Yesterday we posted about the strange drive by Auckland Transport to be allowed to lower Ridership Targets for both the bus and rail networks. Of course what we struggle most with about this is that it follows on from a record March and all reports suggest that April was very busy too, and that this is continuing now into May. And sure enough yesterday our Twitter feed was full of Tweets like these:




And these are just from the rail network [one from each main line]. We are also used to plenty of complaints about over-full buses driving past stops leaving people stranded. So you have to ask if some at Auckland Transport are really aware what is happening out there? It doesn’t seem that the problem is one of trying to persuade people to take Transit but more that the services often just aren’t there to meet the demand.

Our view has long been that once the frequency and speed of services lift that demand will grow fast, that people are largely rational and will choose to use quality Transit services if they are there, yet it doesn’t seem that the culture of AT is ready for this at all. Perhaps there are too many old hands there holding on to that old saw about ‘people loving their cars’. When really for so long in Auckland it’s been an uneven contest between shabby, infrequent, indirect, and plodding Transit services versus underpriced parking and ever-widening motorways incentivising Aucklanders into their cars at all times.

Yet it could be that we have reached some kind of tipping point between these forces: Right now it looks like a perfect storm is brewing between ‘pull factors’ like improvement in services, and Transit use no longer being considered declassé, and ‘push factors’ such as the rising costs of car use, and the inevitable result of that road building; just too many cars everywhere, causing a surge to the stations and stops.

AT really ought to be more concerned about serving the current volumes of Transit customers better and planning how to serve ever more, better still, than lobbying to expect a lower growth rate.

After all this city has the potential to have an amazingly attractive and successful Transit system that can compete with any city anywhere; the potential is there now, but it will be unable to attract the necessary investment without strong ridership growth and a confident CCO in charge.

Harbour Bridge Bus View
The view from my bus yesterday

Yesterday afternoon I had a couple of meetings one after the other, in the city then Takapuna. Leaving my bike in town I caught an 8-something-something along with about 30 other people from outside the Civic and once through Albert St and onto the new Fanshawe St bus lane it was a fantastic express service to Takapuna, I was there in a flash and with no parking issues and able to check my emails en route. Other than an over long wait for the return bus [18 mins- two turned up at once] the trip back was even better, fast, mostly on proper priority, and with that fantastic view from high up on the bus.

Of course it won’t be too long now and I’ll have the option of savouring this view by making this journey at a gentler speed on the SkyPath! The quality of that route will definitely be in all the world’s magazines and website and help put Auckland on the must visit map.

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  1. I don’t understand, if there is demand, why arent the private companies running more frequent services in those times if possible? Especially if they are losing customers. Isn’t NZ Bus and the like free to run extra buses if they want to? Or does it all have to go through 30 levels of approval in AT/AC?

  2. Running one extra bus service each way per day isn’t very profitable for NZ Bus, due to low asset and staff utilization. So why would they do it?
    Also only happens a few months a year. However if AT were interested in patronage they would run the services regardless.
    Remember these were the same clowns who bought hundreds of tiny buses, and insist on running them at peak times packed out on very busy routes like Mt Eden and the 881.

    1. Back in about 1987 to 1990 I think that NZR was running buses into town from Papakura and out again in the evening using their City based employees as drivers, those buses were parked up during the day. (Some of the drivers may not have been NZR employees). Does anyone else remember this and maybe the details of it’s operation?

  3. This is what happens when you take a rationing approach to services, trying to provide the minimum you can without risk of oversupply. Patronage either stagnates, and you reach your targets, or you lose the growth you could have achieved.

    1. Yes. I have been thinking the same for the last 20 years and I think there are sound economic reasons why public transport systems are better when owned publicly. First there is a coordination problem in public transport. Competitive markets can’t plan or coordinate, they fill gaps as they emerge if there is profit available but they can’t coordinate to provide coverage. Second cross-subsidy is always required. There might be profit in some services or some routes at some times but to attract patrons the system has to be perceived to be complete. Third is PT provides a positive externality so the benefits are greater than the money raised at the farebox. That leads to the conclusion that monopoly is better for public transport just like say the Police force or other services that need to be provided to all regardless of profit. Once you accept monopoly is best for PT then it is a choice of private or public monopoly. Since by definition the customer has little power against monopolies then public ownership is best so you can get governance that ensures the system works in the public interest. Just like health and education really.

