Community Bus trial aiming to avoid past failures

Community Bus trial

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Jimmy Gill from Excellence Coaches has volunteered his business to assist people with Transport Disabilities. Image: Jereme Lane
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A subsidised community bus service will be trialled across Douglas this month to give ‘transport-disadvantaged’ community members greater access to local libraries, shopping, medical and community centres.

The service will only be available to members of the public aged between 18-64 that have a disability, a chronic-health issue, mental-health issue or limited access to transport due to financial or geographical barriers.

The trial is a collaboration between TransitCare and Douglas Shire community service groups, and has already commenced.

TransitCare is a not for profit organisation that provides transport and social services to over 20,000 clients in Queensland to ensure that they can remain living independently in their own home within the community.

The Brisbane-based NGO opened an office in Cairns in January of this year and shortly after, was contacted by the Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre who enquired about the service. The team looked into what it would take to establish a service in the Douglas Shire.

“It very quickly became evident that a service in Douglas Shire was unfeasible from a financial perspective with most private operators declining to offer the service on this ground,” Cairns Branch Manager, Anna Harrison, told Newsport.

The only coach service provider that agreed to the trial was Excellence Coaches and, according to Harrison, this was done purely as an opportunity to give back to the community.

“This is a break-even scenario at the absolute best, and Excellence has agreed to the trial knowing that there might be a loss involved,” she said.

The initial trial period will run for 3 weeks, with the service operating Monday to Friday in business hours.

At this stage the trial will not be open to seniors however that is something that TransitCare is hoping to change.

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“TransitCare has applied to the Department of Health for federal funding which will result in subsidised transport for those aged 65 and over, but for now, we can only accept expressions of interest from those belonging to the senior cohort,” Harrison said.

Jimmy Gill from Excellence Coaches agreed that this was not a money-making exercise but said he was happy to help out the community.

“This is about helping people get to work, get to medical appointments, do their shopping, etc.” he said.

Mr Gill was keen to deflect attention away from himself and instead wanted to highlight the great work of TransitCare.

“There is no money for this, TransitCare has diverted funds from other projects to enable this to go ahead but hopefully we can use this trial as a way to push the government for some money for this type of service,” he said.

This is not the first trial of this type of service in Douglas Shire and for this one to go differently to previous trials something has to change. The general consensus is that in the past everyone has wanted a bus service but not enough people used it to make it viable.

Erica Mast from Mossman Support Services told Newsport that the major difference between this trial and similar yet unsuccessful trials is that this one is completely by appointment only.

“In the past where bus services have been run, they have been run using a public bus model with a set timetable. Because of the size and shape of Douglas Shire where the majority of people are coming from the edges to the centre, one of the problems that we found was that often people would get picked up at the bus stop by a friend or neighbour and when the bus arrived nobody was there to use it, Mast said.”

Mast stressed that this was only a trial and anyone that wished to contribute or volunteer would be very welcome to do so.

“This doesn’t belong to anyone except the residents of the Douglas Shire. Council has done us a solid by agreeing to advertise it and help with enquiries and TransitCare are subsidising it but this is only a trial and if anyone wants to help out they are most welcome”.

The service will operate across 3 zones, with an additional drop-off only zone:

  • Wonga Zone – Includes the residential areas of Wonga Beach, Whyanbeel, and up to the Daintree River Crossing.
  • Mossman Zone – Includes the residential areas of Killaloe, Cassowary, Shannonvale, Cooya Beach, Mossman, Mossman Gorge, Newell Beach, Miallo and Rocky Point and , and up to the Wonga Beach zone.
  • Port Douglas Zone – includes residential areas of Oak Beach, Mowbray, Craiglie, Port Douglas, and up to the Mossman Zone.
  • An additional drop off zone stretching from Port Douglas to Palm Cove. Return trips from this zone are negotiable depending on driver availability.

Subsidised travel fees are applied based on travel throughout zones. Travel within your pick-up zone will be $2, and travel to subsequent zones is charged at a subsidised fee (see table below).

Given remote locations included in the trial, pick up and drop off points may be established to ensure a feasible operation of the service.

Securing this service beyond the trial period will be dependent on support and intake during the trial period.

An affordable contribution for services will be determined by distance travelled noting that TransitCare has a hardship policy in place for those unable to meet costs.

Pre-registration for the service is essential and can be done through the library, community service organisations or Council.

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