Time and time again, Canberrans tell the government they want better public transport. Every now and then, governments pay attention and take steps to improve things, before slowly winding services back. This is a very unsustainable way of increasing our city’s use of sustainable transport. It doesn’t have to be this way. If we focus on getting the basics right, we can get people back on public transport, and have a system the envy of all Australia.
Our ideas are drawn from successful public transport systems around the world. They are also drawn from Canberra’s public transport network in the 1980s, which had the second-highest usage rate among Australia’s capital cities. These are ideas that are proven to work, even in a spread-out city like Canberra. We do not need gimmicks like unproven new technologies or glorified taxis. At the end of the day, we know people will catch public transport if they have fast, frequent and reliable services that are easy to get to and take them where they want to go.
This is PTCBR’s five-point plan for improving public transport in Canberra.
Expand the light rail network
Build one stage of light rail while planning for the next
PTCBR strongly supports light rail as the best option for frequent, high capacity transport on dense corridors. While upfront costs can be higher than other dedicated transport systems, such as busways, over the long run light rail is the more economical and environmentally friendly option. It is best placed to meet Canberra’s needs as we had towards a city of 500,000 and beyond.
The ACT Government has a grand vision to extend light rail to all our town centres. In our view, it is not happening fast enough. The extension to Woden was first announced in 2016, was due for completion by 2025, but is now unlikely to be complete until the end of the decade. The government itself only plans to complete one stage every decade, meaning we might not have a complete network until the 2070s.
We need to put more resources into planning our future light rail lines, so by the time one stage of construction is complete, the next is ready to go. It’s that simple.
More buses, more often
Frequency is freedom. It’s a common saying in public transport circles, and we completely agree. The more often a service comes, the more we choice have about when we travel and where we go. When services come every 10 minutes or less, people don’t have to worry about timetables. They feel confident they can rely on public transport to get them around on their own schedule.
Of course, we have only have so many buses, and we can’t have frequent services everywhere at all hours of the day. But we think a reasonable standard is:-
- every 10 minutes or better on rapid routes
- every 15 minutes in peak
- every 30 minutes off-peak weekdays
- every 60 minutes late nights and weekends
This was the standard Canberra had during the 1980s. By building new bus depots and rolling out light rail to free up thousands of bus service kilometres per hour, we can get those frequencies back.
Don’t wait more than 10 minutes for your connecting bus
Transport networks where passengers transfer between services can be an efficient and effective way of getting people around. The truth is, we are never going to have enough buses to give people a direct service to everywhere they want. But to work, these transfers need to be comfortable and short.
In the 1980s, Canberra buses had timed connections, so they could take a bus to an interchange, and know their connecting service was no more than 5 minutes away. This is why each town centre has its own purpose-built interchange. Unfortunately, today people can wait at an interchange for an hour or more. With smarter timetables, we can get those times down, and make public transport competitive for many more journeys.
Bus lanes and priority measures to skip through traffic
We need to do more to help our buses skip though traffic, and get people to their destination faster. We want to see Transport Canberra have a plan for identifying and implementing PT priority measures, including:
- bus lanes
- traffic signal priority
- bus jumps at traffic lights.
Good progress was made on rolling out bus priority measures on places like Barry Drive and Cotter Road in the early half of the last decade. We should build on those successes and make sure public transport has the best possible chance of getting people to their destination on time.
Combining public transport with walking, biking and scooting
Most people get to public transport on foot or by bike. With electric bikes and scooters becoming more popular, we have a great opportunity to get more people out of their cars.
We need to make sure our transport stops are easily accessible and well-lit. We also need to expand the network of safe and protected paths, and have secure places for people to store their vehicles.
Transport Canberra needs a long term plan for improving the active travel network, and incorporating this into every new road and public transport project.