It’s sliding doors for public transport in south-east Queensland

by David Everton, Director, Government Relations

Published on
June 7, 2017

Sliding Doors is a 1998 British-American romantic drama film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. Alternating between two parallel universes, the plot is based on the two paths the central character’s life could take depending on whether or not she catches a train, and causing different outcomes in her life.

Which brings us to the current state of public transport in south-east Queensland, and the alternative paths for the future which are being hotly debated.

Public transport in south-east Queensland has had a tough time recently, with only one-third of people surveyed wanting Brisbane’s proposed Cross River Rail and — due to ongoing performance issues for Queensland Rail — Infrastructure Australia suggesting that the rail network could be potentially better off as a private operation.

Apart from Brisbane City Council’s buses and Queensland Rail, every other form of public transport in south-east Queensland is privately operated, including taxis and ride-sharing.

So should the Queensland Government and Queensland Rail consider a conscious uncoupling? And should Brisbane City Council consider a radical subsidy detox? Let’s consider further.

Where is everyone going?

According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads’ publication How Queensland Travels, in south-east Queensland, the average public transport commute is around 15km and 45 mins door-to-door.

Some real life examples of this could be someone:

  • catching a train from Oxley Station to Central Station
  • catching a bus from Calamvale to the Brisbane CBD.

How much does it cost?

According to Translink’s journey planner, the fare for both of these scenarios for an Adult GoCard user will be $3.90 – a paper ticket is $5.70.

How much does it really cost?

There are of course other costs, both internal and external, but the main cost components are the:

  • Fare, paid by the traveller
  • Queensland Government subsidy, paid by the taxpayer
  • Brisbane City Council public transport subsidy (for Brisbane Transport bus and ferry services), paid by the ratepayer.

Queensland Government subsidy

In 2015/16 the average cost of subsidy per passenger trip in SEQ — bus, rail, light rail and ferry — was $6.60.

The cost hasn’t changed much over the past four years. Each year, there are around 180 million trips, so this subsidy costs taxpayers around $1.2 billion.

Brisbane City Council public transport subsidy

Brisbane City Council tips in around $120 million a year in the form of a public transport subsidy and it provides for around 80 million passenger trips a year. $120 million divided by 80 million equals around $1.50 per trip.

Breaking it down to dollars and cents

Choosing the right track?

Like Gwyneth’s character Helen, we’ve all been on a platform and considered what change in our lives could have flowed if we caught that ride. It is clear that public transport costs us dearly and our governments have some choices to make, without knowing how they will pan out. We all benefit from a good public transport system, so we should all be watching the outcome closely. Let’s hope it’s more Sliding Doors than Strangers on a Train.