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November 28, 2016, 09:06:46 AM by #Metro in Infrastructure

Open Queensland’s Rail and Bus Service Contracts to All
Metro. Rail Back on Track Forum contributor.

(This post is available for republication under CC BY-ND 4.0)

IMAGINE THAT it’s Melbourne Cup day. Although it’s your first time at the races, your thoroughbred has been trained all year for the big day. Faster than Puffing Billy, it’s never won a Melbourne Cup, but it’s done well in other events. It has a good chance of winning today. Stewards inspect your horse. Withdrawing into a corner, discussion in quiet tones begins. There is a long delay. What is going on?

The lead steward comes back. “Sorry Bob, but your horse isn’t running today.”

“What is wrong with it?”, you ask.

“Well, we already know the race will be won by that horse over there - Queensland Bale.” the steward replies.

“What?” you stare in shock.

“It’s the best - and it won the Melbourne Cup last year”, the steward goes on, “even if it were a bit slow, the owner could train it up a bit more and it would in no doubt win. Nothing to see here!”

“That’s absurd!” you reply.

“Sorry Bob, we have a winner, and it’s not you. We have now cancelled the race.”

Absurd? That is essentially how bus and train services - both public and private - are administered in Queensland. TransLink - the government’s public transport agency - reviews and writes contracts with existing monopoly bus and train operators. Brisbane City Council’s bus contract is soon up for review, and guess what - there is only one contender for it!

Existing public transport operators love this - they get to win every time. Status quo bias and political correctness means that nobody dares to question it. Outsiders must buy an existing operator to get in. For Brisbane’s buses or South East Queensland’s trains, government ownership means there exists no prospect of entry. The merit principle - that lucrative government business should be awarded in an open and fair process on competence and ability - doesn’t apply.

But have you heard about what happened in Melbourne?

Ah, Melbourne. In any conversation about contracting out Melbourne will come up, just as surely as comments about Melbourne’s legendary “four seasons in one day” weather will. In 1997, an extended industrial action during Melbourne’s Grand Prix so frustrated the then Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett that he vowed to open bus, train and tram contracts to external competitors.

Yet in doing so, the Victorian Government made an error - it chose a franchise model - one that linked payments to passenger patronage levels. Franchises work well for businesses that can influence demand for its service or product. A fast-food restaurant chain that wants more business can advertise more, change the pricing, introduce specials, change the location or opening hours of its stores, or change the menu.

In public transport, however, patronage is largely determined by factors outside of the operator’s control. Urban density, ticket prices, population growth, population demography, the cost of petrol, the frequency, span, speed, and location of services can’t easily be changed by a corporate head office. This is why linking payments to passenger patronage does not make sense. Getting the patronage forecasts wrong - which is essentially what Melbourne’s operators did - could see your business go bust.

That’s why here in South East Queensland, operators - both public and private - are paid subsidies for services provided, and not passengers carried. All revenue is retained by a government agency, TransLink, as it should be. This stable revenue environment means that existing private bus operators are happy to drive buses to even the most unprofitable locations for a passenger’s set TransLink fare.

The lesson is clear - if you don’t want a Melbourne experience, don’t choose Melbourne-style franchising. TransLink’s proven service-for-subsidy model has worked well in South East Queensland for over a decade. Rail operations under competitive contracting should continue to use this existing model.

But Queensland Rail is already the best, and we might make the “wrong” choice!

Competitive contracting does not automatically assume that a private operator is better than a public one or vice versa. Many so-called “private” operators are actually commercialised arms of publicly-owned agencies in other countries. Yarra Trams and Gold Coast Light Rail are operated by Keolis, a company that can be linked back to SNCF, France’s government railway.

Opponents will, of course, complain that competitive contracting doesn’t “guarantee” that a “rogue” operator - like Melbourne’s former Connex - could take over the system. But keeping the monopolies we have now doesn’t guarantee that either. And is it also not true that voting in a democracy also doesn't “guarantee” that a “rogue” political party might come to power and run the state of Queensland? Should Queensland thus do away with elections and become a one-party state to guard against this dangerous possibility? Of course not, the notion is ridiculous.

Like an election, competitive contracting guarantees that a mechanism will exist to remove and replace a poorly performing operator. Most train operators now have a known track record, the result of competitive contracting being applied in other cities. Just as removal of a poorly performing political party at an election is not evidence of the failure of democracy, the removal of a poorly performing train operator (such as Melbourne’s former Connex) is not evidence of competitive contracting failing either. It is the removal process working as it should.

This threat of contract loss and profit-eating penalties provides a constant financial tension that incentivises performance during service delivery. This works whether the organisation is ultimately publicly or privately owned. The trick is in the competition.

