In every aspect of life there are little things that can end up really frustrating. Things that should be really easy to fix but that for some reason never are. Here are a couple of things that really bug me about public transport, all rail-related as that’s what I mainly use.

Show a full RTN Map

Auckland transport classifies the PT network in  a few different ways. The most prestigious of these, and one that all budding PT routes aspire to be, is the Rapid Transit network. This select group consists of routes that largely have their own right of way – the rail network and the Northern Busway. The problem is that if you catch a train, you wouldn’t even know that this high frequency, good quality bus service exists. It simply isn’t shown on the maps, as for some reason AT only ever seem to show mode centric maps. To me it would be such a simple problem to solve – on the rail maps add in the Northern Express. After all, the Northern Express services are run just like a rail line with buses only stopping at the busway stations.  The same signage should also be displayed at busway stations and on the buses themselves.

Network Map
Why not add in the Northern Express route?

Going a step further, it would be even better if the signage at Britomart showed the connection. The point of all of this is to show the RTN network as a whole, rather than just a mode specific map.

Fix the rail text service

This one really bugs me. Auckland Transport have a free service that will send you text message updates if there are problems with services that you normally catch. A great idea, when it works. However, far too often it simply doesn’t, with some text messages coming though hours, or even days after the event. Not very useful. When they do work correctly, it frustrates me how each message comes from a different number. It means that the alerts clog up my inbox with random numbers, instead of allowing me to aggregate them within one contact. At this point I feel that if AT can’t resolve the problem then they need to pull the service, as it really is unprofessional.

If they do get the alerts working correctly, it would be great if they linked the messages  to other services – e.g. twitter and mobile apps.

 The use of the term ‘Operational Incident’

Related to the point above, it seems that 90% of the time the reason given for any delay is an “Operational Incident”. Basically anything that doesn’t fall into the category of signals, points or train failure gets lumped into this category. So it covers a wide variety of issues such as not enough drivers, poor management, slow passengers, drivers running a red signal, and everything in between. A catch-all phrase to describe that something has gone wrong without saying what the actual problem is (most likely because it would make AT or Veolia look bad). The problem is that passengers are getting thoroughly fed up with not being told what is actually happening, and I’m hearing frequently from people who say they are giving up using the trains as a result. AT/Veolia need to start giving out more detailed information about what is happening during a delay (even if it could be embarrassing for them), otherwise it’s likely that patronage will continue to drop.

Train speakers

This is actually two issues. First is the new habit of train managers (the ones who open the doors) to announce every few stops who they are. Is it just a way for staff to fill in time since they don’t collect tickets any more? While it might be useful for first-time users, the vast majority of passengers are regulars who just get frustrated with the constant messages. Related to this is the volume of the onboard train speakers. I’m not sure if it is a technical issue or not but they almost always seem to be either ear piercingly loud (especially the door closing sound), or so quiet that you can’t hear them. Can we please get these set to the same level across the whole fleet?

These are just a couple of examples. What are the little things that bug you when using PT? (and no I don’t count the real-time system not working properly as a little thing)

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  1. Having buses serving different routes with the same number. An example: the 880 – one bus goes clockwise, one anti- clockwise on a loop. Get on the wrong one and it is a long ride home! Would it kill them to give one a different number? It would make life a whole lot easier for passengers.

    1. What about consolidating the route numbers on Mt Eden Rd (274, 275, and 277) to be 27a, 27b and 27c. The “27” bit indicates Mt Eden Rd (which 90% of passengers care about) whereas the a,b,c indicates route variants at the end.

  2. Matt I am sure I have told you how the Rail Text Message service works, who actually runs it (it is not AT) and where the five actual servers for the text messaging system are (which are not in NZ) – this includes why they use (when they shouldn’t) “Operational Incident…”

  3. The train manager announcement thing is a standard thing over in the UK. I have noticed however, that as train manager staff are not busy collecting tickets, they are able to give good updates on what is going wrong when the trains are inevitably late- yesterday we got a detailed reason on what had gone wrong and how long we would be stopped outside Britomart, which was great. What would be good is for them to give reminders to get passengers to move down the carriage- often people bunch around the doors and it becomes a huge crush.

