The Gold Coast light rail project shows that new transport links are worth it

A Gold Coast tram. Image: Getty.

Gold Coast’s light rail scheme has attracted great interest since the streets of Surfers Paradise were torn up and stations and track were built. Was it worth spending A$1.5bn on 13km of light rail and more than A$40m a year in subsidies? Are we right to be spending another A$420m on an extension to Helensvale in time for the Commonwealth Games? Should we be taking it all the way down to Gold Coast Airport?

Another question is whether gains in property values served by the project could be “captured” to fund such infrastructure. Previous studies of property values in areas serviced by the light rail showed only modest gains after it opened. Our research cast a wider net back to when we first started planning the system in 1996 through to the latest data we could get in 2016.

The results were intriguing. We found that prices in the catchment areas started to increase in the earliest planning phases. The effects of the light rail were to push up property values within 800 metres of the stations by more than 30 per cent in total from 1996 to 2016.

This is well above most previous estimates of a light rail system’s effects. This is mainly because we looked earlier for the property value gains and used a carefully designed control to make the comparison.

Impact after opening seemed modest

These findings cast a different light on the apparently modest impact of the light rail after it opened.

When the first stage from Broadbeach to our university at Parkwood opened it was well received. But the behaviour change we all hoped for was rather modest at first: after opening in 2014, patronage did not surge compared to bus ridership on the route in earlier years.

New passengers got on board, but it was an uphill climb for the new system. Fare increases of almost 50 per cent from 2010 to 2014 pushed passengers off public transport across southeast Queensland, especially on rail. Not all passengers enjoyed improved service for their particular journeys, either. Those who used to travel through the corridor in a bus now had to break their journey at the light rail terminus and transfer, adding travel time and annoyance.

In the second year of operation, however, patronage jumped 16 per cent and our contacts suggest third-year patronage is tracking well. Subsidies per passenger are falling. The decision to add the connection to Helensvale looks a sound one.

But, seemingly, other changes everyone expected weren’t there. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics analysed property values in the corridor from 2000 to 2013 using a coarse geography and didn’t find much evidence of any uplift. This gave many cause for concern.

Reassuringly, Cameron Murray used valuation data for a similar period using a different geographical scale and found a 10 per cent increase for properties within 400 metres of the new stations. But there was still uncertainty.

Our new research backs up and expands on Murray’s findings, suggesting there was substantial positive impact.

The Gold Coast light rail under construction at Surfers Paradise in 2013. Image: author provided.

What did our research look at?

Our research team in the Funding on the Line Australian Research Council Linkage Project took a different approach. In a peer-reviewed paper, which will shortly be presented at the World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research, led by Barbara Yen, we used sales data for residential properties along the corridor. Our study compared areas within 800 metres of the stations with a control area containing locations a little further away but still in the same vicinity.

We used a longitudinal methodology to see when the value uplift occurred from back in 1996, when planning of the system first started, through to the latest 2016 data. Property prices in the catchment areas started to increase very early in the planning phase. The property value uplift was highest in the locations between 100 and 400 metres from the stations.

Values went up 11.9 per cent in these locations compared to our control areas between 1996 and the feasibility study’s announcement in 2002. They increased a further 26.3 per cent from 2002 to 2006 over the control areas when the feasibility study was completed. Prices rose only 2.3 per cent from 2006 to 2011 when the formal funding commitment was made and construction began, and then by another 5.4 per cent after the line opened to the end of the study period in 2016.

Timeline of the planning and development of Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 1. Image: author provided.

The areas less than 100 metres from the stations, and between 400 and 800 metres also recorded strong increases compared to the control areas, though not quite as much.

This is to be expected. Sites closest to the stations received some nuisance from the light rail and road corridor; sites further away obtain fewer advantages in travel time savings for passengers.


What are the funding implications?

The property value gains attributable to the project from 1996 to 2016 of more than 30 per cent are very significant. Yet it’s pretty much only the landowners who benefit.

The City of Gold Coast recoups some of its A$120m investment in the light rail through its rates and its public transport levy on urban residents. The Queensland government may end up getting a little slice via stamp duty as properties are sold. The few pieces of government-owned land likely rose in value.

But the state and federal governments generally have no other mechanisms to take a small sliver of the increased property value their investment generated to help pay for the light rail system or reinvest in public transport elsewhere. We’ve written about this previously and suggested ways we could change the system.

A recent federal parliamentary inquiry and moves to set up “value sharing” units in the Queensland and New South Wales governments suggest we are now getting serious about generating alternative funding for public transport. The ConversationOur study’s results only add more support to these initiatives. Get it right and we should be able to deliver more metros, busways and light rail to serve our growing population and its increasingly urban way of life.

Matthew Burke is associate professor in the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

You’ve heard of trainspotters and planespotters. Now meet Britain’s growing army of busspotters

Some busspotters in action. Image: Damian Potter.

In the summer of 2014, with too much time on my hands and too little to do, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly active, 200+ person Facebook group. How I ended up here (record scratch, freeze frame) is a little too convoluted and stupid to explain – but what I found was a world that I a) could not have imagined nor b) had any clue even existed.

