The University of Wollongong and the city’s Lord Mayor have rebuffed the suggestion that the council and university should pay to keep the Gong Shuttle free.
In a letter to the council and university late last week, Illawarra Parliamentary Secretary Gareth Ward outlined that, like all public transport across NSW, the state government would continue to provide a 75 per cent subsidy on fares for the Gong Shuttle.
However, he suggested the two Wollongong organisations should “make a contribution” if they wanted to keep the service free.
A vocal opponent of introducing fares, Cr Bradbery rejected this idea, saying the service was “not just for the people of the Wollongong CBD” and should remain fully paid for by the NSW Government.
“As far as I’m concerned the council has made its position known and we believe the government should fund it,” Cr Bradbery said.
“This is a regional service, it isn’t a city service and it’s not just for the people of the Wollongong CBD.”
Cr Bradbery pointed out that the shuttle was recognised in the state’s regional plan for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven as an important link between the five precincts of what they call Metro Wollongong: the city, university, medical precinct, hospital and waterfront.
“This is one of the biggest employment hubs in the region – there’s some 34,000 people working here and so this bus is not something that’s just about Wollongong,” Cr Bradbery said.
Read more: Save the free Gong Shuttle
“There’s a combination of services, uni, three high schools, two TAFE campuses, a medical precinct and and entertainment precinct – so we think the state government needs to fund this.”
Cr Bradbery said he thought Mr Ward’s request was an attempt to “find a way out” of a decision that he may not necessarily agree with.
“I personally don’t think he’s happy but he has to present the government’s position and find a way out of this,” Cr Bradbery said.
“But this isn’t a council matter, it’s a matter for the region.”
Likewise, the University of Wollongong’s media manger Andrew Herring said the institution’s position on the bus had not changed.
“Our position remains that the Gong Shuttle should remain as is, and we haven’t entertain any discussions on other arrangements,” he said.
“We don’t agree that any change should be made and we have reiterated these views to Transport for NSW and asked them to reconsider the decision to introduce fares.”
Mr Herring also pointed out that the university paid about $1 million each year to run two other free buses and conduct transport surveys, and had recently invested $1.5 million into improving bus infrastructure.