WARRAGUL and Drouin are frequently touted by state and local governments as key regional growth hot spots.
Above: Philip Radford of Warragul Bus Lines.
This article was first published in the 11 July 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
The towns are becoming increasingly busy and populations are growing rapidly with people moving from Melbourne to settle in the country. Many are happy with the move.
But the question Warragul Bus Lines general manager Philip Radford is asked most often by these new residents is ‘why is there no bus where I live?’
Mr Radford has lobbied successive governments to do for Baw Baw what has been done for the Latrobe Valley and create a viable commuter bus service.
While the Latrobe Valley has its services increased Drouin goes without a town bus service; the largest regional town in Victoria without one.
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Warragul’s weekday services are not much better, running from 9.15am to 2.45pm with only one bus in operation.
While services connecting the towns do run throughout the day they only make three stops.
A detailed report presented to the Brumby government in November 2010 suggested enormous improvements to Baw Baw’s bus services. The document is not well known – even Mr Radford had to go through Freedom of Information to get a copy from the present government.
The report was comprehensive, highlighting issues including:
- a “lack of coverage to… residential areas in Warragul and Drouin,”
- “limited service frequencies [and time] span,”
- “a lack of direct services from all areas to the West Gippsland Hospital,”
- a “lack of coverage to outer-lying communities [including] Buln Buln, Crossover, Jindivick and Poowong,” and
- a “lack of weekend services… and services to Noojee.”
The report’s authors even drafted new timetables for improved services, which included Drouin town services running from around 7am to around 8pm and Warragul town services running to a similar schedule.
Mr Radford told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen the present timetable was “abysmal” and discouraged people from using public transport.
“It (the Warragul town service) has been designed around the utilisation of a school bus between school runs,” Mr Radford said.
“Town service starts at 9.15am, finishes 2.45pm and we run over four routes [with] a couple of trips on each.
“Every second day someone’s ringing up about the town bus saying ‘well how do we get back?’ and we say ‘you can’t, you can catch a bus down the street and only have one option to come back.'”
Mr Radford highlighted poor parking availability in Warragul and Drouin as key reasons to improve services.
“Parking in the CBD in Warragul has always been a problem, yet that’s the only option for people; to drive down the street to do the shopping,” Mr Radford said.
“If there was a regular bus service they could leave their car in the driveway.”
Public transport funding comes largely from the state government, and in a growing electorate represented by the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Gary Blackwood the inadequate timetable is surprising.
The new bus interchange under construction at the Warragul Railway Station is, according to Mr Radford, unlikely to host any extra services any time soon.
“No one has said anything about it. I assume it will just be another stop for our existing services,” Mr Radford said.
What is the point of the interchange, an extra stop under construction just east of Drouin and a new stop on the Noojee route if the bus services remain so limited?
A large percentage of people living in Baw Baw are youth under driving age. On Page 8 of this paper a story details how isolation can have a negative effect on youth who do not live close to town centres. On Page 7 statistics show public transport is important to people moving to new estates not presently on bus routes.
Mr Radford said the Baw Baw Shire Council was failing to ensure new developments like Waterford Rise and Crystal Waters had access to buses.
“I don’t know what consideration they give to it because… there’s been no provision,” Mr Radford said.
“There are buses running right past.
“Residents who have just moved to the area see the bus go past, [call] and and ask ‘why does it not stop here?’ Well, there are no bus stops.
“I think the only person longing for it is me, the council doesn’t seem to be interested.”
While improvements are not made, Baw Baw will remain an inaccessible, car-heavy region stranded between the relatively well-serviced Latrobe City and Cardinia councils.
The Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen calls on the state government to take another look at public transport in the region and fill the gap.
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