Canberra Times light rail survey results: Public opinion polarised on tram line

Canberra Times light rail survey results: Public opinion polarised on tram line

A year out from the next ACT election, public opinion on the Gungahlin to the city tram project remains polarised, seemingly confirming the 2016 poll will be a referendum on rail.

Seventy-four per cent of participants in a new survey on light rail say the $783 million tram line will influence their vote, while support and opposition to the project is almost evenly split.

Support for the tram line was at 49 per cent among the more than 7000 participants in the latest Canberra Times online survey conducted last week. Opposition sat at 47 per cent, with four per cent undecided.

The survey, which had the highest response rate of any poll on light rail sentiment in Canberra to date, was completed by a self-selecting sample of visitors to the Canberra Times website.

Vote changer? Public opinion on Canberra's light rail line remains polarised.

Vote changer? Public opinion on Canberra's light rail line remains polarised.Credit:Jay Cronan

The stage-one route is opposed by 52 per cent of participants but 49 per cent said they supported the possible extension to the Defence precinct at Russell.

This survey was taken almost a year after a similar survey, in which 70 per cent of respondents said the tram proposal would influence their vote. Suggesting a softening of opposition to light rail in the last year, 54 per cent had opposed development of light rail and 59 per cent opposed the route in the 2014 survey.

A quarter of participants said they would use the tram regularly, including every day, on weekdays or at least two or three times a week.

Nearly 58 per cent said they would never use the tram or would only use it once a year.

The tram line remains a potential vote-changer at the October 15, 2016, poll, with 74 per cent saying it would influence their vote and 44 per cent said it would make them less likely to vote for Labor. Fewer than 20 per cent said it would not influence their vote, while about 8 per cent said they were undecided.

As in 2014, nearly 40 per cent said they were more likely to vote for the Liberals because of the party's opposition to tram. More than 36 per cent said the Liberal position made them less likely to vote for the party.

More than 35 per cent said the ACT Greens' support for light rail would make them less likely to vote for the party, while 24 per cent said it would make them more likely to support it.

A majority of participants said the $783 million planned for the tram line would be better spent on improving Canberra's bus network, but when asked how much should be spent on light rail, 39 per cent said "whatever it takes to build it properly". In the same question, 46 per cent said nothing should be spent on the project.

Asked to rank the importance of infrastructure projects, 33 per cent ranked light rail as their top priority of six options, including a new city sports stadium, a new convention centre, a new university hospital, an aquatic centre and bus rapid transport. More than 40 per cent put the tram last in their priorities, suggesting continued polarisation of views.

Bus rapid transit was the top priority for 29 per cent of participants, followed by the university hospital with 24 per cent and the convention centre for 8 per cent. Just 7 per cent said the city sports stadium was their top priority.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell announced the completion of the project's environmental impact statement on Thursday. Development applications for the city to Gungahlin line and the possible Russell extension will be lodged within weeks.

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

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