29 November 2021

What's stopping women in Canberra from using public transport or active travel?

| Lottie Twyford
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Bus stop sign and bus.

The ‘Her Way’ report investigated barriers that stop women from taking public transport. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Whether they are concerned about being able to quickly pick a sick child up from school or the general difficulty of carting multiple children and groceries around, or concerns about their own safety, particularly at night, there are several reasons Canberra women don’t catch public transport.

These findings were revealed in a recent survey into the barriers stopping women in the city’s south from using public transport or modes of active travel.

Last week Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson tabled these findings in the ‘Her Way’ report, which included 43 actionable recommendations the ACT Government could implement to encourage women to use modes of transport other than a car.

With major disruptions to Canberra’s road network expected in the coming years as Light Rail Stage Two to Woden is constructed, Dr Paterson noted the timing couldn’t have been better.

She acknowledged that while this disruption would cause stress, “we all contribute to the traffic jam in which we’re stuck”.

“The best way to reduce traffic congestion is to reduce traffic,” she said.

Dr Marisa Paterson

Dr Marisa Paterson conceded her car plays a significant role in her life. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Dr Paterson was surprised by how many survey respondents wanted to stop using a private car for short journeys.

She said women were the focus of the report as they still carry the bulk of childcare responsibilities and household labour, meaning they are more likely to face challenges with time and flexibility.

Dr Paterson herself acknowledged that her car plays a significant role in her life and that one of her fears was that one of her children would need to be picked up from school and she wouldn’t be able to without a car.

“But when I think about it, I can honestly say in 13 years of my children going to childcare and school, I can count on one hand the number of times my children have needed to be picked up from school early,” she said.

“Perhaps there may be a different way.”

Trip-chaining, when multiple errands or activities need to ‘be done on the way’, was also a concern held by some survey respondents.

Others, Dr Paterson said, worried about their safety getting on a bus late at night or waiting at an interchange alone.

Women are also less likely to feel confident than men when riding a bike.

Dr Paterson also explained that women serve as a good litmus test because if public transport or active modes of travel are safe and accessible for women, they will be for everyone.

READ ALSO Callam Street in Woden closed from today as light rail works begin

Among her recommendations was providing better resources and tools to support people prepare personalised travel plans, improving communication about real-time apps, and investing in the Territory’s active travel network.

She also called for better information around secure bike parking facilities and increased lighting at bus stops and interchanges.

In her speech to the Assembly, Dr Paterson said encouraging people to move to more sustainable modes of transport could also align with bigger goals such as reducing transport emissions.

She said it could also contribute to positively impacting preventative health outcomes and create a more liveable city.

The ACT Government noted the report and will now seek to incorporate the recommendations in existing and future work programs.

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton was seemingly thrilled with the report, saying it “savaged the transport minister” and that it was entirely damning of the ACT’s public transport system – particularly in the city’s south.

He sought to amend Dr Paterson’s motion to reflect this but was unsuccessful.

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thoughtsonthesubject12:11 pm 01 Dec 21

A fraction of the $2-3 billion plus for putting up the infrastructure for the light rail extension to Woden would provide the money for many extra bus routes and increased frequency. Quite apart from the fact that the road works will cause traffic chaos between Woden and Civic for the next decade to come. Do we really have to put up with all this?

I think you’re on the wrong thread thoughtsonthesubject, you’re not “on the subject” as the article is about women using public transport (of any type) not about light rail or buses per se.

I’m lucky in that I live within a short walk to either the R4 or R5 buses. I use the bus quite a bit unless both of us need to go places – my husband is not up to walking much these days. What bugs me is the dismemberment of the Tuggeranong bus routes, the cutting of services and the reduction in bus stops because of this. It did not need to be done, and in my opinion, doing this in order to put in a less efficient and less easily accessed tram service at a ridiculous cost was and still is a crime.

The issues with the Bus route changes and the loss of bus stops for Tuggeranong in 2019 were obvious to anyone with half a brain.

Making peak hour commutes slower for the vast majority of Tuggeranong’s residents not surprisingly led to a 5% decrease in bus use.

Tuggeranong’s bus services were sacrificed to improve Weston Creeks bus service in 2019, purely for political reasons.

The tram is more easily accessed by more people as it encourages dense development within its reach. It isn’t really possible to have a public transport system that properly serves sparse suburbs without very heavy subsidies and busses that run with only a handful of people over the whole route. It is a pity that we can’t have that anymore, I guess, but it can’t work forever

Noting the Light Rail is much much more heavily subsidised than the buses.

Except we only currently have that type of dense development in Canberra in a tiny amount of places. The tram is also massively subsidised by all Canberrans whilst only a tiny minority of people can and do use it.

So why on earth would you build it now and why wouldn’t you look at direct land value capture taxes from beneficiaries to fund it?

“It isn’t really possible to have a public transport system that properly serves sparse suburbs without very heavy subsidies and busses that run with only a handful of people over the whole route. It is a pity that we can’t have that anymore”

Very heavy subsidies -seriously?

I think you are forgetting that the whole of the ACT has paid for (read that as subsidised) the purchase of 14 trains and the construction of the track from Gungahlin to the City. All Canberrians are paying for (subsidising) Light Rail again by spending another stupid amount to take it to Woden.
And this is the same train that NSW has taken out of service for 18 mths due to cracks and the same train that Newcastle has temporarily taken put of service.

