Next time you catch the bus, especially a bus like the Link which stops frequently, have a think about the amount of time the bus spends between stops and the amount of time the bus spends halted, waiting for passengers to hop on and off. Actually measuring the percentage of a trip spent still is something I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages, but I am pretty sure it would be significant.

Let’s say each passenger takes about five seconds to load, and that’s assuming they don’t dig around in their bags for change or hand the driver a $20 note – even for 12 people that would be a minute in total spent waiting at the stop. A full bus load of people could take more than five minutes to load – once again assuming that everyone actually loads quite quickly. There are a number of reasons why loading is so slow:

  1. A relatively high proportion of people pay with cash. A contributing factor to this is that using your “pass” is generally only 10% cheaper, plus with a number of different operators around Auckland and the passes only being valid on some of the buses, probably results in more people using cash than need be.
  2. Even those who do pay with their bus passes require interaction with the driver. For my stored value card the driver needs to wait a second or two for it to load up on his screen, and then press three different buttons before the ticket is issued. Multiply that level of interaction up by a large number of passengers and you have the source of a great number of delays.
  3. Because everyone needs the driver to issue them with a ticket, if someone does take ages, through loading up their stored value passes (like I often do $40 at a time), digging through their bag to find the last 10 cents to make up their fare, giving the driver a $20 note and therefore forcing him or her to dig through their change or even asking for directions – everyone else is held up.
  4. Yet again due to the need to interact with the driver, everyone needs to load through the front door – which is a bottleneck in itself and slows down loadings.

Long loading times mean that, unless you have a bus lane or some other form of priority measures, it is literally impossible for travelling on the bus to be anywhere near as fast as driving the same distance. The bus will still get caught in traffic, and if it spends half its time stopped – while passengers are loading – then catching the bus will take twice as long as driving (plus time spent waiting for the bus in the first place of course). Add all this up and it’s reasonably easy to see why most people shun using Auckland’s bus system – it’s just so damn slow most of the time.

Furthermore, and in some ways this is even worse than the slowness caused by loading times, when passengers take forever to load this horribly impacts on the reliability of the service. If your bus is late, chances are either it got stuck in traffic or unusually high demand meant that loading times were slow. This problem is compounded because late buses are usually incredibly busy, as they collect both passengers waiting for that bus and the next – and the slow loading times compounds the problem making the service later and later. This inevitably means that the bus behind starts catching it (as the first bus has taken all the passengers so the second one can zip along without having to stop) – with the result being the dreaded “bunching” of buses.

While this all sounds like bad news, in actual fact it’s extremely good news for one simple reason – all these problem are exceedingly simple to fix: just speed up boarding times. In comparison to building busways or even putting in bus lanes (where it’s not cost, but politics which tend to be the biggest hurdle) speeding up boarding times should be enormously simple and easy to implement. And think of the benefits – all trips being up to 20% quicker, reliability improved dramatically and frequencies able to be higher while using the same resources because speeds are faster (it takes 6 buses to keep a 10 minute frequency along a route that take 60 minute, if they can do the route in 40 minutes then those 6 buses can now deliver 7 minute frequencies).

So how could we go about making boarding times faster? Well perhaps the biggest step is underway already in terms of implementing integrated smart-card ticketing. The new tickets will not require interaction with the driver, so you’ll be able to board even while someone is stuffing around digging out the last 10 cents for their fare. Furthermore, smart-card boarding is incredibly fast. So a lot of improvements are already in the works – and I don’t think it has quite been appreciated the level of difference this will make for those catching the bus.

However, being the hopeful person that I am – I actually think there are a few further steps that we should take to make boardings even faster, particularly at points where a lot of people get on the bus (such as the CBD stops for Northern Express and Dominion Road services). Recently I took this photo of the queue of people waiting to catch the Northern Express outside Britomart:

In these locations I think we need to allow travellers to board through both front and rear doors, and also potentially ‘pre-pay’ their tickets before shifting into a fenced off area – which they could then just pile onto the bus from once it arrived. It seems reasonable to think that such a system could load 60 people onto a bus in around half a minute – massively faster than the current system.

