Thursday, April 26, 2012

BrizCommuter becomes SydneyCommuter

BrizCommuter recently spent a week in Sydney, partially on business, and partially as a tourist. How does Sydney compare with Brisbane's "World Class" public transport system?
  • Fares - Sydney's fares are almost as overpriced as Brisbane's making the car (or walking) a very attractive option. There is also no smart card, and poor integration between transport modes. There is no daily option for zone 1 which would be useful for most tourists and visitors, and the cost of singles and (cheaper) returns can really add up. Brisbane wins here, despite also being poor when it comes to fares!
  • Trains - BrizCommuter found the train service to be sufficiently frequent, with no waits longer than 6 minutes for the 11 journeys taken (of which 4 were to/from the suburbs, and 2 of those were late at night). Train services were slow with express services feeling like they were trundling at slightly faster than running pace. Whilst the double decker trains eat up large crowds, with only two sets of doors per car, the dwell times often exceed 60 seconds slowing services down even more. Maybe Sydney needs to look at Paris' new double decker triple door MI09 trains? Only one delay was experienced, and that was approx. 4 minutes. Sydney wins here for frequency, although looses points for slowness. 
  • Ferries - Overpriced single and return tickets. Extensive network, but unlike in Brisbane, you need to check a timetable. 
  • Monorail - Who ever thought that putting a theme park ride in Sydney's CBD was a good idea? 
  • Tram/Light-rail - BrizCommuter didn't use Sydney's light rail as it was faster to walk to required destinations en-route. Not the most frequent light rail system around, and no next tram indicators. 
  • Buses - The free CBD loop bus was useful. However it was poorly advertised, often full, and didn't keep to schedule. BrizCommuter didn't use any other bus services - the confusing fare structure and poor bus route information for the casual user is rather off-putting. 
To conclude, Sydney's trains are frequent, but the fare structure is unintegrated and confusing, which makes using ferries and buses unattractive. Thank god for Melbourne, the only city in Australia that seems to have half-decent public transport with frequent trains, frequent trams, and an integrated fare structure. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gold Coast Rapid Transit - not half-baked!

Cavill Avenue artists impression    Source: GoldLinQ
As most of the readers of this blog will already be aware of, BrizCommuter is not amused by the number of half-baked and short sighted rail infrastructure projects that occur in SE Queensland. Examples, being the Salisbury to Kuraby section being triplicated when it should have been quadruplicated, lack of electrification on the 4th track between Corinda and Darra, and the Ferny Grove Line duplication being split into two projects. It is thus very refreshing to see that the plans for Gold Coast Rapid Transit (GCRT), the Gold Coast's Light Rail project appear to relatively well planned.

The GCRT will have termini at Gold Coast University Hospital and Broadbeach. Terminus design can be a major constraint for rail operations. Many of Brisbane's long removed tramways only had a low capacity single track at the terminus. Thankfully, the two (hopefully) temporary termini have 2 platforms, and the trams reverse in multiple sidings beyond the station. This allows for a very high frequency to be run if necessary. It also means that at times of service disruption, multiple trams can be temporarily stored at each terminus. It also allows for more operating flexibly and delay recovery.

Usually there are no single track sections. However, for a few weeks of the year during the bogan car racing fest there will be one single track section. The length of this section should not long enough to cause any major operating issues (as long as there no speed limits through the switches such as on Adelaide's tramway).

Instead of building short trams, and then extending at a later date, relatively long trams have been built for opening. The 43.5m Bombardier Flexity 2 vehicles can carry 309 passengers, and of course surfboards. The tram is of the modern 100% low floor design.

Unlike some North American light rail systems where service frequency is rather lame, the GGRT will run half-decent frequencies from day one, utilising 14 trams. Daytime frequency will be every 7.5 minutes, which is a turn up and go service. Early morning and evening (after 7pm) service will be every 15 minutes. There is also an all night service in Friday and Saturday night which will run every 30 minutes. Lets hope that there is security staff on these services!

