Auckland Transport is to launch new bus livery next week that will eventually roll out across all buses in the region. Once complete there will no longer be the multi coloured mess we have now with every operator having their own competing brand. Where this is going to be particularly useful is in areas where multiple operators run services, for example along Gt North Rd which is served by buses from NZ Bus (Metrolink and Go West) along with Ritchies. Integrated ticketing has made catching the next bus easier and a common livery will help reinforce that the PT network is all part of a single system. As such this clearly represents AT taking greater ownership of the customer experience rather than just leaving it up to the operators.

Auckland Transport is about to give the city’s public transport network a fresh, clear, consistent brand.

Over the next three years the branding will be phased in starting with the LINK services and the Northern Express.

Auckland Transport’s General Manager Marketing and Customer Experience Mike Loftus says a single identity will give Aucklanders and visitors a clearer understanding of what public transport is on offer and which areas specific buses, trains and ferries serve.

“Most metropolitan cities have a single brand network that is easy to recognise and enables clear, consistent communication with customers. Currently in Auckland there is no single identity, we have a variety of brands and looks. Customers relate to buses by the operator name rather than the wider public transport network”.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport Mark Lambert says having a single public transport network will ultimately build public confidence in the developing and improving public transport system. “Knowing that all the services are integrated and part of the same system will help grow patronage”.

The branding will mean common livery across public transport vehicles but differentiated by colour depending on the type of service.

The implementation of the livery is already underway and budgeted for on the electric trains.

Costs for the bus fleet will be kept to a minimum through:

  • retention of ocean blue for Rapid Network services (Northern Express is already this colour)
  • retention of red, green, orange and light blue for existing targeted services of the City LINK, Inner LINK, Outer LINK and Airbus
  • the rest of the bus fleet to be transitioned as part of new contracts and costs incurred through new contract rates

Mr Lambert says Auckland’s bus operators are aware of the changes and are working with Auckland Transport.

The Auckland Plan looks to double public transport trips from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022. The Auckland Plan’s priorities for Auckland’s transport system include “a single system transport network approach that manages current congestion problems and accommodates future business population growth to encourage a shift toward public transport.”

The new branding will be unveiled next Tuesday 16 December.

This is something we first highlighted at the end of September after it appeared in the Auckland Transport Board report. In addition an image of what the buses may look like was included although it’s possible that there have been tweaks or changes to the designs since September so we can’t say for sure what they’ll look like.

Updated from AT: As you know We have the big brand reveal nextTuesday which is really important to us as part of our public transport and customer work. We would most appreciate it if you could take down the images of the branded buses until the launch.

Possibly related to all of this is this opinion piece from Pattrick Smellie highlighting that some of the operators aren’t happy with the new contracts that AT will be rolling out.

Instead, they argue that AT has produced draft contracts that contain almost none of the elements of the desired “relational” contract model, sticking instead with a pre-2008 “transactional” approach.

Not only that, but they argue AT is trying to lump private bus operators with contract terms that make them bear the risk of things that only AT can control, and which could see them financially penalised if things go wrong.

Especially galling was that AT had drawn up these draft contracts over a three-year period, yet made them available for feedback from bus operators only in September, at which point all hell broke loose.

Concerned not to be tarred with the easy accusation of “resisting change” when they have been seeking it, the bus operators – principally Infratil-owned NZ Bus, supported by the New Zealand Bus and Coach Association – sought expert advice from accountancy firm KPMG and investment bank Cameron & Company.

Both concluded that the draft contracts were seriously deficient, even after some of the most onerous elements were withdrawn.

There was insufficient security of tenure, risks were badly mismatched, and financial incentives were unlikely to work as intended because of the punitive mindset underlying the contracts.

The result was likely to be a cost-cutting, compliance mentality rather than a value-creating, innovative environment in which new investment would be encouraged, both sets of advisers concluded.

However, when final submissions on the new draft contracts closed this week, their basic shape had not altered significantly.

Bus operators now hope that the central government funding body, the New Zealand Transport Agency, which must sign off the new contracts, agrees that they don’t do the job. Transport Minister Simon Bridges is aware of the issue, but not yet engaging actively.

