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Public Transit as a Beacon of Social Interaction Essay


Public transit forms the backbone of commuter transport in Melbourne1. It consists of buses, trams, and trains. City circle tram, which offers a free service, forms the main mode of transport around the perimeter of the Central Business District (CBD). In the year 2010, these three combined made 504 million trips, which played a major role in easing public transport2.

Trains play the biggest role with a single Melbourne train line being able to move more than 50,000 passengers per hour3. The Central Business District is served by two railway stations namely Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station.

Moreover, there is a light train service that serves Port Melbourne and St Kilda, which are very popular tourist destinations. Tram departure points are spread throughout the CBD. These facts leave no doubt that Melbourne public transit in the form of buses trams and trains have achieved their goal of easing transportation. A closer look however reveals the social impact of public transit in Melbourne in regard to social interaction.

Unlike private transport, Public transport brings people from all walks of life together. Private transport has been known to inhibit interaction by effectively secluding people or confining them to their families. In Melbourne for example one tram moves as many passengers as 140 cars would and one train moves as many passengers as 800 cars would4.

Looking at these statistics it is evident that one tram is capable of bringing 140 families together or better still one train can bring 800 families together.

Some these strangers brought together by circumstances start conversing about mundane things like weather and go on and on about other things in life and many times friendships are started. On other instances, friends commute together and increase the time they usually spend together which is also a form of interaction.

Social interaction theory is the process where human beings respond to others. In respect to that theory, social interaction occurs when these families and individuals brought together by design have to respond to each other’s concerns5.

These interactions happen mostly between total strangers unless when friends make arrangements to travel together. In one way or another people, using public transport must react towards their fellow passengers6. The same case applies to the ones waiting for trains, trams and buses in the stations and departure points.

It is however not strange to find people who chose to listen to music or read a book, however they still find themselves responding to others even without their knowledge, for instance they are still bound to give way. Even without talking, they end up interacting.

Symbolic interactionism is an everyday occurrence at Melbourne public transit facilities. With only two railway stations serving the CBD the number of people who have to converge at one station is high and so is the interactions.Passengers alighting are given priority even without asking which goes to show that human beings give meaning to certain actions and react accordingly.

Melbourne public transit serves everyone including people who have special needs. Passengers are from diverse backgrounds and with different needs. Those who are deafblind for instance prefer a pat on the shoulder as a means of communication and in turn they interpret the pat to something meaningful such their time to a light.7

Ethno-methodology; refers to the assumptions people make about others because they belong to a certain group or society. At Melbourne there is a procedure to follow when purchasing a travel Metcards from the various outlets.

Such procedures seem so obvious that an assumption is made that all the commuters know these procedures. In interactions certain assumptions are made that people know certain things automatically and that no further explanations are required.

These assumptions arise due to the fact that people belong to the same community and therefore they ought to know or behave in certain ways. At these stations for example a new commuter would find themselves stranded, as the assumption is that everybody knows all the processes required for one to be able to use public transport8. Commuters are prone to assume that everyone at the station knows what happens.

This illusion is further stretched to think that everyone at the station share the same ideology and ability. This is however quite far from the truth since among the commuters there are people who are blind and others deaf. At the railway stations in Melbourne little attention is given to the deafblind community.

In the newsletter of the deafblind council a lot of suggestions are made on how to improve the public transport staff communication for the sake of those who are deafblind.9

People use public transport for various reasons; while some are trying to cut costs, others especially the young generation have no other means of transport10. Some people however still cite cutting down carbon emissions as their reason for using public transport. Whatever the reason might be some people would still go out of their way to show that they have the same reasons as everybody else.

In many cases these people alter their behavior so that others perceive them as they wish. There is an inherent desire within human beings to be perceived in a certain way even when they are the exact opposite.

When using public transport non-verbal communications are quite common. People either gesture, talk or combine both. While combining both various things happen in that gestures could reinforce the words or contradict them.

In public transport facilities people have the advantage of interacting face to face. This makes it possible for one to be able to observe the non-verbal communication such as facial expressions that reveal the real emotions.

Apart from bringing people together in the trains and in the trams, people meet and interact at the various stations and departure points.11 Anyone wishing to use public transport must be able to access the stations or the departure points. These stations and departure points are usually crowded and could have a lot of impact on the travelers ranging from the way they are organized decorated or even built.12

A lot of emphasis has been put in the study of how built environment affects the health as well as the well-being of an individual. Use of art has been on the forefront in promoting the health and mental state of people in public places with special focus on inclusion and connection.13

In Melbourne the train stations are an integral part of the society at large.14 They are meeting points of all ages and classes from students to working class, from young to old. They are also neutral meeting points for both those who have cars and those who don’t striking a social balance and eliminating any form of isolation.15 Due to the high number of people in these stations fear of crime is also high.

The social impact of train stations is so huge that the Victorian authorities have developed policies to deal with any form of negative social impact in Melbourne 2030.16

A section of the Melbourne 2030 called Transit Cities Program is aimed at creating safe and vibrant communities in public transport areas where people can go about their activities meet and even relax.17

In an effort to achieve an environment that resonates with the community’s feelings and memory to enhance interaction, the various railway stations have undergone major artistic and cultural changes through community arts.18 These community arts play a big role in binding the community that uses the station through enhancing conductors who existed before the ticketing system was mechanized.

Many of them did not see the conductors and the stationmasters as just tickets sellers but as custodians of the public facilities.19 This goes to show that the tram conductors played a social role as the real connection between the stations and the commuters.

