Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 World Fare Comparison

Rip Off !
It is that time of year when BrizCommuter compares fares between different world cities. This year, the fare comparison covers every continent except for Antarctica (where the only commuters are penguins). Cities well known for their high cost of living, such as Tokyo, Moscow, London, Stockholm, and Oslo have been included. For this fare comparison we are looking at a 5km train journey from an inner suburb to the CBD, using the cheapest available adult peak single fare (this can include multi-trip tickets, but not weekly or other season tickets). Exchange rates are as of 29th December 2011. Fares are as of 2nd January 2012.

Oslo - $4.42
London (Underground/Overground) - $4.10
Brisbane - $3.58
Liverpool - $3.57
London (National Rail) - $3.50
Sydney - $3.40
Stockholm - $3.19
Adelaide - $3.09
Melbourne - $3.02
Lausanne - $3.00
Berlin - $2.94
Auckland - $2.44
Copenhagen - $2.40
Vancouver - $2.40
Helsinki - $2.34
NYC (Subway) - $2.22
Paris - $2.17
Perth - $1.95
Tokyo (Japan Rail) - $1.91
Tucson - $1.57
Los Angeles - $1.48
Santiago - $1.17
Hong Kong - $0.71
Moscow - $0.64
Dubai - $0.61
Shanghai - $0.47
Mexico City - $0.21
Cairo - $0.16

Not surprisingly since Brisbane has had the world's highest fare rises (as far as BrizCommuter can accertain) for the last 2 years, it is still one of the world's most expensive public transport systems. It is pipped to the post by Oslo and London Underground. It should be remembered however, that both London Underground and Oslo T-Bane have a considerably more frequent train service than in Brisbane, so their fares are still better value for money in terms of frequency. Both of these cities also have season ticket options which are not available in Brisbane.

Whilst the strong Australian Dollar does not do Australian cities any favours in this comparison, it should be remembered that some cities with relatively high costs of living such as Tokyo and Moscow are at the lower end of this list. Brisbane is also far more expensive than any other Australian city in this survey. Although Sydney is not too far behind Brisbane for adult peak single fares, a train user in Sydney also has weekly and season ticket options. A weekly ticket in Sydney would result in a typical 10 journey/week commute costing $2.60 per journey, nearly a dollar cheaper than Brisbane!

The only positive note that can be made of Brisbane's fare structure is that it is integrated, i.e. you can travel on a train, then bus, then ferry for the same fare as long as changes are made within an hour. Some cities (particularly those in Asia) do not have an integrated fare structure, meaning that if you want to ride a train and then a bus, you have to pay an additional fare. However, in many of the un-integated cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, a peak journey using two different public transportation modes would still be cheaper than in Brisbane anyway.

There is little question that public transport fares in Brisbane are unjustifiably high, especially given the non-world class train frequencies. BrizCommuter would like to see an independent review of SE Queensland public fares, as it appears that commuters are getting very poor value for money. With one of the world's most expensive public transport systems, business will be good for SE Queensland car, motorbike, and scooter showrooms again in 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Faremaggedon III - Political Suicide?

Even more expensive!
Most public transport commuters will be aware that the 3rd instalment of unjustifiable fare rises is nearly upon us. The aim of the fare rises was to supposedly to reduce the taxpayer subsidy of public transport in SE Queensland. Not surprisingly, it has stunted what was previously strong growth in public transport patronage, and the taxpayer subsidy amount and percentage have resultantly increased. Quite an epic policy failure. SE Queensland has one of the most expensive public transport systems in the world, with service improvements lagging fare behind the fare increases. Despite it being an election year, the ALP Bligh Government is pressing on with yet another fare increase in what appears to be political suicide. Unfortunately, the LNP opposition haven't ruled out stopping these fare increases if they gain power.

