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. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adelaide vs Brisbane

Adelaide is well known for having a rail system decades behind other mainland state capitals, and is infamous for hourly weekend frequencies on some lines. However, Adelaide is currently undergoing a rail revolution with federal government funded electrification of major rail lines, and planned extensions to it's rail and tram network. So how does Adelaide's off-peak service frequency compare to Brisbane's?

Brisbane has 27 stations with a 4 trains per hour (tph) weekday daytime off-peak service - Central to Northgate, Darra, and Park Road, as well as Coopers Plains, Loganlea, and Beenleigh. All of these locations are serviced by two or more rail lines. Unlike all rail lines in Perth, and many rail lines in Melbourne, and Sydney, no single rail line in Brisbane has better than a 30 minute / 2tph weekday daytime off-peak service.

What about Adelaide? Well for starters, the Glenelg Tram (which has a considerable portion of running in it's own right of way) has 29 stations with a 4tph off-peak service. The 42km Gawler Line (which is a similar ballpark in length to the Ipswich, Caboolture, Cleveland, and Beenleigh Lines) runs a 2 pattern express service to speed up journey times. 7 major stations along the Gawler Line are served by both service patterns, and thus have a 4tph service. With the Gawler Line being electrified, further service improvements are planned in the next few years.

Adelaide's 30km Noarlunga Line currently runs a 2 pattern service which has extra trains before 11am and 2pm. In this period 8 stations receive a 4tph or better service. Between 11am and 2pm just 3 stations have a 4tph or better service, shared with Brighton starting/terminating services, and Tonsley Line services. The Noarlunga Line is currently being extended to Seaford (36km total length) with an opening planned for late 2013. It has been stated that a 4tph / 15 minute off-peak service will then be run on this line, serving all 17 stations between Seaford and Woodlands Park. So unlike Brisbane when huge sums of money are spent on rail infrastructure (Richlands Line and Ferny Grove Line duplication) with only a 30 minute frequency, Adelaide actually plans to considerably improve train services on it's new infrastructure. It should be noted that Brisbane's population is also nearly double that of Adelaide's.

If (as expected) no 15 minute off-peak services materialise in QR's 2012 phase 2 timetables, then within a year, Brisbane will have the worst weekday daytime off-peak train service of all mainland Australian state capitals! The Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR should be very embarrassed that Adelaide will have a 4tph / 15 minute off-peak peak service to many stations up to the 30-40km range from the CBD, whilst Brisbane can only provide a 2tph / 30 minute off-peak service at stations beyond the 16km range from the CBD (with the exception of an irregular 4tph service at Loganlea and Beenleigh).

Interestingly, Adelaide's rail system does not have guards. As with Melbourne and Perth's railway systems which both have half-decent service frequencies, the lack of guards is a much more cost efficient use of staff. Unfortunately QR's culture still appears to be clinging onto guards. SE Queensland's train system urgency needs frequency, not inefficiency!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Phase 2 Timetables - When?

So the stage 2 timetable consultation has started, without any hint of when we will actually be able to see any draft timetables, or when the timetables will be introduced into service. Thanks to the wonders of the internet archive wayback machine, lets go back to TransLink's website on November 30th 2010.
Oh look, the stage 2 timetable was planned for delivery in late 2011!
No, it wasn't a typo, here is the same claim on another TransLink webpage from the same day. BrizCommuter is also convinced of seeing a claim in stage 1 consultation material, that the stage 2 consultation was to commence in early 2011, but sadly this information appears to have been lost in cyberspace.

So what happened? Well, it makes sense that with the Ferny Grove duplication being finished "some time in 2012" that the phase 2 timetables should wait until then. It would be nice if TransLink and QR had to courtesy to tell their customers of this delay, or when Ferny Grove duplication is expected to be complete. There have also been rumblings that the timetable will wait until after an upgrade at Sandgate which would allow for a more frequent and reliable peak service to Shorncliffe. However, the date for this is unknown. So it seems that SE Queensland commuters are yet again being left in the dark as to when they will be able to view the draft timetables, and when they will be getting an "improved" new timetable. BrizCommuter is very concerned about this continuing lack of transparency and disregard for customers from both TransLink and QR.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, BrizCommuter thinks that the draft timetables will not be released until after the state election in early 2012. Draft timetables, potentially mean unhappy voters. It may also allow the addition of election campaign promises to the timetable, however BrizCommuter is not holding his breath on either party suggesting radical improvements such as 15 minute off-peak frequencies.

Place your bets now, for when the stage 2 timetables will be introduced:

  • Late 2010, as QR CRG members were informed at the very first CRG meeting?
  • Late 2011 as TransLink informed commuters in late 2010?
  • When the Ferny Grove duplication is finished sometime in 2012?
  • When the mystical Sandgate upgrade takes place ???
  • As late as possible in the 2011/2012 financial year?
  • In the 2012/2013 financial year (despite being mentioned in TransLink's 2011/12 Network Plan)?
  • Whenever QR get more trains in 2014?
  • Whenever the state government is out of debt?
  • Never?
Your guess is as good as mine!

