As some of you will know, my first forays into blogging here on the ATB came by way of several “postcards” from afar, in which I ranted about my travels in Amsterdam, Norway, and Greece. It was the appreciative and insightful tone of your responses to these postcards that got me enthused about blogging in the first instance.
And postcards are suddenly cool again – mainly because I have been transplanted across the Tasman once more for work. So here follows the first of what I hope will be several postcards from Brisbane. The reason I will need several posts, I think, is because Brisbane is so bloody interesting.
Not in an “oh my gosh” isn’t everything wonderful”, but in an “oh my let’s spend money on transport but I’m not sure in a good way.” Basically, Brisbane is interesting because it does so much that is right, while at the same time wasting obscene amounts of money on terribly expensive infrastructure projects.
Before we get into the serious nitty grit-picky, let’s start with a picture postcard perfect transport photo. The one below shows me sweating profusely having cycled 200m along the recently flooded but soon to be fixed cycleway, which ran just above the surface of the river. While it looks like I’m smiling, I’m actually grimacing in response to 30+ degree heat (NB: Brisbane does not suit delicate little red-headed fairies such as myself).
In the background of the photo above you can see the construction of one of Brisbane’s most recent pedestrian and cycle only bridges. But enough of the transport eye candy; it’s now time to get down and dirty with some numbers (NB: Data sourced from here and here):
- Population: 2.15 million, area: 6,000 sqkm, average density: 346 people/sqkm
- PT patronage: 180 million, or 82 trips per capita p.a. of which:
- Bus – 120.3 million
- Train – 52.8 million
- Ferry – 5.2 million
- PT operating budget AU $1.5 billion p.a. (NB: This includes some minor capital spend on bus stops and driver facilities, but not for corridors, as well as organisational overheads), which was spent as follows:
- Bus – $503.9 million ($4.19 per trip)
- Rail – $835.5 million ($15.82 per trip)
- Ferry – $19.1 million ($3.67 per trip)
- System-wide cost recovery 23.6% and smartcard market share 81.6%
So how does Brisbane compare to Auckland? Well, in terms of what they do well:
- PT infrastructure – Brisbane has a relatively extensive rail and busway network which together form the “rapid transit” heart of the wider network. In the city centre this culminates in two underground bus tunnels supported by dedicated surface bus lanes from most directions. In terms of their rail networkthe network is electrified and operates at reasonable frequencies, although I understand further frequency improvements are not possible because the network capacity is constrained downtown. With so much rapid transit infrastructure the services are fast and reliable and attract considerable patronage.
- Smartcard uptake – Brisbane really was the poster child of integrated ticketing; they made an early push for integrated fares and ticketing (tag on/off) and the GoCard is now used for over 80% of all trips. The discount for using a GoCard is at least 30% of the standard fare, which is quite an incentive (by contrast HOP is only 10%). The high update has a noticeable effect on bus dwell times at stops. TransLink also offers a 30% discount for travelling at off-peak times, as well as fare caps that kick in beyond a certain point. The off-peak discount, in particular, is something Auckland should consider, when marginal willingness-to-pay and marginal costs of supply and both low.
Now let’s consider the not so good news:
- Costs - Brisbane’s public transport network seems relatively costly, with an overall cost recovery of only 24%. That’s only half of what Auckland achieves – and we’re headed for 50% in the near future. Reasons for Brisbane’s high costs are many and varied. Cost recovery, however, ultimately boils down to a) operating costs and/or b) patronage and/or c) fare revenue. Given that Brisbane’s patronage is relatively high, as are fares, then a process of elimination would suggest that Brisbane’s lower cost recovery is attributable to higher operating costs. One of the reason Brisbane’s operating costs may be higher is their issues with sprawl (see below), which in turn results in people traveling long distances. It may also reflect generally higher wages in Australia, especially for highly unionised public sector workforces.
- Sprawl – It’s not immediately obvious from the statistics presented above, but Brisbane sprawls in all sorts of directions and all sorts of strange ways. The city has chronic issues with what I think is technically knows as “leapfrog” sprawl, whereby poorly connected blocks of land beyond the urban fringe are developed in isolation, thereby fragmenting the urban edge and making it extremely difficult to deliver efficient public services after the fact. Take a look at the image below to see an example, but to gain a true appreciation for the beast you’d be best to jump on Google Earth and have a zoom.
There’s a lot more to talk about so let me know what you’re most interested in and I’ll make an effort to get some thoughts down. Some possible topics that spring to mind:
- Central city access/mobility – pedestrianised main street, walking/cycle acces points, rail station locatons, bus stops and key corridors, one way street system, signal cycle times …
- Busway infrastructure and service patterns – these really are quite spectacular. Brisbane has not only two radial busways (South-east and Inner Northern) but also a crosstown busway (Eastern). These are serviced by a network of high frequency bus routes.
- Highway infrastructure , tunnels, and PPPs - Far and away the worst thing about Brisbane is the mega-billions they’ve squandered creating massive amounts of highway infrastructure, in the process cutting the city off from the river and many of its surrounding suburbs.
I will say that in general I find Brisbane to be a wonderful peer city for Auckland – it’s bigger and richer, so tends to do things earlier and spend more money in the process. We’d be silly not to learn as much as we can from their many successes, and failures.
On that cliched note, here’s another vacuous photo of me – this time standing on the platform at central station as the train arrives to whizz me home. Looking forward to that soon enough!