So after living in Canberra for 5 years without owning a car I have experienced the best and the worst that our public transport network – ACTION has to offer. Generally ACTION provides a good network but there are things about it that are lacking. I have come up with a list of 10 things that I think ACTION can do to improve their service. I reckon all things on this list are financially viable although perhaps not all straight away. I live and work Northside so there is a bias as I am unaware of many issues that Southsiders face. Perhaps someone from Tuggeranong could chip in a few ideas to help improve services down south. As unlikely as it is to happen, I hope someone in government reads this and some of these changes start happening.
- Have some sort of service on Sunday nights. Currently there is no bus after 8pm on Sunday/Public Holidays. Now I understand that services on Sunday nights will be costly as drivers and security have to be paid Sunday rates. But having the route 900 run half hourly with connecting shuttles (hourly) to/from Gungahlin via Dickson, Manuka/Kingston and Weston would not cost a huge amount and provide a usable service for shift workers, people travelling home from church as well as travellers arriving back in Canberra after a weekend away
- Introduce a trial Belconnen – Woden Express bus. Yes I am aware that there is route 749. But this route runs 4 times per day in each direction. My proposal would be a trial bus running half hourly directly between Belconnen and Woden (via the parkway) in each direction between 8am and 5pm. Such a trial should last 6 months to gauge its viability. If successful, this should be introduced permanently.
- Buses to/from Gungahlin on weekends are pathetic. 3 buses an hour, 2 of them taking the longest possible route. Buses to/from Manuka are also pathetic. I propose a half hourly route from Gungahlin to Kingston via Dickson, City and Manuka. This route should be half hourly all day. If this is added, route 951 from Belconnen should terminate at Gungahlin as it uses the route I am proposing.
- Market themselves better. Although that generally the system is good, it can be hard to get your head around the network. While the Google Maps app addresses this (slightly), I still think that having a message on their website advising people that a slightly longer walk to the main road instead of the suburban route will make a trip significantly quicker, will help people realise that the ACTION bus network is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be.
- NXTBUS. This real time information system has so much potential but so far has left much to be desired. Before I go on, it should be noted that the system is in trial mode and that it is not expected to be fully operational until later this year. But I have still noticed so many faults with the system that means NXTBUS deserves its own sublist:a) Times on board the bus are often completely wrong. I was on a bus going past University of Canberra heading into Belconnen. This takes no more than 6 minutes. The onscreen board was saying it would be a 17 minute ride. This was because the bus was running (very) early and the system was basing its figures off the timetable, not where we actually were at that point in time. This is happening consistently. Will hopefully be fixed before the full rollout is complete.b) On board screen display – If I am on route 56 heading out of Belconnen, why do I need to know that it will arrive in civic in 58 minutes time? If I was going to civic, I wouldn’t go via Gungahlin. Similarly if I am heading on any 300 southbound out of Belconnen, why do I need to know that the bus will terminate at Lanyon in 64 minutes time? Wouldn’t an ETA for Civic, Woden or Tuggers be more helpful? A much better system would be to state the next three stops (as is currently done) and then state the next major destination (Belconnen, City, Gungahlin, Woden, Tuggeranong or End of the route if none of these are applicable)
c) Volume – A voiceover telling me that the next bus stop is Albert Hall is fine. Having it blasted throughout the bus is not. I complained to a driver who advised me that he couldn’t control the volume. He sounded quite displeased as he was forced to have it on all day and it was sending him deaf. I have since heard rumours about ACTION trying to find a way to stop drivers turning the NXTBUS system off. Perhaps if ACTION installed a system that was WHS compliant in the first place, drivers wouldn’t turn it off?
d) Screens at civic. The screens at civic are meant to show where the next buses are heading to and how long until they arrive at the interchange. The screens are two sided. Some routes appear on one side and other routes on the other side. While this idea is a good one, there is no logical reason behind what route is on what side. Is it really that hard to put northbound services on one side and southbound services on the other?
e) Stop lookup – With NXTBUS, you are able to text in your stop number and you get an automatic reply with when the next buses are due. This is a fantastic service I use multiple times each day. The only catch is, you need to know your stop number. The stop number is listed at every bus stop across the city but there is no way to look up the stop number if you aren’t at your stop. An online database where you can look up your stop number or an app which tells you would make this a much more practical task. I carry around a piece of paper in my bag a list of the 10 stops I use most and their numbers. I use it as depending what bus is coming when depends where I decide to get off to transfer to my next bus. If I was able to access stop numbers from an online database and/or app, things would be much more practical
- Security at Civic interchange – I never feel unsafe anywhere on public transport. But I don’t appreciate being abused by people in civic because I won’t donate to their “charity” (many of which are actually questionable) or because I won’t give them $2 “for the bus” when it is obvious they are scabbing money off people for smokes. This only ever happens in daylight. I suppose security can only patrol the interchange which means such people would just shift on over to Garema Place. But at least then they are easier to avoid. This issue may be more related to ACT Government. But given how much ACTION and ACT Government are interlinked, ACTION could help with this issue if they want.
- Increase bus fares by zone ticketing. Right now public transport fares in Canberra are reasonable but those that travel across town regularly (like myself) should be made to pay more. Why should a pensioner getting bread and milk from the local store in Dickson pay the same bus fare as someone like me who travels halfway across the city for work/leisure? Some sort of zoned ticketing should be easily integrated into the fare structure – Say a Northside zone and a Southside zone. Travel within your zone is cheaper. If you cross into the opposite zone, you pay more. ANU, Barton, Russell and Civic should be a part of both zones so all people travelling to these areas (which are the main employment hubs) pay the same amount.
- Queanbeyan. Now as Queanbeyan is across the NSW/ACT border, ACTION are unable to provide a service to Queanbeyan. But for some reason, ACTION do not offer a service to Oaks Estate. Placing a bus route through Oaks Estate would give residents of Oaks Estate (a poorer suburb) affordable transport to the city and everyone else cheap access to Queanbeyan. A route to Oaks Estate could be a loop service going Civic – Barton – Fyshwick – Oaks Estate – Fairbairn/Brindabella Parks – Airport – Russell – Civic. It’d create a regular service to/from the airport as well. It may well mean Deanes lose some of their power but that’s not such a bad thing.
- Give the nice lady bus driver a raise and promotion. She is the best bus driver one could possibly ask for. I don’t know her name but she works as a fill in, as I only ever see her when my regular bus driver(s) are away. If anyone from ACTION is actually reading this post, she has long, dark blonde hair and is in her 50s. Here is why she deserves such a raise/promotion:- She always smiles and greets/farewells passengers
- She goes out of her way (to the point of carrying timetables with her) to help passengers with their travelling
- Communicates brilliantly to those passengers who struggle with English
- Deals flawlessly with cranky passengers who abuse her for no apparent reason
- Laughs off idiot drivers who abuse her after cutting her off
- Will always offer comfort if she sees you having a bad day
- Works casual shifts doing lots of different routes and different times of the day/week. No consistency in her job but she does it with a smile on her face every time.
- Is the only person in Canberra who can drive their vehicle for 10 km without succumbing to road rage