Wednesday, May 30, 2012

TransLink have a new journey planner

TransLink upgraded their journey planner on 29/05/2012. BrizCommuter took a quick look.

The best feature of the new journey planner is the google maps integration. This is particularly useful when a walk is required at either end of the journey, or a walk is required to transfer between services. A good example would be how to get to the entrance of The Prince Charles Hospital, which is served by multiple bus stops around the property. It may also be useful to find CBD stop locations due to TransLink's lack of signage. Extra functionality showing where buses actually are would be a nice addition given the unreliability of passenger information displays at bus stops. Also GPS tracking showing where you are on a bus route may also be a useful future addition for occasional users.

Screen shot of new TransLink journey planner.

The journey planner gives multiple route options, however after the first couple of suggested routes, the suggestions can become rather amusing and not for those in a hurry. It is also possible to see the status of the require bus routes, and "see alternative routes and times" which can show whole day timetables using multiple routes between two points. The journey planner also shows fares, which will probably be enough to make many drive instead.

Overall, the changes are good improvement in the right direction.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Better value for money Mr Emerson?

QR - Value for Money?
In a response to a rather biased article on Traveston station in the Courier Mail, new Transport Minister Mr Emerson was quoted as saying "the LNP government will ensure spending on the Queensland Rail network will ensure better value for money for taxpayers". Lets look a few ways of improving QR's efficiency:

  • 15 minute off-peak frequencies - the taxpayer is paying for the upkeep of rather a lot of trains that do absolutely nothing for most of the day. Improving off-peak frequencies to every 15 minutes would make for more effective use of trains that the taxpayer is already paying for. The LNP have promised a 15 minute weekday daytime frequency for the Ferny Grove Line, but the introduction date seems to be a state secret. 
  • Driver only operation - Melbourne doesn't have them, Perth doesn't have them, Adelaide doesn't have them, and the vast majority of metro systems don't have them, so why does QR? Suitable guards could be re-trained as drivers for improved off-peak service (see above).
  • Phase 2 timetables - the current timetables for much of the network are a mess. Since the Ferny Grove Line duplication opened in April, there is an out of service train that just sits outside of Mitchelton for ages in the evening peak, and multiple out of service trains that trundle slowly back to the city behind stopping trains. There are plenty of other examples of inefficiency in the current peak timetables. The belated phase 2 timetables will hopefully make for more efficient use of trains and train crew. Unfortunately, the phase 2 timetables are now rumoured to be not happing until after a platform at Sandgate is upgraded in 2013. Inefficient and unattractive peak services continuing all due to one platform! Only in Queensland.
  • Cut the fat - most government organisations have excessive fat that needs to be trimmed. However care needs to be taken to ensure that the fat is cut from the right places. The LNP's current eradication of temporary government servants to save money is turning out to a complete stuff up, with many knowledgable and hard working temporary staff being dumped whilst less useful permanent figures remain.
  • Privatisation - ???
There are plenty of other efficiency savings that can be made with TransLink and SE Queensland's bus system:
  • Fare structure - increasing fares above CPI has been shown to stunt patronage, which has resulted in the taxpayer subsidy percentage remaining stable, and the amount of taxpayer subsidy increasing. A more attractive fare structure that increases patronage could decrease the taxpayer subsidy percentage.
  • Bus network redesign - the current network has many inefficiencies with many historical routes (some based on old tram routes), welfare/social routes, unattractive routes (e.g. rail feeders that stop in early pm peak), routes that compete with train lines, routes with minor variations (often starting from different CBD stops), and a mainly radial network. The bus network needs to be completely reviewed, with the aim being a more efficient and frequent hub and feeder network. This could also make for more efficient use of limited SE Busway capacity. 
  • Stopping Brisbane City Council from introducing the massively resource wasteful Maroon CityGlider. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New QR Quiet Carriage - has it worked?

BrizCommuter readers will be aware that QR moved the Quiet Carriage from cars 1 and 6, to cars 2 and 5 on the 16th of April. Five weeks later, has this move been successful?

BrizCommuter currently uses the same morning train service on approximately 75% of morning commutes, and uses carriage 2, mainly due to it being the least crowded carriage on that service, and the doors are close to the exit at BrizCommuter's destination station. BrizCommuter hasn't moved carriages due to it being the quiet carriage, and nor have his fellow carriage 2 passengers. With morning trains often having the same familiar group of commuters, it appears that car 2 passengers have continued to use car 2, with few immigrants from the old quiet carriage. Of course, of these passengers that continue to use carriage 2, many still have their morning conversations with their commuting buddies,  many (approx. 20 in car 2) still continue to listen to music in headphones, some at a high enough volume for their dubstep drops to be heard by others. The usual suspects still yap away on their mobile. The move of the quiet carriage has resulted in no noticeable volume change in car 2, which appears to be no quieter than it was when wasn't the quiet carriage. 

BrizCommuter decided to venture into car 1 which used to be quiet carriage, and was not surprised to find it quieter than the new quiet carriage. Oh well, at least the quiet carriage police have not yet migrated into carriage 2.

