14 March 2023

A car-free day? The Government is 'vigorously' working on it for Canberra

| James Coleman
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traffic on Parkes Way

Traffic on Parkes Way, one of the city’s only east-to-west arterial roads. Photo: ACT Government.

Every year on or around 22 September, people across the globe leave their cars at home and get on a bike or catch the bus for World Car-Free Day.

The UN-sanctioned event is designed to showcase what it might look like, feel like and sound like to do without a car for 365 days a year.

Nice idea? Cheaper certainly. But would it work in Canberra – a place famous for its dependency on cars for getting around the spread-out design and equally infamous for its public transport network?

Well, the ACT Government – hell-bent on slashing the Territory’s emissions to net zero by 2045 – is “vigorously” working on it.

“Works are underway vigorously at the moment so we can describe it in more detail in the next few months,” Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability Shane Rattenbury told Region.

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But before your mind leaps to visions of fines being handed out to Canberrans who dare to press the start button on 22 September, 2023, a car-free day isn’t necessarily a car-free day.

“It’s marked in different ways in different places,” Mr Rattenbury said.

“It’s the idea of thinking about how we transport ourselves and what we want our city to be like. It’s about reclaiming space for citizens instead of cars.”

For Canberra, think of it more as a promotional campaign than an outright ban.

“We’re still shaping the final design, but it will be a ‘here’s how you can do it differently if you want to’ event,” he said.

“There will still be days in which people need to drive their cars. But there are plenty of other days and plenty of other trips we do … when we don’t have to just fall into the habit of taking the car.

man and car

Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability Shane Rattenbury with an electric Nissan Leaf. Photo: ACT Government.

“There are good alternatives, whether that be light rail, buses, cycling, e-bikes, scooters, even down to walking. There are a lot of different ways to get around the city, but often people don’t know that because they’ve never tried them.”

Mr Rattenbury said the event’s emphasis would be on displaying these “many options” to Canberrans.

As for when, our ”car-free day” won’t be held on the actual day, which falls on a Friday this year.

“We’re looking to do something on the weekend in springtime,” he said.

“We’ll have an official announcement on that, but not for a little while. There’s a lot of design work to go through, consulting with the community and organisations that would partner with us on this.”

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Mr Rattenbury expected a “good reaction”, based on Canberra’s interest in the EV Expo hosted by the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA) and held at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) in August last year. This showed off a variety of electric transport options, from cars to scooters.

“Many thousands of Canberrans turned out for the event and there was a real enthusiasm,” he said.

“So I think there is a thirst in the Canberra community for exploring the alternatives, and we want to make sure we put together a really good event so people do come along and have that opportunity.”

Canberra’s bus network has received criticism for years for trips that take longer than driving a car, despite recent shakeups to the timetable, which only seem to have made the situation worse for many.

Similarly, a 2021 study by the University of Adelaide revealed Canberra cyclists often felt unsafe on our roads. The data found 12.3 per cent of cars were getting within 1.5 metres of cyclists when passing them at speeds above 60 km/h, a breach of the ACT’s traffic laws.

woman on scooter

Could you take an e-scooter to and from work? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Rattenbury admitted there were a “whole lot of things we need to do to make sure people feel the alternatives are safe, comfortable, reliable and meet their needs”.

“Whether that is more off-road cycling lanes so people feel comfortable cycling on the road, continued improvement of the bus network, the rollout of more stages of light rail – even down to things like improved lighting so people feel safe if they’re moving around in the dark – these are all the things that provide people with a sense the alternatives are viable for them.”

Over the next few years, the Government will focus on its commitments to electrify the city and phase out fossil-fuel gas by 2045, and ban the sale of new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2035.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to change our habits in that space, but I think we’ve put policies in place and we need to focus on implementing them,” Mr Rattenbury said.

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“There are a lot of different ways to get around the city, but often people don’t know that because they’ve never tried them.”
Thank you Deputy Assistant Chief Under Minister Mr Rattenbury.

In response I am getting a unicorn shaped hot air balloon with multi coloured streamers to take me from my Tuggeranong home (referred to by the Local Council as ‘The Badlands’) into the car free Canberra CBD (hereafter referred to as ‘Xanadu’) to get a latte free organic almond milk elephant dung cappuccino with carob powder…or maybe without the elephant dung…….have to stop having a scotch after 9pm it is giving me horrible nightmares. At least there will be plenty of hot air for the balloon around the local Council Building.

It doesn’t take much to get Canberrans worked up. Like honestly it is a car free day on one day of the year that is observed across the globe. It is not compulsory folks! It is an opportunity for people to reconsider their transport needs. People can walk, catch a bus, ride a bike, e-bike, jog or any other number of options.
You can also drive around as much as you like just to make a point as I have read some people are going to do!

Some of us can’t work from home, and there is no public transport where we work. We are not all Public Servants in cotton wool

So you agree that it isn’t really a “car free day”. So what exactly is the point?

Perhaps instead of a no-cars day, everyone should stay home and work from home as per the Covid-19 restrictions. No businesses to open or shops just close the city down, no emissions that day would make Chief Minister Rattenberry very happy. PS No busses or flights into Canberra that day either. Fixed

Nice one Ray and very correct but we already have this situation (except the work from home bit) for the Christmas and January period as the tumbleweeds blow through Canberra as everyone leaves town for Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane or the South Coast and a ghostly silence descends.

Garry Johnson11:18 am 16 Mar 23

Governments must get out of our lives. Canberra is the worst designed city in the world. And now they want us to bike 30km to get to work. What a joke.

Try riding along the King’s Highway. You’d be a Temporary Australian, especially going across the bridge over the Molongolo River. Two semis going past, and you on the shoulder – make sure you have a will filled out

And very silently a few of the people realised what all the cameras are for.