Something like the diagram I’ve drawn below could do the trick:

This is a bit of a “bells and whistles” example, and it could be much simpler with just some ticket ‘posts’ for you to swipe over (fare evasion would be tracked by people on board reading whether you had swiped your card).

Thinking about the impact of such a system a bit more, it could do wonders in reducing bus congestion around points such as Britomart and the busy bus stop for Dominion Road services. I have often seen Northern Express buses blocking up Customs Street waiting for a place to move into – because there bus stop is full of Northern Express buses that are slowly loading up. Eliminating this mess would hugely improve the efficiency of our bus system and also probably eliminate quite a bit of general congestion too.

Let’s hope we start to see some of these sorts of improvements, so we can squeeze the most out of our bus system, so that we can make catching the bus significantly faster and so that we can make buses more reliable. It’s relatively cheap and easy to achieve pretty massive benefits.

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  1. The Northern Express already has rear door boarding at Britomart during the afternoon peaks. A inspector just wheels a hand truck with a ticket machine on the top to the rear door. Fairly sure it’s for cards and passes only too.

  2. So thats effectively the solution used in Curitiba and Bogota, a fare-paid ‘station’ area at the bus stop… and why not? Especially with the NEX it would be dead simple to implement, all you need is a staff member or two and a fenced off section (perhaps under the canopy?).

    It would be very simple to do at the busway stations also, you simply divide the stations into paid and unpaid zones, and have someone selling and checking tickets at the gate.

  3. It isn’t faster boarding… But you could speed up buses significantly by cutting out half the stops. Sometimes they’re just a couple of hundred meters apart and people should just walk a bit further.

  4. I may be dreaming but, hopefully, when integrated ticketing is finally introduced, there will be no such thing as cash fares. Drivers will just drive, no distractions, no clueless customers waving $20 notes for a fifty cent fare and expecting change and directions. They managed to do it in London years ago so it’s not out of the question that we could do it here. It does mean automated ticketing machines at bus stops but this could be one of the rationales for decreasing the number of stops. I’m not sure ARTA has quite grasped the idea that bus boarding times are critical for efficient passage: I understand that at one stage they were proposing that it might be possible to top up passes on the bus; hopefully that particular loony idea has been abandoned. One of the factors behind the success of the TfL Oyster card has been that revenues rose because drivers don’t have the added burden of being responsible for cash handling and all the pressures that entails.

    1. Yes, and Oyster’s uptake, for both bus and underground, was helped by: (a) making a cash fare for the bus a lot more expensive than Oyster (£2 v £1, something like that) (b) for the buses, having a wide spread of ticket machines at bus stops; and (c) no change given on the buses anyway. People learn.

      Edinburgh has some ticket machines at the very busy ‘interchange’ stops, but its £3 day ticket, which you do get from the driver (but no change given) works pretty well too. The logic is that if you have to take two buses to your destination (hence needing a transfer ticket), you will also need to take two buses to get back, so you might as well sell people a day ticket. It’s only paper-based, but this works well, when combined with the Ridacard (=permanent monthly pass) and Government concession card (free travel for people who qualify; a third of the trips in the system are on this basis).

  5. Switzerland and Germany generally have buses where you are assumed to have a valid validated ticket, that you can usually buy from the machine at the bus stop. If they inspect the bus for tickets and you are found not to have one it is an instant fine of about $50.

    Bit of a different attitude here, but it could change.

    They do also do quite a bit with integrated ticketing, which can make car ownership in such a country unnecessary.

    1. Switzerland and Germany have very high levels of car ownership. Where they are the mirror image of, say the UK (which has lower levels of car ownership), is that the levels of car /use/ are lower.

      1. This may be partly the case for Germany but certainly isn’t the case in Switzerland (at least not in the German speaking parts, the French speaking parts have higher car ownership and poorer PT) – I know perhaps 2 people who own cars in Switzerland and these two at the very most use them for ski trips in the weekend. With an extremely comprehensive car sharing programme and very cheap PT it quite literally makes car ownership a luxury and expense that few people see the hassle or worth of.

