When Wollongong councillor Jenelle Rimmer’s late father, Ian Hunt, was gravely in hospital, the free bus was a mainstay for her family for many months.
“Parking at the hospital was a nightmare – not exactly a newsflash, Wollongong is the only hospital in the health district that has paid parking,” Cr Rimmer said, highlighting how a decision to charge full fares on the free shuttle would affect the wider medical precinct, hospital staff, visitors and patients.
Forcing people to choose between visiting or not visiting a loved one in hospital for the sake of a small saving to the state budget is deplorable.Jenelle Rimmer
“You can pay more than $20 per day to park, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to nab a spot.”
“My mum had to give up work when my dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and if she wasn’t able to use this free service, the cost to her would have been in the thousands. This is not a unique story – the Gong Shuttle is vital for many people using the hospital.”
Cr Rimmer told Monday night’s meeting that the fast-expanding and difficult to access medical precinct had been a key consideration during the 2009 introduction of the Gong Shuttle.
“Having a loved one in hospital for an extended period of time is [not] cheap – you end up spending more on food, time off work, which if you’re a casual employee or contractor means no income at all, and medical bills can mount very quickly,” she said.
“Now this government is forcing people to have to pay for parking, or pay to use the Gong shuttle bus. They have no options but to be further out of pocket.
“For the elderly in our community this is too great a burden to carry.
“Aside from the cost, the geographical location of the hospital is difficult – it is surrounded by hills, and walking for those with mobility issues is simply not an option.”
“Forcing people to choose between visiting or not visiting a loved one in hospital for the sake of a small saving to the state budget is deplorable.
“A lot of these passengers are people who are doing it tough, people who are already struggling with tight household budgets.”
Taking aim at the Liberal Government, the Labor councillor also noted Wollongong’s free bus would be able to run without extra cost to the government for more than 180 years if the cost of the Sydney CBD light rail had not blown out by $549 million.