Inner-west residents rely on bus services being accessible, safe, affordable and on time.
We rely on buses to get to work or school, visit the doctor, go to the library or the shops, and visit friends and family.
Buses, and indeed all forms of public transport, are a vital link between people and their communities.
But, increasingly, inner-west residents cannot depend on buses to get them where they are going on time. To make matters worse, the Government's total elimination of paper tickets, and now the scrapping of the Opal free trips incentive, means people have lost the free travel they were once entitled to.
We have an absurd situation where travelling by bus is now more expensive, despite being less reliable.
I am regularly visited at my office by constituents furious about their buses being late and about how poor the service can be. Labor recently obtained hard data to show how bad the problem has become. Through a freedom of information request, we are able to see how bus routes really stack up.
More than 2,660 complaints were made about bus services in my electorate of Summer Hill across the year 2015-16.
The worst offending route was the 423 from Kingsgrove through Marrickville and Newtown to the city, with 393 complaints. The 461, running along Parramatta Road between Burwood and the city, was close behind. The 438, which services Haberfield and Leichhardt to Camperdown and the city, was not far behind that.
The 428, which runs from the city through Marrickville, Dulwich Hill and Canterbury, was another route that received numerous complaints—258, in fact. The people of Ashbury, a lovely small suburb just near Ashfield, have only one bus service, the irregular and often infuriating 413, which racked up 220 complaints.
As bad as these numbers are, one of my Facebook followers pointed out that these are only the bus services that people have not given up on. Some bus services are such a disaster that people have given up complaining about them. I recently asked people to let me know which bus route they would nominate as the worst. I will share some of those comments. One resident stated:
The 444 is a phantom, until there's three of them whizzing past, moments after you gave up and decided to walk.
I guess the 370 wasn't in the top 5 because technically if the buses never show up, it's not a real route.
Yet another stated:
Jo, I wish they were more frequent and more reliable. I catch the 413 and have to go in peak hour even though I shouldn't need to, to guarantee arrival by 10am at USyd. I'd be out of the peak push if they were reliable. I can't be the only one.
423 for sure. For the past three years it has either driven straight past me and my pram at bus stop, or refused us entry eight times. Eight! The driver who refused, said I would have to (take sleeping baby out and) disassemble and store it. It was 41 degrees that day.
My favourite states:
I don't know if it's still a route but the 355 was like Bigfoot back in the day. Some say it exists. You might see it fleetingly but its status is yet to be confirmed.
While this comment was tongue in cheek, we have a real problem with our bus services and the Baird Government is not acting quickly enough to fix it.
The member for Strathfield and shadow transport Minister pointed out recently that nearly one-third of all buses in Sydney's fleet have racked up enough kilometres to travel to the moon and back, which is more than 756,000 kilometres. Despite that, the Baird Government has added only 13 new buses to the fleet in the past six months.
Buses cannot run on time if they are constantly out of service.
As well as failing to invest in new buses, the Baird Government's approach to making the buses run on time is simply to remove bus stops.
The Government's "Sydney's Bus Future" plan outlines projects designed to increase the efficiency of the bus network, reportedly including the removal of bus stops in and around Marrickville. It is true that buses will be faster if they are not required to stop for passengers. However, I ask the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure to consider what this plan will mean for elderly passengers, for passengers with disability, or for parents with prams or young children. Removing bus stops makes our transport system less accessible and it is not the answer.
I also note the many complaints my office has received about the changes to Opal fares that have eliminated free travel after eight trips. This change will see two-thirds of passengers who make 10 or more trips a week pay $560 more a year.
Many inner-west residents have let me know how the scrapping of the incentive has affected them.
Many feel tricked by this Government, which said Opal was all about convenience and cheaper fares. In fact, we were encouraged to game the system if we could.
It was supposed to be all about getting more people to use public transport. Of course, abolishing free trips has had the opposite effect.
One resident told me that she works four days a week and on the other day she used her free trip to take her two children to their activities. She will not be doing that now; she will be using her car instead. Public transport is a basic right and making it more expensive will hit vulnerable people hardest.