Tuesday, April 30, 2013

QR CityTrain and Brisbane Transport to be privatised?

QR - To be privatised?
The long awaited Queensland "Independent commission of audit" was finally released today. This not particularly independent audit of the states finances by LNP ex-federal treasurer and non-accountant Peter Costello has cast a gloomy look on the states finances. This has given Campbell Newman the chance to achieve the liberal dream of privatising as much as possible under the guise of "contestability".

Interestingly, this news is on the same day that it has been reported in Brisbanes mX newspaper that train patronage has nosedived yet again, due to high un-affordability of Brisbane's inefficient public transport system.

So what does this mean for public transport in SE Queensland? It has been quoted in the Courier Mail that "The government has accepted recommendations to open up city passenger rail services, long distance tourist rail services and bus service contracts to competitive tendering. In relation to the CityTrain network, the government has agreed to allow different providers including private providers to bid to operate services and maintain below-rail assets under franchise and lease arrangements". In other words bus and train services will be open to contestability (i.e. can the same service be provided by a private operator for less).

BrizCommuter generally sees this as good news. As mentioned in this recent blog article Queensland Rail (QR) is grossly inefficient, and possibly one of the world's least efficient train operators in terms of cost/km. For just 10% of QRs current operating budget, almost the entire inner-suburban network could receive a 15 minute 7 day/week off-peak service. Whilst privatisation in some cases such as the UK has not decreased costs (or performed more for the same cost), this was due to the rail operators being efficient in the first place (unlike QR). Safety is however a concern, with QR having a very good safety record compared to many other rail operators (public and private). BrizCommuter is sure the unions will have a word or two to say!

The mention of buses is also intriguing. The innefficiency of Brisbane Transport's network has also been mentioned a lot recently in this blog, including this previous post. However, Brisbane Transport is a Brisbane City Council asset, not a state asset. So is Brisbane Transport to be opened to contestability? BrizCommuter hopes so, with the added benefit that network design can be returned to TransLink. This in turn will allow for the introduction of TransLink's revolutionary and much needed bus network changes, with a few modifications to solve the "unpopular" issues with the canned review.

Laughable politician quote of the day comes for Shadow Transport Minister Jackie Trad, who is quoted as saying “And what that means is the tens of thousands of commuters who use the city network each day can no longer be assured they will be getting the very best.” Just a second Ms Trad, we are not getting anywhere near the best at the moment! Brisbanites pay the world's 3rd highest fares for 20+ minute peak service gaps, 30 minute off-peak service gaps, and hourly service gaps late at night. Not exactly a great train network is it?

Courier Mail story:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Brisbane City Council Bus Network Review - Epic Fail !

Brisbane City Hall - Incompetence Towers!
Brisbane City Council (BCC) have just announced their bus network review a few weeks after TransLink's revolutionary (but not perfect) bus network review was dropped by Transport Minister Scott Emerson. This was in response to hysteria from  ill-informed Brisbanites, politicians, and journalists. Here is an overview of BCC's review.

The good:
  • 109 and 66 merged (as per TransLink's review).
  • 199 routed full-time via Ivory Street (as per TransLink's review).
The mediocre:
  • Maroon CityGlider (AKA SillyGlider, Campbell's PorkBarrelGlider) will have a stop added at Bardon Shops, which should never have been missed out in the first place.
  • 161 now stops at SE Busway stations making it marginally more useful. However, this just adds to number of bus routes that commuters have to remember when travelling to/from SE Busway stations. 
  • 198 reduced in frequency due to low patronage, but to 50 minute intervals. Why not 60 minutes, so that passengers can at least remember the timetable!
  • 369 truncated to Toombul, and 590 extended from Airport DFO to Toombul. But the 369 is still is an air carrying waste of tax-payers money. 
  • P88 dropped, but part replaced by peak P163. Will the 111 and 444 thus have capacity increases?
  • 77 cut back to hourly off-peak, when it should just be canned. 
The ugly: 
  • Very few improvements. TransLink's canned network review had cuts, but also plenty of improvements (especially high frequency services). BCC's review appears to be 99% cuts.
  • Lack of City Stop consolidation. This was one of the best things in TransLink's review. It appears that City Stop locations will continue to be a confusing and illogical mess. 
  • Lack of move towards efficient trunk and feeder network (including feeding rail), which TransLink's review was moving towards. In fact, even some feeder bus routes for the high frequency Ferny Grove Line have had services will be cut by BCC. 
  • No high frequency bus services to Centenary Suburbs, Northern Suburbs, Yeronga, Wynnum Road, Webster Road - these were all planned to be served by high frequency routes in TransLink's network review. Commuters in these areas should be pretty annoyed at BCC's neglect. 
  • No major reduction to bus congestion through Cultural Centre. TransLink's review planned to reduce congestion by around 25%. 
  • No consolidation of bus route numbers on the same corridor. TransLink's review managed to consolidate routes on many corridors. Very confusing for passengers!
  • Very poor feedback form - quite obviously trying to avoid anyone with common sense providing sensible feedback. 
  • Cuts to the 379/380/381 which serve Campbell Newman's Ashgrove electorate - doh!
As expected, the review is hugely disappointing, and BCC's politicians and planners should be completely ashamed of themselves. Brisbane's bus network will continue to be inefficient, confusing to use, and wasteful of taxpayers money. It's time that BCC admit that their bus network is well and truly broken, and hand the bus network review back to TransLink.  

BCC's Bus Network Review:
Previous BrizCommuter posts on TransLink's network review:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Go card gets even more expensive

Too expensive to purchase?
The problem with stupidly high train fares to Brisbane Airport is that many passengers (apparently 1000 a month) will try and rort the system. This, up until now could be done quite easily by using a purchasing a go card with $5 deposit, running it into debt on the way to the airport, and then chucking the go card in the bin. A further 4000 passengers are using this loop hole across the rest of the network on longer journeys. This is costing TransLink (and thus taxpayers) $220,000 a year network wide. Wow, that could pay for another fat cat QR executive!

From May 6th 2013, the minimum cost of a go card will be increased to $15, with a $10 deposit to deter the amount of go card rorting. However, with CBD to Airport journeys costing $16, and a peak single from Gympie to Central costing $20.91, then the system can still be rorted, just not by quite as much.

Whilst steps need to be taken against fare evasion. BrizCommuter has a few concerns that the go card price hike may further deter the purchase of go cards by infrequent, or potentially new public transport users. Whilst, Melbourne has successfully abolished paper tickets, SE Queensland is still languishing behind with 20th century paper ticketing for occasional users. It should be noted that Melbourne's Myki card only has a deposit (purchase cost) of $6, that's $4 less than the go card's new price. It also seems odd that nothing has been about the rorting of the ill-thought out 9 journeys then free policy, which can be rorted by longer distance commuters taking short trips in their lunch break. How much is this costing the tax payer?

Of course, it could also be argued that maybe if SE Queensland's train fares were more sensible (especially Airtrain) then passengers may be less inclined to rort the system?

Friday, April 12, 2013

News Limited finally realise Queensland Rail is inefficient!

QR - Inefficient
The Courier Mail have released this story, about a "secret" 2009 report showing that Queensland Rail (QR) is the most inefficient passenger train operator in Australia, and a whopping $24/km more expensive to run than Sydney's inefficient CityRail. Well done News Corp for writing a story based on 4 year old information! The fact that QR is a hugely inefficient organisation is already well known to anyone who reads this blog or Rail Back on Track.

However, the timing of this story 4 years after the report was made seems a tad suspicious. Is this just another News Limited pro-Newman government privatisation story? BrizCommuter noted that comments (which would have been mostly negative) on the deplorable Queensland Health privatisation plans were never published on Courier Mail's website! The Courier Mail have also failed in investigative journalism to highlight some of the biggest stuff ups in Queensland Rail and TransLink's recent history such as chronic Inner Northern Busway overcrowding, and the 2 year disappearance of the stage 2 train timetables.

Anyway, back to QR. What can be done to improve efficiency aside from the almost inevitable privatisation?

  • One person operation - Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, London Underground, and many other rail operators from around the world have all successfully eliminated guards. Guards can be redeployed and trained as drivers to allow for off-peak frequency improvements without increasing staff. Automatic Train Protection and other infrastructure such as platform mirrors and CCTV would need to be installed, but these would pay themselves off within a few years. 
  • Better use of existing infrastructure - The trains exist, the track exists, the stations exist, but the trains are only every 30 minutes. There is a lot of expensive infrastructure doing nothing - just see Mayne depot at midday!
  • Next generation rolling stock - Newer "off-the-shelf" trains tend to have much lower maintenance costs, unlike the old EMU trains which need some spare parts specially made.  
  • Cut some inland regional train services - BrizCommuter may be controversial here with rail fans, but why run 2 trains a week to an outback town when you could run 2 coaches a day at a lower cost? Many developing countries have excellent coach networks with competing companies, frequent services, comfortable reclining seats, facilities, and air condition. 
  • Make better use of Tilt Train services - BrizCommuter often observes the 5pm Bundaberg Tilt Train with less than 50% seat loading. In the UK, it would be rare to see any "inter-city" services with spare seats. BrizCommuter believes that unsold seats should be reallocated to go-card users travelling to Tilt Train stops on the suburban network - Landsborough, Nambour, and Gympie (maybe with a slight fare premium, as occurs with Japan's limited expresses). 
  • Internal efficiencies - the management and operation of more efficient rail operators (which doesn't exactly narrow down the list) needs to be investigated and followed to reduce internal efficiencies. This would happen anyway if QR is privatised. If QR could save 10% of it's current operating budget, the funds could be reused to fund 15 minute off-peak services to most of the inner-suburban rail network (and that figure is still with guards!). 
  • Property market - Make use of land above railways and stations. Hong Kong MTR Corporation makes far more revenue from property than from fares. Just make sure that there is room for rail  expansion underneath the new structures! 
  • Advertising and sponsorship - QR are getting better with advertising (e.g. wrapped trains), but are a long way behind many other urban rail operators. 
  • Attitude - just stop the "we can't run trains every 15 minutes because of [enter poor excuse here] attitude" QR! 
Outside of QR's control, increased efficiencies include more attractive fares to stop the negative cycle of patronage stunting and increasing subsidy. Buses feeding trains services would make for a more efficient public transport network. Unfortunately, the latter is unlikely if Brisbane City Council continue to review their own bus network with complete disregard to the bigger picture.

Update 16/04/2013

It has been reported that Queensland Rail will move from being a government owned corporation to being a "more passenger focussed" government statutory authority. A "governmentisation" rather than "privatisation". Well QR, can you start off with introducing the belated stage 2 train timetables?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wind your clocks back 50 years

It's the time of year when some states move their clock back 1 hour. Unfortunately, in Queensland it looks like the clocks are about to be wound back 50 years to the 1960s (although Campbell Joh Bjelke Newman appears to be taking Brisbane back to the 1970/80s anyway).

In the 1960s roads were the king with low oil prices resulting in public transport heading into temporary decline around the world for a few decades. However, in the last few decades most sensible countries have realised that building more roads just results in more road congestion, and that public transport has a major role in environmentally sustainable transportation. Unfortunately, no-one forgot to tell likely next prime minister Tony Abbott. According to this Courier Mail article (in reference to comments by Tony Abbott on Melbourne's planned rail tunnel) "a Coalition government would expect the states and territories to fund public transport projects out of their own pockets." Federal funding is essential for Brisbane's $4b+ Cross River Rail to be constructed, and Tony Abbott's comments have put the federal LNP opposition at odds against the LNP state government and federal MPs. This is bad news, not just for Brisbane, but for all Australian Cities requiring rail infrastructure projects to move towards a more sustainable transport future.

With Cross River Rail looking increasingly unlikely, some of the world's highest fares, infrequent trains, and Brisbane City Council in denial that their bus network is an inefficient mess, things are looking very bad for Brisbane's public transport users. In fact Brisbane appears to be in a death spiral towards an unsustainable and congested transport future. Welcome back to the 1960s in Queensland!

Meanwhile, over in Auckland, a major rival to Brisbane for businesses in the Asia Pacific region, the bus network review appears to be going well, trains are moving towards 10 minute frequencies, and public transport fares are quite reasonable.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Brisbane = public transport Hicksville?

The last two blog posts have slated Brisbane City Council's poor bus design over the last few decades (with a bit of recently added TransLink input). Unfortunately, TransLink's revolutionary (but not entirely perfect) improvements to the bus network were abandoned. This was partially due to mass public hysteria, quickly followed by mass politician and union hysteria. Here is a case study, looking at just one bus stop, where BrizCommuter happened to come across a protest sign - click photo to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

This bus stop is located in Enoggera, just off Wardell Street. It is only served during weekday daytime, with no services in the evenings or weekends. Two low frequency routes currently serve this stop - 361 (Mitchelton to City via everywhere), and 372 (Ashgrove to City via everywhere).

