Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The lack of trains problem

Next Generation Rollingstock - urgently required!
As predicted by BrizCommuter back in 2011, there are not enough trains to effectively run the sector 2 timetables. This is mainly due to the previous ALP government not purchasing enough trains. This result of this lack of trains has been mentioned in the last two blog posts, and mainly appears to be affecting the Ferny Grove Line. BrizCommuter takes a look at what can and can't be done:

Increased rolling stock utilisation

It is not possible to run 100% of trains in service. Trains require maintenance at set periods, and also on an ad-hoc basis as components fail. Approximately 93% of trains are in use by Queensland Rail (QR) in the am peak, which is relatively high figure considering many of QR's trains (EMUs) are over 30 years old. The pm peak utilisation figure is unknown.

BrizCommuter is however concerned about the number of Inter City Express (ICE) units sitting at Mayne Depot, and wonders if increased utilisation of these units, could allow cascading of IMU trains to other services. Would re-fitting these trains with higher capacity seating be an effective use of money given that they are ageing? Given the poor reliability of the ICE units (most likely the reason why there are so many at Mayne) this is unlikely.

Realistically, increasing rolling stock utilisation is an unlikely solution to solving the lack of trains problem.

Moving units from other services

With rolling stock utilisation being at it's maximum, then if you convert an overcrowded 3-car service to a 6-car service, then you will have to reduce another service from 6-cars to 3-cars. There may be limited other services that could handle a halving in capacity. The other problem, is that the other train may make trips earlier or later in the day which do require 6-cars.

A good example of the above is the many Airport services that have been observed with around 20% loading in the pm peak, and thus are good candidates for being reduced from 6-cars to 3-cars. The problem is that the Airport train then becomes a Gold Coast train when it runs it's next trip. If this 6-car train has a loading of 45% (a few spare seats), then it would be severely overcrowded (political nightmare) if it was converted from 6-cars to 3-cars on a Gold Coast service. BrizCommuter has however received reports of some Gold Coast Line peak services mainly carrying air since the timetable changes.

This option may help solve the lack of trains problem, but only if it does not resolve overcrowding on one service by causing overcrowding on another. There may be limited scope here.

Remove other services

Another option may be to remove services that have low loadings, are additional to the 15/30 minute timetable cycles, and do not form other services. These 3-car units can then be used to boost other services.

One debatably required service is the 06:40am from Ferny Grove. Removal of this service would result in a 15 minute gap in service between two 6-car units at a reasonably quiet time, which is no worse than the previous timetable. Unfortunately, given that this train runs to Park Road, it can only be assumed that it runs empty along either the Beenleigh or Cleveland Line to form another peak service. Thus means that removing this service and re-utilising it's 3-cars is not an option. Also removing services after a timetable change would annoy commuters who have just started using this service.

The Sunshine Coast Line received a few extra services on January 20th 2014 despite not being part of the sector 2 timetable review. Maybe QR should have held off on adding these services until after seeing whether sector 2 services required more 3-car units? Now is too late to remove these services, as it would cause a political outcry (although saying that, adding an extra service has also caused a political outcry from some Sunshine Coast commuters)! Maybe, the sector 1 timetables can be re-reviewed for more efficient use of rolling stock?

There may be very limited or no options in removing services to boost others.

New trains

Unfortunately, new trains cannot be built overnight. Despite claims on QR's Facebook page in recent days of new trains in 2015, we are unlikely to see these in passenger service until early to mid 2016. Depending on delivery schedules and opening of the Moreton Bay Rail Link, these trains may not even be available for use on overcrowded services until much later than this date. Thankfully these new Next Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains will all be 6-car units.


BrizCommuter is sounding pessimistic, but based on comments in social media by QR in the last few days it seems that there will chronic overcrowding on some services (mainly on the Ferny Grove Line) for the next few years. This is a sad state of affairs on a line that was duplicated to reduce overcrowding, and parallels a congested road. It's a return to bad old overcrowded days of 2007, when commuters were expecting better.

