Canberra's getting faster bus trips - two years early
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Canberra's getting faster bus trips - two years early

The ACT government has announced a "bold" new overhaul of its bus network, with faster buses due to hit Canberra streets by July 2018 - two years ahead of schedule.

ACT Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris officially opened the new $4 million Dickson bus interchange on Friday, just across the road from a light rail stop on Northbourne Avenue.

ACT Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris unveiling the new Rapid bus network for Canberra.

ACT Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris unveiling the new Rapid bus network for Canberra.Credit:Sherryn Groch

With the rail due to come online by late 2018, Ms Fitzharris said the expansion of Canberra's rapid bus network had been fast-tracked.

Services across eight new routes will run every 15-30 minutes, including on weekends, as part of a $50 million 'future buses' package to be delivered over the next four years. 80 new buses will also be added to the fleet.

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The nine new Rapid routes, including light rail (R1).

The nine new Rapid routes, including light rail (R1).Credit:Transport Canberra

"Next year will see a huge step change in public transport in the ACT," Ms Fitzharris said.

"The first stage of light rail will free up a million bus kilometres and we are putting those to work to deliver a faster and easier public transport network."

Work was already underway to link up light rail routes with bus services, she said. That included moving Gungahlin's bus station closer to the rail.

The minister's office said large demand for existing rapid services out in Gungahlin had sped along the "business case" for the light rail, while MyWay data revealed a gradual increase in bus patronage Canberra-wide over the past year.

The new Dickson bus interchange opened on Friday.

The new Dickson bus interchange opened on Friday.Credit:Sherryn Groch

Damien Haas, chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra described the expansion as a "brave step" by the government but noted that the new rapid service didn't extend to Queanbeyan.

"We'd recommend that they try extending that Civic to Fyshwick route across the border," he said.

Canberra's new rapid bus network has been unveiled.

Canberra's new rapid bus network has been unveiled.Credit:Transport Canberra

"We know road congestion's only going to get worse as our population increases and it's great to see we'll have services from local suburbs connecting to these rapid services.

"That could mean a family can get by with just one car."

Some residents, particularly in Canberra's inner-south, have raised concerns about what the new network will mean for their day-to-day access to buses, after a rapid service introduced in Narrabundah saw stops moved further apart.

"Historically in Canberra, you'd have a stop every 400 metres," Mr Haas said. "That's been less so in the newer suburbs, which are more like 500 metres, but certainly some people may have to walk further now.

"Of course, it'll also mean routes can speed up and there'll be more services running."

Ms Fitzharris said public transport would improve for everyone next year, no matter what suburb they lived in. The "nitty gritty" of where stops would be placed had not yet been decided, with another stage of community consultation to open next week around how local bus services would connect up to the rapid network.

As a year-long trial of electric and hybrid buses continues in the ACT, funding has also been set aside to fit out the new bus depot, due to be built in Phillip, with a recharging station.

Ms Fitzharris said Canberra was well-placed to take advantage of innovations happening in transport around the world, pointing to an ACT trial over the summer which connected night buses with Uber drivers to take people "the extra kilometre or two home".

On Friday, NRMA announced electric vehicle recharging points would be rolled out Australia-wide in a $10 million push towards zero-emission vehicles.

In the next six months, the first stations will open in the ACT, as well as in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Illawarra, Newcastle and the Mid North Coast.

Passengers can travel for free until the end of November on the existing ACT black rapid bus between Gungahlin and Belconnen and the green rapid that runs from Civic to Woden.

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In next year's expansion, the airport bus will be rolled into a new rapid. As well as the existing blue rapid service from Tuggeranong to Lanyon, Canberra's south will receive a bus running from Lanyon to Civic via Erindale and to the inner-south.

North-side, Belconnen will get a rapid to Watson via the new Dickson interchange on top of the recent addition of a black rapid.

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs