The ACT Labor party has set the wheels into motion to provide free public transport for ACT school and university students but said its priority still remains in making the current network more accessible.
During ACT Labor’s annual party conference on Saturday (21 July), party members voted in favour of the motion to make public transport free for all students carrying a MyWay card in the nation’s capital.
Though the party has thrown its support behind the idea, an ACT Government spokesperson said new Transport Minister Chris Steel’s preference is to expand services rather than offer free services.
“We welcome debate and motions put forward at the party conference and while free public transport for students is now part of the ACT Labor party platform, it is not currently government policy,” the spokesperson said.
“We will consider it in the development of future government policies, however in the first instance it is the Government’s preference to expand services making our transport network more accessible for all Canberrans, rather than offering free services.”
Canberrans took more than 1,629,000 journeys during the first three weeks of free public transport offered by the ACT Government after launching the new network.
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During the month of free travel, the light rail network recorded an average of 106,279 boardings per week and a daily average of 17,297 on working days, causing Transport Canberra to add more vehicles running on the network.
ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations spokesperson Janelle Kennard said parents have told the council that their concern with the current public transport network is safety and accessibility, not affordability.
“We would like to see the current network improved first before we start talking about free transport for students,” Ms Kennard said. “It is more important that kids can get to where they need to go in a timely and safe manner than for public transport to be free.
“I think it is a great thing to aspire to but we are still concerned about the safety and difficulties of families being poorly connected to their school that need to be fixed first.
“If there is extra money to be looking at free rides, we rather that they look at more frequent services to reduce overcrowding and to reduce wait times. Some students are waiting up to 35 minutes after the bell to leave school.
“We would like services to be taken directly to the school rather than stopping at a distance from the school. These are the things that we would like to see invested in rather than a bit of a giveaway.”
Liberal spokesperson Candice Burch agreed.
“It’s all well and good to provide students free travel, but what good is free public transport when there are no buses to catch?” she said. “Labor and the Greens have cut hundreds of dedicated school buses, buses to universities and weekend services.
“First things first – let’s give them a bus to catch.”