For the past few months there have been regular meetings at the Council chambers for all interested members of the public on the Cairns Transit Network. It was thought by many who attended the first one that this would be an ideal opportunity to be involved in the process of decision-making regarding this network. The subsequent meetings however, soon made them all aware that this process was more one of information rather than allowing them input. I have received several e-mails from concerned residents who did attend these meetings and were extremely disappointed in them.
Some explained that the meetings were more of a divide and conquer format, although through speaking up they managed to stay together as a group so that they could all remain active in the process. The speakers came from the Department of Main Roads, the Department of Transport and the Cairns Regional Council. Decisions had been made prior to the meetings taking place and this was simply an exercise in pretence, couched in 'community consultation' terms. The consultation process was long over. Nearly every person I have spoken to was unaware of the process and did not participate. So, who did?
Unlike many other recent consultation processes, there are no reports giving accurate figures regarding the local contribution to these plans. There is no transparency regarding this issue whatsoever. Instead, residents were given the final results and if there were objections to this, they were irrelevant.
The idea that we should link up our public transport and create a network is one which all agree needs to occur. The current system is largely inadequate and with the population explosion expected for this region it is well past time to get a system in place which will allow for that growth.
There are two contentious issues with the current plan. First, there is still no allowance for a bus service to and from the airport. An oversight for which there have been no explanations given. Second, and most important, is the removal of the City Place for through traffic and the bus terminal. This issue has created Facebook pages, letters to the Editor, e-mails to and fro and much angst in the community......but only if you are aware it's happening.
Yesterday I received a call. This call asked me if I would take a few minutes to answer questions regarding the Cairns Transit Network. Obviously the vocal objections to the removal of City Place are sinking in and the need for further consultation was deemed necessary. I was asked if I knew about the consultation for this initiative. The answer...yes. She was very surprised and said that she had been waiting all day for someone to answer in the affirmative for this question. Apparently only 5% of those responding had answered yes to that question. Quite telling isn't it.
She went on to ask me if I was aware of the plight of the City Place. Yes I was. Did I have any objections to them tearing it out and putting the bus terminal in it's place? Yes I did. Why? Because this public space, while irrelevant to most of us, holds fond memories for most locals and the Indigenous population have cultural connections to it. Will it one day be removed to make way for something else? Perhaps. But that time is not now. There is still too much emotional connection to it and that needs to be taken into account. Can it be rejuvenated? Surely the answer to that is....can we afford NOT to. It will never be the grassy slopes that it once was but it can be made much more user-friendly that it's current form allows.
Last question.......Where would you put the bus terminal and how would you design the Transit system? I have had a lot of time to think about this answer. I have read the e-mails sent to me regarding the process and the ideas floated by those present. I never made it to the meetings due to their timing but the information was vast so I could easily ascertain what went on. I already had a few ideas of my own so I incorporated mine with theirs and came up with my own version of the Network.
The bus terminal is an easy one....It should obviously be in Bunda Street. Parallel to Cairns Central shopping centre it would also allow for a link up with the train services and at a future date, if money comes our way, the future suburban light rail system. This location is ideal as there are a few vacant lots in this area which would make perfect positions for car parks. This way, residents can drive into town, park in Bunda Street and catch a bus to work.
The second part of my plan concerned the actual city. How would you get people from Cairns Central to city locations? Particularly if they are workers, elderly, disabled or have several children in tow and can't make the long walk from the shopping centre? Simple. Add three small buses seating 12 each. Make sure they are as environmentally friendly as possible....perhaps electric. Then get those small buses to do a city loop every half hour. This would allow a bus to be caught every 10 minutes from Cairns Central. The buses would stop at 7 different locations around the city area allowing people the opportunity to get off almost at the doorstep of their destination. The small size of the buses allows for easy parking at stops. Bus stops in 7 locations would not be impossible or even difficult to achieve.
Buses could stop right out the front of Rusty's, City Place, Cairns Base, Muddies, the Lagoon, The Entertainment Precinct and the Council building. Buses loop back to Bunda Street and the entire process repeats. Simple, effective and cheap. Bunda Street has ample space for a bus depot and it's central location means easy access from Sheridan Street, Mulgrave Road and Ray Jones Drive.
The City Place can then be beautified by adding several shade sails from the current stage area. These should be brightly coloured triangles that sit side by side creating a big tent, carnival like atmosphere. Shade is the most obvious problem at the site and the first thing to do is fix that. Then add lots and lots of seating. Simple, effective and not costly. Bring back the buskers and the colourful characters and the entire place will be transformed.
The lady on the other end of the phone liked my ideas but she was very careful to also say the following. "You do know that this is already decided don't you?" To which I replied....Yes. Even if my ideas are rubbish and those other's present at the meetings had ideas that wouldn't work, the overwhelming feeling of uselessness in this process and of remaining unheard was apparent in every form of correspondence and in the phone conversation with a very apologetic woman.
So, in a few years it appears that our City Place will be gone. Replaced by big buses which we have to negotiate around as they will have right of way all the way through our city heart. I have never lived anywhere that encouraged buses in high pedestrian areas but soon I will. I have no idea if there was any point in this process where public input was actually taken note of but I can tell you without doubt that the next time I see a small snippet of information about any kind of changes occurring in our city, I will be turning up to have my say and encouraging all others to do the same. In the meanwhile, join the Facebook page to save City Place if you love the venue and write to The Department of Transport....maybe it will make some difference.