Are masks discouraging PT use?

It’s been a week since the ACT Government’s mask mandate came into effect. Anecdotally, the buses are a little quieter, but it’s also school holidays, which sees a usual drop off in patronage as students stay at home, and parents take time off work.

Fortunately, dataACT updates Transport Canberra passenger data every day! It’s the only transport data set which is routinely updated, the rest, which are mainly about punctuality and reliability, are several months out of date.

So let’s compare this week and last week’s passenger figures. The mask rule began on 28 June.

DateLocal RouteSchool ServiceLight RailPeak ServiceRapid RouteOtherTotal
4/07/20214027017149
3/07/20213,67204,58607,21141915888
2/07/202113,80809,50222417,57652041630
1/07/202114,68409,09430217,74447342297
30/06/202115,253129,27131418,81846744135
29/06/202115,20809,03631018,68245643692
28/06/202114,41108,20727017,72844741063
27/06/20213,05603,91007,03330014299
26/06/20214,63505,34809,08350519571
25/06/202119,9883,41911,19525021,43162756910
24/06/202117,8173,4469,97532619,76138351708
23/06/202122,0164,34611,88135923,55257462728
22/06/202122,3874,39911,81736624,05658263607
21/06/202121,8344,45711,24534623,23052861640
Source: Daily Public Transport Passenger Journeys by Service Type, ACT Government Open Data Portal

You can see that the data helpfully breaks it down by type of service. Not quite sure why there were 12 kids on a school bus last Wednesday though!

This suggests there’s been a pretty big drop off between the last two weeks, but it’s important to account for school holidays too. To do that, I’ve excluded school services, and compared it to the holiday period in July 2019 (as 2020 was a bit of a write-off).

DateTotal (excl school services)1 week earlierReduction
Monday28/06/2021410635718328.2%
Tuesday29/06/2021436925920826.2%
Wednesday30/06/2021441235838224.4%
Thursday1/07/2021422974826212.4%
Friday2/07/2021416305349122.2%
3/07/20211588819571
4/07/20214914299
Monday8/07/2019576626632113.1%
Tuesday9/07/2019616136949311.3%
Wednesday10/07/2019607666940312.4%
Thursday11/07/2019577616903516.3%
Friday12/07/2019552146580316.1%
13/07/20192168324182
14/07/20191602718444

Or for those of you who like charts:

So the answer is yes! The July drop-off is markedly greater this year than in 2019. This isn’t particularly surprising, a number of Canberra businesses have reported slower trade as well. And of course, from a public health perspective, it’s probably better the buses are a little less crowded, at least during this high risk period.

What’s important is this doesn’t translate into yet another permanent dip in PT usage and increase in car traffic. Unfortunately, we can’t tell whether the mask rules have had a similar impact on car traffic, because the road traffic data only goes up to April this year!

PTCBR’s 2021-22 budget submission

Each year, the ACT Government invites community groups and the wider public to make submissions on how funding should be allocated as part of the following year’s budget. Over the past few weeks, the PTCBR Committee have prepared our submission, which can be viewed in full below:

View PTCBR’s 2021-22 Budget Submission here.

PTCBR recognises that the provision of high-quality public transport services is essential to ensuring equitable, affordable, and attractive transport options for all Canberrans. Good public transport increases ridership and reduces the use and ownership of private vehicles, with benefits flowing to individuals and households through reduced costs, the community through reduced pollution and congestion, and the government through reduced expenditure on public roads, including externalities such as emergency services and healthcare costs.

PTCBR’s submission has been considered in the context of these well recognised benefits, as well as the ACT Government’s recently adopted ACT Transport Recovery Plan, the Zero-Emission Transition Plan and the ACT Transport Strategy 2020. Our recommendations are consistent with the priorities outlined in these key documents and are outlined below.

