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The ACTION bus “service” debacle. There has to be a better way!

By Innovation 17 June 2012 31

Sigh. The service just seems to be getting worse and worse.

Begin rant here (read on only if you are frustrated with ACTION too)

It seems Alistair has got some figures on ACTION’s Dead Running. I found it via a CT article .

Love or hate Alistair and the way he can twist a stat but, if true, this service is going down the tubes (no pun to underground rail intended) at a ridiculous speed.

As far as the Dead Running issue goes, I understand the problems with remote depots but I’m less clear on why buses, at least for routes in Belconnen and Tuggeranong, don’t start and end nearer these depots. As well, I don’t understand why buses in more central locations aren’t housed at interchanges or a more central depot rather than driven to the current depots. We need a lot more information to see why other options such as overnight security guards and CCTV at interchanges or one or two extra depots (for parking only – ie not maintenance) are not cheaper than the cost of dead running. Also, it is not clear why a bus ever should be dead running. If a bus is on the road, it should be able to pick up passengers, albeit probably only a handful, and deposit them en route with very little impact on time.

Honestly, I thought that MyWay would better target ACTION’s services but instead they seem to be getting more inefficient while at the same time exponentially more expensive. I’ve seen posts and threads on RA reporting that Government subsidies are around four or five times the revenue – the latest being the 2012 budget figures showing $21m in ticket sales and $101m in subsidies. This seems to suggest, very simplistically, that the true cost of a trip is somewhere between $10 ($2.50 * 4) to $ $20 ($4.00 * 5). I know that Canberra is spread out but this is crazy! There must be a solution.

For starters we should be getting a lot more information. ACTION should be publicising the cost and revenue for each route. I know that many don’t want specific route expenses and revenue published because this would encourage public pressure to cut or limit less profitable routes. I’m not suggesting that outcome – far from it – but we need to be able to find more cost effective service solutions. With MyWay, the ACT Government now has this information so that they can cut services when they choose, such as the Causeway, but we don’t get to see the numbers for all services so that they can be accountable.

The Government has always stated that smaller buses in less populated areas is not cost effective but I for one would like to see the costings for this and other options such as dedicated multi occupant taxis or subsidies for personal transport to and from bus stops on main routes. (A little out there I know but, in this technological age, they could even introduce a cheaper registration, insurance and stamp duty system that allows people – who could afford it – to buy and drive cars only within a certain radius of home to more regular bus services).

As far as light rail is concerned, the ACT Government now have said that the cost of light rail versus buses is disproportionately expensive but we haven’t yet seen detailed costings. I’ve always been in two minds about light rail but the way those costings have been managed is pushing me towards thinking that they are hiding something and I am starting to lean towards the merits of light rail over buses.

End rant…….

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31 Responses to
The ACTION bus “service” debacle. There has to be a better way!
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steveu 11:41 am 23 Sep 12

damien haas said :

Its not ACTION that needs to listen. Its your elected politicians.

I invite people to have a read of this paper from 1976:
http://www.atrf.info/papers/1976/1976_Webb_Cooper.pdf

Any familiar issues in that ancient tome ? Unless there is a modal change away from buses as the mass transit heavy lifter in Canberra, we will continue to experience these problems.

Politicians need to act in the best interest of Canberrans, not their best interests every 4 years.

Gobsmacked that back in 1974 the authors clearly spelled out the writing on the wall. yet almost 40 years later and here we are. No progress.

EvanJames 10:14 am 05 Jul 12

It took just under 2 hours to get a bus from Hughes to the Airport area this morning. Took me 10 minutes to drive to Hughes, 2 hours to get back. faaaaaaaaaaa…..

geetee 11:05 am 21 Jun 12

Muttsybignuts said :

Every time I have just looked it up on my phone which takes me to google maps which tells me where to be and when. give or take a couple of minutes everything has worked perfectly.
The second time I caught the bus I was standing outside my home with a confused look as a bus drove past, trying to work out if I should have walked to the nearest bus stop and caught that one or not and the bus pulled over to see if I wanted to get on!

