Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Perth's Paid Car Park Fail

Perth has one of the best public transport systems in Australia, with trains every 15 minutes off-peak on all lines, reliable services, high frequency bus corridors, low fares, and common sense decisions. However, on a recent business trip to Perth, BrizCommuter came across a big fail.

Below is an photo of Cottesloe Station (on the Fremantle Line) car park in the middle of a weekday. It's a bit empty isn't it. Where are the cars you ask?

Here they are, in a grassy patch of land next to the empty station car park.

So why are commuters avoiding parking in Cottesloe Station car park? The answer is simple, TransPerth decided to charge $2 for use of station car parks on weekdays. This applies to cars, motorbikes, and motorised scooters.

The implementation of paid parking in 2014 has resulted in many commuters (in fact, all but one at Cottesloe) to avoid paying for parking, and parking anywhere else they can get away with (e.g. on grassy land, nearby residential streets). This somewhat defeats the purpose of having a station car park in the first place, and appears to be a money making cash grab by the recently ousted LNP  state government. Whilst there were claims by the previous WA government of no drops in patronage, no station by station data was released (note: not all stations in Perth have a car park). Whilst Perth's smart card (SmartRider) can be used to pay for parking, only one car number plate can be active to the card at any time, thus if you keep changing cars, you risk a $50 fine unless you jump through hoops to change the active car. Whilst the infrastructure cost of a car parking space is surprisingly high, there are also significant financial and social benefits of attracting users onto efficient public transport.

So what are the disadvantages of making commuters pay for station parking?
  • Drivers will avoid using the station car park where reasonably possible, resulting in...
  • Congestion in nearby residential streets, or any other location suitable for parking. 
  • Lots of empty car parking spaces is a waste of expensive infrastructure and land resources. 
  • It makes using public transport less attractive, and less value for money compared to driving to the destination. Potential increases in road congestion. 
  • Does not necessarily prevent non-train users using station car parks. 
  • Technicalities around payment (as per above Perth example, note: not all station car parks can have boom gates fitted). 
  • Requires extra staff to police compliance. 
So what are the advantages of making commuters pay for station parking?
  • May encourage some commuters to cycle to the station if there are free, safe, and sufficient cycle storage families (note: hot climates limit the uptake of cycling).
  • May encourage the use of feeder bus services - but only if the feeder bus exists, and is sufficiently frequent, which most aren't.
  • Provides cost recovery for expensive infrastructure and land resources. 
With Brisbane having a chronic issue with full station car parks, and thus overflow to suburban residential streets, then introducing paid train station parking would be disastrous for public transport and residents around train stations. Thankfully, there are currently no plans for implementing paid station parking in SE Queensland.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

QR's Rail Fail - Hourly Train Shame?

There are currently rumours floating about on Rail Back on Track that Queensland Rail are considering hourly train services over Easter, and hourly services on Weekends. An hourly frequency would take Brisbane back 35 years to the early 1980s, would most likely cause political annihilation for the ALP Palaszczuk government, and probably the end for QR as a public company when the LNP "Nasty party" inevitably get back into power. BrizCommuter has the following questions for QR, the Palaszczuk Government, and the Citytrain Response Unit:
  • Are there going to be any more cutbacks to the "2017 timetable" that we were told would be in place for the whole of 2017?
  • If so, when are you going to bother to tell the public about any changes? The day before, like the weekend axing of the Rosewood Line?
  • If so, how are you going to tell the public? Or are you just going to pretend it isn't happening like the original Rail Fail cutbacks?
  • Do you realise that many people (retail, entertainment, and healthcare) actually have to get to work on the Weekends and Easter?
  • Do you realise the damage this will cause to CBD businesses and events?
  • As Brisbane would have the least frequent weekend train service in Oceana, do you understand the reputational damage this will cause to Brisbane and SE Queensland?
  • Do you understand how this will affect businesses and development?
  • Do you understand this may also prevent federal funding for Cross River Rail?
  • What is the point of the Citytrain Response Unit, if it does not prevent further pain to commuters?
BrizCommuter hopes these rumours are false, but given reports that QR's acting CEO Neil Scales (who is usually D-G of stuff up merchants Department of Transport and Main Roads) barely seems to think there is a problem with #RailFail (cough, cough), then BrizCommuter fears the worst.

