City's On The Move

Wednesday March 20, 2024

ALTERNATIVE transportation may be on the cards for Mount Gambier/Berrin following a meeting between the City of Mount Gambier and the state government.

Mayor Lynette Martin and chief executive Sarah Philpott met with Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Tom Koutsantonis recently to discuss the future of the region's bus route.

It comes following four years of consultation and advocacy from council to improve bus services across the Blue Lake City.

Ms Martin said the meeting was productive and positive with the minister, who acknowledged the "current service was outdated" and also indicated he was "keen to work" alongside council to resolve the issue.

"The minister agreed to undertake another meeting with myself and the chief executive officer in four weeks time to discuss options for improvements to the service which may better serve the community," Ms Martin said.

"That would be within the parameters of the current funding model at this point in time." She said council were also advised the local system would be included in the regional transport review in July.

"This will provide an opportunity to further review the service and that is something we wished to have an undertaking on and so we did get an undertaking on that," Ms Martin said.

"We went in there to ask for prioritisation in immediate improvements to the existing public transport model in Mount Gambier, to build greater access throughout the city and reduce the existing levels of social disadvantage." She said this would include extending services to key locations across the city which were currently under serviced by the existing model.

Ms Martin said this was in addition to increasing to include mornings, evenings and weekends while also improving connections to employment and significantly reduced social exclusions.

It would also facilitate a review of the public bus transport services in and around Mount Gambier/Berrin while also determining the "provision of a fit for purpose" and "sustainable public transport model" for the region.

"This will happen as a result of our inclusion in the regional transport review and also to prioritise Mount Gambier as a host location for any future transport related trials conducted in South Australia," she said.

"That is what we went in for and we have really moved forward since 2020 when council first undertook the city bus service review.

"We have made progress at last." Ms Martin said currently operators were working within the current funding model and it did not meet the needs of the community.

"I think the exploration of other models to deliver a more contemporary service would provide greater sustainability," she said.

Ms Martin also supported other alternative options such as the on-demand service which was recently trialled in Mount Barker.

"I would believe in the regional transport review they have an on demand model which would certainly be explored," she said.

"I think it would be well received here because the on demand model is more flexible and it provides greater flexibility for the users." Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell welcomed the possibility of alternative transport models including the on-demand service.

"The current route has not changed in 30 years," Mr Bell said.

"We have had a lot of developments in Mount Gambier during that time, you think about Woodlands, Conroe Heights, Foodbank all these places are not serviced by our current public transport." He said there needed to be more exploration for on demand services, different routes and times including the outer areas on Mount Gambier/Berrin.

"I would like to be much bolder than this and look at how we link other parts of our community like Donovans, Port MacDonnell and Tarpeena," Mr Bell said.

"This would enable those residents to frequently visit Mount Gambier and run the services into the evening because there are plenty of people waiting for taxis at 1am.

"It is an issue that our public transport finishes at 5pm." Mr Bell appreciated the minister looking into the current services and understood there were a number of difficulties across the state which the minister was dealing with.

"I am pleased to hear he is open to the suggestion of on-demand services but the reality is we need to be making sure our residentstypically those who do not hold a licence or the elderly - are still connected to communities through public transport," he said.

Mr Bell also supported public transport being free of charge for those with a senior citizens card such as in the metropolitan areas as well as Mount Gambier/Berrin hosting future transport trials.

"We are large enough for the trial to be meaningful and small enough to control many of the variables which will be presented," he said.

"We are the perfect place for trials for regional transport and we should be front and centre because if it works in Mount Gambier it will work in every other regional centre in South Australia." Mr Koutsantonis said his department was "assessing existing routes" ahead of a broader review to be carried out later this year.

"New funding was allocated in the state budget to safeguard regional bus contracts, including in Mount Gambier," Mr Koutsantonis said.

"This was important to safeguard the ongoing delivery of viable and sustainable transport services for the long-term, and necessitated by the end of the previous contracts.

"There is scope within the new contract to add to the service offering, with the recent tender process giving an opportunity for bidders to provide their ideas and proposals for alternative service designs." He said those would be "further considered" as part of the broader review as would the "viability of alternative transport models" including the on demand service.

Mr Koutsantonis also acknowledged council's concerns about the current bus routes.