5 April 2024

Libs to replace light rail to Woden with busway and expanded all-electric bus fleet

| Ian Bushnell
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The Canberra Liberals plan hundreds more electric buses to meet growing demand. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

A fully electric bus fleet built in Canberra and a dedicated busway from the city to Woden by 2027 are key elements of the public transport policy the Canberra Liberal will take to the 19 October election.

The party will today unveil the policy, People focused Public Transport, saying it will get Canberrans where they want to go, when they want to get there.

The Canberra Liberals had already pledged to ditch light rail Stage 2B to Woden, and all work on this project would cease immediately if they win government.

The new policy promises a seven-day-a-week service with reliable, frequent and direct bus routes on the Rapid, Local and restored Xpresso (Express) routes, as well as a new fare structure that caps fares at $25 a week and a new free city travel zone.

The Canberra Liberals say they will back this with a legislated service guarantee.

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They also promise to expand the current bus fleet, saying Canberra needed over 500 new buses over the next decade and electrify it faster than the current procurement program.

Procuring bigger buses to carry more people will also be explored.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said a Liberal government would go to market to partner with a bus manufacturer to build the future bus fleet in Canberra, as is being done in other cities, and assemble buses for other jurisdictions in the long term.

“Our plan is to assemble our electric buses for Canberrans by Canberrans, which will create local jobs,” she said.

But the policy acknowledges that buses will still need to be assembled elsewhere until Canberra can do so.

map of Canberra Liberals' travel plans

The Canberra Liberals’ proposed city to Woden travel corridor. Image: Supplied.

The Woden busway, which the Liberals say will cost a fraction of light rail, is one of several capital works projects that also include a new Civic interchange, a new northside bus depot and the Belconnen to City busway.

Like the proposed light rail line, it will link key employment and recreation precincts in the City, Acton Waterfront, Commonwealth Park, Adelaide Avenue corridor and the Woden Town Centre.

It will involve a series of bus-only lanes along the identified corridors, a reinstated bus-only roadway between Capital Circle and Adelaide Avenue to Carruthers Street in Curtin and the conversion of the Yarra Glen roundabout to a signalised intersection but still allowing for non-stop through traffic.

The Mawson extension will include the eastern side of Athllon Drive between Hindmarsh Drive and Beasley Street, Torrens, with bus priority at intersections.

A new Park & Ride at Phillip, the return of the Woden Park & Ride and improvements to the Beasley Street and Mawson Park & Rides are also planned.

Opposition transport spokesperson Mark Parton said the busway would reduce the journey time from Woden to the city to under 15 minutes and also speed up travel times for those travelling to the city from Woden, Weston Creek, Molonglo and Tuggeranong.

“Under a Canberra Liberals government, transport improvements will be made across all areas of Canberra, and the legislated service guarantee will give Canberrans a reliable and frequent seven-day timetable,” he said.

He said Rapid buses would run at least every 15 minutes, 7 am to 7 pm, seven days a week; local services at least every 30 minutes during the daytime, seven days a week; and school and Xpresso busses every 30 minutes during peak periods Monday to Friday.

This will put the Liberals on a collision course with the powerful Transport Workers Union over filling the weekend roster, a notoriously prickly issue.

They may also have difficulty recruiting enough drivers, but the policy says a Liberal Government would further develop and implement the 2019-2023 Transport Canberra People Strategy, focusing on attracting and retaining bus and tram drivers to increase weekday and weekend services.

Where you would travel for free in the city. Image Canberra Liberals.

Mr Parton said a number of priority transport projects would be implemented to get Canberrans where they need to go as quickly and comfortably as possible without having to change transport modes constantly.

“The fastest way to do this is to remove stop-start sections along Rapid corridors, introduce more intersection jump-starts, more slip lanes and priority phasing for buses at traffic lights through the installation of transponders in the bus fleet,” he said.

The policy says the school bus network will be restored and more services added where needed.

It also envisages a trial of on-demand services, more frequent and dedicated airport bus services using better-suited vehicles, more bike storage cages and better active travel connections, and smart, connected bus stops with real-time electronic information.

Ms Lee said the policy would focus on a faster, greener, and better-connected public transport system that would be delivered cheaper and sooner than the government’s plan.

“This comprehensive plan will reimagine the future of public transport in Canberra,” Ms Lee said.

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Mr Parton said the current public transport system was not meeting the needs of Canberrans.

