20 October 2023

What do you think about Canberra's buses? ANU researcher wants to know

| Lizzie Waymouth
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interior of canberra bus

Canberrans are divided on their preferred seat on the bus. Photo: Public Transport Association of Canberra.

Love them or loathe them, there were more than 14 million boardings of Transport Canberra buses between March 2022 and March 2023. That’s about 35,000 trips on average per day.

While we may love to complain about irregular services, noisy passengers and dirty seats, an ANU anthropology master’s student is looking to harvest this data to tell us what this means. She’s created an interactive survey where people can annotate seating maps of different Canberra buses to say what they like and dislike about them.

Emma Degioanni told Region she was inspired to begin this research after moving to Canberra from Perth.

“So, moving here, I didn’t have a vehicle of any kind,” she said.

“Buses are really my primary mode of transport and they have been for a long time even before moving to Canberra.

“And I think from the get-go I started noticing a lot of differences between the buses in Perth and here. I just started noticing it more and more and then when the opportunity to start selecting a field site for my research emerged, I thought, well, why not try buses?”

Emma said there was very little written about public transport and how people experienced it, so she hoped to contribute something new to the discussion.

annotated canberra bus seat map

What do you think about Canberra buses? Image: Supplied.

And it turns out, people in the ACT have a lot to say about buses.

“It’s something people in Canberra love to complain about,” Emma said.

And complain they did.

“There’s not enough space between seats for my knees,” one commenter said.

“Why does it take so long for MyWay cards to read? Adds heaps of extra time when getting off the bus,” another said.

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And one of the major trends that came through the survey – Canberrans hate the bus seats that face each other.

“I think the one thing that stands out so far is the facing backwards,” Emma said.

According to one commenter: “Sitting in these backward-facing seats is really awkward because everyone can see you and you can’t look up without accidentally making eye contact with someone.”

One respondent said they would rather stand than sit in these seats.

“Hate these seats that face each other. Very awkward when sitting with people you don’t know, and they encourage loud conversations when groups sit there,” another said.

The research has also highlighted issues with accessibility – that buses can be difficult or even impossible to navigate with a wheelchair, stroller or walker, and that there aren’t enough places to hold on to if you’re standing up.

Commenters also said they often found the buses too dark and struggled to see their stop at night.

While it seemed the backward-facing seats were generally the least favourite, the findings so far suggest there’s a lot of variation in Canberrans’ favourite seats on the bus.

“Generally when you ask people, they have quite strong thoughts if they’re regular bus users on the layout of the bus. But it varies,” Emma said.

“People have different preferences … There are a lot of contradicting statements. Some people say I love this spot, others say I don’t.

“I think the preferences are varied mainly because people have different needs, different experiences.”

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Despite their criticisms, it’s definitely not all bad.

“In general though, I actually really like Canberra’s buses and bus system. It’s nowhere near as bad as people like to complain,” one commenter said.

“Our bus drivers are (mostly) really friendly and kind. If you forget your pass, they don’t mind and let you on anyway as long as you apologise.”

Emma agreed Canberra was particularly lucky to have such a frequent bus service, especially comparing it with her home city of Perth.

“I haven’t gone to the satellite suburbs so I don’t know about coverage there, but the fact you guys even have rapid buses means you can get to Woden or Belconnen in 20 minutes.

“That’s fantastic.”

Emma’s ACT Bus Mapping survey is available to complete online.

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William Newby9:47 pm 23 Oct 23

Much like this photo most of them are empty outside peak hour.
If ANU want to study our busses look into cheaper, smaller, cleaner busses that are appropriate for the lack of passengers they get on them.

GrumpyGrandpa3:29 pm 22 Oct 23

I have a family member who used to be an Action Bus driver and I’ve been a frequent user myself for over 30 years, so I feel really qualified to comment.

It is very good service, although it’s been allowed to slip.

For anyone who now needs to make multiple service changes to complete their journey, they may as well just jump in their car. Removal of the Expresso services and direct services Tugg to Belconnen/ Woden to Belconnen are good examples.

How do they design a network where you can’t travel from anywhere south of the City, aka (half if Canberra) to go to Fyshwick or Majura, or from Tuggeranong to Gungahlin, without going into the City?

I fear that this situation will deteriorate even further, when LR replaces buses between Woden and the City, because it’ll be slower and for some it’ll involve yet another change of service.

As for their Tech, Canberra is a long way behind other Cities. In Melbourne, their Myki system is fast; MyWay, well, not so much. Their “Journey Planner” just works; TC’s, not so much. I’d go so far to say that TC’s “Journey Planner” is pathetic. I find myself referring to timetables to work out connections (and Yes, I know how to use it).

Above bellyaches aside, generally, the timetables are good……unless you want to travel on the weekends. How in a modern city can we have a bus service on the weekends, that only runs through the suburbs every 2 hours?

Then, despite the positive spin in the articles about drivers allowing a free ride, if the passenger apologises, everyone knows that fare evasion is rife. Scammers knows that the drivers have no authority to deny a ride; more so now that paying by cash isn’t an option. I catch the bus 6 or 7 times a week and on every services there are scammers. I sometimes wonder why I even bother paying; no one is going to kick me off the bus or fine me.

You could be excused for thinking I’m anti-bus. I’m not. I’m a big fan; it’s just a crying shame that the government has gone missing.

The link to the survey didn’t work

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