New Transport Minister Chris Steel says he will be briefed next week on each individual route of the new bus network to ensure that it is working as well as possible for commuters across the city.
Mr Steel gave little away at his first media conference as minister, repeatedly stressing that more people were now using public transport than before, but said the directorate had received a significant amount of feedback on the new network, which has been under fire from commuters, particularly in the south, whose routes have disappeared or journeys lengthened or made more complex.
“With any new network, we know it has changes for some people that benefit them and other changes that aren’t as beneficial. Transport Canberra and City Services will be considering all of that feedback and working out how to improve the network going forward but what we’ve seen is a significant number of people that were not using public transport before now using our integrated public transport network since the new system got under way.”
“That’s a very good outcome but we need to make sure that we continue to deliver a network that works for all Canberrans.”
He said the Government wanted to grow the network and encourage more people to use it, and Transport Canberra would continue to monitor its operations so that it met everybody’s needs.
“I will be working to ensure we have the best possible integrated public transport network that our growing city needs,” he said.
His predecessor Meegan Fitzharris had said there would be adjustments to the network where needed.
With an election next year, fixing the bus network will be a must for Mr Steel, who also recommitted the Government to extending light rail to Woden, noting that the Government had successfully delivered Stage 1.
“As a life-long southsider I am committed to bringing light rail across the lake to extend the benefits of jobs and of an even better transport network and regeneration to other parts of the city,” he said.
While the new Major Projects agency will be a key partner in delivering Stage 2, Mr Steel said he was looking forward to working constructively with the Commonwealth and making Commonwealth ministers aware of the benefits the project would provide, particularly to the south side of Canberra.
He expected to be making significant announcements in the next few months about the next steps of the approvals process relating to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity ACT.
“It’s a much more complex project than Stage 1. It’s incredibly important to deliver the north-south spine that we need in our public transport network, and to make sure that everyone in our city can benefit,” he said.
“I will be applying all my effort into making sure that this happens as quickly as it can and in the best way possible. We know there are significant challenges through this project and we’ve just got to continue to work through each of those challenges.”
Responding to feelings that the south may have been neglected in recent times, Mr Steel said that with light rail Stage 2 and the proposed SPIRE project at Canberra Hospital there had been a significant shift in where infrastructure has to be directed.
It will be a big learning curve for Mr Steel, who was only promoted to Cabinet last year, and is also responsible for City Services, Roads, Community Services and Facilities, and Multicultural Affairs.
Joining him was the other beneficiary of Ms Fitzharris’s imminent departure, new Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith who will take on the challenges of chairing the workplace cultural review oversight committee, ongoing issues around waiting times at emergency departments and elective surgery and working with Major Projects on the SPIRE project.
She said her priorities were to continue the culture of transparency that she encouraged in her other portfolios of Youth and Families, Workplace Safety, Government Services and Procurement and Urban Renewal, and that all staff and clinicians were engaged in the reforms and developments across the health system.
Acknowledging that Health was a portfolio that would draw heavy fire from the Opposition, Ms Stephen-Smith said she had already come under intense scrutiny in her other portfolios.
“Politics is a tough game. It’s not personal it’s actually about the policy, and for me it’s about how we deliver the best service to Canberrans across our health system,” she said.