Gong Shuttle changes: Newcastle’s new free bus a ‘slap in the face’ for Wollongong

It’s a tale of two cities tinged with un-fare-ness.

On the day Transport for NSW shocked Wollongong with the news its free CBD shuttle bus would become a paid service, the same state government department was involved in the launch of a new, free “park and ride” bus route in Newcastle.

From Monday, commuters in the Hunter city will be able to dodge peak-hour traffic delays and skip CBD parking hassles – thanks to a joint council and multi-government agency approach to reduce congestion.

Newcastle workers will be able to park at the city’s McDonald Jones Stadium and catch one of nine free buses into the CBD. 

The buses will leave every 15 minutes between 6.30am and 8.30am on weekdays, making four stops along the way.

The proposed path that the morning and afternoon park and ride buses will take between McDonald Jones Stadium, at Broadmeadow, and Newcastle CBD from Monday.

The proposed path that the morning and afternoon park and ride buses will take between McDonald Jones Stadium, at Broadmeadow, and Newcastle CBD from Monday.

Return services run at the same frequency between 4.30pm and 6pm.

The bus trip will be free for anyone who wants to use it, even if they don’t park at the stadium.

However, from January 29 (the same day standard Opal fares come into effect for the Gong Shuttle) people who park will be charged a $2 per day fee. 

To park and ride, users must register online.

The 12-month Newcastle park and ride trial is a joint venture between by Newcastle City Council, Transport for NSW, the state government’s Hunter Development Corporation and Venues NSW.

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Revitalising Newcastle director Michael Cassel at McDonald Jones Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Newcastle Herald

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and Revitalising Newcastle director Michael Cassel at McDonald Jones Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Newcastle Herald

It has been introduced to keep the Hunter city “open for business” during light rail construction and ease demand on CBD parking. 

Lord mayor Gordon Bradbery said the Gong Shuttle had done just that in the Wollongong CBD.

Cr Bradbery said the launch of the Newcastle shuttle on the day fares were flagged for Wollongong’s was “a put-down”.

“It just says, once more, the Illawarra is superfluous to the state government’s understanding of the priorities and needs of the people of this city and region,” he said. 

Newcastle’s Gong Shuttle equivalent was cancelled in 2013 due to low patronage. 

A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said the Newcastle park and ride trial was “not comparable to the Gong Shuttle because it is a Newcastle City Council initiative introduced to alleviate impacts from Newcastle Light Rail construction”.

“Introducing a standard Opal fare was considered the fairest way of reducing congestion and improving the reliability of the Wollongong Shuttle, and helping to spread the load across the network,” she said.

Meanwhile, the free Parramatta Shuttle is under consideration, Transport said.