University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings, CBE, used an address to Wollongong City Council on Monday 6 November to call for a reversal of the decision by Transport for NSW (TfNSW) to charge full Opal fares for the free Gong Shuttle, despite Premier Berejikian’s 2013 commitment to maintain the free service ‘forevermore’.
Professor Wellings stood up for the needs of the wider community, as well as university students and staff, highlighting the important role the bus service plays in Wollongong’s CBD, the lack of consultation behind the TfNSW decision and the consequences for the city from its removal.
“It’s over 100 months since the Wollongong free shuttle bus came on-line. It is heavily patronised and plays a core role in the transport fabric of Wollongong city and region.
“The community uses the service to access health and community-related services. Businesses in the CBD benefit from the movement of people. School children are taken on supervised excursions using the route.
“As of 2017 it remains very popular and the service is seen as safe and reliable.
“I can see no evidence Transport for NSW has consulted on the proposed change to this service and no evidence that they have modelled the consequences of the change on the effectiveness of the system and the livelihoods of Illawarra citizens.
“The removal of the free shuttle will have obvious consequences: fewer services, less convenient timetable, more private vehicles, more congestion, more pollution and increased parking problems.
“I believe that this proposal should be withdrawn. I urge Wollongong City Council to resolve to seek to overturn the 1 November announcement by Transport for NSW,” Professor Wellings said.
Although 80 per cent of Gong Shuttle passengers are from the general public, the free bus service is a critical transport option for UOW staff and students.
The University’s own transport survey reveals it is by far the most popular public transport service, accounting for 16.7 per cent of all campus arrivals and nearly half of all public transport arrivals.
The Vice-Chancellor said the advent of the Gong Shuttle had provoked a culture change, with the proportion of university travellers using public transport increasing four-fold since its introduction and continuing to grow.
As well as criticising the lack of consultation by TfNSW, in a document tabled at the meeting Professor Wellings pointed to an inconsistency in its approach – referring to TfNSW’s announcement of a new free park and ride service in Newcastle on the same day as it announced the demise of Wollongong’s free service.
“The Newcastle route is a similar scale to the existing system in Wollongong and highlights the fact that NSW policy makers see the economic benefits of shuttle services and their impact in reducing congestion and increasing liveability,” the document stated.
“Connecting communities is important: the free shuttle links the Innovation Campus, CBD, hospital precinct and the main university campus. In doing so, it passes by transport nodes to other bus services, the train services linked to Sydney and major parking stations,” Professor Wellings said.
The Vice-Chancellor advised Councillors that the University invests more than $1 million per year in providing two free bus routes and transport studies, and recently contributed $1.5 million as a co-investor in bus interchange facility upgrades.