A Canberra Liberal election pledge to add more — and faster — bus routes across the city has been overshadowed by a suggestion the party may abandon plans to extend the light-rail network to Woden and instead extend it to Belconnen.
- The Liberals have pledged to buy an extra 19 buses, restore scrapped school services and add more express routes
- Labor has dismissed the policy as “embarrassing”, saying it would require at least five times as many new buses
- Liberal transport spokeswoman Candice Burch has suggested it may be better to build light rail to Belconnen before Woden
The Liberals capped off a series of transport announcements this week by vowing, if elected, to fix Labor’s “bungled” bus network under a four-year plan to buy new buses and add express services between the city’s town centres.
The party’s transport spokeswoman, Candice Burch, said the Liberals would also restore the dedicated school services scrapped by Labor.
“We are adding seven express commuter services that will run like the old ‘Xpresso’ services in the AM and PM peaks to get people to and from work as quickly and efficiently as possible,” she said.
“We will deliver direct town centre-to-town centre services to halve travel times.”
The plan involves buying 19 buses and employing another 19 drivers from next year.
The city’s bus network has long been a sore point for the Government, which was forced to overhaul the schedule in response to anger over timetable changes last year.
“Over the past 18 months, the Labor-Greens Government has completely bungled Canberra’s transport network,” Ms Burch said.
“We have seen people’s daily commutes thrown into chaos.
“They cut Xpresso services, they cut dedicated school bus services and they cut hundreds of bus stops across our city.”
Labor dismisses plan as ’embarrassing policy failure’
However, Labor said the plan was impossible to implement because it would need dozens more buses than budgeted for.
“This is another embarrassing policy failure by the Canberra Liberals that again demonstrates their inexperience,” Transport Minister Chris Steel said.
“The commitment cannot be delivered with just 19 new buses.
“At least 100 new buses would be required to deliver school services and Xpresso routes — unless their plan is to cut services elsewhere.
“More than 19 drivers are required if you want the 19 buses to be operational.”
Previously, Labor has justified cutting dedicated school buses by saying most students catch regular services.
It says reinstating dedicated buses would undermine other peak-period services.
Build light rail to Belconnen before Woden?
Instead of focusing on its bus plan today, the Liberals were forced to bat away questions about the party’s position on light rail.
Ms Burch told an election transport forum the Liberals were “absolutely” committed to expanding light rail, but said it was worth investigating whether stage 2 of the light-rail network should extend to Belconnen instead of Woden.
“We do want to conduct independent analysis to decide what the next best route is going to be,” Ms Burch said.
“Anecdotally, a lot of people say to us: ‘What about Belconnen through the city and out to the airport? That seems to make the most sense as the next route.’
“We still haven’t heard from the Government as to why that’s not the case.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the cost of the project was already laid out for the Opposition and extending the network to Belconnen would undo years of planning work.
“What they would be doing if they did that would be throwing away a lot of work that has been funded and delivered, and they would have to start again,” Mr Barr said.
“If they do that now, they’re saying no further expansion of light rail for about eight years, so we wouldn’t see it until the end of the decade.”
The current expansion plan would extend the line to Woden by the middle of this decade, and investigate linking to Belconnen and Canberra Airport later.
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