This year there's been a renewed push to improve the way Illawarra commuters use public transport, with RDA Illawarra calling on governments to work together to create a 30-minute city.
This concept advocates that residents can reach regional centres - like Wollongong and Shellharbour CBD - in less than half an hour using a combination of active, vehicle and public transport.
The Mercury office is located in an office tower in Wollongong CBD which has limited car parking and streets surrounded by paid and timed-car spaces, so driving already presents a challenge.
Despite this, most of us drive to work and throw ourselves into the politics of the office car park (god forbid you should park in the wrong spot!) or run the gauntlet of the Wollongong City Council parking inspectors.
However, with summer on the way, we decided to put the concept of the 30-minute city to the test.
RDA Policy manager Alex Spillett, who released a new study in August, says the Illawarra already has the infrastructure for a 30-minute city, with a rail link as the spine and stations acting as local hubs.
"Bus services from each hub then move commuters along the 'spokes' to a location at - or close to - their destination but it needs to be well planned and integrated," he said.
"Timetables and transport hubs need to be coordinated with facilities planned for the use of bikes, e-bikes and cars."
But recent modelling by RDA Illawarra and the SMART Facility at UOW shows only 10 per cent of Wollongong residents can reach the CBD by rail within 30 minutes, and fewer than 50 per cent can do so by bus.
For those of us in the Mercury office who swapped our cars for active and public transport, no one managed a commute under half-an-hour.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a bike city, the most successful and straightforward way to get to work was by cycling.
However, this is simply not possible for many people who live long distances away, or have children or equipment to carry to work.
For some of us, ditching the car more than doubled our normal travel time.
But for one commuter, coming from Albion Park, a combination of walking, bus and train was only 15 minutes longer than some of his regular drives thanks to the ever-increasing traffic along the M1.
I live less than five kilometres from the Mercury office, and before I had kids used to cycle to work, but for the past few years I've been driving.
My usual commute takes me between 15-25 minutes including a pre-school drop-off before work, depending on traffic and how emotional my children are feeling.
In Mount Ousley catching a bus is our only public transport option, and so on a Tuesday morning, we set out on the 10 minute walk to our nearest bus stop - 850 metres from our house.
We could have also walked for more than 20 minutes to bus stops further away (not great for little legs), but for the stops in our suburb there are only two buses each morning and three returning from Wollongong in the afternoon.
Also (and I'm sure I could iron this out on subsequent trips), Google told me a departure different time to the TripView App, which left me confused, so we waited nearly 15 minutes for the bus to arrive. There goes our 30 minutes before we've even left our suburb.
The bus ride itself was quick and easy and my COVID-era kids who have never been on a bus before thought it was fantastic.
We counted only seven other passengers on the whole journey through Mount Pleasant and Balgownie into town (probably why there are only two buses a day).
We hopped off on Keira Street, walked five minutes to day care, and then it was less than 10 minutes walk for me to get to work.
Door-to-door it took almost exactly a hour - more than double my usual commute via car.
I think I could probably get it to 45 minutes with better timing for the bus arrival.
Overall I got my daily steps up way higher than I usually would by that time of the morning and my kids thought it was novel, but the thought of having to repeat an hour-long journey at the end of a busy day with two tired little people doesn't feel feasible.
- Kate McIlwain
For many, public transport and Wollongong are mutually exclusive terms.
A couple of days of train travelling for me has gone a few small steps to reconsidering that position and leaving the car at home.
The 7.36am "bullet from Bulli" was not just on time, seats were available, it was clean, and it arrived on time. Frankly, there's not much more you'd want from a 16-minute train ride.
Well, sending an attachment from my phone did prompt the interminable "wheel of death" to appear but once off the train it was promptly spat into cyberspace. And did that 10-minute delay matter? No, not for me, but if you were working from the train it might add to your morning's frustrations.
A couple of bike riders heaved their electric steeds on board and received a few disapproving looks from some people. Given the brevity of the trip and the that the train was reasonably populated, they caused few problems in reality.
