An interesting opinion piece in the Herald this morning from Dr Imran Muhammad of Massey University.

Momentum must begin with fresh look at the problems facing Auckland’s network.

Auckland is renowned for its congestion and has some of the worst levels of public transport provision in a western city in the developed world. Eighty-seven per cent of Aucklanders travel to work by car and get stuck daily in traffic.

Just 7 per cent use public transport to get to work. Why is this the case, and why are some buses in Auckland always empty?

Ask anyone on the streets of Auckland, and the response is often that Auckland public transport does not meet their travel needs.

And if public transport fails to serve the large number of commuters travelling during peak hours, how can it benefit shoppers, students and low-income people who travel during non-peak hours?

Historically, the function of public transport has been to provide mobility for people without access to cars. Fifty years ago this meant the great majority of urban dwellers, but by the 2006 Census only 8 per cent of Kiwi households were without cars.

But the future risks of this dependence on cars – increased social and economic costs and environmental impacts – mean cost-effective and less polluting alternatives must be found to efficiently serve the urban transport needs.

There is a real need for good-quality public transport in Auckland.

He also notes some of the problems we are facing, all things that this blog is trying in some way to help address:

Institutional challenges in Auckland may include, but are not limited to, conflicting priorities at central and local government levels, political ideologies that influence transport strategies and funding systems, limited opportunities for genuine community involvement, lack of co-ordination between different public transport modes and the pro-automobile mindset embedded in societal, professional and institutional culture.

And lastly:

In 2013, I will start a project, funded by a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fast-Grant, to develop a new approach that enables in-depth understanding of the nature of institutional challenges for public transport in Auckland.

I am particularly keen to work collaboratively with political parties, central and local government officials, professionals, civil society, activists, researchers and primarily with the diverse and exciting communities of Auckland to create positive change that will assist in developing a first-world public transport system for Auckland; Aucklanders desperately need such a system.

Dr Muhammad will have a big job ahead of him and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with but I think perhaps the most important thing is we are starting to see some interest in new research on public transport from universities which is extremely positive. I also note that he has previously been involved in looking at public transport planning including being involved in this paper for the NZTA which looks at the best practice way to develop PT networks which uses the same principles used in our new bus network redesign.

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  1. he’s already quoted a couple of the usual suspects in the article, Newman and Mees, it will be interesting to see if he comes up with something refreshing and insightful, here’s hoping

    for a touted PT expert, Newman is rabidly anti bus which he revealed in answers to genuine questions in a seminar in Auckland some years ago

  2. One way in overcoming public transport problems that has worked in some places is defining where you want to be, ie you indicate the provision of trams, buses, trains, where these would be, down to the type of rolling stock, wait times and the experience you want from using these and the transport choices./ modal split ect ext. You also need to then define when this might be and work backwards in terms of programming what is required to achieve this?

    It is an approach used in a lot of developing nations successfully where funds are accessed overseas to provide the PT, the denominator being a strong outcome focus and driving a project forward. Would such an approach be even feasible in NZ?

  3. Oh good, another report. I would expect your blog site will be essential research material. And imagine interviewing Mike Lee, Gerry!
    $345,000 – Is that for living expenses whilst undertaking the research? Dr Muhammad must be a happy man.

    1. I think it sounds like a useful report – rather than just another report on the obvious need for better PT – it sounds like it will be looking at why the advice is being ignored.

      $345k for 3 years is good to keep him going but certainly not excessive.

      I’m looking forward to hearing what Dr Muhammed finds.

    2. We are in a pickle here then Jeff. Either $345,000 for Dr Muhammed’s three year research on the politics of Auckland’s Transport, or AT going to blow the same amount for one year hiring PT Professional Experts if this article was anything to go by: to “fix” our rail slump….

      Will be interested to see the report in three years time that I am certain – but the cost compared to getting a PhD student to go do the same thing for their thesis – okay head scratching there…

      1. Yep, I don’t think PT can wait for three years but good luck to him. I’ve commented before on both this and the Campaign blog sites, how about doing some simple stuff like a customer survey or a suggestion box at major stations. See what’s of concern to your customers. It’s probably some of the same stuff that’s caused other people to switch back into their cars but some attention might avoid further bleeding of patrons.