Despite TransLink informing us of how much cheaper go card fares are compared to paper tickets etc, below are the facts of the fare rise that will be inflicted on SE Queensland commuters from 2nd January 2012:
  • Adult peak go card single - approx. 15% increase
  • Adult off-peak go card - approx. 8.5% increase
  • Adult paper ticket - approx. 13 to 15% increase
Here are a few comparisons:
  • Annual CPI Brisbane - 3.1%
  • Public sector worker pay rises - 2.5%
  • Increase in Q1 bus service km in last annum - 2.5%
  • Increase in Q1 train service km in last annum - 6%
See you at the polling booth in 2012!

Update 27/12/2011

TransLink have released online adverts stating the fare rises are for "fare contribution for a growing and improving network". The above figures show that the fares are rising by between 8.5% to 15% when the service km have only increased by 2.5% to 6%. This shows that the majority of the fare rises are not being used to improve public transport, but are more likely being used in a failed attempt to bail the Queensland Government out of debt. BrizCommuter is not fooled by TransLink's spin, and it is likely that the majority of public transport users are also not fooled. Enough is enough!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Case Study: Merseyside

TransLink will have a new CEO from March - Neil Scales OBE. Mr Scales current job is the CEO of Merseytravel, the transport authority for Merseyside in the UK (Liverpool, Wirral, and surrounding area). Like Brisbane, Merseyside has an extensive rail and bus system, and the one of the world's most famous public transport ferry services.  BrizCommuter takes a look at Merseyside's public transport system:

  • Northern Line and Wirral Lines (Merseyrail) - 2 branched electrified rail networks, segregated from the rest of the UK's rail network. Operated by Abellio-Serco. Both networks have a 4tph/15 min Mon-Fri daytime all stations off-peak service on all branches except the short Ellesmere Port branch.  This provides between 6tph to 14tph off-peak services on combined sections. Sunday and Evenings after around 7:30pm generally have trains every 30 minutes on each branch. Most stations are staffed during operating hours. Full refunds for train journeys with delays of more than 30 mins. Highest reliability of all UK rail franchises.
  • City Lines - a network of diesel powered commuter services mixed in with inter-urban and transpennine services from different operators.  Typically 2tph / 30 mins off-peak frequency, although some station such Liverpool South Parkway are served by up to 7tph off-peak. This network will be progressively electrified in the next few years, with expected frequency increases.
  • Liverpool Overhead Rail - The world's first elevated electric railway was opened in 1893, and sadly closed in 1956. Doh!
  • Buses - More than a hundred bus routes, run by multiple operators. 27 high frequency "quality partnership" bus routes. 6 night bus routes. 
  • Airport Access - Express buses every 15 mins from CBD, plus frequent buses from nearby suburbs and train stations.
  • Ferries - The "Ferry Across the Mersey" runs a peak period direct service between 3 terminals, and an off-peak 50 minute long, hourly frequency sightseeing cruise popular with tourists. 
  • Fares - A rather complicated ticketing system with lots of options. Daily, tourist, and season tickets are available. A smart card ticketing system is being introduced. Adult off peak daily (Saveaway ticket) is the equivalent to $5.30 for Liverpool and Wirral, and $7.17 for the entire Merseytravel area. So miles cheaper than SE Queensland for frequent off-peak travellers!
BrizCommuter hopes that the new TransLink CEO brings 15 minute off-peak train services to more rail lines in Brisbane, brings over his experience with dealing with multiple operators, as well as experience in making efficient use of limited government funds.

Some interesting presentations by Mr Scales here:

Friday, December 16, 2011

TransLink Tracker Q1 2011/12

The TransLink Tracker for Q1 2011/12 was released earlier this week, accompanied by an explanatory document explaining the adjustment to train patronage figures.
Documents available from TransLink's website
As usual BrizCommuter gives his opinion on this Tracker below.

Page 4/5 - Overall network patronage appears to have slightly fallen (last years figures not provided), and has fallen significantly against the previous calculation method. Train patronage has barely increased in the last year at 0.7%, which is well below population increase. Train patronage has decreased massively compared to the previous counting method by -12.5%. Bus patronage has decreased by 1% which is disappointing considering there has been a significant number of new and improved bus routes. Ferry patronage has nosedived by 15%. It is quite clear that the high fare prices are discouraging public transport use. Only someone is serious denial could disagree!