      1. 100% agree – I was just thinking yesterday that it is so much like health and education but the Police and the Fire Service (and military) are also good examples. The metrics PT should be judged on are not just financial.
        It may be subsidised but so are roads.

        Hey, mfwic, we agree on something! 🙂

  4. I assume AT’s head office is at 1 Greys Ave and that all AT employees ride transit to work in the centre city so how can they not know that the trains and buses are full. Oh, I get it they have their own buses like Google employees;

      1. And let me guess – none of the roading staff or upper management are in the CBD with them? Hooray for siloisation.

          1. Nope, most of the senior management are in HSBC but the capital teams are in Henderson as there is not an office currently available in the CBD that is big enough for all of AT.

    1. I rather suspect that very few AT employees catch PT to work; certainly the Henderson HQ is surrounded by a sea of well-used car parks. And in any case, you can’t expect traffic engineers to demean themselves by using public transport, can you.

      1. Christopher T – You have to remember that the car parking to the east of the main building is all Council and AT fleet cars with visitor parking and the western larger car parking is jointly occupied by Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and some of the business in Central 1. Auckland Transport does not own the building or the land around it but leases space from Auckland Council.

  5. I believe since the introduction of the Electric trains, the SX (the one with a locomotive at each end) has been unused and it is capable of being a six carriage train, Why is this not in use at peak hour now there is at last some extra capacity in the fleet?

    1. The SX set has been retired and replaced with the ADLs feed up by the Onehunga EMUs. AT was keen to get it out of service as it costs a lot more to run than any other train in the fleet

      1. So we have the ability to improve carrying capacity for passengers right now but it doesn’t suit AT. Please!

        1. It’s not just that, I also believe that train is one of the least reliable (if not the least).

          Also don’t forget that there isn’t an unlimited budget to run whatever they want.

          1. Fair comment on budgets if AT had done everything in the power to deal with fare evasion with their seriously flawed ticketing system but to be honest they have done practically nothing, So worrying about ratepayer money doesn’t stack up.

            Therefore based on this rationale prospective passengers will have to suck it up and take their car.even though AT have the ability to start addressing the capacity problem.

    2. I agree, there should be extra trains / carriages that should be utilised to increase the available seats for the peak trains, the smaller trains should be the first to be removed from service.

  6. Hi goosoid, In Transit is not privatised. A publically owned body, AT, is responsible for the ‘provision’ of transit services while a private body is the ‘supplier’ of the service. Blaming privatisation is an overly simplistic and somewhat hackneyed response. The is the provider of the service, AT, who are wholey responsible and accountable whether its is becasue they designed a wonky service or contracted a supplier they are then unable to ‘control’. Having it all in house would not necessarily fix it. Cheers

    1. I realise it is heresy in NZ to question the neoliberal religion but in this case I just think your opinion is misguided.

      Yes, AT is public but the services are all privatised. As people are saying above, NZ Bus wont put on more buses because the cost-benefit ratio doesnt work for them. AT’s hands are tied at times as they are bound by a contract. If it was inhouse they could make decisions based on good service to customers, not profit motive.

      Of all the European countries I lived in, the worst public transport was Britain. This was also the only one where PT was privatised. I know it has improved but it was shocking. When a country that was only 8 years out of communism (Czech Republic) can run a much more efficient and popular (Prague has the most used Metro in the world per capita) you have to ask where things are going wrong. And Prague is continuing to grow.

      Public doesnt have to mean inefficient. Just like private doesnt mean it is necessarily efficient. PT is a public service (hence the name) not a private business.

