Getting back to the office, with blinkers on

Our national and state governments are taking their first, fearful, stuttering steps at getting Australians back to workplaces and educational institutions.

It is going to be hard, we all know that.

The virus will continue to lurk, and will spring back at any opportunity carelessly offered.

Avoiding crowds, confined spaces and prolonged contact is critical, and will test community vigilance and long-term discipline.

Our political leadership has grasped that public transport, which usually does the heavy lifting of commuting top central cities, can’t fulfil that role anytime soon.

And they seem to have grasped the next step in the logic chain: that driving to work is not a substitute.

But it is pretty clear that the next step along—that riding a bike can work for many CBD workers—is simply out of their natural field of view.

Take these statements from Victorian Premier Dan Andrews on May 29.

He’s explaining why his government has moved to formally direct people to keep working from home.

"Right now, we can’t have the usual number of people on our trains, trams and buses – it just isn’t safe", he says.

"And we know that if just half the people who normally use public transport start driving to work, we will see our freeways and other major roads grind to a halt.” He’s right on the money there.

"The number of people on the roads and the transport network is already starting to increase and we cannot let that creep continue.” Yep, get that.

"If we do, then we’ll see commute times worse than anything any of us have ever experienced – two hours from Werribee to the city, 90 minutes from Reservoir and two and half hours from Mulgrave.” Sure will. But wait.

Those of you reading this who would normally be commuting to work on a congestion busting bicycle will have already twigged: why are you stopping us from riding to work because drivers will be stuck in traffic?

If opening up offices to some workers is not possible because all drivers will be stuck in traffic is the argument, then you must be assuming that all office workers will be drivers.

Who makes logical mistake like that? A politician with blinkers on.

Not to single out Premier Andrews—his leadership in this crisis has been admirably evidence-driven, and resolute.

He is just one, on a long list of people at various levels of government, whose thinking is locked inside the cabin of a car.

When you look at this position critically, it is actually reflects a kind of institutionalised discrimination against those who choose to be healthy by commuting to work and education by bike.

'If drivers can’t get to work by car, then you guys on bikes aren’t going either,' might describe it.

A politician with a creative, open mind could have conceived this differently.

A statement might have gone like this: “We are permitting a return to work on a limited basis. In order to restrict numbers in workplaces, and avoid congestion on the roads, only those that can ride a bike to work can attend a workplace. Drivers must continue to work from home.”

Sounds like a great solution Mr Premier. Keep the virus in check, avoid congestion on the roads, and improve the health of the community.

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