Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 11 Hansard (Thursday, 11 November 2021) . . Page.. 3372 ..
Those are the measures that have supported Canberrans who have needed to use public transport to get safely around Canberra without taking unnecessary risk. We have been doing all of that while holding fares constant. We recognised that many Canberrans were doing it tough financially and froze the annual indexation of public transport ticket fees for a second year in a row.
Now we are operating an interim timetable, together with the school bus services now that schools are back. That recognises the fact that we are still in a period of risk. With the changes that have been made to health settings, we need to closely monitor those and monitor their impact on the availability of drivers, which may affect the reliability of services. It gives us some flexibility to respond to that.
Ms Castley’s motion fails to take into account our existing arrangements for fares. We already provide significantly discounted travel during off-peak times and on weekends. We go even further for concession holders, for whom off-peak travel is completely free.
Earlier this year, I released the ACT Transport Recovery Plan, which outlines the government’s plan to return public transport patronage back to pre-pandemic levels and then keep on growing it in the future. The plan highlighted that protecting the health and wellbeing of passengers must always come first. It is readily available online, and I encourage those opposite to have a read to understand what a responsible return to public transport looks like.
Central to the plan is that we will be guided by expert health advice in deciding when and under what circumstances it is safe to encourage people back onto public transport. The advice of the Chief Health Officer has been paramount in managing the continued operation of Canberra’s public transport system during the pandemic. This will continue through the recovery period to ensure that passengers and Transport Canberra workers feel and are safe.
Ms Castley’s motion is ill informed, and it takes no account of where we currently are in the ACT’s pathway forward. We all want to help Canberra businesses—including those who make up our night-time economy—build back strongly after COVID, but the ideas that she has put forward will not achieve that. Instead, they make it less convenient for people to visit local businesses in key night-time precincts like the CBD, Kingston and Braddon, and make it harder for people to participate in our local arts scene, which is getting back on its feet. Worse, if free public transport saw a sudden surge of patrons back onto our buses and light rail during specific times of the day and the week, that could undo the gains that the community has worked so hard for, to get to a point where we can go out and enjoy the night and the rest of our lives.
I look forward to continuing to work with all my colleagues across the government in finding ways to support Canberra businesses to bounce back strongly through a bright Christmas season and into the new year.
MR CAIN (Ginninderra) (4.02): Deputy Speaker, I would like to support Ms Castley’s very worthy motion and also speak against Mr Steel’s wishy-washy