13 April 2021

Light rail patronage rebounding after COVID-19 hit

| Ian Bushnell
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Light rail passengers

Light rail is attracting more people to public transport, according to Transport Canberra. Photo: File.

The number of light rail passengers has rebounded to 75 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels, according to new survey results from Transport Canberra.

The survey feedback also shows that light rail has enticed many Canberrans to try public transport for the first time, with more than two-thirds saying they were more likely to use public transport now that light rail is in operation.

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said Canberrans were clearly embracing light rail because of the greater convenience, reliability and flexibility of the service.

“While COVID-19 put the brakes on public transport patronage right around Australia, it’s great to see passenger numbers rebounding strongly,” Mr Steel said.

“We are continuing to encourage Canberrans to use public transport in off-peak periods if they can, and the data shows plenty of people are choosing to do so.”

Of the 1,279 people surveyed, 70 per cent said they were more likely to use public transport now that light rail is in operation, while 42 per cent said they were now using light rail to get to work, compared with 35 per cent in 2020.

“The feedback confirms that the government’s investment in light rail is encouraging more Canberrans to choose public transport, including a large group that never previously used the bus system,” Mr Steel said.

“Light rail is a key part of our plans to provide quality mass transit as our city grows and grow patronage on public transport.

“It’s fantastic to see so many Canberrans getting on board and having such a positive experience, and we want to extend the same benefits to other parts of Canberra.”

Total patronage has already rebounded to approximately 75 per cent of pre-COVID levels. COVID-safe travel advice is still in place, with passengers being asked to reconsider the need to travel in peak times.

The latest Light Rail Customer Satisfaction Survey also found that 96 per cent of participants would be very likely (80%) or likely (16%) to recommend the light rail to their friends or family.

Almost all people surveyed reported a good experience riding light rail, with more than 90 per cent saying they were very satisfied or satisfied with the customer service of light rail staff, the service’s reliability, safety and security while travelling, the ease of using light rail, the cleanliness of light rail and the stops.

Sixty-seven per cent of participants said they walked to their light rail stop.

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The statistics in this article make no sense. Who are the 1279 people surveyed? This cannot be representative of all Canberrans. If it is a survey of light rail passengers, why do only 42% use it to travel to work? I think we are supposed to be impressed by the numbers and not have any explanation of what they mean.

ChrisinTurner9:32 am 14 Apr 21

Seeing the LR did not have the passenger capacity of the buses it replaced it would be interesting to know if patronage ever got back to the figures enjoyed by the express bus system from Gungahlin.

That’s simply not true.

Before light rail, in the peak there was a 200 bus usually a rigid, sometimes an artic every 5 minutes.

When light rail started it was one every 6 minutes increased to every 5. With capacity of double an articulated bus.

So even assuming each bus was an articulated, which it wasn’t the capacity now is closer to double.

ChrisinTurner9:27 am 14 Apr 21

This was a survey of LR passengers, not of Canberrans in general. Rather misleading to say 42% of Canberrans use LR to get to work.

HiddenDragon7:24 pm 12 Apr 21

“Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said Canberrans were clearly embracing light rail because of the greater convenience, reliability and flexibility of the service.”

Convenience – compared to cancelled bus routes??

Flexibility – compared to real rail where it’s even more difficult and expensive to create new stops/stations???

The flexibility claim is particularly ironic given that one of the major arguments put forward to justify the extra cost of light rail compared to alternatives is the supposed certainty that its fixed routes and stops give to developers.

As someone who lives in Gungahlin it is a lot more convenient than the buses, especially as it cuts 20 minutes off a peak hour Gungahlin to City commute which used to be up to 45 minutes in peak. Change to a bus is a minor price to pay, then again I am a child of the times where changing for a 333 at an interchange was accepted rather than expecting one bus from my door to take me anywhere in Canberra.

Though I’m confused about the flexible statement. Light rail isn’t flexible but in many ways that is what help makes it better than buses on a trunk route.

It’s a key point you make JC about the early 333 days when the proportion of Canberrans taking public transport was higher than today.

The local buses used to pick up in their local areas and take you straight to a major bus interchange for people to get the 333. Then in the 90s and 2000s they started to meander through other suburbs more and more.

Some smart person started the local buses picking up passengers all the way into your interchange destination. For example Chapman, Kambah and Wanniassa buses started picking people up at Lyons, Torrens, Farrer, Pearce and Mawson which slowed down your journey to the 333 markedly.

I also think the creation of new employment centres outside the major town centres affected the ability for buses to get Canberrans to work. The rise of the canberra airport Brindabella park employment hub, plus white collar workers moving into Fyshwick and Mitchell etc suddenly required people to get to workplaces outside of major bus routes.

All very true. Which is interesting as one of the things people dislike about the new network are the rapids which are designed to provide a lot of the non trunk cross connectors.

And said it a few times but one thing Transport Canberra and the Government haven’t sold well is the transfer of local buses to rapids at locations other than the traditional (333 esque) interchanges. As that cuts down suburban meandering and gets people onto rapids earlier.

