It was a protest that stopped traffic and topped news bulletins.
Elderly residents of the Goodwin Retirement Village jumped in front of a Belconnen-bound ACTION bus last month, to make their stand against the cancellation of their bus service.
Others sat on their wheely walkers, silently waving signs saying "Save Bus Route 54 Crace to Belconnen".
But it's not just their bus that's being cancelled. Technically, every single bus route is being cancelled.
For the first time since 1999, Canberra's tangle of bus routes has been wiped from the map and relaid, layer by layer, to create a network the ACT government says will be faster and more frequent.
In past network updates, new services have been overlaid over existing ones, which in turn have been extended or altered, creating a sprawling mess that makes little sense to anyone unfamiliar with Canberra's public transport network.
The result has been what Transport Canberra's commercial policy operations manager Patrick Fischer-Reid described rather mildly as "quite complex".
"In some areas, such as Gungahlin, bus routes have been extended as the region has grown, which can make the routes longer and less reliable over time," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
"It also means that new areas, such as the Casey shops, are not being serviced by public transport."
Many of the issues with Canberra's public transport network seem to stem from deep cuts to the service in 2006.
That June, the Stanhope government brought ACTION back under the umbrella of government, and carved $6 million a year out of the operating budget.
Those savings - spurred on by a functional review of all government agencies - are something former chief minister and treasurer Jon Stanhope won't apologise for, even today.
"I regard the functional review as one of my most significant achievements as chief minister," Mr Stanhope said.
That functional review is the same one that led to the closure of Canberra schools, and the threat of secession from Cook residents who began printing their own passports, so by all accounts the buses got off lightly.
But by December, 240 daily bus services had been shaved off the timetable with the weekday and weekend network split into different numbers and routes (a deviation Transport Canberra officials now say is "not intuitive").
A commuter from Scullin sombrely described December 4, the day the new timetable began, as "the darkest ... in the history of public transport in Canberra".
"I don't think it's ever recovered from those cuts," longtime Canberra Times reporter Graham Downie said.
Mr Downie - who covered the transport beat for about 40 years - said instead of pursuing sorely-needed industrial reforms, the government opted to cut services, which led to severe overcrowding and stranded commuters.
"That was a poor thing. It took away all confidence people who had a choice in using the service had in Canberra's buses," Mr Downie said.
Mr Stanhope insists the cuts were largely back-end, with no cuts to services as a result of the review.
In February 2007, the government relented a little to the growing backlash by putting back in an extra 37 services. In April, it gave a little more by adding a further 84.
The outcry led to an ACT parliamentary inquiry, chaired by now planning minister Mick Gentleman (Zed Seselja, now a senator, was deputy chair).
Some recommendations now appear amusingly anachronistic, like calling for maps in the Yellow Pages to include ACTION buses routes and stops.
But the main takeaway was the frequency of buses had to be reviewed urgently.
The same month the findings were handed down, one bus from Civic to Woden was so crowded passengers were unable to let the driver know about a group of teenagers that were terrorising a couple with a knife.
Exactly a year after the network went live, the government poured an extra $75 million into the bus service to bump up the frequency of inter-town buses in peak hour to five minutes, and no more than an hour apart in the evenings.
The network had its next material change in 2014, when school services were pared back from 300 to 240 and a number of suburban bus stops were culled.
Much like this incoming network, Network 14 prompted concerns from parents about children having to navigate dodgy interchanges.
Bus drivers took to distributing flyers telling disgruntled passengers to ring then Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury's office rather than complaining to them.
Parent Esther Cleaver, who at the time had children aged six, seven, eight and 12, told The Canberra Times the changes made her uneasy.
"I don’t let them wander around anywhere all by themselves, and I certainly don’t think that Civic is the place to begin doing so," Ms Cleaver said in August 2014.
Her concerns are echoed by parents today, who fear forcing students to walk further and change buses more often will make their children less safe.
But with light rail coming online, Transport Canberra realised it had the best chance in years to address the many gripes with Canberra's bus network.
Mr Fischer-Reid said his biggest concern was simply not enough people were using the network.
"Only about 8 per cent of Canberrans use public transport to get to work. This is very low compared to other Australian capital cities," he said.
There's a number of reasons for this, not least of which is there's rarely a bus there when you actually need one.
"Many of our routes are too infrequent and some are too long, making many deviations before people get to where they want to go. The operating hours don’t work for everyone," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
"The different route numbers and different ways buses travel on weekends can be confusing and has been identified as a barrier for the community to choose to use public transport."
Canberrans are also wedded to their cars, with 74 per cent of people driving to work.
Consultant reports from over the years agreed the long, duplicative routes undercut the ability to provide more frequency in the network.
There was also evidence from other cities that the easier a bus network was to navigate, the more people used it.
So in the war room at Transport Canberra's Dickson headquarters, schedulers and senior managers pored over maps, data and previous customer feedback for months, trying to design a network that not only appealed to current commuters, but would convince others to leave the car keys at home.
"Starting with the rapid routes, we reviewed the network to ensure it successfully connected all major centres and employment areas and was operationally viable. This provided a ‘skeleton’ of the new bus network," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
"There were some tweaks to rapid routes where improvements could be made, such as introducing a separate rapid for the Molonglo Valley and providing more direct rapids from Weston Creek is an example of this."
Once the bones were laid down, they began grafting the local service network over the top.
"These were initially designed with higher frequency services provided where demand was highest. These services were carefully built to provide access to areas where there is current patronage as well as to ensure connections to schools and other important destination," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
To do this, they used software that allowed them to plug in variable routes to figure out which worked best.
"For a period, one of our network planners was the number one single user of that software in the world," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
And while it is still refining the network, there are areas Transport Canberra admits will be worse off.
Buses will be cut from the Campbell and Fairbairn business parks and the jail.
On the business parks, Mr Fischer-Reid said there were "record-low" levels of demand outside of peak periods for stops.
In the case of the jail, he said the government was looking at ways it could get people there without sending a full-sized bus at all times.
"A more flexible solution will also assist if the [Alexander Maconochie Centre] wishes to introduce new or changed visiting hours to the facility, as the changes to a more tailored service can be made far more easily than one that is integrated into the general transport network," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
The Canberra Liberals' transport spokeswoman Candice Burch said the idea of an on-demand bus service for the jail was good.
But the consultation had been a sham.
"The Canberra Liberals have heard from hundreds of constituents, as well as countless schools, residents associations, and community groups who are concerned about the changes," Ms Burch said.
"Canberrans don’t believe that the government is truly interested in listening. The online consultation portal says, 'We want to hear about how we can support Canberrans to use the New Bus Network'. Language like this has led many to believe that this consultation is disingenuous, and that these changes are largely set in stone."
So how much wiggle room is there in the new network?
"There is always room for a level of change, however, the amount of change needs to be considered as part of the balance of the complete seven-day network and consider the principles of the design," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
Transport Canberra has received about 8000 pieces of feedback so far, and the challenge for planners is how to fold this into the network with the fleet and budget they have.
"Whilst making a minor change to a single route, or adding a single trip in may seem minor, it can actually play a major part in how the network comes together," Mr Fischer-Reid said.
"The addition of 5-10 minutes to a single route can result in a major increase in the vehicles or
drivers required, to which service planners would need to make tough decisions on whether that
change proceeds or if the savings can be found elsewhere."
The bus network is expected to cost about $163 million to run in 2018-19, although with the Woden bus depot and extra buses coming online, that will increase to $186 million in 2020-22.
There's also an operating budget of $50.4 million this fiscal year for light rail, which will increase to $63.5 million in 2021-22.
But there are still question marks hanging over the new network, particularly how the unresolved enterprise bargaining agreements will affect the extended hours and frequency.
Currently, drivers volunteer to work weekends as overtime and some also get overtime rates for working before or after 7pm.
Previous attempts to introduce a seven-day network or bump up frequency have come to nought because of opposition from drivers and their union.
Transport Workers Union ACT sub-branch secretary Klaus Pinkas said drivers were still negotiating a new enterprise agreement for bus drivers, talks that began more than 18 months ago.
But there was nothing in the current agreement that prevented ACTION running more services on a weekend, he said.
"There never has been. It is a decision that ACTION takes," Mr Pinkas said.
Mr Pinkas said drivers were more concerned about the timetables than the routes.
"The timetables are yet to be determined and they will be developed in conjunction the shifts. The shifts are the things that we pay attention to as they determine the hours that the drivers work and the breaks that they get," Mr Pinkas said.
Mr Fischer-Reid said service planners were working closely with the union to review and provide timings for the proposed routes.
Mr Stanhope, whose government clashed with the Transport Workers Union over weekend buses in 2011, said the industrial arrangement was "the elephant in the room".
"While that continues, reform of ACTION is unsustainable," Mr Stanhope said.
For Mr Downie, the elephant is the light rail.
A strong opponent of the project, he says the new network is designed to push more people onto light rail rather than addressing deep-seated problems in the bus system.
However Mr Downie concedes the more direct, rapid routes are sorely needed.
"Alan Fitzgerald wrote in the '60s that the definition of the longest distance between two points is an ACTION bus route, so this is long overdue," Mr Downie said.
"The real test of the service will be whether people can make reasonable connections. If they can't, they will tell ACTION to stick it up their jumper, maybe in less polite terms."
You can have your say on the new bus network until August 12: yoursay.act.gov.au/rapid-bus-network
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