Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and large areas of Gungahlin look set to be the biggest losers under the ACT government's proposed shake-up of the rapid bus network, with just one in three Canberrans within an 800m walk of a rapid or light rail stop, according to an independent analysis of the 2019 network plan.
In June Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said 55 per cent of Canberrans would be within an 800m walk of a rapid or light rail stop. But a detailed analysis of actual walking distances from every property in Canberra has found just 36 per cent of residents will fall within that distance. When that figure is reduced to 400m - a distance widely regarded by town planners as the maximum most people will be prepared to walk to transport - just 15 per cent of the population will be within reach of a stop. The data only relates to rapid and light rail stops and does not include other local bus routes.
Brendan Halloran, a former director of mapping and reporting at the Commonwealth Department of Families and Community Services, said he supported efforts to get more Canberrans onto public transport but the results of the analysis he conducted on behalf of Fairfax Media should cause alarm for public transport designers.
"A couple of years ago they removed the bus stop in my street. My neighbours and I used to use it all the time, most of us basically stopped catching the bus, so this stuff is really important," Mr Halloran said.
“Making inaccurate claims about the potential number of users who will be serviced by the proposed rapid bus and light rail system will not help deliver a better public transport for Canberra. Designing a public transport system that takes into account the location, demographic and socio-economic situation of potential customers and combining this knowledge with an optimised route design will help deliver a better system and ensure a better return on investment for taxpayers,” he said.
Mr Halloran combined publicly available geospatial and population data against a national address database to calculate his findings, and then checked it against three different data models, reaching the same conclusions each time, finding entire suburbs that would receive no benefit from the proposed new network.
A spokesman for Ms Fitzharris said the 55 per cent figure represented growth in coverage from 38 per cent under the old network, and the figures would be updated when the new network was released in October.
"Canberrans have consistently told us they want more buses, more often and that’s why we’ve designed the network in this way. What is clear is that the new network gives more Canberrans access to high frequency bus services than ever before," the spokesman said.
Australian National University researcher Dr Bruce Doran, who has studied the distances commuters will walk to a bus stop in other parts of Australia, said those who had to walk 400m-800m to get to a bus stop were considered to have low access to public transport, while more than an 800m walk was considered poor access.
"The distance between homes and the nearest bus stop ... is regarded as a fundamental part of accessing the broader public transport network," Dr Doran said.
But Ms Fitzharris's spokesman defended the 800m walking distance, saying it reflected community feedback.
"Canberrans have told us they would walk further for a more frequent service. We’ve designed this network to have more buses, more often, seven days a week across the city so people get a better service."
Since the proposed network was revealed in June, Transport Canberra has been flooded with more than 13,000 responses, including concerns about student safety, a lack of information, and personal stories outlining the impact of changes to certain bus stops and routes.
Last week the ACT government backed down on some of its most contentious proposed changes to its new network, announcing it would restore at least half the school bus routes it had announced it would scrap.
The spokesman said new rapid routes into Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin, along with the light rail, would benefit those areas with more frequent services.
"Updated coverage figures will be released when the revised network comes out in October."