PTCBR’s recommendations for ACT Government transport spending in the 2021-22 budget:

  • Construct additional bus lanes to improve the reliability and speed of bus services
  • Provide funding for the proposed northern bus depot to allow for the expansion of the bus fleet
  • Fast track the new ticketing system to provide passengers with a greater variety of means to purchase tickets
  • Provide existing bus stops with shelters, footpaths and lighting to improve passenger amenity
  • Undertake feasibility and consultation work for future light rail stages while construction of stage two is underway

To stay up to date with all public transport and planning issues in Canberrajoin PTCBR here and visit our Facebook group.

PTCBR’s submission on the Woden interchange

PTCBR recently made a submission to the development application for the remodelled Woden interchange. You can read it here, as well as our earlier submission to the pre-consultation.

Overall, we’re very pleased to see some much-needed investment to upgrade the current, outdated interchange, and it should result in a better overall experience for passengers. That said, we’re taking the opportunity while we can to remind the ACT Government that with a little more thought, it could be even better. Our key suggestions are:

  • Make it easy for passengers to move between platforms. Obviously the City Interchange is the worst offender, as passengers have to cross up to six lanes of Northbourne traffic, and then have to dodge buses in the interchange itself. This design is much better, with a number of signalised crossings. But we were concerned about a recent drawing which suggested passengers might still have to cross two lanes of bus traffic either side of the light rail tracks, and that increases the risk of accidents. Also, our ideal interchange would be one with the light rail tracks on the outside, so passengers can simply cross the platform to transfer to their bus, and not have to cross the road.
  • Design the shelters with passengers in mind. The proposed shelters are of the kind that has been popping up around Canberra for the last 20 years: angled roofs and relatively open to the wind. While they usually perform better than they look, we’ve made a few suggestions about what might make things more comfortable for passengers, the main one being walls to keep out the wind. It’d also be nice to see a proper waiting room within the CIT building itself.
  • Make sure the interchange can accommodate future growth. A few of the planning docs suggested that some bus routes would need to be rejigged so they could all fit in the interchange. We’d rather the interchange be designed so it can accommodate the bus routes which best suit Canberrans. The planning documents do envisage a significant expansion of services up to 2030 (including light rail), but if there are already capacity constraints now, we’re concerned about what things might look like 20-30 years from now.

As an advocacy group, we’re realistic about what we can achieve out of community consultation. The ACT Government largely has put together a pretty comprehensive design, and this is really only just about tweaking. Besides, we don’t want the whole thing thrown out: we like that they’re building a big new interchange!

But it’s important to get involved in consultation for a few reasons. First, the world is run by those who show up, so speaking up is always better than saying nothing. Second, government bodies like to be seen as being responsive to community feedback, and often take on a handful of suggestions from the community, even if only to give the appearance of being consultative. Third, public opinion can be influential when there might be conflicting views within government about how to deal with a particular issue.

So fingers crossed, let’s hope something comes of this!

Next stop: Belconnen – why the alignment of the Belconnen to City light rail line deserves scrutiny

The recent announcement of $132.5 million in Commonwealth Government funding for Stage 2A of Canberra’s light rail network by ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack will stand as the definitive moment when the decade-long partisan bickering over the existence of Canberra’s light rail network finally came to a close.

The “light rail wars”, as they have been termed, are over. In their place, hopefully, will be a greater focus on how we roll out Canberra’s network of inter-town light rail corridors, rather than the now-redundant argument of whether they should be built at all.

This brings us to the purpose of this blog post, which is the flagged extension of light rail to Canberra’s north-west district of Belconnen. While it forms part of a more substantial east-west line connecting Kippax to the Airport (Light Rail Stage 3), this post will concentrate on the section between the Belconnen Town Centre and Canberra City.

Belco Bound

Compared to the handful of viable alignments for the City to Woden extension, there are many more ways to connect Belconnen to the City via the activity generators strung along the route, which include:

  • University of Canberra
  • Radford College
  • Australian Institute of Sport (including Canberra Stadium)
  • CIT Bruce
  • Calvary Hospital
  • CSIRO, and
  • Australian National University.

Indeed, the study of initial options considered for the aborted 2005 proposal for a Belconnen to City busway reveals the sheer number of different alignments that could be considered for a future light rail line.

Initial route options considered for the 2005 Belconnen to City busway

Of these options, the 2005 study whittled the list down to 13 shortlisted routes.

