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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!
JC 7:10 am 18 Jun 12

This was discussed a few months back. The dead running figure may well appear high as a headline, but when you look at it it is less than 50km per bus per day.

Now for one if you look at the passenger flows in the morning you have more people coming in from the suburbs and in the afternoon they go home, so you need more services one way, which means you need dead running from the depot to where the route starts in the morning and vice versa in the afternoon.

Now considering where the two depots are that means a run of probably around 10km. The bus then runs into somewhere like Belconnen where it terminates then has to make it’s way back to the burbs, so add another 10km to the dead running list. So we are up to 20km by the end of the 2nd run. So add a 3rd and a school run and already before the end of the peak your looking at 30-40km.

This is offset by the buses that run the odd contra peak flow service or those that operate the 300 series as these don’t need to dead run as much as they operate routes that have equal services in both ways.

With the dead running it could well be argued that the service could be improved by operating these buses in service. However this will take more time than running empty, which in turn means more buses are required and more drivers are required which means more cost.

Likewise out stationing buses (as they do for trains) is not very practical.

So dead running isn’t necessarily the evil pollies are making out.

puggy 12:40 am 18 Jun 12

X71 said :

So, you are saying that the bus shouldn’t stop within 2km of my house?
It was raining that day when raiders got beat 40 zip. I would of preferd to sit in a warm dry bus than walk in the rain.
As for a card…I only catch a bus about twice a year. Why should I be penalized for being an occasional user?

Fair enough if it was raining, but there is nowhere in Harrison that is more than 2km from a bus stop. The 58 runs through parts of Harrison itself and there are at least three or four routes that run up Flemington Road.

If you’re only using the bus twice a year, paying an extra $3 a year over regular bus users can’t be considered a penalty.

Buses aren’t the most convenient option, especially outside commute hours, but for Harrison at least, the ACTION routes aren’t as terrible as they’re made out to be.

X71 11:25 pm 17 Jun 12

puggy said :

puggy said :

Sorry for the quote foobar above, should be cut after …”banks are closed”

So, you are saying that the bus shouldn’t stop within 2km of my house?
It was raining that day when raiders got beat 40 zip. I would of preferd to sit in a warm dry bus than walk in the rain.
As for a card…I only catch a bus about twice a year. Why should I be penalized for being an occasional user?

puggy 10:28 pm 17 Jun 12

puggy said :

Sorry for the quote foobar above, should be cut after …”banks are closed”

puggy 10:26 pm 17 Jun 12

Problem:

X71 said :

I tried to catch a bus two Saturdays ago from Harrison to gungahlin raiders club.

which is less than 2km. Hence the solution:

X71 said :

… so I decided to walk the 20 min instead.

As far as

X71 said :

I caught the bus and they wanted $4 for the 2 bus stops!

goes, it’s about $2.50 on a MyWay card. You don’t need to keep much credit on a card and they are readily available. No one whines that they have to have an ATM card to get cash when the banks are closed.

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.

X71 8:31 pm 17 Jun 12

I tried to catch a bus two Saturdays ago from Harrison to gungahlin raiders club. The bus was 5 min late so I decided to walk the 20 min instead. Of course the bus went past me 3 min later!
On the way home from the game I caught the bus and they wanted $4 for the 2 bus stops!

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.

Felix the Cat 6:34 pm 17 Jun 12

“The Government has always stated that smaller buses in less populated areas is not cost effective…”

Problem with buying smaller buses you still need the normal size buses for peak hou,r so you then have the added expense/waste of another lot of buses that sit parked for half the day (plus the cost of buying them and dont forget servicing and rego).

damien haas 4:49 pm 17 Jun 12

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.

dungfungus 3:37 pm 17 Jun 12

fabforty said :

ACTION might get somewhere if they actually listened to customer complaints and acted upon them. A couple of years ago I sent an e-mail to the “customer service” address stating that my route was routinely severely overcrowded and the buses were old, dirty and mostly without air-conditoning. It was several weeks before I received their “nothing” reply. The problem continued so I wrote another e-mail. The long-awaited response this time was basically “we won’t take your word for this, we’ll use data from My Way”.

Luckily I no longer need to take the bus.

The acronym ACTION is often modified to read “IN-ACTION” or “INDUSTRIAL ACTION”

spooner 3:34 pm 17 Jun 12

Please don’t listen to Alistair’s crap. Dead running is en par with national levels and the budget just announced an extra terminus here and there (and the reopening of woden depot as parking only which is exactly the kind of thing OP is asking for) to bring it down even more.

Why do we subsidise tickets 5:1 and what are the most profitable routes? If only there was a document that explained this… oh wait there is http://www.transport.act.gov.au/pdf/Public_Transport_EDS_ACT_Transport_Policy_FA_final_web.pdf
Basically there are three networks – the extremely profitable peak pubes transport service, the alright school routes business and the bleeding heart off-peak disabled/elderly/low income concessions network which promises a bus stop every 500m.

It beggars belief that old man Coe seems to spend his time writing press releases about the same issue over and over when he could be reading and criticising what the government actually comes up with. Maybe some day a Liberal will have actual policy instead of mindless negativity when he wants to be elected?

fabforty 3:29 pm 17 Jun 12

ACTION might get somewhere if they actually listened to customer complaints and acted upon them. A couple of years ago I sent an e-mail to the “customer service” address stating that my route was routinely severely overcrowded and the buses were old, dirty and mostly without air-conditoning. It was several weeks before I received their “nothing” reply. The problem continued so I wrote another e-mail. The long-awaited response this time was basically “we won’t take your word for this, we’ll use data from My Way”.

Luckily I no longer need to take the bus.

dungfungus 3:19 pm 17 Jun 12

damien haas said :

Part of the reason ACTION has a lot of dead running is that it is a bus service asked to do two things:

be a local bus service
be an intertown bus service

I suspect many of the dead running services would be intertown services that have concluded their run. At peak hour, many empty buses would be returning from the ‘burbs.

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.

molongloid 3:00 pm 17 Jun 12

They would have picked all this up during modelling….. or are ACTION routes *not* the result of rigorous mathematical modelling by operations research specialists? A fraction of the money lost to empty running might be well spent on it.

damien haas 2:42 pm 17 Jun 12

Part of the reason ACTION has a lot of dead running is that it is a bus service asked to do two things:

be a local bus service
be an intertown bus service

I suspect many of the dead running services would be intertown services that have concluded their run. At peak hour, many empty buses would be returning from the ‘burbs.

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.

Madam Cholet 2:16 pm 17 Jun 12

Ok Alistair…..I mean Innovation….

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