BrizCommuter would like to see the GCRT extended as soon as possible to Helensvale to allow for connections with the Gold Coast Line. This would make it easier for Brisbanites to access the beaches, conference centre, and casino by public transport. It would also make it easier for Gold Coast citizens to access Brisbane without having to resort to driving.

A thorn in the side of the GCRT is the current anti-light rail publicity - mainly from disrupted business owners, bus rapid transport fans, and rev heads. Recent press reports show that those against the GCRT are in the minority, and with construction well under way only an idiot would stop things now (although there are no lack of idiots in QLD politics). BrizCommuter had little sympathy for the affected business owners. If your business is unique, and can stand out from the crowd (in products or customer service), then your customers should cope with having to walk a little further around some barricades. If your business is not special enough that customers vote with their feet, then maybe you need to try a bit harder? There have not been mass business wipeouts during light rail construction in Europe. Also, have the whinging business owners thought about the benefits of having a light rail system on their doorstep from 2014? BrizCommuter is however concerned how Gold Coast drivers (who don't exactly have the best reputation for road manners) will cope with light rail.

BrizCommuter expects that the opening of the GCRT in 2014 will start to turn the tide towards public transport in the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast Rapid Transit website:

Friday, April 13, 2012

QR moves the quiet carriage

Quieten down!
This week, Queensland Rail (QR) have announced that they will move the quiet carriage intolerant persons carriage from cars 1 and 6, to cars 2 and 5. This will allow QR to add permanent signage, as the quiet carriage will be in the same carriage irrespective of whether the train is 3-car, 6-car, or travelling in any direction. Quite why QR didn't do this in the first place is strange. The news has also been met with a barrage of loud announcements, which rather defeats the purpose of having a quiet carriage.

BrizCommuter is not a fan of the quiet carriage. Whilst they work well on booked seat long distance trains in Europe, they don't really work well on suburban rail systems, which is why few other commuter systems have bothered to even try. Peak period commuters tend to travel in either a carriage where they can actually get a seat (or in some cases actually get onto the train), or the carriage closest to the exit at their destination station. Having to avoid a quiet carriage just in case you might get a phone call from work/spuse/childcare can be quite a pain in the posterior. Given that 18 passengers in car 2 on BrizCommuter's train this morning were listening to music through headphones, BrizCommuter thinks that QR will have a struggle to make cars 2 and 5 quiet.

BrizCommuter is also concerned about the "quiet carriage police". QR, and Transit officers do not police the quiet carriage. However, many quiet carriages have been observed to be policed by intolerant angry members of the public, shouting (yes, shouting) at anyone making any noise louder than shallow breathing. It is sadly only a matter of time before one of these persons ends up being assaulted. Funnily enough members of the "quiet carriage police" have also been observed getting on trains before passengers have alighted, hogging aisle seats whilst window seats are empty, and taking up seats with their hand bags. Go figure!

Whilst QR promote the moved quiet carriages, and free wi-fi on trains, they are still neglecting the two key requirements of a decent railway - frequent and reliable train services. Commuters are still being kept in the dark about the introduction of the phase 2 timetables. Many commuters (and even some QR staff) are still in the dark about the recent minor Ferny Grove and Cleveland Line changes. There have also been multiple severe service interruptions in the last few months. Do QR need to get their priorities right?

Update 18/04/2012

BrizCommuter accidentally coughed in the quiet carriage this morning, but thankfully didn't get any nasty looks from the "quiet carriage police". Maybe they haven't moved in yet, as they also didn't notice the 14 people listening to music in just the one quiet carriage. Maybe they are trying to be tolerant?Also, the old quiet carriage poster adverting the quiet carriage as being in cars 1 and 6 was still up in car 2, which happens to be the new quiet carriage - doh!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

If you catch the 07:06am from Ferny Grove... may want to turn up a few minutes earlier from Tuesday 10th April. Unfortunately, TransLink have failed to inform train commuters of this apparent service change.

As of the 8th April, according to Queensland Rail's .pdf timetables and TransLink's journey planner, the 07:06am train from Ferny Grove will still depart at 07:06am, also departing Mitchelton at 07:15am, and arriving at Central at 07:32am. TransLink's "Ferny Grove train line changes" has no mention of any service changes for this service.

