Brisbane and Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

I lived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia for about four months in the (Australian) “winter” of 2011.  Here is a view of the CBD and Victoria bridge that I took:

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Since I was there for a while, I actually got to experience quite a bit of transit in the city.  I lived in the Spring Hill suburb, which is one of the closest suburbs to the city centre (look for the red marker):

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And this is a view from my apartment window:

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TYPES OF TRANSIT

While Brisbane has no metro system (in fact, there are no metro systems anywhere in Australia) Brisbane has several transit choices available: conventional buses, rapid bus transport, commuter trains (some stations of which are pseudo-subway), and ferries.

Buses:

While I lived in Brisbane I often took the bus to get from my house to the city centre (or CBD as the Aussies like to say), which was about 1 km away.  Luckily for me, I lived on the line of the Spring Hill Loop bus line which went directly to the CBD.  Even luckier for me, this bus loop was free!  TransLink provides two free bus lines: the Spring Hill Loop and the City Loop.

From the TransLink (Queensland) website:

The City Loop operates in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction around the Brisbane CBD from the red signposted bus stops, using distinctive red buses. Popular stops along the route include QUT, Botanic Gardens, Queen Street Mall, City Hall, Central Station, Riverside and Eagle Street Pier.

The Spring Hill Loop operates on a continuous loop between the CBD and Spring Hill precincts from the yellow signposted bus stops, using distinctive yellow buses. Popular stops along the route include Post Office Square, St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Brisbane Private Hospital and Central Station.

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For tourists and people who live in the city, these bus loops are immensely popular and useful!

I used some non-free bus line a few times to get from Spring Hill to Highgate Hill, South Bank, and to get around in Gold Coast.  This is the bus stop I went to in Gold Coast:

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As you can see, it’s in Zone 16, but more on that later.

Buses are usually pretty new, clean, and easy to use.  Buses were quite frequent and actually ran pretty late.  Stops are NOT announced.  This was not a huge problem for me at the time, because I was able to track myself on my iPhone with GPS and press the button when I figured we were close.  However, if you didn’t have a smart phone, then you’d have to ask the bus driver to help you out (or recognize where you are!)  One interesting thing that you need to remember to do in Brisbane (and Australia) is to hail the buses, otherwise they may drive right past you… Even though you’re standing right next to a bus stop :/  This rule does NOT apply at the stops in the Queen Street underground busway due to the divider between the road and platform.

Rapid-bus

There are two flavours of rapid-bus transport in Brissy.  The CityGliders, which are usually long according-style buses that, according the the TransLink website:

… provide high-frequency transport from West End to Teneriffe and Ashgrove to Stones Corner.

Since I had no reason to go to those places… I never took that bus.

The other type is the new(ish) busways, which first opened in 2000.  There are currently three lines: the South East Busway, the Northern Busway, and the Eastern Busway.  I took the Northern Busway one time to get to a job interview way in the outer suburbs.  I took the bus from the underground King George Square bus station, located right in the CBD to a stop about 45 minutes away (unfortunately I forget the name). The King George Square bus station itself is pretty cool.  This busy station reminds me more of a subway station than a bus stop.  There are 12 platforms which have automatic doors that line up with the doors of the buses.  Also, it’s air-conditioned!  This station is very similar to the Queen Street bus station, located just a short ways away.

This bus first runs underground through the heart of Brisbane via the bus tunnel that runs under Albert street.  As with other rapid-bus transit systems, the busway routes run more like a metro system with large stations located far apart.  Buses are a lot less comfortable than trains, but it’s pretty efficient.  I think grade-separated busways are more like a poor-mans metro system.  But… in Brisbane they do work pretty well since Brisbane is so sprawly and radial.

Commuter Rail (CityTrain):

There are eleven commuter rail lines serving south-east Queensland, which are:

Airport, Beenleigh, Caboolture, Cleveland, Doomben, Ferny Grove, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Rosewood, Richlands, Shorncliffe, and Sunshine coast.  Obviously the Australians like to give normal sounding names to about half their lines and crazy ones for the rest.  There are 146 stations in total.

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(Borrowed from Wikimedia commons)

I took the both Airport and Gold Coast lines several times in my stay in Brisbane. I love taking trains, and the ones in Brisbane were nice, new, and comfortable.  Most of the trains are the electric Suburban Multiple Units (SMU) which are manufactured by either ABB, ADtranz or EDI/Bombardier.  Check out the interior:

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(Borrowed from Wikimedia commons)

Not bad right?

Almost every time I took the train I started from Central station, which is the largest station in Brisbane.  Where I lived was almost equidistant from Central and Roma Street stations, so I could choose whichever one I wanted.  I usually went to Central just because it was more downhill.   Taking the train around SE Queensland was by far the most convenient and comfortable way (for me) to travel to both Gold Coast and the airport. Within the city centre I never really took the train to get around, even though you could conceivably do that. The Brisbane CBD is so compact that walking or taking the bus was usually easier.  Also I was really cheap and didn’t want to pay the fare!  The trains are more set up to get you from the suburbs into the CBD.

The airport train is actually privately run and built, and apparently one of the only profitable transit projects ever made. The flip-side of that is that it’s freaking expensive ($16 AUD).  But it’s the quickest way to get from the airport to the CBD and where I lived.  The airport line had convenient luggage racks for all your stuff.

FERRIES

there’s two flavours of ferries in Brisbane: the CityFerrys and CityCats.  Brisbane is not located near the ocean or any large lake, but is built around the Brisbane river.  The river is calm and doesn’t have much traffic so it’s ideal for small ferries to get people around.  I took the CityCat one day to get from the CBD to Hamilton, just to check out that suburb for the day and see a movie.  Here was my route:

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The ferry is a proper way to commute, but for me proved to be a great tourist attraction. From the CityCat you get some great views of the city and surroundings, as well as the river itself.  If this was my daily commute I’d be a pretty happy camper. When the weather is good the ferries get quite busy and finding a good seat on the outer decks is somewhat difficult.

Example of a CityCat cruising down the river:

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(Borrowed from Wikimedia commons)

I highly recommend taking the ferries if you visit, or live in Brisbane.

PAYMENT

In Queensland you can pay for almost all transit options with your go card which is a tap in/tap off card system that either contains stored value (what I did) or monthly etc. passes.  I bought my go card from a local retailer the first day I was there, it costs about $5.00.  The train stations near the CBD have fare gates, but further out in the suburbs they don’t bother.  The tap in/out points are still there though. Tap cards are just so much better than dealing with change and I used my  go card all the time.  If your go card stored value runs out it actually goes into the negative until you top it up again. You can also buy single use tickets, but why would you?  It also works on buses and ferries.

Here is a picture of my go card that I used in my stay in Brisbane:

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Side note: my city (Vancouver), is currently in the middle of transitioning from the old paper ticket fare system to a smart card system called the Compass card.  The company contracted to design and implement the system is called Cubic Transportation Systems, which is the same company that made the go card system.  I wonder if my go card will work on the Vancouver fare gates..? 🙂

South-east Queensland is organized into zones.  There are 23 zones in total, but there’s pretty much no way you’re going to travel to all of those zones even in a lifetime of living in Brisbane.  The zone map looks like this:

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Zones 8 is pretty much the limit for a reasonable commute time into the CBD.  Although, many people actually commute from Gold Coast to Brisbane every day. As long as you live somewhat close to a Gold Coast line train station, the transit time is reasonable.  For most tourists, and in my case, as a resident of the inner city, I rarely travelled outside of zones 1 and 2.

This is the fare table from the TransLink website:

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Obviously, it’s well worth it to use a go card.    The fares in Queensland seemed expensive to me, and they are more than what I pay here in Vancouver.  But, since Australian’s generally make quite high wages, the cost is not that much comparatively.  According to my algorithm, and using New York City as the basis, South-East Queensland comes out at 1.45 times more expensive than NYC (when adjusted for salary differences).

RATINGS

In this and all subsequent reviews I will be evaluating the following metrics (as per MY experience only): each of use, frequency, cost, and elegance (cool factor).

Ease of use: 7.2/10

Good: The go card is great and works across the entire state, stations are well marked and easily found, underground stations in the CBD are easy to access.

Bad: Bus stops aren’t announced, you have to hail the buses (why?), no unified transport system.

Frequency: 5.8/10

Good: Quite frequent in the city.

Bad: Not that frequent in the suburbs. Like REALLY not frequent in some places. I went to a job interview near Ormeau station (on the Gold Coast line) that required a bus from the train station.  The bus frequency was like once every 2 hours, and I missed one by about 20 seconds… it was horrible.  If I worked at that place, I would’ve  definitely needed a car.

Cost: 6.9/10 (based on my algorithm)

The typical fare in Brisbane is 1.45 times more expensive than a typical fare in NYC, when adjusted for salary difference.

Elegance: 7.1/10

Good: Commuter trains are quite nice and usually new, the CBD stations are just like busy subway stations, ferries offer beautiful relaxing commutes, the Queen Street underground busway and stations are an engineering triumph.

Bad: Reliance on buses and rapid-bus for most of the suburbs (pretty lame), ugly yellow colour scheme, not too much in the way of public art installations.

Overall average: 6.75/10

Overall I had a great time using all the public (and private) transit options in Brisbane, having a car was not an issue for me whatsoever.  However, if you lived in one of the less common suburbs, commuting by public transit could end up being a bit of a nightmare.  Thanks for reading!

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