City Mobility: Integrated Public Transport must improve on the Gold Coast

In this XYZ Media Group exclusive, Xavier Zymantas explores City Mobility: public transport, service integration, alternate modes of transport, and outlines a vision for the future of City Mobility on the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast is Australia's sixth-largest city, and is growing rapidly. Roads are under strain, rail networks need extensions, and cost-saving gaps in the rail network are being rectified. Light Rail has been a tremendous success, although construction is always a headache. Bus networks are hampered by congested roads at peak times, with a lack of dedicated busways. The integration of Light Rail and Bus interchanges has helped, but more is needed. Council is keen to promote alternate modes of public transport, such as walking, jogging, cycling, with the Oceanway and cycle paths becoming popular.

The Town Plan has prioritised development along the Light Rail corridor to encourage urban renewal and use of public transport, giving developers concessions on parking facilities as a result. This is great in theory, but the reduced number of car parking spaces allocated to new developments, particularly to apartments in seaside suburbs, has created road-side chaos with residents parking cars on the street, vacant blocks, and taking up public parking in car parking facilities all day, instead of being available for commuters, workers, and visitors. The other downside to parking concessions in new developments is that the theory of more people using public transport is good... but it doesn't work in practice. People wont use public transport unless is it fast, cheap, reliable, and just as convenient as going by car.

Light Rail

Currently, only Stage 1 of the Light Rail tram system is operational, from Pacific Fair in Broadbeach, through to Griffith University and the new Gold Coast Hospital at Parkwood.

  • What happens if I live in Broadbeach and work in Bundall? I can get off the tram in Surfers Paradise and get a bus, taxi, or walk across Chevron Island to Bundall.

  • What happens if I live in Southport and go to uni at Griffith University? I can get on the tram in Southport and get off at the University. Perfect.

  • What happens if I live in Southport and work in Burleigh? I can get the tram from Southport to Broadbeach South (Pacific Fair), then get the bus to Burleigh.

  • What happens if I live in Surfers and work in Coomera? I have to get on the tram in Surfers, get the tram to Griffith University, then get the bus to Helensvale, then get the heavy rail train to Coomera, then get a bus to work in Coomera town centre.

Stage Two of the light rail project is currently under construction, from Griffith University / University Hospital, along Smith Street Motorway, via Parkwood, and long the heavy rail corridor to the existing heavy rail station at Helensvale.

In the future, this will enable commuters, visitors, and tourists from Brisbane to get the train from Brisbane Airport or the Brisbane train network, to the Gold Coast, get off the train at Helensvale, get on the Light Rail tram at Helensvale, and get off at stops along the light rail route, such as Helensvale, Parkwood, Parkwood South, Griffith University, University Hospital, Queen Street, Nerang Street, Southport, Southport South, Broadwater Parklands, Main Beach, and multiple stops through Surfers Paradise, down to Broadbeach South at Pacific Fair.

Commuters will also be able to connect the other way, from Broadbeach South all the way to Helensvale, change on the heavy rail train, and get the train to Brisbane and Brisbane Airport.

Currently, light rail and bus interchanges at light rail stops are integrated for tram times, and provide adequate interchange facilities with a minimum of waiting. Some stops could be better optimised.

The main issue with the current Stage One of the light rail network is a total lack of Park and Ride facilities. More people would use the trams if there were free (or very affordable) Park and Ride carparks along the route. This would provide an incentive for more people to use the tramway, taking cars off the road into the busy points along the route, such as the University, University Hospital, Southport, Surfers, and Broadbeach.

Light Rail and the 'Park and Ride' carpark system

If I live in Ashmore and have a car, and work in Surfers, and I want to use the tram, where do I park? I can park for free on Wardoo Street in Southport, walk to the Queen Street station, get on the tram, and take the tram to Cavill Avenue.

If there was a Park and Ride in the industrial estate at Molendinar, along Smith Street, I could park my car at the Park and Ride, walk the new skybridge over Smith Street to the Parkwood South tram station, and get the tram to work in Surfers Paradise.

