Saturday, June 30, 2012

TransLink's network plan 2011/12 - pass or fail?

Alderley - access improvement and timetable FAIL
It's now the end of the 2011/12 financial year. Lets have a look at TransLink's 2011 network plan to see what TransLink actually managed to deliver, and which improvement plans fell off the back of a CityCat. TransLink's 2011/12 financial year plans have been taken from page 19.
  • Stage Two of the Rail Timetable Review which will review timetables and services in the Airport, Beenleigh, Cleveland, Doomben, Ferny Grove, Gold Coast, and Shorncliffe train lines - EPIC FAIL (now looking like 2013!).
  • More than 125 new buses to the TransLink network - ? PASS (assumed)
  • Regional review of bus services in the Eastern, Southern, and Gold Coast regions to meet new train timetables - FAIL (due to no new train timetables for buses to meet).
  • Review of bus services in Gold Coast to accommodate developments of the light rail project - PASS (if you count buses being diverted off Surfers Paradise Boulevard).
  • New cross town strategic bus routes servicing Number 1 Airport Drive, Garden City, UQ Lakes, North West Corridor - PASS
  • High frequency (bus) network upgrades to services located in Aspley, Buranda, Carindale, North West Corridor - PASS
  • Recast and optimisation of bus services in the inner-North to utilise the opening of the Northern Busway once complete - PASS (although still inadequate counter-peak Inner Northern Busway capacity)
The following are infrastructure improvements that were planned for 2011/12.
  • Stage one of Northern Busway from RBWH to Kedron - SEMI-FAIL (bus lanes between Windsor and Lutwyche missing)
  • Improved customer access to Alderley, Bethania, Nambour, Narangba, Sandgate, and Wooloowin train stations - FAIL (construction work has barely started on some of these projects, and Nambour has been cancelled).
  • Station upgrades including new ticket offices at South Brisbane and Eagle Junction train stations - almost ALMOST-PASS (Eagle Junction not finished yet)
  • New bus stations at Logan Central, Maroochydore, North Lakes, Peninsula Fair, and Redbank Plaza - SEMI-FAIL (only a few have opened this financial year). 
  • New bus station, driver facilities, and community activity hub at Noosa Junction - PASS.
  • New park'n'ride facilities at Sandgate and Zillmere train stations - ? PASS (Sandgate complete, Zillmere unknown status). 
  • New park'n'ride facilities at Jindalee and The Gap - FAIL (both still under construction).
  • Continued rollout of new bicycle facilities across the network to improve passenger convenience and amity - MEDIOCRE PASS (only a few locations). 
Given that many of these improvements were meant to justify January 2012's huge 15% fare rise, it is quite disgraceful that there are so many FAILs in the above list. The most disappointing being further delays to the stage/phase 2 train timetables, originally slated by TransLink for late 2011, and then again for the 2011/12 financial year. It is also disappointing that many improvements are only delivered right at the end of the financial year, and not at the same time as the fare rises. Would TransLink like to issue any excuses or an apology to commuters as to the failure to deliver much of the 2011 network plan?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Suburb severed by QR

Not one, but two bridges closed!
Source image: Google Maps
It has been reported in this Quest News article that Queensland Rail (QR) have closed the wooden Alderley Avenue bridge to vehicles on June 21st for urgent safety checks. Unfortunately for locals in Alderley, the nearby (and also wooden) Frederick Street bridge was also closed to vehicles in September last year. QR's lack of maintenance, likely due to lack of government funding. The two bridge closures has effectively severed the suburb of Alderley into two disconnected parts. The alternative road access is now via the often congested level crossings at Newmarket and South Pine Road. An Alderley resident who has spoken to BrizCommuter has serious concerns over increases in traffic on previously quiet suburban streets, and stated that "it is only a matter of time before a child is run over". There are also concerns that with the LNPs current cost cutting exercise, that these bridges may not be replaced for the foreseeable future.

This is also not an isolated incident of SE Queensland's rail network. The Rosewood Line had to be closed last month due to urgent structural checks by Ipswich City Council on Challinor Street Bridge. It was also reported recently in this Courier Mail article that many sets of track points, and over 100km of track are in a potentially dangerous state due to lack of maintenance.  BrizCommuter is very concerned that in a supposedly developing country, we have crumbling "third-world" railway infrastructure.

QR, and Queensland politicians may want to read about what happens when railways are not properly maintained:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Samford Rd/Wardell St Intersection - $65m waste?

