Updated | Labor MP says on-demand buses a 'scandalous waste of money' but minister says data is outdated

The cost to the state government of the six months’ trial of on-demand buses in Sutherland Shire is more than half a million dollars.

This was revealed in Freedom of Information documents, obtained by a state Labor MP, who claims the scheme is a “scandalous waste of money”.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the data on which the claim was made was out of date and the trial had seen one of the fastest uptakes of on-demand services in the world.

Pilots in eight areas of Sydney and three in the Illawarra, Central Coast and Newcastle are due to end next month.

Transdev, which was chosen to operate on-demand buses in Sutherland Shire  said in March about 600 trips a week were being provided.

The company said the number of booked trips was increasing by about 18 per cent a week since November and had been “life changing” for some people, particularly the elderly.

Media reports early in the year said the scheme had been less successful in other areas.

Freedom of Information documents revealed the scheme cost the state government more than $7 million.

The contract for Sutherland Shire was $548,543.

Labor MP Hugh McDermott, the chair of Labor’s Wastewatch Committee, said patronage figures up until February 19 this year revealed the trial was costing taxpayers more than $180 per passenger per trip.

Dr McDermott said passengers pay between $2.60 and $5.60 for a standard trip.

[In the shire, fares are a flat fee of $2.60 for adults, and $1.30 for concession card holders – pensioners, seniors, students, and apprentices.]

“For perspective, on the wider bus network, fares typically cover 24 per cent of the journey,” Dr McDermott said.

“For Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s on-demand trial, it covers less than three per cent.

“It has turned out to be a scandalous waste of taxpayer money.”

Dr McDermott said, up till February, only 19,000 people, or fewer than 4000 people per month, were using on-demand buses.

“The trial started last October and ends next month, when it will have cost more than $7 million – more than $714,000 per month,” he said.

“While the government has hailed the plan as the future of NSW, it will go down in history alongside the bungled Light Rail project, the train timetable mess, and Ferry McFerryface as yet another Andrew Constance transport catastrophe.”

Mr Constance said the data, from February, was old.

“We’ve now had 60,000 passenger trips on on-demand,” he told 7 News.

“We’ve had one of the fastest uptakes in the world and we are running trials to see what the community response is.

“If you think about 60,000 passenger trips and having that many cars on the road, we are trying to congestion bust in Sydney.

“We’ve got to invest up front and I am willing to experiment in this way to bust congestion.” 

Earlier, a spokeswoman for Mr Constance said, “So far customers who have used on demand are telling us they love it.

“The whole point of these trials is to improve our understanding of where our customers want to go and the innovative services they’re willing to try. 

“This is clearly another public transport service that Labor just want an excuse to cancel.

“If you add that to their long list of public transport services they don’t support including Sydney Metro and increasing train frequency, it’s clear if they ever got into Government Sydney would come to a grinding holt. 

“Labor should go back to the drawing board on this one because this is just another embarrassing fumble.” 

Earlier story: