The Guardian • Issue #2102

Queensland’s 50c fares stunt

Queensland Rail TRANSLink Electric train.

Queensland Rail TRANSLink Electric train. Photo: John Ward – flickr.com (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

As far as election season political stunts go, Queensland Premier Steven Mile’s reduction of public transport fares to 50c is not bad. The question now is whether it will be backed up by any real commitment to developing public transport.

The Queensland government has announced a 6-month trial of 50c fares across the entire Translink network, set to begin in August. Announced as a means of addressing cost-of-living pressures, the move is a small victory for the many Queenslanders who rely on public transportation.

The move has left many people confused, however, about what exactly comes next. Queenslanders have been subjected to one of the most expensive public transport systems in the world, and now many are wondering if the costs will return once the 6-month trial is over. Others are left asking why the government is even bothering with 50c fares rather than simply making public transport free.

At 50c per ticket, Queensland’s reliance on privatised ticketing systems may be costing the state more money than it would take to simply scrap the ticketing machines altogether. Between the costs of ticket enforcers (inspectors and police), the legal costs of pursuing fare evaders, and contracts with private companies for ticket machines and card readers, there are many costs of the current system which, at the time of writing, lack publicised up-to-date figures.

The last reported figure for a 10-year contract to roll out the Smart Card system was $371 million. Miles has said that the new fares are as “close to free as you can get,” but given the costs of the privatised fare system and its middlemen it seems a free public transport system would be a simpler, more cost-effective solution.

There are other reasons to support free public transport. If the Miles government is truly committed to addressing cost-of-living by taking on public transport, providing reliable, accessible services to all Queenslanders must be the goal. The 50c policy does not apply to privatised services, meaning some Queenslanders will be forced to pay higher fares due to a lack of alternatives.

Australians as a whole are still overwhelmingly reliant on cars, a travel option that is environmentally damaging, harmful to the design of Australian cities and infrastructure, and simply inaccessible for many Australians thanks to cost-of-living pressures. Investment in comprehensive public transport makes cities greener, pedestrians safer, and removes a significant economic burden from the backs of many Australians.

Miles’ 50c fare policy could be a good first step towards encouraging more people to use public transport, but if this is an issue the Queensland government is serious about, it must be able to commit to a system that better serves all Queenslanders.

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