It’s time to bring back the regular buses – UPDATED

Canberra lockdown restrictions are easing! As of Friday, we’ll be able to do pretty much everything we could do before lockdown. Except for catch a peak hour bus, that is.

When lockdown first hit the ACT on 12 August, approximately 10,000 Canberrans were sent into 14 day quarantine, including a lot of bus drivers. This had an understandable effect on Transport Canberra being able to reliably deliver services. So Transport Canberra did a relatively sensible thing, and switched to a ‘holiday timetable’.

If you’re in town over Christmas, you’ll know what this is. Most off-peak and weekend services remain the same. Most rapid routes continue to run every 10 or 15 minutes. But there’s a big cutback in peak hour services, so buses every 30 minutes for local routes, and fewer rapid services during the peak period.

This makes sense during periods of low commuter patronage: regular services throughout the day mean that people who need PT can get to where they need to, but there’s no need for extra peak services to accommodate the commuter rush. In the context of a pandemic and lockdown, PTCBR considered the holiday timetable struck an appropriate balance for drastic times.

But the commuters are coming back, and in significant numbers. In the last week before lockdown, average weekday boardings were 65,000. This dropped to as low as 7,500. But last week they were back to 39,500, and they’re continuing to climb.

We’re opening up now, and while quarantine is still a reality for some, it’s not at a scale where huge portions of the TC workforce are going to be unavailable. PTCBR has strongly applauded the ACT Government for maintaining public transport services at time of declining revenue, and we understood why an emergency workforce situation meant we needed holiday levels of service. But now that the rest of us are going back to normal, it’s time for the buses to do the same.

We’ve reached out to the ACT Government for comment, and will let you know when we hear back.

UPDATE 12/11:

We heard back from the Minister’s office. Sadly, the news isn’t good: no regular services until February. The interim timetable will remain in place until 17 December, then it’s holiday timetable until school starts on Term 1, 2022. And hopefully then we get the buses back.

This is pretty weak sauce from the government. Weekday boardings are already at 70% of pre-lockdown levels and rising, and unless they put on more buses, peak hour will be uncomfortably crowded before Christmas.

While some might say this is a cost saving measure on the sly, I’m inclined to believe them when they say they might not have the drivers to reliably deliver the regular timetable.

Which is a pretty damning admission, actually. It’s been 2 years since Transport Canberra had to scale back the weekend timetable, and it seems they still can’t get on top of their workforce issues, whether that be recruiting enough drivers or more effectively deploying the existing workforce.

In this light, Covid seems like a convenient excuse, as it’s hard to see how more than a handful of drivers might be quarantined at any one time. Here’s hoping the Minister shines a big light on this issue in 2022, as TC is going to need to get this fixed if the planned service expansions have any hope of getting off the ground.


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