Monday, February 28, 2011

Inner Northern Busway - can it get any worse?

Today marks the first day of a university semester, and thus the route 66 should have been back to running every 5 minutes in the peaks, solving all of the Inner Northern Busway's congestion woes. Unfortunately this was not the case!

BrizCommuter travelled home via the Inner Northern Busway from RCH Herston to Normanby this afternoon (28/02/2011) on a 330 bus. The bus filled up to capacity at RCH, and could only take on 4 passengers at QUT Kelvin Grove. At least 100 (and possibly even 120) passengers were waiting at QUT Kelvin Grove, and were left behind by this bus at 4:12pm. As buses only have capacities of between 50-80 passengers, it is likely that many of the passengers waiting had been unable to board previous buses, and many would not be able to board the following 2 buses either. What a way for TransLink to welcome students on their first day of university!

With the 330 bus being packed full, the driver then nearly departed the next stop, Normanby before alighting passengers were able to get to the exit door of the overcrowded bus. BrizCommuter also did not hear the driver reporting the full bus to control.

TransLink need to urgently increase the frequency of the route 66 during the peaks (this could be done via running  extra "sweeper" bendy-bus at known times of congestion), and/or make use of the buses that currently travel along the Inner Northern Busway out of service. Given that Brisbane's bus fares are far more than London, this situation is totally unacceptable!

Update 04/03/2011

BrizCommuter was travelling on a route 66 from Roma Street to RBWH on 04/03/2011 at around 12:30pm. Even at this off-peak time, the route 66 bus still filled up to capacity, leaving students trying to get to QUT waiting on the platform at Roma Street.

Update 07/03/2011

BrizCommuter was travelling from RBWH to Roma Street on 07/03/2011. This time, more than 60 students were left behind at QUT Kelvin Grove by a route 66 bus just after 4pm. This ongoing overcrowding situation is an absolute disgrace TransLink!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brisbane vs everywhere else

BrizCommuter has already showed how Brisbane compares unfavourably to both Perth and Melbourne when it comes to fares and rail service frequency. It has often been said that public transport in Brisbane is still cheaper than major world cities. Thus BrizCommuter has taken a look at how Brisbane compares to other cities, for a 5km journey from the CBD to inner-suburbs with a single peak adult fare. Exchange rates used were as of 27/02/2011.

London (Underground) - $3.95 (Oyster card single)
Brisbane (all modes) - $3.11 (go card single)
Berlin (all modes) - $3.10 (paper ticket)
Madrid (Metro) - $2.70 (single)
Paris (Metro) - $2.30 (paper ticket single)
New York (MTA Subway/Bus) - $2.25 (Metrocard single)
London (Bus) - $2.05 (Oyster card single)
Tokyo (Tokyo Metro) - $1.92 (regular ticket/PASMO single)
Los Angeles (Metro) - $1.47 (base fare)
Santiago (Metro) - $1.20 (paper ticket single)
Bangkok (Skytrain) - $0.96 (single)
Singapore (SMRT) -  $0.95 (single)
Hong Kong (MTR) - $0.84 (Octopus card single)
Shanghai (Metro) - $0.45 (single-ride ticket)
Mexico City (Metro) - $0.24 (single ticket)

Out of 15 cities in the comparison, Brisbane had the second highest single adult fare at $3.11. Only London is more expensive, although it should be considered that London has capped daily fares, as well as weekly, monthly, and yearly options. There are no such periodical options for frequent commuters in Brisbane. A paper ticket in Brisbane is 65c more expensive than for an Oyster Card single fare in London! With the possible exception of Los Angeles, all of the transport networks in this comparison have a considerably more frequent service than Brisbane. The Australian Dollar is strong at the moment, and this comparison hasn't taken into account financial differences between cities, such as average wages. However, it appears that Brisbanites are paying above the odds for a mediocre public transport service. It is more evidence that TransLink's run of huge fare rises in an attempt to decrease Queensland Government subsidy is seriously ripping off Brisbane's public transport users!

Update 01/03/2011

The Courier Mail has run this story in both their paper, and website. A poll asking if "Brisbane's public transport is too expensive" was at the time of this update showing more than 95% saying yes. There are also an incredible 395 comments and counting. This goes to show that Brisbane's commuters are very angry about paying higher fares, with mediocre public transport, and minimal service improvements. It also goes to show that only TransLink and the Queensland Government believe their own spin!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Springfield - now 2/3 baked!

