“Rip-off of the public”: Students and community in strife over bus changes

After a massive shake-up of Newcastle’s public transport system, locals are gathering in protest. Sophie Austin investigates what these changes are doing to university students.

On Monday night approximately one thousand community members crowded the Belmont 16s to protest the changes to Newcastle bus timetables and systems made in mid-January.

After the changes, brought about since the Newcastle transport network became privately operated by Keolis Downer, thousands of community members and university students alike face multiple bus changes, longer journey times, unreliable connectivity and the axe to some bus routes completely.

State Labor Member and Local Member for Swansea, Yasmin Catley, said that these stories are falling on ‘deaf ears’.

“Too much hands over ears and not enough listening from our government,” she said. “That’s the problem. They are not listening to the concerns of the community.

“I spoke with a university student today who used to catch the 350 into the NewSpace in town — she was really excited about being a part of NewSpace.

“That now takes at the very least two, but mostly three buses and has doubled her travel time.

“It has basically left her in a state of despair. And this is not an isolated incident, this is across the board. There are a lot of problems getting to anywhere you need to go to, including university.”

This means that students travelling to the inner-city from Caves Beach and Swansea may be affected, as well as students from as far as Valentine and Cardiff. The new routes also mean some different bus stops, which could affect student travellers on their journey to Callaghan or NewSpace.

Community members took to the stand to tell their own experiences with the new transport system. John’s daughter Elise, who has an intellectual disability, will have to either catch a bus and a train at 6:57 to make sure she arrives at her service on time, or a one hour and forty two minute trip with three bus changes.

Kimberly, a parent currently on maternity leave was refused access on the 43 bus because she was using a pram, and the bus was not wheelchair accessible.

“I was told I would have to collapse my pram,” she said. “And I asked the driver how I was meant to hold my four-month-old son and collapse my pram.

“The driver’s response was that it was not his problem.”

28311981_10154994788506986_282909568_oImage source, Sophie Austin, ‘Fix Newcastle Buses; Community Protest Meeting

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley also made his stance known by calling the system a “rip-off of the public”.

“I never thought it could be as bad as this,” he said.

“The first I heard of the ‘new world order’ was [when] I heard what happened at Callaghan College, where the bus just didn’t turn up. Where teachers were driving their own cars full of school kids home. And where some children have to walk up to six kilometres to get home.

“That’s a public transport service you get in the third world, not in Australia.”

Secretary for Planning for the Central Coast and the Hunter, Scot Macdonald, was also present and given a chance to respond to the implementation of the bus changes.

“There is no one in this room that would disagree with the slogan ‘fix Newcastle buses’. I hear the unhappiness, I hear the direct stories. We feel there are people missing out, we will take these stories back.

“Would those [discontinued] bus services be restored? My answer to you tonight is probably not.”

Many in attendance showed their support for the motion to change the ‘unreliable system’, but Catley stressed the importance of participation from everyone, including university students.

“What we have to do is rally together, we have to get together and we have to show this government,” Catley said.

“We had more than a thousand people here tonight and we will double that when we go into Newcastle.

“So what my message to university students is is get behind us so we can help you.”

Visit the ‘Fix Newcastle Buses’ page on Facebook to support the campaign or get involved in their upcoming events.

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