STATE MPs may be guaranteeing continued funding to Goulburn Mulwaree and the Upper Lachlan Shire for a community transport service, but it seems doubtful that it will be provided by the Council.
Goulburn and District Community Transport has serviced the region for more than 20 years, however it has become increasingly unviable in recent times.
Despite government funding it has cost ratepayers between $30,000 and $50,000 a year to keep the service operational.
Last December the Council told Transport for NSW that it could no longer afford to provide the service unless it received an extra $113,678.47 annually.
The department last week told the Post it was processing the request. Yet Member for Goulburn Pru Goward says other options are being explored.
“Council doesn’t feel it is receiving enough money. The department and the ministry have been working with them for a long time now but they got to a point where they felt they could no longer do it and I gather we are in the process of finding an alternative provider,” she said.
Ms Goward believed community transport was an essential service and said that was why her government had invested an extra $2million state-wide last year. Of that, Goulburn Mulwaree received just $2000.
She has also followed up with the Minister for Transport and received a guarantee that regardless of the outcome with Council, the service would continue.
“You can go to other contractors. I have been to other areas where local government doesn’t provide community transport, where a charity does or a non-government organisation does. So there are plenty of options…” she said.
“My understanding is that ‘a service’ will continue and that it is just a question of who will provide that service. I don’t think Council minds if they don’t do it.
“You know there are a number of other community transport providers in Goulburn.
I don’t think they desperately want to do it. I think they want to do it for the price they think is affordable for them and our job is to make sure there is community transport and we think we can do it for the price that we have been paying.”
Ms Goward recognised that community transport saved money in the long run and that providing it was costly, especially in remote areas. However, she did not believe the geographic disadvantage of some of the Upper Lachlan Shires outer villages made them any more entitled than anyone else.
“I suspect we are no more in need of additional services than Brewarrina or Bourke,” she said.
“NSW is a very spread out state with lots of small communities in it and it is expensive everywhere.
Regional NSW is a very expensive area to service but that is the government’s commitment. We do service it and there will be a service here.”
Burrinjuck MP Katrina Hodgkinson said Goulburn and District Community Transport had provided a good and reliable service for many years, assisting hundreds of her constituents. She praised the efforts of its volunteer drivers.
“Last year I made personal representations to the Minister for Transport on behalf of Goulburn Mulwaree Council regarding the continuing cost of providing this service.
Following my representations Transport for NSW has continued to work with Goulburn Mulwaree Council to assist it to maintain client service levels and achieve financial sustainability,” she said.
“Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s request for extra funding is still being considered by Transport for NSW. I have received assurances from Transport for NSW that regardless of the outcome of Council’s request the local community will still receive the community transport services they rely on.
“Last year the NSW Government announced additional funding of $12m, over four years, for community transport organisations across the state.”
• AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE
IF the state government fails to provide adequate community transport it will lead to more hospital admissions, financial hardship and a loss of independence for the frail, elderly and people with a disability, say two dedicated volunteers.
Gary Miller and Gwen Raymond (pictured) both donate their time each week to transport needy people around the district.
Gwen has been a volunteer for 16 years, working periodically over the last 23 years, and Gary has been giving up his time for two years (he worked as community transport driver in Wollongong for six years for before that).
The pair believe the service they provide is essential and say their clients will be greatly disadvantaged if it disappears.
“I have got a guy that I take to Bowral who has Parkinson’s disease who is in a wheelchair.
He has to go to a specialist once a month,” Mr Miller said.
“I have another guy who lives out at Parkesbourne who has macular degeneration. He can hardly see and lives alone. He comes in once a week to do his shopping. I have another lady who lives out at Marulan. She has MS and is in a wheelchair and comes in to do her shopping… If there wasn’t a service like this available these people would have nothing.
“The guy out in Parkesbourne, it costs him $70 to catch a taxi into town, so that is $140 both ways. It’s ridiculous.”
Gwen agreed saying a loss of community transport would ultimately mean a loss of independence and could have a devastating personal effect on clients.
“There are so many people out there who can’t use public transport because of a disability who need a bus like this that does out to home (transport).
Otherwise, they would just be stuck at home in their wheelchairs,” she said.
“For some of these people the only other alternative they have is going into a nursing home. I think that we should try everything to keep them in their own homes, if possible, and if we can continue to provide this service, in this way, we can do that.”
Both Gary and Gwen say they hope compassion is placed above economics to ensure this service continues.