Along with a new transport minister, the Queensland  Government have just re-announced the Springfield Rail Project, which will now cost $475m and will be built by TrackStar Alliance. This $171m less than originally planned, so where will this money go (obviously not on Ellen Grove)? It is claimed that the rail line will open "2 years ahead of schedule in 2013", except the government have forgotten that the project was delayed a few years ago, as it was originally due in 2011. The 9.5km dual track rail line will have two stations, Springfield and Springfield Lakes. Disappointingly Ellen Grove station, near Forest Lake will be missing, although plans will be made for it to be built at a later date. Whilst this station has a smaller catchment area than the other stations, surely it would be cheaper and easier to build the station at the lines inception? Why are all Queensland rail projects half-baked, or in this case 2/3 baked?

In interesting paragraph in the media statement mentions that 2,500 cars could be taken off the Centenary Highway, but only 300 car parking spaces will be built - 100 at Springfield, and 200 at Springfield Lakes. So is the Queensland Government expecting the other 2,200 passengers to access these stations by modes other than car? Unless the station is accessed by segregated cycle ways, walkways, and feeder buses with good coverage meeting every train, the number of car parking spaces seems to be somewhat minimal. What would the Simpsons think about it?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Inner Northern Busway woes

Only a few weeks ago BrizCommuter posted this blog post, detailing the severe overcrowding occurring on the Inner Northern Busway due to lack of route 66 services outside of the main university semesters. The post was updated twice, with more reports and observations of overcrowding occurring outbound from the CBD in the am peak, and inbound to the CBD in the pm peak.

This morning one of BrizCommuter's work colleagues reported a disgraceful 35 minute wait to board a bus from Roma Street to RCH Herston between 7:30 and 8:05am. Multiple buses passed by, already full to capacity, and could not take on any passengers. A few empty out of service buses also passed through Roma Street during this period. Apparently large numbers of passengers remained on the platform at Roma Street after BrizCommuter's source boarded, as that bus filled to capacity as well.

Why can't TransLink run anywhere near enough buses to cope with the the number of passengers? Do TransLink not realise that huge numbers of passengers still use the Inner Northern Busway outside of university semester? If TransLink do not fix this situation, it will continue to discourage the use of the Inner Northern Busway and connecting public transport services. The Inner Northern Busway's reputation has already been severely tarnished by the chronic overcrowding caused by the 7 month delay in extending the route 66 to RBWH.

Slightly changing the subject, page 19 of mX newspaper on 15/02/2011 had a "What's the most annoying thing about Brisbane" section. All 3 people interviewed gave trains or public transport as their response. BrizCommuter is not surprised by this piece of quality journalism.

Update 16/02/2011

BrizCommuter was unfortunate enough to have to use the Inner Northern Busway this afternoon between RBWH and Mater Hill at 3:15pm. As expected, the 66 bus filled up to capacity at QUT KG, leaving behind passengers there, and at Normanby. TransLink - leaving commuters, students, tourists, and school children behind at bus stops since 2003!

Update 24/02/2011

The Courier Mail's website has run a story about the overcrowding on the Inner Northern Busway, in particular the 66. The article claims that adults have been kicked off route 66 buses by drivers as they are not allowed to leave children waiting alone at bus stops. BrizCommuter has observed both children and adults being left behind by buses on almost every journey on the Inner Northern Busway in the last few weeks. Lets hope that pressure from the Rail Bus and Tram Union forces TransLink to improve the currently overcrowded bus service on the Inner Northern Busway, especially addressing the lack of 66 buses out of university semester time. In the meantime, RBWH and RCH hospital workers continue to be delayed getting to work as they cannot board buses at Roma Street during the morning peak.

Monday, February 14, 2011

CityCats are back!

CityCat Flotilla 13/02/2011
Today 14/02/2011 marks the day that CityCat  and CityFerry services have partially resumed after the devastating Brisbane Flood, one month earlier. Brisbane City Council should be commended on how quickly they have managed to get the CityCat and CityFerry services back in action. UQ, West End, Regatta, North Quay, QUT, Sydney Street, and Holman Street remain closed until further notice due to the huge damage caused by flood waters and debris. The interim timetable appears to have similar frequencies to the usual excellent CityCat timetable, but due the confusing timetable on TransLink's website, don't take BrizCommuter's word for it!

