By Chantel Cotterell
More trips, more buses and more people with transport needs met. That is essentially the aim of the City of Sydney’s ambitious plan to take a lead role in revamping the community transport system in the inner city.
Re-elected Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, believes, “Through improved organisation, we can provide over 80,000 trips each year once services are fully up and running – almost double the number of trips we now provide”. Using its own fleet of buses and through purchasing services from community transport providers, including the popular Village to Village shuttles, the City currently funds around 44,000 trips per year.
The revamp is a result of recommendations from a review of community transport undertaken by consultants, Transport Planning and Management, in 2010-11 for the City.
A cornerstone of the revamp is to pilot what is known as ‘mobility management’. At present, this seems to be taking the shape of a central information and coordination service. Currently, there are multiple community transport providers in the City, such as South East Sydney Community Transport and South East Neighbourhood Centre, but no central service that can give out information about community transport options and allocate trips, depending on passenger needs.
In the focus groups conducted by the consultants, participants repeatedly mentioned the difficulty in locating information about community transport. The pilot attempts to address this, and has been compared by some in the industry to a mix of the 131 500 Transport Infoline and the centralised private taxi booking service.
The City has been in discussions with the NSW Government and is looking to garner its support to pilot mobility management. It is intended that the State would conduct an evaluation of the pilot once it is up and running to determine whether it can be rolled out elsewhere. The cost is anticipated to be shared between the local and State governments.
The logistics of how mobility management will work on the ground are yet to be announced. The pilot has budgeted for a Coordinator position, which will be responsible, in part, for allocating client trips, depending on the destinations or purposes of the trips. It is envisioned that the success of the pilot will hinge on the computer database for coordinating trips, and this is also reflected within the City’s budget.
With the City intending to auspice the mobility management pilot, existing community transport providers will be invited to work with the City to realise this revamp. In the proposal that was approved by the City’s Cultural and Community Services Committee back in March, the City foreshadowed benefits for community transport providers, including increased operational efficiencies and economies of scale through a larger passenger base. As the proposal elaborated:
Clients from different service providers can be carried on one bus to one destination, rather than each service operating its own mostly empty bus to the same destination. Accumulating clients onto a single vehicle then releases others buses to provide trips to other destinations.
For community transport providers, it seems the revamp might involve relinquishing some control over coordination in exchange for the predicted benefits. As one community transport provider commented, “It has to be implemented gently, so trust can be built among service providers opting in and between services providers and the City. Getting this trust is imperative to getting the trust of passengers”.
Ensuring that clients do benefit from the revamp and are not inadvertently disadvantaged in any way was important to existing community transport providers. “If there is a move to centralisation, it’s important clients can still get a say as to what buses they travel on and with whom. Sometimes the transport is secondary to the socialisation that happens on a trip”, said Gregory Stevens, Community Transport Coordinator at South East Neighbourhood Centre, which provides community transport for shopping, day care and social trips.
Community transport providers contacted by Inner Sydney Voice were open to the overhaul and agreed that there was a need for greater efficiency. As Jane Rogers, Manager of South East Sydney Community Transport commented, “The bottom line is: if the City puts a good plan together and we find out more information, then we would consider trying it – we want to make transport easier to access for disadvantaged groups”.
With some community service providers stating that their buses are currently booked to capacity, the City might need to look elsewhere, if it wants to double the number of trips provided. One option that has been discussed is to encourage community-based organisations such as sporting associations and RSLs to opt-in to mobility management.
For example, an RSL could put up its bus to be used for community transport on those days it is not ferrying members to and from the club. The RSL, like all operators delivering community transport, would need to be accredited under the Transport Administration Act 1998 (NSW). Accreditation would mean the operator could collect a fare.
Besides the mobility management pilot, the approved proposal also earmarked funds for a Transport Training program, which is already been run with success across Northern Sydney. “The whole purpose of travel training is to increase the skills, knowledge and confidence of people to use public transport independently”, explains Kristine Pedler, Travel Training Project Officer with Easy Transport.
Easy Transport has been offering individualised and group travel training since early 2011 to a range of clients across Northern Sydney, including older people, people with a disability and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, who have to overcome language barriers.
As Kristine elaborates, “It’s about more than showing someone how to read a bus timetable. It can be very practical support. For someone in a wheelchair, we might arrange a visit to the nearest depot, so they can practise getting on and off the bus, using one of the out-of-service buses. That way the person knows what to expect when they try and use public transport”.
Other initiatives that the City hopes will get more people using community transport are: expanding the free Village to Village shuttle bus routes, introducing shopping services for people who are not eligible for funding through the Home and Community Care program, expanding community transport provided to young people, and creating a pool of funding that can be used to provide dedicated transport options for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
As part of the revamp, the free Village to Village shuttle buses from Redfern to Broadway and Woolloomooloo to Redfern will be expanding from two to three days per week.
Free shuttle buses running three days a week will also start running two new routes between Dawes Point and Camperdown as well as Rosebery, Alexandria and Erskineville. In the review, Rosebery was classed as one of the least “walkable” suburbs in the City, with the longest distance between residences and amenities such as shops. It is anticipated that the introduction of these new routes will reduce transport disadvantage for residents.
Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 116, Spring 2012