In the TransLink network review, these two routes were both "cut" or "replaced", but with new routes replacing them. All services were removed from this particular bus stop. What alternative options would there have been for users of "Lloyd-North-30" bus stop, if the TransLink network review had come into fruition (frequencies given are Mon-Fri daytime off-peak)?
  • Ferny Grove Line (Enoggera Station) - 737m walk - every 15 minutes
  • New F7 bus (Mitchelton to CBD via Ashgrove) -  162m to 442m walk - every 15 minutes
  • New S114 bus (existing route 390) - 448m walk - probably every 15 minutes 
  • New S110 bus (Mitchelton to Ashgrove via everywhere) - 307m walk - unknown frequency
  • New S210 bus (Chermside to Indooroopilly) -  162m to 442m walk - unknown frequency
Additionally, the the peak there were also plans for:
  • P110 and P111 express buses (Albany Creek to CBD) - 531m walk - unknown frequency
So, anyone using Lloyd - North - 30 was not exactly going to be massively disadvantaged. However TransLink's review did not have any information on which stops on Wardell Street would have been observed by routes F7 and S210. The best case scenario would be 2 bus routes within 170m walk, 2 more bus routes within 450m walk, and a frequent train line (plus peak express buses) within 740m walk. The worst case scenario would have been 1 bus route within 310m walk, 3 more bus routes within 450m walk, and a train line (plus peak express buses) within 750m walk.

Most able bodied people should have no problem walking any of these distances. Primary school children should also be capable of walking (preferably with supervision) to the 4 stops within 450m walk. This leaves the elderly and disabled, who in most cases should be able to manage the 307m walk to the route S110 stop. If not, there is always the pre-booked Council Cabs alternative. The S110 route would have served two shopping centres, and lets face it, you'll walk considerably further than 307m around a supermarket do your shopping! Of course, it is unknown if this particular stop is even used by any elderly or disabled passengers.

So for the benefit of an extra frequent bus route serving this suburb, less confusing route options, consistent CBD bus stops for services to this suburbs, and more network efficiency (i.e. lower fares), the negatives of the closure of "Lloyd-North-30" bus stop are minimal.

Elsewhere in Brisbane

Brisbane bus users?
This example has been repeated right across Brisbane. It seems many Brisbanites, when reviewing TransLink's route changes were able to read "route .... is cut", but were then not able to read "route ... will be replaced by routes ... ". Whilst TransLink's consultation information was somewhat lacking, it seems that many did not even bother reading or understanding the information that TransLink made available.

An example below, is an article from last weeks Southern Star newspaper about the "epitome of waste" route 161 - "Campaign coordinator Diane Deem said news of the binned review came as a relief for hundreds of residents who would have been left without a viable transport option". The route 161 was actually planned to be replaced with another route, the S407. The S407 allowed interchange at Garden City to access to CBD via high frequency SE Busway services, and additionally gave direct access to Sunnybank, Coopers Plains, and other SE Suburbs. Not exactly an un-viable replacement was it Diane?

A minority of passengers would have been genuinely worse off due to the TransLink network review, and would thus have good reason to complain. However, BrizCommuter expects that the vast majority of bus users would have been advantaged. Due to the public and political hysteria over the planned changes (verging on selfish, ill-informed, and even quite stupid in some instances), TransLink's network review was canned with responsibility passed onto Brisbane City Council. Major bus network improvements such as frequent services for the first time to Centenary Suburbs, Wynnum Road, Yeronga, and North West Suburbs may now not come into fruition. CBD bus stop locations may remain confusing. Bus fares may continue to be the world's second most expensive, due to continuing inefficiency.

We will now have to wait and see if Brisbane City Council's bus network review will continue with its inefficiency and confusion, so as to not upset any irrational pitchfork wielding Brisbanites.

Update 07/04/2013

Click to enlarge
One of BrizCommuter's readers Garvin has printed out part of the above blog post, and placed it at the bus stop in question. BrizCommuter took a photo of the result. Maybe, some more sensible rebukes should be added at quite a few bus stops where protest signs have gone up?