Newcastle on-demand transport service attracts only 200 passengers in opening three months

LAUNCH: Keolis Downer general manager Mark Dunlop at the launch of City of Newcastle's on-demand transport service in October. Picture: Simone De Peak
LAUNCH: Keolis Downer general manager Mark Dunlop at the launch of City of Newcastle's on-demand transport service in October. Picture: Simone De Peak

A Hunter transport analyst has called for an overhaul of Newcastle's on-demand service after the release of patronage figures which show it is barely being used.

City of Newcastle's on-demand transport, a weekday morning and afternoon shuttle between inner-city suburbs and the city centre, Hamilton's Beaumont Street or Broadmeadow train station, was launched in October with the hope it would "encourage higher levels of public transport patronage" and make for a "more pedestrian-friendly city centre".

The service operates from 6.30am to 9am, and 3.30pm to 6pm. Customers book via an app, are picked up at a nominated point and then dropped off at a selected destination.

A one-way trips costs only $3.20 and can be paid for with an Opal card or a bank card.

But after about 75 days of operation, the Newcastle Herald can reveal the service has attracted only 200 passengers.

The service, funded by a federal grant council received to invest in mobility initiatives, is operated by Keolis Downer on a $600,000 year-long contract. Despite the patronage, a City of Newcastle spokesman said it had been a "positive" start.

"More people explored the affordable transport service following the summer holidays, with 100 riders registering in January to take the total number of registered users to 217," he said.

"At $3.20 per ride, we expect passenger numbers to increase with the return of university students and as more people become aware of the service and its convenience."

The Herald asked if the service might be discontinued given the patronage, but with a 12-month contract locked in that appears unlikely.

"Evidence from other on-demand trials, such as the Newcastle Transport Lake Macquarie on-demand service, suggests that patronage takes time to build," the council spokesman said.

While much cheaper than a taxi or ride-sharing fare, the $3.20 cost is slightly more expensive than using existing bus routes.

The pick-up and destination zones could also be considered walking or cycling distance of each other.

Newcastle-based transport analyst Ron Brown said the service was "skewed to the south" of the city and offered a small pool of potential customers.

"The Newcastle scheme focuses on commuter trips," he said.

"They might attract more interest if they included an area within five kiliometres of the CBD and took in areas such as Carrington, Wickham, Islington, Hamilton, Broadmeadow, Lambton, Waratah and Mayfield."

He said the service appeared to have had little advertising and needed targeted promotion at city workers.

"I'm surprised they've invested that much," he said. "I would have thought that a pilot over a couple of months might have been a better strategy."

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