Friday, September 30, 2011

TransLink Annual Report - 2010/11

The TransLink Annual Report 2010/11 is now available for download from Parliament's website here. At the time of writing, the report wasn't available on TransLink's website. Here is BrizCommuter's commentary:

Page 5 - TransLink have acknowledged that their consultation process over the Ipswich FlexiLink service was not good enough, and that they will improve their public consultation process over service changes. This has been noted already in 2011 with considerable improvements to consultation processes.

Page 7 - The outline of the Network Plan for 2011/12 mentions a review of train timetables for the Cleveland, Beenleigh, Gold Coast, Doomben, Ferny Grove, and Shorncliffe Lines. However, when High Frequency Priority (HFP) network improvements are mentioned on both this page and page 64, there is only reference to bus routes. This is further evidence that we will not be seeing 15 minute off-peak train services on more rail lines in 2012. Given the extortionate train fares in SE Queensland, it will be disgusting if 15 minute off-peak train frequencies do not occur in 2012! Perth and Melbourne manage 10-20 minute off-peak train services, so why not in backwards Brisbane?

Page 9 - The TransLink train and busway network map. Seriously, it's a mess south of the river. Please redesign!

Page 10 - Strategic Plan - Toward Q2: Tomorrows Queensland. Mentioned is "Green: Reduce carbon emissions by encouraging a shift from private to public transport", and "Fair: Provide affordable transport options...". The recent 15% fare increases are resulting in the opposite to these strategies as public transport patronage has declined due to it being increasingly unaffordable.

Page 33 - The number of customer complaints has fallen slightly since 2008/9. BrizCommuter expects this is due to more commuters realising that complaining to TransLink is a fruitless exercise.

Page 34 - TransLink's worst performing Key Performance Indicators are Affordability and Reliability & Frequency. No surprises there.

Page 40 - TransLink are "Using go card to plan a better network", by methods of "Analyse patronage", "Reduce Overcrowding", and "Analyse boarding and alighting points". So why do students and commuters still suffer from full buses after full buses, particularly travelling to/from QUT Kelvin Grove (Inner Northern Busway) and UQ?

Page 46 (and surrounds) - It is good to see TransLink providing a breakdown of the 308,000 extra seats, and the cost of each service improvement. This is miles better than the porkies surrounding last years 301,000 extra seats in TransLink's Annual Report 2009/10.

Page 59 - Patronage. The number of total public transport users has dropped from 181.8m in 2009/10 to 178.6 in 2010/11. This figures is way below TransLink's target of 188m passengers. Train patronage has dropped massively from 60.9m in 2008/09, and 57.6m in 2009/10 to just 55m in 2010/11. Ferry patronage has also fallen massively for the second year in a row. TransLink are quite obviously in denial, and blame the figures on the floods and go card stats. Large decreases in patronage are still evident in Q4 (see page 60), with the floods occurring early in Q3, which discredits blaming the loss in patronage on floods. The results of the manual QR passenger count would discredit the go card stats excuse, and thus it is no surprise that TransLink have chosen not to publish these figures yet again. It is clear that 15% fare increases and lack of attractive ticketing options for frequent users is deterring the use of public transport. It is simply too expensive and forcing commuters back to using cars to get to work. This situation is a disgrace!

Page 59 (again) - Improvements. With 15% yearly fare rises you would expect a 15% service improvement? The number of vehicle service kilometres for buses increased by just 5%, and the number of vehicle service kilometres for trains increased by less than 1.8%. Commuters should be feeling rather ripped off! TransLink's excuse for the latter was the delay in implementing the new train timetables due to extended customer consultation. BrizCommuter doesn't believe this excuse given that in the 2009/10 financial year many of the service improvements did not take place until the end of Q4. Other stats include a 12.7% increase in passenger injuries on the busways. Is this due to overcrowding and full buses?

Page 69 - Increased Fixed Fares. Whilst this has been successful in reducing fare evasion, it has also added to the misery of honest commuters when the go card system doesn't work as it should. BrizCommuter has now received a $5, and a $10 fixed fare due to faulty go card readers, and is not amused by the 10 day wait to get a refund. BrizCommuter has received reports of commuters waiting even longer for refunds, and TransLink disputing refund claims. TransLink have failed to mention how much revenue they make from unclaimed fixed fares on innocent users.

