Started by Bus 400, January 11, 2008, 10:13:43 PM
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Quote from: The Canberra TimesDon't lay all blame on ACTION BLAMING ACTION for its inability to turn a profit in the Canberra public-transport market is a bit like blaming a Saharan businessman for failing to export block ice to Antarctica.While there is no denying that ACTION should be able to exercise a high degree of financial discipline and ensure that the service it delivers is the best and most efficient one possible for the dollars spent, it is also true that the task it faces will remain an overwhelming one, for as long as its work is subverted by the policies of successive governments.No ACT government has yet shown the degree of commitment to public transport which is essential if this city is to have a bus service capable of meeting its cost-recovery targets. Plenty of lip service has been paid to the notion of public transport, but when it comes to making the kind of tough planning and infrastructure decisions which would actually ensure that buses became the vehicle of choice for a significant number of commuters, governments have failed dismally.Canberra, built in the era of the private motor vehicle, has been planned around the car. Prime real estate is tied up in multi-lane roadways and multi-storey car parks. Parking charges in Civic and Woden are not nearly high enough to act as a disincentive to private car use. In Belconnen and Tuggeranong there are no charges at all.The recent draft pricing direction issued this week by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Commission was critical of ACTION on several fronts. The commission was concerned that there was no model showing route profitability, to help with planning, and little or no discipline exercised by the organisation to ensure it lived within its means.It may be that these criticisms are valid and that ACTION can do better. It nevertheless remains an inescapable fact that a Canberra bus service is never going to achieve the efficiencies of which it might be capable if it did not have to compete with the car for commuters' affections. In car-friendly Canberra, the family sedan will win every time.The ACT Government knows this. It also knows the potential political cost of failing to indulge Canberra's love affair with the car. That is why, by and large, ACT governments have been prepared to tolerate paying a premium for a bus service which is used by only a fraction of the population.A Bureau of Statistics survey last March showed just 8 per cent of Canberrans used the bus to get to work or study. At the time, the ACT Government tried to pretend that was a good result, pointing out that no other jurisdiction had a higher percentage of the population commuting by bus. Perhaps not, but can the ACT really be compared with the whole of NSW, where vast regions have no bus services at all, or to Sydney, where the number of commuters who travel by bus is dwarfed by the number who travel by train?The Pricing and Regulatory Commission believes that discount fares for monthly pass-holders, for example are too generous. It evidently regards such bus users as a captive market which, through choice or necessity, will continue to travel by bus, even if it is slugged a little extra. Perhaps the commission is right, but ACTION would have to think carefully before it reduced the slight incentive it is capable of offering to regular bus users. Without those travellers, ACTION's predicament would be even more dire.