New bus network will start April 29, Transport Canberra says

Transport Canberra may not have enough drivers to staff its expanded weekend bus timetable, six weeks out from the launch of the new integrated public transport network.

Extra weekend services has been one of the selling points of the controversial new network, the timetable for which was released on Thursday.

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

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

But Transport Workers Union secretary Klaus Pinkas said it would be a “little bit suck it and see” as to whether enough drivers would volunteer to work weekends.

“The weekend shifts are still a work in progress,” Mr Pinkas said.

“I can’t sit here and tell you we’re going to have enough drivers. I’m not saying we won’t have them. We'll just have to wait and see. We’ve indicated to ACTION it may be a problem but ACTION are proceeding like it won’t be."

While Transport Canberra tried to move drivers to seven-day rosters as part of its two-and-a-half year enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations with the union, the government backed away from compulsory weekend work in December, with weekend shifts to stay on a volunteer basis.

Mr Pinkas said Transport Canberra knocked back extra incentives for weekend drivers during the negotiations, and no acceptable counter offer was made.

He also said there were issues around driver breaks on the weekend shifts.

“It’s a safety issue. They need 10 minutes out of the bus between every second and third hour," Mr Pinkas said.

Executive group manager for Transport Canberra operations Judith Sturman said they had part-time and casual drivers to cover the weekend shifts and had a continual recruitment campaign going.

Transport Canberra has released its new public transport map with the new network expected to start on April 29. Photo: Transport Canberra

Transport Canberra has released its new public transport map with the new network expected to start on April 29. Photo: Transport Canberra

"We've done a lot of analysis that demonstrates we will have enough drivers to complete those services for us," she said.

But she acknowledged there was a risk services could be cancelled due to the driver shortage.

"I can't deny that, there's always a risk, but what we're doing is we're mitigating that risk by making sure that there will be enough and enough opportunities for drivers who want to do that additional shift to do that," Ms Sturman said.

The new seven-day network was completely redesigned using data from the MyWay ticketing system, and is made up of shorter, more direct routes, with services designed to connect at interchanges across the city.

There will be 4200 services a day under the new network, compared to 3600 currently, and 396 buses on the road compared to 384 at present.

However the true increase in number of buses on the road is more like 50, owing to light rail replacing buses on the Gungahlin to Civic corridor.

"It's a more efficient network," Ms Sturman said

Many bus routes on the new network will start earlier in the morning or run later at night than they do currently, with services to run from at least 6.30am until midnight Monday to Saturdays, and until 10pm Sundays and public holidays.

Most local services to run every 20-30 minutes at peak times, and every 30-60 minutes during the day, in the evening and on weekends.

The network also includes 10 rapid routes, along with light rail that will have services every 15 minutes or better along the rapid routes between 7am and 7pm on weekdays and weekend service times would be extended to 10pm.

Transport Canberra will also offer a free month of travel for all commuters travelling with MyWay cards to entice people to use the new network.

Ms Sturman said the new network was "vastly different" to the one that was released for public consultation last year.

Based on 13,000 pieces of feedback, the government made 37 changes to 58 routes, as well as adding 78 additional school services each school day.

"That [feedback] enabled us to reshape to some degree, so we stayed with the principles of obviously an integrated network … the model stayed the same but obviously where the routes eventually went was changed to reflect what most people wanted," Ms Sturman said.

"One of the key areas that came up with dissatisfaction was our weekend services so that's also played into our focus on delivering more frequent and more weekend services," Ms Sturman said.

However there remain concerns about how schools are serviced through the network.

While Transport Canberra designed the new network around the requirement of dropping school children off within half an hour before the bell - a marked improvement on the current arrangements - ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association communications officer Janelle Kennard said parents were concerned about how far children would be dropped from school.

Several high schools, instead of the buses coming into the purpose-built bus bays at the front of the schools where they’re currently picking up and dropping students, they’re going to be picking up and dropping off students from bus stops distributed around the school," Ms Kennard said.

"We’re a bit concerned with that, because particularly in the afternoon being groups of teenagers moving out from the school grounds to those bus stops in some cases crossing busy roads.

"I guess we already know teenagers are poor at assessing risks and it’s worse when they’re in groups of their peers and we’re very concerned about road safety."

Transport Minister Fitzharris said there was a Schools Liaison Manager in Transport Canberra who would help school communities become familiar with the new network.

"We are also increasing safety across our network, with CCTV cameras on every bus and at all major interchanges, school crossing supervisors at 25 school crossings, improvements to infrastructure around schools and an additional 28 customer service assistants at interchanges," Ms Fitzharris said.

St Mary Mackillop College principal Michael Lee said he felt Transport Canberra and listened to and acted on feedback from his school community about cuts to school buses, but he was "very sympathetic" to the needs of students travelling to other schools.

"While there will be a level of adjustment ... we think were in a very good position in terms of meeting the needs of our students and their families," he said.

"We also understand that there are kids going to other schools who will be more significantly affected."