Wollongong councillors come out swinging over plan to scrap free bus

A shame, a travesty, a dumb, ill-informed, disgusting decision, the height of irony and a move that will hit business, health, education, tourism and society’s most vulnerable.

The message could not have been clearer on Monday night, as Wollongong councillors from all political colours called on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to reverse the decision to force passengers to pay for the free Gong Shuttle.

Presenting a litany of evidence why the benefits of the shuttle far outweigh the roughly $3 million a year it costs to keep it free, councillors voted unanimously to join the growing campaign to save the free city-loop bus.

The extraordinary meeting was called by Labor’s David Brown, Tania Brown and Jenelle Rimmer, saying there was a “palpable” anger about last week’s announcement that fares would be introduced on January 29.

Unanimous vote: “Be the white knight that saves the Green bus – we will support you," councillors told Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Pictures: Robert Peet.

Unanimous vote: “Be the white knight that saves the Green bus – we will support you," councillors told Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Pictures: Robert Peet.

Cr David Brown suggested Ms Berejiklian take advantage of Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup festivities to “take out the trash and make a quiet statement” backing down from the move.

“We just say to the Premier – fix this,” he said. “Be the white knight that saves the Green bus – we will support you.”

Liberal councillors Leigh Colacino and Cameron Walters also spoke out, saying the scrapping of the free service “affects everyone, not just one side of the political fence”.

Cr Walters took aim at comments made by his Liberal colleague and Transport minister Andrew Constance, who remarked that Wollongong should not be any different to people who catch buses in” Kiama, Nowra, Batemans Bay, Bega and the rest of NSW”.

“I don’t think Wollongong is not paying its fair share,” Cr Walters said.

“The shuttle gives the best outcome for business, tourism and Wollongong – in my mind there isn’t a shred of doubt that this service delivers more for our economy than it takes.”

Labor’s Janice Kershaw highlighted that many residents on lower incomes had leased properties that were within walking distance of the Gong Shuttle and could “ill afford any increase”, while Jenelle Rimmer said the lack of a free service could force family members to “choose between visiting or not visiting a loved one in hospital”.

Dom Figliomeni said he was concerned about how many decisions the government would be willing to reverse, warning the city was in for “a tough fight” in the coming weeks.

But Wollongong MP Paul Scully, who spoke at the meeting, said he was hopeful the community could force a reversal by “linking arms in protest”. “When our community stands as one, we win,” he said.