – Canberra’s one and only bus service – loses money hand over fist. Millions of dollars a year of taxpayer’s money goes down the gurgler to fund this public transport network that, arguably, is inefficient, superfluous, and as a commercial enterprise is a dismal failure.

To shut it down would be a tragedy. It’s Canberra’s only public transport, apart from taxis. If it were to go, as on purely commercial grounds it probably should, then thousands of people across Canberra would have an extremely tough time doing something as simple as getting to the shops.

Take capitalism to the extremes – as in closing down Action on economic grounds – and there are problems. Somehow, this has escaped so many of the world’s most powerful and (supposedly) well-educated economic movers and shakers. Result: economies world-wide are going in freefall, the world is probably facing a global recession, and even the most optimistic commentators acknowledge that we’re not coming out of it any time soon. Countless folk worldwide will lose their jobs. Families will suffer. Some will turn to crime. Retirees – our fastest-growing demographic segment – are either on Centrelink benefits or about to be forced to be. Others may simply suffer quietly and do whatever it takes to keep their heads above water.

I wonder how those responsible can sleep at night.

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