Sunday, May 15, 2016

BCC Committee Meetings: An embarrassment of democracy and why you should attend

By Michael Swifte

Why should ordinary Brisbane residents attend the Brisbane City Council standing committees held at Brisbane City Hall each Tuesday when council is in session?

The short answer is: 

To witness the embarrassment of democracy that is on offer at this little piece of local government process.

The long answer is:

The BCC standing committees are chaired by the councilor responsible for particular areas of council operations. Standing committee chairs form Brisbane's 'Civic Cabinet'. Standing committee meetings are not minuted, but you can attend along with bureaucrats and local media.

I began attending the BCC Public and Active Transport committee just over 2 years ago. The first time I went along the BCC attendant told me I wasn't allowed to go to committee meetings, but I referred her to the council's own website, I was perhaps the first member of the public to attend. Since that time I have witnessed the occasional member of the public attend along with Translink Ripoff fans. The BCC have instituted new procedures, started a sign in book for visitors, provided numbered lanyards, and redefined a "banner" as any teeshirt that may bear a political slogan.

Cr Matic didn't like me wearing this teeshirt so he organised to have it banned.
I count myself lucky that I attended these committee meetings when I did because I got to witness a proper politician at work. Councilor Nicole Johnston used the few minutes left at each Public and Active Transport committee meeting after the unnecessarily long presentation to hold the chair Councilor Matic to account. Cr Johnston was highly effective, exposed Cr Matic's evasiveness and stonewalling, and was prepared to engage with the public. Cr Johnston, to her immense credit, was prepared to pitch questions that I would tweet to her, and made no secret of this fact. Now, in the first meetings of the Public and Active Transport committee attended only by LNP and ALP councilors, I see only a rubber stamping process.

Each week Cr Nicole Johnston would take the fight to Cr Matic.
I have made my presence at BCC committees as disruptive as possible without breaching behaviour guidelines. Just my presence has an impact on councilors who will use the stairs rather than be confronted by me in the elevator, and they will hush their voices when I enter the waiting room.

Cr Adrian Schrinner has taken over from Cr Matic

Any member of the public who has concerns about the way the BCC operates should try to attend the relevant committee. There are opportunities to speak with and tweet to jounalists and councilors, and to show that their embarrassing, rubber stamping process is being scrutinised.

Check here for details of BCC standing committees:

Check here for behaviour standards:

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fare and Zone Comparison Table: April 2016

Following from the increase in transfers on Sydney's Opal Card system which was being exploited by Opal Runners doing something very similar to the 'notching up' we were seeing here a few years back. Opal Card  transfers have increased from 3 to 7. A few more transfers would give some SEQ commuters blessed relief, but Translink (under LNP and ALP) wont hear of any changes to number of transfers or transfer window length.

Here is our updated fare and zone comparison table.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Qld Local Elections: The BCC Public Transport Policy Mosh Pit

By Tony Corbett

Its hard to know where to start with the public transport (PT) policy mosh-pit that has characterised the BCC election campaign.  There isn’t much point getting into the nitty gritty, we’ll leave that to Brizcommuter who provides a good assessment HERE. At a broader level the PT promise frenzy the mayoral candidates have engaged in tell us that the toxic relationship and blurred lines of responsibility between the BCC and the state government continues to cripple our PT system and stymie any improvement.

The two main candidates, the LNPs Graham Quirk and Labor’s Rod Harding have promised half baked, expensive metro and light rail systems with zero discussions with the state via Translink, who is allegedly responsible for PT.  Harding has also promised ‘free fare Fridays’ when the BCC actually, nominally, has no control over fares.  The ludicrousness of this proposal prompted Rail Back on Track’s Bob Dow to publicly call for legislation stripping the BCC of any control over public transport.  Both of the major parties were silent on cross river rail, the number 1 priority to get the city moving. The Greens candidate Ben Pennings has made some cheaper bus-based proposals, which are OK if taken in isolation, but that is what we believe is the critical point.  All of the promises and proposals have been rushed and developed in isolation, with little or no thought of system integration.

Meanwhile we have a new transport minister at state level, SH, who on early indications seems as useless and hamstrung as his predecessor Jackie Trad.  The vaunted fare review has supposedly been completed (?), but with no public consultation, no release date, ad hoc releases of more special fare products, and if the BCC election campaign promises are anything to go by, lukewarm or zero political support.

