In a union of community and local business interests, the free 86 bus loop connecting South Bank and West End provides an example of cooperation and mutual benefit. Janine Watson, CEO of Business South Bank, recently discussed the significance of this service and how it fits within the broader priorities for her organisation.

Business South Bank, an association of over 180 members, extends beyond the South Bank strip, encompassing South Brisbane and West End. Its diverse membership includes retail and commercial operations and developers, as well as Queensland’s premier cultural institutions such as QPAC, GOMA, and the State Library. Local universities and schools based in West End and South Brisbane are also members.

Business South Bank has taken a keen interest in the Olympics and has recently expanded its jurisdiction to include the North Quay area in the CBD. Ms Watson said Business South Bank needed to ensure proper representation and having a voice in matters related to Olympic venues, emphasising the importance of both sides of the river as one unified precinct.

Janine Watson, CEO of Business South Bank looking at camera. She has short brown hair and is wearing a pink top/
Janine Watson, CEO of Business South Bank

“We wanted to make sure that the government heard our insights in terms of how a precinct can work a bit better. So, we increased the catchment area to deliberately take in the top part of the city because none of the bridges that cross here carry cars. We want to make sure that the people on both sides of the river consider this to be one precinct.”

“We have a lot of interaction, particularly because a lot of the workers and students use the train station here. There is a lot of people movement and so we wanted to make sure we were representing all those people.”

In its vision document, Business South Bank outlines four key areas of interest:

  1. Connection: Enhancing crucial connections within and beyond the precinct, including major gateways, streets, river links, access to the CBD, and direct routes to Olympic venues.
  2. Global Destination: A long-term plan for expanding cultural, educational, and tourism facilities, focusing on expanding into the Kurilpa area.
  3. Inclusivity: Creating a welcoming environment for all, ensuring safety, representing First Nations culture, and embracing technology.
  4. Sustainability: Embracing sustainable practices to enhance the overall quality of life in the community.

Reflecting on the diversity of the precinct, Ms Watson said,

What I love about this area is the difference in industry and people that we’re working with. It’s very different from the CBD, where everyone is in corporate attire. We deal with the arts and hospitals, and half the time, you can have somebody coming off the beach in a bikini and students walking around with big musical instruments.”

Ms. Watson noted the unique synergy in the precinct, where diverse audiences and businesses coexist without competition.

“There’s such a diversity of people in this precinct, and everybody’s audiences are different from each others, and it feels really non-competitive for that reason.”

While Business South Bank primarily focuses on businesses, its interests often align with those of residents. Key concerns include issues related to the road network, public transport, safety, and security, which impact both groups.

One of their recent achievements was the successful advocacy for the free 86 bus service. Ms Watson explained that the local TAFE and universities were concerned about the lack of bus service in the precinct, which is isolated from the rest of the city.

The idea for the bus service originated as a means to mitigate the impact of the Brisbane Metro construction on the precinct, a measure discussed with, and advocated for, by then-Councillor Jonathan Sriranganathan.

“We have a large population, but nothing serviced us as a little precinct… So, we modelled the service on the services that currently exist, particularly the Spring Hill service.”

The bus service’s operating hours were recently adjusted in response to community feedback and advocacy from Amy MacMahon and The Gabba Councillor Trina Massey, starting earlier in the day and ending earlier in the evening.

Ms. Watson stressed the organisation’s commitment to responding to the needs of the community.

“If people aren’t using it, we lose it. It didn’t look like people were catching the bus to go to Queensland theatres as we all assumed was going to happen. That didn’t happen. And if there was a call for the bus to be used earlier in the day, and to be used, fantastic. I think common sense has prevailed with that one.”

Business South Bank plays a vital role in facilitating information exchange concerning initiatives like the Olympics, Cross River Rail, Brisbane Metro, and the South Bank master plan. They aim to represent the business viewpoint, which often aligns with residents’ interests, including their focus on environmental sustainability.

However, it’s worth noting the organisation’s support for TLPI 01/2023 for the Kurilpa Sustainable Growth Precinct, which is opposed by residents groups. They believe that more people residing in the precinct can be beneficial, aligning with the goal of creating a thriving area where people live and work.

In response to the South Bank Corp’s Future South Bank Draft Master Plan, Business South Bank places particular importance on the rejuvenation of the Maritime Museum and the enhancement of the Cultural Forecourt.

“We think the Cultural Forecourt is a very important space because in the past it has been where all the major events took place. And we really love that this area is a big gathering place for Brisbane people.”

“You can’t fix the Cultural Forecourt without shading Victoria Bridge. So, we were delighted when the Council announced shading for the bridge. We wanted that because we know that the thoroughfare into the city to get to the Cultural Forecourt is Victoria Bridge.[1]

Bougainvillea Walk, South Bank

Business South Bank also thinks the shift to Grey Street as a connector will provide safer transit for cyclists and advocates for better pathways to enhance the connection between Russell Street and West End. They believe addressing these priorities will create a more integrated and accessible precinct.

A vision particularly close to Ms Watson’s heart is the extension of the South Bank bougainvillaea walk throughout the city as a wayfinding device. This initiative aims to make navigation within the precinct and the broader city more convenient and appealing.

While there will be critical areas of divergence, the efforts of Business South Bank have the potential to benefit both the South Bank and West End communities by acknowledging the shared interests of both businesses and residents.


[1] The shading project for Victoria Bridge is now on indefinite hold as part of Council cost-saving measures – See Here.


A small team of locals have been raising awareness of the Free 86 Bus Loop – you can follow them on Instagram at Free Bus 86


All images by Jan Bowman