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Adult bus passenger numbers stagnating

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Adult patronage of Canberra's bus service ACTION has barely increased over the past six years, despite markedly increased costs, population growth and an expansion of the bus network.

In the 2011-12 financial year, ACTION carried an average of 24,865 adult passenger fares on weekdays. On December 15, 2005, then planning minister Simon Corbell said ACTION had recently carried more than 22,000 adult passenger boardings on three consecutive days.

By May 2006, ACTION had achieved record patronage but with escalating costs, budget overruns and no revenue growth. Average daily adult boardings hit 24,003, a 15 per cent increase over the same day the previous year. Despite this growth, the ACT Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission raised concern over the inability of ACTION to contain costs.

By June 2006, ACTION was claiming a 20 per cent patronage increase over the previous four years. This was contradicted in July that year by then chief minister Jon Stanhope, who said ACTION's costs and staffing levels had risen significantly in recent years, while passenger boardings had remained stable. He said benchmarking studies found ACTION's annual costs were $13 million-$15 million above the cost of an average, efficient operator.

As The Canberra Times reported this month, ACTION's operating costs have increased by almost 40 per cent over the past five years but revenue from fares is less than the peak two years ago.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said patronage continued to increase with about 40,000 people using buses on any given weekday.

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Figures now supplied by Territory and Municipal Services confirm there has been very limited patronage growth over the past six years. The 24,865 average weekday adult passenger journeys include transfers between buses to complete a single journey and for most people journeys to and from work.

In 2011-12, the 80 per cent of passengers using the MyWay ticketing system required on average 1.3 bus trips to complete a journey. The claimed 40,000 daily passengers is therefore much closer to 20,000, which includes school students and pensioners. Any patronage increase since 2006 is dwarfed by the escalating operating cost of the service. Fare revenue, even with a full year's operation of the $8 million MyWay ticketing system was $721,489 less last year than in 2009-10.

In 2010, a consultant's report commissioned by the government found ACTION was spending more than 30 per cent of its then $100 million annual budget on waste and inefficiency. In only two years that budget has increased to more than $123 million.

Meanwhile, Ms Gallagher committed on Saturday to provide free Wi-Fi on ACTION buses, which will cost $1 million over four years.

She said recently patronage and satisfaction with ACTION continued to increase. Overall satisfaction with the ACTION network had been 78 per cent this year compared to 76 per cent last year.

Ms Gallagher said changes to the ACTION network on May 28 had meant increased services across Canberra. She said dead running would be reduced with improved scheduling and better connections across the network.

Anecdotally, many ACTION passengers report poorer connections and continued late running since the changes on May 28.

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