TransLink needs reform. Reforms must give TransLink the power to reject a contract and seek an alternative operator for both trains and buses.

But there won’t be competition - nobody will apply!

Consider a race with one horse - we know who will win. Now consider the same race with two horses - isn’t that an improvement?

People opposed to the idea of competitive contracting insist that Queensland Rail has excellent customer service, a good track record of maintenance, and strict punctuality. We have the best operator already they will claim, or if not, we can make (minimal) changes to it so that it does become best, and therefore no competition is required.  Perhaps Queensland Rail really is the best. After all, its website slogan says “We aim to be Australia’s best performing railway.”

Rhetoric aside, our Melbourne Cup tale tells us that still does not justify closed monopoly train or bus services. What it does justify is including Queensland Rail as a horse in the race, on the same level playing field as the others. This is absolutely essential. A competitive contracting process should be vigorously opposed by all if it does not include the incumbent operator.

Queensland Rail should be built up by the Queensland Government to be in a position not only to defend its service contract but also win service contracts in cities outside of Queensland. For the avoidance of all doubt, The Constitution of Queensland, section five to be exact, gives the Queensland Government the powers to do exactly that. The Queensland Government pontificates at business and universities all over the state to be more innovative, invest, and commercialise. Well Premier, here is the perfect opportunity for your own government to do exactly that. Through the Queensland Government’s Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) and superannuation fund QSuper, the Queensland Government already has a stake in multiple commercial businesses and properties both within Australia and abroad. Indeed, QIC recently bought a stake in the privatised Port of Melbourne.

Build Queensland Rail up to compete for contracts running trains outside of Queensland. Doing so will only enhance competition.

Who would potentially bid for train services in South East Queensland?

Judging by the recent competitive tendering of city rail services in New Zealand, here is a speculative list of potential bidders for South East Queensland’s rail network. A formal ‘Expressions of Interest’ (EOI) process can test the level of interest.

- Queensland Rail
- MTR Hong Kong / Metro Trains Melbourne
- Veolia Transport / TransDev
- Keolis Downer
- Serco
- Abellio

Abellio is one I have not heard of before, but some quick research reveals that it is the international subsidiary of The Government of Netherlands Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen).

In addition to trains, some of these potential bidders run buses and trams. It opens up the possibility that a single operator could run both Brisbane's buses and trains. This would finally unify both bus and train networks into a co-ordinated whole. Brisbane’s current bus operator, Brisbane City Council, has resisted bus reforms and improved bus integration with trains despite intense community lobbying over many years. It is now fixated on a ridiculous capacity-reducing ‘metro’. In 2013, at the height of the Brisbane bus review, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk declared that he would “never ever” accept TransLink’s bus reforms and that they were “off the table”. Council staff were instructed not to attend bus reform meetings with TransLink on six occasions. In contrast, all private bus operators in all other regions of South East Queensland happily complied with Translink and introduced bus reforms.

With an attitude like that, competitive tendering cannot come to Brisbane and South East Queensland soon enough. A private operator could not afford to engage is such behaviour and would be more than happy to run buses across council boundaries without complaint. If anything, “getting the politics out of public transport” is an attractive prospect that competitive tendering brings.


Crises catalyse change because they force people to question the status quo. How competitive bus and train contracting can work in Queensland can be summarised thus:

- TransLink must be an independent, strong regulator with the power to turn down a contract and seek an alternative supplier.

- Queensland Rail to be built up to a position where it can make competitive bids for rail network operations outside Queensland and Australia.

- Queensland Rail branding and identity are retained within SEQ for continuity and heritage reasons.

- Consider penalties for late or cancelled services based on ‘number of stations not serviced on time’.

- Cap penalties to a maximum each month and waive them during industrial disputes.

- No Franchising - pay operators for services provided, not patronage levels.

- Queensland Rail must participate as a bidder in any opening of the South East Queensland Rail Network to competition. We want to make sure what we get is better than what we already have, don’t we?

- The two most “value for money” bids should be scrutinised so that calculations are realistic and that “low-balling” or “loss leading” does not pay.

- Every time contracts are up for renewal, a public servants should prepare a “return to public operation” base case to compare against. Failure to do this is to assume that private is always best - this is not always so.

- Contracts should feature an extension option as a reward for good performance.

Enough excuses, apologies, faux outrage and anger. Chart a course for change and commit to it. Stop contracting unchallenged monopolies in public transport and choose operators on merit, not privilege. May the best horse win.


