The Territory government is struggling to keep up with almost 1000 active complaints about streetlights – more than double the usual number of issues it manages at any time.
Transport Canberra and City Services officials revealed in budget estimates hearings (26 August) that between 800 and 900 “reported and unresolved” streetlight issues are waiting to be remedied.
That’s around one per cent of the 80,000-strong network of lights owned by the government and maintained by Electrix Pty Ltd.
Dealing with those complaints in a timely manner is proving difficult due to a COVID-19-hampered contractor and an extended period of wet weather causing more outages than usual.
Opposition spokesperson for city services Nicole Lawder referenced correspondence she had received from constituents who complained they were logging multiple Fix My Street requests to try to get street lights in their areas fixed, “but to no avail”.
She questioned why it was sometimes taking between six and eight weeks for lights to be fixed.
Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel acknowledged work to fix streetlights was moving more slowly than usual due to the impacts of the pandemic on the workforce.
Transport Canberra and City Services deputy director-general Ben McHugh said there were two reasons for delays.
“One of those is access to equipment, resources and personnel in the current economic environment impacted by COVID-19,” Mr McHugh said.
He said the contractor had been working to subcontract work as much as it could to “keep boots on the ground”.
Mr McHugh explained that the recent extended periods of rain were making matters worse.
“A period of prolonged wet weather results in the ingress of water to underground cabling,” he said.
“We predominantly have an underground power supply to our network and some of it is quite old [meaning] some of the protective casing is not as waterproof as modern systems are. Progressively, the water will find its way into those conduits and cause electrical shorting.”
He said those faults could sometimes prove difficult to find as the contractor was required to work backwards and find the “underlying cause” or sometimes “causes” if the water was seeping in and damaging multiple areas.
LED upgrades to the ACT’s streetlight network are underway but it’s being done in phases rather than all at once.
In 2019, Mr Steel announced more than a quarter (30 per cent) of the ACT’s streetlights were now LED lamps.
He said at the time, this had already generated a 32 per cent energy saving.
In the 2020-21 financial year, streetlights not working was the issue that irritated Canberrans the most, accounting for around 9 per cent (4232) of all complaints lodged, according to Fix My Street requests.
On average, TCCS manages an average of 40,000 maintenance requests a year, and it took 52.2 days on average for matters reported via the ACT Government’s Fix My Street portal last year to be resolved, Mr Steel confirmed earlier this year.
The Fix My Street portal allows people to submit requests anonymously or logged in with their ACT Digital Account so the request can be tracked.