26 July 2007

ACT public transport unprofitable

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According to the ABC, the ACT’s public transport system is the least profitable in the country and relies on taxpayers for three quarters of its revenue.

I reckon it’s due to Canberra’s ‘wonderful’ design – all those lovely open spaces which make bus journeys too long and driving a car a far more attractive option. That, and a cultural attitude.

So, any ideas on how ACTION can turn a profit?

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Yep – a bus from Russel at 4.30 is brilliant.

Defence knocks off early, and it is after the school run peak hour.

Action claims they can’t run more busses at peak times, but their idea of peak time is 5.00 only.

I’d say run from Russell at 4.30, and from some of the other departments at about 6.00.

Once you get people using the busses they may use them at other times too. Action has cut costs and routes back to the bone to save money and that didn’t work – they need to work on building up their customer base now.

Civic interchage is a long way from where most of the people are in civic these days. Take the busses to the people.

Just a vague recollection of a city in Sth America (??Brasilia) where public transport works because the companies providing it get money and more routes and such based on patronage. Hence better operators attract more people and make more money out of it.

Compare ACTION. A monopoly more interested in appeasing the TWU than providing a service.

any ideas on how ACTION can turn a profit?

Raise the price.

The biggest problem facing ACTION is that the cost of substitute transport, private cars and bikes, walking, is that it is relatively cheap to travel around Canberra privately.

Unlike Sydney and Melbourne where there are tolls, congestion, and hideous parking fees, you don’t get that here, so ACTION are constrained as to how much they can actually charge for bus travel.

Peak train fares in Sydney and Melbourne aren’t that cheap, but considering the dire state of the trains one way they can improve the service is to increase revenue by jacking up the price big time. An extra $5-$10 each way on some routes and they still won’t be getting close to the cost of driving a car into the city. Political economy issues though.

ACTION can turn a profit.

A full bus all day long will turn a profit for ACTION, provided combined passenger fare is greater than bus on road costs.

ACTION need to work out where to service profitable routes, and market accordingly. If that means putting a bus on the road from Jerrabombera to Russell (Rocket Science moment: Defence Housing owns 1/2 of Jerra, that means about circa 3,000 people want to go to Russell every morning from Jerra, who all have to be at work by 0800, and they all knock off at 1630), that bus route alone will probably pay for 2 extra buses doing crap routes.

All it takes is smart thinking, unfortunately somewhat missing in the current Government environs.

ChrisInTurner: I offer these constructive criticisms with the aim of assisting you to sharpen your argument:

* Order your arguments by strength. The more easily quantifiable and verifiable arguments should be up first (like your point 1); the more debatable or harder to quantify points should be left to the end (like your point 2).
* Include more references and verifiable figures to bolster your arguments – for example are there white papers / reports on the Geneva , Sydney Olympics and Melbourne Commonwealth Games free public transport projects?
* I think it would enhance your argument to separate out the direct benefits from the flow-on benefits (ie. the benefits that are a result of reduced road congestion).
* Point 3. Is robbery of bus drivers currently a motive for violence on ACTION drivers? Can you obtain any figures on this?
* Point 6. This seems to argue that the total cost of collecting fares is currently equal or greater than the revenue gained from them. If this is really the case then this argument alone should carry the day – and it seems like it would be easy enough to do the sums, but I don’t see anything other than supposition on this point in your paper.
* Points 7 & 8. The “at least 10 years” and “about 10 years” figures seem very rubbery without any supporting evidence.
* Point 10. To be blunt, this seems like a stretch. Even the teenagers who work at maccas are trained to handle cash. Sometimes it’s better to leave out a weak argument entirely, lest it appear to weaken your whole case.
* Point 11. You should explain what jargon like “turn short” means. Also, it is unlikely that you could avoid timetabling of services, because even if the services are frequent enough that the patrons don’t need to know the timetable (that’s already the case with the intertown routes in peak times), a schedule still needs to be created for internal use.
* Points 13 & 14. Combine these into one point. Separating them makes it feel like you’re padding your argument out – which again can give the appearance of weakness.
* Point 15. Isn’t “social capital” the buzzword of the moment for this?
* Another class of potential public-transport user is tourists – if you can argue that free public transport would be attractive to tourists then you may get the tourism lobby on side.

