ACT Budget 2022/23: Public transport is steady as she goes, but we can do better

Unlike previous years, this year’s ACT Budget isn’t a light rail budget. There are no new public transport initiatives in what is largely a housing and hospital focused budget.

This doesn’t mean that public transport is the loser here, but it isn’t the current focus of the Barr government at a time when population and housing pressures are impacting a territory coming out of Covid-19 uncertainty.

The public transport funding is all for previously announced projects, many of which have been rolled over to later years. So while existing public transport initiatives (such as zero emission buses) have not lost their funding, we can do better.

We’ve had a close look at the ACT Treasury Budget papers to see where the money’s gone. Looking at the Transport Canberra and Major Projects Canberra sections, the Government has confirmed funding for:

– The raising of London Circuit
– Light Rail Stage 2A
– Building the Woden Light Rail/Bus Interchange
– Building the Woden Bus Depot
– Electrification of the new Woden Depot
– The Zero Emission bus procurement program
– New ticketing technology to replace MyWay
– New buses to replace old buses

Where PTCBR has some concerns are about what is not in this year’s budget papers:

– There is no forward funding for any aspect of Light Rail Stage 2B
– There is only 1 year of funding for the Flexible Bus Service, which supports older and disabled Canberrans. This might be because the service is being reviewed, we’ll watch this space.
– Transport Canberra Operations is reducing staffing from 1016 in 20/21 to 981 in 22/23. We’d like to know how this lines up with the much publicised bus driver recruitment campaign to allow more weekend and peak services.
– No apparent funding for the Light Rail Network Plan refresh
– No funding for Light Rail Stage 3 (Belconnen) or 4 (Tuggeranong) feasibility studies
– No funding to expand the bus fleet. It looks like simple replacement of new buses for old buses
– No funding to expand Park and Ride to new locations

Several of these are quite cheap items with significant benefits to increasing passenger numbers and reducing the impact of private cars on the environment, and transport emissions overall.

What would PTCBR like to see? Major Projects Canberra still has light rail related projects as two of its top three strategic objectives in this year’s budget papers, but we would also like to see a serious approach to longer term light rail planning from MPC or TC. It is now over three years since Light Rail Stage One commenced operations, and we haven’t built another centimetre of rail since. We would also like to see the bus fleet expanded, including the Flexbus fleet, not a simple replacement of an old bus with a new bus. Of course expanding the bus fleet will mean an increase in driver numbers and a return to the promise of the Network 19 seven day network.

It is apparent that this is a mid-term budget from a government with new pressures to tackle. Hospitals and housing are the new(ish) political priorities, with a focus on housing a growing workforce in an expanding economy, without sprawling outside existing urban boundaries. These are great aspirations that PTCBR supports, but we need a world class public transport system to serve a world class city – and that requires funding.


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