There is perhaps no better symbol of Sydney’s transition from a glittering world city to a sad urban wasteland than the image of tens of thousands of New Year’s Eve revellers waiting on choking rail platforms for trains that never arrived.
Just after welcoming in 2019, the city’s major transportation network failed — for the second time that day — due to a storm, on one of the busiest travel days.
So old is the infrastructure, and so high the cost of replacing it, that bad weather routinely sees systems crippled.
When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian flatly refused to refund people’s wasted train fares, it was arguably another illustration of Sydney’s rapid downfall.
It costs a fortune to live in the city, with house prices and rents well above famously costly locales like New York and London.
Overall cost of living has skyrocketed, with groceries and general costs higher than other capitals, while the night-life has died and dozens of venues have closed.
The roads are choked and the majority of infrastructure problems meant to fix traffic congestion are over budget and well past schedule.
And increasingly, fed-up and frustrated locals are fleeing to other states, particularly Victoria, at the fastest rates in several years.
The statistics speak for themselves — Sydney officially sucks. Just what went so horribly wrong?
PEOPLE ARE FLEEING
More than 18,000 people fled NSW in 2016-17, marking the highest exit rate in five years and up from 15,900 a year earlier.
In analysis last year, Leith van Onselen, chief economist with MacroBusiness, said a number of factors had been “pushing people out”.
“The cost of housing in Sydney has obviously gone through the roof — it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the world, Mr van Onselen said.
“A lot of younger people especially can’t afford to live there anymore, so they’re being forced to leave.
“Secondly, liveability is being massively eroded — traffic congestion, trains, schools, hospitals, all manner of public services — and related to that it’s just become an expensive place to live, not just for housing but for day-to-day life.”
Of those who relocated elsewhere in the country, many headed south to Victoria’s capital, Mr van Onselen said, which has seen a rise in interstate migration.
Melbourne’s total population is now expected to overtake Sydney by 2026, passing six million residents.
“In the last year, Victoria added 143,400 people, which is larger than the growth of NSW, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT combined,” demographic researcher Mark McCrindle said.
A big contributor to that growth, according to Mr McCrindle, is people moving to Victoria from other parts of Australia.
And he said NSW is losing far more locals than it’s gaining from other states.
SERIOUSLY EXPENSIVE CITY
The NSW capital is now among the 10 most expensive cities in the world to live and has overtaken the notoriously costly locales of London and New York.
And the amount you need to be a resident in Sydney is rising faster than many other international cities.
A comparison between Sydney and Melbourne by Budget Direct found the Harbour City is more expensive on almost every single measure, from housing to groceries and public transport.
Restaurant prices in Sydney are 2.6 per cent higher than Melbourne while general consumer prices for things like clothing are 9.3 per cent higher in Sydney.
Across the board, locals are feeling the pinch.
An Ipsos poll conducted for the Committee for Sydney lobby group found eight in 10 people believe cost of living has intensified over the past five years.
A DYING NIGHTLIFE
It might cost more to live in Sydney, but that money is less and less likely to be spent enjoying a vibrant night life.
The controversial lockout laws designed to keep punters safe as they were out at pubs and clubs have instead killed off dozens of venues, according to activists.
Tyson Koh, organiser of the Keep Sydney Open group, said former hot spots like Darlinghurst and Kings Cross were now ghost towns after dark.
“Oxford St (in Darlinghurst) is basically empty,” Mr Koh said. “It has suffered enormously.
“Kings Cross is a completely different place … there are far fewer people heading (there) and it’s a ghost town.
“Unfortunately, some businesses haven’t made it and have been forced to close their doors. Several more are still doing it tough and barely hanging on.”
The State Government and hospitals like St Vincent’s insist the laws have reduced alcohol-related violence.
A HOUSING NIGHTMARE
House prices might be falling in Sydney at the fastest rate in the country, but it still costs a motza to nab a pile of bricks.
Data shows those hoping to buy a home have to earn a salary of $161,858 to buy a house without experiencing mortgage stress or $121,026 for an apartment.
“Mortgage stress is when 30 per cent or more of your pre-tax income is going towards loan repayments,” Sally Tindall, RateCity.com.au research director, explained.
“Everyone has bills to pay, mouths to feed and kids to educate. People are struggling to make ends meet as it is. When your mortgage repayments tip over that 30 per cent mark, it means you’ll struggle to have spare cash to get you through month-on-month.”
It’s not just would-be homebuyers struggling. The cost of rent in Sydney is significantly higher than other capitals with a median weekly cost of $550 for apartments and $600 for houses.
According to analysis by consumer comparison website finder.com.au, Sydneysiders can pay on average up to $3500 a month in rent in a suburb located close to the city and up to $2750 for a place in a less desirable area.
According to the website Sydney Moving Costs, a one-bedroom unit can cost up to $570 per week while a single room in a share house is between $300 to $400 per week.
Budget Direct found the cost of renting a dwelling in Sydney is 43.2 per cent higher than in Melbourne.
RAIL NETWORK FAILURES
The New Year’s Eve chaos experienced across the city, when train services ground to a halt and thousands of people packed dangerously overcrowded platforms, wasn’t a one-off.
Throughout 2018, a number of issues thrust the network into chaos, from IT issues and flawed upgrades to rain and electrical storms knocking out signals.
A new timetable introduced last year sparked days of chaos with “indefinite delays” and staff shortages, and the Rail Tram and Bus Union accused the Government of failing to train enough new drivers.
On multiple occasions, transit authorities advised passengers to avoid trains when the system melted down and delay all non-essential travel.
Lengthy delays have become the norm when the network is stretched to capacity or unable to cope with bad weather.
George St in the middle of Sydney’s CBD was once a hive of activity, with shoppers and revellers flooding its pavements.
Now, it’s virtually a ghost town thanks to the over-budget and past schedule Light Rail project that has kept the city at a gridlocked maze for years.
The troubled tram project was meant to be finished in just a few months but now won’t be wrapped up until at least 2020.
Its cost has also exploded from $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion.
Today it was revealed that a crucial rail link between Sydney and the booming Parramatta city has blown out, with an estimated cost of $20 billion, and doesn’t even have a business case, which was due last year.
WestConnex, the country’s biggest road infrastructure project, has also been plagued by issues and a few months ago the Government announced it would sell 51 per cent of it.
Christopher Standen, a transport analyst at University of Sydney, described the move as “the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history”.
“In total, I estimate the NSW Government is pumping more than $23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex,” Mr Standen said.
“Finally, as part of the (sale) deal … the Government has agreed to plough $5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just $4 billion by selling majority ownership. This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.”
There will also be minimal if any benefit for the enormous cost and overall loss worn by taxpayers.
“The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area,” Mr Standen said.
Despite the exodus of people from the state, Ms Berejiklian in October called for a drastic cut to immigration levels, which she claimed had been allowed to “balloon out of control”.
The only problem is that analysis has shown the permanent migration level has remained unchanged and the net overseas migration increase is largely due to international students.
Those students contribute billions of dollars to the economy each year and efforts to reduce the flow could have an unintended financial impact, experts say.
Given the current state of chaos, planning expert Dr Shane Geha said overseas migration is the thing that will save Sydney — not cripple it.
“I understand there’s some strong rhetoric about cutting immigration and slowing population growth, but it’s just wrong,” Dr Geha said.
“Our future depends on immigration. Strong population growth and significantly higher density living is the solution to our problems and any contrary suggestion is just nonsense.”