3 May 2019

Who are the winners and losers on Canberra's new transport system?

| Damien Haas
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The new integrated transport network is the best way forward for public transport in Canberra. File photos.

In its first week, light rail carried over 100,000 passengers and proved to be the success that its supporters anticipated. It was a long time coming, and although it received overwhelming support at the 2016 election, much political blood was shed in the preceding decades including Trevor Kaine, Chief Minister Rosemary Follet and David Lamont.

Chief Minister Barr and Transport Minister Fitzharris deserve much credit for their resolve in seeing this city-changing project through. Essential support from the Greens ensured that light rail survived the Legislative Assembly. Former Transport Minister Simon Corbell may one day be able to catch light rail from Civic to Kingston for a coffee, as he once famously predicted.

On Monday, the ACT received its second major public transport shakeup with Network 19, a fundamental system re-set. Integrating light rail, a record nine rapid bus routes, and more frequent local buses, the aim is to increase local connections – and frequency – to rapid routes.

Weekend passengers also benefit from light rail until 1am and rapid buses operating until at least 10pm on Sunday. Passengers living adjacent to light rail will be able to travel until 1am on Saturdays and 11:30pm on Sundays. This is the weekend public transport service that Canberra has needed for many years.

Although the radical changes will prove beneficial, there will be many short-term issues as passengers start using the new bus stops. Many local bus stops are disappearing, and some people will have to transfer between services.

With 140 suburbs and 530 buses, not every suburb in Canberra can have a direct service to Civic. Expresso services received savage cuts, others changed to become part of the new rapid routes, and a few, mainly in Tuggeranong, retained in a different form.

Fairbairn, Hume, ANU and other locations lose a bus service. ANU has its own coaster bus, it may not have enough capacity for the students that relied on the former service. Transport Canberra says on-demand and flexible buses will replace some services, but there’s no extra funding to expand this fleet and software for the small fleet of on-demand buses is not yet available. In some instances, the services are more likely to be used by the ‘fridge magnet generation’ than the ‘app generation’.

Schools on regular local bus route in Nicholls

Schools on the regular local bus route in Nicholls.

The loudest voices are the parents of children who use school buses. These north-south services have slightly decreased and there are now reportable metrics in place. Some services carry a handful of students a day. Clearly, a bus carrying a hundred people is better used on a local bus or rapid service. While there is no separate school bus fleet, this resourcing issue will continue to be played out.

Excellent wayfinding signage in Civic

Excellent wayfinding signage in Civic.

Passenger wayfinding between rapid and local bus services also needs some work. People won’t mind transferring if the frequency of services leads to shorter waiting times and better signage at local bus stops. Software notifications could also help in this regard.

Overall, the benefits of frequent local services connecting to a mass transit spine will improve public transport. In large transport networks, people often transfer to complete their trip. It is a new paradigm we need to adopt as we go from a country town to a growing city.

Gungahlin residents called for better public transport in the early 1990s when it was apparent that buses alone would not carry the number of passengers the popup suburbs were attracting. The Gungahlin Community Council, the Light Rail Coalition, and then ACT Light Rail were energised by the better public transport and planning outcomes that light rail could deliver.

With our population approaching the half-million mark, Canberra must keep building transport infrastructure that matches our growth. More articulated buses with greater passenger capacity are in the fleet and zero-emission, including light rail, is core to transport infrastructure.

Public transport is a visible sign of the health and livability of a city and its people. This government understands this, will future governments? The 2020 Assembly elections will be telling, as the Canberra Liberals are yet to share any thoughts on future public transport infrastructure.

The results of Network 19 may take some time to be realised but they must work if we want to enjoy the bush capital and not live in our cars.

Damien Haas is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the region’s peak public transport user lobby group.

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I have to laugh at Glenda Lloyd’s comment below that the real failure is not the new Bus network ‘but the Journey Planner’.

So essentially, all the complaints have nothing to do with removing so many bus stops, removing entire routes and taking away peoples peak hour Expresso buses from home to work. Nah it’s actually the Journey Planner that’s at fault. Let’s remove the Journey Planner and our Bus network problems will be fixed immediately.

I’m sure whichever ever side of the #BusFail argument you sit on, you would still have to think this is the greatest ‘Shoot the messenger’ post since the beginning of the internet. I’m calling it now.

Mr Haas can spin it whatever way he wants but it still falls the same, its taking me 45 mins longer each way to get to work and taking my kids 40 mins longer. If there are still more “results … to be realised”, lets hope they don’t get worse than that. Adding to the insult is the ACT government telling us the new transport system is helping us get our exercise quota, now that sounds like a communist state.

