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Have the Liberals really solved Canberra's bus headaches?

The Liberals have answered their critics with the release of their proposed new bus network, a document remarkable not only for its detail but its sheer back-to-the-drawing-board audacity.

An image of the colour-coded buses proposed by the Liberals.
An image of the colour-coded buses proposed by the Liberals. Photo: Supplied

Deputy Alistair Coe says the party started by asking how people would drive, then simply drew the rapid network from there.

The result is eight rapid routes, compared with the current two, and bus links that go direct to the airport, link the John James hospital in Deakin with the Canberra hospital in Woden and take you direct from Belconnen to Woden. There are also routes from Tuggeranong up Parkes Way to the city and down the Monaro Highway. Rapid buses will run every 10 to 20 minutes.

There are no doubt many complications yet to see the light of day, but on the face of it there is a supreme logic and simplicity to the plan.

To critics who have said, 'show us what you will do instead of the tram', the Liberals have now given a substantial part of their answer (with roads announcements still to come). They will modernise the buses, offer simple fast logical routes, allow My Way bus passes to be used for other shopping, trial electric buses, and allow people to ride free for the rest of the week after clocking up eight journeys. They will run buses till 1am Thursday to Saturday, and will not differentiate between weekdays and weekends.

The first thing that you wonder, though, is who are the Liberals in the realm of specialist transport planning? You can draw all the obvious lines you like on a map of Canberra, but shouldn't bus routes be devised by bus experts? If it is as simple as this, surely it would have been done already.

And then you wonder, could this work after all? Perhaps it is precisely because the Liberals in opposition are entirely unbound by the bus union, by a bureaucracy, by the way things have always been done, that they can come up with a fresh plan.

It remains to be seen how well the proposal will stack up as it is critiqued by Labor and by the transport bureaucracy in the coming days. A bigger hurdle still will be making it work, including negotiating with the drivers and the union in the event, still more unlikely than likely, that the Liberals form government after the election.

Coe says they hope to get the new network in place within a year, and they believe they can do it for $160 million a year, which is what is spent now on ACTION and on the Capital Metro agency combined (not counting the money that Labor will pay the tram consortium to run its light rail each year). 

But the timing and the cost is surely no more than an aspiration. Until the detailed work is done, an accurate cost is out of reach.

One thing is clear from Wednesday's announcement: the Liberals believe, rightly or wrongly, they have a real shot at government in October and they're doing the policy work to back themselves in. 

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