The group I tumbled into was what I now understand to be a very, very small example of a “busspotting” group – that is, a Facebook group full of dedicated bus enthusiasts which exists to share pictures of buses they see on the road. This group had members from all over the country, with a concentration on northern buses, and was predominantly filled with young, white men.

What I expected to see was a range over relatively interesting buses, holding some significance or another, that were tough to find in your average day-to-day life. This was, largely, not the case. What fascinated me was that the vast majority of the group was not focused on unique buses, new buses, historically significant buses, and so on – but simply on the average bus and or bus route you might take just to get around your city.

What was even more bizarre to me was that people from across the country were meeting up in small towns (Morpeth, Livingston, Stevenage) to take seemingly mundane bus rides to other equally small places (Washington, Gloucester, Grimsby). The busspotters would travel hours on end to meet at these locations simply to ride this bus, often for three or four hours, and experience a bus route they’d never been on before or one that they just particularly enjoyed.

Ooooh. Image: Damian Potter.

After a couple of weeks of silently watching and one semi-ironic post, I left the group. And, for the next three years, I gave barely a thought to bus enthusiasm, as no busspotter group/page/person crossed my path. Unlike similar enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, it didn’t seem to me that busspotting had any significant following.

But, as is the way of these things, a weird thread on Twitter three summers later sparked my memory of my short time in this group. I wanted to see what busspotting was actually and about and if, in fact, it was still a thing.

So I spoke to Damian Potter, an admin on several popular busspotting groups, about what it’s like to be deep into the busspotting scene.

“I used to sit upstairs on double decker buses and 'drive' them, including the pedal movements!” Damian announced right off the bat, speaking of his childhood. “I've been driving coaches at home and abroad since I passed my PCV test in 1994. I've been driving for Transdev Harrogate and District Travel since 1998.”

Damian, as you might have gathered, has been a busspotter since his early youth. Now, at the age of 50, he manages four different busspotting Facebook groupsm, mostly based around the Harrogate area (Transdev Enthusiasts, The Harrogate Bus Company, iTransport Worldwide and Spotting Bus and Coach Spotters). Some of them have over a thousand members.

He also participates in busspotting IRL, travelling around the country participating in busspotting meet-ups and events and co-organising trips along different bus routes. When I asked him what busspotting was to him, he explained that it can manifest in different ways: some people focus on makes of bus and routes, other focus on particular bus companies (National Express is particularly popular). Of course, bus enthusiasm is not solely a British phenomenon, but busspotters can certainly be found in practically every corner of the UK.

“People tend to think that spotters hang around bus stations furtively, with a camera and some curly cheese sandwiches, but this isn't really the case,” Damian continued. That said, he also mentioned some particularly hardcore bus nuts who have been known to trespass on company premises to be the first to snap a picture of a new bus.

“They really do produce some brilliant pictures, though,” he added.


Although much of busspotting culture happens online, predominantly on Facebook, groups often have what are called ‘running days’ which involve meet ups having to do with particular routes. Damian mentioned one particularly popular day following the London Routemaster buses that happen periodically. Not only do these routes draw in enthusiasts, he noted, but also draw huge numbers of tourists who want to claim they’ve ridden on the original London buses.

“I reckon the general public miss the old Routemaster buses. There is only one 'heritage' route in London which still uses Routemaster buses and that's the 15 service between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill.”

Despite this widespread interest in buses and bus history, though, busspotters often find themselves treated as the lesser of the motor enthusiasts. This became clear to me almost immediately when speaking to Damian, and continued to strike me throughout our conversation; without my saying anything sarcastic, malicious, or snarky, he became instantly defensive of his fellow enthusiasts and of his hobby.

When I asked him why he felt this immediate need to defend busspotting, he explained that people often ridicule busspotters and bus enthusiasm generally, arguing that bus drivers are the most common attackers. “However,” he noted, “if I bring a load of pictures into the canteen they're the first to crowd around to see bus pictures...”

Aaah. Image: Damian Potter.

Despite being perceived as an often-mocked hobby, bus enthusiasm is expanding rapidly, Damien claims. “The bus enthusiast culture is growing, with younger generations getting more involved.” Drawing in new, younger enthusiasts has become easier thanks to social media, as has creating real personal connections. Social media has made it easier for bus enthusiasm to not just stay afloat, but actually thrive over the last several years.

It’s so widespread, in fact, that a national competition is held every year in Blackpool to mark Bus Driver of the Year (Damian himself came in 34th out of 155 back in 2002). This event draws in everyone from the bus world – drivers, manufacturers, tour companies, and enthusiasts alike. Here is one of the many places where great friendships are forged and busspotters who’ve only known each other online can finally meet face-to-face. “Personally I have made some great friends through Facebook,” Damian told me. “I have even stayed over at a friend's house in London a couple of times.”

Busspotting may be less well-known than motor enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, but that very well could change. Thanks to active social media groups and regular in-person meet-ups, people have been able to use busspotting forums as not only a way to find lifelong friends, but also spend more of their free time exploring their hobby with the people they’ve met through these groups and pages who share their enthusiasm. For all the flack it may receive, the future of busspotting looks bright.

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