Page 72 - The 15% fare increases are designed to reduce the percentage of taxpayer subsidy. For the second year running, this policy has failed, with a huge 20% increase in subsidy percentage. Again, TransLink have blamed this on the floods rather that their failing fare policies.

Page 96 - How many members of TransLink's board use public transport? Answers on a postcard to...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pods - future transportation?

Source: ULTra PRT -
Also known as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), a Pod based transport system at Heathrow Airport, London, UK has been in the media recently after successfully completing a trial.

So what is PRT? It is a form of transportation where small (4-6 person) pods move around a relatively cheap and lightweight guideway between stations. Unlike other forms of public transport, PRT is an on-demand system where waiting times should be very short. PRT also allows the Pod to go straight to the passengers destination, as opposed to calling at every other stop on the route. Offline stations and junctions allow the Pods to by-pass other stops.

What are the advantages of PRT? We will use the Heathrow system as an example. This system links two long-term car park areas with Terminal 5. With buses, you would have to wait maybe up to 10 minutes for a bus, then travel to the Terminal via the other car park area. With PRT, a pod should be waiting for you, and it will take you directly to your destination. So the Pod allows for shorter waiting times, and a faster more direct journey. Also, at 11pm for example, there may not be enough passengers to make a high frequency bus service efficient as a transport mode. Empty buses = waste of energy. As the PRT system only runs on demand, it can adapt to quiet and busy periods, and only uses energy on demand. The guideways are cheaper per km than Light Rail, and would have more minimal structures, but would require more extensive networks. The energy efficiency Pods are also much quieter than other forms of mass transportation.

What are the disadvantages of PRT? The new technology may have difficulty finding acceptance, particularly in a car focussed society such as SE Queensland. PRT is currently being seriously looked into in more forward thinking countries, such as the UK, Sweden, and Korea where larger scale test systems are planned. Whilst the construction costs may be fraction of the cost of campus developments, the money still has to be found from somewhere, most likely private developers. There are also concerns over the visual impact of the guideways (which at current technology would have to be grade separated from roads), and vandalism issues due to the small Pod capacity. Regulatory issues may also be a thorn in the side of PRT, especially if they are treated as being railways.

Source: ULTra PRT -
What are the best uses of PRT? It is currently most suited to areas where a reasonable number of people need to travel relatively short distances, and travel to/from multiple destinations quickly and efficiently. The small Heathrow system can handle more than 600 passengers/hour. Once the number of people making point to point trips requires the use of frequent buses or other forms of public transport, then PRT would not be suitable. Group Rapid Transit (GRT) may be able to fill in the gaps between PRT and existing public transport modes. Linking airport terminals with car parks, nearby train stations and hotels is the most obvious solution for PRT, and it comes as no surprise that the first PRT system from ULTra was built at Heathrow Airport.  Carrying passengers around large university campuses are another potential use of PRT. Masdar City in United Arab Emirates has a small scale PRT system (which can also carry freight) from 2getthere. This system is expected to be expanded across the whole 6.5 square km city with a planned population of 40,000 residents. Cars that run on fossil fuel will be banned in Masdar City. Other applications cited by PRT manufacturers include business parks/campuses (a PRT system has been proposed for Apple's Cupertino headquarters), large hospital campuses, new residential developments, city/town centre distributor systems, retail centres, and resorts. BrizCommuter expects that whilst we will see few new systems in the next fews years, PRT systems will be developing rapidly by 2020.

Where is there potential for PRT to be used in SE Queensland? PRT could be used to link the Herston Hospital (RBWH) and Research Campus with Bowen Hills and future Exhibition (Cross River Rail) train stations. How about a PRT system linking SE Busway station with Mt Gravatt and Nathan University Campuses, QE II hospital and either Coopers Plains or Salisbury train station? Maybe a PRT linking the public transport hub (sic) of Chermside with Prince Charles Hospital? How about the new towns such as Greater Flagstone having a PRT system with loops that serve each neighbourhood, retail areas, office areas, and schools?

