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Light rail enthusiasts responsible for public transport woes?

By johnboy - 7 November 2011 64

The Canberra Times has a piece blaming light rail fans in Canberra for the ever more expensive and less useful bus service.

Dr Mees revealed his submission to Environment Minister Simon Corbell yesterday, saying the Government’s plan ”is fundamentally flawed, because it perpetuates the policy mistakes that have seen public transport in Canberra decline at record rates over the last 20 years”.

Dr Mees says the ACT disproved the ”myth of density” – that public transport fails if the population is spread out – in the 1970s and 1980s, when it developed one of the nation’s most successful bus networks. His paper explains how Canberra went from being Australia’s most car-dominated city in 1961 to having the second-most used public transport system in the country.

Dr Mees also said public transport advocates’ obsession with light rail had been ”an enormous distraction and has held Canberra back”.

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64 Responses to
Light rail enthusiasts responsible for public transport woes?
Bramina 6:05 pm 07 Nov 11

Grail said :

Now if only we could recover some facts from the ’80s about the number of dual-income families, the number of kids riding bikes to school instead of being driven by this week’s parent in the urban combat vehicle, and perhaps even a few copies of bus routes, ticket prices compared to family incomes, the proportion of houses with air conditioning, and the level of reporting of child sex offences in the news.

That would be some interesting reading.

Exacty, “look Canberra had a good bus system in the 80’s” doesn’t prove anything because the devil lies in the details.

The benefits of density for public transport and the benefits of light rail are easy to prove.

With density, it is straightforward that more residences per meter of the route means shorter transport times and greater convenience, plus higher utilisation rates, which means routes can operate at higher frequency and be even more convenient.

As for light rail, a bus can carry something like 50 passengers and has one/two doors whereas a tram can carry 300 passengers with 12 doors. A tram can carry six times the number of people per trip and load/unload them much faster.

aussieboy 5:44 pm 07 Nov 11

Postalgeek said :

Someone pointed to the Bogota Rapid Bus Transit system in a different thread, and it certainly seems to be a system that might suit Canberra. The light rail enthusiasts get platforms and sliding doors, and bus enthusiasts will still be able to look into the back seats of cars.

Guess what – the Blue Rapid has an average speed 15kph HIGHER than the Bogota system (40k vs 25k). We don’t need BRTs or light rail lines here – there’s not enough traffic and the roads are too good.

Not only are Canberra buses among the fastest in the world: the ticketing is world-class, we have google maps integration, our interchanges are super-well maintained and so many buses are new.

Compare this to Sydney, where most buses struggle to average over 10km/h, are not air-conditioned and get stuck in traffic all the time. We are very very lucky.

The only problem with Canberra buses is service frequency – 30mins is not OK; 15mins is the absolute minimum for a usable route

damien haas 5:38 pm 07 Nov 11

Normally I agree with Paul Mees, but I think his criticism of light rail advocates is misplaced. The bus system is beyond its capacity, and still cant satisfy its mandate. At other times it operates with very low patronage. There needs to be a modal change with lightrail as the backbone of a public transport system and buses feeding commuters into light rail nodes, park and rides etc.

Otherwise, he is right. Canberra is being locked into a car dependent future. The govts grand 2031 plan still has car use at over 70% – this in its high density city of the future. Think about that one folks.

The government has two problems with the ACTION system – a short term and a long term problem.

Short term it is struggling to satisfy peak demand – Gungahlin is a prime example with full buses not stopping and delaying commuters, coupled with a local service with such infrequent services that it is not reliable. We support the ACT Governments efforts to improve ACTION.

Long term, the problem is that even if the government reaches its aspirational 16% trips taken on public transport figure (a doubling of the present figure) this means that the ACTION fleet and driver workforce would need to be doubled. This is not a sensible solution, especially as the government are leading Canberra down a high density future along ‘transport corridors’. International and local experience has shown that this will not occur with a bus only rapid system, it needs to be light rail. Otherwise Canberra will experience all the disadvantages of a high density city, and none of the advantages.

This ALP Government has serious credibility issues with transport planning. I would refer you all to the 2004 Sustainable Transport Plan – it recognised the advantages of light rail and said buses could deliver them all. The government then slashed and burnt the bus fleet and service frequency and despite several good attempts (Rapid Expresses etc) the bad taste from that still lingers.

The only realistic solution is a light rail high speed backbone, with integrated more frequent local bus services. This leverages the advantages of both transport modes. ACT Light Rail has always advocated for this. Paul Mees may not be aware of that, he certainly has never spoken to me.

My other response is that if it wasnt for light rail advocates lobbying for better public transport, you would not be seeing any improvements or even discussion of improvements. Governments only react when pressure is applied. Do you think Gungahlin is now getting better ACTION service because the govt just felt like it ? No – the GCC have advocated strongly for those extra services.

Or perhaps we should just leave transport planning to visionaries like John Hargreaves again.

Lastly, light rail isnt an ‘obsession’ its simply the most logical and cost effective way to introduce mass transit public transport to Canberra (and hopefully Queanbeyan).

matt31221 5:37 pm 07 Nov 11

How did Dr Mees come to that conclusion?

Build the light rail and see how Canberra goes then. It certainly isn’t going to hold it back. It will definately add character and encourage more public transport use.

RedDogInCan 5:26 pm 07 Nov 11

Grail said :

Personally, I’d put the tram line on an overhead viaduct.

Yes! A monorail will solve all our transport problems and be a great tourist attraction.

Postalgeek 4:41 pm 07 Nov 11

Someone pointed to the Bogota Rapid Bus Transit system in a different thread, and it certainly seems to be a system that might suit Canberra. The light rail enthusiasts get platforms and sliding doors, and bus enthusiasts will still be able to look into the back seats of cars.

