Transport is looming as a major election issue with the Canberra Liberals promising to restore school bus services and claiming the revamped network had fallen short of fixing the commuter ”chaos” the Labor Government itself had created.
Canberra Liberals Transport spokesperson Candice Burch said the government had 18 months to consult the community in its first attempt at a new network only to ”bungle” the result.
She called the latest changes a rehash of February’s announcement, saying the increase in services was only a step in the right direction. She flagged a Liberal transport plan ahead of the October poll.
The government delayed the April roll-out of the changes due to COVID-19, but Ms Burch said the problems with the network were evident well before the pandemic.
The government has created nearly 700 new services, increased frequencies and cut travel time in response to community feedback and analysis of transport data.
But Ms Burch said schools were being shortchanged and weekend and suburban services were still not up to scratch.
”We still haven’t seen an increase in weekend services. People are waiting over 12 months now for the weekend network they were promised, and we still haven’t seen reinstatement of a large number of dedicated school buses services that the government was responsible for cutting,” she said.
”And a significant number of commuter services that were cut as well.”
Ms Burch declined to detail further changes the Liberals would make but said the party would have a lot more to say on its entire transport platform in the lead-up to the election.
”The Liberals will listen to Canberrans and ensure that we are providing the services that Canberrans need and want to get to them to school, work and around our city as quickly as possible,” she said.
Ms Burch said Transport Minister Chris Steel could not use the pandemic as an excuse for the network failures.
“Prior to the pandemic, patronage had fallen in a number of regions in Canberra, and we also saw a significant fall in satisfaction across the network,” she said.
”This demonstrates that Canberrans weren’t happy with the network and haven’t been using it. So we need to do all that we can to after the pandemic is over to make sure we’re getting as many people as we can on to public transport.”
Mr Steel has the same goal and has not ruled out further tweaks although he believes these latest changes will ”see us into the new world beyond the pandemic”.
He said the government had listened to the community and the changes struck the right balance.
”We can’t go to every single residence with a bus route but I think we’ve struck the right balance with providing coverage in this network update as well as improving the frequency,” he said.
Mr Steel said he had worked closely with school communities, and there were now extra services and improvements to route buses, as well as aligning services with bell times.
Schools to benefit included Narrabundah College, Amaroo, Good Shepherd, Melrose High, Red Hill Primary and the Grammar schools.
An extra benefit was that students using route services to get to and from school were using public transport on the weekends.
”We want to create a community of life-long public transport users and I think that’s what we’re seeing with the network changes but there are improvements that we can make,” he said.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations said the government had fixed many of the issues it had raised.
”There are some great improvements here – extra services, better timing, new pick-up points which mean some kids are not having to cross busy roads anymore. We’re pleased to see that families have been heard,” President Kirsty McGovern-Hooley said.
”We still have some concerns at Kingsford Smith School. We are still looking at the details but it looks like buses will still bring kids to school up to half an hour before school starts and, depending on where you live, having to wait nearly half an hour for a bus home after school.”
The Public Transport Association said many of the proposed changes reflected feedback they have received from their members and the general public, such as the improvements to bus routes in Tuggeranong, North Belconnen and West Gungahlin.
”The frequency improvements are especially welcome, as they will help reduce the risk of crowding on buses and light rail as COVID restrictions are gradually lifted over the coming months,” chair Ryan Hemsley said.
”We still have some concerns about the frequency of certain weekend buses, and we expect the government to stay true to its word to reinstate the minimum service levels promised as part of Network 19.”
Mr Steel said increases to weekend bus services had been delayed by COVID-19 disrupting driver training but by the start of Term 4 there should be 291 extra weekend services.