Children and young people in regional, rural and remote NSW can access services, supports and opportunities.

The action needed

Reduce the impact of transport disadvantage on children, young people and their families by adequately funding rural, regional and remote community transport providers

Commitment to long term funding of the NSW Community Transport Program beyond June 2019, with a 20% increase in funds received by service providers each year for five years.

Deliver place-based community transport solutions

In consultation with the sector, deliver all NSW transport assistance funds more directly to communities so that local groups can together come up with ways to deploy their community transport resources efficiently and sustainably.

Extend opportunities for young people in regional NSW to be supported to learn to drive

Fund evidence-based programs such as Driving Change that support young people in regional areas to learn to drive.

Urgently address health transport barriers in regional NSW for children and their families

Extend the Isolated Patient Transport Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS):

  • Include community transport providers in eligible NSW areas.
  • Include upfront payment to service providers and clients as an option in the Scheme.
  • Expand the range of medical services covered by the scheme to include more flexibility regarding specialist mental health services and addiction treatment services.
  • Undertake an awareness campaign encouraging health services and the community to make use of the service.

More work to make fares fairer in regional and remote NSW

Fairer bus fares would positively impact people who live in regional areas and who are more likely to experience poverty and hardship compared to their metropolitan counterparts. 

  • Move to a flatter fee structure for regional bus services 

“Twice I picked up a pregnant woman hitchhiking from Coonamble to Dubbo for medical care. 

The second time she was visibly very close to giving birth and both times she was already about 5-10 km out of town.

I don’t know how this woman spent the night or how she got back to Coonamble. Either we attract more specialist medical support to smaller towns, or we need to ensure that transport and accommodation is budgeted for in cases of definite medical need.”

Mark Noonan
Catholic Care Wilcannia-Forbes

Why it is needed

The tyranny of distance means isolation and barriers to accessing social, educational and economic opportunities, services and supports.

We need focussed approaches and investment for both physical and digital access in regional, remote and rural communities. Transport and technology are crucial links for people experiencing disadvantage, and ensure that no one is left behind. With a growing range of education, information, government, and community services moving online, internet access is increasingly regarded as an essential service.1

However in NSW, community transport still does not meet the needs of regional and remote communities for physical access to supports, and people are missing out. We heard from the NSW community that meaningful access to transport can reduce social and economic exclusion, increase community and social inclusion, and indeed provide a way to gain support for digital connection.

We know that affordable housing, diversionary programsmental health supports and early childhood education and care services are only going to help alleviate poverty and disadvantage if children and their families can access them. Access to transport is not an end in itself, but a crucial link. The lack of available and suitable transport options has a compounding effect on people experiencing disadvantage in rural and regional NSW.

People living in regional and remote NSW experience higher levels of illness compared to people living in metropolitan areas.2 Children and young people living in regional and remote areas are over-represented in the child protection and youth justice system.3 Despite this, people in rural and remote areas are less likely to access health and community support services.4

All children and young people have a right to be connected with affordable housing, family and community, health and learning. The NSW Government acknowledges that transport is an essential service that is crucial to ensuring participation.5

We have heard that access to transport in regional and rural areas is a major issue; it is insufficient, overcomplicated and under-funded. At present, poor access to transport is curtailing people’s opportunities, health and quality of life. Indeed, the absence of this link can even cause unemployment, ill-health, mental illness and poverty.

Children, young people and their families are particularly vulnerable to transport disadvantage and particularly negatively affected as they seek to access the community.6 A lack of transport can make impossible the employment and education necessary for young people to become independent, contribute to their communities and build a better quality of life.

It’s complicated

There are at least nine state and federally funded transport assistance schemes operating in NSW. They are targeted at older people, people with disability, school students with disability, Veterans, isolated patients, people who are unwell and people who otherwise have limited or no access to public or private transport. Each have their own eligibility requirements of service users, and contractual obligations of service providers.

