Costigan / Hitting the road to save bus seven, again!

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Digital mischief by Paul Costigan

CANBERRA is an age-friendly city. It says so on some number plates. But is it?

Paul Costigan.

The ACT government has announced changes to the bus timetables under the guise of making the buses more efficient. The ministerial media statements tell us that the changes will introduce rapid buses to allow more people to get to and from work faster. It will be good if more people access public transport – so we wait to see what happens in 2019.

Looking at the new routes it is obvious who will be disadvantaged the most. And gauging by the protests, older people living in suburbs within Gungahlin, Narrabundah and in Braddon have definitely drawn the short straw.

The Braddon predicament is a case study. The present bus number seven weaves its way through Braddon and allows transport access to aged people living in units and other special residential complexes. They use it to travel in both directions, to Civic and right through to Belconnen to a range of specialist facilities, including doctors and places for exercise and therapy.

The new proposed bus will avoid the Braddon suburban streets and instead will head along Limestone to Dickson – thus delivering a faster route. At Dickson the passengers will need to change at the new interchange – they could even change to the tram (to go where?).

So these older people who had moved into Braddon over decades with access to a bus almost to their doors, will need to walk up to 800 metres or more to a bus stop. Note the extra walking distance and we are talking about older people. But the bus will be faster – because they have eliminated those pesky Braddon bus stops. Similar stories have surfaced in suburban areas across Canberra.

This is apparently not the first time governments have tried to disrupt bus number seven despite it being a very valuable service. I suspect that the transport bureaucrats gathered their raw data and fed it through their special transport algorithm that spat out the more efficient bus routes. If all you are looking for is faster bus routes – wonderful!

The problem is that we are humans. Such algorithms do not allow for the social needs of sections of the population – in this case the ever-growing aged sector who have been encouraged to downsize into units and apartments along bus routes – such as route number seven.

One ministerial defence has been that there were pop-up booths and notices. Sadly, someone forgot to use the electronic boards on the buses. Not many saw these efforts and now also realise that the notices were simply about telling them of decisions made. Then there is the government’s use of its infamous surveys to justify such decisions.

Too many times this government has rolled out questionable survey results that do not match the reality of people’s needs. In this case, apparently respondents queued up to say that they would walk further for rapid public transport.

One wonders. Studies show that people are willing to walk up to 400m for a bus – maybe a little more. If the distance is over 400 metres the chances reduce for them choosing bus travel. The confusion is that internationally people indicate that they would walk up to one kilometre for rapid transit – but that is about catching trains for longer distances. Any use of a figure above 400 metres in relation to any bus travel remains very suspect.

It has come as a surprise to inner-north bus commuters that the presence of the tram up and down Northbourne has meant a cut to services through their suburbs and beyond. The reality is that for most, especially aged residents of Braddon, it is too far from their front door to be even a consideration.

The government has mishandled social housing and is about to sideline aged people for efficiencies. So much for this government being age-friendly.

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