16 December 2022

'It doesn't add up': advocates rubbish government's excuse for slashing bus timetable

| Lottie Twyford
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Passenger waiting at bus stop

The ACT Government released its 2023 bus timetable quietly earlier this week. It contained some bad news for some commuters. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Territory government’s reasons for slashing bus services next year have been rubbished by public transport advocates as the ACT Greens push to recruit more drivers.

According to Transport Minister Chris Steel, the expected disruption and additional commute times caused by major infrastructure projects underway in the city and Woden have forced cuts to many services.

Further disruption is expected next year as parts of Commonwealth Avenue are shut to allow strengthening works to commence.

The 2023 bus timetable showed many late-night services would no longer run and off-peak local services have been cut. Rapid routes will also be less frequent after 7 pm.

Driver Alka Bhargava and Transport Minister Chris Steel

Transport Minister Chris Steel (pictured with driver Alka Bhargava) has attributed changes to the bus timetable to light rail-associated construction delays. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Steel said the extra traffic congestion around the city meant extra run time was required across the network; therefore, some services had to be removed entirely.

He’s argued the new timetable was necessary to ensure reliable services could be delivered and that rapid routes during peak hours had been prioritised to ensure frequency on the network when it was needed most.

“That has flow-on effects to shifts throughout the day, and it means within those off-peak times there are less frequent bus services,” Mr Steel said.

“We have been upfront with the community that changes would need to be made.”

READ ALSO It’s been two weeks of city traffic chaos, have you been affected?

But that excuse has not passed muster for the Public Transport Association of Canberra.

In a statement on their website, a spokesperson for PTCBR slammed the new timetable, saying it did not come anywhere near close to delivering the service levels of Network 19 (the post-light rail Stage 1 timetable).

“Transport Canberra tells us that the construction delays around London Circuit and Woden Interchange cause longer journey times, and this means they can’t operate as many services, which makes some sense, but doesn’t quite add up when you look at the scale of the cuts,” the spokesperson said.

“The journey times really aren’t that much longer (up to five minutes in peak, around one minute off-peak), half the routes don’t even go into the city, yet services are being cut across the board, and by up to 30 on some routes.”

They said the few improvements contained in the new timetable were offset by “reductions several times over”.

READ ALSO Canberrans urged to expose the Territory’s worst – and best – roads following pothole-littered year

PTCBR also questioned why late-night routes had to be cut at all.

The spokesperson said while delays to journey times had been expected, no one had mentioned an overhaul of the entire network would be required.

“This was a significant oversight in the planning approvals process, and bordering on misleading from the project proponents.”

PTCBR raised concerns about people being unable to get home late at night and instead being left vulnerable or making the decision to drive while drunk.

Jo Clay

ACT Greens spokesperson for transport Jo Clay was also “worried” about the people who relied on off-peak services to get around. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

ACT Greens spokesperson for transport Jo Clay echoed these concerns.

“I’m really worried about people who rely on our off-peak services. Those who move around the suburb or from one town centre to another, those who visit friends or have medical appointments or take late-night shifts, they all rely on this network,” Ms Clay said.

“We need to look after everyone. We particularly need to look after vulnerable Canberrans who need the bus to access daily life.”

She urged the government to hire additional drivers so off-peak services could be retained and weekend services could be increased.

Mr Steel has rejected this assertion. He said the government had this year surpassed its recruitment target for bus drivers.

Mark Parton

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton issued a scathing critique of the quietly released 2023 bus timetable. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton described the cuts as a “slap in the face” for commuters who relied on the network.

He’s also accused the government of not caring about increasing public transport patronage and instead being overly focused on delivering the light rail.

Mr Parton was equally scathing about the lack of an announcement from the government regarding the new timetable before its publication online earlier this week.

The new timetable will begin on Monday, 30 January, next year. A summer holiday bus timetable will begin next Monday (19 December).

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Chris Steel has to up his game or move to a different portfolio. The buses have got worse under his watch despite continuing to promise a better bus service going forward.

