Canberra’s use of public transport is the lowest of all Australian capital cities, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In Australian Social Trends 2008, the bureau reported that in 2006 only 7.9 per cent of Canberra adults used public transport for commuting, down from 11.4 per cent in 1996.
Hobart had the next lowest patronage of 10.3 per cent, while Sydney the highest, at 26.3 per cent.
ACT Minister for Transport John Hargreaves defended Canberra’s performance on public transport, laying most of the blame on the decline in patronage on the previous Liberal government.
”The period where it took its biggest nosedive was between 1996 and 2000 [from 11.4 per cent to 8.2 per cent]. The [Liberal] Government was in power in the ACT from 1995 to 2001. They didn’t buy one new bus in that period of time,” Mr Hargreaves said.
But Opposition Leader Zed Seselja said people were ”getting a bit tired” of the Stanhope Government blaming the previous Liberal government for its problems.
Mr Seselja said, ”They’ve had seven years to improve the situation, and they’ve clearly failed and it’s been seven years of record revenues. [The figures show] they’ve mismanaged the bus network, particularly since 2006.”
He said the Liberals would shortly be announcing their public transport policy.
While the detail was not yet finalised, the policy’s short-term plan was to ”fill some of the gaps” in the network. The medium- and long-term target would be to plan the city that would underpin a more sustainable public transport system, by increasing Canberra’s population around transport corridors and city centres.
Mr Hargreaves acknowledged that the 2006 ACTION bus network had been ”rejected” by Canberra commuters. Network 08, introduced in June, was the result of wide public consultation and was already increasing commuter numbers.
The Government ultimately hoped to increase public transport patronage to 9 per cent of adults. ACT Green’s public transport spokeswoman, Amanda Bresnan, said the bureau’s report pointed the way to improving public transport use.
Ms Bresnan said, ”Nearly half of people who don’t use public transport identify speed and timetable convenience as the reason they don’t use the service.
”We can address these issues with a real investment in a rapid transit system and more regular services.”
Earlier this month Chief Minister Jon Stanhope sought funding from the Federal Government for a $1billion light rail system, despite having previously dismissed the idea as too expensive.
ACT Light Rail deputy convenor Jonathon Reynolds said Canberra needed a ”central backbone” network of light rail linking the town, employment and population centres, fed in a ”hub and spoke arrangement” by demand-responsive buses. He said while the project was expensive it would probably be a staged implementation over 10 to 15 years.
BY DAVID CURRY
The Canberra Times 24 July 2008