Sunday, August 31, 2014

BrizCommuter special - the fare decrease vs service increase vote charade

How about a vote for more competent government?
BrizCommuter has temporarily come out of self imposed exile, to discuss the LNP state government's fare decrease vs increased service vote. This vote(/pile of spin), put to public transport users via TransLink's website, is to allow commuters to decide how to spend $30m in savings from the scrapping of the carbon tax. (The carbon tax incidentally unfairly targeted public transport instead of environmentally unsustainable car commuting).

Why are the fares so high in the first place?

The previous ALP government introduced a completely flawed policy of increasing public transport fares by 15% a year, in order to decrease the amount of public transport subsidy. Unfortunately, they forgot that if you put fares up by too much, then commuters just use their cars instead. Thus public transport patronage stagnated and decreased. The amount of government subsidy required to run public transport thus increased. Doh!

The current LNP government then promised to fix the fare structure. They could have introduced attractive fares to increase patronage, and thus fare box income. Unfortunately, the just halved the fare increased to a still unacceptable 7.5%, and introduced the rortable 9 then free cap. Laughably, the LNP claimed the 7.5% fare rises were decreasing the cost of living. Who are they trying to kid!

So what is wrong with services?

Train services are limited in the peaks by Queensland Rail's lack of trains. This is due to the previous ALP government not purchasing enough of them. Whilst the LNP government have ordered new trains, they took their time over the order, and the new trains will not be in service until 2016. This prevents any peak improvements until 2016/17. There is however potential for some off-peak improvements, notably outer suburban (e.g. 15min frequency beyond Darra and Northgate), and expansion of the 15 minute off-peak service to weekends. The lack of automatic train protection, and continued use of guards, makes for a very inefficient train operation.

Brisbane City Council's bus network (run by their own Brisbane Transport) is massively inefficient, wasteful, and confusing to use. TransLink had excellent (although not quite perfect) plans to re-design the network. This would have increased the percentage of Brisbane with a high frequency bus service, whilst decreasing operating costs. Unfortunately due to Brisbane City Council playing political games, and transport minister Scott Emerson having no balls to stand up to Brisbane City Council, TransLink's plans were dropped.

The "decrease fares" vote

There is no question that Brisbane's public transport is absurdly expensive, and it is forcing commuters back to their cars in droves. A fare decrease is urgently required, but not using the carbon tax rebate as per this vote. The fare structure needs to be designed to make public transport more attractive, increase patronage, increase efficiencies, and increase fare box revenue. A good example is Perth, where train fares are nearly half of Brisbane's!

It is also noted that the fare decrease, if voted for, would be in an election year. BrizCommuter is sure that fare decrease will not help Queensland Health staff who are just about to be faced with savage cuts to pay and conditions.

The "increase services" vote

There is no mention of what services will be improved from the $30m carbon tax "refund", and by the wording on TransLink's website, the improvements may not be in Brisbane. There is no chance of improving peak train services until 2016/17, do don't waste your vote on that expectation. Improvements to off-peak frequencies would be welcome, but could be paid for by the introduction of automatic train protection (ATP) and scrapping of guards.

There is probably limited scope for improving Brisbane's bus services without purchasing more buses. Given the current status quo, this would just add even more route variations and busway congestion. Without a complete network redesign (as per TransLinks abandoned plans, and Auckland's successful changes) which could be done with no funding improvements anyway, we will not see any real improvements.

The "more competent government" vote

This is what BrizCommuter would like to see,  a state government will the balls to:

  • Completely revise the fare structure to increase public transport patronage and fare box revenue. 
  • Buy enough trains, rather than enough for what was required 5 years ago. 
  • Install ATP, and replace guards with more train drivers, and provide more train services with the same staffing costs. 
  • Completely re-design Brisbane's bus network to make for a more efficient use of tax payers money. Privatise Brisbane Transport whilst you are at it. 

Unfortunately, it does not look like that either the LNP or ALP have the competence to run an efficient and affordable public transport network in SE Queensland.

Oh, by the way, the vote is here: