A Northern Beaches commuter meeting, or ‘Passenger Forum’, will be held next Saturday, 24 June, to discuss ongoing issues with the local bus network.
The meeting, to be held at Dee Why RSL from 12-2pm and requires registration, will inform the newly announced governmental Bus Industry Taskforce.
Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Dr Marjorie O’Neill, will chair the Passenger Forum and invites members of the public and representatives from community groups, local businesses, and non-government organisations to come and have their say.
It follows months of commuter frustration over delayed and cancelled buses, as well as significant issues with school bus hire changes (in availability, costs, and penalty fees), since the service was franchised by private operators Keolis Downer Northern Beaches (KDNB). Concerns have also related to removed or altered bus route changes made prior to the contract taking effect, particularly in the lower Northern Beaches areas, such as Balgowlah.
In a statement Manly Observer received from KDNB at the start of March, the French-Australian multi-modal public transport operator attributed the bus shortages and resultant queues to an increase of people returning to offices (after months of working from home through the Covid-19 pandemic) and a general shortfall of trained drivers.
“Coming out of Covid, it has been a balancing act to implement services, with passenger demand increasing rapidly in the early part of 2023,” the KDNB spokesperson said. “We have been experiencing a driver shortage since mid-2022, but with increased uptake of people using public transport the impacts are becoming more obvious.”
The local branch of the Keolis Downer is currently advertising with Manly Observer in search of local bus drivers.
Long commuter queues have been the most visible disruption, but an announcement by the operators in March that it would not be able to supply charter buses for Friday inter-school school tournaments for the NSW Primary Schools Sporting Association (PSSA) across the Northern Beaches had a profound impact on children region-wide.
Wakehurst MP Michael Regan said the loss of reliable Friday transport was a huge disappointment for the Northern Beaches; it should be mandatory in KDNB’s contract to make buses available for public school sports as they always had been, he said.
“Friday afternoon sport is a tradition here on the Northern Beaches,” he declared. “I am outraged that this great sporting tradition is now in jeopardy because of the chaos that is plaguing our public transport system.”
In a statement to Manly Observer KDNB said it would honour existing booking but were limited in accepting new bookings. “As part of our contract, we can continue to offer charter services as long as it does not adversely affect the ability to provide public transport bus services to the general public. Schools can seek charter services from a range of operators including those who specialise in this area and are not under contract with TfNSW.”
The upcoming forum in Dee Why will be the first held as part of the Bus Industry Taskforce, which KDNB said it welcomed.
“Keolis Downer Northern Beaches is looking forward to working with the new Government to discuss solutions for the driver shortages and how we can attract new recruits to the industry, whilst we continue to focus on optimising bus services for Northern Beaches and Lower North Shore communities,” they said in a statement.
KDNB confirmed they would not be attending the upcoming forum, however.
Bus Industry Taskforce
In September 2022 the NSW Legislative Council, the Upper House of Parliament that scrutinises Government legislation, severely criticised the NSW Government’s decision to privatise the state-run bus services, calling the takeover of regional service by private operators a “disaster.”
The Privatisation of Bus Services Report concluded: “The community anger and frustration at the degradation of services is palpable. It is clear to us that the NSW Government’s decision to privatise these bus services has been nothing short of a disaster…”
The report also stated: “The privatisation of bus services in New South Wales has created an incentive for private companies to sacrifice the needs of more vulnerable people in order to cut costs while still appealing to a wide enough user base to meet their contractual obligations.”
This has led to the newly elected government announcing a Taskforce.
The Taskforce, which includes representatives from BusNSW, Local Government NSW, and relevant unions, will take 12 months to complete. The Taskforce will provide a series of updates and reports to be taken forward for consideration by Cabinet. It will deliver a number of reports throughout this 12-month period, including initial findings on 10 July 2023, an interim report on 10 October 2023 with a final report and recommendations by 1 May 2024.
“Passengers have had enough of service cancellations and routes being cut. They expect better bus services, and we need to do better,” Transport Minister Jo Haylen said.
“This means better contract and performance management, better service planning that looks at the routes that passengers and communities want, and a better industry that is able to attract more drivers.”
Manly Observer asked the Transport Minister Jo Haylen’s office whether the contract for KD would or could be voided; we were told contract cancellation was not on the cards.
Dr Marjorie O’Neill said she expected the community had a lot to say about the current state of our bus services at the upcoming event.
“We want to make sure they are part of the decision-making process,” Dr O’Neill said in an emailed statement.
“To be able to deliver a service that works for the community we need to be talking directly to bus passengers, which is exactly what we will be doing through these Forums.
“We know the Northern Beaches community is frustrated and the Bus Industry Taskforce is looking at all options for how we can improve the current service offering. For the first time in a long time, bus passengers will be having a say in how their bus network operates.
“This community has been the hardest hit by the bus driver shortage and I encourage you all to have your say. Your feedback will be considered, from frustrations over cancelled services to discussions on bus stop placement, I want to hear it all.”
Northern Beaches Bus Passenger Forum details:
- Date: June 24
- Time: 12pm – 2pm
- Location: Dee Why RSL, 932 Pittwater Rd, Dee Why
- Registration: Bus Industry Taskforce Events | Eventbrite
Article by Alec Smart and Kim Smee