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It’s a shame that it has taken ACTION this long to reintroduce a proper tourist service.

Bus 141 in Centenary Loop livery operates Route 100 along Anzac Parade. Photo by ‘AOQ951’

Both tourist routes disappeared without a trace in Network 1998, and it wasn’t until 2006 that a Tourist Route returned in the form of the half-baked Route 81. Running only during the school holidays (and as 981 on weekends and public holidays), the route ignores the parliamentary zone in favour of the ATSIC Cultural Centre, National Zoo and Aquarium, Telstra Tower, Botanic Gardens and the CSIRO Discovery Centre. Essentially – it runs down Lady Denman Drive and Clunies Ross Street.

Almost fifteen years ago, ACTION introduced Network 98 and ditched its two tourist routes. Route 901 took in the War Memorial, Regatta Point, the National Library, National Gallery, Parliament House and a number of Embassies. Route 904 traveled to the Botanic Gardens, Telstra Tower, the National Museum and the Aquarium. Both routes ran seven days – nine to five on weekdays; ten to five on weekends.

It came as a bit of a surprise when the ACT Government promised a free Parliamentary Loop service for Canberra’s Centenary Year. At a cost of $750,000 for the year, three buses would loop the parliamentary zone and hopefully take some of the pressure off carparks in the area – tourists could catch the bus to sites of interest, while public servants in the area would have a more frequent service.

The finalised route was revealed on 31 January – a whole four days before the service commenced. Whilst this left next to no time for promotion, the service is proving to be popular in its first few weeks, with over 300 passengers on the 13th of February – a Wednesday.

Today’s chariot – Bus 143, passes by the National Archives (Photo: Todd Milton)

Today, I turned up at Platform 10 in the City Interchange (actually located on Northbourne Avenue) to check out Route 100 – The Centenary Loop.

In a slight disappointment, I wasn’t able to ride on one of the brightly-wrapped Dennis Dart ‘Midi Buses’ which carry a very colourful Centenary design. Apparently all three (Buses 140, 141 and 142) are off the road at the moment. I instead rode on 143. Standard-sized buses have also been used this weekend.

Whilst the use of these buses makes sense – they are not well-liked by drivers and their use ensures standard buses remain available for regular services – they are not known to be the most mechanically sound of the ACTION Fleet, as proven by the absence of all three centenary buses this weekend.

Today’s bus wasn’t packed to capacity but was a good three-quarters full. The patronage appeared to be a mix of locals and tourists – locals were utilising the service to visit exhibitions at the Galleries whilst the tourists were focused on the goings-on outside the bus and frequently snapping photos through the windows. Passengers also boarded along the route.

The driver was a friendly young female, offering a cheerful greeting to the passengers and loudly announcing the stops for each attraction as we made our way along the route. Aside from these announcements, there was little indication of what was along the route. I noted several of the tourists consulting maps and couldn’t help but think that while a recorded narrative wasn’t quite necessary, a small booklet with a page on each of the attractions as well as those in walking distance would have been a great way to utilise the empty pamphlet holders in the bus.

I really couldn’t fault the route. After leaving City Interchange, we ran up ANZAC Parade to the War Memorial, before returning back down to Constitution Avenue, through Russell and across Kings Avenue Bridge before looping under it to pass by the National Gallery, Questacon, National Library, Old Parliament House, National Archives and Parliament House before crossing the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, heading down to the National Museum and then through the University and past the Film and Sound Archives to the City.

All up, the route took a little over half an hour and even for a Canberran familiar with their town, it is well worth taking a small amount of time out of your day and see it from the perspective of a tourist. With the buses running half-hourly, seven days a week, it’s a great way to work your way around some of our national attractions.

The route does a great job of promoting our national institutions. Again, this is something that ACTION used to do a fantastic job of. In the early 1990s, a number of ACTION’s Renault buses were getting around town in special liveries promoting the Film and Sound Archives, Questacon, the War Memorial, Floriade, the Canberra Festival, the Botanic Gardens, the CSIRO, the National Gallery and the Parliament Houses. This was a fantastic initiative that I would love to see return.

Provided the route is successful, there’s a good chance it could stick around in the years to come, and I certainly hope it does. I can’t see public servants in the triangle  using the service as an alternative to driving to work, but it is an absolute must for tourists – we are, after all, the National Capital.

It’s probably a bit much to ask for the return of the tourist routes of years gone by – Route 905 took in Red HIll and the Embassies, while Route 907 went as far south as Tidbinbilla, Corin Forest and Tidbinbilla – but this is a great start.

A logical next step in my mind would be the re-introduction of the free Downtowner service, once operated by replica tram-buses, running a free loop around the City – but again, probably wishful thinking.

Route 100 ran until January 2014