Samford Road, and parallel Ferny Grove Line
Source: Google Maps
It has been reported in this Quest News article that Campbell Newman is proceeding with a $65 million upgrade of the infamous Samford Road / Wardell Street intersection in Enoggera, a road junction that just happens to be in Mr Newman's Ashgrove constituency! The $65 million project will also include a new entrance to Enoggera Army Barracks off Samford Road. BrizCommuter is concerned that $65m is being potentially wasted on Samford Road, when the parallel and recently duplicated Ferny Grove Line has such an unattractive train service. The mediocre train service includes:
  • No peak service improvements on the Ferny Grove Line despite the duplication opening in April 2012. Improvements to peak services was the reason behind the $133m duplication in the first place.
  • Despite the forthcoming and very welcome 15 minute weekday daytime off-peak service, trains will still only run every 30 minutes in the evening, and on weekends.
  • Trains only run every 60 minutes late at night and on Sunday mornings.  
It's not surprising that with such an unattractive parallel train service, that Samford Road can have long queues at this intersection at most times of the day. In fact on Saturdays around midday, 400m traffic queues are not uncommon.

Can increasing train services to drive patronage growth reduce road congestion? 1 half-full train = 400 cars = 15 minutes of inbound Samford Road peak hour traffic through Enoggera intersection! Why spend $65m on a road junction, when increasing peak hour train services may be just at effective at reducing traffic congestion?

BrizCommuter is also concerned that improving access to Gaythorne station's car park via Imbros Street may be ignored by the scope of this project. More fluid traffic flow on Samford Road may also make pedestrian access to Gaythorne and Enoggera stations harder, and possibly even more dangerous. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tale of Two Cities

Sydney CityRail - more advanced timetable info
Recently in Sydney, a new timetable was announced for late 2013, more than a years notice of changes. The changes are detailed in this Sydney Morning Herald article. BrizCommuter has taken a look at the difference between public information over Sydney CityRail's 2013 timetable, and Queensland Rail (QR) / TransLink's belated stage 2 (phase 2) timetables.

Sydney CityRail late 2013 timetable
  • More than 1 year notice of changes in government press release.
  • Considerable information on service changes, reasons behind service changes, who will be conveniences, and who will be inconvenienced. 
QR / TransLink stage 2 timetable
  • One liner on TransLink's website about late 2011 introduction. Didn't happen.
  • Reply from complaint to TransLink stated early 2012 introduction. Didn't happen.
  • TransLink 2012 Network Plan stated introduction in 2011/12 financial year. Didn't happen.
  • Schedulers couldn't provide any useful information about the timetable at 2 recent QR CRG meetings. 
  • Queries to both TransLink and the new Transport Minister about the introduction date have had no reply. 
The stage 2 (AKA phase 2) timetable is not the only public transport issue that remains a state secret in Queensland. The QR passenger load survey went missing in action when patronage declined due to huge fare rises - how convenient. Full bus figures are not released in the quarterly TransLink Tracker.  More recently, will the general public get to read the "expert panel" report which suggested a half-baked version of Cross River Rail? BrizCommuter was hoping for more openness and accountability under the new LNP government, but so far this doesn't seem to be the case. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Slasher Newman's Cross River Rail 2

The problems with Campbell Newman's CRR 2
In a move that was a surprise to some, "Slasher Newman" has given Cross River Rail (CRR) a stay of execution, but albeit a half-cost and half-baked CRR 2 solution. The press release from Transport Minister Scott Emerson is linked below:

CRR is still planned be built, but without the crucial extra tracks between Yeerongpilly and Salisbury, and between the tunnel portal near Victoria Park and Bowen Hills. This will save between $2b and $4b depending on which political party you believe. With CRR still being at least 8 years away, the LNP have also suggested $200-300m worth of improvements to maximise existing capacity across the Merivale Bridge. These improvements include targeted signalling enhancements, dwell time management, more standing room/less seating in trains, new stabling, and turning back 7% of trains in the am peak.

There are positives and negatives of this news, which BrizCommuter has outlined below.

