The COVID 19 pandemic proved that the status quo of working onsite was not necessary for everyone, and as a result public transport commuter numbers took a dive. In the ACT the numbers dipped, but they didn't die, demonstrating that public transport is still valid in modern Australia and necessary for the Australian public.
Are commuters predominantly essential workers? Are Canberrans predominantly public transport commuters? Are people utilising private transport more? We don't know the exact reasons, but based off the data we know that people still need and continue to commute.
So now that the world has changed with how and where we work, are the previous public transport planning mechanisms for bus routes and resourcing still valid? How do planners get relevant and valuable data when they are still dictated by routes and user demands that have changed?
roBUSt is an app designed by Team DTC4LIFE as an effort to inject new sources of data for future planning to ensure Australia public transport needs are relevant and valid in the new post-COVID world order. We wanted to throw away the shackles of how things were done in the past and find new ways of doing things to simultaneously improve the experience of commuters.
Why do we rush to get to the bus stop when it's going to be late?
What was the point of waiting for an hour for the bus when it's full already?
How many times have you forgotten your MyWay card to tap on and tap off the bus?
Is there a better way to do your COVID check-in requirements onboard?
Why is the bus dirty and does anyone know about it?
Who is trying to make it harder for me to want to go to work?
We utilised data sourced from data.act.gov.au from the dataset "Daily Public Transport Passenger Journeys by Service Type". This dataset indicated that the primary form of public transport utilised by ACT residents is Rapid Route, which, according to ACT Transport, are frequent direct bus and light rail routes that run between town centres and other key destinations. Rapid Routes run at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm on weekdays, and frequently at other times. Rapid Routes are predominantly bus services due to Light Rail servicing a smaller subset of the ACT compared to buses. The second most common commuter means was Local Route, followed by Light Rail.
Comparing the previous database with dataset "Statistics and Research data Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)" we were able to identify that ACT bus commuter numbers have been significantly reduced by the COVID 19 pandemic, particularly after lockdown events and instances of increased COVID case numbers in Australia. This was reflected in the number of Rapid Route commuters going from a peak of 599,212 in the month of Feb 2020, to a trough of 85,182 in April 2020. This sudden downturn was reflected with all other public transport methods. The dataset also demonstrated that bus use gradually increased after ACT lockdown events in early 2020: however, it has since not returned to its original pre-COVID numbers from February 2020. Reduced commuter numbers can be contributed to changing work conditions focusing on remote work, as well as a number of other factors such as lockdowns and restricted movement controls.
Bus commuter numbers in the COVID era, although not as high previously, do indicate that bus use is still relevant and needed by Canberrans, evident from COVID era Rapid Route commuters totalling 432,825 in March 2021. This could be due to the geographically dispersed nature of low-density housing in the ACT, where there is still no access to heavier transport infrastructure like light rail.
The roBUSt app provides a new opportunity to increase the amount and level of detail available to users of public transport data. From the increased understanding of commuter usage and demand, State and Territory governments will have more data to guide informed town planning, bus route planning and resourcing, and ensure public transport is effectively and efficiently resourced for years to come. The initial roBUSt release would be intended for the Australian Capital Territory, however, it could coincide in Melbourne and leverage VicRoads Road Asset Inventory's extensive network of Bluetooth sites within Greater Melbourne to boost the accuracy of tracking bus locations in a bandwidth congested city.