It’s time to get Canberra’s buses up to scratch, according to one ACT Greens MLA who will call on the government to grow its driver workforce so the system can return to a pre-pandemic timetable and run improved weekend services.
Jo Clay, who also highlighted a need for increasing female participation in the bus driver workforce as a priority, will move a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly tomorrow (4 May) for a “better bus service and a stronger, more inclusive workforce”.
She wants to see adequate numbers of drivers employed so the system can provide hourly Saturday and Sunday services to make weekend bus travel a more attractive option.
“I want Canberrans to have a bus service that gets them where they need to go when they need to get there. This means Canberrans need confidence in our public transport. We need to trust that our buses will run often, turn up on time and take us to our destination, whether it’s a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or any other day,” Ms Clay said.
“Canberrans have already told us what the problems are – reliability and frequency.”
It’s estimated less than five per cent of all journeys in Canberra are undertaken by bus – and that’s a pre-pandemic statistic. In comparison, approximately 15 per cent of Melbourne residents use public transport three to seven days a week.
Given an interim timetable remains in operation, it’s likely that number is even lower. On weekends, most services only run every two hours.
Last month, the Canberra Liberals called on the ACT Government to immediately return to a pre-pandemic bus timetable and for them to make bus travel temporarily free to encourage people back onto buses.
That proposal was not supported by the government. Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said at the time a pre-COVID timetable would resume as soon as possible.
At the time, Mr Steel told the Assembly around 35 drivers per day were unavailable for work, “placing pressure on [the] remaining workforce”.
“We will not make any headway in driving a long-term shift to public transport if people do not believe that the services will reliably turn up,” he said.
Ms Clay told the Assembly that studies had found that most Canberrans wanted better buses, not free buses, and the barrier to using public transport was reliability, not affordability.
She said she believed a free bus trial could be useful at “a really strategic time”, but it would be costly.
Her motion this week asks for the usual timetable to be reinstated “as soon as possible”, once enough drivers have been recruited.
Ms Clay is also calling for a new enterprise bargaining agreement to support the government’s previous commitment for hourly route bus services all weekend from 2023.
She’s also calling for work to get underway between the government and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) directly.
Moving bus drivers, and their union, away from a five-day timetable has long proved difficult for successive Territory governments.
The TWU supports voluntary weekend work, but in 2019, a shortage of drivers volunteering for shifts meant four per cent of weekend services had to be cut.
A fresh round of bargaining is due next year when the long-running issue of weekend work will again be discussed, TCCS officials have previously confirmed.
Options for more flexible work will also be up for negotiation.
Ms Clay’s motion asks the government to develop a Women in Transport Program and set a target to increase the percentage of women working in bus driver roles.
“This will help us expand our workforce to provide the services we need. At the same time, it will provide good jobs to women in a predominantly male industry,” she said.
Only 11 per cent (101 drivers) of the bus driver workforce are women. Last month, Mr Steel said a targeted recruitment campaign was underway.
Ms Clay is also looking at this issue through an environmental lens. She says cutting transport emissions is a necessity, given they account for more than 60 per cent of tracked emissions in the ACT.
“Providing a really good public transport system is a great way to take real climate action,” she says.
The motion will be debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly tomorrow.