First day of the new sector 2 train timetables:
Rest of the first week of the new sector 2 train timetables:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sector 2 Train Timetables - 3-car-maggedon

Space for 2 more!

Last update - 24/01/2014 - bottom of post

Day 2 - 21/01/2014

Nearly 6 year after Queensland Rail (QR) last stuffed up a new timetable on the Ferny Grove Line, they appear to have done it again. Despite over $130m being spent on the line's duplication, and a timetable that generally looked good on paper, the line still continues to be a basket case! On the second day of the new "sector 2" train timetable, the problems were:
  • 07:10am from Ferny Grove - overcrowded due to being a scheduled 3-car unit.
  • 07:25am from Ferny Grove - overcrowded due to being a scheduled 3-car unit.
  • 5:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove - overcrowded due to being after a scheduled 15 minute gap in the busiest part of the pm peak.
  • 5:33pm from Central to Ferny Grove - ran express (unscheduled) between Bowen Hills and Mitchelton, resulting in further delays for inner-Ferny Grove Line passengers. This in turn resulted in the following 5:41pm from Central (yet another 3-car unit) being crowded. 
With trains currently being rather quiet due to school and university holidays, the congestion can only get worse on these services in the next few weeks. What do QR urgently need to do to fix the problem?
  • Make the 07:10am and 07:25am from Ferny Grove 6-car units - but are there enough "quiet" services on other lines to take two 3-car units away from? These trains should never had been timetabled as 3-car units to due to the high loads during this period. 
  • Add an additional  train service in between the 5:11pm and 5:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove - but are there enough spare units to form the required extra train? 
  • Avoid running trains express to make up lost time, and make up recovery time during the terminus turnarounds instead. Given the PR disaster from yesterday's troubles, annoying your customers even more should be avoided at all costs! 
So what are QR doing about the issues? This is taken from QR's Facebook page:

"We closely monitored Ferny Grove line trains yesterday morning and know the 7.10am and 7.25am trains from Ferny Grove had some crowding. The good news is that there are services every 7-8 mins from Ferny Grove during morning peak and all other trains had plenty of capacity. We encourage customers to consider catching one of the 6-car trains (7.02am, 7.17am, 7.32am), where possible. We expect this issue to resolve over the coming days, as customers adjust to the new timetable. We encourage and appreciate any feedback and apologise for any discomfort on these services."

In other words, QR expect passengers to change their travelling times around congested trains, rather than timetabling sufficient train capacity for when passengers actually want to travel. Not good customer service or service planning! Of course, most of the blame should go on the previous ALP government for not buying enough trains. 

As mentioned previously, whilst loadings may even out a bit over the next few days, the return of school and university traffic in a few weeks time will probably result in these services being full to capacity and leaving passengers behind. Unless changes are made, there will be no available capacity for patronage increases in the busiest parts of the peak period. No mention of the 5:26pm overcrowding issues, and no apologies have been made to customers who don't read QR's Facebook page (which is the majority of their passengers). It is very disappointing that due to these problems, the Ferny Grove Line is still acting as in incentive to drive to work along the congested Samford Road instead. For many commuters fed up with high fares, these issues may be last straw for using public transport. 

Don't forget that if you have spotted any other issues with the new timetables, then please use the comments section. 

Update - Day 3 - 22/01/2014

The 07:10am from Ferny Grove was very busy again this morning, with loads of around 40 passengers standing per carriage. This does not bode well for patronage increase over the next few weeks as schools and universities return. The 07:25am from Ferny Grove has also been reported as being overcrowded. QR are still attempting to get passengers to use other services, which rather defeats the purpose of a more frequent timetable. It is not looking good for an end to the am peak issues.

