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Routes R9, 40, 41 R2 & R8

Date: 13 June 2023

Route: R 9 Watson Terminus to Belconnen, 40 Fraser West Loop, 41 Belconnen to

Fraser West, R2 & R8

Sights: High rise in Belconnen, NSW hills

Weather: 4-14 misty and overcast, wet clearing to sunny

Time taken: 6.5 hours round trip

When I set out on bus trips I usually start with my map. This map used to be produced by Transport Canberra and distributed from the TC office in Civic. I have one of the last to be printed. The change of network in January 2023 has not seen a new map. I have heard on the grapevine that this is because there is another change of network coming at the beginning of Term 3, mid July. (Transport Canberra also run the school buses so changes coincide with school terms). However, the map I have has not let me down, until now.

I counted up the number of bus trips I have done so far this year and if I am going to get them all done by the end of the year I am going to have to step up the pace. There are many routes that leave from Belconnen, so killing two birds with one stone, I set out, after referring to the map, from Watson Terminus on the R9 to start at Belconnen and take four routes from there.

The Watson Terminus is no where near the Watson shops but is close to huge new developments of higher density housing. The bus stop is nothing fancy: a new glass stop on the city side and an old round bus stop on the the routes going the other way. There are about 20 people waiting for this bus.

The Rapid routes are not as interesting, for me. They stick to the main roads, have fewer stops, travel fast between major centres and do not do the detours around the suburbs the same way the other routes do. No peering into gardens or houses, but I can take in the scenery. These routes are a real bonus for commuters or regular bus travellers as they go regularly and more frequently (every 15 minutes during the week) and because they do not divert from main roads the journey is quicker. The R9 works its way through Dickson, past the new Coles building, across Northbourne Ave (the main arterial route through the north) to Lyneham, Bruce to Belconnen. It takes in both CIT and UC but does not wind its way to either of the hospitals (UC Hospital or Calvary). The bus powers up the hill on Ginninderra Drive past the two, (yes two) Buddhist Temples. The gold tip of one is shining in the sunlight.

It does not take long to get to Belconnen. The ugly high rise, that no amount of fairy lights and plants on the balconies will fix, appear around one of the corners and the bus makes its way to Westfield Belconnen to disgorge its full load. I have not been on a bus this full this year; every seat had a passenger, some two and some standing.

My plan, made with reference from the map, was to take the 42 Belconnen to Fraser West, 41 from Fraser West back to Belconnen, the 40 from Belconnen back to Fraser, R2 from Fraser to Belconnen and then R8 from Belconnen to Gungahlin.

I alight the bus and look up at the interchange information board. It scrolls through its two screens and not one 42 is listed. I check Next There. Nothing. I see a 40 is on its way so decide to do a slightly different route and start with 40. It will not matter if I do the whole thing in a different order.

When the bus comes it has Fraser Loop on the front. I ask the bus driver if the bus ends up here after doing the rounds of Belconnen. It does. I tell him I am doing the whole circuit and not to worry if I do not get off. He advises me it is a long route. This is Canberra, how long could it be?

The bus rises up the hill, east towards Florey. We pass The Basement where I had seen a Ska band, Monkey Spanner, at the weekend. We make our way through Higgins and Holt, Charnwood, Macgregor to Fraser.

The Belconnen Masterplan (2016), after the many pages about what the plan is and what it is for, has on page 59, “ Belconnen town centre has good restaurants, bars and locations, yet lacks a clear destination and an inviting urban quality. The centre requires the brand recognition that other places have—such as New Acton or Braddon— if it is to compete with these locations.” Evidence from the Saturday night I spent walking from my car to the destination and then back to the car (about 20 minutes in all) suggests no one wants to be out, at night, in Belconnen. I saw about four other people walking around. The Vision Statement about Belconnen mentions the good things about the area; Lake Ginninderra, cultural centres, other amenities, and then the aspiration: a desirable place for people to live, work and enjoy. For me, there is nothing enjoyable about Belconnen Town Centre, it is ugly, feels unsafe, and lacks heart. It does have a ‘brand recognition’ it is the brand that no-one wants, just like Own Brand or Black and Gold. If Belconnen was in a supermarket it would be on the bottom shelf below all the more tempting goods at eye level. It needs work.

There are over 160,000 people who live in Belconnen; the most populated area in the ACT. I think they deserve better.

If I were paying more attention on the 40 I would notice the bus deviate from the route I have on my map. The bus does the loop of Fraser and we head back to Belconnen. One of the bus stops, the type with just a pole with “Signal Bus” emblazoned on it, has the addition of two plastic garden chairs and a large flowerpot with blooms. We pass too quickly for me to see if they are artificial but seeing as how everything else has died off, except camellias, and they are not camellias, I suspect they are plastic. This act of adding to the bus stop shows a degree of community participation and care. Anyone who stands at this stop to wait for a bus would have a pleasant seat with a great view. No-one today. We are at the peak of one of Fraser's many hills. The bus shifts into first gear to descend.

The bus heads back to Belconnen with only one other person getting on board.

