11 June 2024

Parton defends busway plan after admitting bridge unlikely to carry priority lane

| Ian Bushnell
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Commonwealth Avenue Bridge

The Liberals want a priority bus lane from Adelaide Avenue to the city, but that’s not likely on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The light rail wars have erupted after a concession from opposition Transport spokesperson Mark Parton that the proposed dedicated busway between the city and Woden was unlikely to operate across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

The ACT Government has seized on the statement, saying it undermines a key plank of the Canberra Liberals’ transport policy, which dumps light rail Stage 2B in favour of electric buses running along a priority lane.

However, Mr Parton has doubled down on his transport policy, focusing on travel times, the unknown cost of light rail to Woden, and the uncertainty over the Stage 2B route.

Our Woden to Civic plan will still be significantly faster and cheaper,” he said.

Mr Parton had responded to an online question from a member of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, Mark Dando, about how the Liberals would get buses across the lake with their own right of way.

Mr Dando had referred to lines on a map in the Liberals’ policy representing new bus lanes on Capital Circle northbound and Commonwealth Avenue, including across the bridge.

He told Mr Dando that a bus lane was now unlikely to happen, adding that the indicative map in their policy released in April was a year old.

“At the time, it was not clear to us whether the NCA bridge renewal would provide an additional transport lane. That’s not going to happen, so it’s not likely there will be a dedicated bus lane on the bridge,” Mr Parton posted on X.

busway map

Liberals’ busway map. Image: Canberra Liberals.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said Mr Parton had publicly admitted a signature part of the Liberals’ transport policy won’t work.

“Key questions are also unanswered about how they would remove northbound road lanes from Capital Circle to Coronation Drive without creating significant congestion for commuters on Adelaide Avenue,” Mr Steel said.

“The Liberals B-grade bus plan was always light on detail, but it has now failed the most basic scrutiny.”

Mr Steel said light rail would run on its own dedicated bridge, adding significant capacity to this key North-South transport link, which would become more congested as the city grows.

New government figures from its project update last week show that light rail Stage 2 will significantly increase capacity on Commonwealth Avenue as the city grows.

A new light rail bridge between the current spans of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge will create a new prioritised corridor that would move up to 2500 people an hour, compared with the current estimate of 1100 an hour per road lane.

Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said there was no credible alternative to light rail in the ACT.

“Buses without their own lanes are an incredibly poor substitute for frequent and reliable light rail operating on its own right of way,” he said.

“This is exactly why we need to extend our city’s successful light rail system across the lake.”

render of bridge across lake Burley Griffin

The proposed light rail span across Lake Burley Griffin. The government says light rail will significantly boost the public transport capacity on the north-south corridor. Image: ACT Government.

Mr Parton did not respond to a specific question about when the Liberals knew a bus lane on the bridge was unlikely.

He attacked Mr Steel for focusing on a small part of the Liberals policy when the government was short on important details about light rail Stage 2B.

“Chris Steel knows the tram is losing public support among Canberrans with the project in disarray as highlighted late last week with the announcement a tunnel might now need to be built for stage 2B to Woden,” he said

Mr Parton said the Canberra Liberals would not be lectured to about transport policy by a minister and a government that has been talking about building a tram to Woden for over 12 years but was still unable to tell Canberrans what the route will be and how much it will cost.

He said dedicated bus lanes and bus priority measures at traffic lights, as well as using transponders on buses, would deliver a faster journey from Woden to the City than the current 20 minutes or less.

The Liberal policy promises a journey time of under 15 minutes. Mr Parton insists a light rail trip will take more than half an hour.

Mr Parton said the bus network plan would improve services in and out of Barton, where thousands more public servants will be based in coming years. More details would be fleshed out by the Liberals’ ACT Transport Taskforce.

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The Liberals’ Barton network improvements and the busway would occur in 2027, at least five years earlier than any multi-billion-dollar tram track was completed, he said.

Mr Parton added that the Liberals’ transport plan had a genuine citywide focus.

“We will provide a reliable and frequent seven-day timetable that will be able to move more Canberrans around the city much faster than they currently can,” he said.

“We’re confident that our public transport improvements will get more and more Canberrans out of their cars which ultimately will ease traffic congestion.”

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The fact that the Liberals are talking about better bus services in the short-term is a good thing, even if this plan contains elements that won’t happen. Where is Labor’s plan to provide a decent, bus service across southern Canberra for the next four years, not some time in the 2030s? We need frequent services and not just on the major routes and also into the evenings and weekends. Two hour frequencies on Sundays is just not good enough.

The pot factory calling the kettle black. No one even knew the day for 2B until it slipped out.

The bridge is end of life and due for renewal. Adding a bus lane could be part of that. You would assume NCA consulted with ACT gov on future bridge plans.

Getting the bridge rebuilt would be no great engineering feat, and a team from China could get that done in no time if we are economically minded on this.

Also, we can have a “Give Way to Bus” arrangement at both ends of the bridge.

“Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said there was no credible alternative to light rail in the ACT.” Really? So the name of this organisation is misleading then. It should be the Light Rail Rocks Association.

“Buses without their own lanes are an incredibly poor substitute for frequent and reliable light rail operating on its own right of way,” Maybe, however the light rail will send ACT ratepayers to the poorhouse given the estimated costs of Stage 2A and 2B.

“This is exactly why we need to extend our city’s successful light rail system across the lake.” By what measure has the light rail system been successful when buses on the same route have been cut back?

From their website: “PTCBR’s origins lie in the ACT Light Rail Coalition, which had been promoting light rail in Canberra since the early 1990s.” They are not an objective, independent voice.

Quoting the Light Rail lobbyists on whether Light Rail is a good thing is quite meaningless as Mary says.

The strategic name change to attempt to provide a cover of balance and objectivity doesn’t really change who they are nor their total support for light rail no matter what.

Imagine if we had a properly developed and costed option study that compared alternatives.

Nah, politicians bickering is a far more sensible and robust method to make decisions when considering spending billions of taxpayer funds.

Although Chris Steel clearly has no shame complaining about other’s lack of detail, considering the absolute lack of transparency he and the government have provided.

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