Case study: Local councils and community transport

Two regional councils are taking different approaches to improve community transport in their municipalities.

Improve community transport in their municipalities

Golden Plains Shire is undertaking a comprehensive study of local transport options to support future investment in transport, while Mount Alexander Shire is piloting a community wellbeing bus to connect residents with facilities and services not available within the Shire.

Conducted by an independent external consultant, the Golden Plains Shire Transport Connections Study is identifying ways to address transport-related social exclusion, health and well-being, particularly for youth, older people and people with disabilities. It will benchmark the current transport options and identify gaps, opportunities, challenges and community transport needs within the Shire.

The study will also examine the costs, purpose and destinations of existing services, service patronage and user demographics, key barriers and how services are promoted. This will inform Council’s transport advocacy and design of community transport services as part of a cohesive network.

The study will draw on data and feedback from the Golden Plains Community Bus trial, which ran from July to December 2021. The bus service operated every Tuesday to and from Geelong waterfront via Teesdale, Inverleigh, Shelford, Bannockburn and Batesford. On Thursdays, the bus service travelled to and from Delacombe town centre and Wendouree in Ballarat, via Linton, Scarsdale and Smythesdale.

Cr Gavin Gamble, Golden Plains Shire Mayor, said that Council has heard a lot from residents about the need for improved transport options and connections between Bannockburn, Geelong and Ballarat.

“Our younger people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people wishing to reduce transport carbon emissions are the main groups requesting better public transport provision,” he said. “There are also non-drivers who still need to get to work, services, or job interviews, and value their independence.”

The Transport Connections Study is running until September 2022 and will help to increase community and stakeholder awareness of transport options, identify the needs created by population growth and provide a solid evidence base for advocacy and investment.

Mount Alexander Shire Council is taking a different tack to promote health and social inclusion through its community wellbeing bus service pilot, which connects eligible residents to facilities and services outside the Shire.

Residents who are unable to access a car or use public transport can travel on the 11-seater, wheelchair-accessible bus to the Gurri Wanyarra Wellbeing Centre in Kangaroo Flat. The centre offers aquatic, leisure and wellness programs, including access to a 50-metre heated pool, fitness classes, health club, café, spa and sauna. These facilities are not available or accessible within Mount Alexander Shire.

Maree Edwards, Bendigo West MP, said that many people in the Shire feel disconnected through disability or age.

“The bus pilot provides residents with physical and mental health outcomes, as well as social engagement opportunities,” she said.

Significantly, the pilot will help Council evaluate whether this type of bus service meets the needs of the community for access to an aquatic centre, or whether investment into the construction of a centre closer to home is justified.

Ensuring good transport connectivity and access to health, education, employment and other services helps to improve the liveability and sustainability of smaller communities, and the wellbeing of residents. Providing access from neighbouring communities to expanded facilities can be a viable alternative to larger-scale investment.