USE US OR LOSE US: FNQ Bus Lines to continue Douglas, Cairns bus service for remainder of year

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David Gardiner

Journalist

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Public bus services to Cairns will be trialled until December year to fully gauge local support. Picture: Submitted

The Douglas-based company behind the area’s first regular public bus service to Cairns has said they will keep trialling the initiative for the rest of year.

FNQ Bus Lines started allowing public passengers on its regular, weekday school bus runs from Mossman and Port Douglas into James Cook University and Cairns City about three weeks ago.

The company’s operations manager, Mark Johnson, said there has been an “encouraging” response from the public in using the services – but he would still like to see more people travelling regularly so that the new timetable can be sustainable in the long-term.

The public services can only run during school days because they are shared with school passengers – and without the number of school students who use the buses, particularly from Newman College at Smithfield, they would simply not be viable. 

“Uptake from locals is slow, but it’s happening,” Mr Johnson told Newsport, adding that while the public services aren’t a success yet – the support is gradually picking up. 

“We do have some TAFE travellers. I’ve just had a gentleman call me 10 minutes ago, and partner to go to Cairns next Friday to go pick a car up.”

No subsidies 

Mr Johnson has pointed out that despite what some people might have believed, the public service is not in any way being subsidised by the state government or Douglas Council.

The cost is entirely being carried by FNQ Bus Lines, which needs the proverbial ‘bums on seats’ to make it viable and permanent. 

“We have to use it, or it’s not viable, and that point is valid,” he said. 

“At the moment it pays for itself to get to Smithfield, but that leg from Smithfield to Cairns including TAFE, isn’t. So yes, we’ll run it, we’re not losing money, we’re just not making as much.”

Minor Highway delays

Two buses leave to take school kids to Cairns in the morning, and return to Douglas after school. Because the Captain Cook Highway remains just one lane in a couple of spots as repairs continue from Cyclone Jasper, there have been minor delays to the timetable – but not near as disruptive as FNQ Bus Lines originally expected.

“The first bus, the one that goes via Port Douglas now, is due in there at 7.45am – it’s getting there at about 8.00,” Mr Johnson said, “and the bus that goes via Wonga and Mossman is due at about 8.00 – it’s getting in at about 8.15.”

“Now I believe their (Newman College) bell is at about 8.20, they’d rather we were there before 8.15. But even if we’re there at 8.20, I don’t think their classes start ‘til 8.30. It’s minimum disruption, let’s put it that way.”

“For some reason, I don’t know why, we’re having a better run on the home trip. So the bus is due into Port Douglas at about 4.30, and quite often it’s getting in there at about 4.30. We’re only running the school, rather than with everybody coming home from work.”

The company has paid tribute to road workers for their efforts in fixing the devastating damage along the highway, and their ongoing work towards getting the second lane re-opened.

“Everything I see and hear from our drivers is that they’re working at an unbelievably quick rate – they’re doing a job that they couldn’t believe they’d get done, so I’m hoping that maybe, we might see it finished before the end of the first term.”