The state government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), through its transport strategy, plans to transform Canberra into a compact and vibrant urban area. This strategy provides a direction for the city’s transport policy and investment plans till 2040. The focus is on promoting walking, cycling, and zero-emission transport. This is in line with the state government’s plans of halving greenhouse gas emissions (below 1990 levels) by 2025 and establishes a pathway for achieving net zero emissions by 2045.

Box 1 provides a snapshot of the city.

Box 1: CanberraCanberra, the eight largest city in the country, is a hub for healthcare, public administration, education, and tourism. The city accounts for 2.2 per cent of Australia’s GDP. Between 1999 and 2019, Canberra’s GDP growth rate has consistently exceeded that of the country. Between 2017 and 2058, the population of the city is expected to increase at a CAGR of 1.7 per cent. The public transport system in the city comprises 450 buses and a 12-km-long light rail network. Public transport accounts for around 6 per cent of all trips. Figure 1 provides information about the modal share of transport in Canberra. 
Figure 1: Modal share of transport
Source: Compiled by Global Mass Transit Research

Vision and outcomes of the plan

The ACT Transport Strategy 2020 aims at providing flexible, reliable, and sustainable transport options to the residents of Canberra by expanding the public transport network, developing a quality environment for walking and cycling, and establishing a road network for the safe and seamless movement of goods and people. The outcomes of the plan have been summarised in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Outcomes of the plan
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

At a strategic level, the following four avenues are planned to be employed to support the expansion of the transport network:

  • A future-focused investment framework supports the achievement of long-term sustainable benefits of transport. This involves the continued rebalancing of investment to provide efficient and reliable public transport as well as cycling and walking facilities, and continued investments to enhance the safety and maintenance of the road network.
  • Refocused network planning and design is aimed at developing a single transport network that will encourage users to make suitable choices based on destination, purpose, and time of day.
  • Optimising infrastructure via technology to efficiently manage the network and to expand capacity to accommodate future demand and emerging needs.
  • A recovery plan to encourage people to use public transport in the post-pandemic period.   

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic had led to a significant drop in the overall demand for travel in Canberra. Traffic volume on the city’s arterial roads declined by around 40 per cent between March and May 2020. However, in this period, cycling trips increased in the city. As per data released by Google, between March and June 2020, cycling trips in residential areas increased by 10 per cent and trips within parks increased by 50 per cent.

In the case of public transport, ridership in 2020 declined by 35 per cent compared to 2019. The maximum decline was witnessed in the second quarter (April–June), with overall ridership falling by 70 per cent. Ridership has shown signs of recovery in the subsequent quarters. Figure 3 provides information about the changes in ridership.

Figure 3: Public transport ridership in 2019 and 2020 (million passengers)
Source: Transport Canberra and City Services

Moving towards the future

In order to achieve the strategic vision, the development of guiding frameworks, including the Movement and Place framework, the Safe Systems Assessment framework, and the Strategic Investment framework, is key. Figure 4 provides a snapshot of the complementary plans and initiatives.

Figure 4: Complementary plans and initiatives
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

Safe systems framework: The Safe Systems approach recognises that safe speeds, safe roads, safe vehicles, and safe behaviours collectively create a safe system for road travel. The Government of ACT will implement road projects through the Safe Systems Assessment framework, which will measure how well the design minimises the risk of severe injury. This framework is summarised in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Safe systems framework
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

Movement and Place framework: The Movement and Place concept balances the dual functions of streets, which are moving people and goods and enhancing the places they connect and pass through. It supports the 30-minute city concept, thus helping create liveable places for mixed communities with amenities located close by. Under this concept, the streets of Canberra will be structured around a hierarchy of local, central, orbital, and regional links, providing a foundation for the expansion of the city’s transport system. This is expected to help reduce congestion, cut carbon emissions, and improve the quality of life.

Table 1 summaries the network structure.

Table 1: Network structure of the future

Modes coveredDetails
Local linksWalking, cyclingIntegral for the development of accessible spaces for social interaction; city centre, town, group, and local centres and neighbourhoods will feature high-quality walking environments to support liveability and social connection
Central linksWalking, cycling, public transportFocus on efficient movement between centres and urban intensification areas; support the development of new areas by enhancing connectivity to areas where more activity is expected in future
Orbital linksPrivate vehicles, freightSupport trips around and across the city
Regional linksRail, road freight, airwaysFocus on enhancing regional connectivity
Table 1: Network structure of the future

Figure 6 provides a brief snapshot of the future transport network based on this concept.

Figure 6: Conceptual transport network 2045
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

Investment framework: The investment framework supports the realisation of long-term sustainable benefits. Under this, the government is considering introducing a strategic merit test alongside the traditional method of economic appraisal to ensure that investment is integrated with planning and transport strategic directions. Figure 7 summarises the key pillars of the investment framework.

Figure 7: Pillars of investment framework
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

Expected investments

Between FY2007–08 and FY2019–20, the investments in public transport and in walking and cycling infrastructure have increased substantially and the government is expected to continue this trend.  The investments are in line with the region’s plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2045. Figure 8 summarises the key trends in investments.

Figure 8: Trends in investments
Source: ACT Transport Strategy 2020

In addition, the regional government has announced plans to invest over AUD2.50 billion in bus and rail projects. Some of these projects are also expected to be financed by the Government of Australia. Table 2 provides information about planned investments for expanding the light rail network.

Project2019–23Long termDescription
Stage 2: City to Woden – Construction>500>500Delivering light rail from the city to Woden
Stage 3 – Construction>500Delivering light rail from Belconnen to the city and Canberra Airport
Stage 4 – Construction >500Delivering light rail from Woden to Tuggeranong
Table 2: Investments in light rail expansion (AUD million)
Source: ACT Infrastructure Plan

Table 3 provides information about planned investments for expanding the bus fleet and allied infrastructure.

Project2019–23Long termDescription
Wayfinding<50Roll out of real-time passenger information and adoption of consistent signage
Bus infrastructure 
Zero-emission bus depots 150–-300Development of new depots in Tuggeranong, Mitchell, and West Belconnen to support deployment of zero-emission buses
Woden Bus Interchange<50Development of integration facilities at the upgraded Woden bus interchange with light rail
Woden Bus Depot completion<50Expansion of bus depot
Park and ride, including public safety (CCTVs)<50<50Upgrading of security at park-and-ride facilities
Bus layovers and driver facilities<50Delivery of new facilities at select locations to improve network efficiency
Table 3: Investments in buses and allied infrastructure
Source: ACT Infrastructure Plan

Other key initiatives

 Deployment of zero-emission buses: The state government has announced plans to replace all diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses with zero-emission buses by 2040 and to procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 onwards. The preferred transition pathway has been summarised in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Preferred transition pathway
Source: Transport Canberra and City Services

Expanding cross-border transport network: The state government has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government of New South Wales (NSW) to identify options to integrate the transport networks of both the states. Key initiatives include developing regional transport nodes for interstate transport services. In addition, the state governments are collaborating to develop a high-speed rail (HSR) network connecting Canberra with Sydney.

Looking ahead

The transport strategy is expected to serve as a guide for the development of Canberra as a compact, sustainable, and vibrant city. A growing population, changing lifestyles, and the increasing demand for travel services mean that the future public transport system will have to respond flexibly and innovatively to meet these evolving needs. The state government also plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2045, and clean public transport will play an instrumental role in achieving this target.

(1 AUD [Australian Dollar] = 0.76 USD)