Hope this helps.

light rail.

if light rail carried the high capacity peak loads, serviced by buses on suburban routes, the whole network would be more efficient.

and at 3$ a ride – the same as a cup of coffee – its pretty cheap. unless youre going 1km or something ridiculous like that.

avail yourself of a ten-ride ticket, or a monthly if youre a freq user.

i agree civic needs a central transport hub. id put it between melb and sydney bldgs.

people have to stop expecting public transport will make a ‘profit’. if that was the case we’d do away with concessions and charge a rate akin to that which supermarkets charge – we all pay the same for a loaf of bread regardless of our earning capacity.

true costs such as less cars using roads and all associated benefits can never be tied to a bottom line.

too true sepi.. I have one express bus home if I catch it.. it leaves at 5.08pm other than that I only have 1 other bus that I can get home with without changing, which goes around the longest way possible.. via russell and barton. I’m thinking that these areas should have their own express services to woden and the city anyway.

As for the ticket system, something in the range of $8 million was provided to ACTION for its replacement in this year’s budget.. the period of time needed for developing and implementing it will probably take a while, if the government acted with these funds about 7 years ago when it was first investigated, ACTION would probably be in a better position.. they amount they lose in free rides resulting from the machines breaking down is not even measurable.

ACTION lose most of their money during the day time.. the average price of a ticket is about $1.30 for the elderly people with the concession fares.

and tom-tom is correct, ACTION is ultimately a not-for-profit entity like all other government agencies, they’re there to provide a service not make a profit.

I think the busses should extend their ‘peak’ times. They seem to think everyone want to be at work at 9.00, and leave at 5.00. Most people stay at work later than that these days. I’d like to see busses running directly from public service offices from 6.00 onwards.

I don’t think the open spaces are as much the problem as the idea that major roads bypass the suburbs. Makes it hard for buses.

asp- firstly i’m sure some one who relies on action to get to work or school would regard a bus system as essential, not just a convienience. Secondly i’m pretty sure the ACT govt. produced a surplus in its last budget and still found funds for a pointless statue, hardly suggestive of a situation where govt. funds a stretched.
By its very nature action is a service which exists for those whom other forms of transport is not an option, namely school kids and those at the margins. Any cuts to action would be disproportionatly born by those who could least afford it.
It doesn’t matter that action fails to run at a profit, it provides an essential service. I’m happy for my rates to go towards it.

Firstly a new ticket system…
RF ID maybe… Some kind of ultra fast.. get people on get people off. Something like pay after you ride.. where the cost is based on
* When you catch the bus..
* If your a student
* How often you catch the bus
Then either have Bus credit or something..
Have students ticket also be photo ID.. that way students dont have to have both ticket and ID.
Get a decent ticket system that doesnt block up.. then giving everyone after it gets blocked a free ride.
( Most likely have to be pay after you ride as its hard to get realtime credit amounts etc.)

During peak time have flexable buses.. no point in waiting and craming a bus full if the next one is going to be half empty.. or because the first is late they both leave at the SAME TIME…

They should have free tickets in the morning.. during peak.. cos then the people will either car pool, or will pay more on the way home.. and people are more in a rush during the morning.

Oh and instead of decreasing the frequency of buses.. why not combine multiple buses during offpeak. say late at night. and have smaller buses to reduce fuel costs..

And we really need to have some way to go from Tuggeranong to Belconnen with only passing though as few traffic lights as possible.. for the 300 series.. How many is it now..
Need to have more stuff like that bus taxi slip lane on Yarra Glenn

tom-tom: Good Point. ACTION is a public service just like the health and public safety areas of government services. However, one could view ACTION as a convienience where as health and publis safety are essentials. And in a time when government funds are stretched and health card in need of more funding, the essentials should get more while money loosing extras like ACTION get cuts.

why does it matter that action makes no money? Nobody thinks that the police or ambulance services should run at a profit, why should a public bus service be any different?

Absent Diane4:38 pm 27 Jul 07

thats not a bad idea… action could also install flat screen monitors like they have in a lot public piss troughs in sydney and then charge for advertising…

ChrisInTurner14:29 pm 27 Jul 07

One answer is fare-free public transport see Insert your text here

VYBerlinaV8 now_with_added grunt12:16 pm 27 Jul 07

What about selling more advertising space on buses. Sucks for those riding them, but having advertising dollars contributing to the subsidy amount would surely help.