I note that Stage Two of the Light Rail network plan includes a commuter car park at Parkwood, between the M1 exit on to Smith Street, and Gaven. This seems to be designed to alleviate some commuting shortfalls, and will be ideal for those who live in Pacific Pines or further up or down the M1, to pull off the M1, park in the Park and Ride at Parkwood, and transition to the tram line. However, if I live in Ashmore, or Nerang, or Parkwood, or Arundel, and work in Broadbeach, am I going to drive further away from my destination just to use the Park and Ride? Maybe... if it's the only Park and Ride available to me.

There are currently no other Park and Ride facilities planned until Stage 3 is built.

Other Car Parking Options

Where else can people park?

Starting with the northern end of the Light Rail route, there is currently free parking on Wardoo Street in Southport, which regularly fills up with disenchanted University students. Students park on Wardoo Street, walk to the corner of Wardoo and Queen Street to the Queen Street tram stop, and take the tram to Uni, and back again after class. High patronage on this section of the track is attributed to both University students and Hospital visitors using Queen Street tram station.

Further along the route, Australia Fair Shopping Centre's carpark regularly fills with commuters, who park for 3 hours free at Australia Fair, and use the nearby Southport tram station at the end of Nerang Street near Chinatown and the Council Chambers. Many commuters use this stop to travel to the University and the Hospital in the north, or to Surfers and Broadbeach in the south.

There are very limited parking options at the Broadwater Parklands station, as well as many tram stops through Main Beach and Surfers Paradise areas. There is some parking at Cascade Gardens, but this is intended for visitors to the Cascade parklands, not for tram users.

Others will park for free at Juipters Casino and use the ciovered walkway between the Casino and the Convention Centre to access the Broadbeach North tram station, and travel onwards to destinations in Southport, the Hospital, or the University, or to link to bus interchanges for other destinations further afield. When Stage Two is complete, they will be able to travel on the tram to Helensvale heavy train station, and change on to a QR train to go to Brisbane.

Likewise, others still park at Pacific Fair shopping centre, with 3 to 5 hours free, then pay for parking after that. Taking a short walk across the bridge from Pacific Fair to the Broadbeach South tram station gives access to the tram network going north or the bus interchange for those travelling south.

Bus and Tram Interchanges, and Parking

Bus and Tram interchanges are a great idea and are well-used. But the initial problems remains - that is, If I live in Broadbeach Waters and need to get to Southport, where do I park? Do I park for free at the Casino, or pay at Pacific Fair, then get the tram to Southport? Is it more convenient to drive to Southport and park at the other end?

If I live in Burleigh and need to get to Southport, do I park at a shopping centre and get the bus to Pacific Fair or Broadbeach South tram station, then get the tram to Southport? Is it more convenient to drive? Parking at a shopping centre is OK - free or paid parking - but those parking spaces are provided by the shopping centres for shoppers, and are not intended to be 'public carparks' for users of public transport to leave their cars locked up all day at the shops.

When Stage Two of the Light Rail is completed, from the University / University Hospital to Helensvale, things change. If I live in Nerang, I can walk, drive, or bus to Nerang heavy train station, get the train to Helensvale, change on to the light rail at Helensvale, and get the tram to the University, the Hospital, Southport, Surfers, or Broadbeach and back. Alternatively, I could walk, bus, or drive to Nerang train station, use the bus interchange to get to Pacific Fair or Broadbeach South tram station, then get the tram to Surfers, Southport, the University, the Hospital, or all the way to Helensvale, and get the heavy train service back o Nerang station to collect my car or walk or bus home.

Yes, train station carparks at Nerang and Helensvale are intended to be used by train passengers, and also get used by bus passengers using the bus interchanges co-located at train stations. That's OK, but I don't think Queensland Rail is really expecting (or wanting) people to leave their car at Helensvale heavy train station and then get on the tram to Pacific Fair to go to work, go shopping, or go to the beach for the day. That means we're using QR infrastructure to support Light Rail and bus passengers who could be going to the beach, the shops, the hospital, university, or other destinations. For QR: Not happy, Jan.

