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.
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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.