Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Improving off-peak train services - 5 myths busted

Melbourne - more frequent trains than Brisbane
Despite the forthcoming addition of the "pork-barrelled" 15 minute off-peak services on the Ferny Grove Line, Brisbane's off-peak train service is mainly based around a 30 minute schedule, well behind other Australian cities such as Melbourne, Perth, and to a lesser extent Sydney. There seems to be many myths and excuses as to why off-peak frequencies cannot be improved in SE Queensland. BrizCommuter busts a few of these myths.

Myth 1 - Not enough track capacity through the CBD

There are two tracks in each direction through Brisbane's CBD. Each track can handle approximately 20 trains per hour (tph), that's a train every 3 minutes. An inner-suburban 15 minute off-peak timetable would use 5tph on the main tracks (2tph Ipswich Line to Caboolture Line, 2tph Richlands/Springfield Line to Petrie/Kippa-Ring Line, 1tph CBD to Sunshine Coast Line) leaving 15tph of free train paths between Petrie and Darra for freight services, or future off-peak service improvements to Springfield and Ipswich. On the suburban tracks, 14tph would need to be used (4tph Ferny Grove Line to Beenleigh Line, 4tph Shorncliffe Line to Cleveland Line, 4tph Airport Line to CBD/Gold Coast Line, 2tph Doomben Line), leaving 6tph (18 minutes) of free train paths. Despite 14tph frequency being significantly higher than the current off-peak service, it is still considerably less frequent than some suburban rail systems such as Munich S-Bahn. Of course, plenty of other service scenarios are possible.

Myth 2 - Not enough track capacity outside of the CBD

On the Cleveland Line, 4tph could be run as far as Manly or Lota depending on the timing of track slots through the CBD. Once the Sandgate upgrade is complete in 2013, 4tph is possible to Shorncliffe. 4tph is possible to Airport and has been operated in the past. 4tph to Petrie is inevitable when when the Moreton Bay Rail Link (MBRL) opens in 2016, so is assumed to be possible.

The Beenleigh and Gold Coast Line is a bit more complex. 4tph trains could easily be run to Yeerongpilly, maybe Coopers Plains, but Kuraby would involve slowing down Gold Coast trains by a few minutes with limited operating margin for delays. Interestingly, the Rail Service and Infrastructure Requirements Study (2007) modelled the possibility of 4tph serving all Beenleigh and Gold Coast Line stations using 3 layered service patterns, with a few stations even getting a 6tph service!

Doomben Line cannot manage a 4tph off-peak service, but could just about cope with 3tph. In fact, most of SE Queensland's passenger rail network could cope with a 3tph / 20 minute off-peak service. Unfortunately 20 minute frequencies are far less attractive than 15 minute frequencies which is the absolute minimum for a "turn up and go" timetable.

Myth 3 - Not enough trains

There are far more trains running in the peaks that are required for a 15 minute inner-suburban service. Most of these trains sit idle in sidings during the off-peak. There does need to be more train crew to run these services though - see Myth 5.

Myth 4 - Not enough population

Perth runs 15 minute off-peak services on weekdays and weekends. Perth has a lower population, and population density than Brisbane.

Adelaide is planning on running 15 minute off-peak services on the 36km Seaford Line from 2013, and already runs 15 minute weekday off-peak service to selected stations on the Gawler Line.

Melbourne runs 10-20 minute off-peak services on weekdays and weekends depending on the line. Whilst Melbourne has a larger population than Brisbane, even smaller branch lines still get a good service. For example, the short branch line to Williamstown has a 20 minute off-peak service, the short Alamein shuttle runs every 15-20 minutes off-peak, and the short single track Newport to Laverton shuttle service even runs every 20 minutes off-peak.

Myth 5 - Not enough money

Based on the Ferny Grove 15 minute off-peak service costing an extra $9m per year, BrizCommuter expects that an inner-suburban 15 minute off-peak service to Petrie, Ferny Grove Darra, Manly/Lota, Kuraby would cost around $50m a year, and $70m if extended to weekend daytime. Whilst this seems like a lot of money, in the grand scheme of transport spending, it isn't that much (less than 10% of QR's current budget). It should be remembered that running an extensive 15 minute off-peak service would considerably increase rail patronage, providing increased income from fares. Other benefits may include making Brisbane more-liveable, making Brisbane more popular with tourists and businesses, increased CBD consumer spending, limiting off-peak road congestion, road-trauma, and pollution.

BrizCommuter believes that the above figures could easily be saved by making Queenland Rail more efficient. The most notable efficiency would be removal of guards, and training suitable guards to become drivers instead. Melbourne, and Perth (as well as many other rail systems around the world) do not have guards. There would of course be initial infrastructure costs of platform end mirrors and CCTV required for driver only operation.

