How Keolis Downer is transforming Newcastle in Australia

Since Keolis Downer started operating Newcastle’s multimodal transport system in 2017, our Australian subsidiary has continuously improved the mobility network, making it easier for people to travel around. The introduction of the light rail service in 2019 has greatly transformed the city center.

Newcastle city, set on a peninsula just two hours from Sydney in New South Wales (NSW), was suffering from an inadequately used public transport network that needed to be redesigned. “Transport for NSW, our Public Transport Authority, had two main objectives: make public transport more attractive to citizens and shape a transport system that would revitalize the city”, explains Tegan Hughes, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Keolis Downer. “They were looking for an operator capable of bringing a new transport experience to citizens and of operating an integrated transport solution, including buses, ferries and light rail. Keolis Downer came up with the best solutions for the Newcastle community and won a 10-year contract in December 2016.”

Making the city more livable and sustainable 

While increased bus and ferry services, extended hours and better connections between transport modes were a genuine improvement, it was the light rail launch in 2019 that truly transformed the city. It greatly contributed to revitalize Newcastle by making it easier for people to get around the city and travel to activity hubs, shopping centers and the waterfront. “The light rail eases connections with bus, ferry and train services and makes Newcastle’s system truly multimodal and integrated”, says Tegan Hughes. “We now provide passengers with a seamless multimodal transport experience and a door-to-door journey. The light rail plays a key part in reinvigorating the city by providing better transport to key areas and also by supporting major events such as Supercars or New Year’s Eve.” In the first 12 months of operation, over 1.2 million passenger trips were recorded on the light rail. Even though the pandemic did see a reduction in passenger numbers, it is expected the popularity of light rail and ridership will only increase. 

Engaging the community

From day one, Keolis Downer worked closely with Transport for NSW and the community to design the best network. “With Transport for NSW, we share the same customer-centric approach”, said Tegan Hughes. “Keolis launched numerous community engagement initiatives to involve citizens in the initial network redesign and we continue to listen to customer feedback to constantly review and improve the transport network.” In a bid to deliver the best customer service and build community trust, Keolis has also opened a Transport Hub which is dedicated to customer service and community engagement. At the Transport Hub, people can get network information, talk to a Customer Service Officer and give their feedback.

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Working hand-in-hand with Transport for New South Wales to address challenges together

These major outcomes have strengthened the partnership between Keolis Downer and Transport for NSW, which has always been very supportive. “Launching a brand-new light rail system from scratch and improving the bus and ferry networks was not without its challenges and we overcame the difficulties we encountered together, explains Tegan Hughes. Encouraging people to experience public transport is still a big challenge in Australia! Cars are very popular, and, in most households, people have two cars. Our frequent bus services, reach over 37 % of Novocastrians, and have the ability to encourage people to leave the car at home and try public transport!” Next up on Newcastle city’s agenda is the transition to zero-emission buses. Keolis Downer will work on this major step in support of Transport for NSW.

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The Keolis touch – Always listening to passengers

Community engagement and customer service play a vital role in delivering continuously improved transport solutions. Through its community engagement programs, Keolis Downer gives local residents the opportunity to give their feedback and help to improve public transport services. Keolis Downer also uses smart data analytics to monitor mobility trends and “Keoscopie”, Keolis’ prospective research and analysis process.