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).

Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Vote: Ripoff Style

Well it's state election day 2015. After an ultra short campaign we're ready to give our voting recommendations . At the start of the campaign we set out to compare the published policies of the three parties LNP, ALP, and Greens, but that didn't happen so you wont be getting a point by point comparison, just our honest assessment.


Vote 1 Greens. 

The Greens took the opportunity to do some blue sky thinking and came up with a policy and plans that we could really get behind. Who knows if they would stand up to budget scrutiny but the Greens committed to extending concessions to the unemployed and removing the absurd bureaucracy around the TTCC card and that's an important first step. The only thing the Greens plan was missing was a commitment to improving community consultation.

Vote 2 Labor. 

Mid campaign we were promised a public transport policy statement from Labor's transport spokesperson Jackie Trad. The policy never appeared. A week and a half later Jackie indicated in a candidates debate that the Labor party supported the extending of concessions to unemployed (a big policy shift), removing TTCC bureaucracy, and starting a fare reform process. Though Jackie's statements about finally bringing Queensland into line with the rest of the country on unemployed concessions were welcome it was too little too late. By not releasing public transport policy statements at any stage Labor withheld the trigger for discussion and debate in the media. While Labor were withholding their public transport policy they were also campaigning on anti-privatisation and their Cross River Rail infrastructure plans. Given that we're experiencing a protracted affordability crisis which started with the previous Labor government we find their unwillingness to be upfront extremely disappointing.

Vote 3 LNP. 

The LNP have brought nothing new to the table during this election campaign. No new ideas or plans, no sweeteners. A vote for the LNP is a vote for the 5 bilion dollar Bus and Train Tunnel and more of the same brutal approach that has left train stations understaffed and a massive number of Senior Network Officers deployed. If voted in the LNP will continue with their aweful community engagement, reduction of services, poor planning, and continued systemic failure. Public transport users will continue to suffer, especially those in areas outside metropolitan Brisbane.

Note: Our voting recommendations were written with input from many of our team members some of whom have affiliations with political parties. Some of our team have just finished high school, some are university students, and others have experience in community work. Our sense of fairness and honesty unites us.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fairness, Honesty, Talk to us!

It's the night before the election, Jan 30th, 2015 and we're disappointed that the ALP and LNP left the affordability crisis in South East Queensland off their campaign agendas. Promised policy statements never appeared and no debate could take place. 

The Translink Ripoff team have been bouncing around some ideas and below you can read the values we want politicians to take on board. We will assess what policy and commitments have been put forward against our values and give you an honest assessment of each party in our next post. 


High fares, tiny and complex zones, disappearing services, and cumbersome bureaucracy (TTCC) make us all struggle, but the people who struggle the most are the unemployed and under employed, many of whom can’t afford transport, or are forced to severely limit their transport use. Fairness can only happen when politicians make plans with battlers in mind.

The people of SEQ know that their public transport system is woefully inadequate and far too expensive.  And yet Translink and State Government’s selective and strategic use of statistics and design of survey parameters suggests the opposite.  No amount of spin or advertising is going to fix the system. We need politicians to be upfront and face reality. Politicians need to do what needs to be done to get to a decent system, and that starts with honesty.

Talk to us!

Public transport needs to deliver the services that people want. The best way to find out what the people want is to talk to us. Ask us about the services we want delivered, let us talk to the planners, and listen for our answers.