Maybe even privatisation of Queensland Rail should be on the cards to push performance? Melbourne's private operator "Metro Trains Melbourne" is in the process of moving from 15-20 minutes off peak to 10 minutes off-peak, with 10 minute off-peak services already running on the entire 43km Frankston Line. 10 minute off-peak services are even run on weekends as far out as Dandenong (31km), and Ringwood (24km). Brisbane is still and long long way behind!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

At last - Ferny Grove gets a 15 min off-peak service!

Ferny Grove Line
Updated 26/09/2012

Brisbane has finally taken a small step towards catching up with the rest of the world with the introduction of the first 15 minute (4tph) off-peak timetable on a single train line in SE Queensland. The only parts of Brisbane previously served by a 15 minute off-peak service was where two lines share the same tracks - out to Northgate, Darra, and Park Road. Ironically, the changes now mean that there isn't a 15 minute service to Northgate anymore on weekday daytimes. The introduction of this $18m 2 year trial service is as a result of an election promise by the LNP government - the Ferny Grove Line serves Campbell Newman's Ashgrove constituency). The service starts on October 8th 2012.

Rather than just running the extra trains between Ferny Grove and Roma Street, QR will be running the services through to Park Road (it is not known if the trains will actually reverse at Park Road). This allows for the following improvements:
  • 100% improved train frequency to Brisbane's CBD (with onward busway and train connections) from all 11 Ferny Grove Line stations.
  • 33% improved train frequency between Park Road and Roma Street (serving South Bank and South Brisbane businesses, parkland, hospitals, etc).
  • 33% improved train frequency to Park Road (for EcoSciences Precinct, plus Eastern Busway connections to UQ and Princess Alexandra Hospital).
Despite this excellent news, there are quite a few points where BrizCommuter has to be critical:
  • The off-peak is only between approx. 9am to 3pm. Monday to Friday. The lack of weekend and evening 15 min off-peak services is very disappointing, and significantly reduces the effectiveness of this initiative. 
  • There are multiple peak period service gaps of 20 minutes or longer on the Ferny Grove Line. In fact after the new 3:18pm outbound service, the following two gaps are of 20 minutes! For many commuters the unmodified peak service will be worse than the off-peak service, which rather defeats the purpose of the $100m+ Ferny Grove Line duplication!! 
  • The 60 minute service gaps on Sunday mornings still exist.  
  • The 60 minute Mon-Thu late night gap (between ex-Central 10:33 to 11:33pm) still exists despite the Beenleigh and Shorncliffe Lines getting their late night gaps recently filled. 
  • There are some counter-peak (outbound in am peak, and inbound in pm peak) service gaps in excess of 30 minutes. 
  • It appears that the 15 minute service to Northgate will be turned into an unimpressive alternating 22 and 8 minute frequency during weekday daytimes- very bad news for users of stations between Albion and Northgate. Shorncliffe Line and Doomben Line users need to be aware of timing changes to their services, which in the case of the Shorncliffe Line are now confusingly inconsistent between weekday daytime and other off-peak times. 
The 15 minute daytime off-peak service on the Ferny Grove Line is welcomed by BrizCommuter. However, this initiative is completely half-baked until a 15 minute off-peak service covers weekends,  evenings, and most connecting lines (in particular the Airport Line). Lets hope that these significant limitations to patronage growth do not provide an excuse for the government to brand this 15 min off-peak service trial as a failure.

The new Ferny Grove Line timetable is below:
Information on service alterations on the Shorncliffe, Doomben, and Beenleigh Lines is available at the below link:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Will the autonomous car replace public transport?

One year ago, BrizCommuter wrote a blog post on personal rapid transit (PRT) pods, the link is below:
These pods allow on-demand public transport journeys, and carry between 1 and 6 passengers. Unfortunately they have have a major flaw - they require their own specially constructed guideway. Due to this flaw, there aren't an awful lot of PRT systems around the world, and most proposals have not progressed to construction. In the last few years, an alternative to PRT has increasingly been in the news - the autonomous car.  A driverless autonomous car received it's first licence in the US state of Nevada in March 2012. Many companies including Google, General Motors, and BMW, as well an quite a few universities are developing and experimenting with autonomous cars. The wikipedia articles for the Google developed driverless car, and autonomous cars in general are below:

If the development of autonomous cars can get through the many safety and legislative hurdles, what does this mean for public transport in the future? Public transport has well known issues in areas of low population density, and at times of low demand. This can increase car reliance, and as most SE Queenslanders will know from the recent news, many a death has been related to elderly drivers continuing to drive beyond when they are capable. A driverless car may allow those who do not want to drive, or cannot drive (too young, too old, drunk, medical conditions), an on-demand, to almost anywhere form of transport. Frequent car users will be able to purchase their own autonomous car instead of a manual car, whilst less frequent car users may be able to hire them on demand like a taxi (minus the taxi driver!). Other advantages may include reducing parking issues, as the car can drop off the passenger at their place of work and then park outside of the CBD. The cars may also be able to drop the passengers off at a train station or airport, and then travel back home. Car sharing opportunities may also be increased. 

