WHEN Michael Markey and his wife Elizabeth retired from Sydney, they chose their home based on its proximity to a bus stop that would take them to both Charlestown Square and Westfield Kotara.
But Mr Markey said the network that private operator Keolis Downer introduced in January has left them “stuck inside”, without a service along Park Avenue to either shopping centre – or the medical specialists in Charlestown they need to visit at least once a week.
“My wife is 82, can only walk for about 10 minutes at a time and she’s lost her independence in a way, which is such a shame,” said Mr Markey, 77.
“I have a car at the moment, but I won’t all the time.
“The next bus stop is at the bottom of the hill at Westfield and that would take us 30 minutes to walk to if I pushed her.”
Mr Markey was among hundreds who attended a Labor rally at Gregson Park on Sunday where the city’s MPs and Shadow Minister for Transport Jodi McKay demanded an independent review into the bus network changes.
Some commuters told the Herald they now faced cuts to services, longer journey times and reduced operating hours.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp estimated the “peaceful protest with plenty of passion” drew a crowd of more than 600, which he said grew to 1000 as it marched to the bus depot.
Swansea MP Yasmin Catley said the city was promised a “world class transport system” but “we know what happens when we privatise things, profits come before people”.
“This system is broken, in chaos, is letting people down and is not getting those who rely on public transport the most to where they need to be,” she said.
“We can’t wait six months – we’ve already waited five and that’s long enough – we want it reinstated and we want it reinstated now.”
Sunday’s rally follows a fiery meeting convened by Labor at Belmont 16s last month where residents vented their frustrations about the redesigned network.
Keolis Downer Hunter general manager Mark Dunlop said last week January patronage was up 4.9 per cent compared to 2017, but the company would monitor the network’s performance.
“Since July 1 we have received over 2,100 individual pieces of feedback, and in addition, we have analysed over 60,000 bus trips since the new network launched in January.
“Over the coming months we are committed to making improvements based on customer feedback.
“Our drivers are playing a huge role in letting us know what is working out there and where improvements can be made operationally, as well as passing on feedback from customers.”
Divisional secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union Chris Preston said Keolis Downer was “completely under-prepared and overwhelmed with the size of the task” of reorganising the network.
“[Transport Minister] Andrew Constance you can’t continue to ignore the people of Newcastle, the commuters and the workers, otherwise these people will stop catching your buses.”
Belinda Street said she used to catch one bus at around 8.10am from Garden Suburb to the city for work. “Now I have to leave at 7.30am and catch at least two buses and sometimes more, depending on the time,” she said.
“I have to head in the wrong direction, either west to Cardiff and then into town or south to Charlestown and then east.
“I’m not going to catch two or three buses and take an hour to go 10 kilometres down the road.
“It makes life so much more difficult for us.”
Tricia Preston said her son Beau started school in Hamilton at 8am on two days each week and would have to leave their Belmont home before 6am and catch two buses.
Before the changes, he could have left around 7am and caught one bus.
Mayfield Variety Shop’s Maria Dickinson said she had endured five weeks of “very quiet” conditions. “Customers are saying they have to catch two or three buses to come in. Trade is down 40 per cent.”
Mr Constance said “as with all timetables, the Newcastle bus network will be reviewed”.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said the government “understands the strength of feeling about the new bus timetable”, but argued the old system was unsustainable.
“The Newcastle bus network was consistently losing patronage and down to under four per cent of public utilisation. It had to be fixed,” he said.
“While it is too early to make changes, there is every expectation modifications will be made to the timetable and routes when there is comprehensive data.”