View: Centenary Loop Bus

13 Jan

2014 brings a few changes to the blog. First is my new “Coming up in 2014” series, which has so far proven more popular than I expected! Second is a new section on ‘Views’. This is primarily a review blog, but I’ve also got some views about Canberra that don’t fit within my 140 character limit on Twitter! Herewith is my first ‘view’ – on the Centenary Loop Bus.

I know, I know; it’s 2014 and I’m still banging on about Canberra’s Centenary. That was so 2013 (and I certainly spent quite a bit of time talking about it, then, too!). But, this deserves a mention, and its own post.

RIP Free Centenary Loop Bus.

You might not have heard of the Centenary Loop Bus. It was announced in September 2012, and arrived with quite a bit of fanfare 11 months ago. And, yes, the Government was upfront from the beginning: the Centenary Loop was funded until 31 December, 2013, at a cost of $750,000. But in the election announcement, the Chief Minister also said that if it proved popular with public sector employees, there was every possibility the loop could be made permanent.

The 100 route provided a hop-on, hop-off service around the Parliamentary Triangle, departing from Platform 10 at the Bus Interchange in Civic, and stopping at the War Memorial, the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, Questacon, the National Library, the Museum of Australian Democracy (OPH), the National Archives, Parliament House, the National Film and Sound Archive, and back to Civic. It left every half an hour between 9am and 4.30pm, and was fully wheelchair accessible. The buses were also painted in a bright yellow Centenary design.

Free loop buses aren’t new. The service in Brisbane is very popular, and there are others, like in Adelaide. With a CBD on one side of the lake, and popular national institutions on the other side of the lake (some which are quite a distance apart), a loop seemed like a fine idea. (And look, if Brisbane and Adelaide can have one, shouldn’t the nation’s capital?)

Over the months, the Chief Minister or Minister Rattenbury would occasionally make an announcement regarding its patronage. In its first 100 days, it had almost 38,000 passengers, with a peak of more than 700 on 16 March (the Saturday after Canberra Day). These patronage announcements dwindled after mid-year.

Then, instead of granting it permanent residence past 2013, it got just a handful more days, taking it to Sunday, 5 January 2014. I assume it did not prove popular with workers in the Parliamentary Triangle.

The Centenary Loop bus was a great idea. The thing is, it’s still a great idea – regardless of how popular it was with Parliamentary Triangle workers.

Let’s first look at why we got a Centenary Loop bus in the first place:

“A convenient way to see the capital’s icons and city.”   That hasn’t changed. A bus which you can take for free and get off and on at national attractions is convenient no matter who you are or what your purpose is for using the bus. If you’ve ever tried to show visitors around without a car (before the Centenary Loop bus), you know what I mean. It’s a long way between some of the national institutions, and, from some points, difficult to work out exactly what you’re heading towards. The first time I tried visiting Parliament House, having arrived to live in Canberra the day before and car-less, I walked from Barton around most of State Circle trying to work out just where the APH entrance was (sadly I am not making this up). That was enough for me. I didn’t want to risk the rest of the day in January heat getting lost on my way to another national institution, so I retired to my motel.

By simply knowing where it’s taking you, and having the ability to pop you back where you started, the Centenary Loop bus removes room for human error!

“Take pressure off tourist parking in the Parliamentary Triangle.” / “Relieve parking pressure.” Another great aim which hasn’t changed. Sure, we expected tourists to increase during the Centenary year. But that’s terribly short-sighted. We should hope – and plan – for the increase of tourists every single year. If tourist parking is already an issue, we need to work to take the pressure off. If it’s increasingly going to be, the necessity to take the pressure off is even stronger. So, the need to take pressure off tourist parking is a long term issue – if that’s the case, shouldn’t the Centenary Loop bus be part of a multi-pronged solution? 

It’s clear the Government parking (which can overlap with tourist parking) also remains a pressure point in the Parliamentary Triangle, and will continue to be as carpark land is developed, and pay parking is introduced. Maybe the assessment of how popular the bus proved with Parliamentary Triangle workers over just 11 months and in the 2013 year was premature; and a different attitude from workers might be seen once pay parking becomes ubiquitous later this year.

“Enable Government employees to head into the city for lunch or to run errands.”  I’m a big fan of this idea in-principle, but if you’re an employee, say, at the National Library, there are a lot of stops before you get into the city (made up, of course, on the quicker return journey). Under the most recent schedule before the service became defunct, if I left from the National Library at 12.16pm for a lunch date with a friend, I’d arrive in Civic at 12.40pm. I’d have to leave Civic by 1pm to get back to work within the hour.  Free bus or paid bus, the issue remains that there’s quite a distance to travel from the Government offices in the Parliamentary Triangle to Civic, and those distances and the corresponding time taken don’t easily fall within your average public servant lunch hour. This was a great option for workers, but shouldn’t be used as a yardstick.

“Making it easier for Canberrans and visitors to celebrate our city’s history and heritage as one of the best planned cities in the world.”  This is obviously aided by bus transport. It’s a little bit harder to appreciate how well planned the city is if you’re a tourist trying to work out where to park for Questacon, and if you thenneed to be moving your car to get to the National Gallery or if you should walk there – even though you can’t see how far away the NGA is.

But the phrase that really stands out to me is “celebrate our city”. The free Centenary Loop did a great job of promoting the Centenary last year. Nothing says, “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!” like a bright bus with a big “CENTENARY” splashed on its rump. It’s not the Centenary anymore, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be celebrating it, and remembering it, and using it as a talking point, and what better way to do it than on a bus which can be used freely by residents and tourists alike? Keeping its name would be a plus: “Hey, we had a Centenary recently, and one of our ways of celebrating it was with this loop, and it’s our Centenary present to you – so it’s called the Centenary Loop.” (Need I remind anyone that we didn’t get a 100th birthday present from the UK. [We got the Carillon for our 50th.])

My view? A longer-term view on the Centenary Loop bus and its benefits was missing. But, maybe it leaves us open to the possibility of offering tourists free transport on any bus in Canberra instead (a la Geneva)? I’d love to see this policy revisited.



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