Shortlisted options for the 2005 Belconnen to City busway

Which were then narrowed down further to four viable options.

Final four options considered for the 2005 Belconnen to City busway

Finally, two routes were selected for further detailed analysis – one that largely followed the existing inter-town bus route along College Street, Haydon Drive, Belconnen Way and Barry Drive (Option 2C) and the other which took a detour via the saddle between Bruce and O’Connor Ridges to provide a stop at CIT Bruce and the Australian Institute of Sport (Option 1C). Both routes were designed with gradients and curve radii that would permit future conversation to light rail.

“Option 2C” route via Haydon Drive considered for the 2005 Belconnen to City busway
“Option 1C” route via Bruce and O’Connor Ridges considered for the 2005 Belconnen to City busway

While interim bus priority measures were eventually installed along sections of the Option 2C alignment as part of the 2012 “Belconnen Transitway” project, the 2005 busway proposal with its elaborate tunnels, flyovers and station-style stops was scrapped by Jon Stanhope’s Labor Government prior to the final route being selected.

The busway legacy

While the proposal for a city-wide network of busways may have been abandoned in part due to a perceived lack of support, its planning work continues to influence proposed light rail alignments across Canberra.

The below graphics are taken from official ACT Government reports on Canberra’s future light rail network. Each shows the Option 2C route via Haydon Drive as the indicative alignment for the Belconnen to City light rail route.

Indicative light rail route between Belconnen and the City (clockwise from top-left: ACT Planning Strategy 2018, ACT Light Rail Network Plan 2015, ACT Government submission to JSCNET Inquiry into Light Rail Stage 2, ACT Transport Strategy 2020)

Alternative alignments have been floated, most notably by former ACT Opposition Leader and vocal light rail stage one critic Alistair Coe, who in 2013 suggested a route from Belconnen to the City that closely resembles Option 3E from the 2005 busway options analysis.

Alistair Coe’s alternative light rail route (red) compared to the ACT Government’s indicative light rail route (blue) as illustrated by PTCBR

On paper, the attractiveness of this proposal is obvious. Unlike the ACT Government’s indicative alignment, this route runs to the east of Calvary Hospital and CIT Bruce to provide stops that are within easy walking distance of all the key activity generators between Belconnen and the City. By avoiding the saddle between the O’Connor and Bruce Ridges, it also avoids a potential repeat of the “Save the Ridge” campaign.

Despite being ranked above Option 2C in the 2005 busway options analysis, Option 3E was discounted due to its longer length, higher cost and greater environmental impact. However, many of the assumptions used during the assessment are outdated or suspect.

For example, the “perceived directness” of the route options was given undue emphasis, despite the fact that most options were estimated to take around seven minutes.

Source: Belconnen to City Busway: Final Report on Route Selection (Brown Consulting, 2005)

The low patronage of the existing bus stops at Calvary Hospital also meant that some routes were rated equally, regardless of whether they provided a stop at the hospital.

Source: Belconnen to City Busway: Final Report on Route Selection (Brown Consulting, 2005)

It is worth noting that these studies were conducted prior to the current proposal being considered by the Australian Sports Commission to consolidate the footprint of the Australian Institute of Sport by selling off major assets, including Canberra Stadium, the AIS Arena and the surrounding land, to the ACT Government for future residential and commercial development.

This proposal dovetails neatly with the ACT Government’s plan to construct a new Canberra Stadium on the site of the Civic Pool on Constitution Avenue, which just so happens to be further up the line of the proposed east-west light rail corridor.

It is hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that not including a stop at the current Australian Institute of Sport precinct would be a significant missed opportunity.

Next steps

These are just some of the reasons to question the ACT Government’s current indicative alignment for the Belconnen to City light rail route. There are, or course, many more options that are worthy of further analysis, including:

  • the use of Macarthur Avenue instead of Barry Drive
  • proposals from both UC and ANU to run sections of the route through their respective campuses
  • the location of the bus and light rail interchange in the Belconnen Town Centre, and
  • opportunities for interoperability between the north-south and east-west light rail lines.