  4. No automated messages at stations just prior to train arrival. Trains literally arrive without warning which is downright dangerous in my opinion. Since train control know the exact position of trains at any given time and have access to the PA at each station, it would be so easy to pipe through either an automated message or say ‘manually’ – “Your attention please. A train is approaching the platform. For your safety, please stand behind the yellow line.”

    1. Yes! Absolutely. I’m not sure they have actual independent access to the PA at every station rather than one PA for the whole line, since every delay announcement I’ve heard at Morningside has been a generic one addressed to all points on the Western line from Grafton onwards…

  5. Trains stopping anywhere along the platform. This is especially problematic at long platforms such as New Lynn, particularly with short trains. While AT has installed cats eye markers for LEs to judge where to stop they’re not used all that often most notably with 2 car ADLs. Variations in stopping cause delays with boarding passengers. In the UK I’ve noticed that stopping patterns are more closely regulated and passengers generally know where to wait so that they can board speedily. This is achieved by clearly marking where a particular consist stops and indicating on PIDs the number of carriages forming the consist e.g. a two car ADL would be indicated as Britomart (2) while a six car SA Britomart (6).

    Oh and warning announcements when a non-stopping trains are passing through stations. They’re often fast and can create quite a vortex on the platform; passengers see or hear an approaching train and position themselves to board only to find themselves imperilled by the passing service.

    1. Slightly off thread perhaps – memory of travelling in Germany, boarding a long distance train at an intermediate stop with booked seat. How long will this train be? Where should I wait to board car 5?

      Never fear. On the platform is a large board showing the complete consist of EVERY train that stops there during the day, mapped onto marked out, carriage length sections of the platform.

      These details are nothing to do with infrastructure – it’s just a matter of being competent and organised. It puts ANZ rail travel to shame.

      1. This system is used in a number of countries in fact – Sweden has it most definitely at every train station. Japan has it for the Shinkansen or special trains with green cars. It’s such a little thing, but it is so important and so useful – especially when one has such variable train lengths.

  6. I am now cycling to work, but once or twice a week use the train to rest. Not once have I had my AT card checked, or even once when I had a paper card it wasn’t checked. I mean it is their job to do it, and it must be costing AT loads.

  7. I brought this up with Veolia on one of their open days. The respose was that it was just a bit ‘too hard’, as there are so many different configuarations of trains.

  8. I work with a guy who takes the train from Papakura to Newmarket daily. He said that the other day, they announced mid-journey that the train was now an express (i.e. direct to Britomart) so all other passengers must disembark and wait for the next one. Presumably it helps meet the train arrival criteria – obviously it’s not important about the passengers as long as the train gets to the destination. Great way to put people off. And it’s happened several times, not just once.

  9. Hopefully this will be addressed when the EMUs start running.

    In countries where PT is organised, such as Japan, the stopping points of each type of train are marked on the platform, and often colour-coded. This allow people to queue for multiple trains coming without getting in each other’s way. Lines are also marked to keep the centre of the door position open to allow easy passage out for people getting off. Simple and effective.

    This is the sort of low-cost improvement that makes life for everyone easier that Auckland should aim for. It’s low-hanging fruit, well within reach…

  10. Well, this explains why you find driving so stressful. I think most people wouldn’t care about your raised frustrating concerns in the slightest.

  11. Unnecessary crush and waiting when boarding: bus drivers should make sure that they open the rear doors of the bus when people are exiting.

    Oh, and bus drivers playing their radios. It irks me to no end being forced to listen to music – as passengers we’re not allowed to play our music for everyone to hear, so how about they don’t play us their vomit-inducing repetitive pop music (or any noise we didn’t ask for)? Same goes for the infamous onscreen ads.

    Not announcing when there’s a long wait or not announcing how long a wait there is; nothing worse than sitting there on the bus not knowing how long before it leaves again, especially if you have to be somewhere on time and there’s only one more stop to go. And no, an automated announcement about there possibly being a wait doesn’t cut it.

    All small things, but they can invariably help lift customer service levels if improved on.

    The idea of warning of approaching trains sounds good, by the way. As does indicating where on the platform the train will be stopping.

    1. “Oh, and bus drivers playing their radios. It irks me to no end being forced to listen to music – as passengers we’re not allowed to play our music for everyone to hear, so how about they don’t play us their vomit-inducing repetitive pop music (or any noise we didn’t ask for)?”


