Friday, October 30, 2015

Huge week for transport reform in Canberra - Light Rail, Buses and Uber

Chief Minister Andrew Barr steps out of an Uber car
In the space of one week the Labor Greens Government has successfully laid down massive transformative changes in Canberra's public transport. Outside of an election campaign, there has never been this amount of change in public transport in Canberra before. It is very positive. 

The changes the ACT Government has announced this week:
These changes are far reaching and will radically transform Canberra's public transport from a bus and taxi solution to a truly integrated public transport system with Capital Metro light rail at its backbone, supported by buses, taxis and Uber ridesharing. This will take the city a long way towards achieving the increase in public transport use figures that the Government are aiming for in the Transport for Canberra 2031 target.

These changes provide us all with better options and choices - and make driving one person in one car to a parking space and leaving it there all day, no longer the first choice. 

The Uber agreement is an acknowledgement that disruptive technologies can be embraced instead of rejected. Other jurisdictions have  implemented regulations in an attempt to stop Uber ridesharing and preserve taxi monopolies. 

Often this action has arisen as a result of pressure on legislators from taxi license holders. Taxi licenses are often artificially limited, creating a market in licenses. Many people invest in licenses as the license value has historically increased. This is not a good outcome. The intent should be to provide enough taxis to meet demand, not limit taxi licenses to preserve taxi license value.

iPhones, iPhone apps and the Uber business model have led to a rise in ridesharing. it is almost impossible for governments to ban Uber and similar services like On Tap. The ACT Government has negotiated with Uber and reached an agreement. 

Canberra is the first capital city in the world where Uber and the local authority have reached an agreement before Uber has commenced operations.

The agreement is light touch regulation, it primarily means that Uber drivers in Canberra will have to undergo background checks, including criminal history checks. This satisfies public safety concerns.

Associated with the Uber agreement is a recognition that the existing taxi industry needs to adapt. The Government in an attempt to support evolution of an existing industry to meet the challenges of a new industry, will change taxi license fee regulations so that taxi license fees are halved from 20 thousand dollars a year to 10 thousand dollars a year and next year to 5 thousand dollars a year.

The Canberra Liberals are yet to announce any public transport policy, aside from cancelling light rail contracts (described as economic lunacy by the Federal Liberal government). 

The Chief Ministers press release:

Today the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce regulated ridesharing.

From midnight tonight, Canberrans can access a new form of safe, flexible and alternative on-demand transport.

Ridesharing in the ACT will allow drivers to carry passengers through services such as Uber.

This will improve travel options for Canberrans, reduce fares for the community through competition, and drive further innovation in the demand responsive transport industry.

I recently meet with senior executives from Uber in San Francisco who welcomed the responsiveness of the ACT Government to ensure their arrival in the capital.

These are world leading reforms which highlight the ability of the ACT Government to design reforms that can become a platform for other governments around the world to follow.

As announced on 30 September 2015, rideshare and third party taxi booking services can now begin operation under strict conditions and oversight by Access Canberra.

These arrangements will ensure public safety with appropriate criminal and driving history checks, the requirement of roadworthy vehicles, and specific CTP and third party property insurance coverage in place.

To ensure a level playing field for existing taxis and hire cars, the ACT Government has introduced immediate changes to significantly reduce a range of fees and charges including:

· a $10,000 per year reduction in the fee to lease a Government-owned taxi licence;

· a reduction in the annual hire car licence lease fees, from $4,600 to $100; and

· the elimination of the $350 annual taxi and hire car operator accreditation fee.

Taxis will retain their exclusive role in providing rank and hail service to passengers in the community and the provision of wheelchair accessible taxi services.

The Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Transport Reform, Shane Rattenbury, said that taxi industry reform is part of broader government improvements to the public transport system in the ACT, with benefits to the economy, the community and the environment.