Rather than leaving it to the last minute, PTCBR will be lobbying the ACT Government to conduct an honest and transparent consultation process for the Belconnen to City light rail line, with the comparative costs, patronage estimates, journey times, development opportunities and environmental impacts of the various alignments being made publicly available.

After a decade of rancorous debate, Canberrans deserve an informed and civilised discussion about the future form of our light rail network.

New Woden Interchange – the good, the bad and the interesting

The Development Application for the new Woden Interchange is now up. It’s a big project, with 18 bus stops, two bus layovers and a big reconfiguration of Callam Street.

Overall, it’s a big improvement on the current interchange, but as always, the devil is in the detail in the planning documents. 

Is there anything you think we’ve missed? What’s important to you? Let us know on the PTCBR Facebook group or email chair@ptcbr.org

Layout

The design is pretty much what was proposed in Transport Canberra’s earlier consultation. That is, four big bus platforms either side of Callam Street, with two additional platforms for light rail (and initially the R4 and R5 bus routes) running down the middle. This is the same style as all the other interchanges in recent years (Belconnen, Gungahlin, Dickson), with big platforms facing directly onto the street, rather than off-street platforms. Reportedly, this more open design makes passengers feel safer, which was one of the bigger complaints about the old Belconnen and Woden interchanges.

Good interchanges should make it easy for passengers to move between services, and avoid crossing traffic. The Woden Interchange doesn’t adopt PTCBR’s suggestion of cross-platform transfers, but in most cases, passengers will only need to cross a single lane of bus traffic, at raised, signalised crossings. This is an improvement on Northbourne (6 lanes!), Dickson (3) and Gungahlin (bus stops are around the corner from light rail).

It’s also unclear if the interchange is big enough to accommodate better timed transfers, which would provide local buses with have the time and room to wait until a connecting rapid or light rail services arrives. 

Shelters

The shelters are similar to the light rail and Gungahlin shelters: long, deep roofs should give shade and keep the rain away, but they’re still relatively exposed to wintery winds at the front and sides.

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a return to the enclosed COVID-pits at the current Woden Interchange, it would be good if Transport Canberra thought more about how Canberrans might need shelter from the cold and wind, as it’s one of the most common complaints we see. Hopefully there will be a decent waiting area in the adjacent CIT Woden building. 

Interestingly, there are also plans to put solar panels on the shelter roofs, and we’ll see a big net increase in the number of trees in the area. Trees planted in the Callam Street median will be planted in bags to enable their relocation once light rail construction commences.

Proposed network changes

Supporting documents also show Transport Canberra’s plans for the transport network once the interchange and light rail is ready. They’re not set in stone, but are a good indication of what they’re thinking.

A new route for Weston Creek services

Currently Weston Creek services go straight down Hindmarsh Drive, and then turn into Callam Street from the south. But the documentation reveals that planners are concerned about the number of services utilising the eastern platforms of the new Woden Interchange.

Instead, they propose to run Weston Creek services along Melrose Drive, Launceston Street and down Callam Street from the north. This is a mixed bag. On the one hand, some passengers could get off at Launceston Street, much closer to the offices at that end of Woden. On the other, it’s now a lot longer walk for those who want to access the Phillip Trades Area to the south. And this could lead to longer journey times for some Weston Creek passengers, or they would at least *feel* like they’re taking a roundabout way. 

But more concerning is Transport Canberra’s reasoning. Rather than designing the interchange to best accommodate the best services for passengers, they are redesigning services to accommodate the interchange! PTCBR will be pressing Transport Canberra for more details about this, including what it means for travel times for Weston Creek passengers.

Tuggeranong services will go straight to Woden

Under Network 19, the 72 (Oxley and Wanniassa), 76 (Richardson, Chisholm, Macarthur and Gowrie) and 77 (Isabella Plains and Gowrie) all go to Woden via Yamba Drive. Once the new Woden Interchange is built, these services will instead go up the upgraded Athlon Drive, past Mawson shops. This should be a quicker trip, but again, it would be good to know Transport Canberra’s estimates on this. 