“The Canberra Liberals’ people-focused public transport policy will provide a faster and more reliable transport network,” he said.

A Liberal Government would establish a transport task force to review, evaluate, and report on the current status of Transport Canberra services and report back by mid-2025.

It would also honour the light rail Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park contracts.

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Oh boy – this IS comical !
Over 400 commentators.

C Northcote Parkinson’s bike shed ( a.k.a. “Law of Triviality”) is hereby conclusively Proven.

However the elephant in the room lingers .. ..
HOW is the economic Folly of the Gungahlin/Civic (and now its useless stage 2A appendage) light rail, the slightest justification for any further of that Folly anywhere else ??

When other more flexible, even more modern, and more economic public transport options (plural) are known, WHY do some folk advocate any extensions anywhere off the current inflexible rail-track ?? For Neatness.

Driverless vehicles ?? On-demand ?? Flexible routes ??

Transports of Delight. Everyone knows what a bike shed is.
Pity is, demonstrably so few folk have the faintest notion about transport economics’ cost-benefit analysis.

For my part, I cannot wait for the 2024 Assembly election campaign claims .. .. it’s already begun in earnest.

The Canberra Liberals and its transport spokesperson Mark Parton should explain to Canberrans why their party is prepared to sacrifice the long-term benefits of an integrated bus and light network for a cheaper transport option of bus only. Why are Gungahlin residents able to enjoy a light rail network that is reliable, comfortable and safe to ride on but a travel option their party is denying to other public transport users in Canberra. Not to mention the economic inanity of a light rail network that commences in Gungahlin and ends at Commonwealth Park!

What public transport plans do the Canberra Liberals have for the building and expansion works currently underway in Barton and Parkes and an expected growth of over 5,000 employees when construction is complete? This will bring enormous pressures on our roads and public transport system.

All big and expanding cities have seen the benefits of mass and integrated public transport networks. Light rail reduces congestion and brings significant long term economic, social and environmental benefits. Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne and Adelaide all have integrated modes of transport and have introduced light rail proving so successful that all of these cities they are now expanding their networks.

Clever Interrobang7:22 am 12 Apr 24

Simple, if the so called benefits are unrealistic and unlikely to fully materialise, and weighing that against the cost and disruption, that’s argument enough to make a case for not expanding it.

It’s odd that anyone would even consider talking only about so-called benefits without considering risks and downsides.

Canberra is nothing like Sydney, Melbourne, Golf Coast, or Adelaide and actually needs a Canberra plan, not a Gold Coast plan or Adelaide plan.

Given the layout of Canberra and average working/commuting habits any light rail is unlikely to ever be as successful as somewhere like the Gold Coast or Melbourne, not to mention that building light rail across Lake Burley Griffin is incredibly complex and expensive

GrumpyGrandpa5:19 pm 04 Apr 24

Building electric buses in Canberra?
I’m not sure about this part of the plan. Canberra isn’t really known for it’s manufacturing industries.

Tom Worthington10:29 am 04 Apr 24

It is curious that the choice of steel or rubber tires, & overhead or battery power, on public transport from Civic to Woden is a political issue. Battery technology has improved to the point where this is a viable alternative to overhead wires (Newcastle trams use batteries). Steel tires on trams are more efficient than rubber ones on busses, but the difference is small and Brisbane has ordered trackless trams. However, there are new cheaper, quicker ways to lay a lightweight roadbed for trams, comparable in cost to the heavy duty roadbed need for a busway.

In terms of suburban services, I inspected a driver-less electric feeder bus at a transport conference in Singapore in 2022. The significance of this was that it wasn’t a tiny toy thing holding a half dozen people, but a standard size bus. These could run around the suburbs at low cost, and automatically recharge at the depot.

With the greatest respect, the idea of manufacturing our own buses as part of a transport policy is crazy. I assume it plays to a commitment to local jobs, local investment etc, but by the time a factory is up and running the time frame and the expense would be similar to light rail anyway. And when we’ve built “our” buses, we hope some other jurisdiction will buy more to cover the cost? Bus or tram, the technology exists off the shelf.

HiddenDragon8:10 pm 03 Apr 24

The people ululating and hyperventilating over this announcement need to get their heads around the fact that there is absolutely no guarantee that the Woden leg, or any other hoped-for legs, of light rail will happen regardless of the outcome of the 2024 and subsequent ACT elections.

