UPDATED 4:30 pm: The ACT Government has this afternoon (30 December) knocked back the Opposition’s “ludicrous” request to keep all bus services from the Southside the same once light rail steams into Woden.
Transport Minister Chris Steel said work would be undertaken to analyse the network and work out what services would be needed and where.
As part of that, he said he envisaged retaining rapid services from the southside to the city.
But he said the future was a “multinodal” network which meant it would incorporate rideshares, active travel and all forms of public transport.
Mr Steel also disputed the facts presented by the Shadow Minister for Transport Mark Parton, saying light rail patronage was in fact strong – evidenced by the fact trips on it make up 20 per cent of all public transport journeys.
He also argued public transport patronage had increased by ten per cent before COVID-19 but after the introduction of light rail (February 2019 and 2020).
The Minister explained the post-light rail network actually gave people access to 800 more services per day during the week and 350 buses were able to be rediverted across other parts of the network.
“It provides a frequent, convenient connection for people on the Northside and has reduced the number of cars and congestion on the roads,” Mr Steel told the Assembly.
ACT Greens spokesperson for active travel Jo Clay also disputed Mr Parton’s arguments and said districts with light rail (Gungahlin and the Inner North) had recovered more quickly in terms of public transport patronage following the pandemic slump.
Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton continued to accuse the Government of taking away what commuters wanted.
He said his personal transport journey from Tuggeranong to the city would increase by a minimum of 15 minutes per commute once the light rail was operational on the Southside.
Mr Parton accused the Government of having forgotten the entire point of public transport policy and being more focused on delivering Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s legacy project.
He then went on to describe light rail as a religion as well as an addiction for the Labor-Greens government.
4 am: It’s not yet known exactly when the Territory’s light rail will snake its way all the way from Gungahlin to the city, across the lake and down to Woden.
Before it gets there, the Opposition says it wants a guarantee the Government won’t slash any bus routes from South Canberra to the city.
Canberra Liberals spokesperson for transport Mark Parton is worried commuters will be “forced onto the tram” by the Government removing their bus services.
Following the construction of Stage 1 (Gungahlin to Civic), the city’s public transport timetable was overhauled and several services were axed.
Some of these were later reinstated after commuter feedback.
Mr Parton also wants the Government to commit to not increasing any travel time from south of the lake to Civic, despite it having been documented that the light rail journey from Woden to Civic will take between 10 and 15 minutes longer than the rapid bus currently in operation.
He claimed Gungahlin lost numerous direct bus services, including the 200 rapid bus and the 202 express, when the Gungahlin tram began, as commuters were forced onto the tram.
He feared a repeat of this.
“Canberrans living in suburbs south of the lake don’t want to suffer the same fate, they want to keep their direct buses to Civic and they want to keep their quick travel time,” Mr Parton said in a statement.
“This Government often leaves behind the southern suburbs and now they are trying to leave them behind with longer travel times.
“You can’t trust this Government when it comes to supporting Canberrans with effective services.”
It’s not the first time the Opposition has come out swinging against the light rail in recent weeks.
Last week, Mr Parton called on the Government to provide a timeline for Stage 2 (to Woden) and release detailed costings.
In response, Labor and Greens MLAs instead delivered rousing speeches in the ACT Legislative Assembly in support of the light rail project.
The Government has long rejected calls for the provision of any further details about the timeframe for Stage 2 – the most complicated of all the stages.
Transport Minister Chris Steel has stated these will become available as the project progresses through the procurement stages, and argued revealing any more details now about cost or timing could compromise this.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee also last week tried to force the ACT Government to ask the Commonwealth to reinstate $85.9 million of roads funding that was diverted to the light rail project instead.
That bid failed and Ms Lee accused the Government of having got its priorities mixed up.
The Canberra Liberals continue to hint at a light rail announcement to come in the next few weeks, although the Government has already accused them of having withdrawn their support.
Ms Lee last week wouldn’t confirm the party’s support, despite them having taken this to the last ACT election.
Preparatory works to raise London Circuit have now begun. That project, which is necessary to create a level intersection with Commonwealth Avenue, is expected to take two years.
A further two years are likely to be needed to lay the tracks, and building the stops to Commonwealth Park is expected to take another two.
A works application for Stage 2A was expected to be submitted to the National Capital Authority by the end of the year, Mr Steel told estimates hearings earlier this year.
He has rejected suggestions light rail won’t reach Woden until 2030 after the federal funding rollout showed the final payment wouldn’t be delivered until then.
Mr Parton will move his motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly this afternoon (29 November).