1 December 2022

UPDATED: 'Ludicrous' to suggest buses won't be changed after light rail gets to Woden: Steel

| Lottie Twyford
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Chris steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel has urged Canberrans to stay alert around light rail, noting incidents are ongoing three years after the trams became operational. Photo: ACT Government.

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).

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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.

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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.

roadworks sign

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton has pleaded with the Government to leave bus services in place across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Photo: James Coleman.

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.

Mark Parton

Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton has been vocal in calling for a timeline and details about the cost of Stage 2. Photo: Region.

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.”

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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.

Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee wouldn’t be drawn on revealing the party’s position on light rail. Photo: Region.

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.

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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).

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Leon Arundell3:27 pm 11 Dec 22

Transport Canberra’s buses provided 19 million boardings in 2017-18. Light rail provided 1 million boardings in 2018-19, 4 million in 2019-20, 3 million in 2020-21 and 2 million in 2021-22.
Cars provide the equivalent of about 500 million public transport boardings per year.

thoughtsonthesubject5:28 pm 02 Dec 22

One problem is that the tram will take considerably longer than express buses. But there is also the cost: the financial cost and the cost to the environment. It is hard to overlook the fact that Canberra has been run down: worse than the lack of the repair of roads, is running down medical services. Two children have died because they were not attended in time in emergency. Now a death in a psychiatric ward. Even though insufficient funds are being spent on essential public services, the ACT has proportional to its population the highest debt in Australia. Does this government have the moral right to put a heavy financial burden on the shoulders of future generations for an outdated mode of transport?
Last not least, the environmental cost. This will be heavy with the complex infrastructure of the light rail including crossing the bridge, getting passengers to the stop in the middle of the road in places like the proposed Deakin stop, and the import of fully fitted trams from Spain. Add to this the exhaust of much longer travel, traffic jams etc. for years to come. And what about the frustration of Canberrans with years of traffic chaos? And all that for what? Don’t let’s forget, the tram began as a political solution to keep Labor in power. Has anything changed?

William Newby8:16 am 01 Dec 22

Woden doesn’t need a tram!
Out of peak hours I just watch all those empty buses driving around here, I guess all these non existent passengers will now have to get on a bus, change at Woden for the tram and then slowly make their way to Civic.
Payback on this 2nd tram, 1,000,000 years.

The reason there aren’t passengers isn’t a lack of passengers its a lack of a decent and stable system that is cost effective.

Years ago the expresso services transported 100 people a day from my neck of the woods into the town centres on the other side of the city. these were cut and everyone moved back into driving to work.

Most of the time on weekends, I can see the tram go by with 1-5 passengers on it. I then remember the tram cost 10 times more for a single leg of the network.

Payback on something with cents on the dollar payback is more than a million years.

Your bus route will be replaced with a $300 uber ride on weekends.

No one has mentioned the impacts on Belconnen commuters which overall are far more than other parts of Canberra. The topography of the journey from Civic to Belconnen rules out light rail not to mention the limited opportunities to monetise real estate development. This didn’t stop cutting all the truly rapid routes to/from Belconnen that were kept (and justifiably) to South Canberra. What we got were the nominally rapid R2 and R3 routes for example which don’t travel along arterial roads but meander through suburbs forever. My trip home is up to 20-30 minutes longer than prior to these changes. I can provide proof to Canberra Transport – that is if the MyWay data is maintained. The 714 route once rocked – R.I.P.

Hi Rod, Stage 3 light rail will go from Belconnen to Civic and then on to the airport.

HiddenDragon7:47 pm 30 Nov 22

“As part of that, he said he envisaged retaining rapid services from the southside to the city.”

That’s nice – Andrew Barr will be able to have a much quicker return trip when he uses his Seniors Card on the inaugural tram service from Civic to Woden.

ChrisinTurner6:27 pm 30 Nov 22

Is the Minister saying people travelling to Civic by rapid bus will retain this choice and not be forced to use the much slower tram?

Parton as usual is kinda skirting the truth a little. With Gungahlin the loss of the 200 series buses was not what caused issues for people, what upset some was the re routing of the suburban buses to the suburbs to the south of Gungahlin that started in Gungahlin and made their way to Civic.

The loss of the 200 and 202 are non events as these, as far as Civic follow the same route and like light rail requires people to change at Gungahlin town centre. In peak hour the tram is 20 minutes quicker and off peak it’s the same time.

The express buses to the suburbs a different matter as these now do require a change, however again with a maximum change over time of 5 minutes at the interchange even with a change it is quicker.

All that said buses services through Woden are different anyway and if course the journey time is longer which isn’t the case in Gungahlin. But as mentioned in a different post before the trade off for longer journey times to Civic is shorter journey times to Barton where there is significant employment and new housing.

Light rail will require no bus services between city and Woden. Where you have an existing service ‘direct to civic’ your travel will now be to Woden and then slow light rail to civic.

Light rail also requires that transport corridors become development hotspots to pay for it. Light rail is funded by development, not by public transport.

As a public transport user (if any are left) you are subsidizing the apartment dwellers.
The counter argument to that has been “anyone can live in an apartment.”

Except if you have kids.

I’m sure Ansett looked to be a good investment at the time,
Fortune named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

Hi Christine, yes, people get what they vote for.
Proportional representation seems fine in theory, although as we have seen over the past 20-odd years, it pretty much ensures that we have a hung assembly. Being a left-leaning town, that will mean an ALP or ALP-Greens coalition, with the Libs in permanent Opposition.
In the absence of an Upper House, no checks and balances are making the government of the day largely unaccountable.

It doesn’t matter what party you support; accountability and the prospects of electoral defeat are good for democracy.

