ANYONE who has found themselves looping around the John Hunter Hospital in search of parking would likely have welcomed NSW Health Minister Ryan Park's commitment on Tuesday to reinstate a park-and-ride service.
A popular service ran along the route between 2008 and 2015, but was scrapped when 740 more parks opened up at the hospital. With major construction work under way at both the hospital and nearby for the final stage of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass, anything to reduce congestion for both parking and driving is welcome.
That said, the question will remain whether an option scrapped almost a decade ago offers a fix that will stand the test of time. Other shuttle buses, including the free CBD service that ran for several years, have failed to secure extended lifespans.
While Labor honouring its election commitment to reinstate the bus service is admirable in the mire of modern politics, passengers will be watching closely to see exactly where the service runs and how often, particularly given Labor in March said it "intended" the shuttle to be free.
It is unclear whether the service will run from Turton Road again, with details under investigation. Patronage will likely hinge on whether the service suits patients and health workers alike, but offers an alternative for those without an urgent need to park at the hospital itself. Anything that can make more parking available for those who find themselves in urgent circumstances is a good thing.
That said, there are likely to be growing pains. Not the least of which will likely be the existing strain on bus services in this region, which was put in stark relief when shuttles were needed for concerts at McDonald Jones Stadium. Those movements had significant knock-on effects to everyday services, highlighting a depleted workforce with minimal ability to immediately expand further.
While Labor honouring its election commitment to reinstate the bus service is admirable in the mire of modern politics, passengers will be watching closely to see exactly where the service runs and how often
The priority for anyone planning to use a shuttle bus will be reliability, and Mr Park's mention of the Wollongong experience may prove useful in developing the shuttle bus routes. It will also likely reopen the question of improving public transport services to the hospital more generally, including light rail expansion, especially as the pressure builds on the road network at bottlenecks including Newcastle Road. That reliability so valuable to potential passengers is likely to suffer on congested roads.
Something, though, is always better than nothing. With light rail expansion something of a pipe dream for those needing to attend the hospital today, anything that can alleviate the parking pressure is a step in the right direction. Those commuters who have purportedly clamoured for the service's return will ultimately be the judges of the service, and the biggest contributors to its success or failure.
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