12 December 2023

Canberra's most - and least - punctual bus services revealed

| Lizzie Waymouth
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bus passing empty bus stop

The R2 (Fyshwick to Fraser) was Canberra’s least reliable rapid bus service – only 65 per cent of services meeting punctuality targets. Photo: Transport Canberra Facebook.

There’s a one in four chance your Transport Canberra bus won’t arrive on time.

According to information supplied by then-Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel in response to a question on notice from Greens MLA Jo Clay, just over 75 per cent of Canberra buses (excluding school services) met punctuality targets in 2022-23.

Almost 8.5 per cent of all Transport Canberra buses were more than one minute early and 13.2 per cent were more than four minutes late. The remaining 2 per cent were classed as ‘unsighted trips’, meaning they did not operate to completion.

“There are a number of reasons why buses may not meet the punctuality target, including roadworks and accidents, traffic signals (wait times), variable dwell times at busy bus stops, and the individual driving style of bus drivers as well as the individual performance of a bus,” Mr Steel said.

Mr Steel said other factors could also be at play, such as timetable optimisation, driver training, traffic or signalling changes.

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However, some routes were worse than others. The R2, which runs from Fyshwick to Fraser, was the least punctual rapid service – only 65 per cent of journeys were on time.

Similarly, 65 per cent of journeys on route 47 from Belconnen to Denman Prospect met punctuality targets – 19 per cent of journeys were late.

Ryan Hemsley, chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR), said the figures were disappointing.

“These bus punctuality figures should be embarrassing for the ACT Government,” he told Region.

While the lateness of bus services is an inconvenience, PTCBR said it was shocking that many buses arrive early when they should be waiting at a stop to set off at the correct time.

Mr Hemsley said this is something that Transport Canberra could easily fix.

“Imagine if 10 per cent of Canberra’s bins didn’t get collected every week, or 10 per cent of patients in Canberra Hospital were given their medicine early. People would riot!

“Yet we let people be stranded at our bus stops – for up to two hours on some weekend routes – because 10 per cent of Canberra’s bus services run early. This is an issue that could be fixed with an email and some red paint.

“We call on Transport Canberra to address this issue as a matter of priority.”

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In its 2023-24 budget submission earlier this year, PTCBR called for several changes to improve punctuality, including hiring additional bus drivers and expanding the bus fleet to ensure sufficient capacity to permit timed transfers.

PTCBR also said that priority measures such as bus lanes, traffic signal priority and bus jumps at traffic lights would improve the reliability of Transport Canberra services.

“We need to do more to help Canberra’s buses skip through traffic and get people to their destination faster,” the submission said.

“Good progress was made on rolling out bus priority measures on places like Barry Drive and parts of the Cotter Road in the early half of the last decade. We should build on those successes and make sure public transport has the best possible chance of getting people to their destination on time.”

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Public transport – yuck!

Glad you are getting only positive experiences. I wish that applied across the board.
I could quote you specific examples of negative punctuality experiences using the R4, and also one using a 66 (connection missed). In the morning peak, R4s are scheduled from Belconnen every 6 minutes. My ideal service gives me a 7min window at Woden to connect. I dare not use this service. Even 2 services earlier can be iffy by the time Woden is reached.
It is sometimes interesting to note several southbound R4s at this time of day arriving at Woden almost together. You are indeed fortunate with your positive experiences.

But what is the punctuality target? 30 min?

Whilst leaving a timing point early should be a ‘hanging’ offence, there are many unforeseeable and presently uncontrollable circumstances which can contribute to late running.

However, one of the most irritating causes of late running is quite controllable. It is the failure to be at the initial stop in time to board passengers ready for an on-time departure. This is an almost routine failing. The consequence is that the bus is delayed and en-route passengers for the next service are then able to use the delayed service, The result is compounding overcrowding and delay. A secondary effect is missed connections (with up to 1/2hr wait) and late arrivals at time sensitive passengers’ destinations.

Whilst it is possible that some particular cases could arise from mandatory driver breaks after a late previous arrival, it is obvious that most of the time these failings are down to choices made by our otherwise conscientious drivers.

The contrast with light rail is stark The light rail vehicle is usually at the service starting points for several minutes and then departs on time.

And it looks like a cancellation before the service commences is not counted at all in this report. For bloke stuck at the bus stop it sure does matter.

John Koundouzis10:50 am 14 Dec 23

@Ronnie poppe.
That is a very rare occasion. To busy being amazed to complain

GrumpyGrandpa4:36 pm 13 Dec 23

Almost 8.5 % were more than one minute early and 13.2 per cent were more than 4 minutes late.

And the Minister gives a generic waffle;
“….roadworks and accidents, traffic signals, driving style of bus drivers & individual performance of a bus.”

The Minister may as well of said that he didn’t know.

What the data doesn’t tell us is whether the 8.5% that were running early, had actually arrived at their timing point early or whether they also departed early. If they arrived early and waited, thats fine. There is only a problem if the driver deliberatley departed early, causing passengers to miss their bus.

As for running late, look in the mirror Minister. This sounds like a network design issue. Fobbing it off onto the driving style of bus drivers, the performance of an individual bus, or roadworks is a cop out. Are you suggesting that your drivers just drive faster and that your buses aren’t up to scratch?

You would hope that the Greens member who asked the initial question, followed up with some hard questions. Sadly, I expect not.

The 2 Route needs re-timing. So many key stops over a long route. It is compounded when the driver can’t keep to their timetable. We see many “Bus Full” messges. I regularly catch a 2 home where it is full o people from the train stop and loaded with suit cases. Maybe there should be a targetted bus from the train stop when they arrive ?

Rod Stroud I have often wondered why no train specific bus service is provided. Back in the 80’s when Canberra had far better bus services there was one, route 357.

Waiting 2 hours for your local bus or 2 hours 10 minutes for your local bus isn’t really discussing the real issue.

Ever since the ACT government removed 750 local bus stops, reduced bus routes and cut frequency across the outer suburbs, it’s little wonder many former bus commuters have given up on buses and bought a second car.

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