Pittwater commuters thrown under the bus



In early October, Transport for NSW (TfNSW) announced a streamlining of the local bus network, with 2,000 extra weekly services on the cards and the addition of new frequent routes.
In Pittwater, this means an upgrade to route 199 Palm Beach to Manly to operate every 10 minutes, seven days a week, and a new B-Line overnight service, running every 30 minutes each day of the week.

The overhaul also included the cancellation of some routes, notably a few direct City services, which has caused concern among local commuters.

For North Avalon, Clareville and Bilgola Plateau residents, the route 189X Avalon Beach to the City will be scrapped along with the 188X North Avalon to the City.

Locals will now have to take either the 191 from Bilgola Plateau or Clareville or the upgraded 199 down the Peninsula to Avalon and change for route 190X to the City.

For residents in Bilgola or Clareville, this may mean travelling up to half an hour north, away from the City, to connect with a CBD service.

The 190X will also now stop at Avalon and run only during weekday peak periods, meaning there will now be no direct city route from Palm Beach.

Newport, Avalon, and Palm Beach locals heading into the City will need to transfer to the frequent 199 service or the B-Line at Mona Vale in off-peak times.

The 183X North Narrabeen and the 185X Mona Vale to City services will also be cut, with those travelling to the CBD now required to take other routes to Narrabeen and transfer to the new 181X Narrabeen to the City. 

Residents travelling to the south of the Northern Beaches will also be impacted, with the 185 from Mona Vale via Warriewood no longer continuing to Warringah Mall and passengers having to change for the B-Line or 199 at Narrabeen.

Meanwhile, route 160X to Chatswood will be upgraded to a frequent route but will no longer service Mona Vale, Warriewood, or North Narrabeen, with locals required to take alternate routes to connect with the service at Dee Why.

According to TfNSW, the changes have been made based off Opal card trip data collected both before and during the COVID-19 outbreak, together with forecasted future growth patterns.

It says that despite some customers now needing to transfer to multiple services to reach their destination, the changes will improve service levels, minimising wait times so that most journey times will be comparable with current trips.

“While some lower frequency direct routes are being withdrawn, customers who use those routes will be provided with more frequent options with a comparable journey time,” a spokesperson tells Peninsula Living.

However, locals, Northern Beaches Council, and the bus union have cast doubt on this modelling, maintaining many of the slashed services were heavily frequented pre-pandemic.

“Opal data is indicative only,” says tram and bus division secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, David Babineau.

“There are a lot of people that don’t tap on, school kids in particular, and bus drivers are not encouraged to challenge for fares.

“What should really be happening is that [data] should be the beginning of a more thorough investigation as to the usage of the service.”

Bilgola Plateau resident John Brondum tells Peninsula Living the 189X from Avalon to City was frequented by CBD and part-time workers, along with university, TAFE and local high school students before COVID hit.

He says the changes will likely influence him to purchase a car to connect with services leaving from Newport or Mona Vale, as he estimates his new journey may take as long as two hours one-way.

“It’s very disappointing that they’ve chosen to effectively force people back into their cars when you can take a significant load off the roads by just providing a simple service that runs four times in the morning and four times in the afternoon, as the 189X did,” John says.

He adds, while he agrees with the State Government, including local MP Rob Stokes, that on-demand mini-bus service Keoride could be used to connect commuters with new and changed services, it is currently unable to meet demand.

In mid-October, John and his wife Cerian started an online petition calling on the State Government to stop the cancellation of the service. 

The petition quickly received over 600 signatures and prompted Pittwater councillor Kylie Ferguson to bring a motion to Northern Beaches Council urging Transport for NSW to keep the route and the 188X.

Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan says the reaction points to a lack of community consultation, confirming Council was not spoken to prior to the changes.

“If we were, we would have flagged the obvious concerns and asked for the data to support the cancelling,” he tells Peninsula Living.

With the network set to be franchised by the final quarter of 2021, Mr Babineau says the changes reflect the government’s desire to make the network financially profitable before turning it over to a private operator.

“We’ve moved from a position where public transport doesn’t necessarily have to make money [as] a vital facility… to a situation where they’re going to ensure that money is made by private operators.”

Pittwater MP Rob Stokes has assured Peninsula Living he is conveying all feedback received to TfNSW.

To see the full list of impacted services, visit the Transport for NSW website’s Transport News webpage.

Stephanie Aikins, Journalist, Peninsula Living Magazine

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