        But back to the idea of fenced off areas – Switzerland and Germany rely on random checks and instant fines and do not use tag on tag off systems and to be honest I much prefer this system to that employed in the UK with entry gates all over the place. Istanbul in Turkey uses the fenced off boarding platforms idea, and in my view it impeded foot traffic on footpaths and additionally required a lot of space at all the stops – and to be honest is a bit of a can of worms. Is it right to basically privatise a section of the footpath for the benefit of NZBus et al? (ignoring the improvements in PT boarding). However, perhaps it could be employed at high load stations and have all others rely on tagging on in front of the driver, or through all doors and fining people for failing to do so. The Swiss record the details of offenders – offence 1 = 80CHF, offence 2 = 160CHF, offence 3 = 360CH and subsequent offences are followed up in the courts. Considering an 80CHF fine is almost 150% of the price of a monthly pass it really makes no sense not to buy ine.

  6. Once we have integrated ticketing the assumption should be that people will swipe so just open both doors and have sensors at the back too. A reasonably high fine (say $50 or $100) will ensure that people won’t ‘forget’ to swipe. A campaign of enforcement at the beginning of the system will ensure that complying will be the default. All without barriers or other expense.

    I recall a trip to my sister’s in London. She got us Oyster cards for our visit for one simple reason. The local bus that took you to the station was either 2 pounds cash fare or 90p with an oyster card (unfortunately the overland trains at that stage weren’t part of the scheme and we then had to buy a day pass, which covered everything onwards including the bus home). We need that sort of differential to ensure that the integrated ticket system has a high uptake. We also need to discourage the tourist guide approach that some people expect from drivers. Try that in most cities and you’ll get a blank look. Here somehow there is expectation that drivers will tell you what bus you need to catch and when to get off. Fine for the occasional tourist who needs this service but time consuming for the other 40-60 passengers.

    And I suspect all that would happen if the boarding on the link got better would be an even longer stop at Victoria Park.

    1. They have that system on Melbourne trams, and it is abused big time. Just sitting on a tram you can see that 90% of people don’t validate their ticket. Most of those (hopefully) have already validated their ticket earlier or are using a monthly of weekly, but many simply don’t bother to buy one at all. The amount of enforcement officers needed to completely avoid fare evasion would be huge, basically one on each vehicle. Big fines don’t work. Even with a hundred dollar fine you would need be caught more than once a fortnight to make buying a ticket each day cheaper than just paying the fine!

      On the buses people have to board at the front door and validate in front of the driver, and I think Auckland should follow a similar approach (board at the front, deboard at the rear) except allowing for two card readers at the front so that people can tag on to the right while the driver is selling tickets to the left. I’m sorry but it would be very unwise to have no cash fares on buses at all, apart from tourists (who are very important to the Auckland economy) there are some persons who might never go near a ticket machine or station, nor be able to use internet top ups or whatever. I’m thinking seniors here who make up a fair proportion of PT users. Furthermore, it would be a huge barrier to first time users.

      I think having drivers who can inform people on what and where is very important and useful. It is the norm in Melbourne. The worst thing would be to seal of drivers behind a screen where the ignore their patrons and have no interaction with them.

      1. My experience of similar systems in the States and in Europe is that it works quite well and speeds things up considerably. With teams of inspectors you can expect to meet one every few weeks and most people just prefer to pay rather than have the worry of possibly being caught out. Penalties can increase for repeat offenders. It is not just an economic pressure to pay either, there is the social one coming from the shame of being publicly caught while avoiding a fare or people noticing that you get on and don’t validate. You’ll always get some freeloaders (I’ve been one myself) but losses from their unpaid fares and in paying inspectors balance to some extent with increase efficiency, speed and ease of use for others.

        I’m not sure about ruling out cash fares completely but a no-change policy and much higher priced fares for cash both seem sensible to me once a decent alternative is in place.

        And I doubt many seniors in NZ would have problems with cards and so on — they all have a gold-card already.

        1. I don’t deny it speeds things up, in Melbourne there is no delay for fare validation at all as no one does it! My concern is simply with fare evasion. Perhaps they do it better in the States and Europe but in Melbourne the honesty + inspection sytem fails miserably. On the economic side of things it is actually better value to pay a fine once a month than buy a monthly ticket, not that they have much power to actually make you pay fines. On the social side of things, I think the people of Melbourne are still smarting from the withdrawl of tram conductors in the early 90s and consider just hopping on a tram to be their public duty! As I noted above maybe one in ten tram patrons bother to validate their ticket each time they board (although most would have an already valid pass on their person), so no one would ever hit you up for being a freeloader.

