State government details new direct bus routes in Newcastle after community campaign

The state government released details of changes to the Newcastle bus network on Thursday after Hunter MPs took their fight for better services back to the floor of parliament.

Private operator Keolis Downer introduced a new network in January, prompting a flood of complaints, a petition bearing 20,000 signatures, a packed public meeting and a street rally.

It announced changes last month, including direct services between Cardiff, Macquarie Hills and Kotara and from south-eastern Lake Macquarie to Charlestown.

Transport minister Andrew Constance told parliament that his government and Keolis Downer acknowledged there were problems with the new bus routes.

“It’s not perfect, by any stretch, and that’s been acknowledged by Keolis Downer, it’s been acknowledged by me, which is why there’s going to be some changes made,” he said.

Outlining the changes, Mr Constance said route 44 from Cardiff South would continue along Charlestown Road and Park Avenue to Kotara, and routes 41 and 43 from eastern Lake Macquarie would continue to Charlestown, but not at the expense of route 28 from Mount Hutton to the Wickham interchange.

Route 14 from Queens Wharf to Belmont would extend south to give Swansea Heads a direct service into the CBD. The House With No Steps at Lambton would be served by a diversion of route 27 along Young Road.

“The key point out of this is that there’s an acknowledgement in terms of better direct connections, which I think was the principal concern that local members were raising through this,” Mr Constance said.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp and Wallsend counterpart Sonia Hornery brought the debate over the city’s bus services back to the floor of the lower house after presenting the petition to parliament earlier in the year.

Watched by a group of Novocastrians who had travelled south to sit in the public gallery, Ms Hornery called for a more comprehensive review of the network.

“I acknowledge that Keolis Downer has initiated a review of the network, but it’s a small, tiny, Clayton’s review,” she said.

“We want a complete and comprehensive review of all of our services.”

Mr Crakanthorp accused Mr Constance of turning his back both literally and figuratively on Novocastrians during the debate and repeated his assertion that the government had “fudged” its figures over bus patronage since the network went private.

“Welcome to a failed privatisation experiment, and Sydney, look out,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

“We’ll be watching the minister’s refinements closely, and if he doesn’t improve them, we’ll be back in this chamber holding him to account.” 

Asked last night if he regarded the changes as a win for bus patrons, Mr Crakanthorp said: “I welcome any changes that improve the network for local commuters, however, if they are the only changes that will be made, then it shows that the minister has again failed to listen to the community on the changes that are necessary to restore faith in our bus services.

“We wanted a comprehensive review, and the changes announced so far are minor.”