Transport troubles

BETTER BUS SERVICES: Mount Gambier/Berrin resident Sharmaine Fogarty is calling for better bus services. Picture: CHARLOTTE VARCOE

Charlotte Varcoe

INADEQUATE public transport services has been highlighted once again with Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell stating the procurement process which was undertaken did not meet the city’s needs.

Public transport services have been under the microscope within recent years as Mr Bell and other prominent public figures such as City of Mount Gambier Mayor Lynette Martin call for better services.

Last year, council requested it would be included in the upcoming regional transport review due to be completed this year.

In the first week of Parliament for 2023, Mr Bell stated the current contract under LinkSA was “pretty much a complete duplication” of what was in place before the contract was signed last year.

Mr Bell said some tenderers were “not able to put in variations” to an existing route or financial arrangements which could have “better served the people of Mount Gambier”.

“In 2021, as the existing contract approached, the Mount Gambier City Council conducted thorough evaluation of the Mount Gambier public bus service,” Mr Bell said.

“The purpose was to communicate to the State Government the shortcoming in the current service.

“The report highlighted the vital need for effective public transport within the city and its surroundings, urging substantial changes to the government-funded service.”

He said at the time the routes had remained unchanged for more than three decades.

“The review also revealed such issues as the inadequate services of crucial facilities, such as the Mount Gambier hospital and Foodbank and restricted service hours hindering access to employment and education,” he said.

“As well as prolonged wait times at stops and a lack of service to our growing residential areas.”

Mr Bell noted that even under the new contract awarded last year, a majority of the housing developments which had been established within the last 30 to 40 years.

“These are not taken into consideration and well over 2000 homes and 5000 residents are located in the north-east corner of Mount Gambier and there is not one bus service that services this area,” he said.

Mr Bell also noted the lack of bus services available for the new Wulanda Recreation Centre, Foodbank and other vulnerable areas within the township.

“Residents from our two largest retirement communities must endure a lengthy walk to reach the closest bus stop, which is impractical for many of them,” he said.

“We have seen the state government invest $55m into building a new technical college and upgrading our local TAFE facilities.

“Unfortunately, with the first bus of the day not leaving until 9am, we may see many students running late to class.”

TAFE student and regular bus user Sharmaine Fogarty said she had been catching the bus the entire time she had lived in Mount Gambier/Berrin to run errands and more recently attend class.

Ms Fogarty said she relied on the buses for school and TAFE with her daughter also using the services.

“I use the linked service so I catch the school bus to MacDonald Park Primary School to get the linked service to TAFE,” Ms Fogarty said.

“The old service would call ahead and let them know I was heading to TAFE but the new drivers said they had no idea they were supposed to wait for TAFE students and did not know the two were linked.”

She said catching the regular City Bus was also inconvenient as it did not leave for TAFE until 9am – when she was already supposed to be in class.

“I asked the old bus drivers for a faster way to get there and they told me to get on the school bus route,” Ms Fogarty said.

“One of the school buses takes me half way there and the other takes me to TAFE so I think they should communicate.”

She said by having better services it would make the world of difference to her everyday life.

“I have had to call my partner before who had to leave work and come pick me up and take me to TAFE so I could get there,” she said.

“My daughter is also always late for school too and it is supposed to be a school bus.

“She then hates it because she has to get a pass and misses out on the first stuff at school.”

Ms Fogarty said she believed school buses being on time should be a priority as being late did not worry her too much if she was catching the bus to run errands.

“The school buses should be there before the bell rings,” she said.

“As I was getting to MacDonald Park Primary School the bell was ringing as I was getting off to get to TAFE which means my daughter was another five minutes late because she goes to another school.”

Despite needing to be at TAFE before 9am, she said previously she was always on time.

“I guess the new drivers are still getting used to the routes and I hope they do get used to it,” she said.

“They are usually pretty good.”

City of Mount Gambier Mayor Lynette Martin said the city still had “inadequate” and “outdated” services which had been the case for 30 years.

She said council had not been advised whether it had been included in the regional transport review but had recently written to Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism Tom Koutsantonis regarding the ongoing issue.

“The City of Mount Gambier and Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell have been working together for improvement to services for the community,” Ms Martin said.

“I am pleased he presented a grievance speech to parliament on this matter.”

She said while Mount Gambier/Berrin was the biggest regional city outside of Adelaide, she believed the bus services should be functional and reliable while meeting the needs of residents.

Ms Martin is scheduled to meet with Mr Koutsantonis alongside council chief executive Sarah Philpott in March.