Friday, February 10, 2017

Has QR's Patronage Fallen Off a Cliff?

Where are the passengers QR?
With Queensland Rail's (QR) #RailFail now into its 5th month, it is no surprise that passengers are going to be giving up public transport in droves. There have been so many timetables changes, axed services, cancelled services, and of course the confusingly different Friday timetable, that fewer passengers can rely on QR getting them to and from work, school, university, and appointments on time.

If transparency was good enough in Queensland, then we would have known the effect of QR's Rail Fail on rail patronage by now. Unfortunately, the rail patronage figures covering the period from October to present (or even part of it) haven't been released. If fact, transparency us so bad that QR's passenger load survey hasn't been released for years.

Due to lack of official figures, BrizCommuter has had to make his own estimates of patronage fall. This particular observation was based on patronage observed this week (early Feb '17), compared to patronage observed at the same time of year (early Feb '14 to '16) since the January 2014 timetable was introduced, on the 07:10am from Ferny Grove. This is an infamous "sardine can" 3-car unit service. Whilst loading was highly variable, it usually varied between "crowded" to "completely full and leaving passengers behind". BrizCommuter has estimated the typical loading as previously being between 350 and 450 passengers, with a mean figure of just over 400 passengers. On some days, as the train was full, the services could have attracted in excess of 450 passengers.

When observed twice this week (week beginning 4th Feb '17), the difference in patronage was shocking. Plenty of empty seats were available, with an estimated loading of just 180 passengers on both days. This is a patronage reduction of  49% to 60% of passengers! Now, this service may not be typical. This service was quite often cancelled due to "operational reasons" late last year, was axed in the Summer School Holiday Timetables, and is also axed on Fridays. Thus many commuters may have given up and this service, as it is "safer" to go for the services either side. Other train services have been observed with at an estimated patronage drop of at least 25% or more.

A quick survey of BrizCommuter's work colleagues, showed an exactly 50% drop in train users, with most going back to using cars. However, most of these colleagues are shift workers, who have been badly affected by the Interim Timetables, and this may be an atypical figure compared to 9 to 5 workers. There have also been many reports of worsening traffic congestion around Brisbane over the last few weeks, with multiple days where every major arterial road has been congested. This also backs up BrizCommuter's observations of significant crash in patronage.

Whilst we may be waiting while for the awful truth, BrizCommuter predicts that QR's Rail Fail may have set back rail patronage by more than a decade. BrizCommuter is also concerned that the drop in patronage will:
  • Limit the effectiveness of the recent TransLink fare changes, as there will be less fare box revenue.
  • Provide authorities with less incentive for urgently required improvements to train services (e.g. extending Cleveland Line pm peak expresses, and adding a service in the 15 minute gap before the (previously) overcrowded 5:26 from Central to Ferny Grove) once there are sufficient trains and drivers nearer to the end of this decade. 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive for long term improvements to train services (e.g. 15 minute off-peak services on Sector 1 lines, and "as required" improvements to peak services on all lines.). 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive to order additional NGR trains for long term service improvements. 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive to build Cross River Rail. 
  • Provide more incentive for road construction due to increased road congestion. 
Lets hope that Department of Transport and Main Road, TransLink, and Queensland Rail do not keep sitting on the patronage figures, and let commuters know the awful truth. 

2 comments:

  1. But there are positives. I'm getting a good park every day. I'm getting a good seat every day. Besides, if you kept an eye out on their news feeds you would see that they have a fully operational state-of-the-art shed for the NGR. I think we all need to stop and think about the fully operational shed they have told us all about last year. No other capital city in the world has a public transport system that has a shed to boast about.

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  2. Considering how long the train has been in operation, you'd think that they would have been able to work out a lot of these teething issues by now! I sometimes wonder if they are keeping some sort of backup plan in storage for times like these when their expensive plans look like they're just a big flop.

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