  • Cross River Rail is still planned to going ahead.
  • It is better than the ill-though out Cleveland Solution (which forgot to cost in the replacement of nearly $2b worth of level crossings with bridges).
  • Many of the interim capacity enhancement solution seem relatively sensible.
  • The lack of extra tracks at each end of the core tunnel will limit the usefulness of CRR 2. With the Exhibition Line already being busy during the peak and off-peak, BrizCommuter expects that the LNP's half-baked CRR 2 may only add approx. 8tph of capacity, instead of approx. 20tph with the original CRR. 
  • BrizCommuter can foresee operational issues with CRR 2 and it's interface with the rest of the rail system at Bowen Hills, with added grade junction conflicts. Originally all Caboolture/Sunshine Coast/Kippa-Ring services would have run through CRR. This probably won't now be possible, so how will these services be split?
  • The interim solution doesn't seem to include Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line track upgrades, making better than 12 minute Gold Coast peak frequencies impossible. 15 minute off-peak may be difficult to timetable as well. 
  • The interim solution doesn't outline where 7% of trains will be turned back. Roma Street would be more useful than South Brisbane! 
  • If the cost/benefit ration of CRR 2 is worse than the original CRR, the could this affect the chances of receiving Federal funding?
  • Between $2b to $4b (plus inflation) will have to be found post 2020 to make the most of CRR 2's potential capacity. 
BrizCommuter is eagerly awaiting further information on this solution, and the publishing of the full review by the "expert panel" that resulted in the half-cost, half-baked CRR 2. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Northern Busway - missing something?

The $444m Northern Busway extension is now open between Windsor Lutwyche and Kedron. The most recent version of the plans (below) shows proposed bus lanes linking the existing Northern Busway from Federation Street stop in Windsor to the start of the next section of dedicated busway at Truro Street in Lutwyche. These proposed bus lanes were along the often congested Lutwyche Road and would have been used by all of the Northern Busway corridor bus routes except for the 330 and P331 which will use Airport Link instead once it is open.
The missing in action "proposed bus lane" (dotted red lines)
Unfortunately, these bus lanes connecting the two dedicated busway sections are missing in action (or should that be missing in congestion). Thus buses will still have to share road lanes with car traffic for approximately 1.5km between the disjointed  busway sections. With the new LNP government attempting to get rid of waste, surely having buses stuck in slow moving car traffic is a wasted resource? BrizCommuter is unsure of which government or council department was responsible for the failure to implement the proposed bus lanes. However, this is yet another example of pro-car / anti-public transport policy in SE Queensland. With Campbell Newman (who eradicated Coronation Drive's bus lanes when he was Lord Mayor) at the helm, don't expect these bus lanes to suddenly materialise!

Updated 18/06/2012 11:30am

TransLink have produced a diagram (link below) which identifies which bus routes will use Airport Link, which bus routes will use the Northern Busway, and which bus routes will continue to use Lutwyche Road.  Well done TransLink, but is this map displayed at all Northern Busway and Inner Northern Busway stations?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Are TransLink and BCC failing university students?

Help, I can't get on a bus!
In this Courier Mail article it appears that the most overcrowded bus services in Brisbane all serve university precincts. The 412 which runs from the CBD to University of Queensland (UQ) is quoted as being "arguably the worst of the cities public transport routes from hell", due to being overcrowded and often stuck in traffic along Sir Fred Schonell Drive and Coronation Drive. The overcrowded route 66 that serves QUT Kelvin Grove is often mentioned on this blog. The 109 which runs from the CBD to QUT, and 130 which serves Griffith University are also listed in the Courier Mail article as being at the top of the overcrowded list.

According to the article, last month 126 buses a day were classed as being full, which is pretty disgraceful for a city that claimed by it's city council as being a "new world city". BrizCommuter would expect this figure to be worse earlier in the University year when more students actually turn up for lectures. In the article Brisbane City Council's (BCC) acting Public and Active Transport Committee chairman is quoted as saying "the council was constantly putting more buses on the road and was adding more routes and extra services where demand was the highest". Really? Where are the extra services to reduce overcrowding on the 412 and 66? Do TransLink and BCC (who own Brisbane Transport buses) realise that it is possible to run bus routes more frequently than every 5 minutes? Have BCC considered (re-) introducing bus lanes on congested roads such as Coronation Drive? Could TransLink get better value for money if Brisbane Transport was privatised?

It seems that both TransLink's and BCC's lack of action is making travelling to and from university a miserable experience for many university students. Sadly, this overcrowding may well turn many students off using public transport once they leave university.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rail replacement bus go card confusion!

