Mr ALEX McTAGGART (Pittwater) [6.08 p.m.]: Earlier this year the Government proudly announced that more than 1,000 buses would be rolled out onto Sydney roads over the next seven years at a cost of $450 million as part of a $3 billion investment aimed at improving public transport across the city and outer regions. Some 500 buses were to be purchased for private routes, while 505 would be part of a much-needed STA fleet upgrade. The northern beaches area has been one of the beneficiaries. On 13 August the new northern beaches timetable was introduced. We were told surveys had been done and the new schedule better reflected current demand, and would "better reflect travelling times".
I am not quite sure what that means, but I do know the new timetable has thrown commuters' working lives into chaos. There is no doubt that the new housing developments in Warriewood Valley and the increased number of units at Narrabeen, Collaroy and Dee Why has increased the population using city-bound routes at Narrabeen, Collaroy and Dee Why during peak hours. But instead of increasing services to cope with this increase in population, the new schedule has done the opposite: it has cut services or delayed early morning departure times.
More than 50 constituents have written to me outlining their concerns, and there is a common thread to the complaints. There are fewer buses on the L90, E88 and L84 routes. Buses are frequently so crowded that passengers are forced to stand the whole way from Narrabeen to the city, while those waiting at stops at Collaroy, Dee Why and Warringah Mall are bypassed completely because the buses are packed to capacity. Some of the changes seem very minor, with buses leaving only minutes later than under the previous timetable. But for unexplained reasons, they are arriving at their destination up to 10 minutes later. Passengers who used to arrive at work on time on the E88 or L84 no longer do so. Instead, they are all being funnelled onto the L90, which cannot cope. Connections that formerly were easily made are now impossible.
One Warriewood Beach commuter says the 155 no longer easily connects to the express bus at Narrabeen and, if it does, there are no seats available. He now avoids the 155 altogether and walks to Pittwater Road to catch the already overcrowded L90. There also are concerns about the later departure of the E88 from Avalon. The difference from 5.58 a.m. under the old timetable to 6.03 a.m. under the current timetable is only a few minutes, but somehow the bus arrives at Wynyard later than the L90 which leaves Palm Beach at 5.38 a.m. Passengers who formerly caught the E88 are forced onto the L90 to get to Wynyard before 7 o'clock. No-one can understand why. They cannot understand how setting departure times later when traffic is heavier can possibly get people into the city more quickly.
No account has been taken of the fact that many workers on the Northern Beaches have opted to take advantage of flexible working hours now offered by employers. They want to start work at 7.00 a.m. or 7.30 a.m. and finish at 3.00 p.m. or 3.30 p.m., but the new timetable makes the early starting time impossible. Some are now getting up as early as 4.00 a.m. to arrive on time, only to find that so many other commuters are doing likewise that they still cannot get onto a bus. They ask why city buses during peak hour cannot be scheduled to run every 15 minutes. They also ask why under this new timetable there is no express bus scheduled before 6.20 a.m. whereas under the old schedule, the first express bus left Mona Vale at 6.15 a.m., arriving in the city at 6.55 a.m.
The return journey is equally badly serviced. People speak of arriving at Wynyard to find queues wound three or four times around the stands or, alternatively, two buses arrive together, one of which is half full. I hasten to add that commuters are not complaining about the drivers. They are almost unfailingly courteous and polite, often going out of their way to help passengers. Rightly or wrongly, commuters believe that the number of buses has been cut simply to save money, and not only at the northern end of the peninsula.
A young couple from Harbord wrote to tell me that the husband starts work at 6.30 a.m. and his partner starts at 7.00 a.m., but he cannot get a bus leaving from Harbord at 6.00 a.m. because there is none. He has to walk to Warringah Mall to catch the L90 at 6.02 a.m. which is consistently packed to capacity. Yet again, commuters are being funnelled onto an already overcrowded L90 because there are no alternative services. Another constituent told me how she used to catch the E88 to the city from Avalon to get to work by 7.00 a.m. Now she is forced to catch the L90 at 5.23 a.m. because of poor timetabling. In addition to all that, there is the impact of cuts to services upon the elderly and those who are less mobile.
Elderly people in Clareville, Bilgola and Avalon have been equally inconvenienced by cuts to the 191 and 192 services, which they say make it virtually impossible for them to socialise on weekends. Commuters cannot understand why buses seem to travel so much more slowly than before, even though they have been scheduled to depart only minutes later than under the old timetable. They are arriving in the city up to 10 minutes later than before. Today I caught the 6.50 a.m. L90 bus from Newport Beach to the city with David Callahan, the manager of the northern region of the State Transit Authority, and some constituents to see the problems firsthand. The bus was full by Collaroy, was 10 minutes late at Wynyard and bypassed passengers at Dee Why and Warringah Mall—exactly what my constituents have been telling me. I call on the Government to review the new timetable in consultation with commuters.