Page 5 - Both the amount of subsidy and percentage of subsidy have increased in the last year. This shows that the Queensland Government's policy of increasing fares 15% per annum to reduce subsidy has seriously failed. The average fare per trip at $1.98 appears to be misleading. BrizCommuter assumes that for example a $3.11 zone 1-2 peak journey with one change between modes is counted as two $1.56 trips?

Page 7 - The number of complaints has increased. How many of them are about the ridiculous fares? On the subject of complaints, BrizCommuter would like to see full bus statistics added to TransLink Tracker.

Page 8 - Go card use has increased to 79.5%. It is concerning however that more than 20% of users are paying a huge premium for paper tickets. BrizCommuter hopes that TransLink's excellent current advertising campaign helps to further reduce the number of paper ticket users. The ability to purchase go cards at Brisbane Airport may also help too. BrizCommuter also suggests that bus drivers give out explanatory leaflets on the fare differential with every paper ticket.

Page 9 - The higher fixed fares appear to have discouraged fare dodging by not swiping off go cards on longer journeys. However, with 2.36% of fares still resulting in a fixed fare, it has to be questioned how reliable the go card system is. BrizCommuter has had two fixed fares caused by go card reader failures in the last week! Given the hike in fixed fares, it appears that commuters are being more active in claiming corrections, with the number of go card adjustment requests increasing by nearly 100%.

Page 15 - Train service kilometres have increased by just 6% in the last year. Bus service kilometres have increased by just 2.5%. Given the 15% fare increase in the last year, these statistics show that SE Queensland commuters are not getting value for money from the fare increases.

Page 16 - The Passenger Load Survey mentioned in the previous blog post shows a 6.8% increase in peak train use, with figures being physically counted. This is in contrast to the overall train patronage increase of 0.7% calculated from go card use. This begs some questions. Does this mean that off-peak train patronage is in serious decline? Quite possible when Brisbane has such terrible off-peak train frequencies. Or does it mean that 6% of peak hour passengers have started fare evading in the last year?

Train Patronage Report - This report explains how historical train patronage figures have been adjusted so as to match newer go card based figures. The previous figures made assumptions about the number of trips made from daily and weekly tickets which have been killed off by TransLink in the last few years.  Some public transport users that used to make effective use of weekly and daily tickets have since changed their travel patterns to decrease travel costs. This decreases the accuracy of the adjusted figures which are based on more recent go card travel patterns. Press reports this week made it appear that the adjustments were spin to hide the drop in train patronage. Whilst BrizCommuter disputes the accuracy of the corrected historical patronage, both the old and new methods show a patronage decrease since 2008/09. Again, there is little question that the fare increases are discouraging the use of Brisbane's train services. BrizCommuter commends TransLink on publishing this report, and which again shows that TransLink may be starting to be more transparent. Just a shame about the fares and infrequent train services!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Passenger Load Survey - A Transparency Breakthrough?

In what appears to be major breakthrough in QR and TransLink's brick wall of transparency, the QR Passenger Load Survey for Q1 2011/12 has been released. The last load survey to be released was for Q3 2008/9 (titled Q1 2009 as previously QR used calendar quarters as opposed to financial year quarters), apparently in response to a Right to Information request by a journalist. Since then, the survey has been unpublished, convenient as it coincided with the run of huge fare increases that have severely stunted the growth in public transport patronage. BrizCommuter welcomes the release of this information, and hopes that TransLink and QR now publish all future passenger load surveys.

Unfortunately as this survey is for Q3, the results cannot be easily compared with the previously published Q1 survey. The survey taken from late August to late September also ran into the quieter school holiday period (and university holidays), with some re-counts thus being performed in early November (which happens to be the university exam period). With this in mind, the results may be a slight underestimate. Of course, it should be remembered this this survey is only a "snapshot" in time of am and pm peak services, and thus figures (particularly on quieter stations and lines) can be quite variable.