      1. The real issue is that for a city to have as effective and efficient Transit service as possible, let alone a dynamic one that is able to change quickly in response to new needs, it must be planned, coordinated and directed from one point. The idea that efficiency is best served by competition runs completely against this fact.

        In theory we do have a coordinating body that subcontracts the delivery of services to competing private operators. But that body, AT, is bound by multi year contracts with private operators, and in any case one of these provides 80% of bus services, so in practice we have neither the power and flexibility of one master, nor much apparent competition. Is this the worst of both worlds?

        Furthermore the private operators own both the vehicles and the depots so barrier to entry for new players is almost insurmountable. Add to that the private operators lobby to twist everything from vehicle standards to detailed route planning to suit their own perceived interest, it doesn’t, from the outside, look like a very clever structure.

        I note that Zurich seems to run a very successful system on this model however, yet this century has seen the authorities in London wind back as much of the privatisation as they can, in the pursuit of efficiency, flexibility, and value for money, which has certainly correlated with huge improvement and expansion of services there.

        When it comes to Public Transit provision it appears that much experience globally suggests that word ‘wasteful’ should always be used in front of the word ‘competition’.

        1. I believe that Perth has a contracting out arrangement but the government authority owns the buses. This is probably important for reducing barriers to competition at the retendering stage.

        2. Zurich system is owned by the canton (council) and by the Swiss Federal Government (runs the SBB). No private operators in terms or rail, tram or bus services. Basically Zurich public transport is like a COO which owns the assets,except for the heavy rail network.

          This is hugely successful. Public ownership works best for public transport from all the evidence I have seen around the world.

      2. It makes no difference if they buses are owned public or private. If a service is to be run, it needs to be paid for – that is AT’s job so if they want more buses, they need to pay up more.

        You cant expect a private business to go out and buy a $500,000 bus just to run one extra peak service each end of the day.

    2. If you think private operators are just awesome, then please tell me about the virtues of our previous operator-led ticketing system(s) or North Shore bus services as they were pre the busway. Or evening and weekend bus frequencies to and beyond Onewa Rd/Highbury. Or the ferries (Waiheke?).

      1. Probably because there isn’t enough demand to run those off peak services commerically – in which case it is AT fault for not funding it.

        It would be exactly the same if AT owned the fleet.

        1. The real issue is less the public/private balance than AT’s continued failure to simply add buslanes to all significant routes. This would:

          -improve, no revolutionise, bus reliability
          -reduce waste, ie cost of having bus and driver sitting in traffic
          -increase service speed for millions of person trips pa
          -increase service utilisation ie lower cost per rider
          -reduce fuel use and pollution
          -obviously increase ridership profoundly
          -improve the city’s productivity

          And the cost?

          -reduction in road space currently dominated by general traffic, either as parking, medians, or general traffic lanes
          -some direct cost; paint, signs etc

          Without of course conducting any kind of full cost/benefit it seems pretty likely from a glance at the two lists above that benefits are likely to outweigh the costs of such a programme. Especially as the transfer of travellers to such improved bus services seem likely to cancel out congestion effects from any reduction in available road space.

          It seem baffling to me that there isn’t a task force dedicated to identifying the most urgent routes for this at AT, or if there is why it has been so slow and ineffective?

          Or am I missing something?

          Perhaps some policy expressed or assumed that little or no auto privilege can be sacrificed for other modes….?

          1. I agree completely.

            I am sure the private operators want to run their full fleets during off peak. Making those changes you suggest make this more financially viable for the companies AND Auckland Transport.

    3. That’s not correct. Until the new network is rolled out the bus operators are on legacy contacts under which they specify services as commercial form to individual runs leaving it up to AT to fund what’s left. The bus companies take all the profitable routes leaving the rest to be subsidised. AT only has do much money with which to buy services. PTOM changes a lot of this and will allow better efficiency so helps in running more routes.