We have heard that this complicated system is inefficient and overly rigid, prescriptive and not flexible enough to address the diverse needs of communities and individuals accessing the service. Drawn out administrative processes are getting in the way of the provision of vital services.

The lack of affordable transport… means that young people in Murwillumbah are effectively shut out of community supports like Headspace and TAFE

Northern NSW Service Provider
NCOSS Regional Report, 2018

The real cost of service delivery

The relatively small and dispersed population of regional and remote communities, combined with the centralisation of health services, can make it very difficult to run a viable community transport business. In rural and remote areas, the cost of fleet maintenance is high, and current funds cannot be stretched to cover the cost of transporting people the distances they require.

Compounding this, the shut-down of the NSW Community Care Support Program and insufficient transport support funds in NDIS plans mean that charging people with disability the full gap of their travel costs may exclude them from accessing transport at all, particularly if they live in areas where distances are long. This is the case even with the recently announced $3 million to provide $10 per trip subsidy for NDIS trips. In regional areas, the blunt application of $10 to trips over large and varying distance will have little impact.

“The real cost of service delivery in remote NSW is not understood by decision-makers in Sydney. Government forget that fuel is more expensive and it takes a long time to get from place to place.”

Service Provider
Far West NSW, 2018

“The major (medical) hubs for specialists are Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Ballina, Gold Coast and Brisbane. We have clients needing to travel to these areas every day… we are subsidised around $31 per trip by the government. The average cost of a trip to Coffs Harbour from Grafton is $176 return, trips to the Gold Coast and Brisbane can run as much as $500 return. Even with multiple people in cars the cost is still prohibitive.”

Transport Service Provider
Clarence Valley Northern NSW

Insufficient options

There are not enough meaningful or accessible public transport options in regional NSW and in many cases it is not viable given the long distances and scattered populations.7 The result is unassailable pressure on community transport providers. For those who are further disadvantaged by illness or disability, isolation leads dependence on income support and poorer health outcomes.8 People in regional and remote areas are missing out on vital supports and services. The sector urgently needs reform to health and community transport that gives service providers more autonomy and flexibility to meet the needs of people living in and around regional centres. We need to address access to transport as a fundamental right for all NSW residents, in such a way that reflects each community’s unique geographic and demographic needs.

Communities have the answer

We have heard that in order for community transport to achieve its aims in regional NSW, an incoming government must work with the sector toward reform. Service providers want simplified and streamlined eligibility, and flexibility in how people access NSW-based transport programs. We heard that there must be a review of regulations governing school and other transport resources with a view to better utilising existing assets across the relevant funding buckets. Community transport programs must reflect the actual needs of the community and the real costs of providing the service, so that children and young people can be connected.

The reality of living remote

A smaller proportion of households in regional NSW do not own a car compared with Australia overall.9 Private transport, while certainly not the answer for everyone, is the only option for many people living in remote and regional areas. Young people can find it challenging to get the support they need to get their licence, especially if they do not have parents or guardians that have a car, or a licence. More needs to be done to extend opportunities for young people to be supported to learn to drive.
“I now have a full time job in Lismore thanks to the LR/MR license course, which has enabled me to support my family a lot more.”
Service User HART Services
(Home Assistance and Regional Transport)
Research shows that long term and consistent investment in local delivery of licensing support services works best.10 Services that address fines management, literacy, driving lessons, supervised driving practice and the costs associated with licensing help young people overcome the many barriers to getting their licence in regional areas. Community‐based programs are also most effective at facilitating licensing for Aboriginal people, particularly where they are culturally responsive, staffed by Aboriginal workforce and prioritise respectful communication.11 Driving Change is an excellent example of a community driven initiative that is having a positive impact on young people.
“The licence gives you your identity. A lot of people might not have a birth certificate or other ID, so once they do this, this gives them their identity back, which then allows them to plug into so many other services.
The licence is the focal point but it gives them access to everything else”

Dareton Wentworth
Driving Change

Image credit: HART Services

Fairer fares in regional and remote NSW

There are a number of reasons that public transport fares vary according to distance or between areas, but there are some good reasons to make them more consistent. IPART has acknowledged that disparity between metropolitan public transport fares and those applied in rural and regional areas makes catching public transport in these areas less attractive. in recent times, fare structures on regional busses have been simplified and fares decreased, but more can be done. 