For more information on the Taxi Industry Innovation Reforms and to view the On-demand public transport reform document, economic modelling by the Centre for International Economics and public submissions received as part of the community consultation, please visit:

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Light rail will mean more ACTION buses on more routes

The commencement of light rail services with Capital Metro Stage One in 2019 will immediately release a great number of buses in the ACTION fleet for reallocation. This will mean that bus services in Canberra will be expanded. New services will be created to feed into the light rail nodes, but it will also be a tremendous opportunity to create new services in other parts of Canberra, and expand existing services (hopefully by increasing local bus service frequency).

Integrating light rail, buses and active travel will be the key to increasing public transport patronage. It will transform our city.

This press release was issued by the Chief Ministers office on 28 October 2015.

More buses on more routes when light rail starts

The introduction of light rail will benefit all of Canberra, not just those who live and work along the light rail corridors, with more than a million kilometres of bus travel reallocated when stage one starts running.
The first stage of the light rail network will free up around 1.2 million kilometres of bus travel every year. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same distance as travelling the circumference of the Earth 30 times.
It makes sense to re-allocate these kilometres to provide more buses, on more routes, for the benefit of the broader community.
Transport Canberra, the new agency I announced yesterday, will work with the community to get these freed-up buses where they’re needed most. It will also be responsible for the design of future bus networks and planning.
This will improve services across the whole of Canberra, as well as quickly transporting people onto the light rail corridor.
To manage Canberra’s growth, reduce congestion and protect our liveability, we need to improve our public transport system.
The ACT Government’s transport plan, which we released yesterday, will improve our public transport system so it becomes more convenient, efficient, affordable and reliable – a genuine alternative to driving.
The plan will be delivered by, Transport Canberra. It will be responsible for integrating buses with the new light rail, ensuring a single ticketing system, a central contact for information and coordinated timetabling.
Transport Canberra will be responsible for assessing how the bus network can best integrate with light rail. That means being able to step off a suburban bus and straight onto a light rail train to quickly move between town centres – saving people time and hassle.
Transport Canberra will coordinate buses and light rail planning, timetabling and fares and will develop a single ticket for use across the system.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Privatising ACTION buses rejected by ACT Government, reform still needed to improve bus services

Shane Rattenbury - Minister for Transport Reform
The recent announcement of the creation of Transport Canberra, a single agency to oversee ACTION buses and Capital Metro, followed on from policy work performed by the ACT Government aimed at improving public transport service delivery and realising efficiencies. Introducing light rail will bring about a massive change to public transport usage and patronage. Transport Canberra will begin work on integrating light rail and ACTION services from July 2016. Light rail will commence services in 2019.

As part of this process, a review into ACTION bus services was commissioned and delivered by MRCagney. The major focus of the report so far has been on the recommendation that privatising ACTION Buses be considered. It advises that the privatisation of ACTION buses would cut costs and improve services.

The government has rejected this option. The government has announced that it will be  retaining ACTION in public ownership and will attempt to bring about service improvements and industrial reform through negotiation with the workforce.

Earlier in 2015, Minister Rattenbury said that 'no option was off the table' in regard to reform of the ACTION bus service.

ACT Light Rail would hope that transport reforms are focussed on expanding bus services to support light rail operations. Introducing light rail is proven to increase bus patronage. Gold Coast bus services have seen a patronage increase of 22% alongside the light rail line. Reducing ACTION Bus services will lead to a continued counter productive spiral in use. Strategies to encourage bus patronage need to be introduced to arrest decline. Light rail is one of these strategies. Paid parking in the Parliamentary Triangle is another.

Punishing people into using public transport is not going to work, but providing a better option than private motor vehicle use can work. Public transport that is reliable, frequent and attractive will attract increasing patronage.

Reform is needed in ACTION. Its workforce is well paid and the fleet is relatively modern. Issues with timeliness and satisfaction are worrying. Performance and productivity must be improved, and this must be a condition of any new enterprise bargaining agreement.  If there is a change of government at the Assembly election in 2016, the privatisation of ACTION may be revisited.

