4 December 2022

Liberals ditch light rail to Woden, promise 'comprehensive' transport strategy before 2024 election

| Lottie Twyford
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Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has promised the Canberra Liberals will have a full public transport strategy ahead of the next election. Photo: Region.

After months of going cold on light rail, the Territory’s Opposition has broken its silence on the project revealing it does not support the line to Woden.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said the party, if elected at the 2024 election, would not proceed with building the network.

Ms Lee has promised a “comprehensive transport policy” will be released in the lead-up to the next election, hinting at new technologies including electric buses which could be an alternative.

“What the Canberra Liberals put forward in this space will be driven by transport outcomes that ensure fast, reliable and environmentally friendly services,” she said in a statement.

The party has been teasing at a light rail announcement since it first delayed making one scheduled for the day Queen Elizabeth II died.

Mark Parton

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton has been hinting at a lack of support for light rail for months. Photo: Region.

The Opposition Leader and her colleagues, especially the party’s transport spokesperson Mark Parton, have been hinting at a lack of support for the project for months.

This comes despite them having run on a pro light rail position at the 2020 election.

That support was somewhat inconsistent at times, and they questioned whether a line to Belconnen would be better than one to Woden.

In recent times, the party has railed against the cost, which it now claims could blow out to $3 billion over the course of the build and would have “significant ongoing social costs for Canberrans”.

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“This Labor-Greens government has ripped millions out of hospitals, schools, public housing and policing to help pay for the tram,” Ms Lee said.

“As a result, we have the longest emergency department wait times in the country, teachers at breaking point with schools being closed down due to violence, a housing crisis, and the lowest number of police per capita of any state and territory.”

Those claims are refuted by the government, which also said the $3 billion figure now being cited by the Liberals was inaccurate, as was the party’s projected completion date of 2034.

Transport Minister Chris Steel has repeatedly refused to reveal how much the line to get light rail to Woden will cost.

His argument is that revealing the cost of the project would jeopardise the procurement process.

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Last week, he accused the Opposition of betraying the Southside by dropping support for the Woden line and called them out on what he perceived as a “backflip” on their previous position.

Preparatory works to raise London Circuit have now begun. They are needed to create a level intersection with Commonwealth Avenue to enable light rail’s right-hand turn from London Circuit towards the lake.

The raising of the road is expected to take two years and then laying the tracks and building the stops to Commonwealth Park is expected to take another two.

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Two good things about light rail:
1. Unlike buses, the route is literally set in concrete, so the honchos in the route planning department can’t add in a few winding loops around various suburbs, which otherwise they wouldn’t be able to resist doing.
2. Unlike the buses, it doesn’t constantly accelerate hard throwing all the passengers back, then suddenly brake hard throwing everyone forward. Or fill your head with engine noise and vibration.

If buses had a dedicated roadway not mixed with other traffic, if they had quiet electric motors and not shakin’ smokin’ diesel, and if acceleration and braking were done by microprocessor rather than heavy-handed drivers crunching the gear shifts and jamming on the brakes, it’d be almost as good as light rail.

The comments below suggest we’ll build light rail but no one will use it. If I were to ask you, as a public transport user what you want out of your experience, surely you would want fastest commute time. This elephant in the room is why only approx 11000 commuters use ACTION or 7% of commuting public, not since last year but for the past 30 years. Einstein once wrote, it is said, if you keep doing the same thing and expecting better but don’t, surely you need to change the paradigm (with apologies to Einstein), and it isn’t Light Rail. Cancel Stage 2 and buy 450 electric buses but ask non commuter where they want them to travel.

Seascout59, As you said, “if you keep doing the same thing and expecting better but don’t, surely you need to change the paradigm”.
So you want to keep doing the same thing; more buses. How they are powered is irrelevant as to getting people to use them, they are still buses. Light rail is something different, and has proved very popular to Gungahlin. People prefer rail and light rail over buses, and that’s been shown time and time again. People who won’t catch buses are more likely to go by rail. Yes, let’s try something different to buses, which many people don’t want to use, even if they are convenient and will take you directly to where you want to go. As one neighbour looked at me askance when I commented how convenient the bus must be for her to get to work; almost door to door, she exclaimed (cue in snooty voice), “I don’t catch buses!”
Oh wow, my mistake; how good I have thought that ‘she’ would catch a bus! However, I bet she would, as for many others, be more willing to consider light rail.