However, the new connecting bus timetables disagree. The new route 367 bus timetable shows this train service departing two minutes earlier from Ferny Grove at 07:04am. The new route 396 timetable shows this train service departing from Mitchelton two minutes earlier at 07:13am. Both of these timetables also show the train service arriving at Central two minutes earlier at 07:30am.

7:04am departure from Ferny Grove
7:13am departure from Mitchelton
So which timetable is correct? If the bus timetables are incorrect, then TransLink really need to do a bit more proof reading of their timetables. If the bus timetables are correct, and TransLink have failed to inform commuters about their train running earlier than previously, then this is yet another example of incompetence from TransLink.

This train service running two minutes earlier may not seem to be a big deal, and at least this service change may increase reliability of the following train services. However, BrizCommuter who regularly uses this train service (which is the busiest am peak service on the Ferny Grove Line) estimates that at least 10% of passengers arrive within 2 minutes of this train's scheduled departure time. BrizCommuter himself has often still been topping up his go card as the train approaches. Due to TransLink's lack of information, an estimated 80 passengers could miss this train service on Tuesday morning. For passengers between Ferny Grove and Oxford Park, missing this train service would mean arriving at Central 15 minutes later than planned.

BrizCommuter will bring you an update on Tuesday 10th April as to whether the 07:06am from Ferny Grove really was the 07:04am from Ferny Grove.

Update 10/04/2012

The Ferny Grove duplication opened on the morning of 10/04/2012. Unfortunately, this significant infrastructure project opening was marred by TransLink's incompetence. For starters, as expected there were no significant timetable changes, and still no information on when there will be. Then there was a minor timetable change (the 07:06am from Ferny Grove being changed to 07:04am) which TransLink failed to communicate to train users. Luckily for those not in the know, the train was running 3 minutes late by Enoggera anyway, so very few passengers should have missed the train. New timetables were issued to commuters at Ferny Grove, but other stations on the line had no copies. The .pdf version of the new timetable is still unavailable on TransLink's website. Even the TransLink journey planner does not know about the above service change. Very sloppy TransLink!

Another Update 11/04/2012

Quite a few passengers missed the train at Enoggera this morning as the now earlier 07:04am from Ferny Grove actually ran on time. With no information provided at that station about the service change, and the new .pdf timetable only put online today, many passengers are still unaware of the service change.

Yet Another Update 18/04/2012

One of QR's guards was heard making an announcement about the 07:04am from Ferny Grove service this morning. Well done QR, just 2 weeks too late, and few minutes two late for the passengers who missed the train at Enoggera this morning.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ferny Grove duplication to open, same mediocre timetable!

On Tuesday the 10th of April, the long awaited Keperra to Ferny Grove duplication will be completed. Trains will now be able to use two tracks between these stations instead of the old single track. Anywhere else in the world, we would be seeing a brand new timetable, with significant service improvements from the first day of opening. But not in Queensland. Unfortunately, in the "Backwards State" the tradition of spending millions on new infrastructure and then not improving train services continues.

For the foreseeable future, the only timetable changes mentioned on TransLink's website are outbound services departing from Keperra, and arriving at Ferny Grove 3 minutes earlier, and the 5:43pm from Roma Street to Ferny Grove departing 2 minutes earlier. Nothing worth getting excited about. True to TransLink's usual poor form, as of the 6th April, the new .pdf timetable has not even been published on their website, despite the publishing of the modified connecting bus timetables. Confusingly, the new 367 bus timetable shows the 07:06am from Ferny Grove will now depart at 07:04am. However, there is no mention of this train service change on TransLink's website. BrizCommuter is concerned that if this train service really has been re-timed, that many commuters will be unaware of the change and will miss their train!

