Sunday, June 12, 2016

Fare review - re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic?

Current situation

TransLink's current 23 zone-fest
For many years BrizCommuter has been complaining about TransLink's excessively high public transport fares in Brisbane and South East Queensland. These have been proven beyond doubt to be discouraging the use of public transport. This issue worsened considerably under many consecutive fare rises from both sides of politics, allegedly instigated by the government's department of treasury.

To add insult to injury, when the go card system was implemented, useful functionality such as daily and weekly zone based capping (as found in London) was not purchased. The system can only cap fares based on number of journeys, but irrespective of the zones used. To limit excessive fares for people who "do the right thing" by using public transport, the 10 then free, then 9 then free cap was introduced. On the good side it means that commuters such as BrizCommuter will not keep paying more fares after they have made 9 journeys in week, often resulting in free fares by Friday pm peak and weekend travel. It has also encourage public servants to use their own go card to get between meetings, and not spend taxpayers money on taxis. On the bad side, as the cap is not zone based then it is easily rorted by longer distance commuters who can obtain huge savings on their weekly fares by taking trips in their breaks. The system is also capable of off-peak fare discounts (but am peak fares start bizarrely at 3am), or reducing fares (e.g. to 50% after a set number of journeys) as occurred in the past.

Another issue is the huge number of fare zones (23) which particularly penalise passengers travelling north to south, or vice-versa. The base fares are also relatively high, resulting in driving often being cheaper for journeys up to around 40km if the commuter already owns a car. Long distance journeys are relatively cheap by international standards, in particular due to their being no fare surcharge for express services.

The final fare issue, is that both Brisbane Transport and Queensland Rail are so inefficient that fares, or at least fare box revenue, are adversely affected by money wasted on guards, and Quirk's messy bus network.

Despite promising a fare review, the LNP Newman government failed to deliver. The ALP Palaszczuk government has however been working on a fare review for many months. Now the review has been publicly released...

The fare review

The results of the fare review are now available. The fare review  task force suggested a set of changes, but then the government has adopted different fares to those suggested by the task force. The changes are in this document.
The 8 merged zones
The new fares and zones will be introduced in early 2017 (probably January). The changes will be:
  • Zones reduced from 23 to 8, and fares reduced from current levels - it is good that single fares have been lowered for all users. Short distance journeys, reduced by 15c to $3.20, should have been reduced further (a la Perth). BrizCommuter also thinks that longer distance journeys, some reduced by more than $3, have been reduced far too much. This imbalance continues to promote environmentally unsustainable long distance commuting lifestyles, and penalises those who do the right thing by living closer to their place of work or education. It is good that short journeys across the new zone borders (e.g. Enoggera to Mitchelton) will not result in costing anyone higher fares, though only by 2c. 
  • "Nine then free" replaced by "8 then 50%" - this move reduces the ability for rorting by longer distance commuters, but penalises heavy public transport users (including many students and young adults) who should be rewarded to get cars off roads. It may also penalise public servants who currently use their own go cards to get between meetings - good news for taxis. The lack of free fares also means that public transport spending will more unpredictable for some users. The lack of zone based daily and weekly capping functionality in the go card system is an achilles heel that prevents are fair and equitable fare structure. 
  • Children under 14 travel free on weekends if they have concession go card - this is a good move to promote weekend travel, and make the loss of the "nine then free" less painful for those with families travelling on weekends. Shame about the terrible weekend frequency of trains and many bus routes. 
  • 2 journey cap continues for seniors - despite having 50% reduced fares, it seems that seniors will continue to get daily capping. These seems somewhat unfair to everyone else, especially students. 
  • Off peak hours changed - the off-peak fare discount still applies, however it now starts at 6am. Unfortunately the go card system is too dumb to work out fares by touch off time which would be far more sensible. This means that Gympie North commuters who travel in the am peak get an off-peak fare! 
  • More concessions - more people are now eligible for concessions including (at long last) jobseekers Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, and asylum seeks. 
BrizCommuter's next article will look at before and after cost comparisons for a range of commuters. However without any in-depth analysis it seems that those who benefit the most travel are those who travel within merged zones (except inner-Brisbane), environmentally unsustainable longer distance commuters, families travelling on weekends, seniors, the unemployed, and asylum seekers. Those who benefit the least are those who travel within inner-Brisbane, very frequent public transport users, and those who live just outside of the new zone borders. Sadly, inner city and frequent public transport users are people who should be encouraged more to use public transport. 

Ultimately, due to the lack of "account based" functionality in the go card system it is impossible for there to be a fair and equitable fare structure until it is replaced. This is likely to not be until the end of this decade at the earliest. Thus the fare review is akin the re-arranging the deckchairs on the titanic, though at least the deckchairs are now slightly better arranged. At least the ALP Palaszczuk have had to balls to do something!

TransLink's fare changes website:


  1. Very disappointed that there is no daily, weekly or monthly tickets.

  2. gu - this is due to the go card system not having "account" functionality, as mentioned in this article. Maybe from 2019...

  3. BrizCommuter, it can not come soon enough. I would had been happy even if they had kept the QR's monthly paper ticket. However, TransLink's agenda was to move everyone onto the GoCard Cheers.


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