TRIP 1: Your location TO Civic

1) Walk outside house (15 metres – 10 seconds)
2) Stand by kerb and wait (0 metres – 5 minutes
3) Look confused as bus goes past (0 metres – 12 seconds)
4) Walk to where bus has pulled over (20 metres – 14 seconds)
5) Travel to Civic (7.2 km – 12 minutes)

Muttsybignuts 9:43 am 21 Jun 12

I haven’t had to catch buses for 20 years. In the past couple of months, with only 1 family car again I have used ACTION about a dozen times to go between suburban Belconnen and Civic, Deakin, Macquarie and Pearce. Every time I have just looked it up on my phone which takes me to google maps which tells me where to be and when. give or take a couple of minutes everything has worked perfectly.
The second time I caught the bus I was standing outside my home with a confused look as a bus drove past, trying to work out if I should have walked to the nearest bus stop and caught that one or not and the bus pulled over to see if I wanted to get on! I was very pleased.
So the buses may not be perfect in a town without enough users to make it viable. At least there still is a service and, for my mind, worked quite well.

Martyn94 4:48 am 21 Jun 12

Sandman said :

For starters we should be getting a lot more information. ACTION should be publicising the cost and revenue for each route. I know that many don’t want specific route expenses and revenue published because this would encourage public pressure to cut or limit less profitable routes. I’m not suggesting that outcome – far from it – but we need to be able to find more cost effective service solutions. With MyWay, the ACT Government now has this information so that they can cut services when they choose, such as the Causeway, but we don’t get to see the numbers for all services so that they can be accountable.

Ummmm why? Is every person who’s ever ridden on a bus suddenly qualified to analyse the figures and work out a way to run the whole company better than the people that do?
I’m starting to get little flashbacks of the Simpsons episode where Homer believes he can do a better job of Sanitation Commisioner by giving everyone exactly what they want and ends up blowing the whole years budget in a matter of weeks.

What exactly does “accountable” mean in a system that is running, overall, at an 80% rate of subsidy? If I were absolutely certain that I used a route that covered its costs, and would continue to do so if it were the only route in town, I’d be happy to see the figures. Otherwise I’d want to bury them 100m deep, and pray every night that my fellow-citizens would continue to sub up.

Sandman 7:32 pm 20 Jun 12

Was trying to quote this paragraph in the OP.

For starters we should be getting a lot more information. ACTION should be publicising the cost and revenue for each route. I know that many don’t want specific route expenses and revenue published because this would encourage public pressure to cut or limit less profitable routes. I’m not suggesting that outcome – far from it – but we need to be able to find more cost effective service solutions. With MyWay, the ACT Government now has this information so that they can cut services when they choose, such as the Causeway, but we don’t get to see the numbers for all services so that they can be accountable.

Sandman 7:29 pm 20 Jun 12

For starters we should be getting a lot more information. ACTION should be publicising the cost and revenue for each route. I know that many don’t want specific route expenses and revenue published because this would encourage public pressure to cut or limit less profitable routes. I’m not suggesting that outcome – far from it – but we need to be able to find more cost effective service solutions. With MyWay, the ACT Government now has this information so that they can cut services when they choose, such as the Causeway, but we don’t get to see the numbers for all services so that they can be accountable.

Ummmm why? Is every person who’s ever ridden on a bus suddenly qualified to analyse the figures and work out a way to run the whole company better than the people that do?
I’m starting to get little flashbacks of the Simpsons episode where Homer believes he can do a better job of Sanitation Commisioner by giving everyone exactly what they want and ends up blowing the whole years budget in a matter of weeks.

Martyn94 7:05 pm 20 Jun 12

X71 said :

No wonder no one catches a bus. ACTION would make more profit by scraping all bus services and buying a fleet of electric cars that would be positioned around the place for people to use.
Until that tech exists, maybe they could buy everyone a cheap car and put their money into building more roads.

Beware of what you wish for, if you are going to pay for the subsidy. Canberra is built in a way that makes car ownership mandatory for anyone who is not too poor to own one; physically incapable of using one; or put off by very strong ideological objections. Once you own one, actually using it is the option of choice except for the small minority of trips where public transport would be particularly convenient (and could realistically be available), and the disbenefits of car use (congestion, parking) particularly high.