History has shown that the government will cut bus routes to force people into LR. They won’t be running 4s, 5s and direct services from Weston Creek along Commonwealth Avenue. 4s and 5s will terminate at Woden. The Weston Creek services will be redirected to Woden or connected somewhere else. Frankly, I can’t imagine too many people electing to get off their bus and onto LR if they can stay on the bus and reduce their travel time.

Mr Parton is flogging a dead horse and he probably knows it. I expect he’s hoping that the media will start asking the government some serious questions, but that hasn’t happened.

I’m not convinced that Ms Lee is the ideal leader either. When in seemingly” “permanent” Opposition, they need a relentless “attack dog” style of leader; one who also can get in the media. I hesitate to say it, but someone like Tony Abbott.

Unfortunately transport in Canberra has not been designed by those who use it all the time. There has been no co-design, just dictates from on high by those who are wedded to their cars, so are not negatively affected by its shortfalls. This is why it’s designed around public service office hours, ignoring the needs of hospitality workers and tradies, let alone those who go out at night or on weekends.

Those of us not on the light rail will have to catch a bus to the tram to take us to the city, instead of going direct as we do now. Slower and more changes disadvantage people who have complicated trips already (primarily women and mothers), ie picking up kids, getting & carrying shopping before going home from work. It is also particularly difficult for children and those who have physical or intellectual disabilities. This is discriminatory.

It is also awful in extremely hot, windy, wet or cold weather as you’re stuck outside waiting.

It takes so long to do anything in this town unless you go by car! Many of those who were regular public transport users no longer travel that way and it’s not because of covid. It’s about speed, frequency and usability. With big gaps between people’s destinations and the transport stop, the time to get places has increased due to more walking or additional transfers to other forms of transport. Again, this disadvantages all but the young, fit, healthy, able-bodied and without children or shopping to do. This town is now ableist and focussed on the young single person who lives on the tram line.

Is it any wonder they can’t get more people to use public transport? It is only convenient if you live on the tram route. Previously all of Canberra had reasonable access to public transport. Now it is a much smaller proportion of people, with more using their cars.

An open and transparent government would have already released these details.

But we all know that isn’t the case in the ACT, which is why the opposition is using these silly tactics.

Tactics designed to get the government to admit the obvious truth, that the light rail to Woden will take significantly longer to travel the distance and most buses will need to be redirected through to the interchanges to funnel people onto light rail.

Those currently using the express buses should be resigned to slower and more complex public transport options.

We still have express buses? I thought they were banned with the plastic bags?

From 2024 you get fined for not owning a bicycle.

Walking hasn’t yet been banned, just made impossible by broken footpaths or their complete lack of existence, cars and trucks parked over footpaths, bikes & scooters speeding by without considering the pedestrian and the lack of ability to get across roads which have no pedestrian crossings or traffic lights to slow the speeding cars.

I’m fairly sure the government makes no secret of the longer journey time, though they would probably spin that by pointing out it services extra destinations along state circle not currently on the express buses.

And I’m also fairly sure the existing bus network to the south funnels through the interchanges already and in what many consider the glory days of ACT buses suburban routes used to feed the 333.


The government go out of their way to avoid talking any detail on travel times compared to the existing services. The level of detail they give up freely is somewhere near zero.

“And I’m also fairly sure the existing bus network to the south funnels through the interchanges already and in what many consider the glory days of ACT buses suburban routes used to feed the 333.”

Well the ones from the south do now that the government cut most of the express buses that used to bypass the interchanges.

Although I’m talking more as you’ve already identified what happened in Gunghalin, that buses that used to travel through the suburbs were redirected to the interchanges to reduce alternative options for those already to the north.

Correct the government don’t go out of their way to advertise the fact, but as I clearly said they make no secret of it either. I’ve said it before the extra time for Woden is a bit like how 10 mins were added to Belconnen 300’s services when they were redirected via Haydon drive all those years ago as they service more people. No song and dance was made about that as evil light rail was not involved.

As for the buses in Gungahlin all the ones from the suburbs already went through Gungahlin anyway. The only routes in Gungahlin that were significantly altered were the non express routes from Gungahlin to Civic via the suburbs on the eastern side of Gungahlin which really made no sense to continue to Civic anyway and the routes that went from Gungahlin to Belconnen via the southern/western suburbs of Gungahlin.

And the buses elsewhere in Canberra that were modified were not as a result of light rail but times to coincide with its introduction and to utilise the buses light rail freed up.

“Correct the government don’t go out of their way to advertise the fact, but as I clearly said they make no secret of it either”

Yes, as I said, they are not being open and transparent around the impacts light rail will bring by pushing these points to where they aren’t easily seen by the average person.

“I’ve said it before the extra time for Woden is a bit like how 10 mins were added to Belconnen 300’s services when they were redirected via Haydon drive all those years ago as they service more people. No song and dance was made about that as evil light rail was not involved.”

Except people did complain about those changes. As they complain about any change that reduces service or extends travel times.

“The only routes in Gungahlin that were significantly altered were the non express routes from Gungahlin to Civic via the suburbs on the eastern side of Gungahlin which really made no sense to continue to Civic anyway”

Yes exactly, they reduced these services because they would otherwise be partly duplicating the light rail route. Similarly on the next stage, people in similar areas will either have to get themselves to a light rail stop or face significantly worse public transport that funnels them back to the interchanges first.

“And the buses elsewhere in Canberra that were modified were not as a result of light rail but times to coincide with its introduction and to utilise the buses light rail freed up.”

It’s still strange that with all these extra buses “freed up”, that the changes made many parts of Canberra significantly worse off.

JC your ongoing claim that Belco had 10 minutes added to the trip to Civic is false and has previously been debunked with old timetables. I used to work at ABS during that route changeover period and it added a couple of minutes.

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