A Review of Melbourne’s Rail Franchising Reforms

The contracting of urban bus services – Recent Australian developments
Research in Transportation Economics
Volume 48, December 2014, Pages 48–61

Constitution of Queensland Act (2001)

Auckland Transport Rail Contract Tender

Wellington Rail Contract Tender


METRO Trains Melbourne satisfaction levels, showing steady improvement over time

List of Government Owned Operators on the TransLink Network

Brisbane Transport (Brisbane City Council)
Queensland Rail (State of Queensland)

List of Private Operators on the TransLink Network

Gold Coast Light Rail (GoldLinQ)
Brisbane City Council CityCat & Ferries (TransDev TSL, a Veolia Company)
Airtrain - Private (but operated by QR staff under contract)

Bay Islands Transit Ferry (SeaLink) - Private
Bribie Island Coaches - Private
Brisbane Bus Lines - Private
Buslink - Private
Bus Queensland - Private
Caboolture Bus Lines - Private
Clarks Logan City Bus Service - Private
Hornibrook Bus Lines - Private
Kangaroo Bus Lines - Private
Mt Gravatt Bus Lines - Private
Park Ridge Transit - Private
Southern Cross Transit - Private
Sunshine Coast Sunbus - Private
Surfside Bus Lines - Private
Thompsons's Bus Service - Private
Veolia Transport - Private
Westside Bus Company - Private

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November 26, 2016, 06:58:43 AM by #Metro in Infrastructure

How Can We Can Make Queensland Rail Great Again?
Metro. Rail Back on Track Forum contributor.

(This post available for republication under CC BY-ND 4.0)

IF THERE is one thing Queenslanders hate, its privatisation. Just the thought of a private company - somewhere - profiting is enough to turn most Queenslanders off.

Despite recent problems with train cancellations and driver shortages at Queensland Rail, RAIL Back on Track members (70%) oppose the idea of another train operator running trains on South East Queensland’s rail network.

But is this opposition really justified?

Private companies already deliver much of South East Queensland’s public transport. Brisbane’s CityCat (TransDev), Moreton Bay Islands Ferry (Sealink), almost all non-Brisbane TransLink bus services, and the Gold Coast Light Rail (Keolis Downer) are run by private companies. Essential air transport services to regional and rural Queensland towns are privately operated and competitively contracted for. Who died?

TransLink, a public agency, sets the fares, collects all revenue, and determines standards. Operators are paid for the services they provide to TransLink. They are not allowed to collect and keep the revenue for themselves from the passengers they carry.  It is a sound model that has worked for well over a decade.

Outside Queensland, private companies also deliver rail services in Auckland (NZ), Wellington (NZ), Stockholm (Sweden), and Melbourne (Victoria).

Back to the problems at Queensland Rail. What happened?

After former Premier Anna Bligh privatised Queensland Rail’s freight business, Queensland Rail was a government-owned corporation (GOC). The incoming Newman government decided to convert Queensland Rail into a statutory authority.  Workers at Queensland Rail became public servants.

But as a statutory authority, Queensland Rail now had to participate in the Newman government’s programme of public service cuts. The Herald Sun newspaper reported that around 500 people were made redundant from Queensland Rail. Some of these cuts fell within Queensland Rail’s driver training programme. As such, the course was set for a catastrophic staff shortage upon the opening of the Moreton Bay Rail line.

An interesting question to ask is why Queensland Rail was able to detect and act on problems with the Moreton Bay Rail line’s signalling systems but was unable to act similarly when it discovered problems with its staffing. After all, the timetabling company GIRO had apparently already told Queensland Rail earlier in the year that it would be short staffed. As a result, the opportunity to further delay the opening of the Moreton Bay rail line until sufficient staff were available was missed.

The Queensland Rail saga has highlighted how a so-called ‘independent’ GOC is not truly ‘independent’. GOCs remain liable to be converted into government agencies and then subjected to the whims of the government of the day. This lack of genuine independence has been further highlighted by the Palaszczuk government’s decision to dump $4.1 billion of State Government debt into so-called ‘independent’ State power corporations - Powerlink, Energex, Ergon Energy as well as generators CS Energy and Stanwell as part of a broader policy to reduce State debt.

It also highlights the inability to apply credible penalties, such as fines, against government operators such as Queensland Rail for non-performance or poor performance. Doing so is simply an internal transfer of funds from one part of the government to another part of the government. The transfer of State Government debt into ‘independent’ State power corporations also serves to illustrate this point. Sure, the CEO or directors on the board may resign or be made redundant, but the organisation on the whole and its management culture are likely to remain largely intact.

A truly ‘independent’ operator is a non-government operator. A private company.

It may be difficult for the proponents of a government-owned Queensland Rail to accept that had Queensland Rail been a genuinely independent private company, its contract would have furnished immunity against the Newman Government’s public sector cuts or its conversion into a statutory authority. A government would also have to honour its promise of funding levels to a private company, because if it didn’t the private company would have the power to sue the Queensland Government for contractual breaches in court.

What should perhaps happen next is controversial, and will no doubt be discussed at length.

Converting Queensland Rail back to a GOC would not protect it from the possibility that a future government could convert it back to a government agency and subject it to the same programme of staff cuts. At the same time people remain wary of letting an “outside” operator come in and run South East Queensland’s trains. Genuine and valid concerns exist around whether a profit-oriented operator would skimp on maintenance, whether the operator would suddenly leave, and whether Queensland Rail could be reformed.

How is it possible to tie together this panoply of seemingly conflicting goals and fears?

One thing is clear: the agency that brings together and contracts various public and private transport operators needs to have its regulatory powers beefed up. Like Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority, TransLink needs to be taken out of the Department of Transport and Main Roads and established as its own stand-alone agency. It needs to be given ownership of transport infrastructure such as bus depots, busways and South East Queensland’s railways. It also needs to be given teeth - the power to penalise poorly performing operators and the power to reject the bid application or renewal of an operator that has performed poorly or is not the most competitive. As the classic ‘John West’ canned fish slogan reminds us “It's the fish that John West rejects that makes John West, the best.”

Infrastructure maintenance could be secured through regular independent external benchmarking and audit and by providing a separate maintenance only budget solely to be spent on nothing else but maintenance. This means that a company would find itself unable to profit (i.e. pay dividends from) monies saved from skimping on maintenance. Operators would be paid for the services they provide, and not patronage carried, under the current successful and proven TransLink model. They would not be allowed to retain fare revenue for themselves. This stable revenue means that operators would have an incentive to stay for the long term.

If an operator poorly performs, it should be negotiated with. If it does not improve, it should be penalised. If it still cannot perform it should be shown the door. That’s how we can make Queensland's public transport the best - by giving TransLink the power to not accept anything but the best.

Queensland Rail can be reformed. Queensland Rail’s strength - ignoring recent events - is that it does have Australia’s best on time running against the strictest definition of “on time”. In independent surveys it performs well in customer service, and it is well placed to operate a complex mixed network that involves freight. It also has a good record of infrastructure and track maintenance.

Provided that it is built up over the next few years by an active government programme to make it internationally competitive against other train operators, there is little reason why it could not itself win contracts against established private train operators such as Melbourne's Metro or New Zealand’s TransDev. Of course, before looking to win business in places outside of Queensland such as Melbourne, Auckland, Stockholm, or Wellington, the problems at home need to be sorted first.

Once that is done, the Minister for Transport and Treasurer could transfer their shareholdings in Queensland Rail to the Queensland Government owned Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC). As QIC is government-owned, and Queensland Rail is not an income generating asset, this act is technically not a privatisation.

There is a precedent for an organisation like QIC to be operating a public transport service - Melbourne’s Yarra Trams are operated by Keolis Downer. Keolis is owned by The Government of France through its railway company SNCF (French National Railways Corporation) and Québec’s Government-owned pension plan fund. If French and Canadian Governments can do it, why can’t Queensland too?

Once this scheme is in place and the new Queensland Rail is reformed and established, TransLink can be given the green light to introduce competitive contracting. The shareholdings kept by QIC could be retained, or sold.

That is how can we make Queensland Rail great again.


Queensland Rail to become statutory authority and become more passenger focused

Urgent meeting called for Queensland Rail board following cuts to 100 services in Brisbane

The full list of Queensland public service redundancies

Queensland Rail driver shortages: more reports handed to minister

“Advice from public transport software and optimisation company GIRO provided to Queensland Rail in March 2016 warns: "QR's current driver and guard resource levels are not sufficient."


John West Fish advertisement
(Advertisement 1)
(Advertisement 2)


"Keolis is the largest private sector French transport group. It runs passenger railways, tramways, bus networks, funiculars, trolley buses, and airport services. Based in Paris, Keolis is owned by the SNCF (French National Railways Corporation) at 70% and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec which is translated as Quebec Deposit & Investment Fund (public pension plans in the province of Quebec) at 30%.
In 2013, Keolis turned over €5.1 billion.[2] As at December 2013, Keolis employed 54,600 people in France, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, India, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is the largest provider of public-transportation services in France."

SNCF - Wikipedia

"SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français; "National society of French railways" or "French National Railway Company") is France's national state-owned railway company and manages the rail traffic in France and the Principality of Monaco. SNCF operates the country's national rail services, including the TGV, France's high-speed rail network. Its functions include operation of railway services for passengers and freight, and maintenance and signalling of rail infrastructure.

SNCF employs more than 180,000 people in 120 countries around the globe. The railway network consists of about 32,000 km (20,000 mi) of route, of which 1,800 km (1,100 mi) are high-speed lines and 14,500 km (9,000 mi) electrified. About 14,000 trains are operated daily. The company has its headquarters in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, in the Rue du Commandant Mouchotte."

Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec

"Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) (lit. Quebec Deposit and Investment Fund, also referred to in English-language media as the Caisse) is an institutional investorthat manages several public and parapublic pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec. It was founded in 1965 by an act of the National Assembly under the government of Jean Lesage. It is the second largest pension fund in Canada, after the Canada Pension Plan(CPP).[1] As of June 30, 2016, CDPQ managed net assets of $254.9 billion CAD invested in Canada and elsewhere.

CDPQ is headquartered in Quebec City in the Price building and has its main business office in Montreal at Édifice Jacques-Parizeau."

MTR Stockholm

"Stockholm Metro is operated by MTR Tunnelbanan AB, a 100% owned subsidiary of MTR Nordic AB, which is wholly owned by MTR Corporation.

The Stockholm metro system is owned by the Stockholm County Council through Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (Stockholm Public Transport). On 2 November 2009, MTR Tunnelbanan AB took over the operation of Stockholm Metro under an 8-year operation and maintenance concession. On 8 September 2015, Stockholm County Council extended the concession for a further six years, covering the period from 2017 to 2023. The system comprises of 3 lines with a total length of 110km and has 100 stations, of which 47 are underground.

The maintenance of the rolling stock is taken up by MTR Tech AB, a 100% owned subsidiary of MTR Nordic AB."

TransDev Auckland

"Transdev Auckland, formerly Veolia Transport Auckland, Ltd., and before that Connex Auckland, Ltd., is a Transdev Australasia company. It runs Auckland's urban passenger trains under contract from Auckland Transport on infrastructure owned and managed by KiwiRail. Auckland Transport receives funding to subsidise these services from the New Zealand Transport Agency.."

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April 27, 2014, 05:54:49 AM by #Metro in Infrastructure

How does competitive bus contracting work in London?

With competitive bus contracting confirmed for introduction into Brisbane, we look at how the process is managed overseas.

Bus contracting is not a new thing to Brisbane. Brisbane City Council (BCC) pioneered contracted public transport operation with
its CityCat operations which is run by private multinational company TransDev, the same operator that runs 30% of Melbourne’s
bus routes. In addition to this, BCC also has long standing contracts with private bus companies Veolia (TransDev), Thompsons
Bus Services, Bus Queensland, Kangaroo Bus Lines, and Caboolture Bus Lines. In addition, there appears to have been a
long-standing contract arrangement where some 140 BUZ services were contracted out to private bus company Park Ridge Transit.
Transport Network Planning agency TransLink proposes to take this further and introduce SEQ-wide bus contracting, providing a
mechanism to remove poorly performing operators, an incentive to keep standards high, and an incentive to depoliticise public
transport. Ending monopoly contracting will bring Brisbane into line with Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland (NZ),
London (UK) and Stockholm (Sweden), and indeed the business practices of BCC itself.

Two Australian companies operate significant parts of the London bus network. Macquarie Group is an ASX-listed Australian
company that is one of the top five bus operators in London. It employs 4300 staff and has approximately 1300 buses. The
Queensland company Transit Systems, operator of the Redland Bay Ferry service also has 1500 staff in London operating 403
London buses under competitive contract. Transit Systems also has a large bus operation serving TransPerth, Perth, WA. To put
this in perspective, Brisbane Transport (a division of BCC) has a bus fleet of around 1200 buses. Opening up the Brisbane bus
network to competitive contracting based on merit rather than historical privilege will allow Australian local and interstate
bus companies to offer their services, as well as international operators.

Transport for London (TFL) publishes a comprehensive guide describing the bus contracting and tendering process used.
The basic process is:

1.   Advertisement for candidates (Expressions of Interest)
2.   Pre-qualification and dummy bid
3.   Invitation To Tender (ITT)
4.   Response by candidate (bid)
5.   Evaluation of Bid
6.   Awarding and Debrief
7.   Compliance and Monitoring

In the first step, TFL advertises for candidate operators. When operators submit an expression of interest, TFL issues a
pre-qualification questionnaire. The information is important to screen out unsuitable candidate operators and may include site
visits, evaluation of previous experience within the industry, financial health and history of the company, meetings and other
due diligence. Once pre-qualified, candidate operators are added to a register. There is no obligation for a prequalified
candidate operator to operate bus services at this stage. Should pre-qualification be passed, the candidate operator is invited
to submit a dummy bid that is then returned with feedback so that genuine future bids are well prepared.