I took a bus yesterday (rare for me), and it was all going well until the driver drover off from a stop before people had checked their ticket cards, and a pregnant woman with two small children had been unable to get off. Perhaps some decent service standards in terms of entry and egress would help also. (Oh, and the driver got cranky at the pregnant lady for “not being quick enough” when the reason she couldn’t get through was because of all the people milling around to check their ticket. Nice.)

Free beer during every bus ride ought to do it.

The only way for ACTION to run at a profit is for it to stop servicing the rush hours. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but having to purchase and maintain the infrastructure for people wanting to get to and from work is what makes ACTION unviable.

The Government needs to decide whether they want a commercial public transportation system or a transportation system that supports other outcomes (less parking lots, fewer cars on the road, better environmental outcomes) and stop trying to make ACTION achieve both.

It can’t do it in a city this size.

captainwhorebags8:42 am 27 Jul 07

There is an Expresso service that runs from pretty much outside my house direct into Civic/Russell. Unfortunately the there are only two pickups in the morning (arriving at work at 8:00 and 8:30) and two in the evening (leaving work at 17:00 and 17:30). My work hours are highly variable between 7:30 and 19:00. If I don’t catch the Expresso, the alternative is a 20minute neighbourhood walk to the regular service and then two bus rides. I’d be very tempted to convert if Expresso was more flexible.

Sepi – a free bus from the major work centres (Russell, Parliamentary triangle, even Brindabella Park and Fairbairn) into the interchanges would no doubt encourage more people onto busses. Particularly as the parking situation becomes more desperate/expensive.

OK – here’s another wild idea. Why not have busses turn up at the major public service offices after hours – say at 6.30 (after the peak rush, and once it is dark), and go to a major interchange (Belco or Woden). Some of those buildings in civic, Barton and Russel in hold over 1000 people, so why not take the bus to them? As VicePope says, many people won’t walk up to the interchange after dark.

Simply Canberra is designed for cars.. ACTION need direct services for people to use them, hence why expresso services are popular.

Free services or decreasing prices would put ACTION into a deeper hole.. they already make about a $4 loss per kilometer driven and make a loss every year. The service is heavily subsidised by the Government, all they really can do is try and develop a decent timetable, which wouldn’t be easy in a place like this.

Joker: it’s stated their annual report: service delivery is almost 3 times admin expenses (which I would see some being service related too)

Mr_Shab: As for getting bus drivers to do admin duties when not driving, well that’s just stupid. The number of bus drivers and other related service staff would number about 15 times the amount of admin staff, and who would probably all have a study qualification.

It’s unlikely to make a profit anytime soon, but always room for improvement. I’ll keep driving my car for now 🙂

Anyone noticed how many Deane’s buses are now on ACT Roads. Just in the last year, much more going through Manuka and Narrabundah. One would have to wonder how Deanes seems to turn a profit (or be able to survive the losses) despite surving the much smaller population of Qyeanbeyan, yet ACTION which has a larger customer base would go broke if it were a private company.

VicePope, I agree carparks in Canberra are getting pricier, but travel to Melbourne and many CBD parking stations will charge $10-$20 for an hour! One carpark charged $45 for all day parking. Hell! Hopefull that’s a long way off here. But with regards to the buses. They should encourage people to use the buses. But not with ads and slogans (remember the “pluses of buses”). But rather by updating the fleet. Perhaps making sure that the seats all have foam when they have been reupholstered. Last week I sat on one that was just fabric on partical board and steel.

First, I assume the government knows, when a person hops on a bus, how much the person is paying as opposed to how much the subsidy is providing. My guess is it’s highly variable, but a lot of people (students, pensioners etc) are getting fares heavily discounted from a standard fare that is itself below cost recovery. In other words, the system is subsidising a proportion of the population and putting substantial and growing burdens on those who do not receive the subsidy. The numbers would probably look better if more people could be encouraged to use buses.

Is it worth collecting fares at all? Or collecting them only at some times to encourage anyone who can to use the buses at other times?