      Also until PTOM AT are just rolling over existing contracts for a year at a time so they are being stung by operators recovering their costs over that period (rather than being able to spread them out over a multi year contract

      1. I’d rephrase your last sentence as follows (my changes “**” delimited).

        Also until PTOM AT are just rolling over existing contracts for a year at a time so they are being stung by operators **who are gleefully** recovering **all** their costs over that period (rather than being **forced** to spread them out over a multi year contract

  7. It seems to me that the quicker our train services go electric the better. I don’t know where Kiwirail and/or AT purchase their electricity from but I noticed in Friday’s Herald that Mighty River Power’s new chief executive, Fraser Whineray’s biggest challenge, is the flat demand that his generating and retailing company faces.
    Think of the overseas funds we could save by substituting excessively available electricity for imported oil. Unfortunately this government’s national transport policies are an unmitigated mess.

    1. As are their energy policies, which are from sometime mid last century, total ignoring resource limits and the urgent need to increase resilience in this vital sector. Drill and hope is the depth of this government’s sophistication; a sort Jed Clampit level.

      1. Thats an insult to Jed!

        Lets be clear, Jed was (barely) feeding his family – but he was doing the best he knew how to, when he lucked into a fortune in oil, no drilling required (except for his bullet hitting the ground).

        This Government has no excuses and should; know, expect and act so much better than it does, and certainly better than Jed ever could.

        But is seems the Government has a “well if we just fire enough bullets off then ‘up from the ground will come a bubbling pool’ and save us all”

        That isn’t gonna happen. And even if it did, do you think we would all turn into the “Southern Pacific Hillbillies” and be welcomed with open arms by our neighbours as a result?

        And as the Greens point out, we (as a nation and a planet) can’t burn more than a tiny fraction of the fossil fuels we could find under the ground from now on, even if we could extract it economically in the first place.

        So having back yard oil wells like “Jed and all his kin” – that may not be turn the big asset this Government hopes and wishes.

        1. One interesting point with regard to the ‘drill and hope’ approach is that a geologist once mentioned to me that very few places as seismical active as New Zealand are atop many liquid or gas Fossil Fuel reservoirs, for the simple reason that even if these were formed originally the subsequent massive rearrangement of the everything have allowed most such concentrations to escape. I guess California is a bit of an exception to this…. Any geologists out there want to comment?

          1. IANAG (I am not a Geologist),

            But I understood the traditional model of Oil exploration required/looked for permeable rock to be capped with impermeable rock “cap”, usually in a upward facing fold of the impermeable rock, to form a nice inverted “funnel” so the the oil and gas would percolate up to the top of the inverted V over the millions of years and sit waiting for the drilling rig to hit it as a nice pool.

            On that basis, Taranaki basin is a classic text case model for that sort of formation which is why its where they all drill for oil and gas and where Maui was. The big disappointment with Maui was no oil was present only gas.

            Anywhere near a fault line, then you would have had the impermeable rock over the oil reservoir broken and so any trapped gases or oils would be able to leak away.
            So yep, where deep faulting exists you won’t find pools of oil.

            When the crustal plate is being sub-ducted (as the Pacific plate is in the North Island – by the Australian Plate) the oil under the sub-ducted plate will have been carried deep underground and either released by faults that develop during this process, or be now too deep to access (Great South Basin anyone)?

            This is also why they look for oil and gas of the East Coast of the South Island and the sea North of Gisbourne, as both are on the “upper” crustal plate and may have trapped oil and gases in them far from the faulting that occurs during sub-duction and subsequent volcanic activity, which will also ruin any gas or oil fields too.

            Now with Frakking, the rules are different as the shale reservoir/rock holds the gas and oil inside the rock itself, so fracking is needed to release the oil and gas, as a result you don’t need the capping rock to capture the gas/oil as its still trapped in the rock. And if the shale is riddled with faults, then a lot of the oil and gas will have leaked out as well. So you need “old” stable rock formations, which have had time to lock up the oil and gas in them. But if the shale is too permeable, then as you frack the rock, the oil and gas will still escape, so you need a shale formation which is not too soft and not too hard (can’t frack it), it has to be “just right”.