Brisbane’s public transport system remains woefully inadequate, with no indications of reform or improvement in the future.  None of the players at state or BCC levels seem to understand or care that political and institutional reform is the only way forward.  While they don’t seem to understand, they actually do understand.  What seem to us like a murky, opaque web of backroom deals between politicians and unions, and between state and BCC politicians combines to maintain the status quo of an unintegrated system that is expensive to use and run and stuck in time somewhere around Expo 88.

The state leaving PT to the BCC has had disasterous results.  The BCC only has control over buses, and inevitably they have delivered us to ‘peak bus’.  A single, state government controlled metro controlling all aspects of the system, with a focus on rail is the only way forward.  If the BCC genuinely cared about delivering good public transport it would recognise the need for integrating rail and bus modes.  For that to happen the BCC needs to stop acting unilaterally on major infrastructure and the state needs to prioritise PT and get on the front foot politically.  In other words, the BCC needs to step aside, and the state needs to step up.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Correspondence: The Absurdity of Translink's New Ticketing Products

Below is an email exchange with Erin from the Translink Stakeholder Relations Team regarding the new Business Go Cards. We're stunned at the absurdity of the response which took a few days for Erin to draft. We feel the response is not only inadequate but deluded. If an organisation like Translink produces such deluded correspondence in defence of it's actions, this speaks volumes about the health of it's organisational culture. The below response is evidence that Translink is a truly sick organisation and that the supposed integrated ticketing they are responsible for is an utter failure.  
The 2 new specialist Go Cards that are apparently part of a "pilot program". 

I'm seeking information about the costs to business and event organisers to provide the new Go Access Go Card to employees and event attendees.

I note that the Transport Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe has made no statements regarding the new Go Access Go Card and has offered no reasons for the development of these new ticketing products.

If the costs to businesses and event organisers is minimal then is it not the public purse that bears the burden of journeys made with Go Access Go Cards? It is irresponsible and fundamentally untransparent to launch this product without thorough disclosure of costs and evidence that equity issues have been given full consideration.

Right now the public have very little information to inform them of any justifications/rational for this product.

We could see a large portion of CBD commuters provided this product creating 2 tiers of commuter. Is a sandwich hand or sales assistant likely to receive a Go Access Go Card? Does the existence of yet another specialist Go Card product indicate fundamental problems with network design and failure of integrated ticketing?

An unemployed person will spend $6.70 minimum to attend a job interview or appointment with an employment provider on the Translink SEQ network.

Please provide a prompt response.


Michael Swifte
Page Manager
The Translink Ripoff

Good afternoon Michael,
In response to your enquiry regarding our go Access Corporate Events Card, I hope the following information is of assistance.
TransLink works hard to make sure public transport is encouraged and easily accessible to all Queenslanders and our visitors.

The go access Corporate Events Card is currently being piloted in south-east Queensland with the aim of attracting conference organisers to hold their event in Queensland. The pilot also aims to encourage event attendees to get out and about and spend locally while they are in this part of the State.

This product, details of which have been on the TransLink website since mid last year, are only available to eligible event-associated organisations through direct order from TransLink. These organisations pay in advance for this bulk purchase as part of their conference or event offering. Event organisers will often add on margins above the card price to cover their event expenses. The card is self-sufficient and does not require public money to sustain it.
A minimum bulk order of 50 cards (adult cards only) must be purchased at $12 each for use over three days. Additional days can be added at a cost of $4 per day and limited to a maximum of eight days. The product can only be used for the number of days purchased and expires at the end of the event. The price of the product has been set to cover costs, based on the average value of travel taken by event delegates. 

The government has been praised by the tourism and events industry for introducing this product due to the revenue and awareness it brings for our state and the easy public transport access it offers visitors. The card has also received praise from international and national delegates who have been keen to explore similar initiatives due to its success. This product elevates our credentials on an international scale as a competitive event location as organisers are easily able to organise cost-effective travel for attendees.

Not only does this product help reduce road congestion by encouraging public transport use but it also helps support our state through the extra revenue generated by national and international attendees as they explore and spend locally. 

The corporate event card will be rolled out more broadly as the ongoing success of the pilot continues. TransLink will continue to develop ticketing options that respond to customer needs.
Many thanks, Erin.
Government and Stakeholder Relations Team
Office of the Deputy Director-General
TransLink Division
| Department of Transport and Main Roads

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why have we not posted here for 11 months?

We never got our second promised meeting with Jackie Trad. In fact her staff were not prepared to provide us with any response let alone a formal refusal.