For instance, in 2019 an adult could pay nearly $50 (maximum fare) to travel 126 sections in regional NSW, whereas the maximum bus fare in metropolitan Sydney is $4.61. By way of comparison, travelling by train from Newcastle to Sydney costs $8.96.

A move to an even flatter fee structure for regional bus services would positively impact people who live in regional areas and who are mote likely to experience poverty and hardship compared to their metropolitan counterparts.

Regional Transport Scheme in focus

We have heard that major improvements are required of the Isolated Patient Transport and Accommodation Assistance Scheme (IPTAAS) to ensure that all people travelling long distances for health services can access the support they need.

IPTAAS only covers drug and alcohol supports and inpatient mental illness to the closest specialist, despite these being significant health issues in regional areas, and health issues for which choice of support provider is important. Psychologists are not included in the program, further limiting access to services.

IPTAAS provides reimbursement only for public transport or private vehicles. This is a barrier for people who live in areas unserved by public transport, who have no car, and who are unable to pay the upfront costs of frequent long drives Further, failing to include Community Transport Providers as an eligible form of transport in IPTAAS excludes a source of income for these providers and source of transport for many.

IPTAAS is not generally well known and is underutilised.

“We generally provide fuel cards in the first instance to people who need to travel to specialist care and genuinely can’t put fuel in the tank, even though the person should be submitting a claim to IPTAAS after the trip for reimbursement. When you have people in communities on very low incomes they don’t necessarily have the $50 to $100 to fuel up. We let them know that IPTAAS is available, and that they can apply for a pre-payment if there’s more than 14 days notice… but we generally provide support on the first visit. 

Does this work in practice? Not always! I also have concerns around “double dipping” and feel that some of the people we have provided fuel cards to then go on to make an IPTAAS claim too. By not including community transport in the range of services who can access IPTAAS this will continue.”

Wee Waa Community Care Service Inc.

  1. Thomas, J., Barraket, J., Wilson, C.K., Cook, K., Louie, Y.M., Holcombe-James, I., Ewing, S., and MacDonald, T. 2018, Measuring Australia’s Digital Divide: The Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2018, RMIT University, Melbourne, for Telstra.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2017, Rural and Remote Health. Canberra (Available here) and National Rural Health Alliance. 2017, Fact Sheet: mental health in rural and remote Australia (Available here)
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2017, Rural and Remote Australians, Canberra (Available here)
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2016 Survey of Health Care, accessed 25 August 2018 (Available here)
  5. NSW Government. 2018, Transport for NSW Disability Inclusion Action Plan 2018-2022, Sydney: p.2
  6. Currie, G., Stanley, J. R. & Stanley, J. 2007, No way to go: transport and social disadvantage in Australian communities. Clayton Victoria Australia: Monash University Publishing.
  7. Australian Institute of Family Studies, The relationship between transport and disadvantage in Australia, (Available here)
  8. Australian Council of Social Service and the National Rural Health Alliance. 2013, A snapshot of poverty in regional and rural Australia, Canberra (Available here)
  9. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2016, Census of Population and Housing, Enumerated data available at (Available here), accessed 3 September 2018
  10. Clapham, K., Hunter, K. Cullen, P. Helps, Y., Senserrick, T., Byrne, J., Harrison, J. & Ivers, R. Q. 2017, Addressing the barriers to driver licensing for Aboriginal people in New South Wales and South Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 41:3 pp 280 – 286
  11. Ibid.
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