Meet the ACT's new agency: from light rail to cleaning the graffiti off light rail

By Stephen Easton

July 4, 2016

The ACT’s new Transport Canberra and City Services Directorate officially began operating Friday, bringing together public transport and the municipal services that are mostly provided by local government elsewhere.

Director-general Emma Thomas was initially recruited to manage the construction and operation of Canberra’s forthcoming light rail project through the stand-alone Capital Metro Agency. But late last year the government asked her to lead a new public transport directorate that would also run the existing ACTION bus service.

Consultants advised that putting the buses in private hands would cut costs in half and suggested ACTION provides poor value for money, but the government opted for the merger followed by an efficiency review. In April, the plan changed.

Now Thomas finds herself in charge of a different and much larger beast, incorporating Transport Canberra, which launches on Monday, and what was previously the Territory and Municipal Services directorate. Four senior TAMS staff members have left, the executive directors who ran roads and infrastructure, parks and territory services, and corporate and business enterprises, as well as the director of governance.

Minister for Transport and City Services Meegan Fitzharris said she was not worried by what her opposition counterpart Alistair Coe called an “extreme loss of corporate knowledge” in an estimates hearing and looked forward to a “new era of integrated transport and high quality local services” in an upbeat press release on Friday.

Coe brought along the typical stories of upset public servants and clashing organisational cultures that often accompany such machinery-of-government changes, which Fitzharris unsurprisingly played down. The suggestion here is that Thomas’ agency has effectively taken over the others.

Fitzharris promises “emerging technology” will help TCCS focus on customer experience and that it will let the community “directly influence” future services. The expansion in Thomas’ role is quite significant, as Fitzharris’ press release indicates:

“TCCS will continue to manage and deliver the essential services Canberrans rely on each day, including our public libraries, recycling and waste services, road management, graffiti removal, shop and playground upgrades, maintenance of open public spaces including shopping centres, animal welfare and grass mowing,”

“The directorate also maintains responsibility for Capital Linen Service, Yarralumla Nursery and the ACT Public Cemeteries Authority.”

Interstate residents might scoff at the idea that anybody thought Canberra was the “world’s most liveable city” but Fitzharris claims keeping the title will be a “strong focus” of the new directorate.

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