The trip north at 6.10pm was similarly unspectacular, though the carriages did show the signs of a hard day's work and humans who can't be bothered finding rubbish bins.
The most time-consuming part of the entire exercise was the morning walk to the station, all 1.1km, and that was largely because there were dogs to pat.
Not all commuters may relish that walk home during the darker, colder months but come spring and summer that could change.
If you're after a daily commute of less than $10 that negates the need to pay for parking at the other end (and can walk to and from train stations), perhaps it's time to use the train network. Or at least give it a try.
Depending on your departure time, the morning drive on either Memorial Drive or Pioneer Road can take between 15 and 25 minutes.
I will not be solely responsible for saving the planet by leaving the car at home, but being able to do something is certainly better than nothing.
- Janine Graham
It feels a little bit retro to say I cycle to work a couple of times a week - and when I say cycle, I mean using my own power to pedal.
During a time when electric bikes are so popular, it seems deliberately ignorant to continue to persevere with the old push bike, particularly when there's a headwind blowing.
Living out in the northern suburbs of the Illawarra, the cycle into the office is straight forward and exceptionally beautiful with the views of the ocean most of the way.
Things start to get a bit hairy when I hit Wollongong at Stuart Park. I prefer to branch off from the bike path on Squires Way crossing the road onto Virginia Street, and tackling the hill up and over Keira Street.
It shaves off valuable minutes on the commute and has the added bonus of spiking the heart rate. However, it means I'm dicing with Wollongong drivers, who aren't always the most considerate. I have had my fair share of near misses.
The trick to cycling to work is preparation and facilities. I have everything ready the night before - tyres pumped, lights charged, bag packed. At the other end I'm fortunate that we have showers, power points and lockers so I can arrive at my desk ready to the face the day.
It takes me 40 minutes to cycle to work. Doubling the commute by car, but the sense of freedom and exhilaration makes the extra minutes worthwhile.
- Gayle Tomlinson
Albion Park has plenty to offer in terms of many amenities and a great sense of community.
However, if you plan to commute to Wollongong for work and don't have a vehicle, well, it would require multiple modes of transport and perhaps a little patience.
In order to make my daily 8.45am team meeting in Wollongong, I would need to leave my house by just after 7.40am to walk and catch a bus on Tongarra Road that leaves at 7.56am.
This arrives at Oak Flats station at 8.08am, which is followed by a five-minute wait for the train.
This train arrives at Wollongong station at 8.36am - which gives me just enough time to quickly walk to the office.
If the train is even a few minutes late though, well, that whole plan is in disarray.
Conversely, if I drive, on a good morning the commute via the M1 will take about 30 minutes.
There's frequently traffic en route though, which can extend this time by 10-20 minutes on some days.
- Brendan Crabb
I live 15 kilometres from the Mercury office and work the early shift.
If I leave at 5.45am it only takes 15 minutes to drive from Dapto to the office in Market Street, Wollongong.
If I took the bus it'd bump up my morning commute to 46 minutes.
This includes a one kilometre walk (15 minutes) to the nearest bus stop in Koonawarra so I could catch the 5.56am bus.It's a 27 minute trip to Wollongong and arrives at 6.23am. It's then a four minute walk to the office.
I start work at 6.30am and this bus would get me to the office with only a minute or two to spare. It's the first bus of the day so there's no earlier option.
I like to arrive a little early at work so it's definitely not an ideal commute.
Also, I wouldn't be very keen to walk and lug my laptop along the streets at that time of the morning when it's still dark.
The train isn't really a good option either and it involves a longer walk in the dark. If I did catch the train, it's a 2.2 kilometre walk (31 minutes) from my house to Dapto station to get the 5.39am train. It arrives in Wollongong at 5.53am (14 minutes).
I'd then have to walk 650 metres (nine minutes) to the office.
Total commute time for this option is 54 minutes.
While public or active transport sounds good in theory, I would never do it from my home in Dapto for an early morning start - the bus trip takes three times as long as driving, and the train trip is almost four times as long.
Also, I would be worried about my safety walking in the dark with a laptop to get to the nearest bus or train stop.
- Nadine Morton
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