I used to be happy to use the bus when I couldn’t ride my bicycle to work. The previous bus service went all the way to Civic. Now I have to get off at Dickson and wait for the light rail (with a lot of other people). There is always a lot of people waiting, even at 7:15 in the morning, and the light rail is always very full when it arrives at Dickson so sometimes I have to wait for a few services before I can get on the light rail. Instead of encouraging me to use public transport I am now completely put off using public transport and will drive instead when I am unable to ride my bicycle.

I neither have a problem with the bus networks or the tram network, and I haven’t been enthused by the removal of bus services to schools.

What I find more problematic is the attitude of the bus drivers hasn’t changed, particularly now that they are servicing school routes, and are inconsiderately driving their empty busses past groups of school kids who are waving at them. You know who you are number 44.

Capital Retro7:09 am 07 May 19

….”Everyone onboard looked like a Soviet citizen: miserable, screwed by the system and nothing they could do to stop it.”……..

That’s what it is all about, mozza. Control of the people by removal of choices. Stalin would be proud of this government. All we need now is a gulag archipelago.

Extra 5 minutes or more at each transition, waiting for a service. Say 5 minutes wait in the high frequency areas (OK) but then up to a 15 minute at the hubs to the ‘extremities’ (e.g. Dickson to Kaleen). Nett result – 40 minute trip becomes 65 minutes
Everyone forced onto trams (through Civic) but then insufficient capacity at5:00PM peak hour
Poor passenger apportionment at peak hour in Civic – trams not crammed a la Japan and spare capacity left the platform: however …
Poor access to trams with five cabin segments but only two doors. Makes it hard to get out when the tram is chockers
Incessant, repeating announcements at Dickson interchange.
Appalling shelters on the tram line, and at the Dickson interchange.
Everyone onboard looked like a Soviet citizen: miserable, screwed by the system and nothing they could do to stop it.
…………… except at the next election

Complaining about having to add 5 hours a week to a commute means a monetary loss of at least $100. I do not consider that mentioning this is just a whinge!
Travellers to Fyshwick, (north of the railway line) are big-time losers with the loss of the #80.
Kaleen residents can drive to Civic in 15-20 minutes; using Transport Canberra takes up to 55 minutes.
More buses – yes, an extra bus for every journey
More direct -huh????; changing in the middle of a trip is NOT more direct
More often- not for many routes!

Is the private school bus issue masking the underlying problem?
The increasing number of people sending their kids to private or public schools that are ‘out of their suburb’ was caused by the ACT Government closing many schools in suburbs, not properly investing in schools to ensure an even and adequate public education standard across all government schools and not having a Spatial plan to get young families to move to targeted suburbs of Canberra to maintain the viability of public schools.

The current Bus issues and complaints about out of area students are probably the tail wagging the dog. And probably were not understood by Transport planners who designed a new network with an inadequate understanding of Canberra’s demographic and transport situation.

Without going into the nitty gritty of the arguments, I find the level of ‘entitlement’ around School bus services in this town to be somewhat astounding.

I understand the concern, I understand the angst. But outside of services being provided to schools within individual catchment areas, or specialist services (Such as for special needs students and the like), why is there such an expectation that the Government should provide school bus only services directly for almost any school combination possible across the city?

Ultimately, non-Government schools should either run their own services, or pay for Action to provide said services on their behalf. That is how it works in a lot of other places. And if you choose to send your kids to an out of catchment school, then imho you shouldn’t expect for a direct Government service to be available – it ultimately will need to be a combination of services, including normal bus services, that might get the kids there.

Do you also advocate for Bus services to only be available to Public Servants not for people who work in the private sector at Kmart or McDonalds?

I think you’re getting away from the underlying benefits of public transport. The goal is getting people out of cars and reducing the costs of supporting and maintaining private transport facilities for cars.

Nice try at deflecting the point BJ…..

The point is a sense of entitlement beyond what should be considered reasonable, in terms of what a publicly provided school bus services the Government should be expected to provide.

The primary focus should be aligned with public schools and how enrollment areas/catchments are set up. Making sure the bus service aligns with the universal right to free public school education and how that is provided makes perfect sense. On top of that, it makes perfect sense to provide it for specialist schools/special needs as well.

What reeks of entitlement is those people that expect dedicated bus services for the more exotic, non-core options. Sending kids way out of enrollment zones, or private schools and the like.

If those individual private schools want to fund those bus services (As some have done), then have no issue with Action providing such a service. But the system should not be set up to try and address every possible want and need of parents and their kids – to do so is a ludicrous starting point.