The evening peak period has also descended into chaos yet again due to earlier network issues, resulting in 6-car units becoming 3-car units, and overcrowding as a result. It appears that the new Ferny Grove timetable cannot cope with earlier delays, and BrizCommuter has fears for the timetable's sustainability.

QR published a 100% on-time statistic for yesterdays Ferny Grove Line peak service. Try telling that to the passengers kicked off the 5:33pm all stations which became an express. Rather dubious statistics QR?

Update - Day 4 - 23/01/2014

Lots of 3-car trains
Despite QR's best attempts at the informing passengers about the 3-car trains (see right), the crowding on the 07:10am from Ferny Grove is not improving. Approx. 40-50 passengers standing per carriage were observed today, and again does not bode well for expected patronage increases in the next few weeks which are likely to result in this train becoming full and leaving passengers behind.

The 07:25am from Ferny Grove appears to be getting quieter with an average of 25 standing passengers per carriage (mainly concentrated on the last car), but this may also be borderline full due to expected patronage increases in the next few weeks.

The 5:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove is also looking like it will be chronically full unless QR can add an extra service in the 15 minute gap preceding this service.

Update - Day 5 - 24/01/2014

BrizCommuter didn't observe any loadings today as it was a friday before a long weekend, and thus loadings were relatively quiet. Things will pick up next week when some schools start their term.

3-car trains highlighted
In the continued attempt to inform passengers about 3-car services, QR have even highlighted 3-car services on their large poster timetables at some Ferny Grove Line stations. Unfortunately, this highlighting of 3-car services somewhat misses the point of giving passengers informed choices about overcrowded services. The reason for this is that not all 3-car trains are overcrowded, and there is an evening 6-car service that is overcrowded. Thus QR should be informing passengers of the busier services instead of the number of carriages.

Finally, QR have apologised to customers about this weeks fiasco in a video on their Facebook page. Unfortunately, as most of QR's passengers do not check QR's various social media, the majority of commuters will be completely unaware of the apology. A printed apology should be put up at each station, as occurs after serious issues on London Underground.

Future updates will be in a new thread.

Issues on the first day of the new timetables:
The lack of trains problem:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sector 2 Train Timetables - Off to a bad start!

Good luck trying to board the 17:11pm to Ferny Grove!
Well, the sector 2 train timetables looked good on paper. Unfortunately, QR got off to a very poor start today:

  • The 6:40am, 6:47am, 7:10am, and 7:25am from Ferny Grove were all reported to be 3-car units, and overcrowded. 
  • A car vs boom gate incident on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line then caused massive delays of up to 60 minutes.
  • Multiple other delays and cancellations due to "mechanical faults" and "staffing issues" throughout the day on many lines. Trains observed running consistently late through the CBD around midday. 
  • A truck stuck under a bridge at Morayfield at 5pm delayed Caboolture and Sunshine Coast Lines by up to 40 minutes. 
  • The 5:11pm and 5:26pm Central to Ferny Grove services were both reduced to 3-car units. The 5:11pm train was almost full to capacity. The 5:26pm train, which was expected to overcrowded anyway due to being after a 15 minute gap, was completely full to capacity. Hundreds of passengers at Central, Fortitude Valley, and Bowen Hills stations were unable to board. No apologies from QR. 
Whilst the bridge and boom gates strikes were beyond QR's control. Given todays system meltdown, there are concerns about the sector 2 timetables and whether they are sustainable. Today was almost a repeat of the disastrous introduction of March 2008 timetables. Given the recent fare increases, commuters were expecting much better than what they received today. Major concerns are:
  • Are there enough staff and trains to reliably run the sector 2 timetables?
  • Which of these overcrowded services are permanently timetabled to be 3-car units?
  • With alternate am peak Ferny Grove Line trains being 3-car units today, has overall capacity been decreased with the new timetables?
  • Even with "operational and staffing issues", why was a 3-car service run for what was expected to be the busiest service of the evening peak, when other peak services with 6-car trains had spare seats?
Better luck tomorrow QR? Or are we going to have to wait for new trains in 2016 for any major improvement?