It’s hard to tell if this is just the bus companies having a whinge or if there is something deeper that’s concerning them. One suggestion I saw yesterday was that AT are going to be controlling the advertising both on and in buses. That should hopefully scale back some of the horrid full bus wraps we see regularly on some buses. The problem is that a decent number of our bus operators currently don’t have any advertising at all so this could see the practice become more widespread. Hopefully it’s something we’ll find out next week when the new livery is revealed.

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  1. God dam here the council is looking for money from every area they can .but why spend this extra money on a fleet that is looking ok now ..when are they going to stop this stupid expenditure and start saving some money

    1. Makes no sense for me for them to start on the Link buses. These already have a consistent and differentiated theme. I hope AT isn’t paying in anyway for that as it isn’t an improvement.

        1. Not sure I understand Patrick.

          “Over the next three years the branding will be phased in starting with the LINK services and the Northern Express.”

          It says the red, lime and orange colours of the link buses will be retained in the new branding, not the branding as a whole.

          The other thing I noticed is many link buses have had the link branding painted over especially in the front. Not sure why this is.

        2. This bit:

          ‘Costs for the bus fleet will be kept to a minimum through:

          retention of red, green, orange and light blue for existing targeted services of the City LINK, Inner LINK, Outer LINK and Airbus’

          Not much is going to happen to the appearance of the Link buses so the answer to harvey’s question as to why they’d change them is that they’re not.

        3. So same colours, just with big AT stickers? Could be right and would be the right approach. I take back my comment until we know what they are doing.

        4. Ok that’s quite confusing since they have mentioned it will be the first to “phase in” as it has been around for years and is in no way new like the NEX branding is with the AT logo and new design etc.

          They also had examples of the new link branding in the meeting minutes a few months back which were ocean blue like the NEX but with lines of orange/red/lime etc.

        5. Yeah and I agree with harvey that the legibility of these services have been great and good part of their success, even though it must make scheduling more complex for the operator.

    2. This is being told out with the new contracts. The cost of doing so would be amortised over the length of the contact and as such be pretty negligible

  2. One example of how “broken” the current contracts are was when afternoon buses were returning from North Shore “out of service” when passengers were regularly waiting at the station because the “in service” buses were full. If the new contracts are so bad, the operators should just refuse to sign.

    1. Experience here and overseas shows it is critical that a central organisation controls the entire PT experience from routes to branding. Not doing so leads to a mess of competing routes and incompatible products that harm the customer experience and therefore patronage and the subsidies required to run the system.

      1. This seems to be happening on the Waiheke ferry route with two new operators suddenly popping up. No coordination of scheduling, no HOP facilities. A backward step.

  3. The points about risk interest me the most.

    By standardising the look of the product, you are in effect commoditising the operators when they are trying differentiate.

    I wonder what the real cause of the tension is? I’m guessing it’s to do with money.

    1. The operators shouldnt be differentiating. The are operating a publicly subsidised manopoly, not competing in free market. When i go to the end of the street i dont order a bus from the operator of my choosing. I take the one that AT has given the contract too. Operators should be focused on generating profit by controlling costs. Not confusing differentation

      1. Indeed, and until HOP we didn’t even have the choice of taking every bus, only that with whom we had a card – taking any other bus meant paying a full fare and having to carry cash. The ultimate result meaning unnecessary waits because the competing buses wanted to lock you into their product. For anyone not familiar with the mess in Auckland it was also completely incomprehensible that all buses with all their different brands were all in public service. Outside of the third world I’ve never come across a PT system so fragmented and handed over almost completely to the free market.

  4. “There was insufficient security of tenure, risks were badly mismatched, and financial incentives were unlikely to work as intended because of the punitive mindset underlying the contracts.

    The result was likely to be a cost-cutting, compliance mentality rather than a value-creating, innovative environment in which new investment would be encouraged, both sets of advisers concluded”.

    Now it all makes sense and it exists already but on the rail network. This explains why train passengers seem to be so incidental to the service itself with the operator worried about contract compliance. You know the scenario’s, passengers getting dumped on some platform mid trip everytime theres a hold up of more than a few minutes with next to no explanation, empty trains either passing platforms of passengers, no explanation, lack of use of the Newmarket bypass link when trains are way behind schedule, that sort of thing. It would appear that AT set goals that are punitively enforced and that can only be reached by leaving the passenger out of the equation.

    Bus companies are very right to question this!

  5. I think there is a lot of merit in this approach but it is hard to pass judgement when we aren’t provided with a cost for the project……

  6. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had The Yellow Bus Company back, and change its name to The Blue Bus Company (“Ride with the Blues” Jerome Kaino could then say), while still displaying the Metro branding shown above (looks fine to me), so that trains and buses (and ferries and trams?) are all immediately seen to be part of the same integrated system.

    Can’t we just repeal the legislation that came down from the Beehive (talk about “central planning”!) which forced Auckland to privatise its buses and enrich mainly foreign-owned corporations at our expense? While we’re at it, can we do the same for trains and ferries? All this contracting-out ideology (insanity?) must be more trouble than it’s worth. Bus companies whinging gives us a perfect opportunity to do it – same goes with trains and ferries (and trams?).

    1. There is much that is lost in the privatisation of PT services. Let’s look at how networks work; all networks have better performing parts, and it is good practice to use the income from these to cross-subsidise weaker ones, not least because those weaker ones often have a role to play in supporting the profitable routes, bringing customers to the whole system. But with the privatised model contractors can pluck out the profitable routes, stick the cash in their back pocket and we the people are left to subsidise the weaker routes. Take the ferry system for example:

      The Waiheke and Devonport ferry routes are fully commercial, ie Fullers run the services on those it like and charges what it likes, keeps all the income. AT then run all the less viable routes at considerable subsidy from rates, not from the profit on the ‘good’ routes. Furthermore there isn’t pressure to be innovative on those other routes by the operator [smaller more efficient boat, etc] because it gets the subsidy whatever. AT has to try to drive innovation but while not owning the boats, employing the staff, etc… Not ideal.

      1. In most cases I am pro private enterprise but with public transport I am with you. PT provides a positive externality and that is lost when smaller private operators cherry pick. Remember Cesta with their broken down buses? The network is the key as it provides utility greater than the sum of the parts (or increasing marginal utility -something that doesn’t happen often). If you want to achieve that and get the positive externalities then you need a monopoly. But that in turn means you need to stop them gouging economic profits so you either need price controls and supervision (OFTrans?) or public ownership.

        1. Agree. As a longtime business owner I agree. But the efficient provision of PT services is something that worldwide has proven to not fit well with the nature of private enterprise. What may look like healthy competition in theory becomes simply inefficient duplication in practice. A city’s PT system that is unable to unlock the power of a unified network will not only fail to perform for customers but also be needlessly expensive to run. Auckland is a great example. Since privatisation it has declined in service quality, and risen in both fare cost and public subsidy. A real failure in application of economic theory.

          Happily the subsequent reorganisations have improved things a great deal, although fares are still high as is the subsidy. The subsidy will come down, but that will be the last to move, and no doubt the operators will fight to protect their incomes.

        2. Yes except it was a political failure more than an economic one. Normative economics is when people apply their own values to the situation rather than rely on what the economics actually says (positive economics). Through that period the right wingers dominated so we got their normative economics which was to privatise everything regardless of consequences and regardless of the likelihood of market failure. It was really a small government good, big government bad dogma dressed up with sufficient theory to look like economics. If we can see PT as part of the whole economy rather than focus on the profit and losses at the fare box then we can get somewhere.

        3. +1, well said (I was just going to say that for PT, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” – but you beat me to it :-)).

    2. Mainly foreign owned???

      Ritchies is a priately owned family business
      NZBus is owned by IFT listed on the NZX
      Birkenhead Transport is a privately owned family business that has been providing PT to Auckland for the past 80+ years

      That is probably 75% of the Auckland market.

      1. The Yellow Bus Company was sold to Stagecoach, a Scottish company. Now it’s part of Infratil, a nominally NZ company, significantly financed by Australian banks (see the diagram under the heading “Corporate Structure” on this web page from the company web site: Same probably goes for the “family business” bus companies (like “Mom and Pop investors” – Yeah right). The fact remains that, one way or another, a significant proportion of our money ends up in the hands of foreign interests.

        Perhaps I should have said: mainly foreign-owned corporations, sometimes via local bit-players and middle-men. Either way, only less than about 0.1% of the local population benefit.

        When The Yellow Bus Company was owned by us, most of the money stayed with us and was mainly recycled around the local economy (except for money used for things like bus purchases, which because we don’t manufacture buses locally, unavoidably goes to overseas interests in any bus company ownership arrangement).