What happens if you can't access the reader?
BrizCommuter is always amused at TransLink's slogan of "Making Travel Easy". Here is another example of why TransLink are most definitely not making travel easy, in this case for passengers who have to use rail replacement bus services during track maintenance. The following is taken from TransLink's website: 

"Just like any other TransLink service, you'll need a valid go card or paper ticket to travel on a bus replacement service during a track closure. If you're using a go card, please touch on and touch off as normal at your station. If you're unable to touch on and touch off due to restricted access to ticketing facilities, you'll need to contact our call centre on 13 12 30 to request a fare adjustment."

TransLink are expecting passengers to touch on and off at the station's go card readers (usually at the entrance to platforms) before boarding a bus. As the buses do not always stop close to the platforms, this can add quite a few minutes to the passengers journey, with an increased risk of missing the infrequent replacement bus. During closures, the go card readers are sometimes inaccessible due to maintenance work, preventing a touch on or off and preventing access to fare machines to top up a go card. 

At CBD stations where replacement buses can start such as Roma Street, you cannot touch on or off without passing through a gate. Except, if you've passed through the gate to start your journey as per TransLink's rules, then you have to pass back through the gate to get to the replacement bus, thus cancelling the journey and defeating the object of passing through the gate in the first place. Confused?

Just to makes things worse, if you can't touch on or off, you get a $10 fixed fare, requiring a both time and money consuming phone call to TransLink's call centre to fix (or time consuming online method which TransLink failed to mention above). Fixed fare adjustments can sometimes take up to 10 days, so you will not get the fixed fare back straight away. A return journey following TransLink's above advice could result in $20 of fixed fares plus the cost of the phone call and a premature go card top up - totally unacceptable! 

TransLink expectations for go card users utilising rail replacement bus services are unworkable and unreasonable. They also put the public transport user in a very grey legal area - not many judges would understand the complexities of TransLink's go card system either. It would be smart to make rail replacement services free (as per London Underground's replacement buses), and only expect passengers to pay for the fully functioning part of the journey. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Will the Inner Northern Busway overcrowding be solved?

Busway overcrowding at QUT Kelvin Grove
With the opening of the Northern Busway from Windsor to Kedron on the 18th of June, there will be significant service alterations including:
  • Routes 330 and 340 will be turned into high frequency bus routes. 
  • Route 340 will be diverted away from Cultural Centre, travelling via the Captain Cook Bridge to Wooloongabba instead. 
  • The 393 will be cut back from Normanby to Roma Street. 
It should be noted that the 393 service used to be very busy until it was cut back from Roma Street to Normanby in 2008, resulting in the bus mainly carrying air instead of passengers. However, the 393 can sometimes be useful in that it picks up outbound passengers at Normanby who  keep being bypassed by full buses in the am peak. 

Will the Northern Busway changes solve the often unacceptable overcrowding that occurs on the Inner Northern Busway between Roma Street and QUT Kelvin Grove in the counter-peak direction?BrizCommuter has taken a look at the number of bus services that will serve the Inner Northern Busway between Roma Street and QUT under the old and new timetables:

Roma Street to QUT Kelvin Grove (departures between 7:30 and 8:29am)
Old timetable - 21 buses* (route 66 x 12, route 330 x 2, route 333 x 6, route 340 x 1)
New timetable - 24 buses (route 66 x 12, route 330 x 4, route 333 x 4, route 340 x 4)
14% increase in services.

QUT Kelvin Grove to Roma Street (departures between 4:00 and 4:59pm)
Old timetable - 23 buses* (route 66 x 12, route 330 x 4, route 333 x 5, route 340 x 2)
New timetable - 25 buses (route 66 x 12, route 330 x 4, route 333 x 5, route 340 x 4)
9% increase in services. 

* denotes 3 additional route 393 services provided between Normanby and QUT Kelvin Grove. 
Note: 6 less route 66 buses operate outside of University semester time in all above scenarios.

The results show that in the am peak there will only be a 14% increase in services, and in the pm peak there will only be a 9% increase in services. With reports of passengers waiting 30 minutes to be able to board a bus that is not full at Roma Street in the am peak, and passengers being left behind by consecutive buses at QUT in the pm peak, this service improvement is unlikely to reduce the Inner Northern Busway overcrowding. An expected increase in patronage along the route of the enhanced 330 and 340 services may quite easily eat into this small capacity increase, resulting in even worse overcrowding.  If you take into account the 393 which was usually almost empty, then there is no bus frequency improvement between Normanby and RBWH in the am peak, and a decrease in bus frequency in the pm peak!

Sadly, it appears that TransLink have yet again ignored the counter-peak direction overcrowding issues on the Inner Northern Busway.