With an already heavily subsidised public transport system, as reported on by the Courier-Mail this morning (Taxpayers in front line of fight to cut fares hike), it is clear Queensland cannot afford to either defer fare increases or to increase the frequency of train services. Unfortunately, in addition to its commitment to reduce fare increases, the Government made an election commitment to increase the frequency of services on the Ferny Grove line, and this has raised expectations regarding the frequency of services on the Ipswich line (Long wait for new rail services).
Creating a viable public transport system is a wicked policy problem, because we can’t turn around the pattern of urban development/sprawl that means it is costly to run public transport over such large areas.
There are no simple policy recommendations (certainly cuts to off-peak services would be inequitable and politically toxic), and a comprehensive review is required that looks at the whole transport system holistically. This would consider the wide range of benefits provided by public transport, including the avoided costs of road congestion, avoided/deferred road infrastructure spending, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and health benefits from people walking to train stations or bus stops.
While the heavily subsidised Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast rail services definitely require review, we would need to consider the costly increase in congestion on the M1 and Bruce Highway, as well as arterial roads in Brisbane, that would occur if fares were increased substantially or services cut back.
One policy the Government ought to consider is to stagger the starting and finishing times of public servants to reduce the pressure on peak hour services as there is plenty of public transport capacity in off-peak times. This would complement the existing policy push for greater decentralisation of public services.