As mentioned in a previous post, the Auckland Regional Public Transport Plan is open for submission until December 24th. This plan will be very useful in guiding the structure of Auckland’s public transport services over the next few years – and involves a pretty big shift in the structure of the public transport system.

As per my submission on NZTA’s farebox recovery policy, I’m happy for people to copy as much or as little as they like of my submission. Anyway, here’s my draft submission in full.

1. Introduction:

This submission is on the Draft Auckland Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). This is a plan required by the Public Transport Management Act 2008, and forms a key part of planning public transport services over the next few years in Auckland.

Overall, I am generally supportive of the RPTP. I do note that as a public transport advocate there seems to be a plethora of plans and strategies that get released, as required under various piece of legislation. It can be frustrating to see so many repetitive plans and strategies, which can often appear to replace actually getting it done. However, I do recognise that this Plan will play a much more ‘hands-on’ role in guiding the structure of public transport in Auckland over the next few years than many of the other plans and strategies. This is welcomed.

My submission comments on a number of aspects of the RPTP, but as a general comment I would like to note my support of the idea of creating different ‘tiers’ for public transport routes – such as the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), Quality Transit Network (QTN) and so forth. However, I think it is important to note that such a system will require more ‘transfers’ between buses, or from bus to train. For this to assist, rather than detract from, Auckland’s public transport system a lot of work needs to go into improving the transfer experience – including integrated time-based ticketing (perhaps the most important), improving service frequencies and ensuring the speed of RTN and QTN services is as high as possible. Otherwise, the greater number of transfers will just put people off using public transport, and the tiering of routes will do more harm than good.

2. Scope of the Plan – PTMA changes

I note that within the Introduction to the RPTP there is discussion of potential changes to the Public Transport Management Act 2008, that might reintroduce the distinction between commercial and contracted services which ARTA lobbied so hard to have removed from the final version of the Act as it current stands.
I am enormously disappointed that ARTA have, within the RPTP, simply bowed to the possible future changes to the PTMA. It is my understanding that ARTA went to great efforts to get the PTMA, as finally passed, into a form that would be in the best interests of Auckland’s public transport system. While the Minister might be proposing some changes to this Act, they have not yet happened and there is no certainty that enough parliamentary support would be available for amendments to the legislation to become law. Therefore, in my opinion it is highly premature for ARTA to simply “give up” the gains that were so hard-fought in 2008 – with relation to the PTMA.

Of course, should the PTMA legislation be changed then ARTA would have no choice but to comply with it. However, in my opinion as the legislation currently stands ARTA should take advantage of their opportunity to create the best public transport system possible – which in my opinion includes controls over commercial services to ensure that a fully co-ordinated system can be created.

3. Giving Effect to the RLTS

It is noted that the RPTP gives effect to both the operative 2005 Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) and the draft 2010-2040 RLTS. I support this move.

One of the most significant problems with the 2009 Auckland Transport Plan (ATP) was that it gave effect to the 2005 RLTS, which was being replaced at the time. This meant that the ATP was effectively ‘out of date’ before it even came into effect. The 2010-2040 RLTS is quite a revolutionary transport strategy for Auckland, proposing a very significant shift away from automobile-based transport policies and towards a more balance multi-modal approach. It is highly appropriate that the RPTP give effect to the new RLTS, especially as it places a much greater emphasis on public transport than arguably any transport strategy in Auckland over the past 60 years.

4. The Rapid Transit Network

I strongly support there being a great focus on identifying, developing and improving a ‘Rapid Transit Network’ RTN – a series of high-speed, high-capacity and high-quality public transport links between Auckland’s main population centres. As outlined in the introduction to my submission, I do think that further thought and analysis needs to be undertaken with regards to the impact on the user of a greater emphasis on ‘transfering’ between services. However, international experience (Perth and Toronto as two obvious examples) shows that transfering between services can improve the efficiency, effectiveness and popularity of the public transport network significantly.