Back at Belconnen I look at the bus times again. Still no 42 so adjusting my plans, again, I opt for a 41 which is the next in line. Back out through the same suburbs: Florey, Melba and Flynn towards Fraser West.

Two young men behind me are having an animated discussion about working out at the gym and showering. One of them tells his mate, and the rest of the bus, he showers every day. They move on to discuss a sleepover arrangement and how there is ‘No smoking in my house. EVER.’ I work out from the howls of laughter that follow that this is not prompted by the conversation but the video they are both watching on a phone. “I want to be like that. Fit” says one of them. From what I can see of him, as he passes down the bus to get off, he is.

I notice a house with a huge flag pole in the garden. Flagpoles in front yards are not uncommon but this pole is not just any pole but a replica of the flagpole on Parliament House. It acts as an archway into the front garden, with green lawn, on a slope, on two sides. The pathway runs up the middle. This is the second of these magnificent emulations I have spotted in the suburbs, but this is the bigger. The flag is high enough to walk under.

I hop off at the end of the route, having thanked the driver for his great driving. The bus disappears.

The bus terminuses are not the same as the interchanges: they are places where the buses end up as the last stop on the route. There are designated places for the buses to wait until it is time to go again and usually a toilet for the drivers but they are not as well laid out as the interchanges. The Fraser West Terminus has houses on the other side of the road. Maybe the Watson Terminus will have fewer buses stop at it in time, when the new developments are inhabited and those people prefer cars to buses.

There are two buses at the terminus, neither have their numbers displayed. The drivers are having a chat. I walk to the nearest bus stop on the side of the road I think the #42 will be travelling. I read all the information at the stop. R2 stops here, 41 stops here but no 42. I walk to the other side of the road. R2 and 41 but no 42. One of the buses has turned its sign on; R2 off to Fyshwick. I have taken this bus before so know where it ends up. I head over to see the remaining bus and driver to enquire about the 42.

The driver looks baffled when I suggest the 42 stops here. I pull out the map. He looks at the map while telling me he only does the two routes: R2 and 41 and knows nothing about the 42. I defer to Next There. No 42 listed. I have to make more decisions about where to go. I tell him what my plan was. He tells me he can get me back to Belconnen and then I can find out about the 42. He opens the doors so I can board the bus early and tells me he can not leave for another 7 minutes. He tells me he has been a bus driver for 14 years and the changes of numbers and routes on such a frequent basis does nothing to encourage people onto buses. He tells me that a number of buses used to finish at the Fraser West Terminus but the people who lived in the area did not like the buses starting early in the mornings and finishing late at night. He tells me the buses have been finishing their routes here for longer than the houses have been built. He looks at the date on my map; he tells me it is not up to date with the January 2023 new network, I need a new map. I tell him there are no new maps and the only way to get a timetable or route is off the internet or in the TC office where a PDF timetable will be printed on demand, from the net. We both agree this is not very satisfactory. Next There, or any of the other apps that tells of approaching buses is great if you know where you are going, but not so great to plan a route. The bus sets off.

The bus makes its way through Dunlop, Macgregor, and Latham before heading into the Belconnen Cohen Street Interchange. As we glide past the bus stops I can see all the buses listed on the shelter and where to catch them. The 42 is listed as Fraser Loop. Mystery solved. The 42 does exist, although it is not the answer to Life the Universe and Everything, and it does a loop route to another suburb. I will save that for another day.

As I wait for the R8 a young woman with a toddler staring at a large board book engages me in conversation. “Where are you going?” she asks. She tells me her charge loves looking at books, so she keeps buying them. This one is about feelings and has lift the flaps to show happy and sad faces on the same page. She tells me, he likes to travel on the buses and it gives them a good excuse to get out of the house. She does not drive so would always use a bus. She tells me it is great that she can just push the pram on the bus without having to fold it up, and hold her child at the same time. I remember doing that in London with a baby and a toddler and it is not fun. She says the buses in the part of India she is from do not have room for prams so this is much better. Her bus arrives. The child waves me a goodbye and then stares at the book again.

The R8 arrives just behind. It heads towards the UC Hospital, touching the edge of McKellar, Giragang and Crace before turning towards Gungahlin. The major roadworks on Gundaroo Drive pose no problem for the skilled driver; she takes each diversion and narrow lane in her stride slowing to the 40km/h speed limit with ease. No heavy braking on this bus. I have heard it said, by a number of regular bus users, women drivers are better, more even, nicer to engage with.

The town centre of Gungahlin is a stark contrast to Belconnen. Single lane roads with wide pavements that discourage cars in the main shopping area. Low rise buildings with a mix of shops and apartments above, plants and green edging all the roads and places to sit; near the tram, near the playground. The tram and buses all located within easy walking distance of each other. There is a major upgrade going on above the shopping centre; a new storey being added to house a Aldi store, but the streets are still welcoming. To cross the main road you do not have to wait an age for the lights to change and to be standing in the middle of nowhere, with no shade. Belconnen has a three lane road through the middle which takes several minutes to cross. On a hot day, or windy one, those minutes are endless.

I return from Gungahlin by tram. It is smooth, quiet, spacious and fast. This should be the way of public transport in the future.


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