Citytrain Response Unit - Fixing The Trains

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brisbane Metro - Why Bus is Best

Brisbane Metro - is it a bus or train?
BrizCommuter was delighted when Brisbane City Council (BCC) recently announced plans to replace the original (ill thought out) rubber tyred train based Brisbane Metro, with the much more sensible high frequency bi-artic buses. The only major infrastructure change is the $1b under-grounding of the congested Cultural Centre busway station - this location being the achilles heel of the busway network. Unfortunately, this bus Metro plan has been ridiculed by some uninformed politicians (council opposition) and journalists.

In this blog post, BrizCommuter explains why bus is the best option for increasing the capacity of Brisbane's busway system. But first, what is a Metro? Metro is short for Metropolitan (or Metropolitan Railway), of which the first "Metro" ran in London in 1863. Metros are defined as being train lines where trains run frequently enough for the service to be truly turn up and go (at least every 10 minutes), and are completely grade separated from other traffic (cars, pedestrians, other train lines). However, in more recent years, the Metro term has been used to describe any high frequency public transport system (train, light rail, or bus), entire low frequency public transport systems (hello Hobart Metro), and of course mid-sized urban supermarkets (hello Woolworths Metro). Thus BCC are far from the first people to be charged with abuse of the term Metro, and knocking BCC for use of the term is somewhat petty.

So what are the advantages of using bi-artic buses (three section bendy buses) instead of the originally planned rubber-tyred metro trains?

  • Infrastructure changes. Buses can handle the steep slopes and sharp turns of the busway system. Significant and very expensive modifications (additional $2b) would have been required to allow metro trains (whether rubber-tyred, steel wheel, or light rail) to run on the existing busway corridor.  
  • Coverage. Bi-artic buses can use the whole of the existing busway (Eight Mile Plains and UQ to RBWH). The scope of the train based metro was just Wooloongabba to Herston, which would have not served RBWH, UQ, PA Hospital, or Garden City, and would have forced far more passengers to have to change between bus and metro. To extend the original train based metro plan between Eight Mile Plains and UQ to RBWH would have added significant extra cost to the project (>$1b). 
  • One seat rides from suburbs to CBD. Both existing bus services (most likely frequent BUZ, Rocket, and Maroon City Glider services) and the high-frequency Brisbane Metro services can all use the busway. This increases the number of one-seat services from the suburbs to the CBD compared to the train based metro would would have forced almost all passengers to have to change to/from the metro. 
  • Congestion. Most high frequency bus routes will either connect with the bus metro, or still use the busway infrastructure. The train based metro would have forced bus routes that only use part of the busway network (such as the 444, 390, and Maroon City Glider) onto CBD roads, increasing traffic congestion and slowing journey times. 
  • Capacity. Based on existing station lengths (notably the 45m long Mater Hill) the bus metro actually has higher theoretical capacity than a train based metro. This is due to the shorter platform re-occupation time and headways of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). If platform lengths were longer (>75m), than train based metro would have a clear advantage. 
  • Disruption. Aside from the inevitable changes at Cultural Centre, modifications to the busway to run bi-artic buses is minimal. Building a train based metro would have caused significant disruption for around 5 years, with buses being diverted onto congested roads. 
  • Depot. As buses can run on roads, the depot does not need to be immediately adjacent to the metro infrastructure. With a train based metro, the depot has to be immediately adjacent to the metro infrastructure. Unfortunately, there were no suitable depot locations along the original train based Brisbane Metro alignment. 
  • Infrastructure operating costs. Busways generally have lower ongoing operating costs for infrastructure compared to railways, where the track, power supply, and signalling needs to be frequently maintained. 
  • Fuel. Fast electric charging technology, and hybrid diesel engines have increased the attractiveness of buses in recent years as a green form of transportation. Long gone are the days of buses chugging out dirty black diesel fumes.  
Are there any reasons why train based Metro would have been better?
  • Capacity. If the entire busway system was to be converted to rail, and platforms extended to at least 75m, then train based metro would have significant capacity increases over bus metro. Medium to large sized trains are the ultimate method of moving large numbers of passengers. However, this would have realistically resulted in a cost in excess of $4b. Given the much more urgently required Cross River Rail cannot get funding, then finding such sums of money would be unrealistic. 
  • Staff operating costs. Staffing costs are typically 50% of the operating costs for public transport. Operating frequent buses has high staffing costs. Train based metro can operate with no drivers, with staffing only in maintenance, administrative, and customer service roles. However, you have to spend huge sums on upfront costs to achieve the long term operating cost savings. 
  • Reputation. There is no question that a "proper" train based metro adds to the perceived attractiveness of a city (e.g. London's Tube, NYC Subway, Paris Metro) . BRT has a somewhat "third world" reputation, and there are no world famous busway systems. However, reputation and attractiveness of a systems does not necessarily mean that it is the best system for that city. 
For many large cities rail/train based Metro is the best solution to transport issues, and this is one of the reasons why Cross River Rail (which will run metro like frequencies) is Queensland's most urgent infrastructure project. However, in the case of upgrading Brisbane's busway network, there are many compelling reasons why bus based metro (Bus Rapid Transit) is by far the best solution to serve Brisbane for the next few decades. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have made the sensible decision to switch from trains to buses for the Brisbane Metro.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Is Tim Nicholls Out of Touch?

