There are a few phrases that are used quite a fair bit around Newcastle.
“We’ve got the best beaches in the world.”
“The 1997 grand final is the greatest moment in history.”
“Fix Newcastle buses”.
That last one was the catchcry of a particularly passionate crowd that shuffled into the Belmont 16 Footers on 18 February 2018, as more than 1,000 people met to discuss their issues surrounding recent changes to the Newcastle bus system with NSW State Opposition leader, Luke Foley.
Those in attendance were even going as far as to describe the current system as akin to “a public transport system you get in a third world country”. Coupled with the roll-out of the NBN, it’s somewhat dire times down Belmont way.
Stories were shared of missed appointments, children left abandoned at school, and the system’s failure to cater for vulnerable and/or disabled citizens.
Public transport is a funny thing.
It is generally something that is required by many, in fact, the majority of people, but it’s never really been seen as a particularly popular issue that changes governments. And in Newcastle, where public transport is concerned, buses in particular, we do what we can, with the little that we are provided with.
However, more recently, something changed.
But what exactly has changed?
In December of last year, Transport NSW announced proposed changes that would consist of ‘more frequent buses and ferries, new bus routes and better connections between modes’, and Keolis Downer, the new private transport operator, indicated that more than 1000 extra services would be provided.
Recently, that figure has come under staunch public criticism.
In a heated state parliament debate on Tuesday, 6 March 2018, local State MP for Newcastle, Tim Crakanthorp, suggested that claims of ‘more frequent’ services, ‘new’ routes, and ‘better connections’ were, at best, misleading:
“If there is one run going down to Swansea and it is chopped into three, that is, three runs instead of one. Multiplied throughout the Hunter, that might well come to 1000 or even more. Government members say there is an increase of 1000 routes. That is because they have chopped and chopped and chopped.” (Newcastle Herald)
These chopped and altered routes, many are claiming, have done little but increase travel time, reduce reliability, and interfere with service accessibility for vulnerable groups.
At this point, the available data is hardly conclusive one way or the other.
And there has not been enough time, yet, to confirm whether Keolis Downer has effectively provided the more-than 1000 extra services, or the complete extent to which the new bus system could be causing vulnerable Novocastrians serious problems.
But what is known is that residents are not happy, particularly those who in a position of disability or vulnerability, rely upon those services, to simply live their lives.
Granted, there are indeed more urgent and life-changing matters for consideration going on today. But that is not to say that the implementation of an organised and smoothly run public transport system is not of importance.
At its most extreme, children abandoned, well that can be quite traumatic for a small child. A missed appointment, well for someone with a disability, that in fact could be irrevocably life‑changing.
So suddenly, a few poorly run buses is actually quite a significant matter.
You see, in most cases, public transport is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and subsequently, it is a service.
As the matter stands, the service being provided by Newcastle buses is seemingly not serving a lot of people’s needs.
So one thing for certain is that less than three months into the changes, the people are not happy, and there are more than 1,000 people who want to “fix Newcastle buses.”