West taken for a ’free ride’

Sustainable Cities Collective coordinator Elyse Cunningham at the Sunshine bus interchange. (Hannah Hammoud)

Hannah Hammoud

Residents in Melbourne’s west are calling the state government’s bluff, demanding urgent reform to the bus route network.

The Sustainable Cities collective has been actively campaigning for better buses in the west for two years. Now armed with a petition of more than 200 signatures, organisers are insisting the state government commit to a pilot reform in the west.

In May this year the state government announced changes to the process for recontracting bus companies, moving away from one-on-one negotiations to instead putting contracts out to a public tender for bus companies to bid on.

Sustainable Cities Collective coordinator Elyse Cunningham said the changes were highlighted by the state government as a way to make reforms to the bus network easier.

“The state government said that something they identified as a blocker to bus reform in the past was the fact that there were so many different bus operators that were running one to two routes across different parts of the network,” she said.

“In some parts of metropolitan Melbourne that was the case and we could see how that could be an issue that might make reform more difficult. But in the western suburbs, one company – CDC Victoria, runs the majority of the bus routes. So now we’re asking, if this one company is dominating most of the network in the west, why can’t the state government work with that contractor to reform routes in the west so that we can get bus reform now?”

Ms Cunningham said the organisation is calling for a “complete overhaul” of the bus network in the west.

“We don’t just want one or two new bus routes, we want a complete reconfiguration of the routes so that they will run along logical straight and direct paths and actually connect people to where they need to go.”

Ms Cunningham said for residents in the west, the average bus trip can take twice as long or more in comparison to other parts of Melbourne.

“In our experience the blame is always shifted from the state government, to the department, to the bus company, and they all just point the finger at each other and really we just think it’s come down to a matter of political will,” she said.

“We think that consecutive Labor governments have taken the west for granted for decades now and it’s getting to a point now where the community in the west are starting to get really frustrated with this and they’re really sick of being taken for granted.

“That’s why we’re working with communities in the west to build that momentum for better buses and demonstrate to Labor that people aren’t going to let them take advantage of them …they’re sick of being taking them for a free ride.”

Minister for Public and Active Transport Gabrielle Williams and former Transport Minister Ben Carroll were contacted for comment.