Since community arts provide a sense of belonging people who use Melbourne public transit stations feel like a family and interact with each other more easily than when the facilities were just open, dull and bare.20

Installing community arts managed to help the commuters identify with the facilities of public transport in a whole new way.21

This had a great social impact especially in achieving renewed social interaction. The community served by the stations became the new custodians and all manner of discrimination of vulnerable groups, which hindered social interaction, done away with.22cultural understanding and eliminating the feeling of isolation. Melbournians are reported to have had a lot of attachment with the tram

Conclusion

All in all public transit in Melbourne has not only played its intended role of easing transport but has also gained a great milestone in improving social interaction amongst commuters. Public transport facilities from trains buses and trams not forgetting the nodes and stations offer opportunities for people to meet and interact in various ways.

Apart from interacting while traveling in the buses trains and trams, public transport consumers interact and exercise daily. As they walk and talk to and from the stations they manage at least half an hour of exercise everyday, which is necessary for good health.23Though some people find it hard to strike up a conversation with strangers, and find it easier to listen to music or read a book they still interact in ways that none of them can control. Without knowing they respond to others through reflex actions.

Public transport has a way of making sure people meet physically as they share the social amenities. These way face-to-face interactions happen in public transit facilities and usually achieve more than just verbal interactions.

This is because both verbal and nonverbal communications are used in relaying clearer messages than when only verbal communication is used. It is a fact that every day, thousands of people meet in Melbourne public transit facilities and consciously or unconsciously continue interacting.

Bibliography

1. Amin, A “Ethnicity and the multicultural city- living with diversity.”(2002) 34 Environment and Planning A 959-980.

2. Australian DeafBlind Council “Public Transport Experiences of People Who are Deafblind in Victoria” (2011) 40 ADBCBeacon 3-13.

3. Australian Government Department of infrastructure and transport, Liveability of Australian Cities chapter 6, State of Australian Conference, Canberra, 2010.

4. Burke, M & Brown A L 2007, ‘Distances people walk for transit’, Road and Transport Research, 16(3), 17–29.

5. Currie, G., Delbosc, A., & Mahmoud, S, Perceptions and Realities of Personal Safety on Public Transport for Young People in Melbourne, Australasian Transport Research Forum, Canberra, 2010.

6. Nolan, E, Going to Town: Young people’s right to the city, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2010.

7. ‘Melbourne has been declared the near-perfect town after being rated the best city in the world to call home.’ The Age, 2002, ‘Best city in the world’.

8. Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy Technical Report No. 1, 2001 in (2002) Public Transport Users Association (PTUA). It’s time toMOVE.

9. Metlink “Benefits of public transport- What are the benefits of public transport?” Metlink, (2011). Web.

10. Sennett, Richard, “The Open City”, Urban age, November 2006, cited in R. Rudett & D. Sudjic (Eds.), The Endless City, Phaidon, London, p. 280-297.

11. State of Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Melbourne 2030 – Planning for Sustainable Growth, Melbourne, Victoria: Department of Infrastructure, 2003.

12.. “Train Stations as Places for Community Wellbeing,” 2006. Web.

13. Yencken, David, Places not Spaces, Placemaking in Australia, Sydney, New South Wales: Envirobook, 1995.

Footnotes

1 Village Well. “Train Stations as Places for Community Wellbeing,” 2006.

2 Metlink “Benefits of public transport- What are the benefits of public transport?” Metlink, (2011).

3 ibid

4 ibid

5 Amin, A “Ethnicity and the multicultural city- living with diversity.”(2002) 34 Environment and Planning A 959-980

6 Currie, G., Delbosc, A., & Mahmoud, S, Perceptions and Realities of Personal Safety on Public Transport for Young People in Melbourne, Australasian Transport Research Forum, Canberra, 2010.

7 Australian DeafBlind Council “Public Transport Experiences of People Who are Deafblind in Victoria” (2011) 40 ADBCBeacon 3-13

8 Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy Technical Report No. 1, 2001 in (2002) Public Transport Users Association (PTUA). It’s time toMOVE

9 Australian DeafBlind Council “Public Transport Experiences of People Who are Deafblind in Victoria” (2011) 40 ADBCBeacon 3-13.

10 Nolan, E, Going to Town: Young people’s right to the city, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 2010.

11 Yencken, David, Places not Spaces, Placemaking in Australia, Sydney, New South Wales: Envirobook, 1995.

12 Village Well. “Train Stations as Places for Community Wellbeing,” 2006 .

13 ibid

14 Yencken, David, Places not Spaces, Placemaking in Australia, Sydney, New South Wales: Envirobook, 1995.

15 Australian Government Department of infrastructure and transport, Liveability of Australian Cities chapter 6, State of Australian Conference, Canberra, 2010.

16 ‘Melbourne has been declared the near-perfect town after being rated the best city in the world to call home.’ The Age, 2002, ‘Best city in the world’

17 State of Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE), Melbourne 2030 – Planning for Sustainable Growth, Melbourne, Victoria: Department of Infrastructure, 2003.

18 Sennett, Richard, “The Open City”, Urban age, November 2006, cited in R. Rudett & D. Sudjic (Eds.), The Endless City, Phaidon, London, p. 280-297.

19 ‘Melbourne has been declared the near-perfect town after being rated the best city in the world to call home.’ The Age, 2002, ‘Best city in the world’

20 Village Well. “Train Stations as Places for Community Wellbeing,” 2006.

21 ibid

22 Village Well. “Train Stations as Places for Community Wellbeing,” 2006.

23 Burke, M & Brown A L 2007, ‘Distances people walk for transit’, Road and Transport Research, 16(3), 17–29.

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IvyPanda. "Public Transit as a Beacon of Social Interaction." August 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/public-transit-as-a-beacon-of-social-interaction/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "Public Transit as a Beacon of Social Interaction." August 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/public-transit-as-a-beacon-of-social-interaction/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Public Transit as a Beacon of Social Interaction'. 16 August.

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