How it all began
It’s the evening peak hour. A Lilydale train breaks down at Ringwood station. Hundreds of passengers trying to get home are told to find alternative transport. Some try and arrange lifts. Some decide to start walking, perhaps even hoping to hitch a lift. A lucky few manage to find taxis. Many more try desperately to cram into buses.
A man squeezes himself into a bus. It won’t take him all the way home. From the bus he’ll have to walk another mile. But he squeezes himself on. And just as the bus leaves, he hears from the station loudspeaker: “Lilydale train now leaving — stand clear” and he watches as his train — now empty — departs.
The man was Frank Casey, and the events of that night in February 1976 inspired him to write a letter to The Herald.
He had the foresight not to simply gripe about his experience, but to try to identify the causes, including issues that sound all too familiar today. For instance he wrote: There is no doubt that we are suffering from a quarter of a century of neglect of rolling stock, stations and services — while money and attention has been concentrated on providing freeways and facilities for the car traveller…
And he called for other disgruntled commuters to form an organisation: the Train Travellers Association, which met for the first time a couple of months later.
From TTA to PTUA
In 1984 the Train Travellers Association widened to cover buses and trams, and changed its constitution and name to match: the Public Transport Users Association. So while the organisation is thirty years old, the PTUA name is 22 years old — but that still makes it older than the names Metlink, Connex Melbourne, Yarra Trams, the Department of Infrastructure, and VicRoads. Only V/Line is older, by just a year.
Some things have changed over the years: in 1976 the TTA cautioned against the outright ban of smoking on public transport. And given regular strikes at the time, one of the key planks was refunds on periodical tickets when industrial action occurred.
Other issues remain constant: regular fare increases, many above the rate of inflation; a tax system and government priorities which favour car use over public transport.
Another constant has been accusations of political bias. Because over the years we have often been critical of the government of the day, we have often been accused of being in the pockets of the opposition party. So for instance in the early 80s, the Liberal government claimed the PTUA was pro-Labor. When Labor subsequently came to power, the PTUA was accused of being pro-Liberal.
More recently we noted that we’d been accused by Labor of being aligned with the Liberals, by the Liberals of being aligned with Labor, and by Stephen Mayne of Crikey of being aligned with the Greens.
In fact we are apolitical. Support or criticism of political parties is based purely on their performance in delivering better public transport.
There have been some significant wins: One early demand was multimodal ticketing, which happened in 1983. A campaign during the nineties called “Seven day service for a seven day city” called for better Sunday services, which were delivered — at least on the trains and trams — in 1999.
If it wasn’t for PTUA, the government’s Smartbus project would have been all flashy electronic signs (of doubtful reliability), but no extra buses.
And it was video from the PTUA in 2003 which revealed the true scale of the mess on New Year’s Eve, which subsequently led to all night trains and trams.
It was the PTUA that kept pushing for the tram to Box Hill.
It was the PTUA that helped mobilise community groups across Victoria to fight the proposal in the early Kennett years to slash country rail services, close the Williamstown and Stony Point lines and run buses instead of trains after dark in Melbourne.
We were also involved in early discussions that led to the Nightrider buses and Metlink’s common branding. And it was the PTUA (in conjunction with the Consumer Law Centre Victoria) campaigning on passenger rights that led to the establishment of the Public Transport Ombudsman.
These sorts of improvements only come through the hard work of PTUA volunteers, and something to bear in mind is that we are always looking for members to contribute more — so if you have some free time, please do get involved.
Frank Casey passed away in 1994, but his legacy — and that of his torturous trip home in February 1976 — lives on.
This video shows some highlights some of the media work the PTUA has done over the decades:
Frank Casey’s letter to The Herald in 1976 (JPEG, 134Kb)