Sunday, July 17, 2016

Un-fair? Short vs Long Distance Journey Costs

Tokyo - expensive long distance commutes
BrizCommuter has often complained about how shorter distance commuters are ripped off by TransLink's fares compared to longer distance commuters. BrizCommuter's opinion is that those who live closer to their place of work or study are living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and thus should be rewarded as such with lower fares. BrizCommuter has always lived with 15km of his place of work during his 20 year career, utilising relatively less infrastructure, resources, and energy to get to work than many other commuters. Those who choose to live a longer distance from their place of work (e.g. commuting from the Gold Coast to Brisbane), are living a less environmentally friendly lifestyle, as more infrastructure, resources, and energy are required to get them to and from their destination. Thus longer distance commuters should be penalised by higher fares for their lifestyle choice. Of course, not everyone has the choice (e.g. if one partner works on the Coast, and another works in Brisbane), so fares have to take into account the range of lifestyles across the urban conurbation.

In this blog post BrizCommuter takes a look at the cost of fares for 1km, 5km, 20km, 40km, and 80km adult single peak fare journeys (or as close as possible to these distance) in Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London. The percentage increase in fares are calculated from the cost of the 5km journey. Brisbane fares are based on the new fares expected to be introduced in January 2017. In other cities the fares are current fares, as of 1st June 2016.

1km $3.20
5km $3.20  0%
20km $3.90  24%
40km $5.96  86%
80km $10.32  223%

1km $2.25/Free
5km $2.25  0%
20km $4.13  83%
40km $6.08  170%
80km $8.70  287%

1km  $3.38
5km  $3.38  0%
20km  $4.82  42%
40km  $4.82  42%
80km  $8.30  157%

1km  $3.90/Free
5km  $3.90  0%
20km  $3.90  0%
40km  $3.90  0%
75km  $3.90  0%

1km  2.40GBP
5km  2.90GBP  0%
20km  5.10GBP  75%
40km  9.40GBP  224%
80km  25.50GBP  779%

Hong Kong
1km  HK$2.4
5km  HK$3.4  0%
20km  HK$10.2  200%
35km  HK$19.5  474%

1km  140Y
5km  170Y  0%
20km  390Y  129%
40km  720Y  323%
80km  1320Y  676%

All Australian cities have relatively low fare increases as distance increases compared to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London. This clearly reflects the urban sprawl of these relatively low density cities in Australia. and the environmentally unsustainable lifestyle that Australia is already struggling with. More on that later.

Tokyo and Kong Hong have considerably higher fare increases per distance, despite having a very high population density that makes public transport more efficient and relatively small commuter bases. For example, in Tokyo, one of the world most populous cities, the Chuo Rapid train services terminates at a station 53km from Tokyo. That is slightly further than Caboolture from Brisbane Central. Further than that, are hourly local trains, or an hourly express train that has an extra surcharge on top of the fare quoted. Imagine if Sunshine and Gold Coast commuters had to pay a surcharge for their limited express trains?

In the UK, a green belt surrounds London, and the outside of the green belt are commuter towns, many of which are on the coast. It seems that if you want the commuter or seaside town lifestyle (the 80km fare was based on Brighton to London) then you will certainly have to pay for it in the cost of your commute!

So what is wrong with Australia's urban planning? The uncontrolled urban sprawl of Australia's major cities is causing serious infrastructure gaps. For example in SE Queensland, there are currently multiple new towns (e.g. Flagstone, Ripley, Yarrabilba) under construction away from existing commuter train lines. All of these initially require very expensive new road infrastructure or widening of existing roads. If train lines are to be extended to the former two, that will cost around a billion $. Adding new branches to train lines adds pressure to the core rail network resulting in multiple billion dollar projects such as Cross River Rail needing to be built. Not building core infrastructure just increases congestion. Simply, continuing to build out, instead of up, is not sustainable into the future.

A second issue is oil prices. Despite fluctuations, oil has been relatively cheap since the 1970s. With the world likely to be heading for instability over the next few decades, there is a high risk of very large increases in oil prices. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out how peak oil will affect a sprawling urban conurbation such as SE Queensland. Peak Oil could be quite disastrous for SE Queensland's economy if public transport continues to be playing catch up. An increase in electric cars (which still require a energy source) may alleviate some of this risk, but the risk exists. At least cheaper longer distance fares is an attempt to reduce the number of longer distance fuel guzzling car journeys.

