At the next Wollongong City Council meeting, councillors will vote to pay $350,000 to help keep the Gong Shuttle free.
Labor councillors have put forward a motion that the council should help fund 25 per cent shortfall left in the wake of the government dropping its subsidy to 75 per cent.
To be entirely accurate, the decision is not a fait accompli yet – but with Labor councillors having six of the 13 seats on council, they only need one more vote to get the motion across the line.
Given the councillors called for an extraordinary meeting in early November to discuss the introduction of fares and not one of them was in favour of the government’s move, it’s hard to see the motion not getting that one extra vote.
It is, without a doubt, a surprising turn of events.
At the council’s last meeting, Liberal councillor Cameron Walters moved a “matter of great urgency”.
He wanted the council to investigate the possibility of funding 12.5 per cent of the shortfall.
While Cr Walters had been opposed to the introduction of fares, he felt the investigation was needed because it seemed unlikely the state government would change its mind
His efforts failed with only the three Liberal councillors, Leigh Colacino, John Dorahy and Cr Walters, along with independent Dom Figliomeni, voting in favour of the motion proceeding to a discussion.
Now, just two weeks later, the Labor councillors have changed their mind and decided helping fund the shuttle is exactly something the council should be doing.
It may be a case of playing politics – it may also simply be a case of seeing the writing on the wall.
Deputy Lord Mayor David Brown says it’s the latter – it’s been a month since Transport for NSW announced it would introduce fares on the popular service.
Despite a month of lobbying from councillors, state MPs, the University of Wollongong, business leaders, students and the general public, Transport Minister Andrew Constance has not shown the slightest hint of backing down.
And the Labor councillors – while still thinking bus funding should be the state government’s responsibility – have decided that someone needs to step up, that a free service that is well and truly embedded into the community needs to stay that way.