      1. +1, especially when it’s 1) LifeFM or 2) ClassicGold. Ritchies bus drivers are the worst offenders at this in my experience.

        I’d also add: Noisy advertisements on the bus, ala Link. When I’m alone I like peace and quiet on the bus as it’s usually nice downtown. When I’m travelling with someone else then I want to be able to talk to them without having to compete with noise from music/advertisements.

  12. To the “Announcements in the Train”: i guess that will be anyways history with EMUs because if they are not buying a totally outdated technology, usually no “train manager” is needed. In fairly no other country I was riding a train in the last 15 years (except for long distance rides) i had a conductor in the train, only a the traindriver. Even with far suburban communter services, up to 70-100 km away you rarely see staff except of fare inspectors. So my hope is that the use the staff then for more checks at stations and in busses, too. As mentioned above the fare evasion is a serious problem which will even get worse. I frequently see people boarding without ticket or tagging on.

    Another issue what is pretty annoying and really easy to fix are the incredible long queues on the ticket machines. Getting some more running could not be a big deal, e.g. on the level between entrance of Britomart and the platforms. That is totally unused Space yet. Or if you enter Britomart from the backside, there could be also 2 additional ones easily placed.

  13. The monitoring of paper tickets!!!

    It is appalling how manual this process is.
    Why when they designed the Hop Card system, did they not include paper tickets in this system? Perhaps scanning through the gates via RFID, or barcode, or QR Code, or maybe even the old faithful “carpark style, put card in here” type reader?

    This is especially a pain when you’re the only one entering the station whilst 200 people are leaving. I have often had my ticket missed by the “Revenue Protection Officers” as there are simply too many paper-ticket passengers for them to keep up with.

    I know, I know – why not get a Hop card and avoid this inconvenience? Well, that would be because I also use the Northen Express bus and my paper 7-Day Northern Pass is by far and wide the most cost-effective way for me to transfer between the two transport formats.

  14. Hi Matt L – I am actually not so convince adding the Northern Express to the map is such a clear-cut thing. Most USERS seem to think in modes (they just don’t call them that). Its only us transport nerds who easily think in terms like RTN and what they mean. And that RTN to/from the Shore can still get caught in traffic jams between Northcote and Britomart…

    If a user (or even more likely, a visitor) saw that map with the Northern Express, I would expect him to start wandering about Britomart to see where the trains to the Shore go from!

    Maybe there is a way to logically show that it isn’t a train service, yet add it to the train map anyway?

    1. Show the Northern Busway as a line, but interrupt it just before ‘Britomart’ and add a big bus icon in between the line and ‘Britomart’?

    2. Max, be careful catering too much to the status quo. After all, changing the status quo is what marketing is all about. Most people think of PT as being the bus that takes them to work – but show them a network map (i.e. London) and suddenly they’ll start seeing new opportunities for using PT. Moral of the story: The Northern Line should be on the rapid transit map (and that’s what it should be called).

        1. And once we have reinforced the RTN as the premium brand then we can start to fill in the frequent network around it. Success! As the Dutch would say …

          1. Not sure. We could adopt either a) “success” [Dutch] or b) “bra” [Swedish, short for bravo]. Any others? “Muy bien” perhaps?

  15. Whoever decided to put the bike rack in the SD car, right next to the only door on the train that’s half the size of all the others… what were you thinking?

  16. Buses with the windows covered over in advertising, black out film or green fern transfers meaning you can’t see out of the windows (which makes me feel travel sick sometimes). Express buses not being very clearly marked as such then the drivers stopping every time someone says they didn’t know it was an express and they want to get off. Make them go the whole way – it’s the only way they’ll learn!

    Generally I find the buses much better than the trains now though, especially with the changes to the New North road route. A real time sign at the new starting bus stop on Victoria street would be nice but to be honest I find I am often the only person getting on a bus there in the afternoons!

    I was catching the train for a while but the bus is now faster and more convenient. And just seeing all the cock-ups AT make with rail just gets too frustrating after a while.

    1. Boom! Proof is in the bus pudding. Really interested in your feedback on the New North Road changes – can you email me:

        1. Yes, I was referring to the benefits of a focus on simple/frequent network patterns, rather than bus versus rail. I’m expecting the latter to kick ass once all the technical shenanigans that have plagued the last few years are sorted.

