22 August 2023

Region's public transport services fail the 30-minute commute test

| Jen White
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RDA CEO Debra Murphy and Policy Manager Alex Spillett with a bus in the background.

RDA CEO Debra Murphy and Policy Manager Alex Spillett at a Burelli St bus stop. The RDA is calling on the NSW Government to integrate the region’s public transport services. Photo: Jen White.

Southern Illawarra commuters who regularly sit in the M1 Freeway “carpark” during peak hours are among the region’s 77,500 daily workers relying on their vehicles to get to work.

However, none of those commuters are able to travel on a public bus service even if they wanted to, because services don’t use the M1, travelling instead via a convoluted route through the suburbs.

Less than two per cent of the Illawarra’s daily commuters use public transport, but Regional Development Australia (RDA) wants to change that figure.

RDA Chief Executive Officer Debra Murphy this week released research into the Illawarra’s public transport usage, conducted by the University of Wollongong’s SMART facility.

The research looked at how many households could commute to the Wollongong Central Business District (CBD) or to Stockland Shellharbour within 30 minutes by rail or bus. Thirty minutes is considered an appropriate travel time for residents to be able to access essential goods and services.

Only 11 per cent of Wollongong households could access the CBD by rail in 30 minutes, while less than 10 per cent of Shellharbour residents could get to Stockland in the same time frame.

Bus travel times fared better, with 46 per cent of Wollongong residents and 64 per cent of Shellharbour households managing the 30-minute commute.

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Ms Murphy said poor access to an integrated public transport system in the Illawarra was contributing to commuter reluctance to hand in the car keys.

“It’s no wonder that our roads are increasingly congested and travel times are starting to cause major frustration,” she said.

“A key point though is it doesn’t need to be this hard to access public transport.”

The research did scenario modelling that showed introducing or modifying a couple of key routes could deliver a 30-minute journey to more than 13,000 additional addresses in Berkeley, West Dapto and Calderwood. In Shellharbour, a new bus route using the East-West link, instead of Tongarra Rd and the Princes Hwy, would allow more than 4000 extra households to access a 30-minute commute.

The report said the M1 Freeway was not utilised for any bus services, despite the freeway being a vital corridor that connected the southern region of the city to the CBD.

“By leveraging this corridor and updating the bus services to allow the use of this corridor, 9220 additional addresses can be covered by the 30-minute city map,” the report said.

The RDA is calling on the State Government to commit to developing an Integrated Multi-Modal Services plan for the Illawarra that would better streamline different forms of public transport. It would also prioritise an intra-regional focus and provide infrastructure to support the additional East-West link for Shellharbour and the M1 Freeway.

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“It appears service plans have been developed to service the journey to work trips external to the region and not for local CBD hubs. Travel to Sydney has been prioritised, however the same level of service to commuters who travel to Wollongong is not provided,” the report said.

Ms Murphy said recent statistics showed fewer Illawarra workers were commuting to Sydney since COVID-19 and were working within the region.

“There are several high-level strategies for public transport in NSW and the Illawarra Shoalhaven region, but this research indicates that the development and implementation of an Integrated Multi-Modal Services Plan for the Illawarra is key to delivering an improved service,” she said.

“RDA Illawarra is advocating the development of this plan, including seamless interchange between modes of transport. This should be based on customer-centred design and fully implemented on completion.

“We believe that delivery of a 30-minute journey for the maximum number of commuters will provide strong appeal for use of public transport and reduce the car gridlock that threatens to engulf the region.”

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