18 June 2020

We're not there yet on fixing transport 'chaos', say Canberra Liberals

| Ian Bushnell
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Candice Burch

Liberal transport spokesperson Candice Burch says more needs to be done to fix the network. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

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.

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JC, Canberrans have the opportunity to make up their own minds on whether they believe public transport privatisation works or not. The Liberal opposition just won’t admit that they plan to sell off our publicly owned transport network to private enterprise. Alistair Coe (remember as opposition transport minister he was the architect of their transport policy for the 2016 election and recklessly promised to rip up the contracts for the light rail), losing the election in the process, threatening the health of the ACT budget for years to come. And guess what, they rewarded him with the leadership! NSW’s government has just privatised the last remaining publicly held transport networks in the inner west and Newcastle despite promising not to do so before the last election. This has massively reduced on-time running times with routes cut, stops closed and workers’ conditions nosediving. Look at what Geocon has done in the ACT, cutting their employees wages by 5%, all above board with this Liberal Federal government with worker’s conditions set to get worse. With the ongoing effects from the COVID crisis public services and public jobs will continue to be crucial to the ACT’s economy recovering. I am a regular public transport user and despite all the complaining from the last public transport upgrades I think the government has the best of intentions for improving the network as the most recent upgrades have shown.

Far too much to comment on so will just make a few comments. And again I will reiterate that this is coming from a well known “lefty”/government apologist.

Re NSW you are quoting issues with late running etc, true that happened, of course it would but has all settled down. As for routes cut, again the nsw model is routes and timetables are set by transport for NSW not the operator. The model is not total outsourcing and walking away and letting the operator do as they will. The model is to operate routes to the timetable. If there have been stops and routes cut that is seperate from any privatisation even if they happened to co-incide.

And I like you do believe the current ACT government had the best intentions with the changes And I am on record firmly on this website agreeing with them and getting howled down. Even to this day I believe the intent of the network was/is sound.

But that is totally seperate from any talk of privatisation. And frankly I think if operation of action were to be privatised the community as a whole would benefit. The one downside would be for the drivers who would have to work after hours and weekends, despite them now not having any mechanism to force them do even though they collect the higher composite rate of pay that factors this work in.

I do think this is the best change to the Bus network yet, so that’s promising. But glaring issues in bus stop walk ability and the terribly designed routes for some suburbs still remain.

The Public Transport Association have lost all credibility on once again commenting positively on the new Bus network (but they do hold some credibility on Light Rail thoughts).

The PTCBR have publicly backed and supported each ACT Government Bus network proposal, change and tweak over the last two years.

In August 2018 the PTA said Network 19 was the improvement the Bus network needed and that it would deliver better bus services and congratulated the minister and canberra Transport.

Then at the next update they said they are pleased with the evidence based decisions of the new network, that school route closures were justified and that they were looking forward to the new network improving things for passengers.

Then when the new network rolled out in 2019 we were told the huge benefits of the new Bus network will become obvious once passengers get used to it.

This theme of faster and more efficient bus services keeps continuing through each Ministerial announcement on a further tweak to the failing bus network.

Cmon public transport association, stand up for bus users and call out the parts of the redesign that have failed. More than half the suburbs of Canberra saw a decline in Bus use in 2019. That is the complete opposite of what the network redesign was meant to do. But what many commuters said would happen when they saw the proposed timetables and routes.

I appreciate the feedback, bj_ACT. You may be interested in the document PTCBR sent to the Minister for Transport in October 2019, which was compiled using feedback on the network gathered from both members and the wider public:


I think our views on Network 19 are significantly more nuanced than you make them out to be, but rest assured we will continue to monitor feedback on the updated network to better inform our advocacy work.

Hi Ryan. Appreciate the response. You have provided some much needed suggestions in your letter to Chris Steele, it’s a pity the Minister and Canberra Transport chose to ignore so many of your recommendations.

I based my criticisms of PTCBR on the 2019 radio appearances of the chair and the Archive comments contained on your website. The media comments and articles were consistently very very positive about the new Bus network and they didn’t highlight some of the obvious issues that are finally starting to be accepted as problems. Hopefully PTCBR can now start calling out the underlying issues of the new Bus network that forced so many people across large chunks of Canberra to move away from the Buses.

The Canberra Liberals plan is to privatise Canberra’s public transport system and follow NSW’s lead

“…follow NSW’s lead.” What, by privatising public transport?

I don’t think it is an announced Liberal policy, though agree with the sentiment that it certainly something they have said before and done elsewhere.

But I need to ask is that a bad thing? I don’t think privatisation of public transport is what people seem to think it is.

The modem that is used in NSW (Sydney/Newcastle/Wollongong) and is also used in Adelaide and Perth works reasonably well.

In that model the government sets the timetable, routes And sets and collects fares. They then pay a fixed price to the private operatorsL to run the service. In some cases the government even owns the vehicles.

And here in Canberra the current Labor government has actually done all the ground work to make this easy. What they have done is created TC who have overarching control of the network including lightrail. They also own all the new (blue) buses, own the common branding and own the fare collection system. They then “contract” out running of buses to Action. It would be so easy to replace Action with a private operator and the only difference to users would be the small sticker that says who is running the service. Oh and that weekend services would be operated as the government wants as the contractor wouldn’t be bound by the silly Action enterprise agreement that pays divers to work weekends but cannot make them.

Ps I’m well know for my left leanings.

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