But some small ideas. Wander around the increasingly expensive and rare car parks, sticking bus information under windscreen wipers. Do a promotion where people in random car parks are given vouchers for some bus rides – some will throw them away, some will give them away and some will use them and be converted. Survey drivers of ACT registered cars in major car parks and ask them what the obstacles are that prevent them from using buses (in my case, it’s got a lot to do with having to walk past three loose savage hounds each of which has culinary ambitions involving my anatomy and owners who cannot be persuaded to deal with them. If the Domestic Animals people did their work, I’d probably use a bus at least some of the time). Recognise that more flexibility is necessary later in the day as many people are reluctant to walk through dark streets and parks.

Bigger level – privatise the system but introduce competition and try to drive the subsidy down.

I seem to recall in the not to distant future, paying $3.00 for an all day, all metro ticket, in LA.
and it would last until 3am the next morning…. on and off, whatever, where ever.

we missed a bus ffrom santa monica, heading into the city, another one was there within 7 minutes..

Maybe the Govt could pay unemployable yobbos to throw rocks at cars driving into Civic, thereby deterring people from using their cars, and choosing the bus instead?

This is what is needed for Canberra: O-Bahn buses

As an ex-Adelaidean who lived in the catchment area for this it works brilliantly. It combines the *best* parts of bus and rail travel. (unlike light rail which combines the worst…)

These buses are actually used by many professional people to get to work, unlike Canberra and most other places where riding the bus is a last resort as it makes you feel like the lowest of the low. It’s fast, especially during peak times you can be in the city much faster than by car.

Canberra’s layout is perfect for these, we have space for these tracks, either open space or along main roads, and the distances would soon seem negligible at 100 km/h!

Having lots of users, even if initially just on intertown routes, would mean more buses so also helping to eliminate the other worst part of Canberra buses: the circuitous routes through the suburbs could be shorter, more often and still cover everyone. Changing buses at interchanges also becomes easier when there’s a bus along the tracks every few minutes.

Six times in two months, I’ve gone to catch a bus based on Actions Website or their Text Message timeable service only to be stood up. Then on ringing ACTION “customer service” I get told their is no such service. They also can’t say why their computers have one time and the website and txt service have others.

Also, I have heard at least five versions of where the 36 to Manuka is meant to be at the city Interchange. I know it’s meant to go to 2, but ACTION staff and print outs say everything from 7 and 3 to 12!

Case in point:

Leave ANU on the hour.
10 minute walk to civic interchange
30 min wait after missing hourly bus while walking to interchange
40 min bus trip through a bunch of suburbs since there is no express service to the town center.
5 minute walk home.
=> For a total trip time of 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Verses a 15 minute drive (20min in peak hour)

As a regular bus user can I say that it is quite a good service. I am lucky that the bus I catch from Tuggers gores past my office in Barton – and I have the option of getting an early and late one morning and afternoon.

I would like to float the radical idea of free busses for 6 months – get all those nay-sayers on them and see what it is like. Then gradually increase the fares back to the rate of $2.20 per trip. If we are already subsiding them to the tune of a mill per week why not go the whole hog – at lease we can say we tried.

people also drive cars for the convenience. It will drop you to work almost exactly the same distance as the nearest bus stop and on the way home it takes you almost to your front door, all without standing around in the cold waiting for someone elses schedule.

the cost comparison isnt made. depreciation on your vehicle, petrol etc are all hidden costs. all you’ll see is the $6 v $7.50 out of your pocket every day.

Whoops – forgot my other point

How about cheap rego for cars that only get driven on teh weekend or after business hours?

Once you’ve paid rego and insurance on a car, you feel like you may as well drive it. Those are the major costs for me in owning a vehicle. (1000.00 a year combined).

I think it would cost me under a 1.00 to drive.

Parking is 7.50, vs 6.00 for two bus fares. It doesn’t make the bus attractive.

It doesn’t cost anything like $10-15 worth of petrol to drive to the city, unless maybe you’re driving an M1A1.

DarkLadyWolfMother3:14 pm 26 Jul 07

I don’t understand why people keep expecting it to make a profit. Surely the best we can hope for is for it to be as efficient as possible while still providing a useful service.

