Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why the bus cuts fell to pieces.

by Michael Swifte

Yarn bombed bus stop on Sarah St in Annerley.

When we first saw this photo posted to the Annerley Junction Annerley Arcade facebook page we knew we were witnessing a pivotal moment in the relationship between the people of Brisbane and their public transport providers. We've watched the public transport scene very closely over the past 2 years and have seen nothing online or elsewhere that showed such a positive and fierce response to the brutal strategies of Translink under successive governments. This image was shared widely on facebook and twitter, spawned newspaper stories and blog posts, and also made it onto local TV. This image/action helped to strengthen the resolve of  the many local groups who were lobbying their councilors to save their bus routes. It also led to the transport minister Scott Emerson handing over the Brisbane bus routes review process to the Brisbane City Council.

For many Brisbane bus users there is one route that is most important, it passes within a short walking distance of their house, and there are generally just enough services during peak times to get to and from work. They have an intimate knowledge of the small part of the network that they rely on, and they know the only other options available to them are infrequent, inconsistent, and much further to walk.  In the last 4 years Brisbane bus users have seen a 72.5% increase in fares, little improvement in service frequency, congestion on busways and in the CBD, and no improvement in buses arriving on time. So when Translink presented their review and suggested cuts the people clung to what they knew could be relied upon.

Most Brisbanites don't have time to analyse the latest political squabble or planning trend and are understandably suspicious of the transport minister's latest promises and spin. Most have a general understanding of their political representation and most know who is responsible for running the buses. It's not surprising then that in frustration at Translink they saw an opportunity to seek advocacy as constituents and rate payers. Brisbanites turned to their local councilor to defend what they knew worked for them. 

The handover of the reform of Brisbane bus networks to the BCC revealed in technicolor that Translink is at odds with its largest bus service provider. It also revealed that Translink had failed to consult effectively with the public. Planners and transit boffins decried the loss of Translink's new high frequency network plans,  but the people whose local buses were set to disappear were happy that they had retained that last sliver of convenience. In failing to effectively consult the people Translink failed to identify an important component of public transport provision that industry leaders call 'coverage' (not leaving huge unserviced gaps). They also failed to identify an important trait shown by people who have been beaten down and boxed into a corner - they rise up and fight back harder than ever!