Update 03/12/2011

At a recent QR CRG concerned with the new timetables, QR representatives could not give a date of the draft timetable consultation, nor the dates of the introduction of the phase 2 timetables, nor could they even provide information on the track capacity through the CBD, nor provide any information on whether the Sandgate upgrade was going to occur. This is extremely concerning news, and this lack of action combined with another 15% fare increase, will heighten next years unemployment prospects of current state government MPs with electorates served by the phase 2 rail lines.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Minor Delay or just Normal?

BrizCommuter often checks the Train Status on TransLink's home page before setting off to the station in the morning just to make sure that the Ferny Grove Line is not blocked by stupid motorists at level crossings. On the morning of 18/11/2011, TransLink's website was showing a "Minor" problem on all rail lines. BrizCommuter clicked to see what the problem was. Was it a signal failure or track failure in the core part of the network? No, it was a normal service. In this shining example of reverse logic, the Train Status was showing a "Minor" problem status to tell commuters that the strike planned for that day had been cancelled, and that there was a normal service. This isn't the only inconsistency BrizCommuter has seen lately. The closure of South Brisbane station was initially shown as a "Major" problem on the relevant rail lines on the first day of closure, before being rapidly downgraded to "Minor", and then a week later randomly alternating between "Minor" and "Normal".

London Underground
BrizCommuter would like to see TransLink follow London Underground's example in more consistent use of train service status messages. On London Underground, commonly used messages are "Good Service", "Minor Delays", "Severe Delays", "Part Suspended", "Suspended", and "Planned Closure". A dynamic map also shows station closures, and stations undergoing maintenance (e.g. lifts and escalators out of service). Announcements also use similar terminology as the service status updates, which are displayed on large LCD displays at stations as well on the internet. Also making life easier for Londoners is an easily accessible webpage listing planned weekend service changes up to 6 months in advance. This can be quite useful if you are planning an event, as most Londoners rely on public transport to get around the city.

Update 20/11/2011

This thread on Rail Back on Track's forum, shows an example of QR and  TransLink failing to provide sufficient signage to notify passengers at Goodna station about a weekend line closure. No announcements, or staff assistance (from QR, TransLink, or passing replacement bus drivers) either as passengers waited on the platform for non-existent trains. Why do SE Queensland public transport users have to put up with such mediocrity?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Less Doomben Gloom, and more Busway Zoom

Less Doomben Gloom
In a huge and welcome surprise to long suffering Doomben Line commuters, an extra trial evening peak service will be added from 14/11/2011 leaving Roma Street at 07:01pm and arriving at Doomben at 07:26pm. This is more than an hour after the previous last train, and is sandwiched between two railbus services roughly 45 minutes apart. Hopefully this move bodes well for the phase 2 timetables where BrizCommuter hopes that Doomben will at least get a 30 mins peak fare period service (currently the peak service is rather erratic and infrequent). It is good to see an extra service being added to a low patronage line instead of attempts to kill it off. The extra service is not really obvious on TransLink's website, so lets hope that this extra service had been well publicised to Doomben Line users by way of posters at stations or leaflets. TransLink blurb here:

More Busway Zoom
The Northern Busway's Federation Street overpass also opened on 14/11/2011 as part of the combined Northern Busway and Airport Link construction. This bridge takes buses across Bowen Bridge Road and bypasses a set of traffic lights (BrizCommuter is not too sure where TransLink came out with the bypassing 4 sets of traffic lights claim). Early reports from commuters are that a few minutes have been shaved off inbound journey times and bus bunching along the inbound Inner Northern Busway is not quite as bad as before - less cases of no buses for ages then 3 arrive at once. Just a shame that these precious minutes shaved off the journey time pale into comparison to some commuters increased journey times as a result of Westfield Chermside's paid parking scheme. TransLink blurb here:

And finally, a Courier Mail website reader poll asking "Is Brisbane's public transport too expensive" currently has a "Yes" vote of 92.78% after more than 2,100 votes. No surprises there then! Article here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Queensland Rail - now 18% slower!

Slower and slower!
An interesting thread on Rail Back on Track that BrizCommuter has been keeping an eye on is a discussion about the slowing down of rail services in recent train timetables. It seems that Brisbane is heading towards the world's worst practise of Sydney's trundling rail network (but with a lower service frequency just to add to SE Queenslander's woes). Unfortunately, timetable padding is nothing new in the railway world, with some UK train services being slower with 125mph trains now that with sub 100mph steam trains in the past.

In the 1995 Ipswich Line timetable, a midday off-peak Central to Ipswich service took 49 minutes. In 2011, it takes 58 minutes! That is a whopping 18.4% increase in journey time. Even in the last few years, the Ferny Grove Line timetable had a midday off-peak journey time from Central to Ferny Grove increase from 27 minutes in 2007, to 31 minutes in 2011. That is a 14.8% increase in journey time in just 4 years.

