The ACT Government has announced a package of measures to improve weekend bus services but there is concern about how long it could take to see any improvements.
ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said the Government has developed “a roadmap that sets out 10 measures to improve reliability for public transport users”.
The actions are spread across five themes: bus driver recruitment; improving information for customers; improving workforce planning; improving operational business practices; and the weekend timetable update.
ACT Greens Transport spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur MLA acknowledged the people of Canberra “want a better weekend service” but “until the Enterprise Agreement issues are resolved, we can only expect there to be incremental progress”.
“Weekend driver shortages will remain an issue until long-running problems like the lack of penalty rates are fixed,” Ms Le Couteur said. “This requires all parties, including the TWU (Transport Workers’ Union), to come to the table on this all too important issue for Canberra public transport users.”
Liberal Transport spokesperson Candice Burch welcomed the ACT Government’s response but was also critical of the Action Plan, suggesting it is “deliberately vague on how many actions will be achieved”.
“It is unclear how longer shifts and more standby drivers will encourage drivers to volunteer for weekend rosters,” Ms Burch said. “The Minister has not outlined any real action towards either offering driver incentives or making weekend work compulsory.
“Any real progress towards increasing weekend services looks to be over 12 months away.”
Minister Steel said a key short-term action will be introducing an interim weekend timetable on 28 September while bus driver recruitment efforts are improved.
Other measures include: increased use of stand-by drivers on weekends to cover unexpected absences or incidents such as breakdowns; improving rostering of bus drivers such as providing longer shifts which are more attractive for bus drivers to work on weekends; providing better real-time information to customers about weekend bus services; and continuing work to finalise a workforce development plan to better manage staffing availability, training and workforce planning.
“I am confident these range of short-term, medium-term and longer-term actions will deliver an improved weekend bus service while also providing a range of improvements which will benefit future weekday bus services as well,” Minister Steel said.
The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) supports the ACT Government’s efforts to improve bus service reliability but Interim Chair Ryan Hemsley said they are “concerned that the short-term reliability improvements are reliant on reduced frequency on some local bus services”.
Mr Hemsley said PTCBR encourages “Mr Steel to re-double efforts to restore full services as soon as possible” while the association will also be “closely monitoring the reliability of services in the coming months”.