While Jackie Trad was transport minister she managed to create an even more muddied situation than when she arrived in office. She launched the current fare review that we know almost nothing about, and has included no consultation with the people. The terms of reference were not presented for discussion in any way, not via the media, not through a Translink run consultation. The fare review is essentially a 'black box' exercise ably assisted by our local media who seem to have zero interest in asking tough questions which is extremely disappointing. After former transport minister Scott Emerson's recent fare review taskforce leaks which are clearly timed to send messages during the Brisbane City Council and regional council elections the fare review outcomes are being used as a political football. New transport minister Stirling Hinchcliffe has shifted the language around the fare review emphasising the release of it's recommendations and skipping over the first phase when the taskforce will present a "detailed options paper" for community engagement. We are right to be very concerned about this situation.

While Jackie Trad might have gained a tiny bit of mileage from cancelling planned fare increases the situation remains as dire as ever. The new transport minister refuses to engage in any communication with us. This is especially saddening because Translink have embarked on some disturbing and completely uncommunicated, non-integrated ticketing options, and new, adhoc bus route reforms that have been "funded" by the BCC. Translink continues to allow council to operate outside of it's role as planning stakeholder and bus service provider.

We've included here the most recent fare table and we swear we'll be more active with content here as soon as we shake off the mud and confusion.

You can look forward to our review of Brisbane City Council election policies (profoundly disappointing) and we will be following up with Translink on their suite of new and bizarre "ticket-types" being piloted and rolled out while the fare review continues it's deliberations.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Our Meeting with the new Transport Minister and Setting the Agenda

On March the 6th we met with new Transport Minister Jackie Trad. We thank her for taking time to meet us, a grass-roots protest group, and hear our concerns. We told her public transport in South East Queensland is woefully inadequate and needs major reform. This won’t be easy and requires vision and commitment.

We strongly reiterated our key concerns which included concessions for low income Health Care Card (HCC) holders, abolishing the Tertiary Transport Concession Card (TTCC), fare and zone reform, organisational reform of the three existing bureaucracies (Queensland Rail, Brisbane Transport and Translink), and removal of existing public transport planning powers from Brisbane City Council.

The minister reconfirmed her stated election position, including fare reform, abolishing the TTCC and concessions for HCC holders, but she could not yet provide specific time frames. She took our views on board regarding the parlous state of SEQ PT and the need for reform. Importantly, she agreed to meet us again in six months.

A week later we were pleased to find our opinion piece based on our briefing to the minister had been published in the Courier Mail, the first time our name has ever been mentioned in that paper. We feel the response has been positive and that some more engaging conversations will happen in the coming months.

We understand that this Labor government has it's work cut out, but we feel that much can be done by our new transport minister to engage with the court of public opinion. This is where we will be drumming up some visions for the future based on what the people want and asking Jackie Trad to share more about how our system really works so that the public can make an informed contribution.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Ministerial Brief

To: The Hon Jackie Trad MP, Deputy Premier and Minister for Transport, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning and Minister for Trade

By: The Translink Ripoff, March 2015


The Purpose of the meeting is to discuss the current status of, and a reform agenda for public transport in south-east Queensland.


What do the great cities of the world have in common? Efficient, affordable, easy-to-use public transport (PT) systems. We envisage a world-class SEQ PT system that is integral to the social and economic fabric of the region that people feel good about using.

The reality is that our PT system is woefully inadequate, expensive, not easy to use and needs complete reform to begin to drag it towards world best practice. Currently, it is a transport mode of last resort.

Why is Brisbane PT so inadequate and expensive in comparison to other Australian and international cities? (It’s not density. Perth, for example, has similar densities).

Decades of underdevelopment, neglect and corruption under the Country/ National Party of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen meant that the Goss Government had a huge reform task when elected in 1989. Also Brisbane’s low-density and low population meant that traffic congestion arrived later than elsewhere. The size of the reform task combined with the unique huge local government which had administrative control of buses in a bus-dominated system, meant that PT was not prioritised by the State and left largely to the BCC. This situation has continued for far too long.

Public transport policy inertia during a time of rapid population growth has resulted in a 1990s transport system for a city that purports to be ‘world-class’.

We acknowledge and are encouraged by the Transport Minister’s stated commitment to introducing concession fares for Health Care Card holders, abolishing the TTCC and duplicating the Sunshine Coast rail line. However, these measures, while vitally important, are only ‘playing catch-up’ and addressing individual aspects of a system in need of root-and-branch reform.

SEQ PT system reform would commence with a broad inquiry with authentic community consultation which would inform the process. Reform would include organisational restructuring and cultural change, new key infrastructure components, greater emphasis on rail and light rail rather than buses, fare reform and greater coordination between rail and bus modes. This task won’t be easy, and requires a visionary Transport Minister and government who can see Brisbane as a world class city with a world class PT system. PT system reform undertaken by former WA Transport Minister Alannah McTiernan during the previous decade, which included streamlining the bureaucracy into the single TransPerth entity and constructing new and highly utilised train links, exists as evidence that it can be done.

The challenge for the state government is to reform SEQ PT into an affordable, efficient, fast, coordinated system that compares well with other affluent cities.

SEQ PT issues are many and varied and complex. These include but are not limited to:
  • Compares poorly with other cities: More expensive than anywhere else, and not as good as anywhere else (see our blog).
  • Too bus reliant, a unique feature of the system and a key reason for the high cost and poor quality. Buses will always be an integral component, but they are inefficient in terms of capacity and contributing to traffic congestion, particularly peak times in the CBD. (The Springfield and Redcliffe rail links and the GC light rail are steps in the right direction).
  • The only State capital without concessions for Health Care Card holders: High fares and no concession means low income earners must severely ration their PT use. In other words they can't afford to use it. Unemployed people can't canvass for employment, perform voluntary work or connect with friends and relatives. A human rights lawyer told us an anecdote about a junior basketball team of African immigrants who jogged across multiple suburbs to get to games because they could not afford bus fares. We spoke to an apprentice chef who is spending over half his income on train and bus fares. We could go on and on…
  • Poor community attitude toward SEQ PT: Very few people like our PT system. We have been out on the streets canvassing support for system reform and gauging community concerns for over three years, and living here for much longer. There is very little community support for, and indeed significant hostility toward, the Brisbane PT system. It is the transport mode of last resort.
  • Catching a taxi or buying an old car is often a better alternative: A taxi is usually a better option for 2 or more people. In other Australian cities this is the case for 3, 4 or 5 or more people. We often hear from people, and read in internet comments, that people believe it is cheaper and easier to buy and maintain an old car than to rely on PT. This has indeed been the experience of some TLR activists.
  • Tourists do not embrace our PT: Visitors from interstate or overseas are generally stunned at the high cost and poor quality of our PT. Moreover, Brisbanites who travel are amazed at how cheap and easy PT systems are to use in cities elsewhere.
  • The bureaucracy is fractured and cumbersome: BT and QR work in isolation and with hostility towards each other rather than cooperatively, and Translink doesn’t have the political or legal backing to adequately address this. We have three organisations where other cities have one. This is a core problem.
  • Real costs of sub-standard PT, (congestion, pollution, social isolation), are externalised; Any discussion of running costs occurs in isolation. For example in 2010 when the ALP government was promoting the ‘need’ for 80% fare increases over 5 years based on ‘the 75% subsidy’. This has to change to build political momentum for reform. The state government needs to view PT delivery as a core responsibility, like public safety, which delivers real environmental, social and economic benefits, not as a burden that has to be subsidised.
  • Generally not easy to use; unless you are a well-organised, regular user (It is difficult, for example, to find somewhere to recharge a Go Card after hours, and in many suburbs at any time of day).

Those who defend SEQ PT obfuscate and highlight specific services that work well for those that live near and use them, but this does not counter the reality of the inadequate and uncoordinated system as a whole. Moreover, Translink’s self-reviewed performance is designed and framed in ways that conceals this reality. (The contrast between Tranlink’s customer satisfaction reporting with the hundreds of comments from frustrated SEQ PT users under every media article on the topic is stark.)

There is no coherent SEQ PT vision or plan, or if there is, it hasn’t been/ isn’t being implemented. Historically governments either wouldn’t or couldn’t tackle the long-overdue task of reform and have instead resorted to ad hoc, reactive PT policy.

Examples and evidence of ad hoc policy include the non-alignment of zones across bus and rail modes (and generally complex zones), annual rolling 20% and 15% fare increases, the open-to-rorting 9-trips-then-free, the free Kangaroo Point ‘City Hopper’ ferry, the creation of special tourist fares, the TTCC and the CCR/ BAT as political football (see Appendix for more discussion of these policies).

A wide ranging SEQ PT inquiry or review that would include authentic community consultation and involve comparing costs, organisational structure, efficiencies and outcomes with other cities, (benchmarking) and consider the costs of having a sub-standard system and the benefits of having a good one. The inquiry would inform a reform process that would get Brisbane and SEQ moving, bring our PT up to a standard that compares well with other cities, and deliver huge social, environmental and economic benefits. Reforms would probably include:

  • Organisational/ Institutional reform to get the different arms, BT, QR and Translink, leaner and rowing in the same direction. We need an integrated public transport organisational structure, (BrisMetro?), with a transparent, cooperative and user-focused culture.
  • Commitment to undertake authentic community consultation to inform the SEQ PT inquiry and reform process.
  • More emphasis on rail and light-rail rather than buses; Brisbane’s bus-centric PT is unique and unsustainable for a city of its size and projected growth.
  • Rail or light rail links to new big residential developments; like Kurilpa Point and The Gap Cedar Woods mega-suburb. Developers will contribute to infrastructure costs. Adding a few more buses as is currently proposed won’t cut it.
  • Rationalising zones; most other cities haves 1 or 2 zones in an area where we have 7 or 8. Brisbane Zone 1 is 1.5km while Perth’s is 7km and Sydney and Melbourne’s are 10km. Also the bus and rail zones do not align.
  • Cross-River Rail that would feed into an underground inner-city loop; Urgently-needed infrastructure that would increase rail capacity and efficiency. An inner city loop would have stops at existing Central and Roma Street, as well as new CBD stations, and provide for future rail expansion.
  • Duplicating the Sunshine Coast line; Urgently-needed infrastructure that would revitalise the Sunshine Coast and connect it with SEQ, increase liveability, tourism and promote economic growth.
  • Fare reform; concession fares for health care card holders (like every other big Australian city), more flexible ticket options to enable people to save based on their usage patterns (like every other big Australian city). Lower fares across the board to increase usage, decrease congestion and pollution, and get our City moving.
SEQ PT is in desperate need of reform. Let’s get SEQ PT up to scratch and get our region moving.

Jackie Trad, Queensland Transport Minister as of February 2015


Unearthed 2004 Zone Map: What it shows us.

It's Election Time: Compare the State Capitals
Bremner, D. 2009. ‘How Translink could engage the community to produce an equitable and future-focused fare structure.’ Masters Thesis, QUT
Brisbane commuters abandon buses, choose cars instead, Brisbane Times, 12/9/14
Kelly, J.F. and Donegan, P. 2015. City Limits: Why Australia’s cities are broken and how we can fix them, Melbourne University Press: Parkville.
Go card for visitors (SEEQ Card) - another TransLink fail!,
McTiernan, Alannah, 2013. How the West was won: (Former WA Transport Minster’s powerpoint presentation on the benefits of public transport reform and investment over toll roads),

Appendix: Examples and evidence of ad hoc PT policy

  • The zones. When the system was ‘integrated’ for ticketing purposes BT refused to consider zone reform. This is why there are so many zones in comparison to other cities and also why the bus and rail zones don’t align.
  • Annual, rolling 20%-15% fare increases commencing in 2010 for a total 80% fare increase planned by Labor over 5 years, effectively doubling fares. A knee-jerk response to falling revenues and increasing running costs that gave little or no consideration to system reform, how fares compared with other cities and the economic, social and environmental impacts of high fares and a poor system. This is the perennial Brisbane PT dog-chasing-its-tail dilemma; revenues fall because the system is inadequate and expensive to use, so governments increase fares, which causes patronage to fall again, and so it goes.
  • 10-trips-then-free; the 2012 11th hour ALP election promise, (which was subsequently trumped by the LNP’s 9-Trips). This was policy on the run, open to rorting, and tacit acknowledgment of the impact of, and people’s hostility to rolling annual fare increases and the highest fares in Australia.
  • The free ‘City Hopper’ cross- river Kangaroo Point ferry; While the vast majority of residents were paying the highest fares in Australia for sub-standard service, out of the blue the BCC establishes a FREE ferry for one select group of residents. We are yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for the existence of the City Hopper.
  • The creation of ‘special’ tourist fares: These have included the SEEQ Go Card, the Go Explore card for Gold Coast tourists and the G20 Go Card. These were proposed and developed is a result of tacit acknowledgment of and embarrassment about the high cost and poor quality of SEQ PT, and the potential to create a bad impression upon visitors.
  • The Tertiary Transport Concession Card (TTCC); an expression and result of misplaced paranoia about fare evasion. The TTCC was a solution in search of a problem that unnecessarily placed a significant administrative burden on students, tertiary institutions and government.
  • CRR/ BAT; the desperately-needed rail link as political football. (We believe CRR was/ is a good option within the given policy context, albeit undertaken at the 11th hour. The BAT was Simpsons ‘Springfield Monorail’-esque bad policy that would have further entrenched Brisbane’s unique and unsustainable bus-centrism).