by Emily Newton
Nb: This article was submitted for a Masters university assessment in 2016 and as a result all information was correct at the time of writing.
Penrith pensioners are outraged as changes to the NSW Transport Service keep them stuck at home.
The removal of paper tickets across NSW transport at the beginning of August has left some retirees unable to understand the Opal card system, struggling to travel on public transport for single trips.
The move by NSW government has created a system that has been criticised as being inaccessible for older residents who rarely catch public transport, but rely on it to attend vital appointments.
Lindsay and Patricia Tilbrook are local retirees who feel “discriminated against” by the changes as they struggle to keep their independence.
They have lived together in Western Sydney for 40 years, but the past few months they are struggling with previously simple tasks.
“I had a specialist doctor appointment in the city last month, and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do,” Mr Tilbrook said.
He said recent visits to their closest station on the Western Line have found no staff available to help.
His criticism comes as it is believed to be an additional 2,400 redundancies upcoming across the Sydney Trains network, including station managers and station shift managers.
The nearest place to buy an opal card from Penrith Station is in Penrith CBD at an authorised retailer, which involves crossing multiple roads, a difficult task when living with mobility impairments.
“He had to get our adult son, who hasn’t lived with us for years, to take him in [to the city], get him to his appointment and make sure he got home. He missed work for it, because no one could stop to help Lindsay,” Mrs Tilbrook said.
“I spent my whole working life driving, I was a shift worker, there’s no point telling me this was advertised for months…I never once saw it,” Mr Tilbrook continued.
“I would have to walk 900 meters to get to the station, then find out I couldn’t buy a paper ticket, walk 2kms to buy one, 2kms back. I’m disabled, how on earth am I supposed to walk that far when I can hardly walk the length of a supermarket?” he said.
He says he feels luckily to have sons who look out for him but fears for other pensioners who don’t, asking “who helps them? How are they supposed to get around?”
Sydney Psychologist, Mitchell Peacock, says feeling independent is crucial in keeping both bodies and brains active. Without this activity, he says we “begin to rapidly deteriorate”.
He warns that the feelings of restriction and hopelessness experienced by retirees make individuals more prone to depression and can severely damage mental health.
Mr Peacock explains that staying connected to the community is crucial in countering these feelings, but the limitations imposed on them pose a threat in their ability to engage with others and counter these negative consequences.
The move to paperless tickets is costing Mr and Mrs Tilbrook financially as well as mentally.
Mrs Tilbrook was forced to catch a taxi to visit a family member in the hospital on multiple occasions after getting stuck in the city attempting to catch a bus.
“When my uncle was in hospital dying … [I] had to get a taxi as I couldn’t buy a bus ticket…it begins to add up,” she said.
The couple currently survive on a part pension of $545 a fortnight, leaving very little to spare after rent, groceries, doctor appointment and medication, and they are not alone as The Guardian reports 1 in 3 pensioners are currently living below the poverty line.
Mrs Tilbrook says she fears for the day her husband can no longer drive and their trip to the local grocery store becomes harder to navigate.
“It’s impossible, what are we supposed to do? We’re old, and forgotten about. We’ll, we’re not dead yet and I’m not going to waste away stuck inside because my freedoms are taken away from me,” she said.
“It’s discrimination, it absolutely is. No one cares,” she said.
In Penrith, people aged 65 years and over make up 14.2% of the population, but Mr and Mrs Tilbrook ultimately believe they are being ignored.
Newly elected local MP for Lindsay, Emma Husar said in her maiden speech to Parliament this week that locals were “disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to most things compared to our inner city and northern suburbs neighbours,” citing public transport as a major issue that must be addressed.
When asked if Mr Tilbrook thought he would see any changes soon, he was sceptical.
“We need more than a change in policy, we need a change in Government bigger than local, or something to fix this. How is this an effective public transport system when it can’t even service the public?” he said.
Additional Sites: Emma Husar (ALP-Lindsay) – Maiden Speech. Australian Politics, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2016. http://australianpolitics.com/2016/09/12/emma-husar-alp-lindsay-maiden-speech.html "2011 Census QuickStats: 2750, NSW." 2011 Census QuickStats: 2750, NSW. N.p., 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2011/quickstat/POA2750?opendocument&navpos=220 "No More Paper Tickets." Home. Transport for NSW, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2016. https://www.opal.com.au/en/opal-fares/no_more_paper_tickets/ Penrith Press. "Buy Your Opal Card Now: No More Paper Tickets from August 1." The Daily Telegraph. 18 July 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/penrith-press/buy-your-opal-card-now-no-more-paper-tickets-from-august-1/news-story/190d47d3425459f5b327bfc1ce3e2e7e