        Basically and in general, what should be public (e.g., public transport) is really public – it is a public thing, and therefore should really be public. Likewise, what should be private (e.g., what’s in your pocket) really is private – it is a private thing, and therefore should really be private. In my opinion, at this stage anyway.

        The public realm should not be used to benefit a few of us more than the rest of us, that’s a big mistake. Of course, the public realm is used to benefit a few more than the rest of us in lots of cases, which is a really big problem, as it causes all sorts of other problems like social inequality and environmental degradation (e.g., “externalities”), and we’ll really have to face up to that at some point, or ?). In my opinion, at this stage anyway.

        1. Infratil is 76% owned by NZers :
          Both Ritchies and Birkenhead Transport are 100% owned by New Zealanders and are true family business. The first is owned I think owned by Brothers and 2nd generation and the second is 3rd or 4th generation.

          If your complaining about overseas debt financing, then sorry to tell you this but even the Council is funding by nasty overseas investors :

          As far as buses go, they are made in NZ. Most buses are imported as chassis with the full assembly carried out by either Kiwi Bus Builders (100% Kiwi Owned) or Designline (100% foregin owned) with parts supplied by other NZ businesses.

        2. Thanks for the information Harvey.

          I note from the Infratil web page you linked to that only one of the seven banks they borrow from is truly a New Zealand bank. As for the shareholders, they have last call on any cash or assets, banks come first, and expatriation of profits from New Zealand is a big problem, I think, because obviously foreign investors/lenders want to get more out of us than they put in, that’s the whole idea. That makes it an ultimate net loss to New Zealand.

          I don’t know who Brothers is (are?), but I note from the Birkenhead Transport web site that their ownership and management was monopolised by a lone foreigner in 1932/3:
          “In 1932 Charles Winchester Inwards, an Englishman … rode around the area on his pushbike buying shares in Birkenhead Transport from the local residents. … and by the end of the year he had become the major shareholder which led to him taking over as Manager in December 1933.”
          I’m not really complaining about that, I’m merely suggesting that we don’t need that kind of meddling in our public affairs.

          In New Zealand we developed our own way of doing things which, on the whole, worked relatively well. For example, from 1936 until c1987/8 we used to finance public entities and enterprises at 1% interest through our own Reserve Bank. Now that avenue has seemingly been blocked, I hope Auckland Council are accessing the ~1% interest available to the “Japanese housewives” and “Belgian dentists” of the world. (And I didn’t mean to infer that foreign investors were nasty, they might be quite nice, but we’ll never know, and they’ll never care.)

          I’m glad to learn that bus bodies are still being made here in New Zealand. Hopefully we can ask the duopoly to stop designing the windows above head-height in the middle of the bus so seated passengers can’t see out. (Yes, I am complaining about that.)

    3. Why doesn’t AC set up a new CCO Bus operating company aka “The Former Yellow Bus Company” (FYBC) then tender to AT at an arms length to run ATs bus services under PTOM and cut the private enterprise bus operators like NZ Bus out of the mix for good.

      The FYBC can then obtain the newest bus technologies instead of the clapped out minimal designs that NZ Bus seem to prefer and run an efficient fleet.
      Since PTOM can issue 3 6 or 9 year contracts, a 9 year contract should be plenty of enough longevity for FYBC to invest in that sort of kit.

      Its the only way I can see any real change can be forced upon the bus fleet as the current operators like NZ Bus seem to be very keen to milk the existing contracts for all they’re worth which means minimal modern new buses.

      Of course, the likes of NZ Bus will probably lobby the Government when the going gets too tough showing the true spirit of competition – when you can’t compete fairly complain and get the rules changed.

      A Snapper rots from the head not the tail.

      1. And the FYBC will probably buy the most expensive Mercs like the YBC did and not care about being efficient as it can rely on the rate payer.

        Just look at how Ports of Auckland has performed under council ownership compared to ports of Tauranga!

        1. Not quite,
          If the FYBC is a CCO it has its own board and is accountable to AC as a business, it can’t simply rely on/assume ratepayers coming to bail it out, nor can it assume that AT will use its offerings if they’re too expensive.

