Hans Lovejoy & Chris Dobney
Additional bus services are now in place on the north coast, according to retiring NSW MP Don Page (Nationals).
The announcement came after The Echo asked Mr Page what his government was doing about the lack of public transport in the region.
Quoting the Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan 2013, Mr Page said the ‘better way of meeting the public transport needs of the region is increased bus services.’
‘Since that report, I can advise in the Byron area, for example, that 24 additional bus services have been put on. Through improved connections passengers also have access to 125 more trips than in 2013, between Byron Bay, Ballina, Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby. I acknowledge there is a need for more public transport, but the study released in 2013 found buses were a better and more cost-effective option.’
But Echonetdaily can reveal that, owing to a bizarre anti-compete clause included in commercial bus contracts, the government’s own CountryLink buses are not allowed to pick up passengers travelling less than 40 kilometres.
A passenger travelling from Byron Bay to Bangalow, for example, cannot use the CountryLink service that traverses the route – often with empty seats – even if it runs outside the times of ‘competing’ commercial services.
TAFE subsidy cut
And additional buses won’t help north coast high school students who travel to TAFE courses in Lismore or Kingscliff.
A subsidy that assists in their transport costs will be scrapped next year by Mr Page’s Liberal/Nationals government.
Mr Page has taken the odd position of both defending the cuts but also calling for the subsidy to return.
He told The Echo he is actively lobbying for the travel subsidy to be retained, ‘even though the cost of the scheme has increased by 78 per cent over the past five years.’
‘While I welcome these measures to reduce the need for the travel subsidy, I strongly believe it should still be available for those school students who need it.
‘TAFE advise that they have taken a number of measures to reduce the need for the subsidy, ie TAFE courses being delivered in schools, concentration of TAFE courses to reduce travel requirements, carpooling through schools and more online TAFE courses for school students. I have made representations to the [education] minister expressing my views and strong support for the retention of the travel subsidy for school students doing TAFE courses.’