We write this story not because of a preordained phobia towards buses, or because of those frustrating days back in the 1990’s where you hopped on a non-airconditioned bus packed with smelly people, school students and sudden jerky stops, but because we genuinely love Brisbane and see a need to elevate this issue and highlight the serious requirement of a proper modern mass transit system for inner city Brisbane, whether it is in the form of a metro, underground rail, LRT or the like.
After years of huge road infrastructure spending (will get to this later) and inaction on urban rail funding, our politicians on both sides need to understand why this is so important.
In the next 15 years an estimated one million more people will call this city home, and we need to ensure we stay ahead of the game. We are now trailing most major asian cities when it comes to mass transit infrastructure. Brisbane needs a strong, common sense bipartisan urban rail plan.
Buses are all we need – WRONG.
There is one thing we want to declare right now before anything. The addiction to buses must end. While buses serve a short-term purpose they are never a sustainable or future proof transport mode for a rapidly densifying city and should never be solely relied on as a form of mass public transit, unless you’re Bogota, South America.
In fact ultimately, the real reason we are in our current transport predicament is because bus transit is almost always the cheaper more affordable option which has been written into city plan after city plan ever since the pro-motorway Wilber Smith Plan was adopted in 1964.
While the idea of the Brisbane City Council saving some money is great, when it comes to mass transit, we need to think big, long term and improve Brisbane’s ability to adequately shift people around and cater for more infill development, eg future proof the city.
Rail infrastructure is the commonality of ‘world class cities’, where the population is supported by modern, high capacity, high frequency metropolitan rail infrastructure. Whether it is a Hong Kong style MTR system or the New York subway system, these places almost could not function without it.
Now that we’re thinking long term, here are a few quick facts to abolish any current perceptions that buses are better than LRT or metro systems:
- Capacity. Buses don’t allow for many people. Your average Brisbane Transport bus seats around 38 passengers and has a total capacity of between 70-80 people. Compare this to one of the new G:link Bombardier Trams on the Gold Coast which seats 88 people and has a maximum capacity of 309 passengers. For a growing city like Brisbane, future proofing high growth areas with adequate capacity is extremely important, otherwise we would need another Victoria Bridge just to cater for additional buses.
- Bus Congestion. Bus congestion in the CBD is acute, and this is primarily due to the low capacity nature of buses and lack of interchange bus hubs feeding CBD bound buses. 600 buses per hour entered the CBD in the AM peak in 2011 (220 in Adelaide St). Under the business as usual scenario, this is expected to rise to 1,070 in eight years.
- Future Demand. Lets take a snapshot out of the original Gold Coast Rapid Transit case study which analysed Bus Rapid Transit against Light Rail Transit or (LRT).
- “In theory, both bus rapid and light rail could meet the expected demand. However, theoretical passenger capacity of the bus rapid and light rail systems was then assessed against what was actually practically achievable. It was found that a bus rapid system was unlikely to cope with passenger demand without significant enhancements to the system, for example overtaking facilities at all stations, grade separation of the system and/or full priority at all intersections. These enhancements were not considered cost effective or appropriate for the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project due to the significant level of impact on properties and the traffic network that would result.”
- A Mode People Want to Ride On. This concept is very simple. Numerous research papers and publications have concluded that overwhelmingly, people prefer riding rail as opposed to buses. Why? As no real data is available to explain this, some interesting points below might help:
- Urban rail systems shape a city – positively. Well-conceived urban rail systems do much more for a city besides move people from point A to point B. As fixed-rail transit, they uniquely shape urban land-use, development, and growth patterns. The “rail effect” serves to stimulate desirable development along the line. In fact, rail lines shaped how most American cities (including Austin) developed in the early 1900s. A rail system’s power to affect land-use patterns will never be shared by buses; the public investment in rails along a fixed route is an assurance of permanence. Developers and investors need to mitigate risk; they get no help from a bus route, which could move or disappear overnight.
- Getting people out of their cars requires enticing “choice riders” – people who own a car but choose to use transit instead. Everyone knows it, so let’s say it: Buses lack sex appeal and yuppie appeal. In our image-conscious culture, who wants to ride the bus? Yet in cities around the world, people love taking rail. Maybe it’s our happy association with the choo-choo trains of childhood – whatever, it works.
- Urban rail is green transportation. All the enviro-reasons that mass transit is preferable to cars – for clean air quality, for environmental sustainability, for climate protection – apply equally to urban rail.
- Urban rail attract tourists, conventioneers, and visiting grandchildren as fun “transportainment.” A city’s visitors, tourists, and convention attendees can be counted upon to deliver a steady base of riders – provided that the urban rail conveniently takes them where they want and need to go.
- Urban rail systems are also a cost-effective investment over decades. Trains and trams last at least 30 to 50 years and can be refurbished for another 50 years of service. Buses, by contrast, wear out after eight to 12 years. Plus, tracks don’t require the constant maintenance and expansion of roads.
Brisbane isn’t large enough for a metro system and too sprawled out – WRONG.
A common misconception is that Brisbane isn’t large enough for such a system, or that we are too spread out. Examples can be taken from all over the world, particularly Europe showing smaller cities with underground metro systems, however why not talk about the extremest example there is to disprove this theory. Take the Swiss city of Lausanne as an example, which is the smallest city in the world with a metro system. Lausanne has a total population of just 133,897 and an average density of 3,200/km2.
