With the ACT Government today flagging major disruptions for city commuters including Commonwealth Avenue lane closures and diversions in place for several years and reports traffic capacity will drop by almost 80%, the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has renewed calls for the ACT Government to consider making public transport free in Canberra.
According to ACTCOSS A/g CEO Craig Wallace: “ACTCOSS has for some time been advocating that government should undertake a triple bottom line business case for making public transport free in Canberra. The disruptions from COVID-19 and now stage 2 of light rail mean that the balance is tipping and it’s now time to take a serious look at this.
“Free public transport could take cars off the roads in peak times, reduce our carbon footprint, encourage social participation, volunteering and employment by people on low incomes and alleviate some of the transport challenges set to face our city over the next couple of years. It could provide a win-win to people on low incomes, services and businesses in the city facing disruption.
“People with transport disadvantage have the greatest need to travel and face the greatest isolation when they can’t, but they have the least flexibility about where and how they move across the city. Travel is an essential cost of living and falls hardest on those with the least ability to pay. In a smart and compact city, travel costs should not stop people doing the things they have to do or the things they want to do. Transport is also a social determinant of health.
“In 2019, the ACT Government announced that transport would be fare-free on the weekend that light rail opened with good take up by Canberrans. As part of events like Seniors Week, the ACT already makes transport free to some groups experiencing transport disadvantage.
“Fare-free transport has been trialled several cities across Europe (Luxembourg and Estonia) while other states in Australia have also had fare-free weeks.
“A cost benefit analysis might weigh revenue received; the costs of collecting fares; the costs of administering concessions; the potential for accelerated climate abatement from more use of public transport and mode shifting; the potential gains to revenue and savings from unlocking social and economic participation by people on low incomes; and the potential for gains, including reductions to congestion at peak periods, if economic considerations were removed from people’s travel planning considerations.
“Free transport would have some highly liberating personal benefits, like the ability for people to meet Centrelink requirements without facing exorbitant costs or not having to factor in transport costs when seeking minor medical attention or leaving a domestic or family violence situation at short notice.
“In addition to making buses and trams free, the ACT Government should address costs experienced by people with disability, invest in community transport at sustainable levels with long-term commitments so that providers can renew vehicle stock and plan across several years. We should progress the community needs analysis for community transport.
“We should also improve transport for people with disability including lifting the cap on the ACT Taxi Subsidy Scheme for people with disabilities, as well as delivering full compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act Transport Standards across the bus network.
“ACTCOSS proposed these ideas in our submission to Moving Canberra and prior to the last election. The Disruption Taskforce now announced by the ACT Government must consider the needs of vulnerable Canberrans and we will also be urging them to revisit the idea of free public transport,” Mr Wallace concluded.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.