Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (3 September) . . Page.. 1879 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
We have had it there and we are losing it. We have basically got rid of all the staff. There is nobody left in the maintenance depot at Belconnen. It is an almost empty warehouse. It is quite frightening to visit the Belconnen ACTION depot and to see what has happened to that depot over the last few years. There is nobody left. It is just empty.
Underlying this is a lack of a commitment to public transport and to those people that rely so heavily on public transport; the need for us, as a city, to get off the roads and to stop building more expensive road infrastructure. We need a much more cohesive and coordinated response to the problems that we face as a city. This city cannot continue to maintain the roads we have. They are such an appalling drain on our purse. If we do not look to public transport and if we do not inject some vision into the debate, I fear for us in the future.
MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (12.05): Mr Speaker, I take on board the points that all have made here today. I have to say, yet again, that I do not think the whole public transport debate is being taken in totality. The only area of contention for adults in the three-zone route would appear to be Palmerston, which would indicate that in the work done by Guy Thurston and his staff it probably means we have got it 99 per cent right.
Mr Corbell raised questions of equity. The distance from, say, Gungahlin Town Centre to Civic is the same as, perhaps, Pearce to Civic, yet I cannot remember a time when the people of Pearce have not paid two fares to travel to Civic. His option was that everybody in Gungahlin would pay one fare, and he clearly acknowledged that currently three-quarters of the suburb of Gungahlin pay two fares. It would be nice if everything was cheap and it would be nice, perhaps, if everything was free.
But it is the ability to pay that those opposite would choose to ignore in addressing the all-up operating debt that this city has. That is not a nice subject to come back to and we are often beaten up for simply saying we get back to the economics every time. But what we ask of ACTION is that ACTION at least perform as well as some of its peers. We are not asking ACTION to be the best bus company in Australia. Why it cannot be, I am not sure. But what we are asking is that ACTION be at least up there in the playing field.
You have to say that over recent years the staff, the union, I think the management, and the former Minister have all done well to bring ACTION to where it is now, but we have one last hurdle to cross. It is important that we put it into perspective. Around the country most bus services operate at a break-even level. You would certainly expect that the private bus systems would be making some profit, otherwise they would not be doing it. Around the country most bus services pick up about 44 to 54 per cent of what they need to operate through their fare box. We do not. We pick up half of that amount. There is something fundamentally wrong in that we pick up so much for all of us to contribute back to the service.
For many years, before I started this political life, I lived in Tuggeranong. I used to catch the 126 to Woden and the 333 to the National Library. I am very aware of how our public transport system is and where it fits, because for years I was able to sit on the bus, morning and afternoon, and observe those that use and rely on the bus service.