Hundreds protest in Crown Street Mall over government plans to introduce payment for Gong Shuttle

“Lousy mongrels”, “greedy”, “short-sighted”, “liars”.

Speakers at Wollongong’s “Save the Free Shuttle Bus” rally were not short of colourful descriptions and insults directed at the NSW Liberal Government during Sunday’s community protest over plans to make the Gong Shuttle a paid service.

An estimated crowd of 500 converged on the Crown Street Mall at 1pm to voice their outrage at the proposal, which would see standard Opal fares apply to the much-utilised service from January 29 next year.

Angry residents, many of whom brandished the Mercury’s green “Save Our Shuttle” signs, repeatedly chanted “shame” when event organiser and Wollongong University Student Association president-elect, Chloe Rafferty, labelled the move an attack on students, pensioners and the unemployed.

“Thousands of Wollongong unit students rely on this service every single day,” she said.

“We love our free bus and we’re going to fight to save it.”

Read more: Sign the petition to keep our Gong Shuttle free

Ms Rafferty also took aim at Kiama MP Gareth Ward, the government’s single representative in the Illawarra, encouraging the crowd to join her in chanting “hey Gareth go to hell, take your Opal card as well”. 

Mr Ward, who was noticeably absent from the protest, has previously spoken out in support of the government’s plan, while labelling Gong Shuttle users “entitled”.

“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,” he said last week.

Read more: Wollongong hospital’s parking ‘nightmare’ about to get worse

Speaking at Sunday’s rally, Keira Labor MP, Ryan Park, said Wollongong residents were entitled, but not in the way Mr Ward had suggested.

“We’re entitled to a premier who keeps her bloody promises,” he said, calling the government “lousy mongrels”.

He said Labor had introduced the Going Shuttle in 2009 to fight traffic congestion, improve parking problems in the Wollongong CBD and help low-income earners get get around town to access the services they needed.

“This is wrong, this government has got this wrong and we need this decision to change,” he said.

Passions ignite at bus rally

Illawarra residents have been urged to “maintain the rage” against the NSW Government’s plan to introduce standard Opal fares on the Gong Shuttle from January.

Keira Labor MP Ryan Park was one of several politicians and activists who spoke at Sunday’s “Save our Shuttle” community protest in Wollongong’s Crown Street Mall and was adamant that people power could defeat the pay-per-ride proposal.

“Maintain the rage and keep up the fight,” he told the passionate crowd, “we’re going to save our shuttle”.

Among those calling for the bus to remain a free service is UOW student Jack Thompson, who told Sunday’s rally that the government’s plan represented “a war on workers, low income earners and young people”

“It helps the most disadvantaged members of our community access cheap and reliable transport to get to vital services such as Wollongong Hospital,” he said.

A petition started on Change.org titled “Keep the Gong Shuttle Free” has attracted almost 16,500 signatures since it was launched two weeks ago.