The car free day will likely excempt EV’s however they wont tell you that because it shows the obvious class divide.

Back in the day playing sport was encouraged. now its banned under the rule of no carbon emissions. A few years time and you’ll need to buy carbon credits to have a baby.

“We’re still shaping the final design, but it will be a ‘here’s how you can do it differently if you want to’ event,” he said.

Ok on the day if I need to drive, I’ll take the long way around to my destination to do it differently 🙂

HiddenDragon8:51 pm 15 Mar 23

“We’re still shaping the final design, but it will be a ‘here’s how you can do it differently if you want to’ event,” he said.

The best way to demonstrate that would be for the Greens MLAs to put themselves into the shoes of less privileged people – a bit like the CEO charity sleepouts.

For those MLAs who live in inner or middle suburbs, arrange to spend the night before car-free day in an outer suburb (they can be found on Google Earth), or one of the surrounding towns which are home to Canberra workers priced out of the Canberra market (thanks, in part, to Greens policies).

Don’t just commute to Civic – try somewhere like Hume or one of the backstreets of Fyshwick, get there in time to open the doors for customers by 8.00 or 8.30am. and don’t assume that there will be “end of trip” facilities waiting for you.

Michael Cuddihy8:33 pm 15 Mar 23

I like riding to work. My wife rides to work. For both of us, it aint too far. Despite the cancellation of the far more convenient and direct school buses, the kids usually catch buses to and from school (albeit with an extra time caused by the now mandatory visit to Civic Exchange). However, any further reliance on the bus network is maddening.

They just dont work for picking up kids after school sports, or before school activities, doing the grocery shopping and getting to anything on the weekend. Typically, they dont work well for anything that is not heading straight to a specific town centre.

So maybe work less ‘vigorously” on a car-free day, and work more on the basics of improving buses, maintaining roads, and improving bike paths.

Hi Michael, I didn’t read anything in the article about banning car use where necessary. However, having acknowledged the use of private motor cars for many purposes it is also difficult to deny that sometimes people just default to using them when they could actually use public transport, walk or ride (as you have said in your post). It’s puzzling though how some people on this thread seem to get so worked up and angry when there’s any suggestion of making any change to their travels. The fact that over half the population is either overweight or obese suggests that we need to make changes which will not only benefit people’s health and happiness but also improve the health budget.

The government is working extra hard to promote its “Car Free Day”.

What is a car free day I hear you ask?

Well actually more like a “we would like you to use your car a little bit less day”.

But we thought the first name was punchier.

Ahhh yes, the peoples republic of Canberra! Car free day? I must remember to take the V8 out that day…

Mmmm yes and don’t forget to fill it full of Saudi Arabian oil. The Saudi Dictators will thank you.

Mr Rattenbury highlighted the
“continued improvement of the bus network”

Which exact city has he been spending his time in?

His own Greens colleague recently highlighted that there’s less buses in Canberra now than there was back in the 90s and almost everyone in Tuggeranong suddenly had slower and worse peak hour bus trips to and from work following his 2019 bus network redesign, and things have only got worse for bus users with even further reductions in services this year.

It would be great if we had some reporters in Canberra willing and brave enough to call out dishonest claims such as this.

Mr Rattenbury definitely lives in an inner north bubble.

He happily takes away many hundreds of bus stops and cuts bus services from across the city’s outer suburbs and then expects these people to go car free as well as bus free.

I reckon Shane needs to spend a few days in the shoes of the average Canberran who doesn’t have access to nearby work, school, shops, sports, entertainment, etc.

He’s become totally disconnected from Canberra people in his prison, the people who lost their public housing, the people whose schools closed, the people who lost their public transport over the time he’s been an MLA.

That fellow must have an undiagnosed medical condition, I am concerned for him. He seems to imagine one idiotic idea after another. I’ll bet Mr. Rattenbury will never give up his taxpayer funded car, not even for a day, becuase its vital for his job. And why waste scarce taxpayer funds on this rubbish rather than trying to put it to good use instead, not that governments are capable of doing good work anyway. Argh!! just defeated my own argument, they only know how to waste money.

Why does this city put up with Mr. Rattenbury, it confounds me. Given the logistical issues with this city’s design people who live in or next to a town centre might be OK. And I still cannot see the economics of electric vehicles at the moment, those thousands are too well off financially and so visit these events, but it doesnt mean they’ll do it. Its all a fantasy. At 73 seeing me ride an “E-scooter” with 5 shopping bags 10 Kms home isnt going to fly; well I will but it will be over the front of the handlebars for certain.

Shane Rattenbury with a taxpayer funded car Craig Shaw? I am not even sure Shane Rattenbury has a taxpayer funded car! He is well known for jogging and I have often seen him riding his bike around Canberra!

Now, it’s a fantastic idea to try to make people resuce the use of their cars. But how about spending money on alternative transport solutions instead? A lot of places are unreachable by bike unless you drive big detours or ride on highways. Direct bus connections to anything other than centres are non existent and make a trip up to 5 times as long as doing the same drive with a car.
Add frequent bus routes from suburbs to other suburbs. Make proper bike path connections, for example along the monaro.

After his recent flight to Argentina then cruise to Antartica, the Minister returns to tell us all to drive less.

Capital Retro11:20 am 15 Mar 23

Another (unelected) UN taxpayer-funded stunt. Why don’t they try and feed the starving or stop a war instead of virtue signaling for a change?

Or perhaps work from home?

thanks for giving me a good laugh to start my day! I do use buses sometimes, would do more if route hadn’t been changed and suitable parking sold off. Grateful I don’t live round Woden where the trip to Civic will take twice as long on the tram.

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