Public statements on light rail by Andrew Barr since the latter part of 2023 have made it clear to anyone who can read between the lines of polly-speak that the Woden leg (and surely thus any other legs) is conditional upon an unstated (but the hint seems to be at least 50-50) financial contribution from the federal government. This is hardly surprising given the current state and trajectory of the ACT’s finances.

The feds have thus far made no firm commitment, but even if something which looks like that appears in next month’s federal budget, with a couple of federal elections to be held before serious work on the Woden leg would get started, that won’t mean very much.

There’s a very good chance that at least some of the plans announced today by the Canberra Liberals are matched (i.e. stolen) by the ACT government before the October election (in the same way that they initially rubbished, then adopted, the Liberals’ call for a new hospital), with the central idea of a dedicated busway kept in the bottom drawer in case the feds conclude that the billions they would need to kick in to make a light rail network happen in Canberra could be used for far more strategic vote buying elsewhere in the country.

I really don’t mind if the vehicle runs on rails or tires. What I do want to see is that vehicle have the same qualities as the current trams. These qualities as I see them are:

1. Quiet
2. Has the ability to carry a massive amount of people
3. Priority in traffic.

Although the above are in my view requirements they are not the most important requirements. The items below are in my view are the most important requirements of all.

The vehicle must be accessible for ALL travellers. This includes people with bikes, strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, walking sticks, low or no vision, prams and so on.

The beauty of the trams we have and are getting is they do all that and more. Buses on the other hand have to conform to maximum widths and lengths. this limits the space possible for those of us needing a hand.

Although buses do have the ability to lean down/over and extend ramps but they just don’t have the wide opening doors a tram has and the ramp is usually at the narrowest door forcing wheelchair bound travellers to travel at the front and limiting the space they the vehicle has for these valued members of our community.

Is the Phillip bus station in the right spot?

Wow….. don’t these ‘chicken littles’ liberals realise that Canberra is now a bussling CITY, not a little town. And I love the phrase “…They also promise to expand the current bus fleet….”. Nothing like an opposition ‘promising’ what they will do when they are in Government. PS. So once the liberals have taken us back to more buses will they then rip out all the OUR wind farms and solar farms so they a reintroduce ‘clean coal’ power source for our electricity!

It’s already a bus route. We already have electric buses. Why don’t they just say they will stop the very successful light rail (the building of which has already been started!)?
Hands off our trams!

Neil Snudden7:48 am 04 Apr 24

‘Very successful light rail’ really. I live in Woden and don’t expect the very expensive light rail to ever reach me. At least the Liberals have a plan. Busses on dedicated bus-ways are quick to build and are a cost effective public transport solution. Making the busses here might be pie in the sky however bringing a manufacturing business to the ACT is something we need.

Commit to extending light rail to Reid and belconnen alongside this plan and you might get some more votes. The only reason the team is going to Woden is to make things fair for Southside, rather than where it is most needed or would be most useful. I think it should be built one day, but so long as they do keep expanding the light rail network little by little, this seems a better way to make things fair for Southside until it actually makes sense to extend the network there.

Yes, understand the need for stage 3 Belconnen to airport but, realistically, there would be a lot of blowback from southside businesses who are relying on stage 2 to bring them more trade. It would be unfair to them for all of it to be northside.

“It would be unfair to them for all of it to be northside.”

Well, well, well. What do we have here. Astro talking about “fairness” and equity in the provision of light rail for the benefit of businesses.

Let’s see if you can take the next step and expand on those thoughts around equity in both costs and benefits. And include the rest of the community as well.

Welcome to the light side.

As long as the bus stations are upgradable to rail in the future, do this and more rail on Northside. I used to live in Gungahlin and the tram made a huge difference, cutting commute time by more than 50%. and making Northbourne better for everyone I live Southside now and bus from Mawson to city is pretty quick. But the liberals are blinded by ideology if they don’t see the benefits of more light rail Northside. But I agree the light rail to Woden is to appease Southside voters, rather than practicality (for now anyway).

Simply making the point that there are many businesses keen to get the foot traffic that follows with a light rail system; for example Fyshwick Business Association has engaged a consultant and put a plan to the ACT Government to have light rail extend to Fyshwick along the current heavy rail line. There’s no “next steps” involved here and, including the views of our business community is important to get the network right. To have all the network on the northside would not please southside businesses. Makes sense.

Your so close to getting there and there’s most definitely next steps if you actually understand the implications of your own statements.