Why no change? Commuters are a creature of habit. As the same commuters continue to use car 2 due to it being convenient for exits, or it being less crowded (or sometimes the only carriage they can get onto), then its designation as the quiet carriage appears to have made little difference in commuter behaviour. Inconsistent signage is also not helping, with conflicting old and new signage being spotted on a quite a few trains. Supporters of the quiet carriage will continue to convince themselves that it is a success, but BrizCommuter's observations show that the quiet carriage move has not changed commuter behaviour in the slightest. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Also in the news...

Quite a few relevant news items have appeared in the last few days, with added BrizCommuter commentary:

Expert panel to review Cross River Rail - the Newman LNP government has announced an "expert" panel of just 3 people to review Cross River Rail in only a 4 week period. Given that considerably more time and effort was put into selecting and refining the Cross River Rail route in the first place, this is somewhat concerning. Was the Courier Mail's mistake of showing the plans of the half-baked "Cleveland Plan" instead of Cross River Rail in this article an omen of what the outcome will be from this expert panel?

Phase 2 train timetables still missing in action - reports from BrizCommuter's sources at two recent QR CRG meetings is that QR still can't say when the new timetables will be available in draft, be implemented, or in fact say anything else about the new timetables. If QR was a private company, they would be out of business if they treated customers like this!

Sydney CityRail cutting the fat - a contender for the world's most inefficient rail operator award - Sydney's CityRail will be cutting 750 middle managers, be restructured, and there are threats of up to 4,000 potential job cuts. Expect similar things to occur with Queensland's bloated QR. This document is an interesting read (thanks to RBoT member Simon for finding this):

Cultural Centre - Full to bursting?
Northern Busway Services - new Northern Busway services have been announced by TransLink, starting on the 18th June 2012. Although it is disappointing that bus services have not been completely restructured to improve efficiency, some of the improvements are very welcome. Firstly, the routes 330 and 340 have been BUZ'ed, making them every 15 minutes off-peak and every 10 minutes or better during the peaks. This could help with the ongoing Inner Northern Busway overcrowding woes. It will significantly improve frequencies by up to 200% on the Inner Northern Busway and Northern Busway corridor during Sunday mornings and late at night. BrizCommuter would like to see the 340 diverted to serve the The Prince Charles Hospital main entrance as opposed to dropping off passengers on Hamilton Road which is still quite a few hundred metres away. The 340 has been diverted away from Cultural Centre, now travelling across the Captain Cook Bridge to Wooloongabba. Is this further evidence that Cultural Centre is at saturation point? A new cross-town route 369 from Mitchelton to Airport DFO, replacing the current route 358 may be useful for those travelling radially. The almost useless route 393 is being cut back from Normanby to RBWH, however it would have been more useful to have extended it to Roma Street. This cut back now means that passengers trying to get from Normaby to RCH/RBWH may have even more problems trying to get on a bus that isn't already full in the am peak.  Changes are also occurring to a multitude of other bus routes, with details (and no timetables yet) here:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

If QR is inept, what is TransLink?

An amusing news story was covered in this Courier Mail article yesterday. Ex Liberal MP, now transplanted as DG of Transport and Main Roads Michael Caltabiano has been reported as telling guests as a private boardroom lunch that Queensland Rail (QR) was "badly run, badly structured, and inept". He is also quoted as saying QR that TransLink would have a much broader role in running transport statewide.

As any reader to BrizCommuter's blog would know, QR is far from perfect. As with any government company, it will be quite bloated with staff. One of the most obvious bloats that could be preventing the network wide rollout of higher service frequencies is the use of guards, a practice that has been abandoned on many suburban rail systems including Melbourne and Perth. BrizCommuter is still seething from the incompetence that was the March 2008 timetable rollout, when many commuters faced a worse timetable with only a few days notice. The latest example of ineptness from QR is this Quiet Carriage signage inconsistency (old and new quiet carriage signs in same carriage - doh!). However, BrizCommuter is far more concerned about the incompetence and ineptness from TransLink. As TransLink is the QLD governments public transport lap dog/spin merchant, TransLink having even more control is somewhat concerning.

Here is a incomplete list of TransLink's incompetence in the last few years:

