Is Auckland getting ripped off when it comes to the cost of running rail services? Councillor Mike Lee has long thought so and has frequently raised the issue by way of comparing the costs of running the Auckland and Wellington rail networks – $125.6 million vs $85 million in the financial year to 30 June 2014. At that time rail patronage was also almost identical in each region. He has frequently blamed the way rail is set up saying:

A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability.

Auckland Transport have looked at the differences in the past and come to the conclusion that the differences will largely iron out once electrification is finished however I don’t think Mike has ever been happy with that – and he seems to have an intense distrust of AT and Transdev in particular.

The Council’s Finance Committee tomorrow are presented with the outcome of that review which has found that when you account for the differences in the volume and nature of services provided, the costs aren’t all that different. Further it needs to be remembered that for FY14 Auckland had only had electric trains running on the Onehunga line for a few months. As such the efficiency of the Auckland network is only expected to improve – especially when combined with the growth in patronage expected. Here is what he found:

As mentioned above the costs in Auckland are much higher. The biggest single difference comes from labour costs – more on this soon – and train maintenance. The latter should have been reduced substantially with the arrival of the electrics.

Auckland vs Wellington Cost comparison Costs

So what causes the costs to be so much higher in Auckland. One major aspect is that there are considerable differences in both how many and how services are run. The report notes that in Auckland services are run stopping at all stations along the way. By comparison Wellington runs multiple short and long run service patterns on most of it’s lines. Boiling down the results they’ve been measured on the basis of how many full line services they equates to. Using that measure Auckland ran 2210 services per day while Wellington ran 1778. This highlights that one of the main reasons for the difference in cost is simply a difference in service provision.

Another factor identified was the level of dead running. Basically if services in Wellington terminate somewhere they can immediately go to a stabling yard nearby. In Auckland they often have a lot of travel some distance to get back to a stabling yard and all those trips add up to over 200,000 km per year. I suspect some of this has already been improved through the use of the newish stabling yard at the old railway station.

Auckland vs Wellington Cost comparison Dead Running

All up when adjusting for all of these factors the report says that the Auckland network is only approximately 7% more per hour to operate and that’s before taking into account the impact electrification will have.

On the other side of the ledger is the revenue from passengers. The report notes that the fare structures are fairly similar between the two cities however the average fares are quite different at $2.65 for Auckland vs $3.72 for Wellington. The main reason for the difference is that trips in Auckland are generally shorter. It had almost 1 million trips (9%) that were one or two stages while in Wellington the main lines of Kapiti and Hutt Valley most trips are a minimum of three stages due to the local geography and design of the system.

Overall it suggests that rail in Auckland isn’t as bad as the headlines often suggested which is good news

Auckland vs Wellington Cost comparison Recomendations

I’m sure this is a topic that will come up again and now the electrics are rolled out then for the future we should finally have more accurate figures to work with. One thing we do already know is that the subsidies are coming down with the subsidy per passenger km coming down.

2015-07 - Subsidy per PAX km

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  1. Labour costs are double? Do you have two staff on the train – a driver and a guard, or just a driver? If you do then that’s probably the source.
    Most Australian places have drivers only, those that don’t (i.e. Sydney and Brisbane) tend to have 2x the cost to operate of comparable cities (Melbourne and Perth).

    Guards can generally be trained as drivers, and absorbed as the system expands.

    1. Auckland trains have only a driver and a train manager (guard).
      Wellington trains also have passenger operators/ticket collectors (number depends on the train length), since we still uses paper ticketing.

      1. Auckland has a ticket seller in a box and two paper ticket collectors at most stations. Surely this can be replaced with a machine that produces a ticket that the “sometimes travellor” can use to get through automatic (HOP Card) gates.

