Tram services in Canberra will help increase the city become healthier including through reductions in obesity and heart disease, Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell told a seminar on Wednesday.
Speaking at a Heart Foundation event on active living at the Legislative Assembly, Mr Corbell said international research showed public transport users were prepared to walk up to one kilometre to access tram services, a greater distance than buses.
The fixed nature of tram tracks, compared with less fixed bus routes, means passengers walk greater distances and would help the two-thirds of ACT adults who are overweight and the one-quarter who are obese increase their incidental exercise.
Mr Corbell said the impact of obesity on healthcare systems and the environmental impact of 90 per cent car use in Canberra needed to be addressed as the city grew.
The event heard 50 per cent of Canberrans did not achieve the recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day.
"By walking to a light rail stop to get home, to work or to school and back again, a person could actually complete an extra three kilometres of walking per day, compared to driving," Mr Corbell said.
"Light rail public transport infrastructure is permanent, it is certain, people have confidence that arriving at a stop means they will be able to access a service."
Mr Corbell said Canberra would see similar changes in commuter behaviour as had been recorded in cities including Adelaide and the Gold Coast. He said park and ride facilities, a new transport interchange at Dickson and fast and reliable transfers between buses and light rail were essential. Future options, including ride-sharing, would also benefit tram users.
"A recent study in Salt Lake City, Utah found that light rail commuters used their cars less and had healthier walking habits and lower rates of obesity," Mr Corbell said.
He slammed some critics of the project who had consistently opposed public transport development in Canberra and said light rail's popularity with young people meant a significant change in commuter behaviour was possible in Canberra, long considered a car-only commuter city.
Public transport use has remained stagnant in the ACT for the past 30 years, despite huge growth in uptake levels in other Australian capital cities including Sydney and Melbourne.
The ACT Heart Foundation public seminar series is being delivered in partnership with the ACT government as part of the Active Living Program.