On the plus side, Melbourne and Perth are one very few world cities to have free fare zones within the CBD (tram only in Melbourne). This helps very few commuters getting from home to work, but assists with CBD travel during the daytime, plus is attractive to tourists and business travellers.

So is the urban sprawl responsible for the low fare increases per distance in Australia, or are the low fares responsible for the long commutes? It is a bit of chicken and the egg scenario. Certainly, there is little question that shorter distance commuters "doing the right thing" in Australia are being screwed in favour of longer distance commuters. BrizCommuter is also disappointed that the Palaszczuk government ignored the Fare Review Taskforce's recommendations that included cheaper shorter distance fares, and relatively higher longer distance fares.


  1. In the case of Melbourne, the free tram zone in the inner city only helps people who commute by car - anyone using public transport to and from the Melbourne CBD have area paid a daily fare, and so don't save any money through a 'free' fare.

  2. People who live in the outer suburbs often do so because they can't afford to purchase in the inner city...

  3. As you would expect, I’m going to raise issues about your post, but NOT because I live on the Gold Coast and commute to Brisbane. In fact, on principle I agree that anyone living a greater distance away should pay for the economic cost of "externalises" (carbon footprint just being one of them). I would only disagree with implementing it on the basis of unexpected consequences of otherwise logical strategies.

    I previously disagreed that it was nether categorically "good" or "bad" to live close or far from work as there can be complex reasons for living where you do. Mine is a “1st world problem”, but many people living in the outer suburbs live there because that what they can afford. Inner city living (especially within 15km) is only financially available to a very small percentage of a very large number of people. Living in outer suburbs is financially available to almost everyone.

    Take your London example, one unintended impact is that poor HAVE to live further away from London, then have to pay very high prices to either drive (due to CBD congestion tolls) or use expensive public transport (as you listed above), meaning that they are essentially "the working poor". I've spoken to several people from London in this situation who say "things can't get worse." This is a well-documented problem throughout the western world. These aren't people living in lovely seaside or "tree-changers" towns, these are quite poor people living in cheep commuter housing estates. Are they "doing the wrong thing" by being too poor to live close to the city? Clearly not, so why are they being penalised by such a high price for not being able to afford to live closer to the city? That's just unethical.

    So I agree that the best case is that a true price is put on ALL the externalities (carbon foot print, heat-sink contribution, maintenance cost, health care costs, impact on amenity, impact on biodiversity, impact on our health system, and so on and so on). But I don’t think increasing the fare price on longer distance trips should be done unless it is either means tested (and studies repeatedly find that means testing costs more than it saves or achieves), or we restructure our society so that lower socio-economic people have equal access to live close to the city.

    This is NOT how our society, economy and financial system is geared and therefore we have to evaluate what is best given that we aren't living in a best case scenario. Therefore, imposing – on the face of it - common sense higher fees on one particular service (public transport) is incongruous with every other aspect of our society. In other words, any single, unbalanced change in a complex socio-economic system will have unexpected/unintended consequences.

    This feeds into what you are touching on with the "urban sprawl" and "urban planning". But it goes beyond this and would mean re-planning our entire economic system and society aspirations, expectations, and society configuration.

    I'll leave my ideology there... I don't think these are simple problems and I don't think they have simple answers.

  4. Luke and Philip - thanks for your comments. The problem with people living in outer suburbs for more affordable housing, is that Aussies still want their large block of land and live the "Australian dream" in low density suburbs. The reality is that is environmentally unsustainable as population grows, and just cannot go on and on.

    1. I'm not sure about all of Brisbane but the lower socioeconomic outer suburbs I know of are high density small blocks and frequently townhouses or units. On the Gold Coast they have the nickname "ice blocks" as there are serious social problems. In short I agree that people wanting a large house and land should pay for the transport impact that decision causes, but most outer suburbs that are cheap are undesirable locations and the residents are further charged high transport fees for their inability to afford city locations.

  5. With so many people that are mobile and transiting every day, and such an incompetent transport system, it's no wonder people desperately want to own a car of their own in order to get around. It seems unfair to have to wrap your head around all this public transport confusion at the end of the day don't you think?


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