  2. Its about time Auckland city council is seeing its getting ripped off .Its not just in the rail side of things .The city council needs to have a look across the board as to what they have been charged to what the contractors are doing to all the subbies .Auckland city council would save so much money they would not need to put the rates up

    1. Why does AT need to contract KiwiRail (or is it Veolia)? for services. Can’t the city take over the ownership/operation of the rail network?

      1. Would need to set up its own management structure for doing this. Does the council really want to be immersed in this business? Would it make a better job of it than KiwRail or TransDev?
        Past experience of Wellington City Council owning and running the buses was that they didn’t do it very well. Not sure what it was like in Auckland back then.

        However it ultimately all comes down to the actual people in the management positions, how competent / motivated / visionary / honest they are. If they are all of these things, then the service will likely be efficient and thrive whatever the ownership structure. If they are incompetent or have underhand agendas then it will probably not be. This is the world we live in.

    2. And in Wellington they make an honest attempt to collect fares from EVERY passenger, hence more crew. In Auckland we have the mega half arsed pay when you feel like it system.

  3. I am increasingly puzzled by Mike Lee.

    For years he campaigned for investment in passenger rail in Auckland and for the return of trams. He was one of a few lone voices in the wilderness that got any traction. Now after considerable investment by successive governments and Councils in the existing rail network with work about to start on a truly transformation extension that will return passenger rail to a central role in the city, we are seeing a massive response by the public turning up to use the trains, completely vindicating his advocacy. Furthermore there are now serious plans for the return Light Rail by AT. He should be pretty pleased. Also he chairs the Council’s transport committee and is an AT board member, he is very much inside the process.

    He should be pretty happy. Yet he seems to want to champion curious causes, and publicly so; is inside the tent but keeps leaping out to shout angrily back at it.

    Of course he should keep the pressure on for further improvement, but this looks amateurish, of course everything will change with the electrics, including operating costs; that’s what they’re for, and he is perfectly placed to understand that.


    1. It’s a bit of a sad spectacle. Mike Lee is in a good position to be the elder statesman of public transport advocacy in Auckland – as you said, he displayed a lot of vision in the lean years. He’s at a point in his career where he can rest on his laurels, assured that his work has been successful. (And that others will continue it.)

      Instead he’s spending his time picking public fights about relatively minor issues. It’s ill-befitting his stature and could easily mean that he’s remembered not as a visionary but as another sniping politician devoted to slowing things down.

    2. Isn’t the period covered in the report inclusive of the running the Diesels and the poor performance during the transition period. I think it is a bit soon to be comparing these figures. I think the whole system is in the process of being shaken up again and the whole bus/train needs to be more co-cooperatively run than the present structure allows with the competing transport firms having to be coerced into co-operation.
      It would seem to me that when the diesels are out of the equation and AT is better able to co-ordinate the total transport network we may have the answer to the congestion free network.

  4. “I don’t think Mike has ever been happy with that – and he seems to have an intense distrust of AT and Transdev in particular.”

    Actually he’s not particular. His entire raison d’etre is (deliberately) misrepresenting reality, blaming employees and never taking responsibility for calls he’s made as a ‘political leader’. Look at any article quoting him – there’s a clear pattern. Weird how politicians with impeccable leftist politics are often so personally nasty. It’s like they like the idea of people but not actually people.

    1. I don’t think it’s a left-right issue. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cameron Brewer press release that didn’t snipe at Council staff. (Which seems like a poor strategy to motivate people to do good work for you, but never mind…)

  5. Increasing 3rd party revenues has yet to be explored. The pictures of the proposed CRL stations did not appear to include any shops. Stations overseas often include many shops. This not only brings in revenue for the network owner but is also convenient for those using the service. Some of the newest Singapore stations have shops lining the underground corridors.

    1. Yes it would be good if shops were included to a) help pay for the construction costs, b) to help pay for the ongoing running costs, c) improve the amenity for the public.

    1. The rail corridor is already full of passenger related issues, I think TM’s are still very useful in that respect and really should double as a ticket inspector in the off-peak & nights, some of them already do this to a certain regard, but they really need HOP reading devices as people can just be like “oh here’s my hop card” (that might not be tagged on?).

  6. With the amount of safety issues happening and wide spread fare evasion its good to see someone with sense advocating properly trained staff onboard controlling the issue! If you don’t and have only a driver onboard, you’ll reap what you sow!

    1. I have never been on a metro with a train guard anywhere in the world. I have seen private security guards on the Metro in Bucharest, though I notice they were gone this summer.

      What is so different and special about Auckland that we need them on our metro system? Do you think Aucklanders are inherently violent and anti-social? Because the actual crime statistics would refute that. Violent crime is falling in NZ in general.

      1. The had them in London when I lived there because the platforms were too short so the driver was parked in the tunnel and couldn’t see when to shut the doors. The guard was at the front of the rear carriage and shut them from there. Don’t know if they ever fixed it.

        1. London Underground got rid of all its guards quite a few years ago, replaced by a combination of mirrors and CCTV, and platfprm despatchers at busier stations. Same applies to most London mainline operators.

      2. in most places they have transit police that do random checks/patrols.
        If there were 10% fare evaders in Auckland (entirely possible) then reducing this in half would a) free up 5% more space on trains for paying customers, b) increase revenue by 5% if those 5% start paying. Yes there would be costs involved however if they got rid of the pointless train managers and used some of that money for funding transit police (50/50 share between AT with NZPolice/Central Govt).

      3. Goose… Auckland not that violent but the issues ebb and flow. Many of the situations are with youths or kids who do not get arrested or held accountable as they get moved on by the ever increasing security guards that are apparent. So the stats don’t equate to much..
        Be careful what you wish for

    2. The Melbourne network has managed to survive almost 20 years without train guards and the sky hasn’t fallen in. The money Auckland spends on these staff could be spent on a small team of transit police/officers with actual enforcement powers.

  7. I think the arguments that “more Empty-Running” and “all services being All-Stops” are contributors to Auckland’s operation costing more than Wellington’s are fallacious.

    Wellington also runs many empty or near-empty services in order to ramp-up and ramp-down for the peaks. For instance peak services which begin at Porirua, Plimmerton, Taita, Melling or Johnsonville must all be ‘primed’ by empties from Wellington. However the difference in Wellington is that these services are available for the public to use and are shown in the timetable. In Auckland they tend to run as ghost services, officially “Not in service”. But the effect is similar: Lots of empty trains.

    As regards Wellington’s express services, these only amount to a fairly small proportion of all daily/weekly workings. By far the majority of services are all-stops. All off-peak / weekend services, and even many peak services are all-stops. Although express services offer advantages from a passenger point-of-view (and also operationally for some ‘priming runs’), I very much doubt that this aspect causes a significant reduction in overall costs.

    Auckland needs to look elsewhere for the cost-differences.

    1. Could it be that Wellington’s farebox-recovery is greater because it is charging its customers more for the service? In quite a number of comparisons I have made in the past, Auckland fares have been much more reasonable for equivalent distances. Are Wellingtonians being ripped off, by virtue of the fact that there is a more established and dependent passenger-market here which the fare-setters can exploit?

      If this is the case or at least if it is a contributor, then Auckland’s apparently ‘poorer financial performance’ may mask a more generous fare regime with indirect social benefits which Wellington’s population misses out on.

      Just a thought. (But no time just now to research this properly)

  8. Would the $500 million loan and repayments make any difference. After all government pays for wellington trains but loans auckland the funds.

  9. The paper is interesting, but sloppy with its information about Wellington, getting quite a few easily-checked things wrong.

    For instance:
    * it understates all Wellington fares by one zone (mislabelled “section”) – it’s 3 not 2 to Johnsonville, 4 not 3 to the first stop on other lines, 10 not 9 to the furthest extreme of the electrified network;
    * it ignores the fact that the majority of Wellington passengers pay much less than the single cash fares quoted, monthly passes giving a 40% or so discount (roughly twice the AT Hop discount).