You claimed that it would be “unfair” to Southside businesses for light rail to only be Northside.

You’ve now claimed that light rail will provide benefits to certain businesses that those not on the light rail won’t have access too.

Why do you think that is?

ACT Government has to consider the needs of southsiders as well as northsiders. Building a light rail network that only services northsiders could be seen as not acting in the interests southsiders. So the rollout goes Gunners to City (north) City to Woden (South), Belconnen to airport via City (North) then Woden to Tuggers (south). It’s pretty simple to see that a balance needs to be maintained for both sides of the lake. Light Rail brings increased foot traffic which businesses like. Not sure what point you’re attempting to make about “certain businesses”? There are benefits to businesses being in a good location, including access to major public transport routes. Simple economics.

“ACT Government has to consider the needs of southsiders as well as northsiders. Building a light rail network that only services northsiders could be seen as not acting in the interests southsiders.”

Well yes Astro, but here I was thinking that light rail was about providing a solution to a defined transport need rather than political drivers and vote buying.

Your statement above has nothing to do with good infrastructure planning or economic viability.

But providing more detail, why exactly would it be “seen” to be “not acting in the interests of Southsiders?

Why would it in your words be “unfair” specifically?

And why just focus on an arbitrary North/South divide. Why does the lake’s location as one physical feature of the city matter at all for a major infrastructure transport project?

The same exact thing applies to all residents and businesses not within walking distance of a light rail stop across the city.

Considering that a full city wide network is decades away on the government’s own timeline, how do you think that continued service disparity be justified?

And what other ways could that disparity be minimised without sending the Territory broke?

“It would be unfair”.

Yes, it would be. And you’re still close to admitting why.

Hi chewy14, if you still don’t understand it I suggest you have a look at the map of proposed light rail routes and see how they connect major parts of the city: Gungahlin, Woden, Civic, Belconnen, airport and Tuggeranong. It might make more sense for you then. Obviously not everyone can live “within walking distance” of any major public transport route (anywhere in the world for that matter), however people are already connecting with light rail to gunners, inner north and EPIC from Rapid routes 2, 6, 4 etc. The connections are actually pretty good. Hope this helps and perhaps if you use the light rail you’ll understand a bit none.

LOL, It was at this point that Astro realised he’d messed up and needed to change topic and go back to his tired and meaningless talking points.

If you have new information to provide, I’m happy to read it. But looking at a map to help you decide whether to support the proposal simply outlines the shallow depth of your thinking and analysis. Also funny that you think i haven’t and don’t use the light rail. Do you think using it gives you some special insight into the project’s viability?

You raised specific points, I’ve responded with specific questions to expand on your statements. Perhaps you should attempt to answer them so you can deepen your thinking and understand the issue better.

You seem to be getting increasingly frustrated as the building of light rail progresses and for that I feel sorry for you. However, to recap and prevent getting “off-track” 🙂 the original point by another poster was about whether Stage 3 should be done before stage 2. As popular as light rail is, the government has a to make rational decisions on a staged rollout and one of these is to allow for an even spread of light rail between north and south of the lake. This isn’t “vote-buying” – it’s common sense. If you have some sort of reasoning as to why all of the light rail network should be built on the north side of the lake then by all means put that forward. In the meantime enjoying your LOLing and i hope it cheers you up.

I’m not frustrated about anything but continually having to educate you on the basics and them you repeating already discredited arguments.

You admitted that you think the choice between route selection should be based on political reasoning rather than well defined need and thorough assessments. But you weren’t even across the topic well enough to realise it.

You also think arbitrary landscape features like a lake should be involved in the decision making for some strange reason.

“If you have some sort of reasoning as to why all of the light rail network should be built on the north side of the lake then by all means put that forward”

Major infrastructure and transport projects should be based on well defined needs, options assessments and economic analysis. There should be considerations of equity and funding so that private beneficiaries are not significantly subsidised through taxpayer investment.

North or South of the lake is irrelevant to proper infrastructure planning and its truly embarrassing for you to mention it.

Thanks for the laugh Astro, the paucity of your knowledge on this topic is amusing sometimes. Particularly when you shoot yourself in the foot.

Dig up son.

.”….continually having to educate you…” that’s sad mate. Keep laughing, chin up. Hope you get light rail near to wherever it is you are. Thanks for your views but I think we’re done with this topic. There’ll always be people disagreeing on which route should be next but, in the end, planners are working off maintaining a balance based on need and usage so let’s leave it at that.