          No favouritism here.
          And maybe the old YBC decision to buy (expensive in your opinion) Merc buses was a sound long term lowest “total cost of ownership” decision – I see a lot of the former YBC old Yellows still around the place in various guises, so some of them are still going strong, even the old Bendy buses seem to hang around like bad smells too as I see them quite bit trundling around.

          As for why POAL is doing not so well and POT is – a large chunk of that is that POT has huge tracts of cheap land it can use for bulk and container storage near the ships whereas POAL is constrained that way because it is using and is adjacent to some of the most expensive real estate in Auckland and it simply can’t expand on wharf storage without expensive reclamation.

          POT also casualised their workforce a long time ago. This all means that POT can offer cheaper fees to the ships that use it compared to POAL. Even once the costs of the shipping of containers to/from Auckland is included – partly because the road industry is subsidised heavily – which enables this bulk container freight movement by road to occur.

          With the trend of mega container ships (post-PanaMAX) now calling at usually one or at most two ports per country – one port per North/South island, ships like these will either call at POAL or POT but not both.
          And therefore it becomes a race to the bottom for which port gets the business.

          Because the residents of Tauranga are giving up large tracts of (valuable) waterfront land for POT to use for bulk storage it may represent short term good financial sense for POT shareholders, but without a doubt it is a bad decision for Tauranga as a whole in the medium to longer term.

      2. This is a good idea the status quo is a disaster especially when we need this to be such a critical role for Auckland.

  7. I don’t think they have taken privatisation to the required level, there needs to be a greater degree of competition to get prices down. Someone is making some serious money out of PT.
    If the fare box recovery is 50% then NZ bus get paid $10 for my one way 30 minute trip from Mt Roskill to the city. The Airport Express get $16 for a 50 minute trip from the airport to the city. Yet I can get a 7 hour naked bus from Auckland to Napier for $20!

    Would it be possible to have each bus company bid on each run (e.g. bid on the 10:30AM 277 to midtown) and the cheapest would run that particular bus (with penalty clauses for late start, cancellations, max age of bus, etc). The contract should be short (maybe a year). This would allow smaller bus companies to compete. Assuming all buses have the same look and feel, it doesn’t really matter how many bus companies there are.

    1. Jimbo Jimbo Jimbo.

      The subsidy is for the buses that run with 2 people in the middle of the day or weekend. Peak time routes would be fully commercial (no subsidy).

      And contracting on a trip by trip basis – how inefficient would that be with empty buses running around the city getting to the start of their trip.

    2. That “bid on the 10:30AM 277 to midtown” is pretty much how it is done at the moment. Companies pick the profitable route/time combinations and then get paid to run the same routes at times that are not heavily utilised. It’s a really, really shit way of doing it, and the gross contract system that’s coming is far superior.

    3. The Airport Bus is fully commercial so has no subsidy hence why it is so expensive. Also your proposal is exactly how the system currently works. Companies can pick specific routes and times and run them commercially I.e. keep all the profit from the overloaded peak time buses. All the other times of the day they demand a subsidy. This is what AT/AC have been wanting to avoid for years, and why it needs to be centrally controlled. Rather than NZBus making the profit it is instead used to cover the costs of running buses at other times of the day. The present system is a great example of companies privatising profit and socialising all the costs.

    1. Yip – any bus providing public transport in Auckland will.

      School runs will be exempt I think (??) so the old rickety Billy Boys and some of the fleets of the bigger companies may not need to change (if they are only doing private charters, school runs etc).

  8. The brand change from a large “AT” on the side of buses and trains (an unknown-to-most acronym, much like MAXX), to “AT Metro” is a step in the right direction, but it’s still confused, as it attempts to enhance an organisational name as a brand name.

    They should bite the bullet and just put “Auckland Metro” on all trains and buses (and ferries?), as I suspect the general public won’t take to the title “AT Metro”. In time, everyone will call it the Auckland Metro or simply the Metro.

  9. colours for the remainder of the fleets should be determined ASAP to allow operators the choice of purchasing new buses in the appropriate colour to avoid the cost of repainting down the track,

    as an aside, I find it amusing that the light blue and yellow Northstar livery (which aged very quickly) hasn’t lasted long on the Shore, with new buses coming on line in the blue and silver/gray Metrolink colours

    1. They’re being announced publicly tomorrow, but since there’s been consultation with operators to this point I’m sure they have been advised that they won’t be using their own livery starting in the very near future.

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