So why are rail services getting significantly slower? Are Queensland Rail and TransLink more concerned about on-time running statistics instead of actually getting passengers from A to B in a reasonable journey time? Does the timetable have to take into account ageing EMU trains with failing motors, or "sandbagging" train drivers? Is the timetable allowing for the annoying transit officer train delaying spot checks, where there seems to be complete disregard for law-abiding commuter attempting to get to their destinations or interchange points on time?

What are the consequences of slowing down train timetables? As many commuters on the Ipswich and Sunshine Coast Line may notice, trains will have to dwell for a few minutes at multiple stations on the line so as to not run early. Unfortunately not all train crew keep to time, and early running trains are a serious issue on QRs network. For example BrizCommuter regularly sees the 07:04 from Central to Ferny Grove run 3 minutes early through Enoggera. Reports from BrizCommuter's sources show that this is not an isolated incident, with inbound Cleveland Line weekend services also having a reputation for chronic early running. It is likely that some pedestrian level crossing near misses have been due to passengers trying to make it onto an unexpectedly early running service.

It is very difficult for public transport to compete with the car in Brisbane due to the poor frequency of SE Queensland's train services. It doesn't help when two rail lines parallel to roads which are either currently receiving or about to receive upgrades (Ipswich Motorway and Samford Road) are having their timetables slowed down by more than 18% and 14% respectively. With the phase 2 draft timetables looming, lets hope that the slowing of down of train services does not get even more ridiculous.

Gold Coast gets Commonwealth Games - what about public transport?

Gold Coast Skyline
Early in the morning of Saturday 12/11/2011 it was announced that the Crime Gold Coast has won its bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Admittedly, the only competition was in tsunami hit Hambantota, a port city in recently war-torn Sri Lanka.

So where will the events be held? The athletics and opening and closing ceremonies will be held at a train-less and light rail-less 40,000 capacity Carrara stadium. Other venues will include Skilled Park next to Robina Station, Broadbeach, Southport Broadwater Parklands, Runaway Bay, Coomera, Labrador, Village Studios ( next to Movie World), and Hinze Dam. A few events will also be held at Chandler, Belmont, Cairns, and Townsville.

It's pretty obvious from this list (especially Carrara Stadium) that bus transportation will have to form the basis of most public transport for the games. BrizCommuter would hope that the extension of the Gold Coast light rail to Helensvale station will be expedited to allow for easy interchange with the Gold Coast Line. However BrizCommuter is not holding his breath for this. Going by the limited transport information in the games website, it appears that the Gold Coast line will sadly not be extended to the Gold Coast airport in time for the games as bus and taxi have been given as airport access modes. Hilariously, the same web page mentions the tacky Jupiter's Monorail as a public transportation option. The Gold Coast Rapid Transit's website mentions that bus lanes will be added to some Gold Coast roads as a side project (not as a result of the Commonwealth Games bid). The is no mention of capacity enhancements on the Gold Coast Line, which has lacking infrastructure such as the single track section between Coomera and Helensvale, and lack of overtaking opportunities for express services between Beenleigh and Brisbane's CBD. So the number of public transport improvements that can be directly attributed to the Commonwealth Games bid appear to be minimal to non-existent, and it appears that there will be a minimal public transport legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

BrizCommuter is also concerned as to where the money is going to come from for the Commonwealth Games. With a state government deeply in debt, and limited federal funding available, many urgently required public transport projects in SE Queensland have been dropped, delayed, or quietly forgotten about in recent years. Lets hope that funding for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 will not take yet more money away from SE Queensland's ailing public transport system, underfunded hospitals, police force, and education system.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Anatomy of a Station Refurbishment

$200m was spent in 2010 on refurbishing a group of QR train stations. BrizCommuter decided to have a look at what was done at one of these (almost completed) stations - Enoggera. The TransLink blurb is here:

