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The industrial suburb of Mitchell in Canberra's north will have a light rail stop next year, after the federal and ACT governments chipped in to complete the long-discussed project.
It will be the 14th station on the 13-kilometre stage one route, which stretches from Gungahlin to Civic.
Some Mitchell business owners lobbied for the stop for years, saying it should have been built before the network opened.
But it's worth reflecting on why it wasn't, and asking what — if anything — has changed.
Before light rail was built, Canberrans didn't want a Mitchell stopWhen the Government was finalising the route five years ago, it asked Canberrans where they wanted to use the tram.
For Mitchell, only one in four people said they would use a stop at Sandford Street, and only one in eight said they would get on or off at Lysaght Street.
Among the handful who said they would use light rail in Mitchell, almost 80 per cent said they would only do so once a week.
Five years ago, planners said public transport was unsuitable for many Mitchell trips.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)So the minister at the time, Simon Corbell, ditched the suburb, explaining that its businesses, often used by tradespeople, were the type that people drove to.
"There is a lot of delivery, pick-up of goods and services from those locations that is not suited to public transport use," he said at the time.
However, he made sure space was reserved for a future station in case the area changed "as a result of redevelopment … over time".
Few Canberrans use the two stations near MitchellThe ACT's light rail has been widely used by commuters since it opened last year — at least until the coronavirus pandemic kept everyone at home.
Yet while passenger numbers far exceeded expectations, not all parts of the network were created equal.
Passenger data reveals the least-used station is immediately to Mitchell's south at Exhibition Park — which is understandable, as no one lives there.
The second-least-used stop is at Well Station Drive, just to Mitchell's north.
Other quieter areas are Downer, Watson and the station just outside Gungahlin town centre at Manning Clark Crescent.
Build the stations and commuters will come, eventuallySo did the ACT Government get it right when it decided where to build the 13 existing tram stations?
Ultimately, this question is pointless because, regardless of commuting patterns, the Government won't move the stops.
Transport Minister Chris Steel says one of light rail's key benefits is that its routes and stations are fixed.
"The placement of stops helps to shape long-term land-use outcomes at a district and city level," he says.
"Many stops on stage one have been located to support future land-use planning and demographic trends."
Over time, planners will ensure that population grows along the light-rail route.(ABC News: Clare Sibthorpe)In other words, it doesn't matter whether the stations are used at the moment. Their existence will ensure that people and businesses move to them — eventually.
Mr Steel is also convinced that the time is right for Mitchell, despite planners' reluctance five years ago.
"Specifically, Mitchell stop will support both a growing business district and future planned residential area in the suburb of Kenny directly adjacent to the stop, which will see thousands of new residents and school students utilising the Mitchell station in future years," he says.
Until then, the trams will continue to stop at a handful of mostly sleepy stations — though ticket sales suggest commuters aren't too worried.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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