Tim Nicholls MP - Out of Touch?
BrizCommuter was recently delighted to see the LNP Brisbane City Council refining the Brisbane Metro design to something more sensible - Bus Rapid Transit. It was also good news, that Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have been quoted as finally supporting Cross River Rail, which the Brisbane Metro will connect with and complement. The LNP Federal Government have also recently stated (whilst playing tit-for-tat politics) that Cross River Rail needed to have better integration between Brisbane Metro. Well now it does, both systems are looking a bit more likely. Even car lobby group RACQ is highly supportive of Cross River Rail, stating that it is Queensland's number one infrastructure project. So what are the views of LNP Leader of the Opposition Tim Nicholls MP?

Unfortunately, it seems that Tim hasn't quite got the memo that Brisbane and SE Queensland is well and truly screwed with coping with future population growth, if it doesn't build Cross River Rail. He has recently been quoted as saying:

"the Cross River Rail project had been "hopelessly stalled" under the Palaszczuk government"

Hey Tim, didn't, the LNP Newman Government (for which you were Newman's henchman), delay Cross River Rail by years, by scrapping it for the flawed BaT Tunnel design, for which sources have since been quoted as saying "would never happen"?

"The Metro solves a current infrastructure bottleneck while the cross river rail seeks to address a bottleneck that ‘may’ occur in 2026."  

Hey Tim, maybe patronage would have been better if under the awful LNP Newman Government, the following hadn't occurred:
  • Increase in public transport fares by 10%, and failed to review the fare structure?
  • Delayed the opening of Moreton Bay Rail Link due to the purchase of incompatible signalling?
  • Delayed and screwed up the design of Indian built New Generation Rollingstock trains?
  • Stopped QR from hiring new staff, and demoted driver trainers, resulting in Rail Fail?
  • Failed to implement bus network reform?
  • Put many public transport users out of jobs? 
So Mr Nicholls - what are your policies? 
  • How do you expect Brisbane to compete with other Oceana cities (such as Auckland, Perth, Sydney,  Melbourne, and Wellington) which have far better public transport? Build more financially disastrous road tunnels?
  • How do you expect train lines to be built to new towns such as Greater Flagstone when there isn't enough core network capacity? Force people onto already congested roads?
  • Or are you anti-Cross River Rail, because you can't admit the the BaT Tunnel was severely flawed and half-arsed?
  • Are you completely blind to the fact that Brisbane's least frequent train line (Doomben Line) runs through your Clayfield constituency, and that it could have been more usefully extended to Northshore Hamilton?
  • Do you want Brisbane to continue to be only developed city in the world that actively promotes car use as if it is still the 1960s?
Please tell us Tim? Anyone there?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Quirky Metro - Common Sense Prevails!

Artists impression
BrizCommuter and Rail Back on Track have been very vocal in being against Brisbane City Council's ludicrous Brisbane Metro Subway System proposal, which was an ill-thought out election promise. In a pleasantly surprising move, Brisbane City Council have seen the light, and dumped the disruptive idea of converting the inner busway into a rubber-tyred metro system. Yes, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have finally seem some common sense! Before we move into the replacement plan for the Brisbane Metro - what was wrong with the original plan?
  • Busway congestion could have been resolved by an almost $0 bus network reform, instead of spending $1.5b+ (more realistically $3b) on a totally unnecessary Metro system. 
  • It would have increased journey times, as passengers would have to change from bus to metro at Wooloongabba and Herston to access Brisbane's CBD.
  • It went against Graham Quirk's excuse for lack of bus network reform of providing one seat journeys. 
  • It had lower capacity than the existing busway.
  • It did not serve RBWH, PA Hospital, and UQ, three major trip generators on the busway network. In fact it annoyingly stops just one stop short of both RBWH and PA Hospitals.
  • Important parts of the design, such as the interchange design  had not been properly considered.
  • It did not provide any new journey opportunities, unlike the urgently required Cross River Rail CRR). 
  • It provided political distraction from the urgently required CRR.
  • It did not solve Brisbane's rail capacity issues, unlike CRR.
So what is in the far more sensible Brisbane Metro Mk2, which is now a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. 
  • Brisbane Metro will use bi-artic (long bendy) buses instead of rubber-tyred metro, massively reducing the cost of the changes to infrastructure (now $1b), and allowing both the "Metro" and existing high frequency bus routes to continue using the busway. 
  • Two high frequency bus routes with bi-artic buses - Eight Mile Plains to Roma Street (current route 111), and UQ to RBWH (current route 66) every 3 minutes. 
  • Serves large trip generators outside of Brisbane's CBD including RBWH, PA Hospital, Mater and Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, UQ, QUT Kelvin Grove, and Garden City Shopping Centre. 
  • Claimed capacity of 22,000 passengers per hour - higher than existing busway (note: BrizCommuter is yet to verify this claim).   
  • Fleet of 60 bi-artic buses - hybrid or battery powered electric.
  • New underground bus station at Cultural Centre to avoid congestion.  
  • Victoria Bridge will be green - buses, bikes, and pedestrians only.
  • Brisbane Metro will free up existing buses for feeder services and better coverage.
  • Integrates well with CRR, as interchange will be provided at Roma Street and Boggo Road.
  • Complements CRR, rather than being a rival project. 
  • Considerably less impact during construction. 
Bi-artic electric bus   Source: Busworld
Some of BrizCommuter's thoughts on this:
  • BrizCommuter hopes that this brings about sensible bus network reform, with mainly high frequency trunk routes serving the CBD, and "local" routes acting as a feeder to the high frequency network. 
  • Most of the exiting BUZ routes still need to serve the busway, in particular the routes to Chermside and Carindale. 
  • BrizCommuter hopes to see more high frequency bus routes, serving more of Brisbane including Northern Suburbs, Centenary Suburbs, and the Prince Charles Hospital. 
  • BrizCommuter hopes that politicians won't play silly buggers with bus reform like last time. Yes, some people will loose out, but the majority of passengers across Brisbane should be better off. 
  • As the state government owns the busway infrastructure, BrizCommuter hopes that they are fully supportive of the changes around Cultural Centre.
  • Will Brisbane City Council put some of the savings from Brisbane Metro towards Cross River Rail?
  • As these buses will have all-door boarding, how will go card touch on/off work? Onboard or on platform?
BrizCommuter is happily stunned that Brisbane politicians have finally made a sensible decision. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

QR's Friday Timetable from Hell

Overcrowding on 07:17 from Ferny Grove to City
Source: Supplied
As most of the remaining rail users in Brisbane and SE Queensland will know, Friday is the "Day from Hell" when trying to get to and from work, school, university, appointments, and even getting pissed in the Valley. Due to Queensland Rail's (QR) lack of drivers, and drivers only being able to work 11 days on a row, Fridays have a further reduced timetable. This is different to the Monday to Thursday timetable. Even BrizCommuter, who is a self confessed "public transport expert", keeps getting caught out by the timetable changes on Friday. So what are the problems with QR's Friday timetable from hell?
  • Completely different service cuts on Friday compared to Monday to Thursday causes massive confusion to passengers who have to remember two different "dismembered" timetables. 
  • Totally unacceptable 60 minute gaps between trains on the Doomben Line in the am peak, early pm peak, and pm peak. 
  • The previously full to capacity 07:10am and 07:25am services from Ferny Grove to the City has been axed, resulting on severe overcrowding (as in passengers unable to board from Alderley) on the 07:17am from Ferny Grove service. 
  • Multiple 30 minute gaps between peak period train services on the Cleveland Line, with the pm peak express service being reduced by 50%, and "dangerous overcrowding" reported.
  • 30 minute late am peak gap on the Caboolture Line. 
  • Pm peak services axed during the busiest part of the peak period from Ipswich and Springfield Lines with 24 minute service gaps, and annoyingly different times to axed services on Monday to Thursday. 
  • 32 minute gap between Springfield services at school finish time.
  • Large number of axed "Inner North" services from Northgate to City (and vice versa)
  • The "Turn Up and Go" 15 minute daytime off-peak services on the Ferny Grove, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines have been butchered - more like "Turn Up and Hope"! 
  • 06:02am from Varsity Lakes to City runs all stations, slowing down the Gold Coast to Brisbane commute by 18 minutes. In fact this train gets overtaken by the following service. It would be awfully nice if QR could inform commuters of this fact!
  • 30 minute am peak gap to Brisbane Airport delaying passengers trying to catch morning flights. 
  • Considerable reduction in via South Bank services, causing disruption to hospitals, workplaces,  and education. 
  • Some axed services from Monday to Thursday run on Fridays, causing passengers to avoid services that are actually running. 
  • Increase in last minute cancelled (or "altered" as QR like to call it) services on Fridays. 
  • Plenty of other service changes that have missed off this list causing annoyance and frustration to passengers. 
  • Mistakes in the timetables and TransLink journey planner. 
Whilst the lack of driver issue is not going to be solved overnight (in fact, possibly not until 2019, due to QR still not hiring external applicants), BrizCommuter calls that the Friday services need to be same as Thursday services as soon as reasonably possible. In the mean time, there needs to be improved communications to passengers about the changes. Some passengers (who must be living under a rock) are still unaware that Friday has a different timetable, and many passengers are unaware of the changes that affect them.

Rail services on Fridays are an embarrassment for Brisbane, and resulting voter anger may well be end for the ALP Palaszczuk government, irrespective of the Newman and Emerson cause. Does any other developed city in the world run a "special cut-back" timetable Fridays? No!

Addendum 10/03/2017

The above service advisory from TransLink should read: The 4:50pm Ipswich to Kippa-Ring train is delayed 10 minutes due to inadequate train service caused by institutional incompetence.