All aboard the new city to coast bus
AN HOUR after stepping on to a public bus in downtown Lismore, I was walking on the sand at Byron Bay, about to dive into the clear blue water on a perfect summer day.
If you live in Lismore and surrounds, can't or don't want to drive, and feel like some sun sand and saltwater (or boutique shopping), the new express bus service between Lismore and Byron is for you.
Blanch's Bus Company is undertaking a six-month trial of two new express services between the towns, one running from Byron via Lennox Head and Ballina to Lismore by 8.40am, and the other from Lismore via Bangalow to Byron by 10am.
On this day I am catching the latter "hinterland" service from Lismore via Bangalow to Byron, the 641X, boarding the Lismore Transit Centre at 9.05am.
I'm disappointed to see the bus is empty except for one other passenger, Jessie, an elderly lady who is returning home to Byron Bay after doing some shopping in Lismore.
Where are all the people crying out for better public transport?
Jessie tells me that she catches the bus regularly since it started on December 4, because she enjoys coming into Lismore to shop "when it's not too hot".
While I'm sad that Jessie and I are the only two passengers on this day, driver Jeffrey Moy assures me that the service has been very popular since it was launched on December 4.
"You should have been here yesterday," he tells me. "I took a whole lot of kids to Byron Bay for the day."
And that's exactly what I'm planning. Nothing like a dip in the ocean to cleanse the soul.
We set off and within minutes are cruising at speed along Bangalow Rd.
The bus stops at Bexhill and Clunes are brief, with no takers.
We're in Bangalow within 30 minutes. Again no takers.
The bus heads east down Old Bangalow Rd via Hayter's Hill into Byron, bypassing the dreaded traffic on Ewingsdale Rd. The downside is the pothole count is triple.
(Byron Shire Council are in the middle of an upgrade of that section of road and are spending $506,000 on fixing it in 2017-18).
It's a bumpy, rattly ride.
I agree it lacks the romance and smoothness of the train, but let's face it, the train is not coming back.
We pull up in Byron Bay Transit Centre at 10am, less than an hour after I stepped on.
I can't wait to hit the beach.
Mr Moy says his busiest trips have been the afternoon services returning to Lismore from Byron. He also says the express commuter service is popular on the Ballina to Lismore stretch, because it doesn't deviate into Wollongbar or Alstonville.
"Everyone that uses it loves it," he says.
"I leave Ballina at 8am and I'm at the Lismore Square at 8.35am, and 8.40am at the (Lismore) Transit Centre."
He agrees he has noticed people whingeing online about bring the trains back, but his response is: "They've just got to get it into their head that it's not coming back."
Regardless of the means, there is something magical about public transport that's a world apart from gripping a steering wheel at 110kmh an hour.
Yes, the bus is a bit old, it rattles loudly and is incredibly bumpy at times - a coach would be preferable, but not affordable.
And I love the fact I'm stuck in Byron for the day, which means I don't have to be anywhere, because I can't. Instead, I can only do one thing - relax.
That's the beauty of public transport - it forces you to slow down.
I leave this message for any parents or seniors who are wondering what to do with themselves or their children on a summer's day.
Try the bus. You'll be surprised at how refreshing it is.
As the old saying goes, use it or lose it.
Morning "coastal bus" departs Byron Bay at 7.20am, and arrives in Lismore via Lennox Head and Ballina at 8.40am.
"Hinterland" bus departs Lismore at 9.05am, and arrives in Byron Bay via Bangalow Rd at 10am.
Return "hinterland" bus departs Byron Bay at 3.55pm, returns to Lismore at 5pm.
Return "coastal" express departs Lismore at 5.15pm, returns to Byron Bay at 6.30pm.
*See blanches.com.au for specific stops and times.
Adults: $12 all day anywhere, $6.60 one way
Concession/child: $6.60 return, $3.30 one way
Pensioners/seniors: $2.50 all day anywhere
If you're taking a day trip to Byron, take snacks, a hat, sunglasses, towel and bathers. You can always drop into the $5 million Byron library if you need a quiet, air conditioned place for an hour or two.
The latter, "hinterland" service returns at 5pm to Lismore, which is when the commuter service departs.
They are in fact the same bus, so anyone living in Goonellabah can jump on the commuter bus in the morning and catch it down to Lismore before it turns around.
It's a perfect option for teens who are getting bored at home and are independent enough to catch public transport alone and spend the day in Byron.
It runs on weekdays only, departing Lismore Transit Centre at 9.05am and boarding at Byron Bay Transit Centre for the return trip at 3.55pm, back by 5pm.
There was only me and one other person the entire trip.