I’m all for optimising bus timetables and the like, to ensure as many journeys can be made as efficiently possible, and it is the best product it can be. And that can include taking into account kids that don’t go to their in catchment school. But it has to be in a cost effective manner too.

Your point about public servants vs private sector at Kmart or Mcdonalds is irrelevant – none of those people are asking for dedicated services, just to drive Bob from Tuggernanong to his job at Melba or whatever it might be…. which is what some people are expecting in terms of the school bus network.

I’m not for Buses taking just a couple of kids halfway across town to a private school.

But we are hearing from parents, kids and school executive that the Government cut school buses that served both public and private schools and were regularly full.

I’ll stick with my original point that Public Transport is for the public and it should be servicing people in need of transport. It shouldn’t just be choosing the simplest and easiest route for Transport Canberra executives to get their boarding numbers up. It also shouldn’t be ‘just for’ rich kids going to a high performing taxpayer funded public school in the inner north, while a poorer kid going to a basic private school in Tuggeranong loses his bus service. Especially when the ACT Government closed that kids public school in his own suburb.

Leighan Scurr7:47 am 06 May 19

Early days…. but nothing positive to say. Our kids get home from school at 4.50pm, 50mins later than they previously did. Longer walks with heavy school bags…. less homework time…. overcrowded buses…. just a really poor concept for transport for young people. Looks like earlier “consultation” fell on deaf ears!

michael quirk7:36 am 06 May 19

The ACT government should not rush to develop light rail 2 until its value for money is demonstrated. This requires the preparation of an independent and transparent business case.

It is unfortunate Damien Hass, Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra (perhaps more accurately the light rail propaganda association) is so effusive in his support for light rail despite it being assessed as an inferior option for the Gungahlin to Civic Stage and is likely to be more problematic for stage 2.

While he suggests light rail and the new bus network are necessary to reduce car dependency their impact cannot be determined until they have been in operation for 12 months or so.

It would be prudent to assess whether other means including a dedicated busway, working from home and the provision of employment close to home could be more effective in reducing car use.

It is likely a busway, providing similar transport and city development objectives as light rail, could be provided far more economically freeing up funds to more effectively reduce car dependency by increasing the frequency and coverage of the bus network.

Any justification for light rail is quickly diminishing as high capacity electric buses become available. The government needs to justify its continued support for light rail when the unmet needs of the community are so great. Mr Barr where is the justification?

I don’t doubt your point in time about electric buses. But the reality is that high capacity electric buses are not currently available, at least in ‘non wired form’ (I.e. reliant on batteries only). The two that the ACT has been trialling have a substantial reduction in people carrying capacity compared to a normal bus, and are still vastly more expensive than regular buses as well.

Their time is coming, but we aren’t there yet.

michael quirk3:46 pm 06 May 19

Large capacity electric buses are already operating in Hunan in China. Technological improvements over the next 5 years (the light rail to Woden is expected to be operational in 2024) would suggest the ACT government should explore their use as they are likely to be less expensive and perform at least as well as well as light rail. Suggest look up the trackless tram and Professor Peter Newman

“Large capacity electric buses are already operating in Hunan in China”

They are junk quality buses though, still very much in the developmental phase. I’m not doubting that we will get there. But I know enough about the 2 on trial to know chinese made electric buses are not the solution we need or want.

We need to wait the 4 or 5 years until all the mainstream (primarily European bus makers) are building buses that deliver the same capacity as fossil fuel buses now at a competitive price, and then it will be the time to adopt.

My original point was not to refute the fact that electric buses, most likely on a proper dedicated busway of some form (or perhaps trackless trams) makes a lot more sense then further stages of light rail – after all it did for light rail stage 1 too. But was more making the point that electric bus technology, in a form that can deliver to the capacity levels of existing buses, are not quite there yet.

michael quirk7:21 pm 08 May 19

What is the basis of your “Technical” assessment

The option needs to be comprehensively assessed and not just superficially dismissed

I find it alarming that we have people reporting that southside services have been massively reduced. Surely that doesn’t make any sense? The govt spent zillions on a new tram, started with the Civic-Gungahlin leg (you’ve got to start somewhere), thereby freeing up a million bus kilometres per year, and put them…where?

Adjusting to the new network is frustrating, but rants with minimal information aren’t really useful – if you actually post a bit of information about your journey and the problems you’re experiencing, there seem to be people here willing to look into it for you and we’ve already seen helpful people like Glenda L. solving some problems. Even Transport Canberra seems to be admitting their journey planner is not up to scratch, which in itself is very disappointing.