Yes agree there could be better connection opportunities for some users. Colleagues, Friends and family in Gilmore, Fadden, MacArthur and Kambah have all complained about their poor connection to Rapids and if you look at the bus map you can see why.

We were both on the same page from day 1 of the new bus network that there was going to be some big losers from the suburbs that lost their peak hour Xpresso services to Woden, Belco and Civic. The reduction in bus use across Tuggeranong and Belco has certainly proved this point.

42% of survey respondents said they are now using Light Rail to get to work!!!!

That result clearly shows that this was a targeted survey designed for publicity and spin. Light Rail has been doing about 9,000 trips a day. Assuming that’s roughly 4,500 people doing return trips, then that makes the real number at 1% of the Canberra population using Light Rail. Which is 42 times less than the surveyed result.

Cmon Ian Bushnell and RiotACT you can do better than reproduce garbage surveys.

Capital Retro1:50 pm 12 Apr 21

That clearly confirms that light rail was all about urban renewal and very little to do with public transport.

Boy, were we conned!

Over to you JC.

It is from the Light Rail customer survey so it’s hardly surprising that the people answering it actually use it.

It isn’t meant to be a random survey, although clearly the government is attempting to use the results for politics which have simply been uncritically republished here.

Not sure what you want me to say. Never been a secret nor that urban renewal was the major aspect of light rail. Not sure why people are so shocked or why it is an issue at all.

Yes that was the point I was making. Or trying to….

Would have been nice to get a little clarity about the survey, otherwise it comes across as yet more spin from the Minister for spin to any fair minded person.

Capital Retro11:29 am 13 Apr 21

Why was a tram needed for urban renewal when buses (soon to be all-electric without ugly cables overhead) would have delivered a better outcome?

And saved us billions of dollars.

Not going to go around in circles but world wide it’s proven that light rail does provide the better outcome for urban renewal projects compared to bus.

Whether needed in Canberra is another issue that we could debate to death. But the proof is in what is out there which is a very good quality transport solution that has helped generate renewal and which has taken vehicles including mine off Northborne Ave every morning and afternoon.

I agree it is a very high quality public transport option.

Indeed, far higher than anywhere else in Canberra, which even if they build future stages will be the case for the majority of the population for decades.

Which begs the question of why is it fair for taxpayers to fund the massive private benefits of property owners near to the light rail line?

You admit it was mainly about urban renewal but then have no problem with public funds paying for private profits.

Surely if it has very little to do with an essential public service, the beneficiaries should be the ones paying for it? Or does your personal benefit of a gold plated public transport option trump that?

you really do need to do some research on urban design. Buses don’t deliver urban renewal (I think the only place where they have is in curitaba in Brazil). trams and trains do!

Capital Retro10:45 am 14 Apr 21

You need to read some history books. Trams almost everywhere were replaced by buses last century. They may call them “light rail” now and they are sold by the most sophisticated salespeople ever but they are still “standing room only” trams.

Trams were replaced in lots of places in the middle of the last century. Problem of course is towards the end they realise what a mistake that was and have been putting them back, in a doffed that form every since. Usually in conjunction with an urban renewal project or two. And it works.

Capital Retro12:18 pm 14 Apr 21

And it costs.

Yes, lots of trams got replaced by buses last century. One example close to home is Sydney. Ripping out the trams was such a colossal mistake that they have recently spent billions on putting in a brand-new light rail network.

In a broader sense, many of the light rail networks that were torn down were most definitely not ripped out for the benefit of the citizens: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

Its hilarious that you think governments spending billions on light rail is somehow a good thing. Although hardly surprising that the supporters of light rail don’t actually care what they cost, other people will pay for it.

“Other people?” I pay my taxes, just like “other people.” Some of the services that my taxes pay for, I do not use. There are many frivolous things that my taxes contribute to, but no, I don’t think public infrastructure is a frivolous use of my taxes. The reason I mention the history of trams in Sydney is that they have done the experiment for us. They ripped out their trams and tried to get by with roads. It didn’t work, so now they are going back and putting the trams back in.

You clearly haven’t been following this issue if you think the provision of light rail is about “public infrastructure”. The majority of the benefit of the project is supposedly in urban intensification rather than transport and the same public benefit could have been achieved for a fraction of the cost with other options. So this project has very little to do with providing an essential public transport service.

The government wasting money in other areas is not a good reason to waste money on light rail. In fact it’s a pretty woeful one.

This is some high quality spin.

Whilst the numbers show there has definitely been a rebound after the worst of COVID, they also show that they aren’t looking like reaching pre COVID levels any time soon with the effects of more people working from home and higher private car use due to a reluctance to use public transport keeping numbers suppressed.

Capital Retro12:48 pm 12 Apr 21

Too right it’s spin.

All these “feel good” percentages about user satisfaction etc but no figure on what percentage of Canberrans that actually use the service.

No one has recommended to me that I should use it, then again I don’t have many friends.

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