Gungahlin Al 4:29 pm 07 Nov 11

arescarti42 said :

Anyone know where or when I can get a copy of this paper? I’d really like to read through it.

I’d suggest it is the government’s complete lack of commitment to public transport, rather than attention given to light rail that is what has held Canberra back.

A comprehensive and frequent bus system integrated with light rail would no doubt be the best outcome for public transport, but that’s certainly not to say you can’t provide a good level of service without light rail.

http://www.communityengagement.act.gov.au/engagements/tams/current/building_a_better_bus_service

I’d suggest it should be read in conjunction with:
http://www.communityengagement.act.gov.au/engagements/deccew/current/act_planning_strategy

arescarti42 4:09 pm 07 Nov 11

Anyone know where or when I can get a copy of this paper? I’d really like to read through it.

I’d suggest it is the government’s complete lack of commitment to public transport, rather than attention given to light rail that is what has held Canberra back.

A comprehensive and frequent bus system integrated with light rail would no doubt be the best outcome for public transport, but that’s certainly not to say you can’t provide a good level of service without light rail.

shadow boxer 3:28 pm 07 Nov 11

Keijidosha said :

Interestingly the Government put forward a proposal for a grandiose dedicated bus expressway from Civic to Belconnen a couple of years back. From memory the cost was estimated at over $100 million. Common sense said that the better solution was a dedicated bus lane city-bound, which would be far more cost-effective and eradicate the majority of conjestion issues for buses using Barry Drive. Surprisingly this was the option chosen, was implemented promptly and it has worked very well.

My point? Convert the outer lanes of Northbourne Avenue to dedicated bus lanes – heck even just the city bound lane during peak hours would make a huge improvement. IMO Gunghalin does not “need’ light rail, it simply needs increased bus access to the city and more efficient routes. Some will argue that light rail is superior for many reasons, but dedicated bus lanes have the potential to provide a similar result to the Belconnen/Civic bus lane, and could be implemented almost immediately.

I’m not suggesting rail is the wrong solution, but it is a long-term project that will never be green-lighted until there is sufficient financial and political impetus. (i.e: complete gridlock for hours a day)

That would great the buses could sit in the queue of cars that would form back to the G, seriously closing a lane of N’thbourne to cars is just insane.

All the worlds succesful public transport systems have one thing in common, they go underground and out of the traffic.

Keijidosha 3:14 pm 07 Nov 11

Interestingly the Government put forward a proposal for a grandiose dedicated bus expressway from Civic to Belconnen a couple of years back. From memory the cost was estimated at over $100 million. Common sense said that the better solution was a dedicated bus lane city-bound, which would be far more cost-effective and eradicate the majority of conjestion issues for buses using Barry Drive. Surprisingly this was the option chosen, was implemented promptly and it has worked very well.

My point? Convert the outer lanes of Northbourne Avenue to dedicated bus lanes – heck even just the city bound lane during peak hours would make a huge improvement. IMO Gunghalin does not “need’ light rail, it simply needs increased bus access to the city and more efficient routes. Some will argue that light rail is superior for many reasons, but dedicated bus lanes have the potential to provide a similar result to the Belconnen/Civic bus lane, and could be implemented almost immediately.

I’m not suggesting rail is the wrong solution, but it is a long-term project that will never be green-lighted until there is sufficient financial and political impetus. (i.e: complete gridlock for hours a day)

FioBla 2:43 pm 07 Nov 11

Much better to wait to read the actual submission, than to comment about it through the media filter. Of the CT.

Grail 2:37 pm 07 Nov 11

Gungahlin Al said :

There is also the realisation of Canberra locals that the trees down Northbourne Ave – our highest priority public transport route – are largely untouchable (as a whole – not individually) and it would be far easier to get two light rail tracks down the middle with reduced tree removal than would be required to fit two bus lanes.

Personally, I’d put the tram line on an overhead viaduct. No need to tear down trees, no need for ground-level crossings where trams and cars can have arguments (which only the tram can win), no temptation for kids to go sticking pebbles on the tracks.

This would open up new opportunities for buildings along Northbourne avenue to have two “ground level” entrances: one on ground level, one on tram level. Twice as many coffee shops (the giggling you hear in the background is from the folks who have recently visited Amsterdam), and more opportunities to make money renting out floor space to tram related services such as bike lockers.

Still, the distraction of light rail means we aren’t paying as much attention as we should to the busses and why they aren’t as effective today as they were back in the good old days (i.e.: the ’70s and ’80s).

peterepete 2:37 pm 07 Nov 11

and I thought it was the cyclists fault

Gungahlin Al 2:25 pm 07 Nov 11

I think that it’s a long bow to blame people promoting light rail for all the ills and failings of the ACT Government’s Bus – sorry: Transport Plan.

The majority of Mees’ comments and indeed the CT article are about the transport plan itself.

With regard to the light rail comment, what Mees also overlooks is that a big chunk of the Canberra population has lost trust in ACTION management and in the ACT Government to not rip the rug out from under bus services.

A dedicated traffic-free solution like light rail is widely viewed as ‘locked in’ and therefore difficult for any government to screw up. Therefore, worthy of our trust and support.

There is also the realisation of Canberra locals that the trees down Northbourne Ave – our highest priority public transport route – are largely untouchable (as a whole – not individually) and it would be far easier to get two light rail tracks down the middle with reduced tree removal than would be required to fit two bus lanes.

Grail 2:15 pm 07 Nov 11

Now if only we could recover some facts from the ’80s about the number of dual-income families, the number of kids riding bikes to school instead of being driven by this week’s parent in the urban combat vehicle, and perhaps even a few copies of bus routes, ticket prices compared to family incomes, the proportion of houses with air conditioning, and the level of reporting of child sex offences in the news.

That would be some interesting reading.

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