Don’t also forget that the Government removed buses from Northbourne and redesigned the bus network to feed the train. It’s patronage is being feed by that highly subsidised bus service you speak of.

Capital Retro8:49 am 01 Dec 21

As is the 100% renewable electricity it uses is heavily subsidized, more than the diesel fuel the buses use.

thoughtsonthesubject12:14 pm 01 Dec 21

The same dismembering of the express buses is already planned for the Woden to Civic light rail extension. R4 is to be turned into a local bus between Lanyon and Woden for passengers to change to the slow tram to Civic at Woden.

sure, but a lot of revenue will be brought in from the land tax/rates on the denser developments justified by the light rail than would otherwise be generated from the low-density suburbs that struggle to properly support decent bus connections. By that same logic, all Canberrans are also paying for (subsidising) the roads and cul-de-sacs that are only used by the people living in those low-density suburbs. I bet that the cost of maintaining a cul-de-sac per each of the handful of houses it serves is comparable to maintaining a light rail for the thousands of units and houses along its route that it serves.

I’m sorry Jam but successive auditors reports have failed to find any evidence of these supposed windfalls, and the whole business case is built on this advertising hype. What we do know is that the Woden line will take over 25 years to pay back just its construction costs, and it will be slower than the buses. And even the Public Transport Association admit that the trams won’t be useful unless Belco, the airport, Tuggers etc are connected. The Gungahlin line might eventually be worthwhile if we concentrate development in north Canberra but there is no comparably-sized city supporting that much track. And covid has shown it may be unnecessary, by proving people can work outside offices. The Woden line is an absurdly expensive project to deliver a slower service, and I really wish they’d admit it doesn’t add up and just stop.

Can you point to why inner Canberrans are subsidising outer suburb Canberrans?

The analysis I have seen has shown the opposite.

Canberra is a little bit different as a city to most others. Some of the logic on taxation, economic support and place based funding that applies in other cities or at the State level doesn’t correspond with the Canberra case.

Yep. Instead of Gilmore, Chisolm, Calwell and Theodore residents getting a 40 minute bus straight up the Monaro highway to Civic, they’ll get to spend over an hour going via Woden and changing for the Light Rail.

Kambah residents could go straight up the Parkway directly to Civic in 30 minutes but instead will also have an hour trip to work via Woden and the light rail.

It’s the exact opposite of what you learn in the first classes of a Masters in Transport Planning. It’s literally what ‘NOT’ to do for public transport commuting.

“but a lot of revenue will be brought in from the land tax/rates on the denser developments justified by the light rail”

Except there’s almost zero evidence that the light rail has made an appreciable difference to the densification outcomes. You could have achieved the same desndification outcomes with other, far cheaper transport modes.

“By that same logic, all Canberrans are also paying for (subsidising) the roads and cul-de-sacs that are only used by the people living in those low-density suburbs”

Yes, because transport in general is an essential service, the same as public transport is for everyone.

The problem you’ve got is that light rail only services a tiny proportion of the population and has been justified not through benefits to public transport but through land development opportunities.

It’s also not the most efficient option to provide the essential public transport bemefit so why would you choose it so private landholders can benefit from public funds.

I think you know, but are choosing to ignore, the reason that patronage of the buses in the suburbia is relatively low. It’s network design.

To make the numbers work for Light Rail, the Government redesigned the bus network running buses to connect to the train, rather than going into the City.

As part of this network redesign, they removed 700 bus stops in the suburbs and cancelled the direct
Xpresso services to and from the City, to those “low density” suburbs.

It didn’t help a lot when the Government “improved” the network and started running buses every 30 minutes “More buses more often” was their slogan. They corrected some serious mistakes but didn’t reinstate any of the 700 bus stops.
Then the Government improved the network again by increasing frequency on the weekends.
Weekend buses were every 2 hours but on a Saturday, they decided to run them hourly until midday.
More design issues.

Of and of course, there has been a little thing called Covid, where people have been discouraged from using public transport together.

While your argument is that expenditure on light rail is justified but it’s a waste of money providing public transport into the suburbs, the funny thing is that the Government plans to take the train north to south and east to west. Those uneconomical buses will still be used to feed the expanding train and apart from an ever increasing debt, all that will be achieved is a much slower trip with the need to change services; bus to train and then the slower speed of the train. 70kph is just so fast.

Of course this is all assuming that the expensive train doesn’t break like it has in Sydney!

Mr Parton is right.
If Dr Paterson is concerned about why women, (but let’s just say people) don’t leave the car at home and flock to the bus, she need look no further than her own Party’s management of the network.

bj_ACT said it perfectly. When you remove 700 bus stops, people have to walk home further and that’s not a lot of fun in the dark or when it’s raining!

The other issue of course is that some and I must empathise “some” bus commuters are not the type you’d invite home to meet mum. When you’re in a confined space with a “nutjob”, it’s not a good place to be. Even although wearing a mask is complusory, every time I’ve been on the bus I’ve seen 4 or 5 people without masks, that additional risk makes it’s not a good place to be.

So yes Dr Paterson, you’ve done your research and your recommendations were more lighting at Interchanges and better real time apps. Seriously? Is that all you’ve got?

Substitute “men” for “women” in this article and it doesn’t really change the outcome. And the same applies to bj_ACT’s comment.

Removing over 700 bus stops across the city and making women have to walk much further to their bus stop is one obvious issue that lies at the feet of the Transport Minister.

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