Canberra's bus drivers will arrive at work at 5am on Tuesday to the news that ACTION and Capital Metro will be rolled into a new public transport agency next year.
The move comes as the ACT government prepares to ask for funding contributions from the federal government and Canberra Airport for their plan to build about 90 kilometres of light rail lines around Canberra over 25 years.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr will meet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull next month, with funding for parliamentary triangle tram services high on his agenda after the federal government gave $95 million to the second stage of light rail on the Gold Coast.
It is unclear whether the ACTION and Capital Metro brands will survive the change, with Mr Barr refusing to confirm the information on Monday.
It is also unclear how the new agency would interface with the private consortium that will be chosen to build and operate the 12 kilometre Gungahlin line, with a decision on contracts due early next year.
The change will allow the ACT government to combine ticketing for trams and buses and also help coordinate tram and bus routes – with a number of Gungahlin and Northbourne bus routes being scrapped when the tram begins operating in 2019 or 2020.
A spokesman said only that transport was a priority for the government under Mr Barr.
"To manage Canberra's growth, reduce congestion and protect liveability, we need to improve our public transport system," the spokesman said.
It is understood the news will go first to drivers as they begin their shift. ACTION has about 850 staff, including 672 bus drivers, 410 of them full time.
The government has struggled with ongoing budget problems at ACTION, and earlier this year Mr Barr demanded reform under threat of selling the network. The buses cost the territory budget $107 million in 2014-15 in government grants, up $4 million on the year before. Despite the cash, ACTION still didn't come in on budget, with an operating loss of $11 million.
It commissioned a review by Brisbane transport consultants in the face of spiralling costs, but this has not been released. A combined agency presumably ensures ACTION remains in public hands.
The taxi industry faces its biggest shake-up this week when Uber begins taking passengers from midnight on Friday. About 200 Uber drivers have already passed police and car checks.
The newly released light rail master plan had all sides of politics animated on Monday, and the second stage could become the subject of election promises in 2016. The seven-line, 25-year proposal prioritises Parliament, Woden, Fyshwick and Canberra Airport. Public consultation will continue until December.
"This is seriously on the federal government's agenda, so we will engage seriously with them, particularly in relation to areas where the federal government is a major employer and where their staff would benefit significantly from transport improvements," Mr Barr said.
"We will also want to talk to Canberra Airport around options to extend into the airport precinct as well."
Mr Barr would not say how much external funding the government would seek for light rail.
"The ACT government, over two or three decades, clearly can make progressive additions to the light rail network like governments over the past 25 years have made additions to Canberra's road network," he said.
Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell refused to say how much the 3.2 kilometre Russell extension would cost. The government has given strong signals it will extend stage one to the Defence precinct.
Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury said his party would run at the election on its record of securing light rail stage one, but that it was too soon to say if a future stage tram line would be a condition in any new Greens' governance agreement with Labor after 2016.
Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the government had engaged in "back of the napkin" planning for a city-wide tram network.
"We have to be very careful about entering into these discussions and creating false expectations, because the reality is Canberra simply can't afford it," Mr Coe said.
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