The "Cage"
  • Platform - Drainage was added in the centre of the platform, with a slope created towards the middle of the island platform. Unfortunately, there was no raising of the platform edge to make it easier to access trains with wheelchairs or prams. Whilst a slight curve on one platform may make this problematic, the other platform is dead straight - no excuse! A yellow tactile edge was added to the platform in keeping with modern safety codes.
  • Buildings - The ticket office windows have been lowered to improve access, and a short ramp has been built to access the windows. The station buildings have had a fresh coat of grey paint, and security panels have been placed in front of the high windows making the station look rather "prison" like. Some more of the cage panels on the bridge and ramp have been added and/or replaced, and handrails on the bridge, stairs, and ramp have been re-painted yellow. BrizCommuter hasn't inspected the toilets yet, nor tested the shiny new platform seats for comfort.
  • Lighting - Bright new LED lighting has been added. This is a big improvement over the previous fluorescent lighting, and makes the station feel safer at night (although the security guard at night tends to help too). 
  • Signage - Ageing signage has been replaced in TransLink corporate style. No big station entrance sign yet. 
  • Passenger Information Display (PIDs) - The fairly new dot matrix display was removed, and has yet to come back. Maybe Enoggera will be getting a new colour LED display? At the end of the day, the PIDs are often pretty useless during a major delay anyway. 
  • Car Park - One of the three car park sections appears to have been resurfaced. 
  • Gardening - A bit of mulching and gardening was done around the Northern entrance and the Southern car park. Just like BrizCommuter's garden, it looked great until the weeds came through. 
  • Local scenic artwork - Token artwork from a local school is on the side of the ticket office, and helps brighten up the building's greyness.
  • Bus Interchange - BrizCommuter is unsure of who actually owns the Enoggera Bus Interchange. Anyway, it is still the same old desolate unrefurbished (and drainage deficient) white elephant. Tactile edges would be nice for consistency, but then again you would have to extremely unlucky to be flattened by a bus here.
So Enoggera now looks slightly spruced up, but still isn't going to win any design awards. When it comes to public transport spending priorities, it seems odd that there are an increasing number of smarter looking train stations, but still with a rather infrequent train service. At least one can now admire the  quality of the mulching whilst waiting 29 minutes for a train!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Chermside - with empty car parking spaces!  Image: Nearmap
Since Westfield announced that they would start charging for use of their Chermside car park for more than three hours, a transport meltdown was seemingly inevitable. Westfield Chermside shopping centre's car park is/was used by hundreds of public transport users daily from Northern suburbs, who have little alternative but to use it as a park and ride, and then catch the multitude of frequent bus services into the CBD and Herston Hospital Campus (RBWH and RCH). This avoided paying extortionate costs for parking in these inner-city locations. However, as typical commuters parking at Chermside will now be slugged with a $20 parking fee, many of these commuters have had to find ways of getting around the parking fee. Continued use of Chermside's car park could increase the cost of commuting by $100 a week! This has not surprisingly resulted in suburban streets around Chermside becoming choc-a-block with cars early in the morning, with media reports of some homeowners being trapped in their driveways, and a nearby club having to hire security guards to keep commuters out. For those who cannot get parking, there have also been reports of Gympie/Lutwyche road being busier than usual in the am peak as more commuters are forced to drive to their destination instead. BrizCommuter has also heard reports of RBWH and RCH hospital car parks filling up earlier than usual, preventing out patients from being able to park in time for their appointments.

One of BrizCommuters work colleagues has had a torrid few days since "Chermsideaggedon". On the first attempt, she tried to park in the streets around Chermside, only to find out that so had everyone else. After wasting 30 minutes trying to find somewhere to park within walking distance of Chermside Bus Station, she gave up, and drove to Herston, only to find car parks there were also full. Eventually she found a location in a back street, 15 minutes walk from work where she arrived to work 80 minutes late! Attempt two involved using infrequent public transport from near to her Northern suburbs home. Unfortunately the bus allegedly failed to turn up, so she had to wait an hour for the next bus to Chermside. The bus from Chermside then became stuck in worse traffic than usual, resulting a slightly improved arrival at work only 75 minutes late.

So who is to blame? Many have justifiably accused Westfield of corporate greed by adding parking charges. It is well known that aside from the run up the Christmas, the car park at Chermside is rarely full during the Monday to Friday commuting week. So what is Westfield's problem with commuters? BrizCommuter is also pretty sure that Westfield would not have contributed to the entire cost of the extensive Chermside bus interchange next to the shopping centre! On the other hand, are Brisbane City Council, and the Queensland Government rather naive in expecting private companies to provide commuter park and ride facilities on their properties for free?  Also, the existing bus network fails to provide an attractive feeder network to the core high frequency routes, forcing commuters to drive to park and ride facilities.

So what can be done? Can politicians force Westfield to reverse their corporate greed? BrizCommuter thinks this is unlikely. Will people power do the same? BrizCommuter doubts this due to the typical Australian apathy? Will TransLink suddenly introduce a raft of frequent feeder buses, and alternative park and ride locations. Not likely, and certainly not in the short term. It seems that Northern Suburbs commuters and residents around Chermside have been well and truly screwed by a combination of Westfield, and poor political planning.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Connecting SEQ 2031 - LameLink to UrbanLink

The Connecting SEQ 2031 has recently been released, and is downloadable from the link below:
This document replaces the draft version that was released and commented upon by BrizCommuter some time ago. There are a few differences from the draft version, see if you can spot the differences! Below are BrizCommuter's opinions on the document and it's plans.

More Green Bridges?
Page 1 - Starts with the title "Vision for a sustainable transport system", and the plans to double the share of active transport from 10% to 20%, double the share of public transport from 7% to 14%, and reducing private motor vehicle trips from 83% to 66%. This seems rather optimistic given the Government and TransLink's current policy of high fares and limited improvements discouraging the use of public transport, and turning public transport users back to using private motor vehicles! Not a good start is it?

Page 28 - Whilst it is noted that better connected, and higher density communities are required around public transport corridors, this study assumes that the unsustainable low-density urban sprawls of Ripley Valley, Yarrabilba, Greater Flagstone, and Caloundra South will continue to go ahead. These developments appear to contribute to the urban development problems identified. Three of these will require new rail lines, and one (Yarrabilba) just gets a bus service or two. Given the delays in building rail line to Springfield, and delays in providing upgrades to existing rail lines, the Government has better get their act in gear for providing half-decent public transport to the above mentioned urban sprawl developments before their populations become car reliant.

Page 39 - The progressive removal of level crossings is mentioned, with 7 level crossings listed as being given "priority". With level crossing incidents being an almost daily occurrence, BrizCommuter would expect far more level crossings would need to be replaced by bridges by 2031.

Page 46 - Rail network sectorisation is mentioned. These include a frequent inner-suburban UrbanLink service, outer-suburban ExpressLink, and express CoastLink services. This triple layer rail service will require considerable infrastructure investment (not necessarily mentioned) such as overtaking tracks, and new reversing points at locations such as Loganlea and Helensvale. The 15 minute off-peak UrbanLink services are required now (as per Melbourne and Perth), rather than at some unknown time in the future. As mentioned previously, the failure to implement 15 minute off-peak inner-suburban rail services in the 2012 timetables will be a disgrace. The extortionate train fares in SE Queensland mean that we currently have one of the worlds least value for money train services. Maybe the current service should be called LameLink?

Page 46 (continued) - BrizCommuter strongly supports Cross River Rail, but still laughs at the plan for a "Brisbane Subway" from Toowong to Newstead. It would be better for the latter line to allow through services from the Ipswich/Springfield Lines to selected rail lines from the North, so as to avoid the inevitable meltdown that will occur when the Ipswich/Springfield Line reached capacity due to lack of tracks through the CBD. BrizCommuter supports the plan to further integrate the bus and rail network. Will this mean that Enoggera bus station will cease to be a white elephant?

Page 51 - BrizCommuter likes the plan for a "people centred approach" to public transport planning. This appears to be in contrast to current thinking. Lets face it, the lack of information boards telling passengers where each CBD bus routes departs from is not exactly "people centred".

Page 52 - There is mention of a trunk and feeder network design. This makes sense for feeding railways with bus services, as long as the feeder buses maintain a decent frequency and connections are made. For the bus network it's a bit more tricky. Certainly a trunk and feeder network design could make for more efficient use of South East busway capacity (where some buses are full, but others are empty). However, if a journey is changed from a one seat journey to a two seat journey, the connections and frequency of both feeder and trunk services needs to be decent enough for the use of public transport to be attractive.

Page 57 - The ill-thought out idea of the Brisbane Subway is mentioned again. Longer term (pie in the sky) options for this UQ avoiding metro are mentioned. These include an extension to Airport Village via Northshore Hamilton. The Airport Line already runs past the Airport Village, and why not extend the Doomben Line to Northshore Hamilton? Another plan is Newstead to Bulimba. Why not just build a "green bridge" for buses across the river, and extend the CityGlider service across it? The last future plan comes straight out of the fantasy foaming files collection - "Potential conversion of some sections of Brisbane's busway network to subway". The successful SE Busway is a victim of it's own success, but converting it to light rail or subway would come at a huge expense, with the former not offering any capacity advantage over busway.

Page 58 - This page shows the rather messy rail network planned for 2031. This includes the grand plans of Cross River Rail, new trains lines to Ripley, Maroochydore, Kippa-Ring, Flagstone, and extension  of the Springfield Line to Redbank Plains. The North East Transport Corridor/Alderley to Strathpine/Trouts Road Line is also shown (which according to the diagram on page 99 will connect with Cross River Rail around Roma Street.

Page 71 - BrizCommuter welcomes plans to connect Brisbane's disjointed cycle networks. At the moment getting from A to B by bike often required running the gauntlet of Brisbane's road network, with a risk of ending up in the RBWH (which funnily enough can be easier to reach by ambulance than by the Inner Northern Busway in the am peak). Brisbane requires a cycleway network that is separated from main roads.

Page 99 - In addition to the above mentioned infrastructure improvements, there is mention of Victoria Bridge Bus Access improvements, TransitWays (i.e. bus lanes), various Busway extensions, and investigations of "Green Bridges" from West End to UQ, Bulimba to Newstead, and Kangaroo Point to CBD. Rail infrastructure improvements include Eagle Junction to Domestic Airport, Sandgate to Shorncliffe, Manly to Cleveland, Kuraby to Beenleigh, and Darra to Redbank.

The big question, is that with a broke State Government which has dropped public transport improvements left and right and centre in the last few years (Sunshine Coast Line, Kuraby to Kingston triplication, 15 mins off-peak), where will the $200+ billion required for these plans to come to fruition arise from?

Friday, October 21, 2011

RFID cards compete for supremacy!

go card internals!
Most go card users will know that it uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) to communicate with the readers. Many go card users would have learnt by now that having other RFID cards in their wallet can cause issues with go card readers, notably an "Invalid Card" error. The most common offenders are usually work ID passes, however there are some new offenders on the block battling for radio-frequency domination every time you try to touch on or off - the contactless Visa PayWave and MasterCard PayPass cards.  BrizCommuter has recently seen an increased spate of "Invalid Card" errors from other users, and then had issues himself whilst using another public transport smart card system whilst on holiday abroad with a Visa Pay Wave card in his wallet for the first time. Despite the obvious give away in the name of the card, BrizCommuter (and it seems lots of other users) did not realise that these are RFID cards, similar in design to the go card. So unless you want to multiple fixed fares, and the seemingly endless wait to get refunds from TransLink, do yourselves a favour, and make sure your go card is in a different wallet to Visa PayWave, MasterCard PayPass, and all other RFID cards! Of course, this begs a question in our card carrying world that when all cards become RFID cards, instead of carrying 10 cards on one wallet, will we have to carry 10 cards in 10 wallets?

PS: TransLink, can you make those go card wallets a bit smaller, as go cards just float about in the oversized plastic wallets.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New frequent user discount - Gimmick?

Still too expensive in 2012!
It has been announced today by the Queensland Government, that from the 2nd of January 2012 the go card frequent user discount will change from having a 50% discount, to having free journeys after the 10th journey between Monday and Sunday. As previously planned, the peak fares will also increase by another extortionate 15%. The off-peak fare discount will increase to 20%, but this still means that off-peak fares will still increase by double the CPI. BrizCommuter thinks that the new frequent user discount is a panic move by a Government with failing public transport policies ahead of an election.

So who will benefit? Frequent users who make more than 10 journeys (excluding free travel to sporting events) between Monday to Sunday. Students make up a considerable portion of these users, as many students have to travel to/from university as well as to/from jobs. With all journeys being free after the 10th journey irrespective of zones used, a free weekend trip to the surf on the Gold Coast could be a good use of go card for an inner-city dwelling student!  Which frequent users will not benefit? Shift workers (such as BrizCommuter) who do not always work in a Monday to Sunday pattern. For example when BrizCommuter works a weekend shift, he will usually work 9 days consecutively from Wednesday to Thursday. As the frequent user discount resets on the Sunday evening, then despite 18 journeys across 9 consecutive days, the frequent user discount will not kick into action! The frequent user discount will also not apply for tourists making multiple journeys over a few days, but not making it to the elusive 11th journey. There is still considerable need for daily, and weekly/7-day ticketing options to make public transport use more attractive in SE Queensland for all users.

So will the new frequent user discount help with the rising cost of living? With the 15% fare rise in January 2012, 10 zone 1-2 peak journeys will cost an estimated $35.70. Currently, 10 zone 1-2 peak journeys cost $31.10. With the current 50% discount resulting in weekend off-peak zone 1-2 fares costing $1.33, then unless you made 14 or more journeys between Monday and Sunday, the 2011 fare structure would still be cheaper than the 2012 fare structure. Very few public transport users make 14 journeys in one week, so for the vast majority of public transport users the new fare structure will still result in an overall fare increase putting even more pressure on the hip pocket. With very limited public transport improvements planned for this financial year, the Queensland Government will need to do far more to win back votes from public transport users!

Pollie quote of the week in this press release is from Transport Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk referring to the 20% off-peak discount "This will give people even more of an incentive to travel outside of the peak period and take advantage of the growing number of high frequency bus, train, and ferry services". Ms Palaszczuk, can you please tell use where there have or will be any new high frequency off-peak train services this financial year?

Finally, some food for thought. If you reach your free 11th journey in one week, then statistically you will have had a 33% chance of incurring a $5 to $10 fixed fare!

Update 03/11/2011

Campbell Newman has announced that if elected, the LNP will provide free journeys after the 9th journey instead of the 10th. Whilst this will give benefit to more public transport users, the policy just stinks of political point scoring. There was no announcement of lowering base fares, which are already some of the highest in the world. There was also no announcement of daily ticketing options such as a daily cap, or free journeys after the 3rd for example for tourists. BrizCommuter is very concerned that whoever wins the next election, that public transport users will continue to suffer poor frequency and extortionate fares.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Value for Money?

Poor value for money!
With the recent news that most of Brisbane's rail network will continue have laughable 30 minute off-peak frequencies, and another huge 15% fare rise around the corner, BrizCommuter decided to take a look at the value for money of Brisbane's train network. The value for money has been calculated by dividing the cost of the cheapest available adult off-peak single for a 15km journey, by the Monday to Friday midday off-peak frequency (trains per hour). Exchange rates and fares are as of 15/10/2011.

Worst VFM

Melbourne Metro (Hurstbridge, Epping Lines) = $5.10/3tph = 1.70 *
Brisbane QR City (Ferny Grove, Caboolture, Shorncliffe, Cleveland, Beenleigh Lines) $3.13/2tph = 1.57
Brisbane QR City (Ipswich/Richlands Line) $3.13/4tph = 0.78
London National Rail (Chingford, Hayes Line) $3.08/4tph = 0.77 *
Melbourne Metro (Alamein, Lilydale/Belgrave, Glen Waverley Lines) $3.02/4tph = 0.76 *
Perth TransPerth (All Lines) $2.85/4tph = 0.71 *
Berlin S-Bahn (Most Lines) $3.04/6tph = 0.52 *
Melbourne Metro (Frankston Line) $3.02/6tph = 0.50 *
Los Angeles (Red Line) $1.45/5tph = 0.29 *
London Underground (Jubilee Line) $3.76/18tph = 0.21 *
Singapore SMRT (NE Line) $1.69/10 = 0.17

Best VFM

* donates daily ticketing options also available.