In terms of the RTN which are proposed in the RPTP I have a number of comments:

a. Is the Onehunga Branch considered to be part of the RTN? It is included as part of the RTN on page 8 of the RPTP, but then is not included in the diagram on page 10. I consider that it should be part of the RTN.

b. Further information on the provision of an RTN between Botany and Panmure should be provided. Will this be a fully grade-separated busway, like one would expect from an RTN? What is the timeline for the construction of this link? In my opinion, the eastern part of Auckland (along the future Panmure-Botany-Manukau RTN) would be better served with a rail-based RTN. This is because any bus based system faces a huge problem of what to do at Panmure – whether to transfer people onto the train line (where trains might already be quite full) or whether to construct a busway from Panmure to the city – which would be expensive and rather pointless as a train line already exists along the fastest route.

c. While I support a rail-based RTN for the Panmure-Botany-Manukau corridor in the longer term, in the short-term I am strongly of the opinion that this part of Auckland needs a bus based QTN as soon as possible. It is this area of Auckland that has the highest levels of automobile dependency and arguably the worst public transport provision, with travel times to the CBD being incredibly long.

d. In my opinion the QTN along state highway 16 should become an RTN, and be constructed as a busway. This busway would serve a part of west Auckland that is highly different to the area serviced by the Western railway line. Furthermore, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) have plans to spend $860 million widening and developing this motorway over the next decade. It would be a huge missed opportunity for there to not be a busway constructed as part of this project.

e. The diagram on page 10 should be altered so that the dotted lines are “planned RTN” and the thick lines are “existing RTN”. Perhaps the Albany-Henderson link could remain as the “possible RTN”, as the rest are definitely planned in the RLTS.

f. In terms of service frequencies, in my opinion it is critical that a ‘turn up and go’ level of service provision is established along the RTN. If the long-term goal is to have many passengers joining the RTN from feeder buses, high frequencies will be particularly important to ensure that there a short waits while passengers transfer between services.

g. All bus-based RTNs should have a minimum service level of a bus every 10 minutes at all operational times. All rail-based RTNs should have a minimum service level of a train every 20 minutes at all operational times. At peak times service provision should be even higher.

h. I support the remainder of projects included in the RTN on page 8 of the RPTP. I must yet again emphasise that for the RTN to operate effectively there must be integrated ticketing and co-ordinated timetabling with feeder routes. Ideally, service frequencies will be high enough to ensure patrons do not have to worry about timetables, but if this is not possible then efforts must be made to ensure feeder buses do not arrive at train stations two minutes after the train has just left. Current feeder bus systems in the Auckland region are generally of a horrifically low standard in this respect, with the lack of integrated ticketing being completely unacceptable in particular.

One final matter to note with regard to the RTN is that encouraging more people to use the train system or the Northern Busway at peak times, through the use of feeder bus services, will need to be aware of the capacity constraints – particularly on the rail network – that currently exist. While electrification and the construction of the CBD Rail Tunnel will fix this problem in the longer term, in the shorter term these capacity constraints may place great strain on the system as additional passengers are added.

5. The Quality Transit Network

While the RTN may be the ‘backbone’ of Auckland’s future public transport system, because of the widely dispersed travel patterns in the Auckland region in my opinion the Quality Transit Network (QTN) is of equal, if not greater, importance. Indeed, it is fairly likely that the QTN will have greater patronage than the RTN.
It is essential that the QTN is what its name suggests – a transport network of high quality. This quality must be in a variety of forms:

a. The speed it travels at. This means that a QTN should be a route that is completely ‘bus-laned’, with the hours of operation for each bus lane being considerably longer than the typical 7-9am or 4-6pm seen at the moment. QTN routes must be faster, at peak times, than someone driving an equivalent route by car.

b. The ease of use. This means simple route structures (following arterial routes rather than ducking down a million side-streets like too many of Auckland’s bus routes), easy to understand timetables (such as having a base timetable that operates 7 days a week with peak hour services added to that), high-quality bus shelters, fast-loading etc.

c. The ride quality. This means modern, low-emissions and quiet buses. It also means ensuring that the bus lanes are built to a high standard so that buses aren’t forever bouncing in and out of pot-holes. It also potentially means upgrading to a tram service in the future where appropriate (such as along the Dominion Road corridor).

d. The service provision. This means high frequencies at all times, and good timetable co-ordination with feeder buses or with the rapid-transit network.