Being a blinky (blind) don’t have much choice but to take the bus. I think its fine, however, of course there is no discouragement to drive your car. Seems no matter how little parking there is, car drivers will still drive. Its time to make it harder to drive, increasing parking costs, limit parking times, limit cars into certain areas ie. civic, make routes mre direct ie. Belconnen to Barton etc. And I’m sorry to the person who resented $3.00 a trip, well surely that better than say $10 – $15 in petrol, %7.50 for parking….mmmmm maths ain’t my strong suit but seems to me that its better on the bus.

What solution? Catch the bus or take the bus to Civic – I take the bus.

I don’t catch buses because there aren’t any where I live. Seems like there’s a simple solution to this problem…

Public transport does never make a profit anywhere. There was a rumour years ago in Sydney that the cost of printing and selling tickets cost more than was actually recouped in profits. Probably only half true but interesting!

But we can aim to improve if ours is the worst in the country.

I think the problem is they have cut it back so much that now only those who really have to use busses will. (Eg – pensioners, kids and those on very low incomes.)

I think they need to actually increase services to attract more customers, and make more money.

I’m sure that this one would get knocked on the head pretty quickly by certain interests (read the TWU) and I’m probably talking out my fundament, but – combine ACTION’s driving and admin functions. One of the big problems is that there is big demand for buses in peak times, and sod-all outside those times.

Rather than having peak-time drivers working split shifts (which are expensive), get them working straight shifts – four hours at the wheel and three and half behind a desk. Obviously you can’t have the whole admin function done by drivers – but it might cut your wage costs a bit.

Or do they already do this?

Or we could just wear the fact the public transport never turns a profit…

Action is already excessively expensive at 3.00 a ride. This puts me off using the bus to get to work.

The other thing that puts me off is waiting around at the busstop in the freezing cold. A Swiss study showed that people resented waiting on the street far more than they minded sitting on the bus/tram. They redid their timetables to have the transport going more slowly, but never running more than 2 minutes late. Patronage increased hugely.

MissUnderstood1:57 pm 26 Jul 07

It’s a circular problem. They need to spend more money to improve the services (i.e. more options in terms of routes and times- particularly in peak times).

Though ACTION won’t do this unless more people use the system, and people won’t use the system until they spend more money to improve it.

An option may be to increase the number of dedicated bus roads around the town (such as those along parts of Barry Drive and Adelaide Avenue). This would hopefully have the effect of reducing route travel times…I know as a driver who has considered using ACT buses in the past, the biggest turn-off for me is the time it would take me to get around compared to the time driving my car.

I’m not sure how receptive the ACT Govt would be to this option though, as their performance to date in urban road planning leaves a lot to be desired….need I mention the fact that the GDE is a one-lane 80km limited road? And the whole reducing impact on the environment doesn’t wash with me when I see how much space is wasted on the airstrip-sized median strip along the second stage (Ginninderra Drive to Belconnen Way)- Aaaaargh!

Sorry, I seemed to have digressed…what was the topic again?

An evolving theory (aka one topic leads to the next, leads to the next):

Build a dedicated transport hub in Civic somewhere. All transport roads lead to hub.

Engage direct lines from the community centres to the hub (Belconnen – Hub direct).

Feed the community centres with local lines (Kippax, Holt, Macgregor, Belconnen route)

Maximum 2 changes to city.

From transport hub, install a ring circuit monorail around LBG delivering public servants to workplaces, shoppers to shops, tourists to tourist attractions, etc.

Come up with a pass for the lot at a cost of not over $5/day.

I’d like to see a breakdown of expenses, such as administrative vs actual service delivery. They’ve been run pretty inefficiently in the past.

they should build a bus way between belcompton and the city.

VYBerlinaV8 now_with_added grunt12:44 pm 26 Jul 07

Not enough people, too great distances. Public transport in this town will never really be viable point to point unless you live right in one of the major centres.

Two ways. Increase the price of using the service, or increase the number of people using the service.

now.. to increase the number of people using the service, we need to:
– decrease the prices. (seems kinda ana-thema, but anyway)
– increase the services so people WANT to use them
– improve the services so people WANT to use them
– find some other method of encouraging people to use them
– find a method of discouraging people from NOT using them..

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