Yes let’s leave it at that Astro, that last batch of evidence free talking points and inability to answer direct questions wraps your level of argument well.

Particularly when you already admitted the decisions were being made for political reasons rather than good planning. Shame when you get caught out like that isn’t it.

And I don’t hope you get light rail near you soon, I hope everyone gets better public transport near them, all across Canberra, delivered in the most efficient manner.

That’s the difference between us.

Chewy14 doing the “I said you said this, you just admitted it” when that wasn’t what was said at all. Comprehension not your best skill.

Astro, talking about failed comprehension whilst not understanding the direct implications of his own statements.

Too funny.

The only reasons you gave as to why light rail needed to go south of the lake were solely political in nature. The fact that you don’t even understand something so basic is once again embarrassing for you.

No, you think that the reasons are political, however it’s pretty clear that they’re not. Providing a balanced rollout isn’t political, it’s common sense. (Unless you have a very odd definition of “political”) I understand how upset you are that Stage 2 is being rolled out but isn’t it a bit too late to be constantly carping about it just because you didn’t get your own way. As the Canberra Times Editorial said: “It would also be easy to over-estimate the level of community opposition because light rail’s regular critics are highly vocal and just won’t let the issue rest.” Perhaps let this one rest.

Sorry, you were asked specific questions to expand on your position and you studiously avoided them. The attempted backtracking is just weak.

“Providing a “balanced rollout”.

Once again, meaningless drivel. What exactly is being balanced and for what reasons?

So far, you’ve claimed that the Lake has some significant relevance for route choice but can’t explain why.

How does the choice relate to the most efficient expenditure to achieve the greatest benefit for citizens? Where is the documented evidence to support such a choice?

How are benefits “balanced” for those who have no access to light rail and won’t for decades if ever, yet still have to pay for it?

As you put rightly:

“It would be unfair”

“It’s common sense”

The simple refrain of those who can’t support their own position and fall back on meaningless platitudes and talking points.

And why would I let it rest? I’ve repeatedly provided detailed rationale why the project is not feasible and grossly inequitable.

Why would I stop calling out such a grotesque failure of governance?

That’s why I’m not going to v0te for them.

It is so refreshing to see a substantive policy from the Canberra Liberals that demonstrates actual thought and community consultation. I look forward to an meaningful policy debate that forces Labor and the Greens to actually try to sell the benefits of investing in light rail, rather than taking the electorate for granted. I would like to see light rail built across Canberra but the government’s mismanagement of stage 2 makes it very difficult to continue to support this project.

I’m not sure stage 2 has been mismanaged, but I will go with it for the sake of the argument. A libs campaign which supported the light rail, but promised to manage it better and get it done sooner may get my vote. But this opposition is probably going to see them lose again.

Great idea to bring manufacturing back to the ACT! Rest of the policy seems fine by me. No tram means less debt and deficit.

The proposed policy connecting the City to Woden with dedicated bus ways and prioritised intersections is a fantastic move to more efficiently improve public transport on this route, without spending billions unnecessarily.

They should however, ensure that future provision is made to upgrade/convert the bus routes to rail if future demands change to require it.

If only the current government wasn’t so ideologically wedded to light rail despite the mountains of evidence that it isn’t currently viable for Canberra.

Yep agreed … a practical cost effective solution for now – but needs to include forethought to plan for the future.

devils_advocate10:10 am 03 Apr 24

While I don’t personally have any use for public transport (except indirectly, in the sense that it reduces road congestion for drivers of private vehicles) I think that frequent and reliable public transport should be free or nominal charge for everyone. This would reduce the cost of living pressure and encourage participation among those members of society that need it most.

This is easily affordable given the amounts of rates, land taxes and other deadweight taxes paid, and in light of the amount of government waste on pet projects.

The fastest and least expensive way to achieve this is through public buses, and viewing them as a public good rather than a misguided attempt at running a commercial operation.

No issue whatsoever with free or nominal charge … you are 100% correct in asserting trying to run ACTION as a commercial operation is totally misguided.

Being practical doesn’t mean we have to be conservative and boring. With Canberra’s road infrastructure, we are best placed to introduce autonomous buses, for the Rapid routes to start with. The technologies are already there and for our use cases they are safe. The benefits this brings would be enormous: less labour cost, flexible on-demand scheduling, etc.

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