Is there realistic potential in SE Queensland? With Queensland politicians unable to see beyond their car's bonnet, and Queensland's Government being deeply in debt, BrizCommuter doubts that we will see any PRT systems in SE Queensland for a very long time. Unless private companies are willing to pick up the cost, don't expect to be travelling around in a driverless Pod anytime soon in SE Queensland.

Queensland Government & TransLink discourage public transport use!

This article in the Courier Mail's website 29/09/2011 supports what BrizCommuter and other public transport commentators have suspected for some time, that the Queensland Government's flawed policy of 15% annual fare increases is indeed discouraging public transport use. According to the article, train trips fell by 2.6 million, and CityCat/CityFerry trips declined by 2.1million.

As usual, the Queensland Government and TransLink have come out with the usual excuses to explain the fall in public transport patronage such a blaming it on data collection methods, and the floods. The latter argument is rather flawed, as the largest drop in patronage was between April and June, the floods were in January! It is also quite obvious to many public transport users that patronage has declined, for example BrizCommuter's usual morning train is the quietest it's been since the 2008 timetable changes! 

The flawed fares policy is designed to decrease taxpayer subsidy. However, this has also failed, with subsidy increasing by 20% in 2010/11 according to the Courier Mail article. The Queensland Government appears to be actively discouraging environmentally sustainable transportation with exorbitant fare increases, an unattractive fare structure, and lack of service improvements. It is very sad that in the 21st century, a state Government has such disregard for environmentally sustainable transport and public transport users. How can the ALP Queensland Government justify 15% fare rises, when they are giving public sector workers only a 2.5% pay rise (more than 1% below CPI), and are improving public transport (place kilometres) by less than 6%? Another 15% fare rise due in January 2012, an election year, will be the final nail in the coffin for the Queensland Government as far as public transport users are concerned. BrizCommuter suspects that the nail supply has already run out! 

BrizCommuter looks forward to TransLink releasing the full 2010/11 Annual Report on it's website in the very near future. TransLink Tracker 2010/11 Q4 is also overdue (yet again). 

Thursday, September 22, 2011


BrizCommuter has just got back from holidaying abroad, to be welcomed by one of the biggest public transport meltdowns in Brisbane for some time. At around 11:45 a power failure caused by a suicidal pigeon shut down the inner city rail network, which as most commuters know consists of 2 track pairs (4 tracks). All tracks were shut down until just after 3pm, and at the time of writing it looks like 1 track pair will still be out of action for the rest of the evening.

During the shutdown, trains were sensibly started and terminated at Roma Street to the South, and Bowen Hills to the North by QR. Suggestions by foamers that the Ekka Loop should have been used are somewhat laughable as it would have significantly added to operational problems, confused commuters, and further delayed freight services that use this busy section of track.

BrizCommuter's journey home was relatively unaffected, catching a Ferny Grove train after only a 3 minute wait at Fortitude Valley. However many other commuters were not so lucky, with reports of commuters being held at fare gates at Central due to overcrowding on the platforms. This would be rather annoying if the next train was going was going to the destination of someone who cannot get onto the platform due to overcrowding! BrizCommuter also shudders to think how many passengers may have missed their flights at Brisbane Airport due to the rail shutdown.

It is quite obvious that if Brisbane had Cross River Rail, then the public transport meltdown would have been no where near as bad, as many commuters would have had an alternative route into and out of the CBD. This case again highlights that Cross River Rail is urgently required.

BrizCommuter has a few tips for those who are delayed in similar train meltdown situations:

  • If you can get a scheduled bus to near your home (be prepared to do some walking), then get a scheduled bus home instead. This is usually faster than waiting for a heavily delayed train, or waiting for a dreaded replacement bus service.
  • Try and get a lift home from work with a colleague. 
  • Avoid Central, walk to Roma Street or Fortitude Valley where the crowds will be less.
  • Move to a city with better public transport. 
Update 23/09/2011

In London, if there is a major delay to the tube of more than 15 minutes, you get your fare refunded. Commuters will also get an apology/explanation on a notice board at stations the next day. What do commuters get in Brisbane after a major delay? Nothing. Yet another reason why Brisbane does not have a "World Class" public transport system.