THE Newcastle light rail was always going to cause disruptions, but it’s only now, with the system in its trial running phase, that some of the more widespread flow-on effects are beginning to manifest themselves.
In the latest example to come to light, the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation has said it needs the main Newcastle station bus layover to be vacated, meaning that the state government’s public transport operator, Keolis Downer, and other bus companies using the space, are being forced to find new areas to start and finish their affected services.
As a result, a bus layover has been created three blocks up the hill at the eastern end of Church Street, outside a group of terrace houses opposite Newcastle police station.
Not surprisingly, residents are unhappy at having a steady stream of parked and idling buses just a narrow footpath away from their front doors. And in another example of the lack of consultation picked up in last week’s Audit Office report, they say the only interaction they had was a letter informing them of the changes a fortnight or so before they took place at the start of this month.
Given the impact that the light rail was always going to have on the city’s bus services, it is extraordinary that it’s taken until so late in the day for a number of necessary changes to be worked through.
To start with, leaving the terminus at the station would have meant running Keolis Downer buses across the light rail tracks at Watt Street, adding to the congestion at a key intersection where signalling preference will logically have to be given to the light rail, which must maintain its scheduling.
This means that even though the government says it needs the station site for remediation purposes, its redundancy as a layover, at least for Keolis Downer, should have been anticipated long ago.
The fact that Newcastle City Council’s traffic committee didn’t consider it as an issue until last month, seems to indicate this was not the case. As things stand, the bus layover is set to remain until February, when the traffic committee meets again. The committee needs to find an alternative site that gives Keolis Downer the operational practicality it needs, without buses idling outside terrace houses day and night. In the meantime, a temporary shift across the road to the old courthouse would be a big improvement as far as the residents are concerned.