  17. People eating hot food on buses or trains and drivers or train conductors not telling them off.

    I’ve made it an effort to snap photos of people eating on trains. I’ve even got a photo of someone from Kiwirail (with high-viz vest) chomping into his bacon-and-egg Subway breakfast sub. While chatting with the TM.

    Maybe I should start posting them online somewhere 😀

  18. +1 against the “Operational Incident” description being applied to cover countless faults. It’s a useful label for the operator, but for users it’s more frustrating than informative.

    +1 against train platforms not being labelled with the direction of the train – not all platforms have the electronic boards.

    +1 against the undersupply of ticket machines at Britomart. When I go through Britomart, around 5:45pm usually, the queues are horrendous. I have an AT HOP card so don’t have to wait, but I feel sorry for the passengers (particularly first-time users) who wait 5-10 minutes to buy a ticket and then miss their train.

    And to balance it out slightly – one little thing that is positive is the TV at Britomart tuned to Sky Sport. When I’ve arrived at the station a bit early and there’s some cricket on, I do appreciate having something to pass the time.

    1. I kind of disagree with the suggestion that they need to supply more ticket machines. Reason being 1) the machines themselves are quite expensive to install and maintain; 2) The queues provide an incentive for people to get a HOP card; and 3) Once HOP uptake picks up then the queues for the machines will drop off …

      1. If there aren’t enough ticket machines, where is everyone meant to top up their HOP card? Admittedly I haven’t taken the train much recently, but last time I was at Britomart all I saw were huge queues without much to distinguish if any were HOP top-up only. Ticket/top-up machines need to be everywhere.

  19. And another little thing – the unrealistic scheduled timetables. My morning service is scheduled to reach Britomart at 8:15am – this happens maybe once a fortnight. Generally it’s 8:20am, +/- 3minutes. Maybe the schedules don’t reflect increased dwell times on the busy services as passengers hop on and off? Whatever the cause, it would be more useful for the schedule to show the typical times achieved in practice, rather than the ideal.

    On that note, it would be fantastic to get access to the reliability/performance stats broken down per service, rather than per line. Seeing the Western Line overall has an 80ish% punctual rating doesn’t mean much when my service is closer to 40% or so.

    1. Good point Jordan – I’ve often wondered about this too. I mean, if 20% of rail services are late, but that 20% of services all run in the peak, then it’s having a disproportionately large impact on passengers’ perceptions of reliability. On the other hand, trains running late outside of peak times would have a relatively smaller impact on passengers’ perceptions.

    2. the problem is that if the services run late often, but not always and you put a late(ish) time in at intermediate stations, a new user might reasonably expect the service to arrive at the published time and have a nasty surprise when it’s running “on time” and they miss it, really the only answer is the high frequency “no timetable” level of service

  20. The placement of the tag on tag off machines at the stations I go to is random. I watched a blind friend attempt to tag on at papakura. He came down the stairs on Platform 2 because he is using his dog he has to drop the rigid lead. Then he loses the hand rail and has to tap dance along the yellow dots … he doesnt use a white stick. and wade thro molasses to find the tag on machine. It makes him look silly and it certainly isnt my idea of treating people with respect. When I contacted AT the basic answer was we have done our bit to design the station to make it easier for people with disabilitys. Tjhe design may have been thought out but the as builts certainly are not helpful for vision challenged people.

  21. The RTN map is a no brainer we need to get people thinking in terms of an integrated network not seperate modes. Once Hop is bedded in this has to happen.

  22. Lights on buses. Both the inside lights (which are almost non-existent on some services) and the display lights on the front of the bus. Catching a poorly lit bus at night does not make me feel safe, as well as preventing me from doing anything useful during the trip (reading, etc). The main culprits seem to be the older buses in the NZ Bus fleet. They also often have very dim display boards on the front, to the point where I’ve had to flag down a bus in order to check the number.

  23. Late addition… Bus drivers who threaten to throw you off the bus when you slip past cash-paying people to tag on with your hop card, accusing you of queue jumping and using the exact words “hey you, you want a ride or you wanna walk?“ and dismissing any denial or apology. Good way to treat your loyal customers, whoever runs the outer link!

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