Gong Shuttle users feel “entitled to pay nothing”, according to the region’s representative in the NSW government.
After returning from holidays on Tuesday, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward finally broke his silence on the controversial issue – albeit via an emailed statement.
In the statement he pointed out there was “no free service in any other area of the region”.
“Seventy-five per cent of all public transport fares are subsidised by the taxpayer and from January 28, the Gong Shuttle will operate like every other bus service in our region,” Mr Ward said.
“I fail to see why the overwhelming majority of public transport users should have to pay a contribution towards their travel, whilst others believe they are entitled to pay nothing.
“Indeed, public transport users in my electorate are subsidising those in Wollongong.”
Mr Ward did not explain the government’s about-face from its own 2014 transport plan for the Illawarra which backed the free bus service.
Nor did he comment on the fact that Wollongong's Liberal councillor Cameron Walters – who he actively campaigned for – is strongly against the decision.
Wollongong City Council also came in for a serve due to the lack of funding it supplied for the Gong Shuttle.
“I note the recent calls by Wollongong City Council with respect to the free service and would also note that Wollongong City Council makes no contribution towards this or any other public transport service in the region – unlike Newcastle City Council,” Mr Ward’s statement said.
The emailed statement also attacked Keira MP Ryan Park, who has been issuing very strident criticism of the government’s decision.
“For all his B-grade bluff and bluster, the Shadow Treasurer has failed to commit to reversing the decision to bring the Gong Shuttle into line with every other public transport service in our region,” he said.
“If they do, I’ll be asking their position on every other public transport service in the state.”
The Kiama MP also offered to take any complaints to Transport Minister Andrew Constance.