The results show that the majority of the Brisbane's off-peak commuters suffer from the second worst value for money train service of all the studied train lines. Only 2 lines in Melbourne fared worse, and that was due to the stations being just over the zone 2 border, and having Melbourne's worst off-peak frequency of every 20 minutes (still 50% more frequent than most of Brisbane's rail network). Lucky commuters on the combined Ipswich/Richlands Line fared only slightly better thanks to the 15 minute off-peak service to Darra. It is a huge disappointment that the Queensland Government and TransLink do not appear to be interested in improving the off-peak train frequency across the rest of Brisbane's rail network, despite the huge patronage increases of high frequency bus routes. The winners of Australia's best value for money train line are those on the Frankston Line in Melbourne, where the 15km mark is within zone 1, and trains run every 10 minutes off-peak. All Perth, and most Melbourne rail lines are better value for money than all lines in Brisbane.

It should be noted that all studied rail systems apart from Brisbane and Singapore (which is more than 9 times better value for money than Brisbane anyway) offer daily tickets, or daily capping, resulting in huge potential savings for passengers who need to make lots of journeys in one day. Melbourne's Myki ticketing system also offers cheaper Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday fares. Brisbane's off-peak fares were used in this study. Unfortunately there are also many examples in Brisbane where an every 30 minutes off-peak train service is provided in the even more expensive peak fare period (which bizarrely starts at 2am when no trains are running!).

The latest TransLink Tracker Q4 2010/11 shows that rising fares have reduced train patronage, and the "affordability" statistic is plummeting. Can the Queensland Government and TransLink explain why SE Queenslanders have to contend with one of the least value for money suburban train networks in the world?

Friday, October 14, 2011

TransLink Network Plan 2011/12 - Huge Disappointment!

Infrequency to continue!
The previous 15% fare rises were met with a rather minimal (but great sounding) 300,000ish extra seats per week on public transport. Going by TransLink's 2011 network plan, the next 15% fare rise will be met with even less impressive service improvements.
Warning - reading the TransLink 2011 Network Plan may lead to commuter depression:
After 18 pages of waffle, only 1 page is devoted to improvements in 2011/12. No numbers of seats have yet been promised this year, making BrizCommuter think that commuters may be getting even less value for money from the 15% fare rise in January 2012. Here is the disappointing list of service "improvements":

  • New train timetables on Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, Doomben, Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines will probably NOT include 15 minute off-peak services originally planned for 2010. This is despite 15 min off-peak services being common place in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney, and the success of every 15 minute bus routes in Brisbane. BrizCommuter's sources have even warned not to expect much in the way of overall improvements to peak services either. 
  • More than 125 new buses on the TransLink network. Can a few more be used on the overcrowded Inner Norther Busway? 30 minute waits to board a bus at Roma Street in the am peak is not good enough!
  • Regional review of bus services to meet new train timetable i.e. expect retimed, not extra services. 
  • New cross-town strategic bus routes servicing Number 1 Airport Drive, Garden City, UQ lakes, and the NorthWest Corridor. The former two have already had their service implemented, the latter two's services may be interesting. 
  • High frequency network upgrades to services in Carindale, Buranda, Aspley, NorthWest Corridor.  The former two have already has their upgrade (actually they already had a high frequency service), and will the latter be the same as the above mentioned cross town route?
  • Recast and optimisation of bus services in the inner-North to utilise the opening of Stage One of the Northern Busway, once complete. Will this solve Inner Northern Busway overcrowding, or make it even worse?
  • Infrastructure improvements include the Northern Busway from RBWH to Kedron, a few more bus stations, park'n'rides, and station refurbishments. 
The mediocrity that is public transport in Brisbane sadly appears to be set to continue as the cost of using public transport rises yet again.

Update 04/11/2011

According to this article on the Brisbane Times website, the extra weekly seat target for this financial year is 310,000 seats, the same as last year. Already around half of these seats have been delivered, not leaving much for the phase 2 rail timetables and Northern Busway opening if they fall into this financial year.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cross River Rail EIS

Merivale Bridge
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Cross River Rail (CRR) has recently been released. There is rather a lot of information available, so BrizCommuter recommends reading the Executive Summary first, and then if you require further information (i.e. is your house going to be demolished), then download the relevant bits. Page numbers mentioned in this blog post are from the Executive Summary.
Cross River Rail EIS Webpage
Executive Summary .pdf

BrizCommuter is a strong supporter of CRR. Despite it's huge economic benefits, the ALP Federal and State Government's are having a few issues finding funding, and the LNP State Opposition appear to be sitting on the fence. With 3 out of 4 tracks through the CBD already operating near maximum track capacity in the am peak, there is little spare track capacity left already in 2011!  After a new timetable earlier this year, the Ipswich and Caboolture Line's will have spare passenger capacity on the majority of their services for many years. Whilst the forthcoming new timetable on the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines lines may make for a more efficient use of limited track capacity, the passenger capacity across the Merivale Bridge will still be severely limited. This was slated to reach saturation in 2016. The 2016 figure appears to have disappeared from the EIS, although one graph (page 39) shows capacity being reached in 2018. The current public transport policy of high fares which is discouraging public transport use, may delay this saturation date whether intentional or not.