Once light rail reaches Woden, the 74, 75 and 78 will be given the same treatment (and the 79 rolled into 76 and 78), so most Tuggeranong passengers wanting to get to the city will only need to change once at Woden. It’s unclear what this means for South Tuggeranong passengers in Gordon, Conder and Banks, who might either need to take a peak express to the city, or change buses twice.

A shorter R4 and R5

Following the completion of Light Rail Stage 2B, the plan is for the R4 and R5 to terminate at Woden. This will free up a lot of buses for local services, but it does mean Tuggeranong passengers will need to change at Woden to get to the City (and possibly twice to get to Belconnen prior to the extension of light rail to the Belconnen Town Centre). Transferring buses isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you don’t have to wait too long between services. On that front, there appears to be good news!

More services everywhere else!

The planning documents assume there will be 3 buses per hour on local routes by the time the interchange is open, and 4 buses per hour once light rail opens. There are also plans for new local services from Woden to Molonglo, Fyshwick and South Canberra.

This is not a firm commitment from the ACT Government, and requires Transport Canberra to acquire more buses and drivers. But with the Woden depot being built and lots of buses being freed up by light rail and the truncation of the R4 and R5, it bodes well for more frequent local services. 15 minute frequencies would be a game changer for public transport in Canberra.

Conclusion 

This is a big investment in southside public transport services, and should result in an improved experience compared to the current tired interchange. But, as always, there are some little things which could make it even better, and a lot will depend on what happens with the bus network once light rail is extended from Commonwealth Park to the new Woden Interchange.

PTCBR will be making a submission to this development application. If you’ve got any views, we’d love to hear from you!

MEDIA RELEASE – PTCBR welcomes Federal Government funding for Light Rail Stage 2A

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to invest $132.5 million in Stage 2A of Canberra’s light rail network from Alinga Street to Commonwealth Park.

“This is significant support from the Federal Government for a project which will transform our nation’s capital. It is more than double the Commonwealth’s contribution towards Light Rail Stage 1, and a very welcome sign the Commonwealth has realised that public transport investment keeps our cities vibrant and moving,” said PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley.

“We hope this signals an ongoing partnership between the ACT and Federal Governments as light rail rolls out through the parliamentary zone and towards Woden.”

Ryan Hemsley is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the Canberra region’s peak public transport lobby group.

MEDIA RELEASE – ACT Election results another vindication for the ACT Government’s light rail vision

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has welcomed the re-election of the ACT Government led by Chief Minister Andrew Barr as a further vindication of the pro-light rail policies of ACT Labor and the ACT Greens.

“Saturday’s election results have re-confirmed the trends we saw four years ago, with strong swings towards the government in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella cementing light rail as a vote-winner,” said PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley.

“In contrast to the pro-light rail policies offered by Labor and the Greens, the Canberra Liberals offered half-hearted and at times inconsistent support for the extension of light rail to Woden.

“Despite the outstanding success of Stage One and high levels of public support for expanding the network to southern Canberra, the Canberra Liberals could not conceal their long-standing opposition to light rail.”

Mr Hemsley said that Alistair Coe’s call for a post-election review of light rail only served to reinforce the view that his party had yet to learn the lessons from its election losses, with light rail now featuring in the 2012, 2016 and the 2020 elections.

Mr Hemsley instead urged the Canberra Liberals to conduct a post-election review of their own public transport policies and make a definitive, public commitment to the extension of Canberra’s light rail network before the next election.

“We sincerely hope that the ACT Opposition provides Canberrans with a significantly better light rail policy offering in 2024.”

Ryan Hemsley is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the Canberra region’s peak public transport lobby group.

PTCBR’s ACT Election 2020 Survey

Early in the campaign, PTCBR provided political parties and independent candidates standing at the 2020 ACT Election with the following questions relating to their public transport policies:

  1. How would you improve Canberra’s public transport network?
  2. What is your position on extending Canberra’s light rail network?
  3. Do you intend to end or reduce any existing public transport services?

All responses have been published here in the order they were received.

