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December 11, 2020

It is ‘not feasible’ for the City of Adelaide to provide free public transport to the CBD

Adelaide city councillor Robert Simms asked the council administration in September to explore free bus, train and tram options into the city after the council supported driver’s month. Their report found the initiative would be too costly to be feasible.

  • Words: Angela Skujins

Following a request from councillor Robert Simms, the City of Adelaide’s administration recently looked into how the council might offer free public transport into the CBD, in order to boost visitor numbers and spend in city businesses.

In a report published Friday, 4 December, the administration says a number free public transport options were considered, including providing free rides on Adelaide Metro services within the city, the reimbursement of fares, linking free public transport tickets to events, and assisting international students.

But “due to the cost and complexity” of implementing any of the options and difficulty tracking their “success, uptake, or misuse”, the report states “none of the assessed options are considered to be feasible.”

“All investigated options would be ratepayer funded but would be targeted at and benefit non-ratepayers,” the report says.

The administration estimated providing free public transport would cost city ratepayers $2-3 million weekly, for roughly 550,000 weekly commuters. This is due to Adelaide’s metropolitan public transport network being managed by State Government and not local council.

It was also suggested the initiative would subsidise those already travelling to the city, rather than generating new visitors.

South Australia’s transport system only asks commuters to tap on at the start of the journey and not when they arrive at their destination, and so it would also be difficult to trace the effectiveness of the program.

“Measurable outcomes are important to demonstrate that the promotion is a responsible use of Council funds,” the report says.

The report comes in the wake of the council’s November travel initiative, Driver’s Month (aka Park and Play), which aimed to bring more people into the city via cars.

The councillor responsible for that idea, Jessy Khera, tells CityMag it was a success.

“The numbers prove that struggling employers received a retail boost from this initiative and we intend to do [Driver’s Month] again next year,” he says.

Despite Jesse’s glowing appraisal, the City of Adelaide’s associate director of customer and people, Vanessa Godden, says the council doesn’t yet have the retail data to support whether encouraging parking in the city boosted the city’s economy.

“Metrics to gauge economic activity and expenditure in businesses during November won’t be available for some time,” she says.

The City of Adelaide’s parking app, Park Adelaide, though, was a clear winner. Vanessa says daily usage of the council’s app increased by 40 per cent.

People paying for parking via the app were offered a 25 per cent discount throughout November.

It is not clear whether this discount, or the other Driver’s Month initiatives, drew new visitors into the city or simply subsidised those already travelling into the CBD.

The council derives 45 per cent of its income from commercial revenue streams, such as parking.

Robert Simms’ recent request is not the first time the City of Adelaide has considered providing free public transport.

In June, after the pandemic had taken a large chunk out of the city’s visitation numbers, Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor wrote to then Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Stephan Knoll, asking the State Government to consider allowing all Adelaide Metro services to operate free of charge.

This was prompted by a free public transport motion from councillor Franz Knoll, which had the same aim as Robert Simms’ – to attract people to the city.

Encouraging greater use of public transport would “help to reduce congestion in the city,” the Lord Mayor wrote.

The request was denied.

“(The department) is unable to provide free services within the CBD,” a letter signed by Stephan Knoll, dated 6 July 2020, says.

“The cost required to install a new ticketing system across the entire Adelaide Metro fleet cannot be justified given the existing available free public transport services are adequate for the current level of demand.”

Robert Simms tells CityMag he only intended for his motion to instigate the research of free public transport options, but he understands a weekly $2 million bill to ratepayers is not feasible.

“Obviously I’m disappointed that they’re recommending that no action be taken on it,” he says.

“But ultimately, it’s a question of priorities for the council. And the council has decided to invest money in ridiculous concepts like Driver’s Month and the review into the Hutt St Centre.”

The City of Adelaide spent more than $41,000 in a controversial legal review of whether city homelessness service the Hutt St Centre was complying with land use regulations, as reported by InDaily last month. The review found no wrongdoing.

One day after that news dropped, it was revealed the City of Adelaide spent $174,000 on a pigeon sculpture, called Pigeon, which now stands sentinel in Rundle Mall, aiming to attract visitors to the shopping strip.

Robert Simms says some of the ideas in the report, such as providing up to 1,000 international students 28-day concession passes for semi-subsidised public transport, would be something he’d look into and possibly present to council in the New Year.

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