The design of CRR has had few changes since the excellent reference design which has previously been discussed in this blog. The most obvious changes are the relocation of Yeerongpilly station and the tunnel portal to reduce the number of required property resumptions. The "ultimate" track capacity is stated as being 24tph per direction which is the same as London's Cross Rail. The EIS is written around a belated 2015 construction start, and 2021 opening date. For non-believers, the benefits of CRR are outlined on page 43.

It's a shame that figure 4-1 on page 51 shows the existing trains per hour (tph) situation in Feb 2009. Since then there have been significant improvements to am peak services on the Ipswich and Caboolture Line which are not reflected in the EIS. The 2021 post-CRR am service chart on page 56 is however an improvement over the similar chart (for 2018) in the reference design which had very disappointing projected service improvements on some lines. Examples from the EIS include am peak services on the Ferny Grove Line increasing from the current 7tph to 10tph in 2021, Shorncliffe Line from 3tph to 7tph, Cleveland Line from 8-9tph to 12tph, Beenleigh Line from 8tph to 13tph, Sunshine Coast from 2-3tph to 4tph, and Gold Coast Line from 4tph to 11tph! The service increases on the Ipswich/Rosewood, Springfield/Richlands, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Lines are not so impressive. With Caboolture and Redcliffe (assuming the latter are extended Petrie services) only receiving 1tph more than at present in the am peak. These services will still only use 6-car trains, so will expressing a few inner city stations such as Toombul and Nundah allow for sufficient capacity in 10 years time? There is little planned service improvement in 2021 for the Ipswich/Rosewood and Springfield Lines (assuming the latter are extended Darra and Richlands services) of just 2tph and 1tph respectively. This is not good news for users of these lines.

On page 57 is the plan for 2031. Here things get messier the BabyCommuter's nappy! SE Queensland's rail network will include branches to the urban sprawl of Flagstone,  Ripley, and the long awaited line to Caloundra. Line pairings will change, as well as new reversing points to support 3 layers of service patterns to allow for a reasonable balance between frequency and journey times for all rail users. Considerable new infrastructure would have to be funded to allow for these service patterns, as well as 9-car outer-suburban trains, and new higher capacity trains for inner-suburban services. Lets hope the next train orders reflect these future plans.

The 2031 plan shows a spur from CRR north of Roma Street to Alderley, and then along the Alderley to Strathpine corridor, also known as the Trouts Road Line and North West Transport Corridor. There is also a junction at Alderley where Ferny Grove Line services will be split between Ferny Grove services and Strathpine services along the Alderley to Strathpine Line, reducing the number of services to Ferny Grove. The Alderley to Strathpine Line will also be used for express services to/from Nambour and Caloundra, with these services using a tunnel from Alderley to somewhere between Roma Street and Exhibition where it will join CRR. This means that CRR will have services split off North of Roma Street. BrizCommuter wonders if it makes sense to construct a separate tunnel from Roma Street to Alderley (continuing onto the Alderley to Strathpine Line), and run both stopping services to Strathpine and express services to Sunshine Coast along this line rather than splitting services on both CRR and the Ferny Grove Line? There is also no information in the CRR EIS as to construction requirements around Alderley, and thus some local residents maybe concerned if their house in the path of the junction!

Aside from higher capacity trains on the Springfield Line there are no plans for overall service improvements between 2021 and 2031 on the Ipswich/Rosewood/Ripley/Springfield corridor. These lines will share tracks through the CBD that will be limited to 19tph, just 3tph more than in 2011. BrizCommuter is very concerned about this future capacity constraint to and from the West of Brisbane which is not addressed by CRR.

The rest of the EIS goes into considerable depth about the construction methods and environmental impacts of CRR's construction. There is also not surprisingly a section on how CRR will be flood proofed, such as a raised entrance to the Albert Street station, a part of Brisbane which was inundated in January 2011.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Airtrain allowed to stay out later!

Today it was announced that from December 12th 2011 Airtrain will extend it's evening operations from the rather laughable 8pm to a much more reasonable 10pm. This will mean that Airtrain can be used to access the late night international flights out of Brisbane, and allows Airtrain to be used to get home after evening flights from East Coast destinations. Previously a post-work evening flight from Sydney at around 6pm would get into Brisbane around 7:15pm. With risks of delays and waiting for bags, catching the 8pm train could not be guaranteed. Now passengers can make the train! BrizCommuter welcomes this much needed service improvement.

Did Airtrain's record $12.5m profit last year push the decision to provide a better service? If Airtrain turn another large profit next year, will we see services run even later, and every 15 mins during the daytime off-peak? Airtrain is still playing catch up with nearly every other airport train service! BrizCommuter is also interested to know if the later Airtrain service will also result in improvements to the currently hourly evening Gold Coast Line service?

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...