    The conclusions drawn about relative fares paid in Auckland and Wellington must therefore be suspect. Its conclusions about staffing also seem strange: below a table showing that Wellington’s peak staffing levels are over twice Auckland’s it says that “staffing practices are considered to be broadly comparable”!

    And it can’t make up its mind about the Wairarapa line: with respect to some costs it appears implicitly to include the Wairarapa but in revenue it explicitly excludes it;

    All in all, not a paper on which I would like to be basing any decisions of significance.

  10. The Fare Recovery and Passenger cost per km are important information for this sort of analysis but while both Auckland and Wellington publish them, only the Greater Wellington Regional Council was prepared to release their actual calculations.

    Auckland Transport is a different story … in May 2014 I asked Auckland Transport the following from the 2013 Public Transport Plan
    Can you please provide me with a copy of the detailed calculations used to create “Table A6-1: Target ranges for different transport modes” ? I am especially interested in the PT costs that were and were not included in the Auckland fare recovery calculation and any information provided is also requested and would be appreciated.”

    They responded: “Auckland Transport has considered your email and decided to decline your request to supply the detailed supporting calcuations in accordance with section 7(2)(i) of the LGOIMA which allows Auckland Transport to withhold information where necessary in order to undertake negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage.”

    It could well be that the differences are at least partially in how the respective councils allocate and calculate costs.

  11. One point about the dead running – it’s not just that a stabling yard is there for all services, it’s also that Wellington allows passengers to travel on positioning runs. I.e., they don’t really have dead running. That’s why before Waikanae opened, they had several late night Paraparaumu-Paekakariki passenger runs. There’s no reason why they couldn’t do this in Auckland too. For example, when a train terminates at Swanson, then runs back to Henderson to stable, why not allow people to use it? In fact it was only four months ago that I saw a group of young people try to board a late night run at Swanson to go home to Sturges Rd, but it was a dead run and the staff wouldn’t let them. So they ended up walking along the tracks instead! We pay for the service to operate, so I say open the doors and let people aboard.

  12. So at the moment we hire
    1. Train Managers (Basically do nothing but cause longer dwell times, have no power to do anything regarding behaviour)
    2. Ticket Inspectors (Check tickets, have no power to do anything regarding behaviour)
    3. Private Guards (Stand around doing nothing on their phones, most of them don’t look like they could defend against a friendly teddy bear, have no power to do anything regarding behaviour)

    My idea with steps
    1. Fire them all.
    2. Hire some as train drivers then we will have no more train cancelled due to staffing issue.
    3. Use the rest of the money to give to NZ police who may only use this money only for officers for transit policing. They are really only needed for school, peak & night services especially Fri/Sat with maybe some mobile patrols moving between key stations Henderson etc. (NZ Police: Have tasers, have power of arrest/detainment, people actually semi-respect them, can check tickets, can help out people like TM, Can be armed lets be honest while unlikely after CRL Aotea/Brit would be prime terrorist targets as airports secured)

    1. Yeah the guards at Waitakere just go inside the facility when its cold, meanwhile nobody watches the ADK’s which is apparently why they are still there (since passenger trains have stopped running there), they never patrol the other side of the trains either. Just dead money…

      At other stations they just stand around having a chat with the other guards while watching the unpleasant drunk youth fight on the Henderson platform and don’t even hop on the train (not there to catch train, just be a nuisance).

      It’s just ridiculous, and in reality they are powerless anyway, thanks to our stupid laws they can only stop someone when they harming themselves. Serious change is needed. Either security guards need to be given more power or we need transit police.

      I saw 4 police at Glen Eden the other day, which was great, but they were probably called to the site, in reality they need to be regularly patrolling the stations… Especially those further West and South that tend to get a lot of idiots.

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