Assuming you’ve paraphrased the quote ‘Insanity is doing the same thing blah, blah, blah’ Einstein never wrote/said that though.

90% of Gungahlin and inner north residents are not using Light Rail, the last Census also showed us that many areas along the Light Rail had an increase in the number of cars per household.

The way people talk you’d think everyone who could was using Light Rail and no one was ever travelling by car or bus.

People are still stuck on the level of Light Rail use in its first months of operation. Usage hasn’t maintained at that initial promising level.

bj_ACT Many of those people likely don’t use any public transport, such as buses either. However, the light rail is well used by others.

Yes BJ,
You don’t hear the government trumpeting the light rail usage numbers anymore. Because they haven’t come close to exceeding the the 2021 business case numbers since Covid, despite the large amount of population growth in the corridor.

Strangely, the government resorted to surveying people to find out how popular it is and how it’s making everyone “want” to take light rail. But of course not actually using it according to the numbers.

All whilst the suburban buses have been reduced to almost unusable due to their frequency and lengthened travel times.

Yes many people don’t use public transport in Canberra whether it be buses or light rail. That’s what I said.

You’re dreaming if you think Light Rail is ‘well used’ by residents who don’t live on the route.

The stats and passenger numbers back this low average level of passenger numbers up. I regularly walk along Northbourne avenue and outside of peak periods there’s generally only a handful of people in each carriage and I’ve often seen more people in a single car at traffic lights than on the entire train.

Have the Liberals ever supported public schools or hospitals? The teachers, nurses, police? I think NOT! Go back to your cave and come up with some new ideas (might take a while so take some coal with you to light your way and stay warm).

HiddenDragon8:08 pm 05 Dec 22

By the time of the 2024 election, the Albanese government should be well into the process of having a “conversation” with the Australian people about the long term pressures on the federal budget (in spite of today’s cheery news about the budget briefly slipping into surplus due to mining revenues), and the consequent need for higher taxes and spending cuts – the latter is highly unlikely to leave federal spending in Canberra unscathed.

Just as it has in the past when the feds have squeezed spending in Canberra, the Barr government will seize on this as an excuse for even higher ACT government spending to offset the impact of federal cuts – big spending on light rail will, of course, be front and centre in that response.

The ACT Liberals should not play the same game by promising to spend equivalent, or possibly even greater, amounts in total on services including their alternative public transport plan (or a Civic stadium and convention centre). Instead, they should make a strong case that it is time (well, past time, in fact) to restrain ACT government spending and frame their promises accordingly as being practical solutions for a government which takes a balanced approach to living within its means.

This would not just be about making a point of political difference, but also about tackling head-on the entitlement mentality of many Canberrans who assume that because light rail seems to them to be a good idea (even if they truly have zero interest in ever using it) the money to pay for it will magically fall from the sky and there will be no trade-offs in terms of other government services.

Whilst this decision is common sense, it is unlikely to get the Libs elected. They need to do more than ditch a stupid plan to provide worse public transport than currently exists. They would need to fix the neglect of the last 2 decades, without raising our rates yet again.

Gerald Olive5:31 pm 05 Dec 22

I think this will be popular northside/southside and is good policy. Canberra can’t afford to bankrupt itself with this slow and totally unnecessary transport system.

Tom Worthington5:22 pm 05 Dec 22

One alternative transport strategy would be to copy the Brisbane Metro, with its double-articulated electric buses (which are styled to look like trams). Also recently at a transport conference in Singapore I talked to engineers onboard their driverless electric bus. This was a full size bus, not a mini-one. The idea was that this bus could service a larger number of routes in low demand areas, feeding into a metro.

Hi tom, the Brisbane Metro connects to a rail system. So it will be similar to Canberra as it is a multi-modal connected network.

Hi Astro,
So it would be no different if light rail was replaced by BRT then.

No chewy; both Brisbane and Canberra have a rail and road system. Multi-modal transport network. If you look up the Brisbane metro website you’ll notice that it advertises rail connections to the bus network.

You keep using “multi modal” which you’ve picked up as a buzzword yet you don’t understand what it means.

A high capacity BRT system is a different “mode” from suburban buses.

Strangely from your use of the term, you seem to be suggesting that the act of changing from a bus to a rail vehicle is of benefit by itself. Very weird.

Perhaps we should introduce a ferry across LBG to increase the “multi modal” nature of our transport network. LOL.

Chewy14 – multi-modal means there is more than one mode of transport. When you refer to a “high capacity BRT system” the “B” stands for “bus”. different routes and sometimes larger capacity but still a bus, buddy. I didn’t say anything about “the act of changing from a bus to a rail vehicle”….you said that. It’s unclear what you are talking about there but I’m sure you’re in furious agreement with yourself. The benefits of having more than one type of public transport are in suitability for types of usage. Every capital city in Australia, except for Darwin, either has, or is planning to have (Hobart) multi-modal transport. So do some of the larger regions, e.g. Newcastle, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. It’s simply a matter of adapting to changing conditions of a growing city. Some Canberrans are just not accepting that, which is sad, however it doesn’t change things.

No Champ,
BRTs are not just a bus in the same way that light rail is not just a tram.

“I didn’t say anything about “the act of changing from a bus to a rail vehicle”….you said that”

Once again you clearly don’t understand your own statements. You’re claiming that multi-modal transport is a benefit of itself yet then don’t want to apply that same principle to BRT systems that operate in the same way as light rail. This necessarily means that you think there is some inherent benefit from changing from a bus to the light rail that isn’t applicable to other modes like a BRT system.

“The benefits of having more than one type of public transport are in suitability for types of usage”

Exactly, thanks for making my point. We can see the same transport benefits through a BRT for a fraction of the cost of light rail as shown by the government’s own analysis of the issue completed for Stage 1.

Again, you make up what you think people should be saying to be in accord with what you are thinking. Doesn’t work that way and doesn’t help your argument. Please show where I claim that “multi-modal transport system is a benefit of itself”. I suggest you look up the Brisbane transport website to see how their rail system connects with their bus system. Whatever you want to call it, they have both rail and road transport just like we do. We are expanding ours as, no doubt, they are expanding there’s. It’s puzzling why some Canberrans seem to be so obsessed with a ‘buses only’ model. Probably because they don’t use them.

I don’t need to make up things, you simply don’t understand the logical outcomes of the arguments you are presenting. But if you want to present your position further, happy to listen.

“Please show where I claim that “multi-modal transport system is a benefit of itself”.

Please explain how you don’t?

You keep using the term as some sort of substitute for an argument so how is it not exactly what you are saying?

And then perhaps you can explain why you keep bringing up other cities as examples that you think have some relevance? Hint, we aren’t those cities and our transport needs are vastly different due to our unique design, our population, our density etc.

Surely our own transport projects need to stand on their own merits. Which is exactly why objective options comparisons and robust business cases are so important.

“It’s puzzling why some Canberrans seem to be so obsessed with a ‘buses only’ model”

I’m sure there are some people that take this view, but not being one of them, I can’t answer.

I think it’s far more puzzling why some Canberrans take a light rail only option and are unwilling to even consider alternatives that deliver the same transport benefits but are far cheaper.

Great, if you don’t need to make things up then please don’t. Best stick to your own opinions and leave others to their own.

How about you answer the questions then?

You’re entitled to your own opinion but you aren’t entitled to your own facts

Still waiting for you to outline the road projects and spending you want redirected also.

We should be highly suspicious of a politician like Transport Minister Chris Steel who refuses to reveal the cost of the Civic-Woden line. Stage 2 has been estimated at more than $3 billion. Three. Billion. Dollars. What is the impact on the ACT budget deficit and rates? How much is that per ratepayer? Former Labor Chief Minister Stanhope has analysed and warned many times of the cost and budget implications of this project. This opportunity cost of the line is the equivalent of building five hospitals or 20 new schools. The debt for this tram indulgence stretches into the future will have to be paid off by our children and our children’s children. There is also the cost of environmental degradation along the route. The loss of our green spaces, trees and the beautiful views to the mountains. Replaced by rows and rows of ugly apartments. A Gunghalinisation of the south. We gain little and lose a lot. Sounds like theft, Minister Steal.

My concern is that of costs to other services. My spouse works in ACT Education, and they are unable to secure funding for teacher’s desks costing about $2000 but we can spend unknown billions on a light rail that will do little to improve travel times in our Car-centric city.

Perhaps we could spend less on roads and use the additional money for teachers’ desks.

Perhaps you can outline some of the major road capacity upgrades that you want to save money on?

How much did they cost, how much could be saved and how would you provide the equivalent transport benefit?

Sure, where’s the business plan and i’ll be happy to comment on it – with a fully costed and cost-benefit analysis of each road project of course.

Is that $2k for one desk or to fit out the whole school? $2k for a desk is insanity.

Business “plan”, LOL.

So you can’t even name one project that needed more robust assessment.

Haha, could you shoot down your argument whilst showing your ignorance on the topic any better.

So…..no business plan then? Just an open cheque for roads. Pity about the schools and hospitals then – they could have done with the extra cash. Happy motoring!

perhaps try digging up? That hole you’re in is getting deeper.

Light rail is here to stay. With Canberra’s multiple city hubs it is the ideal public transport model. I just wonder why it is not being put underground – much less disruptive and maybe even cheaper?

Not sure where you got that idea. The multiple city hubs about 12km from each other is what doesn’t make light rail the ideal public transport model.

Analysis by Infrastructure Australia and various expert public submissions have shown public transport alternatives that better suit Canberra’s geography and design than Light Rail. Even the ACT Auditor General backed these main arguments and questioned various aspects of our Light Rail.

It will take about an hour to get from Greenway to Civic by Light Rail. A direct bus service up the parkway with some simple transit lanes could do it in about 30 minutes. I believe even ACT Labor and Greens admit it’s a property and land development project more than a public transport project.

Underground rail would be many times more expensive due to the huge tunnelling costs.

hi bj, just curious, where did you get the idea that it will take an hour to get from Greenway to Civic by light rail?

Has something changed? Happy to be corrected but didn’t the Libs go to the last election promising to ditch the rail?

No, their election platform in 2020 was supportive of future stages of light rail where robust business cases were prepared and the project makes sense.

So, you’re right that they haven’t really changed their position, its just the other way around.

Thank you for the clarification, chewy14

I’m surprised at the number of people who argue to that Libs failure to win government is due to their failure to support LR. Rubbish.

The truth is that Canberra is a left-leaning town and the ALP and Greens will continue to do deals to secure government, regardless. Even had the Libs supported LR, do people seriously believe that they would have won previous elections?

The Libs are also unlikely to win in 2024 but their decision to focus on the government’s cuts to our services, makes sense. Which should be the priority? LR or our Health, roads and education? For many people, I expect LR would rank after those services, even though they may vote ALP or Green.

LR from Gungahlin addressed a specific need with heavy road traffic; a consequence of that area’s development. That LR journey is efficient due to traffic light sequencing. Those advantages don’t exist on the Woden leg. With LR limited to 70khp, a bus commute at 80kph is a superior form of public transport.

I have no doubt that when 2a is completed, buses will terminate at the lake and commuters will need to change onto LR and then maybe back onto another bus in the City. The slower commute time will have commenced.

I’m not entirely opposed to LR, but as a means of public transport, LR to Woden doesn’t have a lot going for it.

The argument that the Libs failure to get elected is due to light rail makes absolutely zero sense with very little evidence to back it up.

If you look at the 2016 election results when the Libs opposed Stage 1, the areas of Gungahlin and North Canberra that would benefit from light rail, did seemingly vote heavily ALP and Greens.

But areas to the South that wouldn’t benefit, voted stronger Liberal.

In the 2020 election, the Liberals took a platform supporting light rail (with robust business cases) to the election and lost ground significantly. If Light Rail was the big issue, it defies sense that their vote would have decreased.

They are already a slim chance of winning and this is unlikely to make a big difference against them.

michael quirk3:37 pm 05 Dec 22

Well done Ms Lee.

The ACT government in its promotion and development of light rail is guilty of deceptive and misleading conduct. It has not established its claims are true or accurate and has failed to provide the information needed for voters to make an informed decision.

The government claims light rail is necessary to meet future transport needs and to ensure Canberra remains one of the world’s most livable cities; will reduce traffic congestion and contribute to planned and thoughtful urban development and is a core component in creating a more sustainable city.

While focusing a significant proportion of growth around major transport corridors is a sound strategy and a better transport network will assist economic growth and diversification, sustainability and enhanced liveability, the government has not established light rail is needed to achieve these goals.

The benefits, in all probability, can be achieved by other means including bus rapid transport on a dedicated right of way, at substantially lower cost.

The government is yet to justify its expensive insistence on light rail. To date, it has either ignored criticism or given superficial responses. Its approach is the antithesis of transparent and accountable government.

The project is diverting funds from major unmet needs and is reducing livability, social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Policy should be based on evidence not malarkey.

ACT Labor: Please like the tram for 100 social credit points.