With many advantages, will the driverless car completely replace public transport? Autonomous cars will not solve urban traffic congestion, and if they attract passengers away from public transport they may even make traffic congestion worse. They also rely on the gross inefficiency of cars due to low number of passengers per vehicle, thus having a considerably higher energy to passenger ratio than public transport. Public transport will still continue to be more environmentally friendly than autonomous cars.

An (almost) autonomous train
To conclude, there is most definitely a future for autonomous cars, although the time frame is speculated as being anything from 8 to 44 years away. They may provide transport options to places that public transport finds difficult to reach, and certainly put taxi drivers out of a job. However, due to the having the same inefficiencies as cars, there will still be a place for public transport, which of course will also be autonomous in the future. Interestingly, it should be noted that there have been driverless and unattended "autonomous" trains since the early 1980s!

Monday, September 10, 2012

SEQ Bus Network Review - Public Consultation Fail

The SEQ Bus Network Review is now in the first stage of public consultation, having just finished bus operator consultation. A survey to complete is on TransLink's website (until Sept 23rd) - link below:

There is little question that SE Queensland, and in particular Brisbane requires a total re-design of it's bus network. Reasons and potential solutions include (in no particular order):
  • Multiple legacy bus routes, including some dating back to tramway abolition in the 1960s - total review of bus routes. 
  • CBD bus stop confusion - aggregate CBD stop locations for each transport corridor.
  • Limited SE Busway vehicle capacity (particularly through Cultural Centre) - move to trunk and feeder network design.
  • Overcrowding - concentrate improvements to where demand outstrips supply and there is considerable latent demand.
  • Low patronage routes - one for the transport experts, as decent population coverage is still required. Consider using more fuel efficient mini/midi-buses. 
  • Brisbane Transport (owned by Brisbane City Council) inefficiency - privatise Brisbane Transport?

BrizCommuter has serious concerns that instead of the required total bus network re-design, we may just see a half-baked and short-sighted review of bus routes. Reasons for this thinking include:
  • Lack of funding and resources for large change processes at TransLink after job slashing by the LNP government.
  • Lack of decent train frequency (due to poor infrastructure, lack of funding, QR inefficiency and operational laziness) to allow rail network to act as part of the trunk network. 
  • High fares that are making public transport extremely unattractive are not being taken into account as one of the causes of low patronage. 
  • Lack of consultation with non and ex-public transport users.
  • Poor consultation with existing bus users - see below.

So how does the survey fare? Sadly, as to be expected from TransLink, it is an epic fail. The survey only asks about "your most used bus route" instead of all buses used. Most questions provide information that TransLink can obtain from go-card data anyway. Whilst there is a free text box at the end for comments, the survey is next to useless to allow TransLink to learn about how and why people use or don't use particular bus routes. Questions on the acceptability of bus route frequency, service hours, journey time, and alternative transport modes are completely missing. It appears to be a very shoddy attempt at making it look like TransLink are consulting public transport users. BrizCommuter is very concerned about where this review is heading!

For anyone who wants further reading on how to re-design a bus network by an expert - the blog linked below is an interesting read:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Brisbane public transport - popular when free!

CityHopper Ferry
A few weeks ago, the slow and full fare CityFerry services were re-branded to CityHopper and made free by Brisbane City Council after a council election promise. According to this BrisbaneTimes article, the patronage has increased by more than double since the re-branding. This is of course absolutely no surprise to BrizCommuter. It shows that there is considerable latent demand for public transport in Brisbane. Unfortunately this demand is being suppressed by the fares being the third highest in the world. The new LNP governments plan of a 7% fare rise in January 2013 will continue to make public transport increasingly unaffordable and unattractive. Until the Queensland government realises that making public transport attractive to use is the key to reducing road congestion, then BrizCommuter doubts that we will see any effort to make Brisbane's public transport more affordable. Even politicians in car centric Los Angeles, and many developing countries have finally worked this out!

The free CityHopper ferry also introduces the game of "free trip lotto" where it shares it route with the Eagle Street to Thornton Street and Holman Street cross river ferry service. 2 out of 3 journeys are run by the full fare Cross River Ferry, and 1 out of 3 journeys are run by the free half-hourly CityHopper ferry. Thus passengers have a 1 in 3 chance of scoring a free journey. BrizCommuter would be interested to see if locals and those in the know are using the free ferry services more than the full fare ferry services!