Nightmare on (the 891 buses and) High Street

By Jack McNally

It’s Tuesday. I’ve just finished nine hours of class, and want nothing more than to crawl into bed. Instead, I wait in the line for an 891 for 45 minutes in the rain – the line extends up the footpath from Gate 3, past the Colombo Theatres and into the Quad. By the time I get to my home station, I’ve missed the last bus home. It’s not raining anymore, but it’s still a muddy, 30-minute walk. Nearly three hours after leaving UNSW, I reach my front door.

Time I left class: 6pm

Time I got home: 8:45pm

Distance from UNSW to home: 30km

The feeling you get from a 2+ hour commute: Priceless

The same journey, just four months ago (and before the construction of the South East Light Rail began on Anzac Parade), took me just over an hour.

And it’s not just students from the suburbs feeling the pain, with 400, 370 and M50 buses consistently too full to pick up students living in the Inner West and City at the Gate 2 bus stops (The M50 won’t even be stopping near UNSW once Light Rail construction begins on High Street tonight).

Not only is the new Gate 3, 891 bus stop severely under-resourced, but it also provides no shelter for students who have no other way home than to weather the elements – rain, hail or shine. Transport for NSW and the University are failing to provide adequate and safe public transport options for students … and it’s only going to get worse.

In an email sent to students on 29 March, the University confirmed that from 10pm on 31 March, High Street will shut between Clara Street and Avoca Street. As a result, the Gate 9 bus stop will close, the 348, 370, 400, 410, 418 and M50 buses will take significantly altered routes, and a large amount of street parking will cease to exist. Traffic is set to worsen and the new Gates 3 and 8 bus stops will become further swamped with students just wanting to get home.

The University and Transport for NSW have advised students to “plan ahead and allow plenty of extra travel time”, but have made no commitment to increase the amount of buses to service UNSW students affected by the construction of the South East Light Rail, which isn’t due to be completed until 2019.

For me, these changes mean spending less time on campus with friends, less time attending extra-curricular events, and an increased likelihood of choosing courses next semester that minimise my time on campus, rather than those I actually want to study. It means that my quality of life on campus will decrease.

For those students living further afield than I do – including those in the Illawarra, Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Northern Beaches – this increase in wait time could mean the difference between attending UNSW or not.

The UNSW SRC, the peak representative body for students on campus, has recently started a campaign, calling upon the NSW Government and University to rectify these issues. They’re calling for increased shelter for students waiting for buses, and for Transport for NSW and the University to work to improve capacity to ensure students aren’t waiting for significant periods just to get home.

The SRC is taking this fight to the NSW Parliament, and are collecting signatures at 891 bus lines and Arc Reception. This is a real, tangible way to have your voice heard, and brought to the attention of the Government.

Though the Government and the University are selling the narrative that the Light Rail will increase capacity in the long-term (a claim that is disputed), asking students simply to “allow plenty of extra travel time” and suck it up in the short-term simply isn’t enough. It’s a cop-out.

Jack McNally is currently an elected Councillor serving on the UNSW SRC, and is involved in the campaign mentioned within this article.

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