Although the single track should increase peak period reliability, commuters will still have to continue putting up with some peak trains starting and terminating at Mitchelton, irregular peak service patterns, up to 23 minute gaps between peak services, and a laughably infrequent off-peak service. The mediocrity that is the Ferny Grove Line's timetable should (hopefully) be significantly improved with the belated phase 2 timetables. The LNP promised a 15 minute off-peak services, which will make the Ferny Grove Line the first branch line to run 15 minute off-peak services in SE Queensland. (Note: every line in Perth already runs trains every 15 minutes off-peak!) The duplication should also allow for a frequent all stations "metro like" peak service. The date of both the draft timetable consultation, and implementation of the finalised timetables have still not been announced by QR, TransLink, or the Queensland Government. This is leaving Ferny Grove Line passengers wondering when they will ever see the promised train service improvements.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

TransLink Tracker Q2 2011/12

TransLink have recently published their latest quarterly review of spin and statistics for Q2 2011/12.
The Tracker is available here:
Here is the usual BrizCommuter commentary:

Page 4 - Patronage has increased by a rather mediocre 1.6% in the last year, roughly in line with population growth, meaning that public transport patronage has not increased per capita. Despite some new high frequency bus routes, bus patronage remained static, not surprising when fare increases have made Brisbane's bus network the world's second most expensive. After many years of stagnation due to high fares, train patronage increased by nearly 6%. BrizCommuter thinks that some of this increase can be attributed to the more frequent peak timetables on the Ipswich, Richlands, Caboolture and Sunshine Coast Lines. Ferry patronage has been stagnant, most likely due to high fares scaring off tourists.

Page 5 - The tax payer subsidy increased over the last year, and the subsidy percentage has remained unchanged. Again, this shows that the now removed Labor government's fare policy failed to decrease tax payer subsidy. Unfortunately, things won't be much better under the LNP with fare increases still planned at twice the CPI for the next two years.

Page 6 - On time running has increased slightly for trains, and decreased slightly for buses. Missing from the TransLink tracker are statistics on the number of full buses which plague Brisbane's bus system.

Page 7 - The number of visits to TransLink's website has considerably increased, which can only be a good thing. The number of complaints has increased slightly, which is a surprise as complaining to TransLink is akin to talking a brick wall.

Page 8 - Go card use has increased to 80% over the last year, but compared to previous quarters is levelling off. More needs to be done by TransLink to coerce the other 20% to use the go card instead of paper tickets. Strangely, the utterly ridiculous price of paper tickets isn't deterring 1 in 5 public transport users.

Page 9 - The number of fixed fares has decreased to approx. 2%, partially due to the increased fixed fares reducing fare evasion attempts on longer distance journeys. However, the 2% figure is still very concerning as a reasonable percentage of these fixed fares are due to go card equipment failures. Thankfully the number of adjustments has also increased.

Page 11-13 - BrizCommuter general takes little notice of the customer satisfaction surveys, especially having never seen anyone actually being surveyed. Not surprisingly, the affordability rating has dived to an all time low.

Page 15 - Bus service kilometres increased by only 5.9%, and train service kilometres increased by only 6.4% in the last year. This is poor in comparison to the 15% fare rise, showing that public transport users are not getting value for money in terms of new services. There is also the odd statement, assumed to be referring to the new train services stating "additional services to be introduced in February 2012 will be partially captured in the Q3 figure for this financial year". It's now April, and there is still no sign of these additional train services. This seems to be rather misleading. Maybe they should have specified bus services?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Public Service Announcement

Are you one of the many people that BrizCommuter observes still using paper tickets on SE Queensland's public transport system?

If so, do you realise that for a zone 1-2 single peak period journey it is costing you $1.62 more than if you used a go card?

Did you realise that for the same single journey during the off-peak period it is costing you $2.33 more to use a paper ticket than using a go card?

If you commute from further out, a paper ticket is even more expensive compared to using the go card, up to $8.85 more expensive per single journey!!!

With the initial cost of a go card being $5 (and that is refundable) you have to be bonkers to still be using a paper ticket.

Still want to use a paper ticket? Why don't you just burn your hard earned money instead? Or maybe flush it down the toilet?

PS: Have you also noticed other commuters giving you nasty looks whilst you delay the bus when buying your paper ticket?