State Transport Minister Andrew Constance has claimed the NSW Government “rescued” the Newcastle bus and transport network.
He also extended the claim by suggesting the Government had “rescued the city too” as Newcastle’s revitalisation had “gone off like a cracker”.
The comments come after he told Parliament in March there had been a near five per cent increase in Newcastle bus patronage for January compared to the previous year.
On March 6, Mr Constance said: “In January 2017, the patronage numbers were 304,330. In January of this year they were 319,360.”
The figures were later questioned when Transport for NSW released Opal card data which showed a decrease in monthly patronage from the previous year.
Asked by Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp during parliament’s question time on Wednesday if he would “apologise for misleading the House”, Mr Constance refused to budge.
“I’ve never seen a group of people opposite complain so much about a thousand extra bus services in their city,” Mr Constance said.
“It’s just extraordinary.
“Bottom line is, we’ve got a new network there. It’s an Australian first to integrate the network and in-line with what council was calling for.”
Mr Crakanthorp later claimed the Minister was “embarrassing himself standing by his comments on the increased services and the success of his privatisation.”
“He needs to understand that 20,000 signatures on a bus petition don’t lie,” Mr Crakanthorp said.
“The Minister has been fudging figures but the reality is that it no longer works and the Minister needs to acknowledge this and demand that his private operator undertake a comprehensive review of the network.”
Mr Crakanthorp said Newcastle commuters were “voting with their feet and abandoning the [bus] service”.
“The Opal data doesn’t lie,” he said. “Newcastle commuters are walking away from a bus system that no longer services their needs.”
Member for Charlestown, Jodie Harrison, also later questioned Mr Constance’s comments.
“How dare the Transport Minister claim he ‘rescued’ Newcastle’s public transport system when I am still being inundated with complaints from constituents whose buses are not turning up, whose children are left waiting for hours to get home from school and the elderly and disabled have become prisoners in their homes because it is too hard for them to catch a bus to the shops,” Ms Harrison said.
“The arrogance the Minister displayed today and the contempt he shows to the people of the Hunter is inexcusable – the Premier needs to stand up and show her leadership and sack him from this portfolio before he damages the lifestyles of any more of my constituents.”
Mr Constance eventually said the Opal card figures did not include other types of bus patronage.
“I just got a text message from my adviser who said the figures you are using don’t include on-demand, SST or free-fare zone,” he said during question time.
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