ABC summarises the key stats from the MRCagney report
Other recommendations from the MRCagney report were:

  • the Government would save almost $5.5 million each year by bringing ACTION driver pay and conditions in line with other operators
  • Changing trip caps and moving to distance-based fares would save ACTION money
  • Outsourcing would deliver savings of as much as $47 million each year 
  • Outsourcing vehicle maintenance and other functions were the most plausible options for improving efficiency and attractiveness of services 
  • 116 bus services after 8pm on weekdays could be removed from the timetable due to low patronage 
  • Bus drivers would go back on an award rate as opposed to generous EBA conditions if the network was privatised

Observations from the report:

  • Canberra's buses recorded an operating loss of $11 million last year 
  • ACT taxpayers paid $7.20 in public funding per passenger, twice what other similar public and private bus operations received
  • since 1999 fares paid per passenger dropped 23%
  • Cost per passenger has increased 38% over a 4 year period
  • Only 17 per cent of ACTION's costs are recovered through fares, significantly lower than other public and private networks in Australian and New Zealand.
  • Gross operating cost levels are 40 per cent above the levels of private operators, and 10-15 per cent above the levels of other public operators
  • One of the major problems hampering the performance of Canberra's bus networks,  is an "expensive and inflexible" enterprise agreement with drivers  
  • The average number of passengers on the services was 5.2, a low rate for services running 62 hours per day
  • Customer satisfaction dropped from 87% to 65% over the last 5 years
  • Bus patronage increased at only half the rate of population. 
  • 97 per cent of Canberra's population is served by at least one route
  • 15.2 per cent is served by only one route
  • On-time running of bus services has been "well below the target set by the ACT government"
  • total gross costs have grown considerably and the network's trends compare unfavourably with most metropolitan bus operations in Australia. 

ABC Online reports: ACTION buses to merge with Capital Metro as ACT Government ignores privatisation recommendation:

"Canberra's bus network will merge with Capital Metro, as the ACT Government ignores a strong recommendation to privatise ACTION.
A Government-commissioned report into the functioning and costs of running ACTION buses found savings of almost 50 per cent a year, or $47 million, could be made if the network was outsourced.
The MRCagney report recommendation was also strongly supported by the views of the World Bank on government-run public transport.
"All the evidence indicates that the adoption of an outsourcing policy is highly likely to be substantially more effective than other plausible policy options in improving the cost efficiency and enhancing the attractiveness of the services ... increasing patronage and fare revenue," the report said.
But, in response to the report, the ACT Government said it would instead merge both ACTION buses and the proposed Capital Metro system into a single agency known as Transport Canberra.
"Retaining the ACTION bus service in public hands also maintains the Government's full capacity to devise bus routes that meet community needs including for disadvantaged groups, rather than focussing solely on questions of efficiency," the Government said.
"The Government's chosen approach will keep the public asset in public hands and protect fair working arrangements for our workforce."

"The Government is also already taking forward MRCagney's practical recommendations around discouraging the use of cash [to speed up boarding buses] by trialing the cashless 202 from Gungahlin and promoting all-door access at busy corridors."

The Canberra Times report that "ACT government won't sell ACTION buses despite calls from expert review"

The ACT government has rejected expert calls to privatise ACTION, instead promising to improve services and increase public transport use by combining buses and light rail in a new stand-alone transport agency.

The report, received by the government in March but not released until this week, said privatisation would take several years to complete and would involve significant transition costs to the taxpayer. A sale would be in line with World Bank research on the cost of running public transport systems.
The new Transport Canberra agency will begin working on integration for buses and trams from July 1, 2016. Trams are set to begin running by 2019 or 2020.

Assistant Minister for Transport Reform Shane Rattenbury said any changes to pay and conditions for drivers and crews would require negotiations with unions as part of a new enterprise agreement, due in 2017.
"Clearly an expenditure review is focused on delivering business efficiencies," he said. "The government has looked at this review in light of that and our broader goals of making sure we're delivering a transport system that assists those in our city experiencing transport disadvantage.
"This is a public asset and the government wants to retain ownership of it so we can continue delivering services."

Mr Rattenbury said customer service would be central to any decision making by the new agency.
Decisions are still to be taken on whether the ACTION brand will be retained for Canberra's buses, or how existing senior public servants, including Capital Metro Agency director Emma Thomas, will be incorporated into the new agency. ACTION management, which has been part of the Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, has been reorganised this year.
The new agency could also prompt a stand-alone public transport ministry to be created before the October 2016 election, potentially allowing retiring Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell to hand over responsibility for the tram line.