Individual ‘branding’ of QTN services is an excellent idea, although to ensure it does not cause confusion with users this should not happen until integrated ticketing is fully rolled out, as the last thing Auckland needs is the perception of there being yet another bus company that will not accept their tickets.

In my opinion, the minimum service levels outlined in Table 6.1 for the QTN are unacceptably low – particularly at off-peak times. As with the RTN, the QTN has to be a ‘turn up and go’ type of service. Perhaps the only current example of a QTN within Auckland is the Dominion Road bus services, and these currently operate with 10 minute inter-peak frequencies and 15 minute weekend frequencies. This should be the minimum level of service provision for a QTN.

6. Local Connector Network

I am generally supportive of the idea of a Local Connector Network (LCN). Having more of the buses that serve areas not on main arterials form ‘feeder services’ to the RTN or QTN should significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Auckland’s public transport system. At the moment it is hard to see the point of operating bus routes such as the 135/136, which basically directly follows the Western Line rail service, or the 224 route which also follows the Western Line between Henderson and the CBD. Similarly in the south, it would appear that most of the bus services to Papakura via Great South Road are completely unnecessary, as they simply duplicate the Southern Line rail service.

The elimination of such duplication, through making these types of long-haul bus services into simple feeder services to train stations, busway stations and QTN routes, should significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Auckland’s public transport system. Furthermore, because the new feeder bus services would operate far shorter routes, they would be able to repeat their routes more often – thereby offering improved frequencies than what is current experienced.

However, it must be recognised that making people transfer between services is an inconvenience and efforts must be made to ensure that inconvenience is minimized as much as possible. Frequencies must be improved, RTN services made as fast as possible, and the process of transfering made as easy as possible (in terms of ticketing, timetable co-ordination and as short a physical distance between services as possible) for the tiering of services to provide a better public transport option than the current inefficient system.

It goes without saying that integrated time-based ticketing is essential for this to work. The lack of integrated ticketing is a shameful reflection of the state of Auckland’s public transport system at the moment.
The proposed service frequencies on Table 6.1 are considered to be completely inadequate. As outlined above, if the purpose of creating a LCN is to provide good feeder services to the RTN, while also accepting that a ‘one-seat ride’ is not efficient when providing a high-quality public transport system, then relatively good frequencies will be required on the LCN to make up for the inconvenience of transfering. It is quite embarrassing to see ARTA proposing any routes to be operated at 60 minute frequencies to be honest.

7. Policies and Actions – Chapter 5

The policies and actions listed in chapter 5 are commented on below individually.

a. Policy 5.1 – Network Structure. This has generally been commented on above. While I support the structuring of the network into a number of tiers, I think that it needs to be kept in mind that this will mean more passengers have to transfer, and steps need to be taken to ensure that this is a positive for the system and its users, rather than just an inconvenience.

b. Policy 5.2 – Network Integration. I cannot emphasise how important it is for the public transport network to be well integrated. This means integrated ticketing, along a zonal or time-based system that is far simpler than the current system. It also means high frequencies, enabling transfers between services, timetable co-ordination, route co-ordination and high quality transfer points. In cities with successful public transport systems, like Perth, Toronto and Vancouver, it is their high level of co-ordination and integration which has made the difference to an often greater extent than the quality of their public transport infrastructure.

c. Policy 5.3 – Assisting the Transport Disadvantaged. Low-floor buses are critical to ensure easy access to public transport for all.

d. Policy 5.4 – Service Reliability. For people to ‘trust’ public transport it is absolutely critical the service is reliable. The RTN should be the most reliable part of the public transport network, as it runs in its own right-of-way. Along the QTN bus lanes can also ensure improved levels of reliability as buses don’t get stuck in traffic. Faster boarding times through the use of smart-card ticketing can also aid reliability.

e. Policy 5.5 – Vehicle Quality. While the ‘ride quality’ of public transport is important, it is also critical to recognise the negative externalities of public transport where there is poor vehicle quality. The noise pollution and air pollution of buses within the Auckland CBD is a significant problem at the moment, which needs to be solved in the future.

