80 years of public transport in Canberra

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A Driving Force in the Story of Canberra

Most Canberrans think of the famous blue, white and orange bus as being synonymous with the national capital.

Whether it was going to the shops with mum, fighting over got to sit on the back seat with school friends or catching the old 333 to work, it seems that ACTION Buses have forever been a part of our lives – moving us from our homes to various destinations and then back again.

Today, public transport is the economical and stress-free way to get to work or school, an easy way to go shopping and the perfect designated driver. ACTION has always been there to take Canberrans where they want to go.

ACTION has also played a major role within the broader Canberra community.

In times of crisis, such as the Queanbeyan flood in the 1970s through to the 2003 Canberra bushfires, Canberra buses have been used to evacuate people from life-threatening scenarios.

Likewise, ACTION buses and employees have always been there to carry fans to and from every Canberra Raiders and Brumbies match, the football at the 2000 Olympics and to bring locals and visitors to the Canberra Show, Floriade and Skyfire.

ACTION is continually adapting to stay in touch with the ever-changing national capital. Since its inception, ACTION has continued to embrace technology and innovation. In the new millennium ACTION is leading the way in providing a cutting-edge public transport system.

With wheelchair accessible buses, new Xpresso services, the Bike n Ride initiative and even an SMS service – bustext – for those mobile savvy commuters, ACTION continues to make transport a simple and pleasurable exercise.

ACTION has also demonstrated its commitment to the environment by using compressed natural gas in many of its buses – making the option of catching the bus even more environmentally friendly.

ACTION began as the Canberra City Omnibus Service in 1923, adopting its current name (an acronym of ‘Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network’) in 1977.

Today, ACTION boasts a fleet of 387 buses, transporting an average of 313,653 passengers each week.

ACTION – 80 Years of Public Transport looks back at the past 80 years, noting the great changes in our city, while looking fondly on the things that have stayed the same.

Any astute Canberran knows that if you want to get somewhere, you need to take ACTION.

Public Transport in the national capital – an ACTION packed history.

From the first Charabanc buses that carried workmen and school children from Kingston across the bed of the Molonglo to Ainslie, Canberra’s bus service has grown to be a high quality metropolitan transport system, fully integrated into the physical fabric of the national capital.

The first public omnibus service in the Canberra City area was commenced by the Federal Capital Commission on 19 July 1926 for the benefit of the workers constructing buildings in the new city. The service originated from construction camps and ‘tent cities’ at the Causeway and Pialligo and the temporary railroad at Eastlake, now Kingston.

With the opening of Parliament House in May 1927 and the associated relocation of Commonwealth Government Departments to Canberra, the frequency of service offered by the Canberra City Omnibus Service gradually increased as the population of the new city grew.

However, it was not until the early 1950s with the expansion of Narrabundah and Yarralumla and the development of O’Connor that any significant departure was made from the traditional Kingston-Ainslie axis. Those routes were extended further in the late 1950s with the development of Dickson and Campbell.

Essentially, it was a country town service designed to get public servants to their offices at starting time and bring them home again after work.

It was not until the 1970s with Canberra’s continued growth and expansion, that it became apparent that the city’s public transport needed to match the scale of the expanded and increasingly mobile national capital.

In 1977 the Department of Capital Territory set about raising the quality of the service offered by Canberra’s buses, and also the perceived public image of the service.

Since 1920, the bus service has had various names – Canberra City Omnibus Service, Canberra City Bus Service, Canberra Omnibus Service and Canberra Bus Service.

In conjunction with the purchasing of new vehicles, a new range of pre-purchased tickets, passenger facilities such as shelters and a new colour scheme, the department christened the new service ‘the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network’ or ACTION.

With its new buses and image, ACTION was able to attract a 33 percent increase in patronage within two years.

Since the late 1970s, ACTION has gone from strength to strength, growing as an organisation and continually improving levels of service through the purchase of modern buses and the application of new ideas and technologies.

It is often suggested that Canberra was designed for the car, which implies criticism that public transport has been neglected. Contrary to popular belief, Canberra has been planned and developed over the last 25 years to provide for public transport, which ahs resulted in a greater number of commuters and a superior level of service delivery.

From its modest beginnings, public transport in the ACT has been a story of continuous innovations, all the way to the world-class services of today.

With ACTIONs proud history and strong emphasis on customer service and innovation, the future of public transport in the ACT appears very bright.

With special thanks to Ian Cooper, Les Pascoe and Ian Morrison.

Commitment to ecologically sustainable development

ACTION is committed to ecologically and environmentally sustainable development.

ACTIONs operating environment is somewhat unique in that Canberra has the highest average income and single and two-car ownership in Australia, and a very large ‘Y shaped’ geographical area with minimal traffic congestion, cheap parking and low-density housing. ACTIONs challenge is to provide travel times that are competitive with a car and at a cost less than parking.

