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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Driver shortage hurting weekend bus services

The ACT Government has come under fire for its handling of issues surrounding weekend bus services.

The Canberra Liberals, ACT Greens and the Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) are critical of the government’s decision to cut weekend bus routes to address unreliable services.

In a statement on Friday 16 August, ACT Greens Transport spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur said the decision to cut buses “isn’t a real solution”.

She said the government’s plan came as a surprise “given that less than 48 hours ago, the government committed to a push from the Greens for a month-long action plan to properly investigate a range of ways to make weekend services more reliable”.

ACT Minister for Transport, Chris Steel, said under Network 19, an extra 1,377 services have been timetabled on the weekend. Since then, 27% more weekend journeys have been taken on public transport compared to the same period last year.

“While it’s great that Canberrans are responding to more weekend transport services, the reliability of bus services has not met community expectations or the expectations of the government,” he said.

According to ACT Sub Branch Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), Klaus Pinkas, the unreliability of the weekend network is simply due to lack of drivers.

“The workload on the weekend has increased exponentially with the introduction of the new network, whilst driver numbers have stayed the same. TCCS have acknowledged this and are recruiting (belatedly) at a rapid rate.”

PTCBR Chair Damien Haas acknowledged driver recruitment could have been increased in the lead-up to Network 19, but said it is also “very disappointing that the Transport Canberra drivers still won’t volunteer to work weekends in sufficient numbers”.

“The current EBA is clearly not fit for purpose, and when it expires it would perhaps be better for Canberra’s passengers if the drivers returned to the award rate,” Mr Haas said. “If the TWU want to retain the composite rate, they should encourage their members to do the right thing and turn up on weekends.”

However, Mr Pinkas said “it is not a matter of ‘doing the right thing’. This statement totally misrepresents the issue. The problem is a lack of drivers and only that”.

Minister Steel said the government was working to recruit more drivers with Transport Canberra moving to a rolling recruitment campaign for bus drivers, rather than just once a year.

In the meantime, the government will be making adjustments to the weekend bus timetable.

The most popular elements of the new transport network are proposed to remain: frequent rapid services (rapids make up 70% of boardings); services will still start early and run late; and weekend services will run on the same route and number as weekday services.

While Transport Canberra is still working on the weekend timetable adjustments, it is likely that local route buses will run less frequently, up to every two hours.

Network planners will also be working closely with the TWU to agree upon the new bus driver shifts. This will be completed shortly with a revised weekend timetable proposed to be introduced on 28 September at the end of the current school term.

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