        And what’s the response? Start hassling everyone to see their cards, tickets to see they’ve paid. The October timetable changes haven’t helped. The phasing of southern and western line trains is a shocker: the western line train pulls out just as you arrive, wait twenty minutes for the next. My mum used to be able to catch a regular service to Sylvia Park on the eastern line to Papakura. Now only sporadic.

        We’re a long way from a customer based service and I’m beginning to think Dr Levy’s initial talk about it may have been lip service (unless he’s grappling with bigger issues to start with). And I’m sure things will improve with electric trains, but that’s a long way off. Now where’s my prosaic.

        1. To be fair to Dr Levy, I get the feeling that the organisation has some pretty deep rooted secrecy issues and that is an attitude that can take year. I had a brief chat to him at the last board meeting and am hoping to be able to sit down and have a proper discussion with him soon.

      2. I don’t think you really understand how the academic system works, for starters the university takes around 1/3rd of that grant to cover facilities that they provide, then money needs to be spent on equipment and research supplies, then he likely has to pay for the stipends of PhD students that he is supervising, then there’s his own salary. The money he has received is pretty small in the scheme of things. As far as your suggestion of ‘saving’ by getting a PhD student to do it, you do realise that PhD students need someone to supervise them don’t you? If no postdocs/professors can be funded because they’re supposedly too expensive then there will be no PhD students either.

        1. I have an appreciation for the academic system being University of Auckland Alumni and while at university studying (Geography, Anthropology, Politics and Planning) was involved in Vice Chancellor Committees where research and subsequent grants like Dr Muhammad received would of been mentioned.

          In saying that I am not rejecting outright Dr Muhammad’s research into the politics of Auckland’s Transport, just pondering out loud the $345,000 and what it would cost for a PhD student to do it.

          In saying that I would rather pay the $345,000 and wait three years for Dr Muhammad’s report than AT going and blowing the same amount on “professional p/t experts” to “fix” the rail patronage slump currently happening…

          1. I think study by Dr Muhammed and the investigation work undertaken for AT are two quite distinctly different things, both in terms of timescale (3 years versus something in a matter of months) and also focus (very broad analysis of transport and politics in Auckland versus specifically looking at what’s happening to patronage).

            That said, I don’t see why Auckland Transport needs to bring in external consultants to look at what’s happening to patronage. Surely that should be the focus of pretty much everything they’re doing.

  4. Not really getting at him Matt. My point being: ask your customers, how can the service be improved? Try some simple stuff. But if there are such secrecy issues then I guess they’re not going to ask their customers.

  5. Nuts I lost what I was replying to there. Okay round two.

    I agree with your sentiment there Jeff I do as I can relate to it having come out of the said industry. However there has to be a lot of repairing of confidence and trust with rail passengers as I would safely say it has been shattered pretty hard.

    I do like the idea of the suggestion box – although there are the current Maxx Feedback forms available at Britomart, Newmarket, New Lynn and Papakura Stations as well as the AT Website portal to give one’s suggestions. However in saying that I do remember asking passengers to fill out the form but most would not. They told me countless times that they believed in their hearts and minds that filling out the form would do nothing but gather dust in a back room somewhere in AT. To compound it there was the risk you either got a delayed acknowledgement or none at all on your feedback on the public transport service. So something has to be fixed there with and for passengers.

    Heck a recent case of passengers just simply not bothering due to them not feeling like they are being treated like customers by AT is the roll out of AT-HOP. Every morning and afternoon I would for the benefit of the passengers Twitter AT every single blinking day passing on messages which Rail Ticket Machines or Tag posts were not working so that they could be repaired and brought online quickly. This would be at and advantage when running up and down the rail network at 5am and 2pm so that techs could be sent out to bring the machines online in time for the primary peak services. After day 12 of this I simply just gave up… You can figure out why…

    As for the timetabling issues and gaps in the Eastern Line services – yep know about those all too well.

    Here is this one for you Jeff, do you know that the On-Board Fare starts Monday and do you know what to do if a ticket machine or tag post fails at a station? And be honest with me answering this one please and feel free to check the AT websites first

    Reason why I ask is because it will fit into Dr Muhammad’s research quite nicely. Because our trust and confidence in p/t is rather low – maybe due to politics you can see why Auckland is pushing the preverbial barrow up the hill to get our P/T projects gaining steam and moving. Although in saying that we are making grounds but just too often we lose traction in the drive of going forward.