Tendering occurs on a rolling basis so at any one time about 10-15% of London’s services being opened to tender. Bids submitted
by candidate bus operators need to be compliant with minimum standards, however candidate bus operators may also submit
proposals outlining alternatives along with their compliant bid proposing alternative routing or frequency. In this way,
innovation and initiative is not stifled while keeping the responsibility for the network planning with the public agency. Bids
are awarded and unsuccessful bidders are given a debriefing so that they understand where they need to improve and future
competitive pressure on all participants is kept up. The bidding process is based on overall quality, so price is only one
factor considered out of many. For example, sustaining competition is one of the criteria, so it is unlikely that any one
operator will achieve full or near monopoly of service across the city. Indeed no London bus operator has more than 25% market
share, an indicator that the market for service is competitive and that no one company can dictate what the price of supplying
services for the entire city are. This is one particular point that should be noted when designing policy for Brisbane. In the
final monitoring and compliance phase, bus operators that meet their obligations or exceed them are able to extend their
contracts for another two years.

Bus contracting in Brisbane could adopt much of what has already been learned from the London and interstate experience.

References Macquarie Bank to acquire the London bus business of Stagecoach Group plc, Macquarie Bank, 23 June 2006.

Redland company takes wheel of London’s big red buses, Brisbane Times

Transport for London https://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/uploads/forms/lbsl-tendering-and-contracting.pdf

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April 21, 2014, 07:21:28 PM by #Metro in Infrastructure

The Span Index Number (SIN): A New Way To Rate Service Span In A Frequent Network

This article may be cited as LD Transit Blog, Rail Back On Track Public Transport Community Group, Brisbane, QLD, Australia. (2014).
This is a work of informed opinion and is not professional advice.


Traditional methods of evaluating bus network rely on evaluating ‘agency side’ metrics such as the service cost, value-for-money and whether the patronage on the service is ‘high’ or ‘low’. Unfortunately these metrics do not easily capture or communicate on-the-ground customer perceptions of how convenient any particular individual service may be from the customer perspective. Assuming that an all day frequent network has been decided rather than a peak-only focused service, this article describes a method for calculating a ‘client side’ rank out of ten for the quality of service span for an individual bus route. This rank has been called the Span Index Number (SIN) and lays the foundation for the construction of a second ‘client side’ index aimed at measuring frequent network utility - Designated Overall Wonderfulness (DOW) - which will be described in a further, separate article.


The City of Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city by population and is home to one of the largest implementations of bus rapid transit (BRT). During late 2012 and early 2013 a review of bus services within Brisbane was conducted by the public transport agency TransLink.1 As part of the review the agency placed diagrams of proposed service routes and changes on its website for consultation along with information about the service ‘value for money’ and ‘capacity utilisation’.  In a frequent network emphasis is placed on running more services all day and not just during peak hour.2 A key problem encountered during the public consultation was the presentation of bus routes that were substantially different in their overall utility and convenience within the network as being the same. Inspection of Brisbane City Councillor feedback obtained through right-to-information suggests that the presentation of information in this way did perhaps unnecessarily magnify criticism of the agency as it facilitated frequent claims of the kind ‘Do not change bus service X within my ward area because look, its patronage is HIGH and value for money is HIGH also!’3

For example, peak hour only services that ran only a handful of limited peak hour ‘rocket’ or ‘express’ services were presented in such a way to give the impression that they were as important to the overall network as a premium high frequency bus service that ran almost 150 services per day. (Figure 1, sum of inbound and outbound services) The difference in service level between these two bus routes which are both classified as ‘patronage’ routes (416 Toowong via Duke Street and 444 Moggill BUZ) is stark - the 444 BUZ service operates 25 times more service than the 416 does. It should have been clear that the 444 was at least one order of magnitude more important to the overall utility of the network and customer convenience than the 416 service was.

Figure 1.0: Excerpts from the TransLink bus review (2013) showing how two very different bus services serving a near-identical section between Brisbane’s Toowong Station - Brisbane CBD were shown to be similar.1 High Frequency bus BUZ 444 has an order of magnitude more service and overwhelmingly more span and clearly contributes much more support to a high frequency all day network than the very limited service 416 does.

