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OP-ED: Metro Must Take Notice of Community Angst

Thursday 5 March 2020, The Examiner

THERE are situations in the community that I am aware of, particularly for people who rely on the Metro bus service who are older or have mobility or other issues, that the new service plan makes less accessible or convenient. Many people in the community I have spoken to, especially in places that have lost or changed services are feeling disadvantaged. I would also urge consideration for frontline workers as it is not just bus users who could be caught up in this. Spare a thought for bus drivers who often go out of their way to assist passengers and Metro staff managing calls and emails, who all work so hard and can cop much of the flack for these decisions and changes. The implementation of the new service plan, depending on the route, has caused concern and disappointment for many. There is a level of discontent in the community over some of these changes and in the past few weeks, I have counted at least eight published letters to the editor in The Examiner with even more comments left on Facebook. I have also been approached with regard to some bus stop and route changes, and in the wake of the new service plan's implementation, many people I have spoken to feel ignored and alienated from decision. In addition, some bus routes to the Launceston General Hospital are changed and somewhat confusing and an Examiner letter to the editor on February 17 on this issue was clear - a route that had previously taken 10 minutes and went straight past the hospital now takes people from West Launceston 40 minutes and requires a changeover in the city. The consultation campaign was from April 'to June 2019 using letterboxing, newspaper, radio, posters and social media to advise people that a review was taking place, and passively relied on the community getting in touch with the Department, rather than proactively seeking out feedback. From this feedback five major changes were proposed. Unfortunately often it is only once change is implemented that we appreciate the difficulties and hopefully it is not too late for some tweaking to ensure the community is well catered for. I am told the changes are for the good of the community, to make it easier to catch a bus, and to take less time to get where you are going, but some people may have a longer walk. Many of the people I have spoken to don't agree, and it will be harder in some areas for elderly people especially who may have further to walk, as they can't all get taxis or community cars. What was a 100 metre or less walk to the bus may now be a 400 metre walk. That is fine for someone fit and healthy, but not for the aged, infirmed or perhaps a mum with stroller, toddlers or shopping. A quicker trip may be more attractive for some, but we can't forget those who have no option but to catch a bus and find 400 metre down hill hard, but 400 metre up hill, impossible, especially in Tasmania's colder and hotter months. Understandably, any organisation would want to review bus services that have few passengers and I am advised Metro trips are free before 7am, to encourage people to go to work earlier, thus finishing earlier meaning less cars on the road. If State Growth want to make a real impact Metro buses could be free before 9am and after 5.30pm. This would have a positive impact on our CBD and peak hour traffic with more people catching buses and less cars on the roads. Metro is a government business enterprise which operates the majority of the state's public metropolitan bus services. This imposes on them an obligation to service customers who rely on their services in the manner that is most efficient, reliable and safe. Metro must provide services to people who rely on them, even if it isn't always to a profit. After all, according to Metro's website, their values are: safety, respect, resilience, unity and service-driven. Interestingly the Metro board is currently comprised of six people, not one of which is based in the state's north or north-west. On a positive note the changes have been welcomed in some areas, and I am pleased to hear that more weekend services have been put on, as many suburbs have been disadvantaged in the past with a lack of Saturday and Sunday buses. I would urge Metro to take notice of community concern and implement changes on the new service plan where and when it disadvantages people who need the service the most and have relied on it for so long. There is still time to listen to the community and get their priorities right: servicing the community safely, reliably and respectfully. Rosemary Armitage is the Independent member for Launceston. Many people in the community I have spoken "to, especially in places that have lost or changed services, are feeling disadvantaged. Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor Rosemary Armitage MLC


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