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).