BrizCommuter decided to watch the flotilla (pictured) of CityCat, CityFerry, and a few other tourist boats yesterday 13/02/2011 to welcome back Brisbane's icons. However, due to lack of advertising about the event, the crowds were sadly limited. BrizCommuter was on the Goodwill Bridge, and the only other spectators were 2 tourist couples, and some people on bikes who just happened to be passing!

In typical negative fashion, the Courier Mail have welcomed back the CityCats with an article mentioning the decline in CityCat patronage prior to the floods. A quote "council is investigating the decline and could not rule out the impact of the State Government fare increases", probably needs to be highlighted. Rail patronage also fell around the same time, after the huge January 2010 fare increase, despite massive growth over preceding years - covered in this earlier blog post. It doesn't take a detective to work out a major reason for the decline in patronage!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Richlands - the mediocrity continues!

Richlands - secret train services!
One of the biggest improvements to public transport in Brisbane for some time has occurred in the last few weeks. But with the possible exception of Rail Back On Track members, most commuters would be hard pressed to know what this improvement is, as TransLink appear to have kept it a secret.

The opening of the Richlands Line has extended the weekday daytime Corinda service to Richlands, providing a 15 minute off-peak service to Darra. But that is only a fraction of the improvements. Evening and weekends only used to have a 30 minute service on the Ipswich Line. With the addition of the Richlands services running every 30 minutes, stations from Milton to Darra now have a 15 minute (well actually 14-16 minute) off-peak service during the evenings and weekends. Hopefully this will the first move towards a systemwide inner-suburban 15 minute off-peak frequency - we can only hope!

So why haven't TransLink and QR advertised this significant service improvement. Do they want to save the good news until the draft 2011 timetables are put into action (expected in March 2011, but who knows when)? Maybe they are concerned about a few inconsistencies to the interim timetable, and limited opening hours of Richlands? Issues aside, it would still be possible to advertise the improvements, even with a nod to the upcoming 2011 timetable without being misleading e.g "Now more frequent train services during evenings and weekends between CBD and Darra, further improvements coming soon".

Instead of publishing a new Ipswich timetable including the new Richlands services, QR and TransLink have published a separate interim Richlands timetable. So, for example a passenger from stations between Darra and Milton may look at the Ipswich timetable, and not know of the existence of many extra services. Maybe there isn't enough space on the timetable to fit in the peak Richlands shuttle services? QR timetables have been known to have a much shorter lifespan, including the March 2008 Ferny Grove timetable which was "adjusted" after a few days, so the short timetable lifespan isn't really an excuse.

Finally, despite QR having years to prepare for the opening of the Richlands Line, many trains do not have Richlands available as a destination on the front of the train. This would not happen anywhere else in the world, so why does mediocrity continue to be acceptable in Queensland?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tunnel Vision

...and $1.3b in debt!
When even the pro-car Courier Mail runs an article entitled "Clem7 would never have been built based on traffic numbers" then you cannot help thinking that transport planning in Brisbane has most definitely lost the plot. The figures in the article are startling. The number of vehicles using the tunnel are just over 22,000 a day, when the forecast was 90,000. The numbers of cars expecting to be using the tunnel per day in 2020/1 has been revised down from 128,000 to 40,435. Yet, only last week, the vital Cross River Rail tunnel's opening was delayed to at least 2020 due to "lack of Government money" post floods. With 31 trains per hour, loaded with 650 passengers heading into Brisbane in the am peak, Cross River Rail would move nearly as many passengers in just one hour than the Clem7 is currently used by in a whole day!

RiverCity Motorway's latest forecast by IMIS even has forecasts of 55,163 in 2030, 69,787 in 2040, and 85,801 in 2050. Have the forecasters heard of "peak oil"? Whilst cars can be powered by fuel other than oil, such as hydrogen, solar, or mains electricity, BrizCommuter doubts that a peak oil crisis was seriously considered in this forecast.  Despite RiverCity Motorway being $1.3billion in debt, and writing down more than a billion in assets last year, Brisbane City Council still appear to be pressing ahead with more toll roads including the Northern Link/Legacy Way, and the Kingsford Smith Drive "upgrade". Construction of Airport Link is now quite advanced. A toll road that can pay for it's own construction is all well and good, but not when it's making a loss as per Clem7. But isn't it just the shareholders that will suffer due to the wiped out $690 million? BrizCommuter hopes that his superannuation fund didn't have shares in RiverCity Motorway!