Of particular relevance to ACTIONs planning and operations is the ACT Government’s Sustainable Transport Plan, released in April 2004. The plan was a direction and policy framework to achieve a more sustainable transport system in the 25 year period to 2026.

The biggest way ACTION can reduce emissions is through alternative fuels, or more efficient buses. ACTIONs fleet replacement program commenced in 2001-02, with the aim to progressively replace the present diesel fleet with compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. The ACT Government allocated $17.2 million over five years for the acquisition of 42 CNG, low floor accessible buses.

In 2005-06 the remaining nine buses of the 2001-02 funding will be delivered. In addition, in the 2005-06 budget the ACT Government allocated $4.84 million to purchase eleven more CNG buses.

ACTIONs decision to replace its fleet with CNG fueled buses came from its recognition of the many environmental benefits that could be realised.

It is ACTIONs aim to ensure public transport is progressively made fully accessible. By increasing patronage and improving efficiency of the public transport system, the ACT will see less road congestion, resulting in increased social, environmental and economic benefits.

Capital bus service continues to break records

Minister for the Territory and Municipal Services John Hargreaves announced on 15 June 2006 that ACTION had broken another adult patronage record – with over 24,000 boardings in one day.

“It was only in February that ACTION was celebrating the achievement of having over 23,000 adult passenger boardings in one day. But now a new record has been set in May with 24,003 boardings – a huge increase of 15 percent over the same day last year,” Mr Hargreaves said.

“The ACT Government’s Sustainable Transport Plan sets out a target of 19,300 adult boardings per working day for 2005-06. ACTION has been consistently exceeding this target. This is further evidence that people are turning to public transport. It also demonstrates that the Sustainable Transport Plan’s strategies are working.”

The plan sets out a number of strategies to encourage alternative forms of transport to work other than the private motor vehicle.

“These initiatives include the introduction of the Xpresso services in late 2004 which bypass interchange and go direct to the City, Russell, Parkes and Barton, in addition to Xpresso services between Tuggeranong and Belconnen, the extension of the transfer tickets from 60 to 90 minutes in April 2005, the $28 million commitment to the introduction of 74 air-conditioned, low-floor accessible buses, the introduction of Flexibus evening services and the introduction of bike racks.”

“With petrol prices also reaching $1.40, more people are realising the benefits of traveling to and from work with ACTION. Put simply, it is a way to save money.” Mr Hargreaves said.

“A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics household expenditure survey revealed that the average local household is spending over $150 per week on transport. One way to reduce the amount of money spent on transport is to take ACTION buses.”

On 19 June, ACTION celebrated the milestone of transporting the five millionth adult commuter under the Sustainable Transport Plan.

“ACTION is regularly writing new records as adult numbers continue to grow with weekday adult passenger boardings averaging over 23,000 on working days. This compares to an average daily passenger target for 2005-06 under the Sustainable Transport Plan of 19,300. Based on current boardings this year, ACTION will meet the 2007-08 target adult commuter trips.” ACTION chief executive Peter Wallace said.

Trains, planes and omnibuses for this man of ACTION

Michael Moynihan started working in public transport in 1969 and has since helped move hundreds of thousands of people by land, sea and air.

Michael has worked on ships and ferries throughout the world as well as for Queensland Rail, Air Lingus Airlines and P&O cruise liners. He has also worked as a bus driver in London, Dublin, Perth, Sydney and Canberra.

He started work with ACTION in 1984.

Michael’s vast experience throughout two hemispheres has given him a unique perspective for the ACTION story. And having worked for so many transport companies, Michael has an appreciation of ACTION and the city of Canberra.

“Everyone at ACTION is on a first-name basis, in other cities I have worked in, you are just a number – people didn’t even know your name. I suppose ACTION is more of a happy family than a company,” he said.

“The Canberra public are also very friendly and very polite. In other parts of the world, no-one looks at the driver, it’s like he or she is part of the machine – here, I am on first-name terms with half of my passengers,” Michael said.

So what is the fascination with driving buses?

“You are trusted to do your job, without someone watching over you,” he said “And where else in the world would you get a thousand smiles a day and a thousand thankyous?”

Michael plans to continue driving buses in the future, but hopes that the capital’s bus service does not go the same way as public transport has in some other world cities.

“One thing I hope will never happen on the buses in Canberra is having a plastic screen places between us and the passengers – I would hate to see that”

Michael has noticed more and more ‘new faces’ getting on the bus, and believes that patronage is increasing all the time – something backed up by ACTIONs own figures.

“With the price of petrol and parking, I think you’re bonkers to drive a car to work, or anywhere else for that matter”

And any other reasons to take ACTION?

“Well, we have state-of-the-art buses and the best and friendliest bus drivers in the world,” Michael said.

 

This advertising supplement was issued with The Canberra Times on Wednesday 19 July 2006.