With recent concern by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr over entrenched inefficiencies within Canberra's bus service, it is timely to reflect on advice to the government in 2011, which it effectively ignored.
In his public service review of 2011, Dr Allan Hawke concluded ACTION's industrial relations position was an obstacle to Canberra having a bus system commuters wanted to use.
He said ACTION was less than half as efficient as its private-sector counterparts and ACTION would not succeed unless meaningful industrial reform could be achieved. Without real changes, a sale or even a break-up of the network would make more sense than trying to improve the service within the present industrial landscape.
One of the major restrictive work practices under the drivers' enterprise agreement is that they cannot be compelled to work on weekends or most public holidays.
In late March, Barr acknowledged this was an unsatisfactory arrangement and it was an issue the government faced every weekend.
Quite so, and it is an issue created by the government's lack of fortitude to upset the powerful transport Workers Union.
In 2010, former chief minister Jon Stanhope sought to require drivers to work a seven-day roster.
After Stanhope's departure to Christmas Island, Simon Corbell resumed the ACTION portfolio and quickly agreed to a continuation of the clause, which means drivers must volunteer to work on weekends or public holidays.
This frequently causes some of these services to be cancelled, highlighted by a projected even greater failure rate on the questionable public holiday of April 27.
Perhaps prompted by my reflections published on March 1 – "Call tenders for design and operation of Canberra's public transport" – Barr now seems to acknowledge major changes are needed.
In 2010, a consultant's report commissioned by the government found ACTION was spending more than 30 per cent of its $100 million annual budget on waste and inefficiency. Then, in 2011, Hawke reinforced the need for change.
Instead, the government has focused on its highly questionable and inequitable tram project, which in all likelihood will result in less frequent and fewer direct services to most people within the Gungahlin to Civic corridor.
Nevertheless, ACT director public transport James Roncon presents an optimistic outlook on the bus service, saying indications are that, under Network 14, ACTION will achieve close to its patronage target.
This is being achieved with the introduction of more direct routes, not least from Gungahlin suburbs to the parliamentary triangle to take advantage of the introduction there of paid parking. As previously noted, these services are unlikely to continue in parallel with the proposed Gungahlin to Civic tram.
Roncon says though hot spots were recognised within a week of the introduction of Network 14, particularly caused by road works in Constitution Avenue, weekday patronage has increased by 3 per cent and weekend patronage by 6 per cent. Not least as a result of those hot spots, further changes to the bus network will begin on May 18.
He says that except for the need to adjust timings on some routes, the design of the bus network is largely set. So instead of having to make regular major changes, the aim now is to have timetable adjustments and service improvements twice yearly, perhaps to coincide with changes to daylight saving so people would remember to check for changes.
From September 1 last year, ACTION was required to introduce services to new suburbs but, as Roncon puts it, without one more cent. Hence the cutting of night-time services, with the last buses from major interchanges to suburbs departing by about 9.30pm.
ACTION data shows few passengers used buses even before 9.30pm, but it is recognised that most of those who do have little or no realistic alternative. An evening out now for those who cannot afford a taxi is now effectively unachievable.
To this end, negotiations with Canberra's taxi industry, Uber and, potentially more significantly, technology research organisation NICTA , could lead to a trial later this year in which people in outlying areas would be transported to a major bus corridor.
Tuggeranong is the most likely site for such a trial.
Meanwhile, except on trunk routes, government policy sees ACTION providing only skeleton services outside weekday peaks. The future, possibly immediate and long-term, of the overall service might depend on a review of ACTION by Brisbane-based transport consultants MR Cagney.
Findings and recommendations of the review are likely to be significant, but will be of no value if, as with numerous previous findings, its recommendations are simply shelved by the government.