So what does the survey tell us? Overall am peak patronage disappointingly decreased (as predicted) by -3.8% in Q1 2010/11, and rebounded by 6.8% in Q1 2011/12. Overall pm peak patronage was stable in Q1 2010/11, and increased by 4.1% in Q1 2011/12.

How did the lines with new timetables perform? It is clear that the Richland Line has been a success with 1212 passengers in the am peak. Darra which is served by all Ipswich and Richland Line services every 3-6 minutes in the am peak has had a massive 42.6% increase in the am peak. This shows that it you provide a good service, people will use it. Surrounding stations such as Oxley, Wacol, and Corinda have seen decreases in patronage due to passenger redistribution, but overall it appears that there has been a increase in train patronage in this area. The excellent new Caboolture Line timetables appear to have resulted in a large patronage increases, in particular at Dakabin which has recorded a 40.6% increase. Aside from around Darra, patronage on the Ipswich Line was rather disappointing with little or no growth. It should be noted that the only am peak patronage increases in the last year on the inner Ipswich Line were at the stations served by all services - Indooroopilly and Milton. The new timetable generally appears to have decreased overcrowding on the Ipswich and Caboolture Lines which shows that phase one timetables were a success in terms of overcrowding.

What about the lines still awaiting a new timetable? Patronage growth is generally disappointing compared to the previous years of high growth until the 15% fare increases started. Most sectors recorded decreases in patronage in Q1 2010/11, with some sectors rebounding somewhat in Q1 2011/12. Impressive growth is noted on the Gold Coast Line with a 14.1% increase in Q1 2011/12. It appears that initially most of Varsity Lakes patronage moved from the previous terminus of Robina, but in the last year all Gold Coast Line stations have seen further patronage increases. With no infrastructure projects on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line this side of the phase two timetables, BrizCommuter is doubtful that the number of peak services can be increased. This is likely to continue to increase the "overcrowding" figures on the line, caused by a small number of passengers having to stand from beyond Beenleigh to Brisbane. The Ferny Grove Line has also had an am peak patronage rebound in the last year of 7%, but pm peak has decreased two years in a row. It appears that users of stations also served by buses (Windsor, Alderley, Enoggera, Gaythorne, and Mitchelton) are increasingly using the bus instead of the Ferny Grove Line's mediocre pm peak timetable. BrizCommuter is one of these statistics. With the highest am peak standing overcrowding figures, the duplication to Ferny Grove and phase two timetable cannot come soon enough.

Lets hope that this is a start of TransLink and QR being more transparent with their customers. BrizCommuter is looking forward to seeing the release of the Q3 2011/12 passenger load survey in 6 months!

Q1 2011/12 QR Passenger Load Survey:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Case Study: London Overground

Source: Wikipedia / Sunil060902
London is well known for London Underground with its high frequency metro services, and London's National Rail network (run by various private franchises) is one of the world's most extensive commuter rail networks. One of franchises was previously run by an operator called Silverlink, who ran the orbital services around London. These included the North London Line, West London Line, Gospel Oak Barking Line, and Watford Line. These lines were well known for an infrequent off-peak service (every 15-30 minutes), shabby trains, dreary stations, and overcrowded peak services.

In 2007, Transport for London took over London Overground, with services operated by the LOROL (MTR Laing) consortium. This contract also included taking over the extended (ex-London Underground) East London Line services in 2010. New electric 3-car class 378 trains were purchased with longitudinal seating to increase capacity. These have since been extended to 4-car trains. The un-electrified Gospel Oak Barking Line has received new 2-car class 172 diesel multiple units. Trains have driver only operation (no guards) for improved staffing efficiencies compared to Queensland Rail (QR). 

Crucially, service frequency has been increased, aided by re-signalling and some track layout modifications. The majority of the London Overground Lines now run off-peak services at 15 minute frequencies, with higher frequencies on the core sections of the network up to 12tph/5 mins frequency. Even the diesel operated Gospel Oak to Barking Line, the Cinderella of London's railway network now runs a 4tph/15 minute off-peak service.  Freight traffic uses multiple sections of the North London Line, with freight traffic travelling to busy ports of Felixstowe, Harwich, and London Gateway. QR should take note that the North London Line can run 8tph worth of passenger services as well as considerable freight traffic on the same track (and yes there are multiple grade junctions as well)!

Stations around the London Overground network have been refurbished, with many stations gated. This means that 95% of journeys involve having to pass through ticket gates. This has reduced the number of fare evaded journeys from 10% to just 2%. Two new stations (along the existing route) have also been added, one to serve a new shopping development, and the other to serve a housing development. 44% of stations are fully accessible to the disabled with step free access - useful as 8% of passengers have a long term disability. London Overground also have a policy of staffing stations to improve personal security.

The results of these service improvements is impressive. The number of users of London's Overground network has increased from 0.6m journeys/week in 2007 to 2m journeys/week in 2011. Much of this is due to a larger network, but even the existing lines have seen an 80% patronage increase against an approx. 20% patronage increase for London Underground over the same period. One of the largest drivers of this patronage increase is due to increased service frequency, service quality and performance. 12% of the new passengers to London Overground previously used cars instead. This is an impressive figure for a city with relatively low car ownership, and will help reduce carbon emissions. Customer satisfaction has also increased from 71% to 89%. 

Aside from huge patronage increases and improved journey times due to increased service frequency, there have been other benefits. Tourist attractions along the routes have seen increases in visitors. House prices along the East London Line route have increase by more than the average. On-time running has also increased from 91% to 95%, impressive given the frequency increases on a  mixed use railway. The success of London Overground now means that extending class 378 trains to 5-cars, and class 172 to 3-cars is planned. Extra peak services may even be added a year ahead of schedule, in contrast to SE Queensland where new timetables are currently nearly 2 years behind schedule! 

So what is relevance to this case study for Brisbane and SE Queensland? The Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR have failed to provide 15 minute inner-suburban off-peak services. This appears to be through a mix the Queensland Government reluctance to fund services, and QR finding it "too difficult" to reliably timetable freight and passenger services on the same track. As has been seen with the huge success of Brisbane's high frequency "Buz" bus routes, this case study shows that improving train service frequency will also result in huge patronage increases. It is also possible to run high frequency passenger and freight services on the same tracks whilst retaining reliability. If you provide a decent service the passengers will come! 

London Overground Impact Study:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inner Northern Busway misery continues...

Why does the 393 terminate here?
You would have thought that after last years Inner Northern Busway overcrowding caused by running the 66 at half frequency during university holidays, that TransLink would learn by not reducing the frequency?  Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. In the last few days, the number of route 66 buses appears to have halved again. On Wednesday 30th November, just after 4pm, BrizCommuter had to wait 23 minutes to board a bus at RCH Herston to Roma Street. During this period when last week three route 66 buses would have passed, just one route 66 bus turned up. This bus filled up to capacity at RBWH (the first stop), and could only take on a handful of passengers at RCH Herston. The crowd of passengers left behind then had to wait an additional 10 minutes for the next route 66 and 333 which turned up at the same time. During this period "Brisbane's most useless bus" route 393 passed through with just one passenger, as well as two "out of service" buses passing through empty.

Passengers were also not able to board at QUT Kelvin Grove. Unfortunately many of these passengers appeared to be international students on a course at summer course at QUT. What a bad impression of Brisbane these students will be getting! BrizCommuter has also heard reports of Sunshine Coast commuters missing their connections at Roma Street despite allowing 30 minutes to get from RCH Herston to Roma Street.

This scenario highlights many issues:

  • The 66 at half frequency cannot cope with patronage.
  • The 393 needs to be extended to Roma Street or King George Square to make it more useful. 
  • Empty counter-peak buses should be run in service between RBWH and the CBD. 
  • TransLink and the Queensland Government are still not addressing overcrowding issues.