While it would be desirable for the raw dollar costs to be disclosed along with the number of services per day (such as the Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto, Canada does, Figure 1.1), it is presumed that political or commercial sensitivities about making the exact figures public have prevented this from happening.4 If a decision has been taken to run a network that is focused not only on good peak hour only service, but good all day service a problem arises in how to communicate and compare this. In a network that values all day service above peak hour only service, bus routes that have greater all day frequency and operate for an extended period of time through the day and evening are clearly greater contributors to a frequent network and therefore customer convenience than services that may operate only during a very restricted window of time or finish early (i.e. peak hour only services or shopper-targeted services).

Figure 1.1: Excerpt of Toronto Transit Commission’s public disclosure and full transparency of raw bus costs and number of services and number of customers (TTC, Toronto, Canada). The TransLink Bus Review (2013) did not disclose figures for the dollar cost, the number of passengers per day or the number of services run for the routes reviewed. This was despite arrangements at the time not permitting competitive contracting, and thus there was no risk of commercial competitors being able to use this information. There is a strong ethical case for the public to know what is being spent where as it is their money.

The span of a service describes how many hours per day a service is operated. A bus service that operates only for a few hours per day is said to have a low or narrow service span, while a bus service that operates a full 24-hours (all day and night) is said to have a wide service span. From a customer convenience perspective that values services that operate around the clock, all else equal, a high span bus service is desirable over a low span bus service.

Construction of the index
This author considered what desirable features an index to measure span may be. Firstly, a simple one to ten scale would be desirable for final bus route ranks. A bus service with only one service per day should get a very low score of say, zero, while a bus service that operates the full 24-hours in a day should get a score of ten. Secondly, as each extra hour of service span is added to an existing bus service, a customer would be expected to perceive diminishing returns. In other words, a bus service that operates in the morning would be very useful to many people, but if the same service were to be extended to until 3 am in the morning (for example), few people would find this very extended service useful as most people would have gone to sleep. There needs to be some way of capturing this diminishing return or utility while also keeping the calculation simple. The solution was to construct the index according to Equation 1.0:

SIN = 7.25 Log10 (hours)          [Equation 1.0]

The 7.25 is a scaling factor that ensures the results of the equation stay within zero to ten. The purpose of the logarithm is to take a large number and output a small number. The number of hours is a simple count of how many hours a bus route is running, out of a possible 24 hours. For example, a bus service that operates at least once per hour from 6 am until 11 pm at night has a span of 18 hours, and would have a SIN of 9 (Equation 1.1, Figure 1.2).

SIN = 7.25 Log10 (18)          [Equation 1.1]
SIN = 7.25 * (1.255…)      
SIN = 9

Figure 1.2: Hypothetical bus stop timetable for a bus with an 18 hour span. Using Equation 1.1 gives us a value of 9.1 out of a possible ten for the span of this service. Peak hour only services will generally have low SIN numbers, differentiating them from all day high frequency services.

Diminishing returns and timetable asymmetry

The use of logarithims in Equation 1.0 has three useful properties. Firstly, the SIN of a bus route increases for each additional hour added to a bus route’s span, but approaches a maximum. This captures the idea that adding service very late at night adds to a bus route’s utility but because patronage is low and tapering away at late times of the night the extra utility diminishes. Secondly, log (1) = 0. This is a useful result because it means that a bus service that operates only one service per day cannot be said to have a span. If services operate only during a single hour, then this also returns zero. Thirdly, inbound and outbound bus journeys for the same route often have slightly different numbers of services, for example, high frequency bus BUZ 444 operates 76 services in the morning, and 74 services in the afternoon. If we assume that customers perceive a single route rather than experience the inbound and outbound trips as separate routes, we can assign a single number to describe this rather than report two separate SIN values for both the morning and afternoon services, simply by averaging. A property of using logarithms is that modest differences in services or span between inbound and outbound services of the same bus route (timetable asymmetry) does not produce large changes in the SIN value, and thus for practical purposes may be averaged to give a single value describing the span of a single bus route (Equation 1.2)

SINroute= average (SINinbound + SINoutbound)   [Equation 1.2]

Figure 1.3: A hypothetical bus route showing incremental increases in service span and how the resulting SIN value outputs a value between zero and ten. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Figure 1.4: A useful property of using logarithms is that the SIN value approaches a limit as span is further extended. This is a desirable feature for the evaluation of the ‘designated overall wonderfulness’ (DOW) of a bus route which is intended to capture the experience of how convenient any particular bus service within a frequent network, is (to be elaborated in a further article).

There is a lack of ‘client side’ indexes or metrics that properly capture customer experience and the lack of this may contribute significantly to negative public reaction when the time invariably comes to review the network on a wholesale basis. If a transit agency has decided that its focus is to value all day frequent service rather than peak only service, there needs to be some way to tell apart services that are more convenient to a single customer standing at a bus stop from those services that are less useful. The Span Index Number (SIN) provides a simple 1-10 scale ranking and describing the span of bus services within a bus network and lays the foundation for a more elaborate description of convenience for bus routes within a frequent network based on combining both span and frequency. Services with narrow span of hours result in low SIN values, and services with a wide span of hours results in a high SIN value. This scale may also be used for ranking other modes of public transport such as trains or ferries.


