Demand for the trial bus services between Wagga and Albury-Wodonga that began in July continues to be low, the latest NSW TrainLink data reveals.
In the first six weeks of operating the trial, the day-return service between Wagga and Albury-Wodonga has averaged 18–20 customers per week.
The day-return service between Wodonga-Albury and Wagga has averaged nine per week.
A spokesperson for NSW TrainLink, which operates the service, said that while they have received positive feedback from customers using the trials, there has “been low demand for seats over the first six weeks of operation”.
The operation in each direction involves a 43-seat coach, which has spaces for two wheelchairs and equipped with onboard toilet
“Based on what we have seen so far, there is almost double the demand for travel from Wagga Wagga to spend a day in Albury-Wodonga than for the service taking customers to Wagga Wagga for the day,” the spokesperson said.
The most popular service was on Friday, July 27 when 10 customers travelled between Wagga and Albury-Wodonga.
“The busiest services have generally been on Mondays and Fridays, so people may be using the services as part of weekend travel,” the spokesperson said.
The busiest services have generally been on Mondays and Fridays, so people may be using the services as part of weekend travel.NSW TrainLink spokesperson
Early indications show a mix of people is using the services for both day-return and one-way trips.
“The trials were designed based on the results of community consultation earlier this year, but we will be looking at feedback from customers and the community to see if there are opportunities to improve the services so they appeal to as many people as possible.”
Advocacy group supports service
The trial continues to be supported by Border Rail Action Group, a regional-rail advocacy group made up of Riverina and Murray region residents.
BRAG’s executive member Dennis Toohey said that any new services needed time to be known.
“There needs to be more publicity across all platforms – from social media and council websites – targeting young residents through to seniors,” Mr Toohey said.
“Delve into travel purposes and travellers’ views.
“Hold focus groups in major towns but also invite broad representation.”
He said TrainLink should continue to release patronage data to councils and community groups like BRAG.
Rail passenger service a better solution: councillor
Wagga City Councillor Vanessa Keenan, an advocate for a regional rail passenger service for the Riverina and Murray regions, said the latest figures were not surprising to her.
“The idea of spending over four hours every day on a bus is just absurd,” Cr Keenan said.
“It’s not surprising that a bus service that takes over two hours to travel between the two major centres of Wagga and Albury stopping at every town on the way is not popular with the community,” Cr Keenan said.
“The critical thing here is that the community were asked what they wanted.
“The community asked for a regular express rail service for our regional centres and were given a two-hour bus trip.
“This trial was never going to have a high take-up rate and we may as well be comparing apples with oranges.”
This trial was never going to have a high take-up rate and we may as well be comparing apples with oranges.Vanessa Kennan, Wagga City Councillor
She urged the government to focus on meeting community demand for improved passenger rail services by undertaking a feasibility study “that identifies the huge economic benefits from moving commuters efficiently and regularly across our region”.
In 2017, Cr Keenan released a discussion paper about the need for a rail service, which led to the council only in August 2018 to plan the development of a feasibility study.
“Spending one hour or even less on an express rail shuttle service with WiFi allows commuters to continue working or relax on their journey to and from home is very much in the realms of possibility,” Cr Kennan said.
She said that idea appealed to commuters who travel across the region already every day.
“Importantly, a regular passenger rail service opens up the opportunity for people seeking new employment to look beyond their immediate environment and vice versa for employers seeking specialised workers,” she said.
The trial services run for six months and operates seven days per week via Uranquinty, The Rock, Yerong Creek, Henty, Culcairn, Gerogery and Lavington.
NSW TrainLink will review customer feedback from onboard surveys and conduct another community survey after the halfway point of the trial to see what improvements may be made.
NSW TrainLink encourages the community to use the service to ensure its success.
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