The rest if the first week of the new sector 2 train timetables:
The lack of trains problem:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sector 2 Train Timetables - nearly here!

Improved counter-peak services
Just in case any readers have been living under a rock, or have been in a coma recently, there will be huge changes (mainly improvements) to SE Queensland's rail network on the 20th January 2014. There will also be bus network changes in many regions of the TransLink network. BrizCommuter is very excited about there only being 2 more days of having to put up with current timetables based on the disastrous 2008 timetables! So what can we expect from Monday 20th January?

The good:

  • Generally less crowded trains
  • More frequent train services in weekday peak, counter-peak, and off-peak periods (in particular 15 minute off-peak timetables across most of the inner-suburban network)
  • No more hour gaps on Sunday mornings and late at night
The maybe:
  • With many reports of stations having run out of new timetables, will train stations actually have the new paper timetables back in stock?
  • With many stations having large printed timetables up to 8 months out of date, will train stations have the large printed timetables in place on Monday am?
  • Will the new timetables be reliable (particularly the Gold Coast/Beenleigh corridor with precision overtaking)?
  • Which peak trains will only have 3 cars, and thus be overcrowded?
The bad:
  • Uneven loadings due to uneven timetabling (i.e. 7 to 8 minute gaps or 15 minute gaps) on the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines (am and pm peak) and Ferny Grove Line (pm peak)
  • Weekend daytime service still at "third world" 30 minute frequencies
  • Hour gaps to/from the races on the Doomben Line on Saturdays
  • No more improvements until at least 2016
The stupid:
  • Outbreaks of selfish "I want an express to my stationitis" expected along the outer Beenleigh and Ferny Grove Lines
  • Passengers completely oblivious to the new timetables wondering why their usual train hasn't turned up on time
  • Ridiculously high fares will scare commuters off the improved train services

Saturday, January 11, 2014

QR Passenger Load Survey - where is it?

Transparency of QLD government organisations such as TransLink has always been poor, compared to other states and developed countries. For example, Transport for London publish minutes from board meetings. Since the LNP government was elected in 2012, the transparency of TransLink (now abolished/incorporated into Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR)) and Queensland Rail appears to be heading in the wrong direction, despite laughable claims of "improved government transparency".

The most significant missing publication is the Queensland Rail Passenger Load (Patronage) Survey. This was originally published after a Right to Information request by a journalist. It then went missing during the late ALP government's reign, most likely to hide falls to patronage due to the failed 15% fare increases. The September 2011 and March 2012 surveys were published after pressure from public transport lobbyists, and proved that the fare increases and disastrous 2008 timetable changes were indeed affecting patronage. The passenger load survey is now only recorded once a year in March. However, the March 2013 survey has not been made publicly available. Funnily enough, this could have something to do with significant falls in patronage* due to the LNP government continuing with extortionate fare rises. *Even this is difficult to assess due to the way date is presented since the TransLink Tracker was chopped. Have Mr Newman and Mr Emerson got something to hide?
So where is it then?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Doing the go card rort!

Express your way to go card savings!
The go card rort is well known to many public transport users. This involves taking advantage of the 9 and free cap by taking one stop, one zone, off-peak journey during work break(s). With fares now at ridiculous levels, even short distance commuters can take now advantage of this huge flaw in the go card's fare structure. Even more savings can be made if more than one extra "cheap" journey is taken during the daytime off-peak period, but there has to be more than an hour between journeys. BrizCommuter takes a look at how much can be saved by doing the go card rort. Savings are in comparison to 9 peak period journeys, with adult fares.

The Easy Rort

This involves one lunch time one zone off-peak journey on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. This results in free journeys from Thursday morning (inclusive).

