Keolis Downer says new bus network big step ahead for Newcastle

CONFIDENT: Keolis Downer Hunter general manager Mark Dunlop says the new bus network will be a significant improvement. Picture: Simon McCarthy
CONFIDENT: Keolis Downer Hunter general manager Mark Dunlop says the new bus network will be a significant improvement. Picture: Simon McCarthy

The man in charge of rolling out Newcastle’s new bus network says it will be a “quantum step up” for commuters in the city.

Mark Dunlop took over from Keolis Downer Hunter chief executive Campbell Mason in December after 33 years in South Australia’s public transport system.

On Sunday, he will take the wheel as Keolis Downer’s Newcastle Transport launches an overhaul of bus routes and timetables six months after the state government privatised the network.

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Mr Dunlop, who moved to Newcastle in September, said his team had drawn on customer and driver feedback, Opal data and the company’s Australian and international experience to devise the network.

“Overall, from what I’ve looked at this network, I’m very confident that the package overall is a quantum step up,” he said. 

“The network here hasn’t changed since 2008, and, whilst I haven’t been in Newcastle for that long, but with any community the dynamics and geography and social parameters change over that time.

​“Something that traditionally ran down the street in 1953 is going to change.   

“Yes, will there be issues? Will there be people trying to work through it? It’s a big change. We understand that. We understand it can be daunting.”

Some commuters have complained about losing direct bus services to the CBD and other key destinations, such as shopping centres. 

Mr Dunlop said the new network was based on routes feeding into “spines” of high-frequency services, which would require more transfers for some commuters.  

“It’s all about high-frequency routes and feeding into those and giving more travel options. There are people who will have to change a bus, but that’s all been built in and timetabled.

“It’s not hop off a bus and wait 20 minutes.

“It’s all been timetabled to connect and you’re on a spine that’s with a 15-minute frequency.

“Our operations team and designers have worked hard to make sure that all meshes together.”

The company, which also runs bus networks in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane, has drawn flak from Newcastle commuters and the government for underpaying drivers and cancelling services.    

The Newcastle Herald reported this week that on-time running statistics for buses had deteriorated in the three months after Keolis Downer took over, a problem the company attributed to “Supercars, school formals and King Street congestion”.

Mr Dunlop would not disclose the firm’s targets for increased patronage on the new network but was confident the timetables had been “appropriately timed to real conditions”.

“I think all of us have to acknowledge what everyone’s been dealing with in traversing Newcastle,” he said. “That’s a matter of life, but the new network has taken that into account.”

He said the company would continue to adapt the network based on customer feedback. 

Keolis Downer will have “travel concierges” and pink-shirted customer service staff on board buses and ferries from Sunday to help commuters. 


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