1. TransLink Bus Review, TransLink, Queensland Government, Queensland, Australia, (2013) (Internet Archives), http://goo.gl/juqRt1
2. Walker, Jarrett, Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives, Island Press, (2011)
3. Owen-Taylor, Cr. Angela. in Right to Information Request #13501772, Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Government, Queensland, Australia, (2013).
4. Service Improvements, Toronto Transit Commission, City of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, (2008). http://ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Transit_Planning/index.jsp

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April 14, 2014, 02:41:09 AM by #Metro in Infrastructure

900 CITYCONNECTOR: How to reconnect Brisbane's Suburban Centres

Potential branding of a new 900 CityConnector bus service to replace the 1980s era Great Circle Line.

The Great Circle Line is a pair of circular orbital bus routes (599/598) that connect Brisbane’s suburban shopping centres and first started around 1985. At a service every 30 minutes, the service operates at low frequency incompatible with easy connections and features some indirect ‘legacy routing’ which means slower service. There are no Sunday services, the extreme length is vulnerable to delay and the clockwise/anticlockwise feature of the service is confusing. Due to the circular geometry, services may only complete a portion of the circle in the mornings or at the end of the day further adding to the complexity of the network.

Melbourne has had a number of orbital SmartBus routes for over a decade now. With the exception of the Doncaster area services (DART), all services do not go to the Melbourne CBD and are operated by private bus operators under competitive contract to Public Transport Victoria. In 2013 Public Transport Victoria awarded a number of these bus contracts to the bus company TransDev, the same private multinational company that Brisbane City Council has awarded the rights to operate its CityCat fleet. How can the Melbourne SmartBus experience be adapted for Brisbane? Firstly, by making services more direct and secondly, by tailoring frequency on individual sections. For example, 15-minute high frequency could be achieved if Great Circle Line and 590 services were amalgamated between Garden City and Toombul.

Melbourne Orbital SmartBus Map. Image: Victorian Government Department of Transport.

Under this proposal, The Great Circle Line would be replaced with new 900 series CityConnector buses running between major centres along a more direct, faster and more frequent alignment. To begin this process, four bus routes would be created from the BCC bus network and put up for competitive tender. These routes would be 900 Indooroopilly – Garden City, 902 Garden City to Toombul, 903 Toombul to Mitchelton and 904 Mitchelton to Indooroopilly. It is essential that Sunday service of be included in the reform package.

Indicative Network Concept:

900   Indooroopilly to Garden City   Indooroopilly Shopping Centre – Chelmer- Graceville- Rocklea- Salisbury Rail – Macgregor – Garden City Shopping Centre

901   Eight Mile Plains via Sunnybank   Garden City – Eight Mile Plains- Sunnybank Plaza – Coopers Plains Rail – Acacia Ridge – Inala Plaza

902   Garden City to Toombul    Garden City – Newnham Rd – Carindale Shopping Centre – Cannon Hill – Murrarie – DFO – Toombul

903   Toombul to Mitchelton    Toombul – Eagle Junction Rail – Kedron Brook Rd – Gordon Pk – Stafford Rd – Everton Pk – Brookside – Mitchelton Rail

904   Mitchelton to Indooroopilly   Indooroopilly Rail – Indooroopilly Shopping Centre – Toowong – Bardon – Ashgrove – Enoggera Rail, Mitchelton, Brookside

905   Mitchelton to Toombul   Toombul – Wavell Heights – Chermside – Hamilton Rd – Everton Hills – Brookside – Mitchelton Rail

906   Yeronga to Carindale   Yeronga – Moorooka – Holland Pk - Carindale

907   Mitchelton to The Gap   The Gap – Great Western Super Centre – Mitchelton - Brookside

908    Cannon Hill to Holland Park   Holland Park – Camp Hill – Morningside Rail – Cannon Hill - Metroplex

909   Ferny Grove to Toombul   Ferny Grove - Great Western Super Centre - Mitchelton Rail, Brookside, Redwood St, Toombul

910    Mitchelton   Mitchelton Rail - Brookside – Flockton St – Kitchener Rd – Toombul

A map of the concept for Brisbane. Those marked with blue stars would form a first wave of changes.

Red = high frequency, 15 minute standard
Orange = 20 minute standard frequency
Black = 30 minute standard frequency
Green = 60 minute standard frequency

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