6 May 2020

Transport Canberra plans for passenger rush after COVID-19 collapse of numbers

| Ian Bushnell
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Transport Canberra

Thank a public transport worker: From left, Canberra Metro Customer Service Officer Tina Collins, Transport Minister Chris Steel, bus driver Suzie Martin, and mechanic James Corbett, at the Belconnen Bus Depot. Photo: Supplied.

Transport Canberra will take a $7 million hit to revenue this financial year due to the collapse in passenger numbers caused by the COVID-19 shutdown but services will not be cut and plans are under way for a safe return to higher patronage levels as restrictions ease.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said there had been a daily average of 8,873 journeys across buses and light rail for the first week of Term 2, an 85 per cent plunge compared to the same week last year when the average was 66,766 journeys.

Despite people working from home and taking heed of the ACT Government’s direction to only use public transport for essential travel, bus and light rail services have continued as normal, if mostly empty.

But Mr Steel said keeping the system operating normally was important to keep society functioning and essential workers moving.

While there will be a small dent to the Budget, Mr Steel said the revenue loss would not affect Transport Canberra’s capacity to deliver services because fares accounted for less than 15 per cent of its operating costs.

”The vast majority of the cost of providing bus and light rail services is met by Government from other revenue sources like most cities around the world,” he said.

It would also not impact paying for light rail as under the Public Private Partnership the ACT Government made regular monthly payments to Canberra Metro based on availability, on-time running and service quality.

”These payments are budgeted and forecasted to be spent for the term of the contract,” he said.

Mr Steel said by not cutting services or jobs during the passenger downturn, Transport Canberra was in a great position to cater for the return back to public transport as restrictions continue to ease as expected and workers return to offices.

“We are in a much better position than many other cities having delivered constant reliable services throughout the pandemic to support more people back on to public transport once restrictions are eased at an appropriate time,” he said.

He said the data suggested more people were taking the bus or tram, with 9793 journeys taken on the network on Monday 28 April, its busiest day since the end of March.

“We are now starting to see some Canberrans returning to public transport, which we are monitoring closely,” Mr Steel said.

Transport Canberra was now preparing for greater numbers, with extra cleaning of bus and light rail stations, and vehicles.

Social distancing measures such as drivers not accepting cash and rear boardings would continue, and Transport Canberra would take advice from health authorities on how to operate services safely.

”We’re looking at a range of measures we’ll need to continue and what’s best practice,” Mr Steel said. ”As more people come back on to public transport we’ll need to look at what might be more appropriate.”

But the government was still advising only essential travel and he urged anybody feeling unwell not to travel.

Mr Steel also revealed that 600 students a day had been using the extra buses put on to take them between their normal school and hub schools this term during remote learning.

The Minister thanked transport employees for maintaining a safe and fully operational timetable at an event this morning at Belconnen Bus Depot.

“This is a group of people who have been quietly and proudly delivering the important services that our community has relied on during the pandemic, and they deserve our thanks,” he said.

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“Transport Canberra plans for passenger rush”.

They said the same thing when the new Bus network started last year. Greens member Le Couter released data that showed the majority of suburbs in Canberra were using public transport ‘less’ under the new network than they were under the old network.

Can we please get some honesty for once from Transport Canberra? I think people will be very slow to return to public transport.

Hi bj, you’ve cherry-picked the stats on this. There was an overall increase in patronage off just over 5% which is excellent over a short period of time. A number of suburbs recorded large increases which offset the suburbs which recorded decreases.

Capital Retro5:16 pm 06 May 20

“Transport Canberra will take a $7 million hit to revenue this financial year due….”

Code for all ratepayers including those who never use the buses will underwrite the higher operating shortfall. Were any Transport Canberra employees stood down while all those empty buses and trams have been driving around?

Transport Canberra runs an important and essential service. Public transport is not a service that should be used to justify cuts to rates, there are no government run transports services that make a profit. If you don’t use it, good for you, there are many others in our community that rely on the services provided by Transport Canberra.
The drop in passenger numbers shows that the Canberra community is abiding by the advice of the government, which is to use it for essential needs only.

Capital Retro7:43 am 08 May 20

I referred to an operating “shortfall”, not an operating “profit”. The point I was making is that no one lost any salary or benefits. Compare this with the private sector where staff have been reduced commensurate with the fall in petrol sales – Caltex reported in the Canberra Coronaravirus Times today that sales have fallen 16%.

And the fall in passenger numbers is more about people now working from home so they don’t need to commute by buses or other means. It was amusing to read your suggestion that buses are an essential service.

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