For a Better Brisbane

Archive for October 2010

SmartBus: Public transport’s version of the ring-road

Can public transport compete with the car in low density city-fringe areas?

Apparently public transport can’t serve orbital non-CBD trips, won’t work in lower density outer suburbs, is unsuitable for short or dispersed trips, and nobody will catch a bus that doesn’t go to the CBD. And this is apparently why we need to sink billions into freeways and tunnels designed to allow bypass car traffic to avoid the CBD.

But counter-examples to this idea are emerging right here in Australia. Introducing Melbourne’s SmartBus network: It’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and what a success it has become.

There are five SmartBus routes now, and excluding the Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) buses, all of them do not go into the Melbourne CBD. Instead, they link up the rail lines in an orbital or cross-town way, so that people can catch a bus to the train station or the local shops. The innovation is in the idea of combing what would be small local trips to the local rail station or the local shops by using a bus route long enough so that there will always be enough passengers on it at any one time to keep it viable, despite people constantly hopping on and off.

The bus stops have real-time information, good frequency (15 minutes or more in peak) and good scope of service (buses run until late, and on weekends). Extensive bus priority is used.

But surely nobody catches buses that don’t go to the CBD? Well, in the video above John Brumby, the Premier of Victoria, states that around 9000 journeys per day happen on SmartBus 902. A quick calculation (for simplicity we will assume that nobody rides on the weekend):

9000 per day x 52 weeks/year x 5 work days/week = 2.3 million journeys per year, at least.

That’s at least 2.3 million trips per year, equal to some of Brisbane’s most heavily used BUZ routes:

Selected Brisbane Bus Patronage, 2009

Passengers (Millions) Route
3.4                                                          BUZ 199

2.5                                                          BUZ 150

2.4                                                          BUZ 130

2.0                                                          BUZ 111

The simple fact that Brisbane is building many road bypasses to cater for city-bypass and cross-town travel is direct evidence that many people want to make cross-suburban trips. So the demand is certainly there.  The reason these trips are almost never taken on public transport in Brisbane’s is probably less to do with “low density”, “being addicted to cars”, or the intrinsic “inability” of public transport to serve “dispersed” trips. Instead, it’s probably got a lot to do with the poor or non-service that is on offer.

Brisbane’s orbital “Great Circle line” bus isn’t frequent and doesn’t run on Sundays. No wonder hardly anyone wants to catch it. Brisbane has much to gain from getting a Melbourne style BRT orbital bus network to link up the trunk rail and BUZ lines. Indeed, its likely that any grand rail or even light rail plan for Brisbane will need some form of complimentary BRT to feed it, fill in the gaps, or extend its reach.

SmartBus network. Copyright Department of Transport, Victoria. Used with permission. Click for linking URL.

The BrisUrbane Blog wishes to acknowledge the assistance and kind permission granted by the Department of Transport, Victoria to use their material here.

Brisbane BUZ patronage figures are from: ‘Are you in the one million club’,  On Board pamphlet, Spring 2009 edition.


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October 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Posted in Public Transport

Tagged with

One Cent Light Rail

We are often told the Light Rail costs too much and would be too big a cost burden.

It’s strange then to walk around Brisbane and see multi-billion dollar road projects in construction or newly in operation. But for today, we look at Hillsborough county*, Tampa Bay, Florida where they face a proposition in November for a one cent in the dollar sales tax (capped at $50) to fund light rail and complimentary transit improvements. Tampa Bay is a bit like the Gold Coast. And for them, it comes down to:

  • Jobs
  • Urban renewal
  • Attracting business
  • A good way for the community to get around

Businesses need to get their employees to work on time, and need to find a workforce. And that workforce will probably want to live in a city with a good quality of life, amenities and services.This is where good transit comes into the picture.

Nobody wants to live in a city where living and commuting is an ordeal, affordable houses are at far-flung places on the city fringe, everything is far and hard to get to, rising petrol prices and ever longer commutes eat your wages, family and leisure time, and public transport options are poor.

Many US Light Rail systems were funded with the help of voter-approved taxes where the community voted to tax itself so the project got built and operating. It’s a pity this ballot approach isn’t done in Australia because a direct ballot would unambiguously and firmly reveal what the people want and were willing to pay for.

Light Rail may cost more, but one must also remember that while you are paying more buck, you are also getting more bang. Light Rail stimulates development, strengthens communities and can increase property values. It’s also cheaper, faster to install and more flexible than a metro.

Let’s look at some ways to help pay for Light rail:

  • Developers can pitch in to help pay for the system
  • Higher property values means increased revenue because rates are calculated from property values
  • There are more people to collect rates from because more people will move into the area to live next to the light rail line

Newer track technologies such as “cut and paste” track could also significantly lower the start-up costs and installation time for Light Rail. The whole life-cycle cost, not just start-up costs, should be taken into account.  To use an analogy, we all are familiar with buying the cheap printer that turns out be hugely expensive to run because the ink to keep it running is sold at high prices. The Gold Coast Light Rail project found that when comparing LRT with BRT the costs were roughly similar over the life-cycle.

Interestingly, Hillsborough county does not seem to have suffered from the “Bus vs Light Rail” debate, and actually their plan includes many complimentary Bus Rapid Transit lines as well. This is a very sound approach. One sometimes gets the feeling in Brisbane that there is a “the answer is more bus, now what was the question again?” approach; When we really should be looking at how Brisbane’s transit is going to move forward to the next stage, especially on the heavily loaded routes.

At one cent in the dollar for good transit, it sounds like a good deal.

The Ballot measure that will allow residents to tax themselves to help fund Light Rail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), bikeways and some road improvements. Image used with kind permission of Moving Hillsborough Forward. Click for URL.

* A county can be thought of as like a local government or council area.

Yeerongpilly TOD

The Yeerongpilly TOD site. Image CC Click for linking URL

Slowly but surely the Yeerongpilly Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is taking shape. The first consultations are now underway to transform the current Animal Research Institute site into a mixed-use Transit Oriented Development. If the Cross River Rail project goes ahead, the Yeerongpilly TOD would be just two train stops away from the CBD.

The site could support a “main street” like atmosphere with shops, restaurants, commercial and retail development.  Building heights are proposed to be varied, transitioning from high to low. This will hopefully allow a diversity of dwellings to be offered at every price level, not just the high-end.

Transport-wise, Yeerongpilly rail station is expected to be the main focus, although it is a bit of a walk. The bus services in the area really need to be upgraded to acceptable levels of frequency and directness as they provide access to Corinda and Indooroopilly;  The current Tennyson Rail line to Corinda and Indooroopilly only sees a handful of services per day.

Community feedback is being accepted now. For further detail on the concept plans, visit the Department of Infrastructure and Planning’s website here.

Yeerongpilly TOD concept plan of development. Copyright The State of Queensland (Department of Infrastructure and Planning) 2010. Used under fair dealing exemption provisions. URL here

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October 19, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Light Rail and Density

Video: special, Maurice Rivenbark

Is Brisbane ‘not dense enough’ for Light Rail? Below, the BrisUrbane blog compares Brisbane to other ‘low density’ cities in the US which have light rail.* Figures are in persons/km2:

  • Brisbane (900 persons/km2)
  • St Louis, United States of America (1000 persons/km2)
  • Boston, United States of America (900 persons/km2)
  • Pittsburgh, United States of America (800 persons/km2)
  • Charlotte, United States of America (700 persons/km2)

Charlotte, North Carolina is at the bottom of that density list with a density well below that of Brisbane. The above video gives a taste of what their Lynx Light Rail service is like. People view the Light Rail system as something good to live near, and even in an extremely low density city, the Light Rail line has created opportunities for higher density development and housing around itself.

One reason for upgrading the buses to Light Rail in West End and New Farm is not just  service and capacity, but the permanency that comes with rail and the opportunities that, together with wider conditions such as city growth, can attract urban renewal and development that buses in Brisbane seem to have not been able to match.

It’s no secret that Light Rail takes time to install and can cost more upfront than alternatives to, and is difficult politically to remove once installed. But this might just be the signal the private sector is searching for. Similar to a number of light rail projects in the US,  the residents of Charlotte voted to tax themselves (a sales tax) to help fund the Light Rail service. Charlotte hasn’t forgotten about buses either, with upgrades to the bus services also following.

So is Brisbane ‘not dense enough’ for Light Rail? Probably not. While blunt citywide density figures are probably not the best at capturing the ‘micro level’ factors that lead to high patronage, patronage on Brisbane’s buses is strong and certainly so in the New Farm-City-West End corridor.

And to finally put the density debate to sleep, the latest Connecting SEQ 2031 draft plan even has ideas for a metro in the inner suburbs. With more people moving to South East Queensland, Light Rail might just be the thing to stimulate transit oriented development, urban renewal and make people think twice before moving to the far fringes of the city.

*Figures from Demographia’s Urban World City Densities, which can be found in the Information Interchange.

Launched: Brisbane CityCycle

It’s official. Brisbane CityCycle is now open.

For just $60.50, you can hop on or off a bicycle anywhere in the CBD and inner city suburbs for an entire year. This is a ridiculously cheap price! And once subscribed, cycling is free if the journey takes under 30 minutes. Riding for an hour is about $2.20, which is competitive against public transport fares for the inner city.

The scheme is a bring-your-own helmet one, which has met with some media criticism. However, this blog views helmets as relatively cheap and easy to buy compared with the costs of buying both a bicycle and a helmet, which is precisely what a non-cyclist would have to do if they wanted to take up cycling and still not break the law. And they would have to carry both a helmet and their own private bicycle around, as opposed to just the helmet with CityCycle.

The CityCycle scheme therefore reduces both the levels of cost and commitment and provides a strong visible cycling presence in the CBD and inner suburbs. This in itself, should usage grow, is likely to force further cycling improvements and cycling prioritisation, at least within the inner city. While the numbers of initial subscriptions might seem modest at about 500 or so people to start with, it is early days. Convincing people that the sign up process is quick and easy will be the key, however.

Will the CityCycle scheme ‘solve’ traffic congestion? This blog believes that while it will encourage more cycling, given the nature of cycling, the free time limit of 30 minutes, and the inner city locations of the service, trips are likely to be new trips with the rest likely to be diversions from walking and public transport. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad- because it gives an extra level of choice to people, is faster than walking and gets people exercising.

The official website of the Brisbane CityCycle scheme is at

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October 5, 2010 at 12:06 am

Posted in Cycling

Tagged with , ,

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