Big numbers using light rail to get to and from festival and New Year events has Transport Canberra optimistic the rebound to public transport after the COVID-19 pandemic is on.
Transport Canberra says more than 47,000 light rail passenger boardings were recorded over Summernats this month, a big return for the car festival at Exhibition Park with numbers surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
It followed more than 12,000 light rail passenger boardings over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
In November nearly 24,000 rode light rail on the day of the Spilt Milk music festival at EPIC.
Transport Canberra said the light rail vehicles’ door passenger counters recorded nearly 48,000 passengers travelling across the four-day Summernats festival.
This is more than double the light rail patronage numbers from Summernats the year before, and nearly 16,500 more than the last pre-pandemic festival in 2020.
Acting Executive Branch Manager Light Rail Operations Anthony Haraldson said it was great to see visitors choosing light rail to get around.
“After two COVID-19 impacted years, it’s really pleasing to know that Canberra and interstate visitors had no hesitation in returning to our light rail network as one of the primary ways to get to the Summernats festival,” he said.
“We knew that light rail would be an important method of travel for attendees this year, especially with the Summernats fringe festival taking place in Braddon on both the Friday and Saturday evenings.”
Mr Haraldson said the frequency of services was increased during peak times, with an additional 90 services provided, to help people move between EPIC, Braddon and the city.
“Our busiest period was recorded between 3 pm and 8 pm on the Friday where 5772 people jumped onboard a light rail service,” he said.
Last year Summernats was a capped event of 80,000 attendees during which 23,235 light rail passenger boardings were recorded.
Summernats was cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19. In 2020, during the last festival pre-pandemic, there were 31,326 boardings.
“Canberrans have slowly regained their confidence in returning to public transport after a tough period and our travel habits have changed,” Mr Haraldson said.
“We’re now travelling at different times and there’s a great opportunity to rethink our routines to include more public transport.”
He said an additional 42 light rail services were scheduled on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to help Canberrans travel to and from events around the city, including the fireworks over Lake Burley Griffin.
There were also additional bus services in the evening, with Q-City transport providing extra charter services.
Travel was free across the entire public transport network from 5 pm on 31 December 2022.
Mr Haraldson said extra service to support Spilt Milk also paid off.
“Canberra’s largest festival in recent years also had excellent passenger results with more than 23,899 customers using the light rail service on the day despite a 20-minute interruption to bus and light rail services,” he said.
But that decision, prompted by crowds on the tracks and light rail drivers turning away people at the festival close, also drew criticism that the system could not cope.