Dylan Shoesmith, YC4H member

Newcastle Herald, 14 October 2021

ROAD TO THE FUTURE: A superior Hunter transport network would alleviate road congestion and improve productivity.

Does the Hunter have a great public transport network? A satisfactory public transport network?

If you answered “no” to these questions, you’re not alone.

Those of us who live in the Hunter have long complained that public transport is substandard and inaccessible.

In some places, it’s non-existent.

I’m an inaugural member of the Youth Committee for the Hunter, established to work with young people on the challenges the Hunter is presented with now and into the future.

Public transport is one of the issues that we must address.

It affects our lives today – how we access education, employment and other services – and it will play a crucial role in shaping the Hunter’s future.

With a mobile population and competition for young talent who have higher expectations of services, access to a high-quality public transport network is a requirement of a modern, metropolitan region.

We have a great deal to be proud of in the Hunter, but we need to work to maintain and build upon our fortune.

Central to this is how we move about the region.

The Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan found that only 3 per cent of residents used public transport on a weekday.

On a weekend it’s even worse – 1 per cent.

Without an adequate alternative to driving, more of our day is going to be spent sitting in traffic on roads designed for a smaller population than we have now.

Most of us are not averse to the idea of catching a bus, train, tram or ferry.

Indeed, many would like to catch public transport, if it were readily available.

For many people, services are either physically inaccessible, too few or take longer than driving. It’s no wonder that 84 per cent of trips taken in Greater Newcastle are by car.

Compare this with the Greater Sydney region, where almost a quarter of all trips taken are by public transport.

There are many in our community – including young people – who do not have a driver licence, who have no option but to endure inferior public transport services, spend extra for a cab or rideshare, or curtail their activities requiring travel severely.

As we grow, the problem is only going to get worse.

The Hunter Regional Plan 2036 projects there will be an additional 129,850 people calling the Hunter home over the next 15 years.

Other projections suggest that the Hunter population could nudge one million in just 20 years’ time.

You may think that this is a lot of people.

You may also think that this will result in significantly more cars on the road.

With some roads in the Hunter already reaching capacity, how will we manage a larger population without dramatically reducing our quality of life?

More time sitting in traffic is a lose-lose situation with a massive opportunity cost.

Not only could we be spending more time doing whatever the purpose of our trip is or with our loved ones, but congestion is also a drain on productivity.

We suffer, and so does the economy.

A high-quality public transport system befitting of our growing metropolitan region would greatly assist.

It would give more residents the option of driving by car or by travelling on public transport that is faster, more accessible and cost-effective.

And you wouldn’t even need to worry about parking.

This isn’t to suggest that people should be forced on to public transport.

However, people should have a viable choice between driving or using public transport.

Without an adequate alternative to driving, more of our day is going to be spent sitting in traffic on roads designed for a smaller population than we have now.

The Hunter is not a small region. We are NSW’s second-largest city growing at a rate second only to Sydney.

We must do better when it comes to moving people from A to B.

This means improving existing services and laying out the framework for a better, integrated public transport network to service our growing population.

It’s time we get serious about what we want public transport to look like in the Hunter in the coming years and start pushing governments at all levels to act.

With the Hunter Regional Transport Plan under review, there is not a more important time to ensure that there is a commitment to improved public transport across the Hunter.

Population growth may be inevitable, but traffic congestion is not.

Dylan Shoesmith is a member of the inaugural Youth Committee for the Hunter