Zone 1-2 commuter (e.g. Cooparoo to Central) - saves $3.93/week
Zone 1-3 commuter (e.g. Mitchelton to Central) - saves $6.24/week
Zone 1-5 commuter (e.g. Kuraby to Central) - saves $10.35/week
Zone 1-13 commuter (e.g. Nerang or Landsborough to Central) - saves $26.88/week

The Pro Rort

This involves two one zone off-peak journeys on Monday and Tuesday. Maybe during morning tea, and lunch. Free journeys after the peak journey to work on Wednesday.

Zone 1-2 commuter - saves $5.25/week
Zone 1-3 commuter - saves $8.32/week
Zone 1-5 commuter - saves $13.80/week
Zone 1-13 commuter - saves $35.84/week

The Extreme Rort

This involves three one zone off-peak journeys on Monday and Tuesday. Maybe during morning and afternoon tea, and lunch. Free journeys from (and including) the peak journey home on Tuesday.

Zone 1-2 commuter - saves $7.86/week
Zone 1-3 commuter - saves $12.48/week
Zone 1-5 commuter - saves $20.70/week
Zone 1-13 commuter - saves $53.76/week (that's more than $2500/year!!!)

Plenty of commuters are taking advantage of this rort, which appears to be perfectly legal (meets go card terms and conditions). BrizCommuter knows quite a few Sunshine Coast Line commuters who are saving loads of money via this method. BrizCommuter even observed two other commuters doing the rort on the same bus today! Hopefully the number of commuters legally abusing the system, will force TransLink the the LNP Queensland Government to seriously re-think both fare costs and the fare structure before the next election.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

TransLink's 2014 Fares - The Awful Facts

Only a few days until another round of Faremaggedon forces even more public transport users back to driving. BrizCommuter has produced a slide, listing just a few of the reasons with what is wrong with TransLink's fares for Brisbane and SE Queensland.

The slide is public domain, so is free to spread the word. You can download (.png file), email, Facebook, Google+, Tweet, Reddit, hand out to others, or even send by pigeon (which might be faster than the route 522 bus). The message needs to get across that the extortionate public transport fare increases in SE Queensland just cannot continue!

Part 1 of BrizCommuter 2014 fare comparison takes a look at bus fares, daily fares, and weekly fare options:
Part 2 of BrizCommuter 2014 fare comparison takes a look at bus fares, daily fares, and weekly fare options:
Part 3 of the BrizCommuter 2014 fare comparison takes a look at public transport fares vs average income:
A petition to lower public transport fares:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 World Fare Comparison - Part 3

Tokyo - high income and cheap fares
BrizCommuter has been running the world fare comparison for quite a few years now, and has often been asked by readers to publish a comparison showing public transport fares vs average income. Now, this is no mean feat. Average income is somewhat difficult information to compare. The most reliable source was from the following, which uses average per capita income per year in GBP:
This is a UK comparison, with source information spread from 2007 until 2011, and published in 2013. It is unknown of the average income has been adjusted due to these time factors. Exchange rates were likely to have been applied earlier in 2013, and are thus different to the exchange rates used to calculate the fares with a falling Australian Dollar value. In cases where there is no city specific data, then country specific data has been used (this has been used for all Australian cities except for Sydney). Thus it should be taken into account that the methodology is far from perfect and this comparison should only be seen as a rough guide only.

Fares are based on the cost of an adult weekly ticket, weekly cap, or 12 single tickets (10 peak, 2 off-peak) - whichever is cheapest. The journeys are 5km train journeys from inner-suburb to CBD. Fares are as of 6th January 2014, and exchange rates for fares are as of the 26th or 27th December 2013.  This cost (in AUD) has been divided by the average income per capita per year/52 weeks in a year (in GBP). The resulting score is just a ratio figure. In the results, a higher number show a higher cost of public transport vs average income. The list has been ordered with the most expensive city at the top, and least expensive at the bottom.

