Govt’s ‘unfare’ approach to Gong Shuttle

bad luck: Despite knowing the Gong Shuttle was largely used by people on low incomes, the NSW government still decided to introduce fares. Picture: Georgia Matts
bad luck: Despite knowing the Gong Shuttle was largely used by people on low incomes, the NSW government still decided to introduce fares. Picture: Georgia Matts

The NSW government knew charging fares for the Gong Shuttle would hurt those who could least afford them – but planned on doing it anyway.

And they’d been planning it for more than a year.

These revelations are contained in a secret Transport for NSW (TfNSW) document calling on Transport Minister Andrew Constance to approve the introduction of fares on the Gong Shuttle from January 29.

While now fares won’t be brought in – thanks to a joint funding arrangement between Wollongong City Council and the University of Wollongong – Mr Constance did give his approval.

Even if it meant hurting those who had little money in their pockets, according to this government document marked “sensitive” which was obtained by the Illawarra Mercury via a freedom of information request.

The September 2017 document outlines that TfNSW had been thinking about charging Gong Shuttle users for quite some time.

“TfNSW started planning for the potential introduction of fares on the Gong Shuttle in August 2016,” it states.

Part of that planning included a survey of Gong Shuttle users, which found most of them could have problems paying bus fares.

“The survey found that most customers are low income earners (64 per cent receive less than $26,000 per annum),” the secret report states.

“These customers are likely to be critical of the introduction of fares.”

The recommendation also points out that almost half of the University of Wollongong students would be forced to pay full fares to ride the shuttle.

“It is noted that 40.5 per cent of the enrolments at UOW are international students who are not eligible for concession Opal cards,” it stated.

Wollongong MP Paul Scully was surprised TfNSW had been planning to introduce fares for more than a year but didn’t consult with the region.

“What they’re talking about is having well over 12 months to talk to those who are mainly affected – being low-income earners and international students at the university, as well as other students,” Mr Scully said.

“I find it staggering that the government would want to keep us in the dark like mushrooms for that long and then still drop a bomb like this on us like they did in November of this year.”

The service will remain free, due to Wollongong City Council and the University of Wollongong each deciding to chip in $350,000 to fill the funding shortfall.

The NSW government has since agreed to retain full funding of the Gong Shuttle until June 30, when the combined $700,000 council and university funding will be available.

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