Newcastle buses in heated state parliament debate

NO COMMON GROUND: The Newcastle bus service has become a key battleground between the Coalition and Labor. Picture Simone De Peak.
NO COMMON GROUND: The Newcastle bus service has become a key battleground between the Coalition and Labor. Picture Simone De Peak.

LABOR is standing by its claim that the state government is misleading the public when it claims to have added more than 1000 routes to the Newcastle bus system.

The privatised Keolis Downer service was the subject of heated debate in state parliament on Tuesday when the government used its numbers to defeat a censure motion against Transport Minister Andrew Constance moved by Swansea MP Yasmin Catley.

During the debate, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the extra routes claim was a furphy: “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.”

When the Newcastle Herald asked the government about the split routes, it said: “Some services that previously had very low patronage have been reallocated to provide higher quality services that meet customer demand. There are now better connections between modes, with buses connecting with ferries, other buses and trains.”

Tuesday’s debate followed a public meeting in Belmont last month, and claims that internal data showed more problems with the new system than the government or Keolis Downer were admitting.

With Labor and public transport advocates resorting to freedom of information requests to learn more about the Newcastle contract arrangements, Mr Constance told parliament the Newcastle service was doing an extra 267,968 kilometres a year, with patronage up by 5 per cent.

Public transport advocate Darrell Harris said the extra kilometres were a very modest increase.

Ms Catley said after the debate that the January patronage figures quoted by Mr Constance included half a month of the old timetable, meaning any improvement could not be fully attributed to the changes.

She said the government was refusing to acknowledge the degree of unhappiness with the new bus system.

Mr Constance said: “ Patronage is up, a review is on, and we are going to make sure that we deliver more services and more service kilometres.”

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