Monday, March 17, 2014

The last post (for a while)

Central Tilt-shift
BrizCommuter blog has been running for more than 3 and a half years. BrizCommuter has decided that he needs to spend more time with MrsCommuter, BabyCommuter, and Toddler Commuter, and thus this will be the last post for a long while. During the course of this blog, most Brisbane public transport issues have been covered, in many cases multiple times. It is rather sad that the lack of progress by consecutive governments means that many of the blog posts from 3 years ago are just as relevant, or even more relevant today.

So what still needs to fixed on SE Queensland's public transport system?


The current fare system is a disgrace. The fares are quite clearly set so high as to intentionally discourage public transport use, and the policy has done just that. BrizCommuter is not aware of any other world city with such an anti-public transport policy. In fact it is cheaper to use a car in many cases! The previous ALP government's 15% fare rises were bad enough. But now the LNP have continued to increase fares by 7.5%, well above CPI, whilst making delusional claims that they are lowering the cost of living. To try and make the fare rises "more acceptable", the LNP have introduced the 9 and free cap and earlier daytime off-peak. These are just gimmicks, and the 9 and free cap is so (legally) rortable so much that millions more $$$ are being wasted. In fact Brisbane is one of only 2 cities on the whole world to be stupid enough to have a x and free cap with a zone based fare system (the other is Sydney with it's new Opal Card).

The fares need to be much more affordable. Taking $1 off all single fares would be a start. Instead of the 9 and free cap, there needs to be a weekly zone based cap or ticketing option as in London. There also needs to be daily zone based fare caps, and better fare options for groups, jobseekers, and tourists. There is huge latent demand for public transport in Brisbane, but many of these commuters will not use public transport until it is affordable.


New trains

There has been a chronic lack of trains in SE Queensland ever since BrizCommuter arrived on these shores back in 2006. This is now causing overcrowding and prolonged service gaps on peak services on the Ferny Grove and Cleveland Lines. This is the result of the previous ALP government not ordering a follow on order of SMU260 trains. The LNP government then appears to have dragged their heels in ordering the Next Generation Rollingstock (NGR), which won't arrive until 2016. As the NGR will have to replace the ageing EMU trains, provide trains for the Moreton Bay Rail Link, and enhance peak services on many lines, it is quite clear that insufficient NGR trains have been ordered. Unless more NGR trains are ordered, then the chronic lack of trains issue will continue to haunt SE Queensland commuters.


Despite some issues the sector 2 train timetables were a huge improvement. However the following service improvements (and associated infrastructure improvements) need to be of high priority when new trains eventually arrive:
  • Eliminate the remaining hour service gaps (such as on the Springfield Line).
  • Extend 15 minute off-peak across more of the network, such as to Cleveland, Gold Coast, Beenleigh, Ipswich, Springfield, Shorncliffe, Airport, Caboolture, and Kippa-Ring (when it opens). The Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line improvements would require some major infrastructure improvements. 
  • Extend 15 minute off-peak to weekend daytime.
  • 15 minute counter-peak services on the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, Springfield, Caboolture, and Kippa-Ring Lines (when it opens). 
  • Extend the Cleveland Line pm peak express pattern by approximately 30 mins, and fill in the remaining 15 minute pm peak gaps on the Ferny Grove Line.
  • Increase 3-car peak services to 6-cars. 
Queensland Rail - Safety, Guards, and Privatisation

Whilst Queensland Rail (QR) has made efficiency improvements recently, it is still among the world's most inefficient rail operators. BrizCommuter would not be surprised if QR get's privatised after the next election. However, QR needs to be given the chance to try and make itself more "contestable", with cost per km closer to peer systems such as Perth (not privatised) and Melbourne (privatised).

SE Queensland's rail network lacks Automatic Train Protection (ATP), and is thus a major accident waiting to happen. A major inefficiency of QR is the continued use of guards. Many other rail networks have proven that guards are unnecessary. Conversion of the rail network to driver only operation needs to be in conjunction with the introduction of ERTMS signalling with ATP. This solves two problems in one go, and also potentially allows for a 20% increase in capacity. 

Station Access

Many station car parks are full well before the end of the am peak (and sometime even before the am peak), resulting in parking in surrounding streets, and further discouraging public transport use. Lets face it, if you can't get a good park, you might as well drive to work! BrizCommuter suspects that there would be considerable latent demand at stations where car parks are always full.

