5 May 2023

Go back to the future to make bus network a real transport option, says budget submission

| Ian Bushnell
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Bus stop sign and bus.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra says the capital’s buses are not reliable or frequent enough. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra’s buses need to be more frequent and have seamless connections to attract commuters to public transport, the government has been told in a budget submission.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has submitted a five-point plan to make Canberra’s public transport system an attractive proposition for ACT commuters.

It makes the obvious case for an expanded light rail network to be rolled out much quicker than it is, but also urges the government to look to the past when Canberra’s bus system offered better services than those available now.

The submission says the government should look to the 1980s, when suburban peak services to destinations such as Mawson and Kambah came as frequently as every 5-8 minutes, and every 30 minutes outside peak times.

It says today a reasonable standard is every 10 minutes for rapid services, 15 minutes for regular services in peak times, 30 minutes off-peak, and hourly for evenings and weekends.

On weekends, off-peak services are even more impractical, arriving every two hours, the submission says.

READ ALSO Pedal Power’s bid for 30 km/h speed limits laid out in Budget submission

The submission also says passengers should not have to wait more than 10 minutes for a connecting bus, again drawing inspiration from the past.

“Timed connections were the secret behind Canberra’s public transport success in the 1970s and 80s.”

“Passengers could take a bus to an interchange and know their connecting service was no more than five minutes away.”

It says people today can wait at an interchange for an hour or more on weekends, but with smarter timetables, those times could be significantly reduced, and public transport made competitive for more journeys.

PTCBR is calling for the government to invest in a larger fleet, more drivers and more depots to get the network up to speed, including fast-tracking the detailed design of the new northside bus depots to meet the delivery targets outlined in the Zero Emission Transition Plan for Transport Canberra.

It also says Transport Canberra should have a free hand to deliver a true seven-day service by ensuring the new Enterprise Agreement with the Transport Workers Union provides for a full week’s roster that will mean frequent and reliable services every day, especially at weekends.

To overcome congestion, PTCBR is calling for a plan to provide more dedicated bus corridors, bus lanes and traffic signal priority on Rapid routes.

It wants the remaining Belconnen Transitway bus lanes and priority measures along Haydon Drive and College Street progressed, and more bike and walking connections, including storage cages at stops, in the ACT Government’s Active Travel Plan.

PTCBR says the next stages of the light rail are taking too long and one stage should be planned while the other is being built.

It says the pre-feasibility work for all future stages of light rail identified in the ACT Light Rail Network Plan should be funded.

“Canberra might have a 1.7 kilometre extension by 2026, some 10 years later,” the submission says.

“In the same period, the Gold Coast will deliver two extensions totalling 13 kilometres, while planning for a fourth stage.

“We need to put more resources into planning for future light rail, so by the time one stage of construction is complete, the next is ready to go.”

READ ALSO APSC offers concession over work-from-home limits

PTCBR chair Ryan Hemsley said the discussion about public transport in Canberra was stuck on the issue of light rail, but it was important to focus on the entire network after recent bus service cuts.

“Canberra has a popular network of light rail and rapid bus services linking our city and town centres,” Mr Hemsley said.

“There’s no reason why our local bus services can’t be improved in a similar way.

“If the government wants people to use public transport, it needs to invest in the frequent and reliable services that will make the network more useful for more journeys, seven days a week.”

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Network 19 was an unmitigated disaster for the bus network and bus users. The sooner they realise and address the mistakes they made the better.

Oh how we remember the Government’s and the PTCBR’s constant catchphrase “More Buses More Often”. Tell that to anyone who lived near one of the 750 bus stops they removed or who lost their direct peak hour Xpresso bus.

Family Narel11:57 am 06 May 23

I would love to catch a bus and agree with the above. But people comming from Combs etc need a stop on adelaide ave Deakin, for shops, 2 schools, embassies etc. Otherwise you have to go into civic and back. Or detour to wooden….

GrumpyGrandpa10:24 am 06 May 23

We have two conflicting Budget submissions: The Public Transport Association of Canberra wanting the government to bring back a decent bus network and Pedal Power wanting the government to slash vehicle speed limits in the suburbs to 30 kph.

We certainly can’t have both. There would be no point in improving bus timetable frequency and then limiting it by slapping a 30 kph speed limit on it.

I think they’ll ignore both and plod along with their slow train to Woden.

The madness of the bus system drives people away.
Why charge so much for fairs if you want people to catch a bus? Why cut carparks and beg everyone to catch a bus only to cut popular routes.

It’s not like they even have competition.

Maybe a change of name will help – get rid of the name ‘Transport Canberra’ and change the name to ‘Action’


Adam Sturgeon8:45 am 07 May 23

Absolutely, in my opinion the best network Canberra ever had was the 2017 network with lots of buses running around and hell even having the 101 free city loop That was actually handy

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