Before it is argued that Brisbane's politicians need to remove their "road tinted glasses", and look towards more  efficient and sustainable forms of transportation than cars, how can rail projects such as Cross River Rail pay their way? According to the Inner City Rail Capacity Study - Pre Feasibility Report, Cross River Rail estimated net present value is $35 billion, which makes the construction cost of $8 billion seem like small change! Most of the economic benefits are from travel time savings. The rest of the economic benefits are from travel cost savings, land use, reduction of road trauma and fatalities, plus of course the reduction in carbon emissions. So even while most public transport projects provide a negative return, the economic, social, and environmental advantages far outweigh the costs of construction and operation. Just when are our politicians going to see the advantages of rail tunnels over road tunnels, and stop this road obsession?

Update 12/02/2011

This article on Brisbane Times website hits the nail on the head, with Brisbane's leading developers having serious concerns about the delay to Cross River Rail.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Signalling Case Study - Paris RER A

Paris Metro Line 14
Now that Cross River Rail has been delayed, one of the options for increasing rail network capacity is improved signalling. However, as this would involve the Government spending some money, BrizCommuter is rather pessimistic that this would happen! Anyway, here is a case study where improved signalling has significantly increased rail capacity.

Paris RER A opened in 1969 as a cross city suburban rail system. It was an instant success, and quickly became overcrowded. The fixed block signalling system could manage a maximum of 24 trains per hour (tph) per direction (every 2 minutes 30 seconds). 24tph is roughly the maximum capacity of Brisbane's suburban tracks, although BrizCommuter would expect that more than around 20tph would be difficult to achieve with current infrastructure. The solution was for RATP and SNCF to commission a signalling system on the core section of RER A, which could allow for a shorter platform re-occupation time - time from the departure of a train to the arrival of following train. This system was called SACEM, and is an in-cab signal signalling allowing for shorter overlapping signal blocks around the stations to allow for higher capacity. SACEM was jointly developed by three European companies, and the "distance to go" automated train control (ATC/ATO) version has since been installed on Hong Kong MTR. The SACEM installation on Paris RER A allows trains to run at a timetabled 30tph (every 2 minutes) in the peaks with 224m long trains - that's 80m longer than a 6-car unit in Brisbane. RER A now carries more than 55,000 passengers per direction, per hour at any point on the core section. All stations have a train service at least every 10 minutes in the peaks, and with the exception of 2 stations, all are served every 10 minutes off-peak as well. More than 1.2 million passengers are carried on RER A each day!

More recently Paris RER has had it's single deck fleet of trains partially replaced by double deck MI2N trains. This cannot be done in Brisbane due to Queensland's restrictive loading gauge. Unlike Sydney's double deckers, these the MI2Ns have 3 sets of door per car side in an attempt to reduce station dwell time.  Certainly Brisbane will require more sets of doors on car sides in the future. Also, in a bid to keep trains moving, a horn sounds at stations when the dwell time has reached 50 seconds. This prompts an immediate attempt to dispatch the train as soon as possible.

Paris RER A's high capacity is also aided by good infrastructure. There are multiple reversing points, with all termini having at least 2 platforms and/or sidings for reversing trains. Intermediate reversing points all have a 3rd track so that trains can reverse without blocking the main running lines which unfortunately occurs at Manly and Mitchelton on Brisbane's  rail system. As RER A has 2 branches at one end, and 3 at the other, grade separated junctions allow for reliable operations. This is in contrast to Brisbane's many at grade junctions, such as at Roma Street (trains entering and exiting service), and Park Road where conflicting train movements can decrease track capacity and reliability.

Showing how forward thinking France is in terms of public transport, RER A's improved signalling and higher capacity trains were not the only solution to overcrowding. Metro Line 14 (photographed), a driverless metro line which opened in 1998 was designed to partly relieve pressure from RER A. A future extension of RER E will take over, and extend one of RER A's western branches.