            This fact usually precludes anywhere near fault lines or sub-duction zones as the rock will be too new (soft) or munted to have the oil in it still.
            But if you have a plate sub ducting another, then the upper plate may have the right formations and may be just right.

            Again why they do frakking in Taranaki as its the right sort of rock (they hope).

          2. Patrick California (San Andreas fault) is the line between the North American “continental” plate which is either floating over the ocean plate (the good ol’ Pacific Plate like we have down here in fact), or butting up against it – depending where you are in the US.

            So California is a bit like Taranaki – except onshore – and without subduction zone volcanoes like we have.

  8. Hopefully it won’t be long before the shortsightedness of not going with transverse seating will be addressed.
    Better to be a standing as a passengers than sitting at a station.

    1. And better again to be on a bike. Unfortunately the same lack of ambition in some AT circles still exists when it comes to adequately providing cycle infrastructure. More + faster please Lester.

  9. If there is so much latent demand, it would be foolish to sell of the diesels as soon as the EMU order is complete, but rather to maintain them in reserve for several months until demand trends become apparent. It may be necessary to maintain a few peak hour diesel services if there are insufficient EMU’s, as Brisbane did after their initial electrification.

    1. Word is that at the next EMU roll out [eastern line] existing assets will be redeployed elsewhere on the network [western line?]. I have no complaints with them using this first small deployment to retire the horribly expensive and inefficient SX.

      But still there is this worrying issue of the ETCS system actually nobbling speed and therefore frequency and reliability. Trust that this will be sorted well before then.

      1. No argument about the efficiency of the SX but right now its needed I would have thought going by what I see, those photos and tweets. People are turning up to use the system which is great but the trains are too small..

      2. Surely if there are surplus carriages in the SX set, these could be added to existing sets. Running costs would be related mainly to the number of operative sets rather than carriages (within the limits of what the locomotive can pull, and the supply of air-conditioning power from the power van). Or are the current locos and power vans already run at the limits of their capabilities ?

        While a diesel locomotive service would have slower acceleration than an EMU, this could be compensated by the diesel running a limited express service of major stations. This is how the Brisbane diesel services were operated.

        1. No chance to run express trains on our two track network where all lines share track with at least one other and with freight trains. Sure they could not stop at platforms but would soon be stuck behind regular services or one of KR’s freighters.

  10. No mention of 2 hours worth of cancelled services yesterday on the WEST and possibly other lines due to electrical failure in Newmarket, no idea why they couldn’t run trains to grafton at least, rail-buses took forever to come I just ended up getting a go west midtown bus to go to Mt eden, leaving me an hour late to work. PITS at new lynn showed the services as due despite being canceled which also added to my lateness.

  11. Every railway station I have been on around Auckland has CCTV installed. It follows then that someone, somewhere, is actually observing station platforms packed with passengers, some of whom are unable to board fully laden trains.

    This will be seen to be happening every weekday so the various organisations involved in running the trains must be aware of it. Perhaps they can’t be bothered doing anything about it.

    1. Yes AT monitors some 700 CCTVs at stations in a bunker at the far end of Britomart Station. However this is for security purposes… not keeping a track of customer numbers. Anyway the stations are pretty safe places as a consequence.

  12. I took that photo at Middlemore yesterday morning. I was shocked, in a good way, to see the amount of passengers waiting. Approx 100 got on the GI service and the remainder waited for the Newmarket service.

    Raised two issues:

    Middlemore is the 4th busiest station on the network, but has only half the shelter for passengers then Ellerslie station. Terrible on wet mornings.

    We need additional services on in the morning as trains between 7am and 9am are loaded to the max now.

  13. What also needs to be understood that there are an increasing number of peak period cancellations due to “train faults”.

    AT absolutely must understand that the new trains cannot be taking all the attention and the legacy fleet must be maintained to a high level.

  14. I hear the SX set might be revived, presumably someone at AT has noticed soething (this site?) and thought that the DMUs that were doing Onehunga services should strengthen sone other services. The sooner the better for EMUs to manukau at this rate

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