This brings us back to provision of Park and Ride facilities for light rail passengers, as discussed in the section above. While we're at it, where do bus passengers park? Do they park at a Queensland Rail train station and get on the bus at the co-located bus interchange, or do they park at a local shopping centre (such as Pacific Fair or Australia Fair) and then get on the bus?

In a car-based world, we want to remove cars (and therefore traffic jams) from the road in high density work-live-play suburbs. To do this, we encourage the use of public transport. For this to succeed, public transport needs to be fast, cheap, efficient, and have stops designed to take people where they want to go. It also needs to work in reverse, to get people home when they want to go home, at peak and off peak times.

The Interconnect between Modes of Transport

Consider a typical journey from Ashmore to Brisbane Airport. You leave home, drive to Nerang heavy train station, get on the train, arrive at Brisbane Airport, get off the train, walk a short distance to the airport terminal, wait, get on your flight, and fly away. Let's say we're going to Melbourne.

Then, in Melbourne, you get off your flight, get the train to the city, hop on a tram or in a taxi, and then walk to your hotel.

The same applies in reverse... hotel, public transport, Melbourne Airport, Brisbane Airport, public transport, back to Nerang, then drive home. Relatively simple.

Now consider if you live in Ormeau, and your workplace just moved from Southport to Burleigh.

To get from Ormeau to Burleigh on public transport, in January 2017, you would:

  • Drive from your home to Ormeau heavy train station.

  • Get the heavy train from Ormeau to Helensvale.

  • Get off the train and get on the bus from Helensvale to the University.

  • At the University, get on the light rail tram, and travel to Broadbeach South (Pacific Fair).

  • Get off the tram and get the bus from Broadbeach South bus interchange to Burleigh.

  • Get off the bus at Burleigh, and walk, or get a taxi to your workplace in the industrial park.

Congratulations! You have arrived at work in the same amount of time it took your plane to leave Brisbane Airport and arrive at Melbourne Airport!

(You curse your employer for moving from Southport to Burleigh, and you consider getting a new job at Coomera Town Centre when it opens next year).

What needs to improve?

To enable and incentivise more people to use public transport, we need to improve the network by:

  • Adding new Park and Rides for bus and light rail passengers.

  • Keeping Park and Rides free or very low cost: $2 per day.

  • Subsidising Park and Rides with advertising, office rentals, shops, kiosks, etc.

  • Integrating Park and Rides with the transport network, for example, walkways or bridges to tram stations and bus interchanges.

  • Simplifying the interchanges between modes of transport, for example, train to bus to tram to bus, by co-locating interchanges with stations and with off-site or integrated Park and Rides; and co-ordinating service times to reduce wait times between different modes of transport.

  • Plan ahead for destination travel and also commuter travel, to go to places where people live, work, and play.

  • Provide free or commercially-subsidised Wifi on public transport - trains, trams, buses, to encourage locals, commuters, and tourists to use public transport. This can be subsidised by internet advertising that is displayed when people connect their phones and tablets to the wifi network. The Wifi can also deliver service announcements, delays, journey times, destination suggestions, and so on.

  • Public transport needs to be safe, efficient, affordable, reliable, pleasant, and addictive.

  • Public transport needs to be as convenient or more convenient than driving a similar route.

How can we improve the Public Transport Experience?

  • Provide conveniently-located, safe, free, or very low cost Park and Ride stations across the city.

  • Provide interchanges at practical locations to make it easy to swap modes of transport.

  • Provide commuter routes that get people to where they want to go, not just where it is easy to install them. This means not just installing trams along the Gold Coast Highway, but cross-connecting places where people commute between home and work and leisure. Connect light rail east-west from Broadbeach to Nerang, and from Burleigh to Robina.

  • Make local travel more palatable by simplifying routes, fare zones, weekly passes, one way and return tickets.

