Transport Canberra has released the revised timetables commencing Term 1, 2023.
In short, they don’t come close to repeating the service levels of Network 19, and in many ways, are even a step backwards compared to the interim timetable we have had for the past year.
While we are still getting our head around all the changes, our understanding is as follows.
- Increases in peak frequencies on some local routes from 2 to 3 buses per hour.
- Increases in frequencies on the R2, R5 and R6 from 4 to 5 buses per hour.
- The 31 now detours into Lawson (see above). While this is well overdue, the up and back detour will be frustrating for other passengers.
- Reductions in peak frequencies on a number of local routes (19, 21, 23, 24, 30, 32, 41, 43, 44, 45, 55, 57, 58, 70)
- Reductions in off-peak services on practically all local routes, from half-hourly to hourly.
- Shorter hours of operation, so the first bus starts later, and the last bus finishes earlier. Late night services which previously left at 11pm are now scheduled for an hour or two earlier.
- The relocation of the City West layover means a significant reduction in services to City West. The R5, R6, R7, R10 and Tuggeranong expresses used to terminate at City West, but now finish in the City, meaning that only the half hourly 53 serves that side of town.
- Longer journey times through the City and Woden, because of construction.
This is a huge reduction in service, and it’s hard to understand why. This was supposed to be the timetable which moved away from the reduced interim timetable, and improved service with additional resources. For example, the 2021 network allowed for 70 spare drivers and 48 spare buses to accommodate COVID-related absences. This new timetable claims to fully use these extra resources, but it’s hard to see how.
Transport Canberra tells us that the construction delays around London Circuit and Woden Interchange cause longer journey times, and this means they can’t operate as many services. Which makes some sense, but doesn’t quite add up when you look at the scale of the cuts. The journey times really aren’t that much longer (up to 5 minutes in peak, around 1 minute off-peak), half the routes don’t even go into the City, yet services are being cut across the board, and by up to 30% on some routes. The handful of service improvements are offset by the reductions several times over. It’s also hard to understand how this justifies dropping late night services.
PTCBR knew that construction was going to cause delays to journey times, and at the time the works were open for consultation, we made submissions that Transport Canberra should monitor delays and implement more bus priority measures if necessary. What no-one mentioned was that delays in the City would have severe consequences for the entire public transport network. This was a significant oversight in the planning approvals process, and bordering on misleading from the project proponents.
The changes hurt PT-dependent passengers the most
Transport Canberra says they’ve targeted the cuts where buses are used the least, that is, off-peak and evening services. But these are the services which disadvantaged people rely on the most. Cutting off-peak service to hourly immediately increases everyone’s journey time by 30 minutes. Dropping late night services means that people can’t get home from their shifts. For those out on the town who can’t afford a taxi, they might drive home drunk. The reaction from the commuter set may be muted, but there are huge parts of the population who rely on buses to get around, and their lives have just been made more miserable.
What can Transport Canberra do about this?
Our simple suggestion would be “do better”. We know that bus networks are complex operations with myriad moving parts. But from an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to see how with 10% more drivers and buses, we’ve had such a rough outcome.
However, let’s assume that TC is being straight with us when they say their resources are fully maxed out. We still think they need to be more ambitious than simply accepting this situation. This includes:
- Considering additional bus priority measures to speed up journey times. The bus lane on Vernon Circle could be extended, and it might even be time to consider a temporary bus lane down Commonwealth Avenue.
- Coordinating timetables to make journeys easier. We heard from one passenger who used to catch the weekend bus from Macgregor to Kippax to go shopping. While the 2 hourly frequency wasn’t ideal, there was a good 90 minutes between the incoming bus arriving and the outgoing bus leaving, a perfect time to go shopping. But the new timetable doesn’t have that sort of window anymore, and it’s worth having a closer look. Similarly, there needs to be better coordination to ensure passengers transferring from rapids to local routes aren’t waiting around for over an hour for the next bus.
We’ll be continually applying pressure to the ACT Government to fix this situation as soon as they can. And if you’re unhappy about this, you should do the same. Buses are still the backbone of our public transport network, and Canberrans deserve better.