Ballina teenagers may get free summer bus
By BARRY CHEADLE
IT COULD be goodbye to long summer days stuck at home for Ballina's teenagers this Christmas break, with revolutionary plans for a summer youth bus.
The free bus would run between West Ballina and Lennox Head with drop-offs at the beach, cinema and skate parks. Eventually it would take in Alstonville, Wardell and all of Ballina and Lennox Head.
Ballina Shire Council is pricing such a scheme, which would require sponsorship.
For teenager Sarah-Rebekah Clark, 13, of Wollongbar, it would be a dream come true. "My parents work during the holidays, so I'm trapped at home," she said.
She and her friends said they would use the bus almost on a daily basis during the holidays.
"It would be really good. You could get to friends' houses and know that you have a way to get home," said Stevie Giltrap, 14, of Ballina.
"We'd use it to go the beach, visit friends and go shopping."
Already, plans for a Summer Bus have received support from bus companies and the Ballina RSL Club, Ballina councillor Peter Moore said.
However, the scheme has also attracted a warning from police that there could be safety issues, based on their experience in other locations.
Cr Moore described the idea as a positive initiative with the potential to develop into something stronger.
Cr David Wright, of Alstonville, said the Summer Bus could see a reduction in the numbers of young people hitch-hiking from the plateau centres to spend a day at the beach or attend other coastal activities.
"I think this is an absolutely fabulous thing. It has to be safer and can stop antisocial behaviour," he said.
Ballina mother Shelley
"As a parent I don't want my girls having to walk around by themselves and they're at that age when they want to be out and doing things with their friends and having a social life," she said.
"It would also save us a lot of legwork ? well, carwork ? and it's cost effective.
"The bus would also help out a lot of the elderly people who can't get out and about by themselves."
Cr Sharon Cadwallader said safety and security were issues, particularly at night. She said the scheme was a great idea, but she would like to see a business plan in regards to funding because 'this is a serious cost'.
But Cr Moore said the trial would be about public transport, not just youth issues. "I can't knock it on grounds of cost," he said.
Early cost estimates indicate the project could require about $45,000 to run.
Cr Moore said the plan would also be a positive thing for tourists and their children.
He said a successful start to the service would give bus companies the chance to lobby for government transport subsidies.
"Public transport is a major issue for youth in this region," Cr Moore said.
He compared transport costs for metropolitan youth and country youth: What might cost city youth $1.10 could cost their 'country cousins' $15.
"The service needs to be cost-effective and the council is in a great position for it to be cost-effective," he said.
Cr Moore was especially hopeful the service could be extended to Wardell, because he said it was difficult for that area's youth to gain access to public transport to facilities in Ballina.