Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

The More Things Change…

I’ve been looking recently at historical accounts of Whittlesea, and was amused to run across the following account of the city’s chequered rail transport history:

The first train service between Whittlesea and Melbourne ran on Show Day, October 1889. There was much excitement when it was known that a return ride to the City was available to any who wished to avail themselves of it, and even greater excitement when it was announced that it would be free. Quite a number of people accepted, but many returned home disappointed. The journey was a round about one. It did not go straight to Melbourne but trailed around Carlton North, through Royal Park, Flemington Bridge, Macaulay and North Melbourne, ending up at Spencer Street. (Needless to say, there was not much City at that time around this area.) Some of the travellers were too nervous to go exploring when they arrived at Melbourne, for they feared that they might miss their train. They came back tired, hungry and disillusioned. As there was no platform at Whittlesea the passengers climbed in and out of the carriages with the aid of boxes, chairs and stepladders.

At the present time there are no trains here. Owing to lack of support they were withdrawn and they were substituted by a bus service. At the time a deputation was sent to the Comissioners of the Railways, in the hope of staying the withdrawal, but when he asked the question – ‘How did you come down?’ – everyone shamefacedly admitted he had travelled by car.

She forlornly concludes:

Looking back on it I’m afraid we sent the wrong deputation.

From E.M. Duffy 1971 Reminiscences of Whittlesea

I had to laugh at this passage, given that Whittlesea is still struggling for appropriate train service. There’s also something both familiar and poignant about the ill-fated deputation, failing to preserve the train service because… well… er… they all drove to the meeting…

Humour value aside, the Comissioner’s question – and the conclusions he evidently drew from the answers he received – really aren’t as logical as they might have seemed: the fact that consumers don’t choose to use a service *now*, under specific circumstances, doesn’t really tell us about the potential choices that might be made, under other circumstances that we may choose to bring about. I’m sure I’ll come back to the issue of the dangers of “data” – of treating citizen’s stated preferences as static “givens”, and failing to account for people’s capacity to respond, adapt, learn… It’s a fundamental issue in community consultation – or, at least, it should be… ;-P But more on this another time…

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