Brisbane with a population of 2.3 million has a population density of approximately 4,800 persons per km2 in the CBD, similar to that of Barcelona. However some of the densest areas of Brisbane are between Spring Hill and Fortitude Valley which has a density of 64,125 persons per km2 due to it being high density dwellings (apartments) on an area of only 0.007 km2 (7,000 m2).
With close to 20,000 apartments coming online within Brisbane’s 10km city ring, the need to properly plan long term is stronger than ever.
Lets talk politics
With or without an election, the number one issue that should be first and foremost on the Brisbane political agenda is Brisbane’s non existent world class mass transit system.
In just the last seven years, Brisbane will have amassed a huge amount of road infrastructure – totalling a staggering $12.6 billion paid by a mix of Brisbane City Council, State and Federal Government funds.
- Gateway Bridge Duplication (final cost $1.8 billion) – COMPLETED
- Clem7 (final cost $3.2 billion) – COMPLETED
- AirportLink (final cost $4.8 billion) – COMPLETED
- Go Between Bridge (final cost $338 million) – COMPETED
- Legacy Way (estimated completion cost $1.8 billion) – COMPLETED
- Kingsford Smith Drive Upgrade (estimated cost $650 million) – UNDERWAY
While a true world city does need key road infrastructure, it is time to grow some common sense and do what other global cities are all doing and invest in places, people and efficiency through LRT or an underground metro system which integrate into the urban fabric and help create safe, walkable environments.
Recently the Labor candidate for Lord Mayor Rod Harding announced an investigation into Light Rail. While admirable and a step in the right direction, after all these years why now has this policy only now been announced by Labor?
A snipit from Rod Harding’s Light Rail
Now is the right time for Brisbane to take some bold steps forward to support the future of our great city.
Labor’s investigation of light rail follows a recent shift around Australia towards light rail.
A future light rail project would support new transit-oriented developments (TODs) by providing connections to both transport nodes and also key activity centres such as the CBD, hospitals and tertiary institutions.
On the other side, current Lord Mayor Graham Quirk responded in a Brisbane Times article with the following:
“So what we are seeing is a very expensive solution to something that is not a problem,” Cr Quirk said.
“The blue City Glider works perfectly well,” he said.
Asked by journalists whether the idea was feasible, Cr Quirk said in 2007 the council found light rail was seven times more expensive than the City Glider bus service.
“We did a comparison between light rail and the blue City Glider,” Cr Quirk said.
“And the blue City Glider is seven times cheaper to operate and set up and run that it would be for light rail,”he said.
“So it is just not a good use of public money,” he said.
Cr Quirk said Labor’s proposed costs were “fanciful.”
“They are undercooking what would be the real cost of a light rail network,” he said.
Labor’s eight-kilometre idea would have to make major changes to two inner-city bridges, Cr Quirk said.
“You are never-ever going to do that for $700 million,” he said.
“It would be more like double that at the very least.”
When you consider that $12.6 billion has been spent on road infrastructure in the past seven years and continues under the current Liberal administration with the Kingsford Smith Drive Upgrade, $700m or even double that – $1.4 billion spent on a modern inner city LRT system servicing Queensland’s largest employment hub of over 50,000 jobs in Australia’s third most populous city, it doesn’t seem like a fanciful waste of public money.
And despite the conveniently timed announcement by Rod Hardling, when he says the Gold Coast Light Rail has been a success, he doesn’t kid around. Not only did the Gold Coast’s $1.2 billion dedicated light rail corridor smash its forecasted patronage the first year it opened, according to State Government budget papers, it helped power a 25 per cent spike in public transport usage on the Gold Coast and slashed patronage on buses. Figures show the light rail has become so successful that it fell just short of exceeding the number of passengers on Brisbane’s CityCat ferry system.
Contrary to that, mostly all privately funded road projects in Brisbane have operated with dramatically lower than forecasted vehicle usage resulting in a total collapse of those private consortiums.
So, what is the most ideal scenario for Brisbane?
Starting with just one line at first. A Hong Kong style MRT or Sydney Metro driverless underground rail system running only within the 10km inner ring, servicing key growth nodes would result in unparalleled capacity improvements as well as a paradigm shift in population growth, employment improvements as well as creating new ‘desirability hubs’. Example here.
Secondary solutions would be to introduce light rail transit onto our busways which serve suburban based hubs. Busways which have fortunately been designed to be converted to LRT would dramatically boost passenger capacity as well as transit mode desirability. The conversion would also result in new growth and rejuvenation opportunities for so many existing inner urban nodes. Example here.
Here are a range of urban rail projects currently underway across Australia.
Sydney Light Rail
Melbourne Metro Rail
The Gold Coast Light Rail
Capital Metro (Canberra LRT)
In July 2014, the Gold Coast got its first taste of a world-class public transport system and was a huge success. While all other major cities in Australia are implementing some forms of inner city urban rail projects, Brisbane is now at serious risk of stagnating and not properly catering for future growth if polititians don’t open their eyes to what is going on around Australia and the world.
Lets make 2016 and 2017 the planning years for a solid bipartisan supported mass transit plan, because we all want Brisbane to flourish.
Tell our city’s leaders via social media what you think about supporting mass transit urban rail for Brisbane or send an email via the button below.
Update 31st, January 2016 – The Brisbane City Council has announced a new Brisbane metro proposal. See story here.