Self-service cars cannot answer any of these needs, except perhaps for the ideologues (if the electric cars were charged up from renewable sources). Using one presupposes that

you don’t already have your own car which would be more convenient and a lower marginal cost

you can physically get to the parking place, and use the car once you get there

there is a car available when you want it (e.g. in the rush hour, when everyone else wants one too)

there is somewhere to park it at the end of the trip (e.g. in the rush hour, when everyone else is at the end of theirs).

If you don’t believe this, do some research (and thinking) about the only scheme that has actually been implemented to my knowledge, i.e. Autolib in Paris. The circumstances there are vastly more favourable than they could ever be in Canberra. And the ambitions are far more modest – Autolib sits on top of what is already a superb, and cheap, public transport system, and needs only to cater for the tiny proportion of cases (in the Paris context) where a car would be better than public transport, but the customer does not already own one (but can afford to hire one and is capable of driving it).

Even then, it has been only a modified success so far. In particular, the problems of positioning seem pretty intractable – too few cars at the beginning of peoples’ desired trips and too many at the end of them (blocking the parking bays to new arrivals). In the equivalent scheme for bikes they put a lot of effort into moving the bikes from areas of short-term surplus to areas of scarcity (and then moving them back again once the daily tide has run the other way). It seems much less practicable to do that with cars (and if you tried, it would make “dead running” by buses seem even more trivial an issue than it already is).

Sorry to seem negative: but wishful thinking is not going to provide even the very marginal improvements that are realistically achievable.

Martyn94 5:00 pm 20 Jun 12

It would be better if intertown services were replaced by light rail, then buses could be retasked to increase frequency of local services. Thi is better all round for local users and commuters travelling between employment and population centres.

Agree.
And the light rail can be the latest battery powered (no overhead wires) system now being used in Munich. The Labor government cannot sqib on the cost factor as it is one third of the cost of the proposals they have been “looking at” and it is clean, green and can run to Queanbeayan and beyond immediately. Ban buses from the main intertown thoroughfares and then ACTION buses and “runs” can be sold off to existing drivers who are interested – if not interested sell to private operators like the taxi system. The current annual ratepayers subsidy would only be needed for the first 2 years to fund the light rail. The ACT would then have an efficient, cost effective integrated transport system free of ratepayer subsidies.
Of course we could always keep the current system and build another arboretum.

If you are going to make comparisons with Munich, the mode of traction is hardly the place to start. A little googling says that Munich has a population density of 4359 per sq km; and Canberra has 428.6. The figures could hardly be neater if I had made them up.

I am sure that the current system has many weaknesses. But anyone who thinks that Canberra could have adequate public transport by any conceivable means, at a price the majority of non-users would be prepared to finance, is deluding themselves. And so is anyone who thinks that the non-users could be turned into users by any programme of coercion or inducement that is politically feasible. Short of knocking the whole place down and rebuilding on a plot one tenth the size.

Eppo 12:52 pm 18 Jun 12

KB1971 said :

Two stops on a Sydnay or melbourne train would cost a lot more than 4 bucks.

$3.40 for me to get to Town Hall (2 stops from Redfern).

damien haas 12:23 pm 18 Jun 12

Casual users of ACTION are often infuriated. After just missing my bus last week (my own fault) i waited an hour for the next bus. In that time I observed casual users try to decipher both the map and timetables at Belco Westfield. Without fail at least one person per bus that pulled up would ask the driver a question about a service. Some were helpful, others not so much. Two I recall partiularly were an older gent with a hearing aid who didnt hear the bus drivers instructions too well to board a 31- series bus. After he watched two pull away I suggested to him he might want to get the 31- bus that was about to pull up. The second was a guy trying to get to Dickson from Belco. After looking at platform info, and then asking a driver, he sat down. I suggested an alternative that would get him there quicker (but required a change of bus and walking a block).

I’d like to see a sign on the imetable board that would direct casual users to the Belco Myway office for these questions. The long promised realtime display woudl also be useful,m especially if it was inside the ‘airport style bus lounge’ so that in 8 degree weather you didnt have to walk half way up the platform to find out you have a half hour wait in teh poorly designed bus shelters.

Weekend services on Network 2012 are an improvement, but I agree about the service times. ACTION really should operate a 7 day network that starts and finishes at the same time, with perhaps reduced services on Sunday. Once again its the local services that suffer on weekends while intertown generally runs well – during the day.

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