It was easier to compare before the new network went live, I guess they’ve erased the old network from the web now, but can it really be this bad!?! I’m fascinated, and a little horrified, and I definitely sympathise with those of you facing massive disruption. (And obviously the cancellation of school services is a specific issue, so I’m more referring to trips to work etc).

I’d say let’s reserve judgement on the success of light rail and the new network for a few months rather than a week. Let’s also wait till people have to pay (directly themselves) to use it.

If the government is so adamant the new services are better, why not put it to the test and pick, say 100 common journeys and do a comparison before and after of journey times

HiddenDragon6:27 pm 05 May 19

Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time watching the road and pedestrian traffic near the Civic tram terminus.

The very busy road traffic on Northbourne, mid-afternoon on a fine Saturday, with a shiny new tramline only “footsteps away”, reminded me of an observation I have had in several parts of Canberra in the years since the current tram debate arose – i.e. the tram is, and always will be, a marginally attractive solution, even for many whose trip approximates that of a tramline, let alone those whose trips are more complicated. This reality is, in turn, a reminder that the choice to go with fixed line trams, rather than more flexible and less costly options (with more funds thus available for bus services) being utilised in other cities should remain a subject of debate right up to the next Territory election.

The points which can be made about the attractiveness and usefulness of a tramline to many Canberrans could also be made about the sorts of housing options which are likely to proliferate along the current line, and any future lines – it will suit some, but for many others, it will not be preferred, regardless of how much spruiking about the benefits of high-rise and badgering about the evils of urban sprawl etc. is directed at them.

On the housing side, shouldn’t it be about achieving a balance between all?

There is no one universal ‘absolutely better’ solution out there. And I don’t think many people think we can continue the urban sprawl forever in a day either.

As long as it is done right, then a greater mix of housing choices is not a bad thing.

Maybe Damien Haas has changed his ways recently but I’ve only ever seen him getting out of a car or cab, so I’m slightly amused that he is Chair of the Public Transport Association.

Firstly, an article from Damien Haas, who has pushed for light rail over first improving bus transport is laughable. This site might like to give a bit more thought into who it gets to write an article telling people they should just stick with it and see how it shapes up.

I no longer take the bus as I work at ANU, have a school age child and need to be places at times when a bus in Canberra just wouldn’t help.

I have just checked out TCs website and planned my route. To get to work from Calwell, it would apparently take me an hour and a half. That’s not going to happen. To get to the city it would take an hour. That won’t happen either.

Having just come back from three weeks in the UK where we spent most of our time in regional locations, I can tell you that bus transport can work. Buses there run frequently, the whole fleet is modern, are the size of vehicle needed for the route (not one large bus for only a handful), and even in backwaters, advertise wifi or have tables between seats so people could actually make their trip productive by working.

In Oxford, they only have park and ride into the city, in the main to de-clog the roads, but also helps to maintain roads and historic precincts. Canberra could easily do that – large park and rides with bus after bus heading to the central work locations. What a thought that they actually take time to think it through.

ChrisinTurner11:03 pm 04 May 19

Complaints about the removal of dedicated school-bus services, in order to release enough buses to operate the new network, may be caused by an overall shortage of buses. According to http://www.actbus.net, ACTION today has almost exactly the same number of buses it had in 1989, despite Canberra’s population growing by 50% since that date, together with the population becoming more geographically widespread. If we had 50% more buses, imagine the improvement in frequency. We may even have enough buses to provide proper dedicated school-bus services.

Imagine the cost also…..

Its amazing what it costs to provide the ACTION service in canberra, given as you say the fleet hasn’t grown. It is an absolute budget black hole.

“Damien Haas is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the region’s peak public transport user lobby group” — it would appear that Mr Haas has forgotten that he is meant to be lobbying on behalf of transport users. Repeatedly he has sided with the decisions of Transport Canberra and written these opinion pieces that dismiss the real challenges that transport users are complaining about. Thanks for all the help, not.

Capital Retro9:34 am 04 May 19

The headline in the Canberra Times this morning “Steepest falls in north” with house prices in Franklin and Palmerston dropping 9.60% and 8.00% respectively belies the hype that the light rail would enhance property values in Gungahlin.

Unit prices in Dickson, the epicentre of the prosperity we were told the tram would bring, fell 4.30%.

Nothing Damien Haas has to say will excuse the disaster the current government has unleashed on all Canberra ratepayers. If we thought things were tough now wait a little longer.

How are house prices in Franklin and Palmerston going to at all be related to the light rail – unless some future stage actually run through those suburbs.

The light rail = increased property value is only really likely to hold (if at all) in the corridor immediately around the tracks – i.e. in walking distance.

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