THE HERALD'S OPINION: Public transport push for a changing Newcastle

ALTHOUGH a lot of Newcastle’s peak-hour congestion is related to the light rail construction on Hunter Street, there is no getting away from the fact that moving through the city by motor vehicle – especially at peak hour – is an increasingly fraught exercise.

Each morning and afternoon, long lines of vehicles snake bumper to bumper in and out of Honeysuckle, with a similar scenario unfolding a couple of blocks away on King Street. To help counter this slow-moving snarl, Newcastle City Council and the state government have unveiled a park and ride service between McDonald Jones Stadium and the city, with hopes of removing as many as 350 cars a day from the city centre.

Given the volume of city traffic, the removal of 350 vehicles may not of itself make a huge amount of difference. But policy-makers have long talked about a need to change the region’s mindset about public transport, and a park and ride aimed at city workers is a logical place to start.

The service starts on Monday and to encourage commuters to make the switch, it will be offered for free until January 29, when a $2 a day parking fee will kick in, levied through a smart phone app.

Only time will tell how the service progresses, but it will only succeed past its one-year trial term if enough patrons are convinced that the half-trip change in modes offers them more advantages than disadvantages. For this to happen, the buses will need to stick as rigidly as possible to their 15-minute schedules, otherwise people will find the delay at the Broadmeadow end to be more of a burden than the alternative search for parking in the city.

Previously, a park and ride service ran between the stadium and John Hunter Hospital from 2007 to 2015, when the hospital added another 740 parking spaces on site.

The University of Newcastle is running a shuttle between its main Callaghan campus and the NeW Space building, and it may well help with the overall design of the city’s long-awaited integrated transport plan if the usage figures from all three park and ride services were analysed to see whether they truly live up to their aims. In the meantime, the main game is minimising the disruption caused by the light rail construction.

If the Broadmeadow plan works, there may be other sites, from other directions, that could get even more motorists out of their cars. Our city is indeed experiencing great change.

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