ABC Canberra News report from 27 October

WIN News report from 27 october

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

ACT Light Rail on 'Transport Canberra' single public transport agency announcement

ACT Light Rail today announced its support for the ACT Governments decision to create a single agency to oversee the ACT's public transport operators. When advised of the decision to create a single agency, ACT Light Rail Chair Damien Haas said:

"ACT Light Rail welcome the establishment of a single agency to oversee public transport in Canberra. As light rail starts construction in 2016, it is sensible that the territory's government bus operator and the light rail private operator would fall under the same agency. One of the key aspects regarding the success of light rail in other cities is the establishment of a single coordinating body for public transport."

"How a private operator would deal with the government public transport operator is a task that is handled at many different public transport agencies around Australia. This integration and liaison can work well or poorly depending upon the approach taken. That the ACT Government has taken this step so far out from light rail operations commencing is a positive sign."

Ticketing and fares had been seen as an area of confusion that the announcement would address. On ticketing, Mr Haas said that:
"This announcement will end confusion in peoples minds that there would be separate ticketing for light rail and buses, or a different fare structure. Canberra has one public transport ticket zone and one ticketing system that works very well."

"Canberra is probably unique in that the MyWay card ticketing system has been introduced with none of the problems that occurred in other states. People will  travel in confidence between light rail and bus, using the same MyWay card."

On the integration of services between light rail and buses, Mr Haas said:
"A single agency also ensures that timetable integration between buses and light rail will occur with greater efficiency. Getting those connections between people arriving by bus for a light rail journey, and the service running on time will be crucial."

"An integration of bus and light rail public transport has the potential to create a network effect, without multiple changes, meaning better convenience for travellers."

"A reliable, frequent and attractive public transport is the key to encouraging Canberrans to use public transport. Light rail is a modal change proven to draw people onto public transport who otherwise would not use it."

ACT Light Rail expects that the commencement of light rail operations in 2019 will see a dramatic increase in bus patronage as people use the bus feeder services. Mr Haas observes that:
"The bus service on the Gold Coast has seen a patronage increase of 22% since Gold Coast light rail started operations. ACTION will see a similar boost in patronage as public transport becomes peoples preference. Planning for these improvements is good governance."

On ACTION services generally, Mr Haas said that:
"Minister Rattenbury said earlier this year that he wanted ACTION to improve and that nothing was off the table. ACTION certainly need to lift their game. Light rail will start to do the heavy lifting on the mass transit side and ACTION need to focus on improving its local services and increasing its frequency in the suburbs. A bus once an hour just isn't sufficient for people in the suburbs wanting to get to light rail that will run every ten minutes."

"The ACTION drivers do their job very well, it is time for ACTION Managers to step up and show the improvements that the government needs them to make. Light rail will give them that opportunity, but they need to have the skill set to realise it."

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Light Rail Master Plan released for comment

The long awaited Light Rail Master Plan has been released in draft form, with comment open until December. It is a visionary document, setting the public transport future for Canberra as one firmly relying on a light rail backbone that an expanded bus service can be built around. 

You can read the ACT Governments Light Rail Network plans on this page

All the maps from the plan are on this page

This is exactly what ACT Light Rail have been lobbying the ACT Government for, for over 15 years. We applaud the ACT Government for this example of long term vision for Canberra. 

The Light Rail Master Plan seeks to link the key urban areas of Canberra with major employment zones. Park and Ride transport hubs will be near major roads.  
A major break with previous ACT Government transport papers is the move away from the 'Town centre to Civic' hub and spoke model. This plan shows routes running out of town centres as far as Kippax and deep into Tuggeranong. 

It is clear that light rail will be used to attract infrastructure and greater development along transport corridors, which is consistent with the 'Territory Plan' and the 'Transport for Canberra' plan. 

