Public Transport in Brisbane…Grrr…

I’m in Brisbane on a short visit at present and I can’t let my experiences on the suburban trains today go unheralded.

The first thing of note was the sign at Central, saying return train fares are no longer sold – fair enough, I thought, but one could always buy a return ticket when I lived here.

Next came the shock – the sheer usury of the ticket prices. I took two trips today – one to Indooroopilly and one to Toowong, both from Central (for the uninitiated, six stops and four stops respectively). The first ultimately cost $9.20 return (after buying a ticket back at the other end); the other $7.80.

And we complain about fares in Melbourne! We have a bargain basement regime weighed against this.

Taking the escalator from the concourse at Central to the platform, I was struck by how grimy, dingy and neglected the whole place looked. OK, so it’s a train station and a public place, but it made Flinders Street, in its notorious state of disrepair, look like a palace by comparison.

Toowong station was even worse, and looked like it hadn’t had a cent spent on its maintenance since I last took a train from there ten years ago.

But back to Central. As the first train went by whilst I waited for my train to Indooroopilly, I noticed a grotesquely crass piece of spin that made anything from our recently-departed Bracks/Brumby government pale by comparison: the carriages were emblazoned “No. 12 of 64 new trains for SEQ,” replete with Queensland Government logo. How nauseating.

Once aboard the newish train that arrived to take me to Indooroopilly, I saw the filth, the ripped velour on the seats, the carpet on the floor of the carriage that was worn through and which had had an appalling attempt at a patch job done on it with ducting tape and what appeared to be Nikko pen to try to match the background colour.

The other three train trips were on equally or more neglected trains; in total all four carriages I travelled on had faulty doors that had been locked and sealed with tape.

And does Queensland Rail pay cleaners? The amount of half-eaten food liberally strewn around the trains, food wrappers, old newspapers and – in one case – what looked like a piece of “utilised” toilet paper, was a disgrace.

Indeed, on the train from Toowong tonight on the way back to my hotel, one fellow passenger noted aloud that the carriage smelt “like spew.” Quite.

Add in the surly attitude I was given by the station staff at Central, the disrepair evident in stations I passed along the way, and even the noxious “Doors closing, please stand clear” recording I’d happily long forgotten ever existed until today, and I can see that travelling by train in Brisbane must incense the unfortunate inhabitants forced to endure it.

I thought the standards on the Melbourne metropolitan train network had fallen far during the eleven years of Labor government in Victoria. The standards would need to fall far further to reach the level of those in Brisbane.

Yes, I took two shortish trips on one of seven suburban train lines: how representative is that? My answer is what is routinely thrown at me by friends who still live in Brisbane and don’t like what they find on visits to Melbourne.

And that is simply that as a visitor in Brisbane, my impressions count, as do those of any visitor. That public interfaces like its trains are opportunities to sell a destination or tarnish perceptions of it. And they are a reflection on those who provide services, in this case the Queensland state government.

Public transport is a modern hot-button issue electorally on so many levels. I left Brisbane at about the time Peter Beattie was becoming Premier of Queensland and would be lucky to have spent a month in total in Queensland in the 13 or 14 years since I headed south.

All I can say is that if the Beattie/Bligh government has applied itself as assiduously and as competently to other aspects of its jurisdiction as it apparently has to Brisbane’s trains, then it is small wonder Queenslanders have been looking for a reason to throw it from office – a reason that the conservatives, for so long until very recently, have been unable or unwilling to provide.

An old mate today asked me what I thought would happen at the looming Queensland state election in light of Anna Bligh’s flood boost and the unorthodox arrangements being undertaken by the LNP.

I said that I thought Campbell Newman would win in a canter in Queensland. The swing in Ashgrove will be nearly double that required to take the seat, and whilst I don’t go along with current polls predicting the ALP being left with as few as 10 of 89 seats, I think a nett loss of some 25 to 30 seats is what the ALP can look forward to in the none-too-distant future.

Based on what I’ve seen today, it’s no wonder the natives are angry. And waiting on their balconies with the baseball bats.