          I think the best option would be a board at the front and deboard at the rear policy (this is efficient for passenger flows at stops anyway), and having two (or more) tag points up front so large groups can still board quickly while being under the supervision of the driver. A no-change policy would be useful plus a significant levy on single trips bought from the driver, to the point where you would only buy one at a pinch.

        2. It sounds like they need to up the inspection rate there. I’d say it is the case in a lot of places that it actually cheaper to pay the occasional fine than to pay the fare every time but if you are getting a fine every month or so, it isn’t worth it even if it is cheaper (cos of the hassle of paying a fine). It is also very hard to make the exact economic calculation on a personal basis because the inspectors act randomly, so people tend to err on the side of caution. If noone is paying, that must mean that the chance of getting a fine is very low.

        3. There are already 545 full time equivalent Revenue Protection Officers in Melbourne, thats about one inspector for every 1.5 trains or trams! (they don’t bother with inspecting tickets on buses due to the driver vigilance making evasion almost impossible). They issued over 80,000 infringement notices last year. How many more do you want?

          Another thing to consider is that the existing ticket inspectors salaries alone would cost about $30 million dollars a year, let alone the whole cost of running the department. Would doubling the number of inspectors result in a greater than $30 million dollar increase in ticket sales? Considering that would require around twenty-five thousand extra tickets to be sold every day I doubt it.

          Another thing is the public really really dislike the inspectors, probably because the only human face the public ever sees of the transport system is a gestapo agent in a long trench coat. As a result they are constantly understaffed because no one wants to take the job and the ones that do don’t stay in the role for long.

        4. And I just found a source that states 1 in 41 trips are subject to inspection, which is pretty mammoth considering the sheer volume of trips each day but it does mean you’d be lucky to be checked more than once every two months as an individual.

        5. So how often to do you get asked for your ticket by an inspector? If your numbers are correct, an inspector would need to issue about 1.5 fines an hour to earn their way and that would be easy if over half the passengers arent paying.

        6. Why does it not surprise that Australians are thieving stealing bastards, oh that’s right, it was breed into them 😉

        7. Me personally? I seem to get asked about once every six or eight weeks I guess, athough I would make more that twenty trips a week by PT (it takes me four just to get to work and back each day, although half of those are on buses).

          I don’t follow your figures on 1.5 fines an hour to pay their way. Anyway the current issues with fines is a) people don’t pay them, b) fining people doesn’t seem to stop people evading fares again, c) it doesn’t do anything to increase ticket sales and d) it makes using some parts of the system feel like a police state.

          And I wouldn’t say over half the passengers weren’t paying (maybe 15-20%, I dunno), my point was well over half don’t validate because the system doesn’t require them to which makes fare evasion all too easy.

          About the Aussies being thieving bastards, genetics aside my point is you would see exactly the same outcome in Auckland if they implemented the same system. Rampant fare evasion, people getting find for legitimate problems and the public really hating the regular interrogations.

  7. I’m sorry but your idea is far too sensible for the good folk here in Auckland.

    Living in Montreal one bought a monthly pass which was at a good discount, incentivising people to get one, so many did – and all you did was show it to the driver when you got on board the bus, or swiped it through a turnstile at the Metro. Very simple, very quick.

  8. How about text to topup? Then if you rock up to a stop without a ticket machine you can simply topup your pass from your mobile, bank account or credit card depending on your preference? You could even set it up so you could do all three e.g. TopUp 1 for mobile account topup.

  9. There is already a ticket vending machine at Smales farm for the busway. It works quite well and can even handle 2 hour passes etc. Is there a bus ticket vending machine at Britomart? Haven’t been through in a while, maybe someone could take a look!

    1. No you need to still go to the ticket office to get a Northern Pass from Britomart but yeah all the Busway stations have vending machines for the Northern Pass would be nice if did the discovery pass too.Save me having to get money out of the ATM and buying one on the bus.

      1. Only Akoranga, Smales Farm and Sunnynook have vending machines last I checked. Albany and Constellation rely on the cafes, which are only open in the morning and afternoon peaks. Very inconvenient when you’re a lazy student.

