NORTHERN BEACHES BUS SERVICES
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [1.12 p.m.]: In July 2008 Sydney Buses released proposed changes to northern beaches bus services, including increased stops for express buses and abandoning direct services from Pittwater to Chatswood. Since then Sydney Buses has received more than 2,300 individual submissions on its proposed changes to the northern beaches bus network. Nine months later, Sydney Buses has still not responded to those submissions. There was overwhelming opposition to plans to eliminate express bus services—changes that could result in up to 15 minutes travelling time added to some trips, some of which are already well over one hour. At that time Sydney Buses claimed that eliminating express bus services north from Narrabeen would simplify the timetable. However, this ignores the reality that if a bus is already full it will simply mean that people will be left waiting at bus stops as packed buses drive past, completely undermining the reliability of the timetable.
Forest Coaches concluded its public consultation and made all its timetable and route changes within a few months. Why is it taking Sydney Buses so long to do the same job? Northern beaches residents rely on our buses, and we have a right to have concerns about the proposed new timetable. Furthermore, I have been told that people using green Travel Tens—which cover 16 or more sections, the furthest one can go—are being told that they have to pay again when they switch buses to get to their destination because no direct service is available. If this is correct, it is totally unfair and is a major disincentive for people to use the bus.
As a bus commuter, I have observed that many buses travelling to the Sydney central business district in the morning have no vacant seats well before they reach Narrabeen. This means that for many commuters it is standing room only for a trip that can often take an hour. Situations such as this are a powerful disincentive for commuters to use public transport altogether, and simply add to Sydney's traffic congestion by forcing commuters to drive to work. Pittwater residents depend on the convenience of express buses. They provide an incentive to commuters to switch to public transport and assist in reducing Sydney's traffic congestion. Ill-considered changes that reduce or alter these services will only prolong travelling times and further discourage the use of public transport.
Weekend users of public transport share similar frustrations. People travelling home to the northern part of the peninsula, especially on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, are often confronted with inadequate and delayed services. This problem stems from the fact that many services that operate along the peninsula—including the L90, L88 and 188 services—originate from Railway Square. These services are regularly delayed even before they get through the central business district due to the congested traffic—the doof-doof procession of hotted up cars that parades along George Street. It can take buses half an hour or more to get from Central to Town Hall, a trip that takes two minutes by train.
Unfortunately these delays can have flow-on effects, such as young people becoming frustrated and bored whilst waiting at bus shelters along the northern beaches for delayed buses to arrive. Often this results in loitering, violence and vandalism, for which society pays the price. This antisocial behaviour can also produce an unsafe environment for drivers and residents wanting to do the responsible thing by using public transport when they go out at night. I encourage the Department of Transport to look at changing the timetables so that buses to Pittwater start from Town Hall at these times, which would increase certainty and safety. It is time for the State Government to listen to the concerns of bus passengers and bus drivers in Pittwater. We need to know what the changes to our bus network will be, and we need a guarantee that our express buses will not be slowed down. It would be an absolute tragedy if Pittwater public transport commuters were to revert to using their cars due to insufficient, slow and overcrowded services. This is a trend that could be increasingly common unless steps are taken to prevent it.
We have wonderful bus drivers and depot managers. The depot manager at Mona Vale, Dominic Larosa, does a wonderful job with the resources available to him. We have real difficulties getting drivers on the peninsula due to the fact that house prices along the northern beaches are now so expensive; it is very difficult to get local people who are able to drive buses. However, the bus drivers and depot managers we have are doing a great job. We must make sure that their concerns and the concerns of bus passengers are taken into account, that our express buses are not taken from us, that they are not slowed down, and that everything is done to make our buses as fast as possible and as comfortable as possible for the benefit of those who use the service to travel to the Sydney central business district.