  • Huge fare rises that have scared passengers back to their cars, and failed to decrease taxpayer subsidy.
  • Lack of daily and weekly tickets, the former scaring off tourists.
  • Unreliable go card system - failed readers, buses with incorrect locations, etc.
  • Delay in introducing online go card refunds. 
  • Unclear go card terms of usage.
  • Bizarre bus network - many different routes with minor variations, no trunk and feeder network, few and poor standard of rail feeder services.
  • Different bus routes heading in the same direction start at different CBD bus stops.
  • No signage to tell passengers which bus route goes from which CBD bus stop. 
  • Overcrowded and full buses, especially on university routes - and not much being done about it.
  • Not running the route 66 to RBWH for 7 months after the busway opened - overcrowding resulted in up to 55 minute waits to board a bus at RCH Herston!
  • Australia's worst bus timetable maps. 
  • The 393 bus route. 
  • Incorrect busway passenger information displays - Boggo Road's displays show some buses heading away from UQ Lakes as travelling to UQ Lakes. 
  • Secrecy of information - not publishing QR passenger load survey when patronage dropped, no information on full buses in TransLink Tracker. 
  • Telling commuters phase 2 train timetables would be introduced in late 2011 - it's now mid-2012 with no sign of them.
  • Reluctance to fix Sunshine Coast Line overcrowding after phase 1 timetables - QR forced the changes.
  • Failing to inform commuters of some minor timetables changes in April 2012 - at day of introduction no timetables on website, no mention of a service change on website, no update of journey planner with service changes. 
  • Worse train frequencies of any mainland Australian state capital - this is mainly TransLink and the government's fault, not QR
  • Terrible customer service - stock standard replies, ignore many comment forms, etc.
  • Incorrect information on website often experienced at times of train service problems.
If TransLink are to have more control over SE Queensland's public transport, then they also need to have a long hard look at themselves. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Phase 2 train timetables - still missing in action!

As many BrizCommuter readers will be aware, the implementation of the phase 2 train timetables is turning into a rather long running and unfunny joke. Ipswich, Richlands, Caboolture, and Sunshine Coast Lines received new phase 1 timetables in June 2011, approximately 6 months after the consultation process began. TransLink stated on their own website that the phase 2 timetables for the Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Doomben, Cleveland, Beenleigh, and Gold Coast Lines would be implemented in late 2011. Queensland Rail conducted a rather lame consultation process in late 2011 that provided no draft timetables or any idea when the new timetables would be available for draft consultation or implementation. In fact no details were provided about the new timetables (such as am peak capacity across the Merivale Bridge). Now that the election is over (with added 15 minute daytime off-peak on the Ferny Grove promises), and the Ferny Grove duplication is open, the lack of information on the introduction of the new timetables is turning into a farce.

Two of BrizCommuter's sources have contacted TransLink to ask when the phase 2 timetables will be available in draft and for implementation. Both have received no response. This lack of information and secrecy is quite disgraceful, especially compared to most other suburban rail networks that announce timetable changes far in advance of implementation.

With less than 2 months until the end of this financial year, it is looking increasingly unlikely that we will be seeing the phase 2 timetables this financial year despite being in TransLink's 2011/12 network plan (June 2012 was also mentioned as implementation date by QLD's ex premier in the election campaign). In the unlikely event that this date in made, the consultation process will be so short that it would only be lip service. BrizCommuter is also concerned that there may also be insufficient trains to provide an optimal phase 2 peak timetable. We may see quite a few services operated by 3-car trains resulting in overcrowding, or even service gaps until more trains are delivered in 2014/15.

SE Queensland commuters using the affected train lines are becoming increasingly frustrated with mediocre existing timetables (i.e. 23 minute peak service gaps), fare rises after fare rises, and lack of service improvements. Can anyone from the Queensland Government, QR, or TransLink answer the question - when will be see the new phase 2 train timetables?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brisbane has gone all LNP

With Lord Mayor Graham Quirk winning the local council elections last weekend, both SE Queensland's local and state government are now dominated by the LNP. Although it is early days yet, what does this mean for commuters?
  • Less political point scoring and opposition to plans - things may get done, but bad ideas may also get done (see next 3 points).
  • Cleveland Solution - proposed by Council of Mayors (SEQ), this is a half-baked alternative to Cross River Rail with considerably less benefits, and would result in even more congested level crossings.
  • Suburbs 2 City Buslink - also proposed by Council of Mayors (SEQ). Whilst there are some merits in the Suburbs 2 City Buslink, such as an extra bus bridge across the Brisbane River, the funding would be better spent towards Cross River Rail. 
  • Maroon CityGlider - this plan by Brisbane City Council is a huge waste of tax payers money as it duplicates existing bus routes. 
  • Cross River Rail - has a currently unknown future.
  • CityCat improvements - more express services and maybe a new Milton terminal.
  • Bus improvements - including increased disabled accessibility promised by Graham Quirks election campaign. Will the overcrowded basket case that is the route 66 ever get fixed?
  • Free inner city (slow) ferries - but who uses them?
  • Will anything happen to Brisbane City Council's ownership of Brisbane Transport (buses)? BrizCommuter doubts it. 
  • Will Legacy Way be linked to the Inner Northern Busway to speed up links to Western Suburbs. BrizCommuter doubts it. Very disappointing, especially as a certain Mr Newman previously announced that 2000 express buses per day would use Legacy Way.
  • Free journeys after the 9th journey from July 2012 - but public transport is still too expensive.
  • Phase 2 train timetables are still missing in action. 
  • Mr Newman appears to have a fetish for toll road tunnels. 
  • The LNP have a concerning history of cutting things. 
We will have to wait and see what the new political map brings to public transport users. As usual, BrizCommuter is not holding his breath for any good news.