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Cab rides may be available for bus prices as seniors challenge Canberra transport at COTA forum

Taxis could soon be driving Canberrans between bus stops for the price of a standard bus fare.

This is one solution proposed to the Council on the Ageing ACT's full-house forum on Wednesday as seniors strenuously challenged Canberra's transport systems.

Research centre NICTA hopes to roll out its Bus Plus project in the ACT by early 2016.

"We should be taking buses out of the suburbs, and we should be running buses more frequently on a high-capacity backbone network, between town centres for example," NICTA ACT's business manager David Gambrill said.

"We think there should be cabs that pick you up from your nearest bus stop and take you to your nearest hub – Tuggeranong for example."

He said if a passenger's final destination is at another suburban stop, they could call a second taxi to arrive almost immediately. It would cost as much as a standard ACTION bus ticket, while the government would subsidise the taxi costs and the drivers would earn a standard return. 

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Mr Gambrill said it would redeploy ACTION buses to the most effective routes. Canberra's bus network spent $11.8 million driving empty vehicles 12,420 kilometres a day during 2014-15. While tackling the issue of bus infrequency, one senior said many bus stops are too far away to walk to.

The TAMS Flexible Bus Service offers free door-to-door trips for the aged, people with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It had 11,000 passenger boardings during its first year of operating and the ACT government recently gave it the green light for another 12 months.

Flexible Transport Office manager Ian Corey​ said the bus rides encourage social inclusion as friends organise trips together and they take them to casual outings as well as medical appointments. However, they only operate on weekdays up until 2pm and don't run through the whole of Canberra.

Mr Corey said he's happy to help others who live outside the designated areas on special request, but not everyone is aware of this.

"Lots of this is demonstrating to government the value of the service and then going back and looking at additional funding to expand services," he said.

Senior non-driver David Walker said community transport can't always guarantee him a ride back home and he needs to give too much notice for bookings.

"My other problem is late night stuff. I'm reliant on public transport and the buses finish too early," he said.

Belconnen Community Services' cars take people over the age of 65 door to door for $10 a day between 7am and 7pm all week.

"Life doesn't stop at 7 o'clock and what we're looking at doing is looking at extending our operating hours until around 10pm so that people can go out for dinner or to a show where transport options can be a challenge," project manager Graham McKerchar said.

Uber is launching UberAssist with its Canberra arrival, to help drivers assist customers with extra assistance and special needs, such as folding wheelchairs, walkers and collapsing scooters.

Manager of public policy at Uber ACT Jessika Loefstedt​ said she's not yet sure if Uber will follow Canberra cabs' lead in offering half-price senior discounts.

While the ride-sharing service can only be booked through an iPhone or tablet application, COTA's Jane Thomson said more older people are using technology and there is training available to assist them.

"We have a volunteer who goes out and helps older people with their iPhones and iPads," she said.

"It's a question of having someone available to tutor people and train them and they will be able to use it if it's simple enough."

Some forum participants also doubted whether the light rail would cater enough seating for the elderly and whether the $900 million project would limit funding for other vital senior public services.