Vicki Schaefer doesn’t live in Wollongong and doesn’t use the Gong Shuttle.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not a supporter of the free city-loop bus service.
Mrs Schaefer’s name is just one of thousands that have already been scribbled onto “Save Our Free Shuttle” petitions since November 1 – the day Transport for NSW revealed standard Opal fares would be enforced from January.
From Helensburgh to Nowra and west to Mittagong, in the Southern Highlands, the campaign to keep the shuttle free has garnered the signatures of supporters far and wide.
Mrs Schaefer – who lives in Renwick, near Mittagong – put pen to paper at Wollongong Hospital.
She was asked by a paramedic to sign a copy of the petition published in last Saturday’s Mercury.
“My three children have all gone to Wollongong Uni and they’ve all used it [the free bus]. It’s been wonderful for them,” the community transport worker said, adding the decision to implement fares was “not right”.
“My husband’s a TAFE teacher at Wollongong TAFE and I actually work of out Wollongong, not that I use the shuttle bus but it’s just a wonderful service for uni students who don’t have any money.”
In this campaign, distance means little – it’s a Wollongong bus, but the implementation of fares has been a talking point in areas outside of the city’s CBD.
“There’s a lot of talk about it actually, how important it is for Wollongong to have that service,” she said.
“The parking in Wollongong is ridiculous, especially at both the uni and the TAFE. There’s nowhere for people to park and they can’t afford to pay the parking, so it’s a wonderful service.”
The Mercury office has, this week, taken receipt of dozens of petition forms.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully, one of the petition organisers, said his office had received about 1500 forms – each with a varying number of signatures.
Each form has enough room for the details of three people, meaning up to 4500 signatures could already have been received.
Mr Scully hit back at Liberal parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward’s comment that there was “no free service in any other area of the region”.
“I don’t know when the last time Gareth got on the shuttle or spoke to any of the people who use it but his statements … show a degree of ignorance about who is actually using this service and how deeply, deeply felt the anger is across the entirety of the Illawarra,” he said.