The Member for Wollongong has used an address in the NSW Parliament to slam Premier Gladys Berejiklian for being “out of touch” and to take aim at the Liberal MPs who “did not have the guts to announce” the Gong Shuttle would no longer be free.
In an impassioned private members statement, which also featured Mercury front pages, Labor’s Paul Scully warned the Berejiklian government to brace for strong pushback from supporters.
“The government has tried to get rid of it [the shuttle] before but backed down in the face of community resistance. But it should be ready for more resistance this time, if this newspaper front-page is any example,” Mr Scully said, before holding a copy of Monday’s Mercury aloft.
Monday’s edition carried the headline “Green bus supporters see red” and followed last weekend’s rally in the Crown Street Mall, where hundreds protested the plan to introduce Opal fares on the service from January 29.
“It takes a special sort of government decision to unite people of all ages, to unite all political persuasions and to unite all parts of a community in opposition to it,” Mr Scully said, adding thousands of people had signed a petition within days.
“It takes a special sort of Premier to then tell an angry community that they have never had it so good. There is one decision that meets this description: scrapping the free Gong Shuttle.”
Mr Scully also took aim at the Illawarra’s parliamentary secretary, Gareth Ward, and Transport Minister Andrew Constance for saying other areas didn’t have a free shuttle so why should Wollongong?
“That shows the spitefulness underpinning this decision. It also shows a lack of understanding of what the service is, what it does and who uses it,” he said.
WAS A FARE-FREE ZONE CONSIDERED?
Newcastle has an Opal fare free zone. Was it, or any other alternative, explored for the Gong Shuttle?
Mr Scully has lodged a number of shuttle-related questions on notice to government ministers, including one asking Transport Minister Andrew Constance if other options were considered.
In Newcastle, a fare free bus zone operates in the CBD between 7.30am and 6pm daily.
Commuters do not have to tap on or off with an Opal card inside the zone.
The Mercury asked Mr Constance’s office if a fare free zone was considered for Wollongong and whether any alternatives to standard Opal fares were examined.
The question was forwarded to Transport for NSW.
“The situation in Newcastle, where a temporary fare free zone was introduced while light rail construction is underway, is very different to issues of congestion on the Gong Shuttle and underuse of other services in Wollongong,” a spokesman said.