Ghost ACTION buses cost ACT government nearly $12 million in one year

Ghost ACTION buses cost ACT government nearly $12 million in one year

Canberra's bus network spent $11.8 million driving empty vehicles 12,420 kilometres a day in one year.

The expense came as the network raised $24.7 million in revenue from fares, advertising and charter hires.

Canberra’s bus network spent millions on dead runs.

Canberra’s bus network spent millions on dead runs. Credit:Karleen Minney

Dead runs – or trips from a depot to service routes – cost $32,416 a day and represented 18 per cent of the 25 million kilometres travelled by drivers during 2014-15.

On average, Canberra buses made 1993 daily trips without passengers compared with 2526 service trips.


A spokesman for the network said the geographical spread of Canberra made it difficult to limit dead runs.

"While service planners strive to minimise the number of kilometres of dead running, ACTION's dead running is slightly higher than the latest benchmark of 17.4 percent for private bus operators," he said.

"The dead running on the ACTION network is also slightly higher due to the fact school services are integrated with commuter services."

Canberra only has two bus depots, in Belconnen and Tuggeranong, which means drivers must travel long distances to position buses at the beginning of a route.

The government hopes improvements to facilities in Lanyon and proposed toilet blocks in Fyshwick will mean drivers no longer need to return to the depot for breaks.

A Territory and Municipal Services spokesman said the government would investigate whether the Woden bus depot should be reopened to reduce dead runs. The idea was first mooted by former TAMS minister Katy Gallagher in 2012.

Canberra buses travelled up to 19,000 kilometres without passengers in 2012, which was further than a return trip to Beijing. Today, the daily dead run distance is equivalent to a one-way trip to Los Angeles International Airport.

In September, TAMS Minister Shane Rattenbury said dead runs were a frustrating part of any bus network and were inevitable despite improvements being made through timetables.

The network has been able to reduce the annual cost of dead runs from almost 20 per cent of overall travel in 2011-12 to 17.99 per cent in 2014-15.

"This has been achieved through the continual improvement of the network using performance systems as well as the commissioning of new meal and toilet facilities in Gungahlin," a TAMS spokesman said.

More than $18 million of revenue claimed by the bus network in 2014-15 came from MyWay fares, although passengers failed to log off when departing a bus on 313,281 occasions.

Government figures reveal bus fares are cheaper in Canberra than any other capital city with an adult fare costing $2.91 compared with $4.50 in Sydney, $4.66 in Brisbane and $3.76 in Melbourne.

Another $5 million of revenue came from cash fares while charter hires brought $692,000 to ACTION coffers.

The government claimed $545,000 from advertising revenue, with ads for junk food, fossil fuels, gambling, alcohol and weapons banned earlier this week.The government already prohibits political, religious, antisocial and tobacco advertising from appearing on the fleet. The advertising restriction has proved controversial with industry groups and NSW senator David Leyonhjelm describing it as an unnecessary "nanny state" policy.

In September, the government abandoned an overhaul of the weekday bus timetable because it doesn't have enough vehicles to ensure drivers receive a 10-minute break. The new timetable was due to begin on October 12 although Mr Rattenbury said the changes would be delayed until early 2016, conceding the error was embarrassing.

Henry Belot is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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