    As for Dr Levy – no comment there as I’ll wait a year first ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I have seen an extension to this for the trains – actually have been in the same room where the data was entered for train tracking and real time information.

        As for social media – AT does have their twitter account

          1. Hopefully they get together with Nokia to get realtime onto my Lumia as a android / iPhone app doesn’t help in the slightest ๐Ÿ™‚

          2. LOL ๐Ÿ˜› yes I do spam your FB with my blog ramblings in a near daily basis.

            But in all seriousness Twitter is AT’s main social media interaction. Most days when I do ping them I get some sort of reply.

            AT on FB would be [enter thought here]

          3. Thanks Hamish. It’s not bad but there’s already a fantastic app on my phone (Nokia Transport). It just needs the realtime data.

            Ben, maybe AT should ask the users what kind of interaction they want as a first step in communicating with them? None of my friends use Twitter (as far as I know). A FB feed, to replicate the Twitter feed, would be pretty easy to set up I would have thought and would potentially give a much broader reach.

          4. Thanks Hamish. Itโ€™s not bad but thereโ€™s already a fantastic app on my phone (Nokia Transport). It just needs the realtime data.

            Yeah, it really would be great for AT to release the realtime data so it can be used by companies like Google and Nokia in creating tools that go far beyond a simple bus stop sign.

  6. I have and do use the AT portal for my suggestions. I had not noticed the Maxx feedback forms before. Great, thanks for that.

    Sadly I agree, many people are quite apathetic. Had they filled out the feedback form before? I would expect not in most cases because they have a deep-rooted feeling that to do so will have no effect. They will continue using public transport with a grudge until they get to the point one day where they swap back into the cars.

    I on the other hand are one of those people who like to raise matters because I feel it aids progress.
    I had an issue a while back with slippery changing room floors at the local swimming pool. Someone could easily slip and damage their skulls on the benches. I suggested to staff getting some rubber mats. The second time I suggested this they told me to put my suggestion in the suggestion box. We then got nice safe matting. I’m not saying I’m responsible for this but I at least feel I contributed to improving a situation.

    I will definitely use the Maxx feedback form, thanks. I don’t know why I didn’t notice them before.

    As for the situation on Monday, no, I’m not sure what I’ll do if the tag posts are not working! I would expect if the tag-on post wasn’t working I would raise the issue with the train’s TM, and certainly with any revenue officers on the train! If it was the tag off at say, Avondale, I would need to find a phone number on the AT website about this so I’m not penalised. It’s a great point.

  7. Let’s just put this “slump” in context:
    1. Overall patronage still seems to be growing, albeit much more slowly than it has in the past. Rail patronage has dipped slightly, but this comes off a period where fares have increased faster than bus fares, mainly because we needed to bring fares for the two modes into alignment. So it’s actually a slow down in patronage growth, rather than a slump. Meanwhile below the scenes there seems to have been some shift from rail to bus, but that’s possibly reasonable given that rail was previously subsidised to a much greater degree.
    2. For the last ten years Auckland has embarked on the largest road building spree the city has ever seen, e.g. Grafton Gully, CMJ, SH20, and SH18. Meanwhile our planning regulations require vast amounts of free parking to be provided with every new development. The upshot is that people can drive relatively fast and relatively cheaply whenever they want, which in turn reduces the potential market for public transport. The slowdown in patronage growth on the Northern Express, for example, appears to coincide relatively well with the opening of the Victoria Park Tunnel, which seems plausible.

    I’m not sure it’s as big a problem as people make out, especially given that many of the issues with rail reliability are being worked on. Or am I underestimating the issues?

      1. Oh, missed that one, Christmas and all, well done mate, that post should be published and forwarded to all AT high-ranking officers…;)

  8. The things that make for good public transport are well known. Frequency, reluabity, convenience etc whilst surveying users can add specific/local detail, it seems the focus of this research will be more on the institutional factors that contribute to poor quality decision making. We have a modal balance that is reflective of what we pay for. The big question is why the bulk of our transport professionals and politicians continue to fund plan for predominantly roaring capacity when history has shown that this response is largely ineffective?

      1. Conor doesn’t really care what type if PR is installed or not. Just so long as the buildings go upwards.

        While discussed on the Campaign blogsite under the Draft October timetables released post, maybe a review of the impacts from the changes from you hard-working moderators? I expect that trains in and out of britomart may be smoother but there have been some worsening effects to other parts of the network.

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