The daily life of Melanie Hopkins and her 18-year-old son, Tom, is dictated by meagre local public transport services. Mr Hopkins, who has cerebral palsy, can't travel to a job and go out with friends to the beach or movies on the NSW South Coast. Even grocery shopping is a struggle. "If you buy frozen food and wait an hour for transport it will melt by the time you get home," Ms Hopkins said. "Going to the shops can take a whole day by the time you wait for buses." When Mr Hopkins went to apply for a job in Batemans Bay, a 30-minute drive north of his home in Moruya, he realised bus scheduling would stop him from getting to and from work in time. "If there were more buses running, Tom could work which could financially help him and get him started in life," Ms Hopkins said. "It would give him confidence and self-esteem." I waited half an hour to meet Mrs Hopkins in the office of her son's disability support provider, roundsquared, because she couldn't get transport to the centre and rain stopped her from walking. She had once been too nervous to drive but started learning when she recognised it was a necessity in regional areas. There were no buses travelling within her hometown and Ms Hopkins said taxis were only available after 9am, before 4pm and not between the school rush hour of 2pm to 3pm. "It is frustrating and annoying. I would like to see [Tom] moving ahead but it is holding him back," she said. "It's unfair on young people in the community to not be able to get to the things they want to." Roundsquared provides support for disabled people all across regional NSW and founding director Helen Fisher said many of their clients didn't have the resources or ability to own a car. Most clients rely on disability support for transport. "This excludes people with disabilities from being able to access their community, whether it's accessing employment, social activities or simply shopping," Ms Fisher said. "This places people with disabilities in rural and regional areas at an even greater disadvantage." A scarcity of public transport affects young people across regional NSW every day. Dr Geoffrey Clifton, a senior lecturer in transport and logistics management, said anyone without a car living outside a metropolis was "transport deprived". "Most people living in rural and regional areas will not be able to rely on public transport for all their day-to-day needs," he said. "You either have to do without, rely on friends and family with cars or change your life to live around the available transport." The University of Sydney academic said society's most vulnerable - young people learning to drive, the disabled and the elderly - were most affected. "The vulnerable living in rural and regional areas are at a big risk of ending up socially isolated, simply because it's so much harder to get around in country areas unless you've got access to a vehicle," he said. For young people living in the NSW regions access to transport can shape their life and career choices. When aspiring primary school teacher Georgia Rohrich was choosing where to go to university, she said public transport availability and campus accessibility were "everything". Living in the Upper Hunter town of Muswellbrook, the 20-year-old decided to forgo face-to-face learning in favour of an online degree because commuting on public transport was "really not worth it". There are just four trains to Newcastle each day from Muswellbrook. During high school Ms Rohrich used the service to the coast for extra-curricular and school excursions but the experience was a big deterrent. Students would leave home at 6.20am and not return until after 7pm. "We'd be waiting around the station for two hours after our activities because there was no other way home," she said. "By the end of high school, we were so sick of it." She was desperate to get her driver's licence as soon as possible. "You just get your licence as fast as you can, then take yourself," Ms Rohrich said. "I just drive everywhere now. That's what everyone does. "All my friends can drive and, if not, their parents just drive them places. "I wouldn't bother going out if I couldn't drive. I don't think it would be worth the hassle." As research for this story I decided to leave my car at home and commute to work by bus. I was a cyclist and bus commuter before I moved to Eurobodalla and bought my own car. According to the 2021 Census, 9.5 per cent of people under 30 living in greater Sydney commute on public transport. Outside the metropolis, this figure drops to just 1.7 per cent. According to Google Maps the closest bus stop to my house is a 1.6 kilometre walk away. The bus stop had a single A4 printed timetable and there was no way to tell if the bus was running early or late. Luckily I was ready when the bus came early. Missing it would have led to a one hour wait for the next bus being 50 minutes late to work. The bus driver looked at me quizzically when I pulled out my phone to "tap on'". Tickets are cash only. Sydney university's Dr Clifford said NSW was "lagging behind other states" in the rollout of a tap payment system to country areas like Sydney's Opal card. My bus was carrying a dozen school-aged children and more gradually boarded. Dr Clifford said school students were the backbone of the public transport sector in regional NSW. They travel for free funded by the NSW government. When all the school children hopped off my bus it was empty, except for me. Public transport can have environmental benefits by reducing emissions produced by individual cars. But "if the buses [are] running around the countryside empty then it's not very environmentally friendly", Dr Clifford said. For me, time was the biggest cost of catching public transport to work. Millennials are the biggest age group moving to regional Australia, according to the Regional Australia Institute's Regional Movers Index. In NSW, the pre-pandemic median age of people fleeing the city was 38. Now it is 33. The report attributed this to younger people pursuing a better lifestyle. Like many people living in regional and rural areas, natural beauty and lifestyle were major attractions for me. I surf before work, snorkel after, and kayak on weekends. This is only possible because I have a 15 minute commute to work in my car. To catch a bus I left home one hour earlier, skipped my morning surf, and arrived at the office 20 minutes early. The time constraints of public transport mean it is not viable if the joys of regional living are to be exploited. Ms Rohrich and the Hopkinses want the same thing: more services, to more places, running more frequently. Dr Clifford said public transport in the regions was a chicken or egg problem. "Unless more people use public transport governments won't be able to provide the high level of service which attracts more people to use public transport. We end up in that vicious cycle," he said. "Unless you have fairly short distances and high populations it's just not financially viable." Community transport services could help fill the gap by maximising resources to create coherent local transport networks, but they needed to be streamlined. With a state election just weeks away, Dr Clifford said people living in regional areas could also lobby their government to "not be left behind". "Remind them transport in regional and rural areas is important for the future," he said. When do "young people" become old enough and wise enough to make decisions for themselves? Too often young people are talked about. People of my parents' age tell me what's best for the future of NSW as if I'm not in the room. Photos of young people voting on election day in wet swimmers and thongs after a surf might give the impression we don't give a damn about politics. Well, I damn well do. And so do the other 1.34 million voters aged 18-35 in the state. We care about politics because we care about our livelihoods, our quality of life and our future. We are here, we care, and we vote.