For a Better Brisbane

Canada Transit Special: Brisbane runs more bus routes than Toronto

Video: ‘TTC buses outside Kipling station’ by dyip90 (youtube).

A virtual busway operates out of Kipling Station; during peak hour there is about a bus a minute arriving at Kipling station. On average, 53,640 trips per day are made at this single station located about 10 km out from the city; To put this number into perspective, this is roughly equal to one third of the daily trips made on Brisbane’s South East Busway. (Source: TTC Subway Ridership 2009-2010).

Integrated transport systems where many, but not all, buses and trams feed trains may sound “academic” but this is what Toronto (and Perth) do. Brisbane doesn’t by and large feed its large train system, so an unusual situation happens where huge amounts of rail infrastructure all run very low-frequency service and many suburban bus routes also run at low-frequency or only during peak hour. And the proposed solution for this? Lump another 25 to 30 metro stations at multi-billion dollar cost into Brisbane, on top of the 22 busway stations and 85 QR citytrain stations that already exist. Why not fix up the current train system to run more like a metro (like what Melbourne is doing) and start operating bus rapid transit (BRT) from train stations?

Arguably ‘forced’ interchange is much less worse than low and no frequency (peak hour operation only), although proper facilities need to be provided. A transport system based on direct only trips that avoid transfers will be more complex, less easy to use and tends to fan out into a braid of low-frequency, less useful routes in the suburbs. Curiously, Brisbane runs many more bus routes than Toronto, but with low-frequency (see below, tram routes are included in the count for Toronto).

Toronto’s fewer bus routes form a strong, stable, all day frequent network which runs for longer with 98% of its buses connecting to a TTC subway station; Brisbane seems to be spreading itself very thinly running a weak ‘low frequency to everywhere’ spaghetti of routes and a lot of peak-hour only express buses which makes peak travel easy, but travel at all other hours of the day much more difficult (and you have to remember a whole heap of different bus numbers).

In recent years this has in part been alleviated by the introduction of the highly popular BUZ routes along arterials, but many people don’t live near a BUZ and so it seems that something needs to be done about the frequency of the other 200 or so non-BUZ routes which serve people who live in the suburbs and are facing rising petrol costs. Not every bus needs to go to a train station, within say 10 minutes of the CBD it might be faster to go directly (depending on traffic conditions), and perhaps other buses could also feed BUZ routes.

Many buses run past, but not into, train stations so in theory people may have the opportunity to transfer. In practice, this seems to be a mixed picture; some places such as Buranda, Roma Street, Park Road and Toowong this works, but in many other places such as Indooroopilly, lengthy walking distances, low or no infrastructure and the association of low-frequency and long waits with trains discourages this. And the result is still much the same- low-frequency and patronage on the trains, low frequency on the buses and great difficulty in getting to a train station if you don’t literally live next to the station office. All this makes it extremely difficult to live in suburban Brisbane without a car.

In the next post, the BrisUrbane blog will look at interchange infrastructure.


A comparison between bus routes in Brisbane and Toronto: for comparison trams have been added to the Toronto side. ‘Community buses’ have been excluded where recognized.


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April 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Melbourne’s train system is even more complicated than Brisbane’s and they’re moving to a Metro. I also read in an annual report on the PTA website a while ago that Perth can double service frequency if they want to, so they might not be too far from being able to operate a metro style commuter rail operation either.


    April 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm

  2. As a footnote, you don’t necessarily need a train system to have a feeder-and-trunk network either. The Bogota TransMillenio busway for example, uses green feeder buses to feed the larger red buses. Ottawa’s transitway uses feeder buses, though in peak hour buses can go straight through.

    So even if we look at the bus system alone, feeder and trunk services haven’t been implemented there either. This will have to change because if nothing is done, city streets will be jammed with buses and it becomes less efficient to run everything to the CBD.


    April 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

  3. Hi Chris, I guess there are many reasons.

    1. Historical and agency inertia

    Partly because integration and TransLink came in 2004 and many of the bus routes are historical. In short, there are over 200 routes and they just haven’t got around to doing it. New routes presumably have to percolate through a multi-level of approvals to get changes.

    2. Different politics

    The City of Toronto (the council basically) controls the TTC. Councillors form a commission, and this has an absolute monopoly on public transport (bar GO Transit Commuter rail) and they own everything so the council is in effect, in control of the trains, trams and buses all under one roof. It would make no sense to the TTC to compete against itself.

    On the other hand, buses in Brisbane are run by Brisbane Transport, a “independent” business unit of Brisbane City Council. Trains are run by QR. TransLink is charged with coordinating them but I suspect that turning direct routes into feeder services is a highly controversial step for them and they just haven’t been able to summon the courage to do it.

    Bunfights sometimes occur between the Council and State Government, public transport can be one of those areas where that acrimony is expressed.

    3. Infrastructure (on the current system)

    Infrastructure constraints- proper interchanges have not yet been built (e.g. Indooroopilly). The Beenleigh, Cleveland lines are capacity constrained at peak hour by the Merivale Railway Bridge. There are also single track sections.

    In other places, such as on the Ipswich line, there is probably a stronger case.

    The kind of works that are happening in Melbourne need to be done here. Single track needs to be removed. Could you imagine if the TTC could only run services at only every half hour?

    4. The public have no idea!

    The public haven’t woken up yet to what is going on. Brisbane is accustomed to low frequency. Overseas examples are discounted on parochial and classical “it won’t work here grounds”, “that’s academic”, “Australians don’t transfer” and density is used to explain away the rest. Except now Perth has done it and comparison to Adelaide shows that train patronage is now 5 times higher in Perth than Adelaide. Land use based explanations are going to have a difficult time explaining that one as Adelaide is the denser city, bus usage is identical in both cities and Adelaide has the more extensive network with more stations and lines, the climate is much the same and both cities started from identical positions in the 1990’s.


    April 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm

  4. Hi Brisurbane. Both the buses and the trains in Brisbane are run by unitary public authorities, with a common ticket, so how come this has not yet been sorted out? Yours, from Chris Harris who contributes to Transportblog in Auckland.


    April 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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