As of COB Friday 16 October, PTCBR had received responses from the following political parties and independent candidates:

✅ Bruce Paine (Independent, Electorate of Kurrajong)
✅ Community Action Party
✅ Brendan Whyte (Independent, Electorate of Murrumbidgee)
✅ Mignonne Cullen (Independent, Electorate of Ginninderra)
✅ Australian Federation Party
✅ Sustainable Australia Party
✅ Canberra Liberals
✅ David Pollard (Independent, Electorate of Yerrabi)
✅ Fiona Carrick (Independent, Electorate of Murrumbidgee)
✅ Canberra Progressives
✅ Belco Party
✅ ACT Greens

In instances where no response was provided by the deadline, PTCBR has added commitments outlined in policy documents and commentary released by the parties over the course of the campaign.

If you have not yet voted, this is your opportunity to learn more about the public transport policies of these political parties and independent candidates before you cast your ballot.

PTCBR expects all parties to deliver on the public transport commitments they have made throughout the campaign.

MEDIA RELEASE – Public Transport Association of Canberra calls for explicit targets in forthcoming ACT Transport Recovery Plan

transport_strategy

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has called for explicit mode share targets to be included in the ACT Transport Recovery Plan, which has been foreshadowed in the newly released ACT Transport Strategy 2020.

“There is a lot to like in the new Transport Strategy, in particular the commitment to the development of a light rail spine along the high-demand routes between Canberra’s town centres,” said PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley.

“However, we are concerned that the Strategy is silent on the issue of measurable targets and accurate data to evaluate the success of the proposed approach.”

“Now might be a good time for the ACT Government to consider the establishment of an advisory group, comprising community representatives and experts in the transport industry, to assist in the ongoing delivery of key transport projects consistent with the Strategy.”

The Transport Strategy forms part of a suite of city-shaping documents released by the ACT Government in recent years. Other key documents include the ACT Planning Strategy 2018, the ACT Climate Change Strategy 2019-45, the ACT Housing Strategy and the draft Urban Forest Strategy 2020-45.

“The ACT Government’s Climate Change Strategy gives us a pretty good indication of where we need to be in terms of public transport usage by 2045.” added Mr Hemsley.

“With the added risk of a post-COVID congestion nightmare, we sincerely hope that the Transport Recovery Plan provides us with a clear path towards a more sustainable transport future.”

The ACT Transport Strategy 2020 can be viewed here.

Ryan Hemsley is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the Canberra region’s peak public transport lobby group.

MEDIA RELEASE – Public Transport Association of Canberra slams Canberra Liberals light rail policy cop-out

Annotation 2020-08-21 120230

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) has slammed comments made on Thursday morning by ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe, who confirmed in an ABC Radio interview that the Canberra Liberals will not be making any commitments on light rail between now and the ACT election.

“The Canberra Liberals have had four years to develop a clear and consistent policy position on light rail,” said PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley.

“Now, eight weeks out from election day, they have conceded that they aren’t even willing to take a stance on the second stage to Woden.

“This is an undeniable cop-out from a party which decisively lost the last election on a platform against light rail.”

While Mr Coe maintained that his concern was about getting value for money, at no stage did he outline a scenario in which the Canberra Liberals would extend the network beyond the Gungahlin to Civic line.

“Rather than being upfront about their plans for light rail, the Canberra Liberals are seeking a blank-cheque mandate,” added Mr Hemsley.

“Canberrans deserve a debate grounded on clearly expressed policy positions concerning the future of the network, rather than this evasive spin driven singularly by the Canberra Liberals’ well-known aversion to light rail.”

Mr Hemsley said that Mr Coe’s call for a post-election review of light rail was the clearest indication yet that the Canberra Liberals intended to kill off any future expansion of light rail.

“The last time the Canberra Liberals paid a consultant to review light rail, they overstated the construction cost by $240 million and declared that no private equity partner would invest in the project.”

“These demonstrably false claims give a clear indication of the sort of review Canberrans can expect under a Coe Liberal Government.”

A transcript of Mr Coe’s comments can be viewed here.

Ryan Hemsley is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the Canberra region’s peak public transport lobby group.