  10. Here in Japan you get on through the back door, take a ticket from the machine, then put the ticket and the exact change in the box next to the driver when you want to get off. If you dont have the exact change there is a changing machine so you can get the correct amount.

  11. Integrated ticketing is the first step, integrated electronic ticketing is the next step. The Oyster card in the London is a good example, top ups to your smart (Oyster) card can be done at many dairies (or the UK equivalent), think of how easy it was to give us Lotto shops. This speeds up driver/passenger interaction by over 700%, do I need to give a reference? *or will you think about that number and work it out for yourselves?)
    It really is that simple. Let’s see what Len Brown has to say about that.

    1. The system being introduced by Thales will be intergrated electronic ticketing with many bells and even some whistles, I believe.

      1. Thales are doing the back end, trains and ferries however it will be up to each bus company to decide who provides the system for their buses and considering that most bus companies also own or are quite involved in companies providing ticketing solutions there is no guarantee that the Thales system will be on each bus. There are of course requirements that the ticketing systems have to meet such as be able to read the tickets and integrate with the Thales back end.

  12. I have actually measured this. Back in the mid-nineties I did the pilot study for bus priority for ARC/ ACC/ WCC. We put surveyors on buses and recorded the time spent travelling freely, delay at intersections, and boarding/ disembarking passengers. It was pretty evenly split, and our conclusion was that there was as much (if not more) scope to reduce travel times in reducing boarding times as there was in any priority measures (bus lanes, signal pre-emption). Your fare-paid zone was one idea put forward then. Integrated ticketing was another. The technology for integrated electronic ticketing has been available since the mid-90’s but so far they haven’t managed to get all the operators agreeing on implementation.

  13. So two-thirds of time spent on buses is when they are not actually moving! So there is the potential to maybe half bus travel times if the boarding delay issue can be addressed and the delays at intersections removed.

  14. “Switzerland and Germany generally have buses where you are assumed to have a valid validated ticket, that you can usually buy from the machine at the bus stop.”

    Some German towns have ticket machines IN the bus or tram (tram example, but the buses have them too).

    The “swipe at the front” with two tagging points system sounds like it would cut down on the worst excesses, and for the rest, you have enforcement officers.

    As for Thales / Snapper whatever – basically, I understand that while the machines may look different, and every provider may try to sell you extra bells and whistles, you can still use the same ticket everywhere (Doh – its integrated ticketing), so it doesn’t really matter whether the machine you are swiping on or off at is Thales or not.

  15. All Melbourne trams have the ticket machine inside, which is another ‘loophole’ for fare evasion as it is perfectly legitimate to board a tram without a ticket.

    I have one concern with the proposed smartcard in Auckland. We have yet to know if all operators will be required to move to an intergrated fare structure, or if an integrate pass would be available in addition to the existing operator fares (like the northern pass). The second option would still keep things quite slow as people would be paying stages and stuff. A further option would be that the card simply acts as a stored value card that is accepted by all operators. While this would be a smartcard ticketing system that minimises boarding time, it’s not integrated ticket at all.

  16. To reply to comments about Melbourne above.

    They need to up the penalties for repeat evasion. I got on to a train in Brisbane yesterday, with every intention of buying the card used to swipe on and swipe off – except that I couldn’t buy one at the suburban station I used. I had a few coins and a credit card. Two police officers were checking passes and took my name down and gave me a warning. I was informed that the first time is a warning, the second time a large fine, and the third time a serious fine. I think a model like this could work well.

    Buses are swipe at the front on entry, swipe off at either exit. 30 passengers on in about 150 seconds (includes those buying tickets with cash), with about 120 seconds to get the same lot off.

    By the way, Brisbane’s PT system is pretty good – electric trains with integrated ticketing, multiple tracking on most lines (3+), beautiful fast busways. But Auckland has some of these elements and will have most soon. Looking forward to seeing the changes when I get back.

  17. Also, there’s about a 20% discount on swipe card ticketing in Brisbane.

    Sydney has entirely pre-paid fares in the CBD, and an increasing number of pre-paid only buses. They’re still not using smart cards though, which would allow quicker boarding. Tickets are sold in dairys and the like.

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