By Brittney Rigby, Managing Editor
When I began my tenure as Managing Editor, I subconsciously made the decision not to be “over-the-top” in asserting my opinions in Tharunka. Yes, I would write my editorial each issue (and those editorials may often be guided by personal experience and my own views), but beyond that, it was not my place to publish my own pieces. I’m at the helm of this ship, but it is a ship filled to the brim with the viewpoints and arguments and ideas and stories of UNSW’s student population. It is not my soapbox. My job is to extract and uncover and refine those stories, not to tell them myself.
But there comes a point when this position of power cannot be underrated, and this platform cannot be under-utilised. We have published multiple pieces already this year on the dire state of public transport to and from UNSW: from disappearing M50s and 891s to closing/changing bus stops and the fact that the light rail construction has, quite frankly, fucked everything up.
We’ve heard from students waiting an hour for an 891, doubling their commute times, and standing in the rain and heat.
It’s not just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a matter of student safety and wellbeing.
The Sydney Morning Herald have announced that the number of services will be increased in response to the long queues and wait times. That’s good. But how many new buses will we get? And how much will the extra buses reduce the queue and the wait?
If increased services don’t fix the issue, UNSW needs to step up and get its shit together.
Our next print issue is the Disabilities edition. And students with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to (a lack of) safe transportation to and from campus.
For students facing mobility or mental health difficulties, waiting in line for a bus for more than an hour isn’t feasible. Waiting in that same line in adverse weather conditions might be impossible.
And if students with disabilities can’t even safely and comfortably travel to and from campus, how the hell can UNSW claim to be equitable and accessible, let alone one of the best universities in the world?
Students from low-SES backgrounds (or simply students who work, and rely on that income) are also disproportionately impacted.
If getting home from uni means an hour’s wait just to get on a bus, on top of your regular commute, how can you reliably schedule in after-class shifts?
For students who work in industries such as tutoring, hospitality or retail, afternoon and evening shifts are crucial. If students have organised their timetables around those commitments, but now can’t even guarantee getting there on time, how can they be expected to hold down those jobs, or simply pick up enough shifts to pay for rent, travel costs, bills and/or other expenses?
Then there’s the argument that Jack McNally made, and made well: public transport issues are one thing, if they are viewed in isolation and affect travel, and travel alone.
But they don’t.
If your commute time is doubled, there’s an increased likelihood you’ll reduce your time on campus, schedule your classes to avoid peak hour and reduce the days spent at uni, avoid extracurricular or volunteer activities and only attend obligatory classes.
How can students be immersed in “student life” if simply getting to uni is the biggest hurdle? I do not spend any more time than absolutely necessary on campus. Combine my commute from the western suburbs with a mental health condition that makes getting out of bed, let alone getting to class, hard enough on most days, and you’ve got a final year law and journalism student who has no emotional attachment to her university or its campus.
That’s not what I envisioned when I chose UNSW.
And I’m certainly not the worst off. I’m originally from Moss Vale, in NSW’s Southern Highlands, and I know multiple people who commute from there to UNSW, because they simply can’t afford to move out and live closer. The trains run every hour from Moss Vale, Bowral and Mittagong. It’s a one-hour train ride to Campbelltown, and a further hour on a new train to Central. Then, you’ve entered the war zone: the 891 line. Assuming fairy tales exist and everything goes to plan, it’s, at the very least, a two and a half hour trip. Factor in the 891 queue at Central, and up to an hour’s wait for a bus from UNSW back to the station, and you’ve got a six and a half hour round trip on your hands.
Somehow, I don’t think students in that position will be aiming for 100% attendance, or volunteering on campus, or attending Roundhouse parties. And that doesn’t just limit their experience of UNSW itself; it impacts friendships, makes group assignments logistically nightmarish and encourages exhaustion, stress and isolation.
If increased bus services aren’t enough, UNSW cannot ignore this. UNSW cannot ignore us.
Western Sydney University offers free shuttle buses for staff and students, servicing its Bankstown, Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, Parramatta and Penrith campuses.
For example, for the Parramatta campus, shuttles run every 15 minutes on weekdays (and every 30 minutes on a Saturday) between the city campus, north campus and south campus. These services run from 6:30am to 11:00pm on weekdays, and from 7:30am to 5:30pm on Saturdays.
Why can’t UNSW do the same between its Kensington campus and Central station, complementing the 891 services and implementing a solution to the demand (but lack of supply)?
This is my final year at UNSW.
I only have to put up with this bullshit for another seven months.
Trimesters won’t impact me.
But I care about these things, because it sets a precedent for what is an acceptable standard of university education, and what it means to go to a world-renowned institution. If I were completing my HSC this year, still in my small, rural hometown, weighing up which Sydney university I wanted to preference, there is no way I’d pick UNSW.
My degree is more than the name of the institution printed on that expensive piece of paper. And I fear that “quality of life” (particularly if you don’t live in the eastern suburbs or within a very close proximity to campus) and “UNSW” are quickly becoming incompatible.
So, get your shit together UNSW. Your reputation, your enrolments and your students’ welfare depend on it.