Stuart McKinnon3:00 pm 05 Dec 22

The Canberra Liberals – and some Canberrans – just don’t seem to understand that Light Rail in this city has momentum. It isn’t going away, and now it makes no sense to not capitalise on the existing investment. However, I do believe that the proposed Fyshwick loop makes more sense as the next stage for Canberra. It’ll pick up Barton, Kingston, Fyshwick, the airport, Russell Offices, and Campbell – all while revitalising the old railway corridor, and giving the heavy railway a new station. Brilliant concept.

Here we go again. The Canberra Liberals giving us another light rail election. I can guarantee that this decision not to support the light rail on to Woden and then Mawson and Tuggeranong will cost the Canberra Liberals the 2024 election. The Canberra Liberals are now back at square one after 21 years in opposition. The party just keep on giving. The more things change the more they stay the same. Can people imagine voters in the party’s heartland suburbs of Yarralumla and Deakin waking up to the news this morning? These people will benefit most from the light rail’s extension south. Not to mention residents of Lyons, Curtin and Mawson and the Southland shopping centre benefiting from the tram’s further expansion out to Tuggeranong. Then there is the new CIT in Woden. I am sure though Elizabeth Lee is happy in the knowledge that this announcement gives her a bit of slack and a few more years to come up with a transport policy. Any policy however be Clayton light and not match our transport infrastructure or population needs for our growing city into the future.

They were long odds to win the 2024 election before this, so it’s not like your claim that this is the definitive issue that will cost them the election has any basis in reality.

“Can people imagine voters in the party’s heartland suburbs of Yarralumla and Deakin waking up to the news this morning? These people will benefit most from the light rail’s extension south. Not to mention residents of Lyons, Curtin and Mawson and the Southland shopping centre benefiting from the tram’s further expansion”

So pork barrelling is OK then? Strange that those so worried about government corruption are perfectly fine with it when their preferred party is the one engaging in it.

Although I do think that if the government is upfront around the amount of densification that will be required in those areas aling with the costs, the support will drop away significantly.

Can’t imagine the good burghers of Yarralumla and Deakin will appreciate the multi-storey apartment buildings required, considering their typical reactions to even modest development proposals.

“Any policy however be Clayton light and not match our transport infrastructure or population needs for our growing city into the future.”

Well the current ALP/Greens policies don’t meet those needs, so why do you expect the Liberals to do so?

What a surprise. The Canberra Liberals, yet again, go into an election campaign trying to stop something. The two anti-tram campaigns we’ve had aren’t the only example. I remember the campaign that was only about stopping the Arboretum. What do the Liberals actually intend to do (apart from block things)? If you want us to vote for you, we need more about what you actually stand for.

Yep folks we’re headed for another Light Rail election. Groundhog day for Canberra voters. Bring it on!

It is truly ridiculous that the Light Rail project has become such an article of ideological faith for the local ALP and Greens that they refuse to even countenance that there could be alternatives or that each stage should be assessed on its merits.

Amazing to see Steele trumpet the Liberals not supporting the project whist refusing to release any details on estimated costs or timelines or commit to the preparation of a robust business case.

Imagine if we had more informed and objective infrastructure and transport planning than this absolute shemozzle.

Leon Arundell9:51 am 05 Dec 22

The Canberra Liberals understand that Stage 2 would be a massive waste of public money, that would be better spent on more worthwhile projects. The Government’s submission to Infrastructure Australia said that bus rapid transit would generate $1.98 worth of benefits for each dollar that it would cost. Its Business Case for Stage 2A says that Stage 2 as a whole would produce only sixty cents worth of benefits for each dollar that it would cost.

Stephen Saunders11:52 am 05 Dec 22

Canberra Libs have already run a single-issue Tram Hate Election, in 2016. Voters gave them a beating.

Have the voters changed their minds, and would they rather have, the buses always prescribed for them by the instant armchair MIT PhDs in urban transit? I guess we’ll find out.

Funny that it’s the armchair PHDs that support the light rail project.

You only need to look at the government’s own (biased) evidence in their dodgy business case to see how bad the project is, along with the Auditor general’s assessment as well as repeated findings from the Infrastructure Australia. You know, the actual experts.

And the fact that they won’t release updated cost estimates, timelines or do even the most rudimentary options assessment for upcoming stages tells you everything you need to know.

Although funnily it seems you are promoting that the voters uninformed views should have some seriois weighting for infrastructure projects. So pork barrelling is perfectly acceptable because people vote for it?

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