ACTION timetable change sparks Labor and Liberals fight

ACTION timetable change sparks Labor and Liberals fight

A new ACTION bus timetable will be in place later in 2016, after changes deferred last year were dropped by the ACT government.

Opposition spokesman Alistair Coe has seized on information given to the Legislative Assembly by Transport and Municipal Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris, showing ACTION will not be implementing some aspects of the planned timetable announced in September 2015.

Transport and Municipal Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris.

Transport and Municipal Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris.Credit:Melissa Adams

The government was unable to introduce all its new weekday bus timetable last year because it didn't have enough buses to ensure drivers received a mandatory 10-minute break during their shifts.

The timetable had been due to take effect on October 12 but ACTION had about 17 buses fewer than required to run the timetable. Then territory and municipal services minister Shane Rattenbury said the error was embarrassing and the changes would be delayed until sometime in the first half of this year.

Disappointed: Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe.

Disappointed: Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe.Credit:Jay Cronan

The timetable had been planned using software that counted "ghost buses" and would have seen about 50 services each day not run, Mr Rattenbury said. The changes were based on MyWay travel card data, customer feedback and GPS tracking of buses.

This week Mr Coe said the latest comments showed the government was struggling to improve bus services in Canberra.

"It's very disappointing that Meegan Fitzharris has followed in the footsteps of previous transport minister Shane Rattenbury with poor management and little focus on delivering a ACTION bus network for all Canberrans," he said.

Ms Fitzharris said the government hoped to have a new timetable in place later in 2016. The comments come as she prepares to launch a new survey for public transport users in Canberra this week.

"The timetable revision announced last year was in response to a requirement by Fair Work Australia to introduce a 10-minute break for drivers who drive for a period greater than three hours," Ms Fitzharris said.

"As stated last year, the timetable changes would not be implemented due to an increase in the number of buses that would have been required. The changes required to the timetable were instead deferred.

"While the exact timetable as designed last year will not be implemented, changes still need to be made and we are working towards a new timetable in consultation with bus drivers and the Transport Workers Union."

She said the government intended for some services, including one-stop journeys for Crace residents, to be introduced during peak times as included in the original proposal last year.

Public transport is shaping up as a key issue for the ACT election on October 15.

The Canberra Liberals have pledged to stop development of the government's city to Gungahlin tram line, leaving taxpayers facing millions in compensation payouts to exit the contracts, due to be signed within months.

The Liberals would launch a complete overhaul of Canberra's bus network, and have promised six new express lines, a simplified timetable and a $20 million boost to the ACTION operating budget. The opposition's plans for Northbourne Avenue are yet to be released.

Ms Fitzharris has previously said the government plans to announce improvements to Canberra's bus services ahead of the election, including possible new express routes.

Last month about 4000 people took ACTION services to Anzac Day commemorations at the Australian War Memorial.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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