f. Policy 5.6 – Fare Levels. The fare system should be restructured and simplified, to encourage people to use monthly or weekly passes (as this will encourage more off-peak trips by people as they will feel they’ve already paid for their travel). A zonal type of fare system should also be introduced to simplify ticketing. Fares should be in 50c denominations to speed up boarding time of passengers paying with cash.

g. Policy 5.7 – Fare Recovery. An equitable level of farebox recovery should be established in consultation with NZTA. I support the promotion of new services with free fares, something that should be used for the first couple of weeks when the Onehunga Line opens next year. Levels of fare recovery should also reflect the significant hidden subsidies enjoyed by road users – such as minimum parking requirement District Plan rules.

h. Policy 5.8 – Integrated Fares and Ticketing. This is perhaps the most important step that needs to be taken to improve Auckland’s public transport system. In my opinion it is completely unacceptable that Auckland has been talking about integrated ticketing for decades yet there has been barely any progress until very recently. The lack of integrated ticketing in Auckland is an absolute disgrace, and in my opinion is a major reason why our levels of public transport use are so low. Integrated ticketing, and a simplification of the current ticketing/fares system, must be implemented as soon as possible. If it is not possible to roll out a new smart-card integrated ticketing system within the next 12 months, then a paper-based integrated ticketing system should happen.

i. Policy 5.9 – Branding and Communication. I support the branding of services, especially RTN and QTN services. Real time information signs are critical along all the RTN and QTN routes. Integrated ticketing is critical to ensure that there is no perception of further fragmentation of Auckland’s public transport system.

j. Policy 5.10 – Infrastructure. I support the provision of high-quality infrastructure. It is essential that there is consistency for users of the public transport system. I think that significant improvements to the operation of bus routes could be gained from ‘through-routing’ services that travel to the CBD. This would involve a service coming from one side of the CBD and then leaving the other side, to serve another part of Auckland. Through-routing would both minimize the time the bus is within the CBD and also enable passengers to use public transport for suburb-to-suburb trips – where the modeshare of public transport at the moment is incredibly low.

k. Policy 5.11 – Procurement. I strongly support the move toward gross-contracting. This will enable higher-patronage services to help subsidise lower-patronage services, reducing the need for publicly funded subsidies. I also think that it’s important that commercial services are not allowed to ‘cherry pick’ the best available routes – as that will lead to a reduction in the ability for cross-subsidisation to happen, and inevitably will result in the need for higher subsidy levels to be paid.

l. Policy 5.12 – Commercial Services. To ensure that the best routes are not ‘cherry-picked’ by commercial services, leading to the need for there to be higher subsidies, in my opinion ARTA should utilize the provisions of the PTMA to prohibit these services.

m. Policy 5.13 – Funding Prioritisation. While efficiency gains are certainly possible, to improve public transport in Auckland it is clear that funding increases will be required. Changes to the structure of routes – in particular the removal of unnecessary route duplication – should also be used to drive efficiency. ARTA should also lobby strongly that the PTMA was introduced to ensure better value for money from subsidies, and that any changes to the PTMA are likely to result in the increased need for subsidies.

8. General Comments:

I do support the changes to Auckland’s public transport system promoted by the RPTP. In my opinion it is critical to focus on improving the co-ordination and integration of services, as benefits from these improvements can be significant and come at little, if any, cost. It is also critical to ensure that, as introduced and improved, the RTN and QTN really do offer a better quality of public transport to what people are used to. It is only through offering high-quality public transport that travels to where people want to go, when they want to travel and at a higher speed than driving, that people will shift from driving their cars to using public transport.

In my opinion the shift towards more ‘transfers’ needs to be handled carefully, so that there is not a loss of patronage because of the inconvenience it causes.

Finally, the whole RPTP depends on integrated ticketing occurring. It is critical that integrated ticketing is up and running as soon as possible in Auckland.

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  1. Great submission. Might have inspired me to put in one myself! The only thing I would say is

    ‘Fares should be in 50c denominations to speed up boarding time of passengers paying with cash’

    I agree with this but would go further – a cashless system should be easily achievable once we have RFID cards and intergrated ticketing… Given the dispersed nature of the system (and Auckland), the best way to acheive this would be to have top-up stations in place in dairies, as well as all the stations.

    Also – it looks like the tax working group is going to recommend congestion charging, which would be a step forward

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