Most expensive
Berlin  44.14/279.69=0.158
London  57.90/388.12=0.149 (0.083 if bus only)
Brisbane*  37.26/570.06=0.065
Adelaide*  36.50/570.06=0.064
Shanghai  6.60/105.23=0.063 (0.021 if bus only)
Melbourne*  35.80/570.06=0.062
New York  33.75/586.5=0.058
Toronto  37.92/697.87=0.054
Paris  24.62/509.56=0.048
Perth*  25.20/570.06=0.044
Sydney  28.00/640.10=0.044  (0.071 if other modes used)
Sao Paulo  14.61/340.54=0.043
Los Angeles  20.16/575.29=0.035
Hong Kong  10.44/553.19=0.019
Tokyo  19.32/1072.42=0.018
Singapore  10.92/907.31=0.012
Least expensive

At the most expensive end of the table is Berlin at 0.158 and London at 0.149 with very high public transport fares vs income. However both cities (especially London) have very frequent and integrated public transport systems, so could be seen as still having good value for money. Sadly income figures were not available for Stockholm and Oslo.

Of the sampled cities, Brisbane came in 3rd with a figure of 0.065, closely followed by Adelaide and Melbourne. Sydney fares quite well for train only fares at 0.044, but terribly at 0.071 if you want to use more than one mode of transport. This situation may improve with the Opal Card. Perth is the cheapest of the Australian cities at 0.044, with public transport costing approx. 32% less than Brisbane assuming similar income. How does Perth manage public transport fares so well when SE Queensland doesn't? With Brisbane and Adelaide having the worst train frequencies of all of the cities listed, they could be seen as being the worst value for money train networks vs average income.

Shanghai has relatively expensive train fares vs income at 0.063, similar to Australian cities, but bus fares are considerably cheaper. Is using the metro a more premium method of public transport in Shanghai?

New York and Toronto are interestingly mid-table at 0.058 and 0.054 respectively, with Paris slightly cheaper at 0.048. Paris is well known for having very affordable public transport, although this may change with future price hikes planned to build multiple new metro lines.

The only developing city (apart from Brisbane) in the list is Sao Paulo at 0.043. This is interesting as there were huge riots due to a planned fare increase recently. It is unknown which demographics use public transport in Sao Paulo, which has a huge rich/poor divide. This fares may been cheap for those in higher demographics, public transport may still be difficult to afford for those in lower demographics. Whilst on the subject of demographics, Los Angeles comes in as a relatively affordable system at 0.035. However, Los Angeles is well know for public transport only being for the poor. For example BrizCommuter travels in a stretched Hummer whenever he is in LA.  Thus whilst LA comes across as having very affordable public transport, it may be relatively expensive for the demographic that uses public transport.

At the most affordable end of the table is Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore at 0.019, 0.18, and 0.012 respectively. These cities have a few things in common. They all have a high population density that allows for efficient public transport, and this they all have excellent and frequent public transport systems. This makes for extremely good value for money public transport system. Interestingly despite these three cities having a very high cost of living, they all have very low fares. Tokyo and Singapore also have very high average incomes, yet the fares are kept very low and affordable. Singapore even goes one stage further towards sustainable public transport by making car registration extremely expensive. On the down side, all of these cities charge per trip, and transfers between modes (such as train to bus) often charge an extra fare (although at least using the same smart card). Even taking this into account, the systems are still very good value for money in relation to income.

Of the 16 cities sampled, Brisbane has the 3rd most expensive public transport fares vs average income. This confirms what we already know, that TransLink's fare system has abysmal affordability and is poor value for money. It is thus no surprise that patronage has stagnated, resulting in no reductions to taxpayer subsidy. A thorough review of public transport fares and fare structure is required in SE Queensland, as is a further review of operating efficiencies, notably Brisbane City Council's (Brisbane Transport) highly inefficient, confusing, and ineffective bus network.

BrizCommuter world fare comparison - part 1:
BrizCommuter world fare comparison - part 2:
The Awful Truth: