Lake Macquarie Electorate Bus Timetables

7th February 2018

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 17:59 :04 ): Having sat largely untouched for more than a decade, bus timetables in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area were changed in January. A review was certainly warranted, but the final result has left many people wondering why certain routes have been abandoned altogether and how, or if, they will be able to adapt to the new system. As this House is aware, management of government bus, ferry and light rail services in the greater Newcastle area was privatised in July last year and is now run by Keolis Downer through a new body called Newcastle Transport. This impacts on services in the northern parts of my electorate of Lake Macquarie. I have no doubt that those behind these changes wanted to improve services. Yes, the issues of lowering costs and being profitable no doubt entered the mix, but they should be considerations in any enterprise, private or public. But if it is a public service, the imperative is to provide the best service for the needs of the people. Clearly some people have benefited from the new timetable, but for a large number of people in Lake Macquarie catching a bus to school, work, shopping centres and hospitals has become significantly harder, and in some cases impossible.

I raised the issue with the Minister in question time today, and I can appreciate why he seems frustrated by the complaints. On the face of it, as he says, the new arrangements provide for about 1,000 extra services, increasing frequency and adding more weekend services. Why would people not be happy with that? I agree that there have been winners—and that is great—but I am more concerned about the losers. I have been hearing from people who had planned their lives or established their daily routines around existing bus routes. I have heard from people across the Newcastle Transport network, including from people in the electorates of Swansea, Charlestown and Wallsend, and they join with residents in the Lake Macquarie electorate—particularly people living in Cardiff, Cardiff South, Macquarie Hills, and Speers Point—who are angry that their bus services have disappeared or now require multiple connections and longer journey times. Among those constituents is Sylvia Cathcart who used to catch a direct bus service between Cardiff South and Charlestown. That is not a great distance—a four-kilometre trip which used to take eight minutes but which now takes almost 40 minutes under the new timetable. Direct services from Cardiff South to Kotara and Newcastle have also gone.

Another constituent, Vicki Bryant, has two adult sons with special needs. They used to catch a bus from Cardiff South to attend special activities in town but they now need to catch three different buses to get there. That is having a huge impact on the family. Sue Selby's 84-year-old mother relied on the direct services into Newcastle to attend regular medical appointments. She now has to catch three different services and spends most of the day travelling. I have been contacted by a great many people with similar stories. Most of them say that the new timetables and cuts are a disgrace. Others simply describe them as inconvenient and being all about profits for the private operator and not about services for the public.

The campaign for better public transport links throughout Lake Macquarie has been ongoing and is one I will continue to support. Many residents have chosen to live, rent or buy homes around the public transport system. They did this knowing that they would be able to access work, schools, medical services or retail centres by public transport. At a time when services should be improved or their frequency increased, the opposite has happened for many people, leaving them understandably distressed because the changes mean they might have to move house or, in cases where they can afford it, buy a car. Some had plans to age in place and that option is no longer going to work for them. I understand why these people feel so angry about these changes.

If the Government is serious about getting people in these areas to use public transport services need to be increased in frequency and new links created; however, cutting public transport routes that have been embraced by people who have made major life decisions to live along them does nothing to build equitable and sustainable communities. I have sought further meetings with the Minister, Newcastle Transport and Keolis Downer in a bid to have these timetable changes reviewed and have the cut services restored, particularly the old 334 service in the Cardiff South area. Coincidentally, today I have been contacted by the Minister's office to set up a meeting in response to my request. I place on record my thanks to the Minister for agreeing to meet with me to discuss this important issue.

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