Counting the cost

A flood disaster of epic scale in Queensland will have ramifications for public transport providers across Australia

Counting the cost
Counting the cost

By David Goeldner | January 18, 2011

Natural disasters can strike at any time – and when they do – public transport operators are often the first to pitch in and keep people moving as part of their unwritten duty to the community.

The recent Queensland floods demonstrated how public transport provision is seen as an essential service.

TransLink worked around the clock advising the community of travel conditions and providing alternatives to those caught up in the floods.

With an integrated network across all modes, buses were deployed where trains couldn’t run.

And that’s the advantage of a road network where buses are often the best mode of transport, and often the only practical mode to get from point A to B.

There were several disruptions to the network during the crisis. Rail services to outlying Brisbane and Ipswich suburbs were cut, and buses were used to negotiate the flood waters.

Situations like this are frustrating for commuters, but public transport providers are equally frustrated, and this will be felt for a considerable time after the floodwaters recede.

There will be two sides to the Queensland disaster impacting on bus operators in particular.

Given that 2011 was shaping as a year when the ‘big bus boom’ of 2009 and last year will be over, suppliers were already facing a downturn in business, and operators had reached a level of expansion unlikely to increase in the near future.

The aftermath of the Queensland floods will impact on public transport networks and the operator – and suppliers – who feed into those services.

The ramifications for public transport will be on a national scale.

Queensland Treasurer Ander Fraser is starting to count the cost, which he told reporters during the crisis will require Government appropriation in the Billions, not Millions, to fix the mess.

Even with public transport creeping up the list of priority items for Government funding, the expectation of any near term expansion of public transport in Queensland will now certainly be on hold.

This will play out nationally in terms of projected Federal Government funding for public transport infrastructure, and as a consequence network expansion across major Australian cities.

The floods come at a time when Queensland was gearing up for its largest ever public transport infrastructure spend, in partnership with the Federal Government, with the Cross River Rail project.

It’s still too soon to get a measure of how this project will be affected by the flood crisis, but the likelihood of Cross River Rail being placed on hold is high.

The irony here – too – is that the engineering assessment for this rail project follows a path of alignment recently inundated by floodwaters from the burst Brisbane River.

The Federal Government will commit to repairing Queensland, and as a consequence the ‘moving forward’ style projects as advocated by the Bus Industry Confederation may be placed on hold indefinitely.

But the hard work done by BIC and others won’t be washed away completely by the floodwaters.

Public transport across Australia has started to develop a blueprint for the future, and that future will come – but not just now.

* Busnews was also affected by the flood after forced office closure in Brisbane – the headquarters of Busnews and ABC Magazine – but from today we are back up and running, bringing you the latest news and views from across Australia’s bus and coach industry.

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