  • Make long distance travel more attractive by simplifying routes and interconnects to destinations. This means getting off a flight and Brisbane Airport and being able to arrive at your Gold Coast home or hotel without changing travel modes six times.

  • Make long distance regular commuting more palatable, by investing in SuperHubs. Imagine a high speed train connecting SuperHubs at Gold Coast Airport, Robina, Coomera, Beenleigh, and Roma Street. A 20 minute high speed train journey from Robina to Roma Street, taking all those working commuters off the normal QR rail network. Live in Nerang? Get a QR train to the SuperHub at Robina. This would require a new track within the existing rail corridor for the high speed train.

How could we have planned ahead for a better public transport outcome?

Forward planning in the 1970s and 1980s would have allowed for:

  • East-west heavy rail corridor from Coomera to Hope Island/Runaway Bay/Sanctuary Cove

  • East-west heavy rail corridor from Parkwood to Southport along Smith Street

  • East-west heavy rail corridor from Nerang to Broadbeach along Nerang Broadbeach Road

  • East-West heavy rail corridor from Robina to Burleigh along Christine Avenue

  • Fast-track the heavy rail corridor from Varsity Lakes to Coolangatta Airport and then into Tweed, Murwillumbah, and Lismore, to connect northern New South Wales.

  • North-South underground light rail tunnel from the Southport heavy train terminal to Surfers Paradise, then to Broadbeach, Burleigh, and Coolangatta.

  • A light rail/bus interchange station could have been built by demolishing the aging Surfers Paradise transit centre, having an underground light rail station surfacing to a bus interchange, with a hotel tower or commercial tower on top.

How can we plan ahead now for the future?

Forward planning could occur now for future developments like:

  • Provide planning provisions and developer incentives for co-locating public transport infrastructure alongside or within major shopping centres. This has been partially achieved at Pacific Fair. Imagine full integration of tram/train/bus interchanges when Robina Town Centre was built, or at Helensvale Westfield, or Coomera Town Centre. Plan ahead now for the Treetops Town Centre, and Ormeau Town Centre.

  • Provision for a ferry terminal system from Broadwater Parklands tram station to the Spit, to Stradbroke Island, Couran Cove, Gold Coast Marina, and Sanctuary Cove.

  • Provision for a ferry terminal system from Broadwater Parklands tram station to Circle on Cavill park station, along the Nerang River to Royal Pines, Metricon Stadium, Australian Legends World, and Nerang heavy train station.

  • Provision for a Rapid Bus Loop from Griffith University to Crestwood Plaza, Ashmore City, Ashmore Plaza, Coles at Royal Pines, Woolworths at Emerald Lakes/Emmanuel College, Merrimac State School, Robina Train Station, Robina Town Centre, Bond University, Q Super Centre Mermaid Waters, Bundall, Evandale Cultural Centre, an integrated bus interchange at the old Gold Coast Hospital site, then follow High Street and Smith Street back to Griffith University.

  • Work with Queensland Rail to redevelop train stations for smart use of real estate. Queensland Rail could build and own large-scale developments on their land, above existing railway stations, or above the carparks at railway stations. These could include high rise office towers, leased to various Government departments, plus a food court, range of shops and retail, a bus interchange, and provision for light rail tram interchange. This would work well at Beenleigh, Coomera, Nerang and Robina.


With forward planning, provisioning, smart ideas, service integration, and incentives for developers to combine infrastructure projects within new developments, we can provide better-integrated use of land, transport corridors, minimise traffic congestion, and defray the cost of public amenities such as car parks and train stations.

Stage Three of the Light Rail tramway from Broadbeach to Coolangatta is the perfect opportunity to plan ahead, and provide public transport infrastructure in sensible and practical locations. Not just where it is 'easy' to park it, along the existing trunk routes, but to put it in places that make it efficient to commuters to get from home to work to leisure destinations without having 17 stops between home and work.

City Mobility needs to be safe, efficient, affordable, reliable, pleasant, and addictive. Public transport needs to be as convenient or more convenient than driving a similar route.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas

XYZ Media Group

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