Surpassing their recruitment target but still not being able to staff bus services shows their target was too low. It’s clear that this mob cannot run a public transport service and don’t care about those who rely upon it.

It reminds me of when the government changed the frequency of buses to the suburbs years ago. John Hargreaves said that it would make it easier for commuters to remember the bus times when it halved the buses from half hourly to hourly services.

wodenresident9:32 am 18 Dec 22

On my commute I see roughly one third of commuters not check on the bus. They just walk straight on!

The trams have red shirt transport officers that regularly check cards, but you never see them on the bus!

Also, what about the impact cutting busses will have on night life? I mean, businesses will make less revenue, which will generate less tax etc I also think this will encourage drink driving.

Hi wodenresident,

The drivers have no authority to deny a ride and the government is too soft to fine fare evaders.
Yet the rest of us; the honourable people, do the right thing and tap on.

Maybe the scammers will start paying when Action get their new ticketing system that allows live deductions from bank accounts? Then again, the scammers will have just had their wallet stolen or have left their bank card at home.

Capital Retro5:29 pm 18 Dec 22

They are letting them travel for free because it is building receptivity for socialism which is what Labor/Greens wants.

I don’t see people getting on without paying, but maybe it’s different parts of town or routes.

Surely when planning 2a the government would have known there would be traffic disruptions.

To cut suburban and evening services because you don’t have sufficient driver resources simply goes against the Ministers own statement that the government surpassed its recruitment target for bus drivers.

It just means their target was inadequate, as are most of their plans and targets.

Imagine waking up every morning and being Chris Steel. Not to mention being Transport Minister. Like honestly, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Two more years of traffic chaos as works go ahead for the extension of light rail. All that hostility, all that whingeing from Canberrans. Just one big whingefest! I’m not looking forward to it folks. Elizabeth Lee and Jeremy Hanson and their party given all that ammunition. Not to mention opposition spokesperson Mark Parton MLA and Greens Jo Clay MLA, two of the government’s most mind numbingly irritating politicians, snapping away in the background. Yep, two more years of fun!

Yes, Chris Steele sure does have a hard job.

Imagine having to show up to work each day and constantly lie to your constituents, whilst being challenged with questions that you can’t answer straight.

He’s really been thrown under the bus.

Hi Jack D,
The Transport portfolio is definitely complex and the community deeply divided on LR and public transport in general.

The issue I have with LR, is that it’s purpose seems more about lining the pockets of property developers (and we are paying the infrusture costs to enable that to happen), rather than being about public transport.

If LR can match the speed of a bus, great, I’m in. If it’s going to take longer and involve more connections, then, as a regular public transport user, I’m not in favour.

The Woden leg fails to meet that speed equivalency test and I honestly think that other LR legs made more sense, but their deliver now won’t occur for a huge amount of time.

When some members of the Greens start questioning the direction of the government on public transport, the Minister and the government are in a bit of a difficult position due to their partnership.

Mr Steel’s life might be a little easier if the government were a bit more transparent. The upcoming reduction to bus timetables in the suburbs and into the evening, as a consequence of LR works just doesn’t sit well.

Light rail has never been pitched as a transport solution. The government only has hass, who is at arms length.

Its always been about making Canberra better and attracting those who don’t live here by making it less like it used to be.

The long term green plan is to make it too hard to travel so you move to where you work.
If you live in tuggeranong you’ll have to work there.

Gone are the days where we re-aligned Athllon drive to travel into the heart of woden. Now we’re making it harder to travel. Southern Cross must be loving their deal.

He knew the nature of the role when he chose it, as does every person who chooses to become a politician, unless s/he is an idiot who failed to do their research. He’s well paid, well-supported and in a high profile role that will assist his career, unlike many people today, so I feel absolutely no sympathy for him and I don’t understand why anyone would.

Most of us would be more understanding of having a difficult role if there was some honesty, transparency, good communication and clear attempts to improve things. I don’t see that.

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