Looking at the 'rapid' routes identified in the' Transport for Canberra' plan (with 2031 as the goal) the only major difference is the addition of the Airport, and Molonglo, and expanding the routes out from the Town Centres. All good additions. The 2012 plans for rapid routes can be seen here

Queanbeyan does not appear on the Light Rail Master Plan (it did in the 'Transport for Canberra' plan), but it may be part of an expanded bus service and the work along Canberra Avenue is consistent with this goal. Integrated bus/light rail/active transport is the way that the plans all tie together. 
There are seven new proposed sections of the light rail network to connect to the Gungahlin to Civic Stage One (construction commencing in 2016):
  • Parliamentary Triangle 
  • Fyshwick 
  • Canberra Airport 
  • Woden to Civic
  • Tuggeranong to Woden, 
  • Belconnen to Civic  
  • Molonglo to Civic
All the maps of the seven new proposed sections are on this page

There has been no indication of timing for construction of a second stage although the Parliamentary Triangle, Woden and Fyshwick and Airport links have been identified as high priority.  The Russell extension is almost certain to be built in 2019.

ABC News Online have reported on it here

ABC Canberra news report 26 October 2015

WIN Canberra news report 26 October 2015

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell said the public now had an important role to play to help determine where the Government's priorities should lie.
"What will now inform future decision making about relative priority, will be business case development for one or a number of those corridors," he said.
"And the Government will be looking at that once we've had feedback from the community."
Canberra Liberals Jeremy Hanson said this kind of high-level planning should have been completed before a decision was made on stage one of the plan.
"Why are they now doing this sort of planning process after the fact?" he said.
"They've already picked their winner, the Northbourne route through Mr Rattenbury's electorate. It's odd that they're now doing this sort of detailed process and retrofitting a plan to try to justify the first stage."

Comments on the draft Light Rail Master Plan close in December.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Strong support for light rail reflected in polling

Community support for light rail and Capital Metro Stage One continues to be reflected in two recently conducted polls. One by the ACT Government showing support for light rail at 56% and one by the Canberra Times showing support at 49%.

In the Canberra times poll support for light rail was at 49%, with opposition at 47%. Support for light rail had increased by 5% since the last poll was conducted a year ago.

Tom Mcilroy of the Canberra Times discussing the CT poll results

WIN News reporting on the light rail poll results

In a poll conducted by Piazza Research on behalf of the ACT Government, support for light rail was at 56% with only 34% opposing light rail. The same questions have been asked over several polling periods now, with some trends beginning to occur.

"Support for light rail grew to 67 per cent in August 2015 after participants were told development "was part of a wider plan to connect the whole city with an integrated transport system". 

The report said 43 per cent of participants believed the government was "investing in light rail to upgrade or improve transport options", while 29 per cent thought it was "to reduce or prevent traffic congestion" and 24 per cent believed it was for political reasons. 

Asked if "traffic congestion will be problem for Canberra in the future", 69 per cent said "yes" in August. The result was down from 79 per cent in December 2014. 

Asked if  they would be "more likely to use public transport if it involved a light rail system within easy walking distance or was accessible via other means", 61 per cent of participants said "yes". Thirty per cent of participants said "no" and nine per cent were unsure. "

Full details of the Canberra Times poll can be found here.
Full details of the Piazza research poll can be found here.
Report carried by ABC Online can be found here.

Bizarrely the Canberra Liberals looked at the results and selected the statistics they preferred with MLA Alistair Coe issuing a press release titled 'Majority against light rail despite $50 Million in spending'.

This is not accurate as the survey showed 49% support for light rail, and 47% against.
Demonstrating further difficulty with maths, the Canberra Liberals release continues:

“The poll also shows that the majority of Canberrans would rather see investment in buses over light rail, with 52 percent of Canberrans believing that taxpayers’ money would be better spent on improving the bus network. This is compared to the 41 percent who support building light rail over investing in the bus network.
“The Canberra Liberals believe that investment in our bus network is the best way to improve public transport in Canberra. Buses provide a sensible low-cost option which will improve public transport services for all Canberrans."

The problem with that statement is that the Canberra Times poll shows only 29% support for Bus Rapid Transit as opposed to 49% support for light rail.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.