There needs to be a mixture of station car park enhancements where at all possible (and there is still land available near many stations), including inner suburbs. If stations have more than approximately 500 cars parked around them (either in QR car parks or surrounding streets) then serious consideration needs to be given to frequent feeder bus routes with half-decent operating hours. Feeder buses can be very successful, such as Melbourne's route 465

Additionally, zoning needs to encourage high density housing within 500m of train stations, with limited car parking per dwelling to encourage public transport use.


Brisbane City Council's "dog's breakfast" of a bus network

Brisbane has one of the world's most inefficient and confusing to use bus networks. The Brisbane City Council (Brisbane Transport) run network is a major contributor to the high cost of public transport service provision in SE Queensland. Last year TransLink devised some excellent (but not quite perfect) changes which were quickly shot down by pitch fork wielding Brisbanites, idiotic councillors, poorly informed journalists, and a transport minister with no balls (- seriously, the Newman LNP government wants to privatise hospitals, put doctors in contracts with no rights, but can't change some bus routes - pathetic!!!) So what needs to change regarding Brisbane's bus network?
  • Consolidate bus routes - the current bus network has multiple routes with minor variations or stopping patterns serving the same corridors. This causes huge amounts of service provision wastage, and confusion. Bus routes need to be consolidated with a maximum of two stopping patterns (all stops and express) along each transport corridor. Minor variations around backstreets should be changed to feeder buses for the trunk route. The result of these efficiency improvements will allow for more high frequency bus routes, serving an increased proportion of Brisbane's population (such as Centenary Suburbs, Old Northern Road corridor, Wynnum Road/Bulimba, Webster Road).
  • Consolidate CBD stop locations - the current bus network has buses that serve each transport corridor serving different bus stops in the CBD. For example the 345 and P343 to Aspley serve different CBD stop locations. This effectively halves the service frequency, causes mass confusion, and service provision wastage. All bus routes serving a particular transport corridor must have consistent CBD stop locations to allow for simplicity, improved frequency, and more efficient service provision. 
  • Rail feeder services - the current bus network competes with rail, instead of complimenting it. The bus network needs to be redesigned to connect with a frequent rail network where possible. Also rail feeder bus services need to have an attractive frequency and span of hours. 
  • Backstreet/welfare routes - whilst some of these routes are required for those who have issues getting about (such as the elderly), there is a lot of wastage, especially given that many of these routes serve the CBD. Most of these routes should be changed to feeder routes. Some of these routes should not even exist, if other bus routes are within a short walk. 
  • Mini/midi buses - many backstreet/welfare bus routes have low patronage, but are served by approximately 13m long full sized buses. With new energy efficient (or even electric) low floor mini/midi buses on the market, the lower operating costs, purchase costs, and smaller wheelbase of mini/midi buses surely makes them attractive for these routes. 
  • Privatise Brisbane Transport, and remove Brisbane City Council from controlling public transport due to ongoing incompetence. 

Attention to detail

Both TransLink and QR are guilty of lack of attention to detail. In the last year we have seen .pdf timetables published nearly 2 months after timetable changes, incorrect weekend track closure information on TransLink's Facebook, dubious advertising of "all day" 15 minute off-peak, and QR trying to get passengers to avoid 3-car units rather than overcrowded services. Attention to detail is the difference between excellence and mediocrity. Unfortunately, public transport operators in SE Queensland are at the bad end of the "mediocritometer".

Political and personal attitudes

Both major political parties just do not understand public transport. Even the Greens appear to unable to apply their principles to local issues. The continued failure of high fares discouraging public transport use, half-baked infrastructure projects, pro-car propaganda, poor urban planning (e.g. urban sprawl away from existing transport corridors), lack of public transport improvements and efficiencies, will result in SE Queensland continuing to head towards a congestion meltdown that will ultimately cost billions more $$$ more to fix. Brisbanites can see straight through the political spin, lies, and ineptitude.

Brisbane is a very car-centric city. Due to the urban sprawl, many journeys cannot be made using public transport. In fact there are even generations of Brisbanites who's families have never even used public transport, apart from maybe travelling to sporting events and the Ekka. However, there is a considerable latent demand for public transport, that would be tapped into by lower fares, improved frequency and operating hours. The government needs to tap into this latent demand to avoid Brisbane and SE Queensland turning into chronically polluted and congested city such as LA.

Brisbanites are a very apathetic bunch (apart from when they selfishly want express services to their station), and we certainly aren't going to see Brazilian style riots over fare increases. However, at least TransLink's Facebook page gives commuters to chance to vent their frustration. Given the number of people that have already been banned or blocked from TransLink's Facebook page, you can be sure that commuters are extremely unhappy!

