The ACT government has revealed a new bus network that will deliver 80 new bus drivers and seven new rapid routes over the next four years.
The network, which goes head to head with a new rapid network drawn up by the Liberals in March, includes a rapid bus service running directly from Belconnen to Gungahlin starting next year. Another will connect Woden to the city via Barton. The existing blue rapid from Tuggeranong to Belconnen is being extended to Lanyon in the south and Kippax in the north.
The government, like the Liberals, are promising to run a public bus service to the airport.
In 2020, two rapid buses will go directly to the Canberra Airport – one from Belconnen via the city, and the other from Lanyon, at the far end of the Tuggeranong Valley, Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said.
The new routes will add $26 million a year to the cost of the city's buses when they're all in place in 2020. At the moment, buses cost about $120 million a year.
With the Liberals releasing a plan for six new rapid bus routes in March, the Labor and Liberal parties have made tit-for-tat announcements on roads and buses. Both released "city loop" bus plans – the government's beginning its city loop in July, and the Liberals' are promising a wider city loop, also heading to the Parliamentary Triangle.
Ms Fitzharris's bus changes are decisions that have been made and will be incorporated in the coming budget update, rather than an election promise.
It costs the budget $3.6 million in 2017-18 when two rapids begin, then $9.5 million the following year, with two new services, $16 million when another rapid is added in 2019, and $26 million when the final two are added in 2020.
Ms Fitzharris said the new routes incorporated the 1.2 million kilometres of bus travel each year that would be freed up by the 12km light rail line from Gungahlin to the city. The line will replace buses from Gungahlin to the city in 2018.
While both parties are promising more rapid services – which have fewer stops and run every 15 minutes or more, Labor's plan differs from the Liberals' in the detail of the routes.
The Liberals drew up their network based on how people drive from centre to centre in Canberra – proposing buses along the most direct car routes. But Ms Fitzharris said the Liberals' idea that bus routes should follow car routes was flawed. Instead, the city needed public transport corridors, she said.
Whereas the Liberals have proposed a direct bus route directly up the Tuggeranong parkway, Ms Fitzharris said the parkway was too busy already to carry more buses, Instead, the Labor's rapid service would travel along Athllon Drive and through Mawson and the Woden town centre.
The Liberals also also proposed a rapid service that looped into the city along Athllon Drive and back to Tuggeranong via the Monaro Highway and Hume. But Labor says the route is not justified by demand.
The Liberals have proposed one rapid to the airport, whereas Labor is planning two. Labor criticised the Liberals' plan when it was released, and raised doubts about the airport proposal, given that the airport already has a privately contracted bus service and the airport's agreement is needed for any public bus service there. But Ms Fitzharris said the government would continue to talk with the airport, which wanted to be sure that public buses would be as frequent as its own service.
"We will work with the airport over coming years to negotiate the best outcome for an airport bus link. But this is our plan, and the airport are open to it."
The Liberals also propose buses that run later, till 1am, and through the weekends on the same timetable.
Ms Fitzharris said the debate about Canberra being a car-centric city was over and she was already planning for more rapid bus routes into Molonglo and Gungahlin beyond 2020 as the population grew.
The rapid buses were hugely popular, with more than four million passengers using the blue rapid from Tuggeranong and Belconnen to the city, and more than one million using the red rapid from Fyshwick and Gungahlin to the city in the last 12 months, she said.
Labor's new network would mean 100 new jobs in all, including 80 new drivers. It would include a new depot on the northside, probably in Mitchell.
Major parties' proposed bus changes
Below are the proposed route changes from the ACT Labor Party and the ACT Liberal Party.
ACT Labor Party:
ACT Liberal Party: