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WHAT IS A FAIR FARE?

Frustration and expense are often part and parcel of moving around in the modern city. And so governments around the world are responding with many initiatives to make cities more efficient and liveable. Are they doing a good job? In this article, David Bremner suggests that Brisbane residents, at least, can justifiably expect more from their public transport system. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BRISBANE LINE MARCH 2010 ISSUE


Public transport is a necessary and vital component of our city. Buses, trains, ferries and taxis not only help us get to work, and combat the urban impossibility of millions of people driving wherever and whenever they want, but these services also connect us to universities and schools, hospitals, music and sports events, shopping centres and our friends and family. I have caught buses and trains all my life, all around the world and Ive heard and seen peoples stories. In Brisbane, these include: y y y y y y Pensioners on a tight budget who are no longer able to drive Teenagers looking for entertainment with their friends or going to school Families wanting to explore destinations the city has to offer like the science centre and GoMA Tourists touring Brisbane on the CityCats and buses Shift-workers struggling to find a bus late at night or early in the morning Commuters and university students struggling against crowds and late services.

These stories and more are repeated all around the world. Sometimes transport is an easy complaint target and we only focus on the negative, but surely we can do better. Translink the government authority responsible for planning and delivering public transport in South East Queensland is doing a good job within its limited budget. The region we know and love is home to almost three million people and covers 23,000 square km. The transport task in the diverse cities of Brisbane, Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Ipswich and Logan is huge. Over the last few years the government has delivered new busways and railways and integrated ticketing across Queensland Rail passenger services and seventeen different private bus and ferry companies. This is no mean feat and has enabled passengers to purchase just one ticket for travel on any service. Unlike previously, it is now possible to interchange between modes and companies, and eligible pensioners and students now receive a standardised 50% concession. However, many in our community including myself, think that the frequency, reliability, coverage and ease of use of public transport in SEQ is not as good as it could be, even in peak times. It is absolutely abysmal on weekends and during offpeak times. If you think this is an exaggeration, try catching a bus after 6.30pm or taking two kids to New Farm Park on Sunday. It can be harder and more expensive than you would think.

In August last year, the government opened two fantastic new pieces of infrastructure new sections of the northern and eastern busways. Given the capital budget of these projects youd expect significant benefits, yet many on the northern busway have complained it slows their journey, and students travelling to the University of Queensland on the 109 have had to wait seven months since it opened to use the new section of busway or even to see the frequency of their service improved. So the question must be asked: is it just more money that will improve our public transport? And if so, why has only three million dollars in service improvements been announced in the last eight months at a time when fares have risen across the board by 20-40%? Currently, in order to get the cheapest fare, were being promoted to use Go card, an electronic smart card that calculates and deducts the fare for your journey from the prepaid balance on your card. We have heard time and time again that a single ticket now costs the same or cheaper on Go card than it did in 2007 but this statement ignores the fact that thousands of passengers previously used weekly, monthly, ten trip or QR periodical tickets at substantial discount compared to the single ticket price. Customer dissatisfaction with the removal of ten trip magnetic tickets had forced the government to lower Go card fares in August 2008 to the equivalent cost that passengers had been paying with their ten trip tickets. In October last year the government reversed this decision, increased fares by a further 20% (resulting in a 38-42% price increase for most customers), and announced news that fares would continue to rise by 10% per annum until at least 2014. And despite this cash grab, Translink is still to release the network plan promised by July 2008 that was meant to outline the service improvements the organisation would deliver! Customers have a right to feel frustrated when service improvements have lagged growth in demand so slowly and when it seems they are being ignored. I consistently hear passengers say that they would like to fix their monthly transport cost by buying a monthly ticket. Yet the recent changes made it much more expensive to purchase a paper monthly ticket. It has also been announced that all paper tickets will be removed for sale by the end of this year even though we still dont know what, if any, new products will replace them. Given that both the technology and the current CEO of Translink come from London (which has unlimited zone based monthly travel passes), one has to wonder why it is taking them so long to offer something similar, perhaps a value based monthly cap, here. London, unlike Brisbane is a place where it is possible to live without a car and still be able to access the places needed by public transport only paying a fixed monthly cost irrespective of the number of trips made. Translink cannot afford to continue to be deaf to the torrent of public opinion, emails, letters, and telephone calls theyve been receiving about the cost and usability problems of Go card. They cannot continue to do so little market research or community engagement and think they can get away with knowing so little about what their customers value.

We have heard time and time again that a single ticket now costs the same or cheaper on Go card than it did in 2007 but this statement ignores the fact that thousands of passengers previously used weekly, monthly, ten trip or QR periodical tickets at substantial discount compared to the single ticket price. Customer dissatisfaction with the removal of ten trip magnetic tickets had forced the government to lower Go card fares in August 2008 to the equivalent cost that passengers had been paying with their ten trip tickets. In October last year the government reversed this decision, increased fares by a further 20% (resulting in a 38-42% price increase for most customers), and announced news that fares would continue to rise by 10% per annum until at least 2014. And despite this cash grab, Translink is still to release the network plan promised by July 2008 that was meant to outline the service improvements the organisation would deliver! Customers have a right to feel frustrated when service improvements have lagged growth in demand so slowly and when it seems they are being ignored. I consistently hear passengers say that they would like to fix their monthly transport cost by buying a monthly ticket. Yet the recent changes made it much more expensive to purchase a paper monthly ticket. It has also been announced that all paper tickets will be removed for sale by the end of this year even though we still dont know what, if any, new products will replace them. Given that both the technology and the current CEO of Translink come from London (which has unlimited zone based monthly travel passes), one has to wonder why it is taking them so long to offer something similar, perhaps a value based monthly cap, here. London, unlike Brisbane is a place where it is possible to live without a car and still be able to access the places needed by public transport only paying a fixed monthly cost irrespective of the number of trips made. Translink cannot afford to continue to be deaf to the torrent of public opinion, emails, letters, and telephone calls theyve been receiving about the cost and usability problems of Go card. They cannot continue to do so little market research or community engagement and think they can get away with knowing so little about what their customers value. *End