And Finally

BrizCommuter thanks all of those who have supported this blog over the last 3 and half years. In particular Rail Back on Track has been a a great source of referrals. Rail Back on Track and many of it's members have helped disseminate many of BrizCommuter's post, including the annual world fare comparison, and guide to doing the go card rort.

BrizCommuter will be taking a break for a while, maybe a long while, but will be back!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Update on 3-car-mageddon

Before BrizCommuter continues criticising the sector 2 train timetables, the benefits of the new sector 2 timetables on the affected lines should be noted:
  • More frequent peak services on all affected lines, with reductions on crowding on the majority of services.
  • Weekday daytime 15 min off-peak throughout most of the inner-suburban network.
  • Elimination of hour gaps on Sunday am and weekday late nights.
  • Elimination of expresses on Ferny Grove and Beenleigh Lines, and revised express patterns on Gold Coast and Cleveland Lines allowing for improved journey opportunities, and less confusion.
3-car QR Sardine Can departing Windsor
Unfortunately, as previously discussed in blog, there is one big problem that prevents the new timetables from being excellent - that is lack of trains. Whilst loadings are quite variable from day to day, the loadings on the following services have been observed to be overcrowded or full on multiple occasions:
  • 7:10am from Ferny Grove - 3-car unit.
  • 7:25am from Ferny Grove - 3-car unit.
  • 5:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove - after a bizarrely placed 15 minute gap in the "peak of the peak".
  • 5:48pm from Central to Cleveland - 3-car unit. 
Now BrizCommuter doesn't have issues with passengers standing on short or medium distance journeys. This is par for the course in most cities, and expected during the "peak of the peak" period. However, what BrizCommuter deems as being unacceptable is when:
  1. Passengers are choosing not to board a train, or are unable to board a train due to overcrowding - longer journey times.
  2. QR are having to actively discourage passengers from using the affected services - effectively halving the frequency, increasing journey times, and less convenient travel times for some users. 
  3. There are more overcrowded services in the new Ferny Grove Line timetable than the previous timetable.
These overcrowding issues somewhat defeat the purpose of a high frequency "metro like" peak timetable on the Ferny Grove Line, which is Brisbane's busiest train line per km. A timetable that should have made using this line highly attractive has failed in its mission, resulting in hundreds of disgruntled commuters. There is also no room for patronage improvements on some services, for whenever the fares get fixed (although don't hold your breath for that). This situation is very disappointing given that more than $130m was recently spent on duplicating the Ferny Grove Line.

Samford Road widening near Gaythorne station
By early 2015, Samford Rd (which is parallel to the Ferny Grove Line) may have significant reductions in journey time due to the $60m Samford Rd/Wardell St intersection upgrade. The car may continue to be looking like the more attractive commuting option for some commuters along the Samford Rd corridor until Queensland Rail can solve the overcrowding issues when new trains arrive.

Many Cleveland Line commuters are also disgruntled about the ending of the express pattern at 5:09pm from Central, with 15 minute services to all stations from 5:17pm from Central. This is resulting in a less frequent service in the "peak of the peak" for many commuters.

Given the initial allocation of Next Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains may have to go to the Moreton Bay Rail Link in 2016, it could be a painful 3 years+ until commuters see some relief on these problem services. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

TransLink's Facebook Farce!

Screenshot - sign up for amusement!
Last updated 07/03/2014 - update at bottom of page

When you are probably the most hated Queensland government department (well actually TransLink is a component of Department of Transport and Main Roads) is it really a good idea to set up a Facebook page? Maybe TransLink thought it is a better way of connecting with the people? Given the ridicule of Queensland Rail's (QR's) new timetable on QR's Facebook page, TransLink would be on another planet if they think they are not going to be slated, stoned, and pilloried. Here are some comments made before the TransLink page has even been officially announced, and minus moderators as well:

Ellenabobbin Payne Morahan Buses that never come, fares that are insanely expensive.
How could you expect this page to attract anything but hate?
I have never hated a public service the way I hate translink, congratulations on outdoing Queensland Health and centrelink as one of the most frustrating, poorly run government services ever screwed up by it's senior management!

Timothy Axolotl Jay Great opportunity for what? He's catching a bus not enrolling in university. Though maybe he's heading to a job interview. He'll need that job so he can pay over $10 a day in public transport fees to get a few KMs down the road. (In reference to the Queensland Government's "Great State. Great Opportunity." tag line.

Patrick Doyle Why do your busses pass my stop eleven minutes late or seven minutes early

Jayne-Louise Pritchard If you want to stop people evading fairs and taking advantage of the '9 and free' scheme then LOWER YOUR PRICES. Brisbane has one of the most expensive public transport systems in the WORLD, and the most expensive in Australia, and yet it's one of the worst.

Eg. I now pay (thank you for increasing prices again, by the way) $2.52 off peak, $3.14 on peak to get to university. 

Theoretically, that's $5.04 - $6.28 a day. That's $22.68 - $28.26 a week (taking into account your '9 and free' scheme, that's on par with how much I would spend on fuel - public transport is meant to be a cheaper alternative!). That's $45.36 - $56.52 a fortnight (nearly 15% of what I earn as a student). That's $317.52 - $395.64 a semester. That's $635.04 - $791.28 a year (that's more expensive than my car registration AND insurance).

I would save $70.65 - $87.92 a year with your '9 and free' scheme. That's a 10% saving per year. Not much, considering you wanted to hike up your prices 15%, but generously decided to only hike them up 7.5% /sarcasm.

Luckily, even though I have uni 5 days a week, I can get a lift to uni in a car a few times week. I avoid public transport at all costs, because:
a) It's way too expensive.
b) It's disgusting.
c) The people running rampant on your buses and trains.

Carpooling is a MUCH cheaper and more comfortable option for me. I only catch public transport when I have absolutely no other choice. That's a testament to how awful a job the government is doing.

This also means that I miss out on the "savings" your '9 and free' scheme would give me.

Poor effort!

Hamish Irvine $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Kim Brown Is that a full bus passing waiting passengers..... again...? (In reference to a photo on TransLink's Facebook page)

Kordell Delo HOW ABOUT FARES THAT AREN'T THE WORLDS HIGHEST? It's pathetic, it's meant to be Government owned and yet it's so ridiculously expensive. NT made all public transport free for students, I pay $3000 a year here, and $0 a year in Darwin.

Lisa Leo Yes, it's easy!! Simply touch off, except when the station has a blackout... Then you will be charged $10 the next morning on your way to work because you didn't touch off the previous trip, and another $10 half an hour later for the same reason ... And then spend half the morning on the phone arguing to get a refund while being told " no system is perfect". Far from it Translink!!!!!!!

Timothy Axolotl Jay PROTECT THE MONEY? The last thing a Go Card does is protect money.

Jasmine Walton This is ridiculous there's no way for those "adults" who work on a casual basis (1-2 short shifts per week) to get any discount! Go cards are such a massive rip off. I've started driving/ walking everywhere now cause I'm sick of getting ripped off! #fedup

Tomorrow (Mon 3rd March 2014), when many more disgruntled and ripped-off commuters find out about TransLink's Facebook page, it will be quite an amusing read. The above comments will probably be quite tame in comparison. Link below:

Update - 06/03/2014

It appears that TransLink have failed to officially announce the launch of Facebook page. However, the torrent of (quite justified) abuse from disgruntled commuters persists. Here are a few quotes from the last few days.
Vlad Gigov I think your service and pricing is abusive and obscene (In response to another persons post being removed for being abusive and obscene)

Vlad Gigov Seriously I've just moved up from Sydney and have gotten to the point that I refuse to use any of your services. I walk an hour to work and back - and even though it means getting up earlier it spares me the aneurism of dealing with this obscenely over priced and inefficient service

Ruby Violet Wow translink your censorship of this page is on par with North Korean censorship. Seriously translinks services are THE most expensive in the ENTIRE world and the quality of the service is shameful. People are angry so let them vent, deleting every comment that doesn't portray translink in a good light isn't fooling anyone into thinking this service is good. (In response to TransLink removing yet another post)

The following posts are all in response to TransLink having a guessing game on when the go card was launched:

Garvin Gray And have been jacking fares ever since with affordability stats going in the opposite direction.

Jayne-Louise Pritchard I remember the day I realised they didn't do daily tickets anymore... I remember the bewilderment, the confusion, and the realisation I'd be paying the same ridiculously high price to come back home.

Ivan Anderson Terrible service, terrible prices, what exactly is being celebrated here?

Neil Mendham Yes, it was the day Brisbane got that little bit uglier
The Courier Mail has also ran a story on TransLink's Facebook fail: