Next week marks the start of annual madness season – the time of the year where use of public transport ramps up over February and culminates in what we call March Madness.

The spike in patronage seems to be the result of a combination of factors. Schools and universities kick back in to gear for the year (the school term officially starts again on Monday) which also more parents back to work. Those naturally make public transport busier and of course roads busier too. It also seems that a lot more people are willing to give public transport a go, perhaps a result of wanting an alternative after suddenly being exposed to the full mind numbing horror of driving on congested roads once again – especially after the easier driving over the summer period.

You can see the impact of March Madness in the chart below showing patronage in each month with March in Red. February is obviously lower due to fewer working days and PT use ramping up over the course of the month. Unsurprisingly the years where March wasn’t the busiest month of the year or where other months were very close (2008 and 2013) Easter was either partially or fully in month. Of course we have Easter falling fully within March this year – although due to the way the weekends fall it only represents one less working day than last year.

2015-12 Monthly Patronage

By the end of February the March Madness conditions will be in full effect so it’s important that Auckland Transport have the PT network working well to ensure that people can actually use it and encourage those new adopters to keep using it well into the future.

In the past they haven’t done well on this front. Both buses and trains are often packed to the point of turning people away. Last year I heard stories of some people on routes such as Mt Eden Rd waiting and watching as up to 12 buses went past too full to allow them to get on.

The numbers tend to die down after March due to a combination of factors such as school holidays and people giving up on the overcrowded PT services and going back to their car.

This all begs the question of whether AT are prepared for this year’s madness. In my view they aren’t.

Since this time last year the electric trains have been rolled out to the Southern and Western lines providing a little bit more capacity however even in January – normally a quitter time – trains have been very busy thanks to all of the patronage growth that’s occurred. The Western line is still stuck with trains at peak times only every 15 minutes despite AT and its predecessors promising 10 minute services would happen from as far back as 2010. Indications are we’ll finally see that increase happen this year but not till April/May, after the rush.

On the bus network it’s a similar story, not much capacity has been added but some is on the way. We learned last year that the various operators were buying 56 double decker buses to be used in Auckland. Some are already in use on the Northern Express and one is used by Howick & Eastern for trips between the city and Botany but it appears the bulk of these might be too late March. The expected roll out of them is below.

  • 18 buses on the NEX Northern Express (Albany to Britomart via the Northern busway) by April 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 500 route (Mission Heights to Downtown via Botany Town Centre, Pakuranga, Panmure, Ellerslie and Newmarket) by September 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 274 (Three Kings to Downtown via Mt Eden Rd) and 277 routes (Waikowhai to Downtown via Three Kings and Mt Eden Rd) in May & June 2016
  • 8 buses on the 881 route (Albany to Newmarket along the Northern busway) in June 2016

What we have seen though is that AT have been advertising their arrival.


I think AT have actually done a good job on the advertising, both in the design and placement of the ads but I do wonder if they’re a bit premature. The majority of them won’t on the road till after May so will provide no relief for busy routes like Mt Eden Rd so advertising them now might be giving a bit of false hope.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the system copes.

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  1. It’s disappointing. AT have been given a gift – increasing passenger numbers across all modes – and they’ve been unable to use it. However every problem has a reason, and I’d like to know why.

    Is the problem that they haven’t been given the budget to buy sufficient stock? Is it that there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining operational staff? Is it a lack of planning? Is there interference in the process? Or is it another reason entirely?

    1. The right answer is probably a combination of complex factors, some of which might be beyond ATs control, e.g. operator discretion. One good reason is perhaps overlooked by many: its often quite inefficient to design systems around the peak. Another is that ptom contracts are currently working through system and what operator would invest in new fleet with so mucj uncertainty around at risk of stranded assets.

      In this case however i think designing around the march peak would make sense: we want patronage to grow, and it is growing. So any capacity that would normally be surplus after march can then be soaked up by growing demand.

      I also think that well deal with this better in future, because ptom contracts will be implemented and everyone’s focus can shift to actuallu delivering the best system and services.

  2. And what reason has there been for the five year delay in increases on the Western Line?

    On the upside, the Northern Busway’s double-deckers really are the stuff of mass transit. Though they’re late for this year’s very predictable demand peak, they represent the transition of this from bus-plus to true MRT. They show what we should be doing in the neglected east and west.

  3. we should just use the Philippine mode of PT the jeepneys (jeep) they are around everywhere in the Philippines…passengers get on and off where ever they want to since the entrance has no door to open or close…Just get on while waiting at the traffic lights, get on while its starting to pull off, get on while stuck in traffic….like wise just get off when its stopped in a convenient location…I know sounds dangerous but this is how I got around in the Philippines…What makes traffic in the Philippines however is PT especially buses and jeeps…they change lanes without signaling, they stop wherever convenient and pick up passengers where convenient

    1. We used to have trains that would slow down where they needed to, not 100m in advance. Doors that would open and close quickly without an early-warning system and no time-consuming footstep deployment that most of the time isn’t needed. But stuff like this isn’t SAFE anymore. We have to be SAFE.

      I remember travelling to school in England, on a double-decker bus which had an open platform at the back and no doors. How terribly unsafe this would be today!

      You used to be able to hop on and off the old Wellington Cable Car without doors. How UNSAFE!

      So your jeepney idea wouldn’t work here. It wouldn’t be SAFE.

      (Neither is our road-dominated transport system, but nobody seems to worry about that)

      1. And with the USA being one of the most litigated countries in the world and they still manage to have the open cable cars in San Francisco. The difference between over legislation and over litigation I guess…

        1. The San Francisco cable cars, which run at 15km/h, are a grandfathered legacy system which would not meet modern safety standards and have high accident rates with $8 million in damages being paid out as a consequence from 2010 to 2013.

      2. @Dave B yes safety is now the priority…You either have safety or convenience…One other thing in the Philippines that made it possible to have a big family yet a just a pick up is we can place people at the back of the pick up….so that 5 seater ended bcoming at most a 15 seater

  4. Agreed – last year’s graph has a worse than usual April drop-off, which I suspect is down to AT’s struggle to cope, and I don’t think they’ve learned enough from it. March madness is a great chance to build long-term ridership, but only if they’re ready for it.

    The Western Line and both Sandringham and Dominion Rds could do with a lot more frequency and longer trains in the peak shoulder, and even after. Services are packed to the gills at 10.30. (Almost certainly true elsewhere as well, but those are the routes I know.)

    The Dom Rd bus lanes also need extended hours of operation – I was biking along there this morning after 10 and buses were having a bad time with the bus lanes not operational and the general traffic lanes chocka. I beat several buses to View Rd and I’m not very fast.

    1. Yeah what is the hold up in extending bus lane hours? 6PM is almost the worst time or them to end, Mt Eden road is an even more ridiculous 5:30PM.

      1. I think it’s probably down to store owners complaining that they need the carparks directly outside their stores for their customers. Because people on the bus don’t buy anything… Only people in a car spend money…

  5. I do wonder how fuel prices will affect things. The summer holiday period normally represents a big drop in SOV traffic but this year the effect has been only minimal (presumably due to the cheap prices of petrol).
    By the same coin AT or operators should be making some significant savings on their fuel bills at present with fuel prices about 1/3 down from their peak.
    If there are delays getting the double-deckers in before March then they should really be holding on to the older buses to boost capacity over March before retiring them. March is the best time to get people into PT otherwise they just go back to SOV.
    Also if there are routes that are full before reaching half way then they really need to have supplementary buses that start from halfway with the same route number.

  6. Why is the 6tph not happening till April?
    I though it was supposed to be out and rolling for January?
    AT is doing a really appalling job managing the transport system. Nothing is being used to their maximum. Everything is moving in a slow pace.

  7. We’re ready for PT madness, but AT clearly aren’t that ready.

    If they were they’d be running 6 car EMUs on all Western Line train services already.
    They’d have the dwell time down massively and would be staging a driver at Newmarket at peaks to avoid the turn around time for Western trains while the driver walks from one end to the other.
    They’d also have the doors on the EMUs open once the train stopped, without waiting for passengers to do the “push the green button when lit” malarkey.

    They can’t magic up double deckers if they aren’t available, but they could ensure that the operators use the most appropriate bus for the job at hand during peaks and shoulder periods.
    [ADLs – looking at you kid].

  8. Seems to me all of the problems could be alleviated by people leaving earlier and/or later. My 5:50 is never packed.

      1. I’d be keen on a PT system that allowed you the choice, with sufficient capacity to allow either without turning people into sardines.

    1. Tried that today; 620 from GE on western line was pretty full.

      John Key needed to announce a train order as well as the Link timing yesterday. 6tph based on all 3-car units won’t achieve anything.

      1. iirc the CRL package includes funding for extra EMUs. Wonder what the lead times is, if they just order more of the same (or do they have to go through the whole competitive tendering process again?).

        1. My guess is they’ll order more at some point this year. There’s a two year lead time for them though. From memory they have a clause to build more with CAF

  9. To be fair to AT, it is quite expensive to put on extra peak time services just for one month. What are they going to do – buy extra buses only to be used one month a year, and hire drivers for a month then fire them?
    If there are capacity problems all year round then that is another story…

    1. or just schedule March to be a downtime for maintenance so that all available buses/trains are able to be used.
      Also don’t retire buses in March… hold on to them for the extra month.
      Little things really that make a big difference.

      1. Also, restrict leave in March. Even if that increases availability by 1% or 2%, that would improve things. This is standard practice in a range of industries which have a high season. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if this is already done)

        1. one operator does already restrict leave applications to ensure staff availability at certain times, vehicle availability is less easy to manage if workshop[ staff and resources are stretched

    2. > To be fair to AT, it is quite expensive to put on extra peak time services just for one month. What are they going to do – buy extra buses only to be used one month a year, and hire drivers for a month then fire them?
      If there are capacity problems all year round then that is another story…

      It’s not reasonable to expect (many) extra services for a month, but when things like 6tph on the Western Line and double-deckers are happening anyway, it’d be nice to push a little harder and get them done in time for the busiest month of the year. Not very slightly *after* the busiest month of the year.

    3. But the argument is that if better services were provided during that month, more people would stay using PT through the year. March would cease to be such an outlier.

  10. Not sure why AT have been running the ads in the Western Leader, maybe they just got a bulk buy with the publishers? lol

  11. NEX Bus are all here in auckland 15 painted up and ready to go , not sure what the delay is but they are all sitting in Richite swanson yard from what I have been told, they could be on the road in FEB?

  12. Anecdotally, seems to be some pretty bad road congestion already around Auckland in 2016, even with schools not back yet. Some congestion-free transport would be useful right about now…

      1. My homewards journey from Takkers to Kingsland has been a nightmare this week. The Esmonde Rd board showing at least 35m to Fanshawe St at a bout 4.45pm and the round the back way route jamming up at Sylvan Ave. 25 mins door to door going to work in the morning and up to 80 mins coming home. Unfortunately, the bus (2) is not much better.

        1. You might try looking into PT again. Google reckons it’s between 39 to 42 minutes bus commute between centre of Takapuna to centre of Kingsland, which includes the 6 to 8 minute layover in CBD to change bus. Which seems pretty competitive to your 80 minute drive home.

        2. This should be faster since the bus routes were rearranged in the CBD.

          The buses from Takapuna used to go via Quay Street and Lower Albert Street. I made the mistake once to transfer on another bus on Albert Street (Google Maps thought it was a reasonable idea), and going from Fanshawe Street to Wellesley Street took about 20 minutes. In other words, taking the bus from anywhere on the Shore to anywhere beyond Britomart was pretty much out of the question.

          But now the northstar busses now follow Wellesley Street. Now most transfers require a long walk (eg. how do you get to Britomart – Symonds Street) but you may be able to catch a bus on Albert Street or Hobson Street now.

    1. The sealed part of Hibiscus Coast station carpark is almost full by 7:15 this week, and the buses from there to town have frequently been standing room only. Hope AT are going to increase capacity of the routes and the carpark sometime soon. Again, it’s success of the service that’s causing problems – not anything wrong with the service itself.

  13. No word on the isthmus bus network either – since they’ve already figured out the design it’d be worth ironing out the schedule, reprogramming the stop names and just getting on with it.

    1. Consultation only closed in December so they’ll still be wading through the submissions. They haven’t confirmed the final design of the North Shore network either.

      1. They also have not provided the operating hours for the Western new network yet… They originally told me they would add it, then changed there story saying it would be available when the tending starts… Yet most or all the other consultations already have this…

  14. With two public holidays in the next two weekends, I think we may need to wait a couple more weeks for demand to really ramp up.

  15. So the high frequency timetable is due in May 2016, why after March/April madness?

    Hopefully with this timetable comes improved operating hours, sick of having to drive to into work at peak and back at night; because I finish an hour after the last train Sun-Thurs…

  16. AT needs to show some balls about bus lanes. They’re still too scared because they might upset some dairy owner.
    Take New North Rd around Kingsland village. Why isn’t there a continuous lane there? Buses crawl with the rest of the traffic in the morning.
    Doing bus lanes in patches only where there are no shops in sight is gutless.

    1. Noncontinuous bus lanes along main arterial routes are really impacting PT. Mt Eden Road for one, I can’t understand how city bound in the morning that bus lanes don’t exist north of the village to the train station. Having parked cars there in place of bus lanes is a sham. Furthermore having on-street parking in the village even at off-peak times still results in traffic banked up for ages…

      1. The Mt Eden Road route is going to get even busier under the new network plans, as the 274 service which currently starts at Three Kings is taking over the Hillsborough/Waikowhai part of the 29x Epsom route i.e. similar to the 277 but incorporating the other route through Hillsborough. My submission was the change made sense (and improves services for the current 29x riders) but AT need to have continuous bus lanes both inbound and outbound from Three Kings as part of that change (there are currently no outbound bus lanes south of Balmoral Road). Otherwise the service will become even more erratic time-wise, which leads to more overloads.

  17. “If they were they’d be running 6 car EMUs on all Western Line train services already.”

    Um – somebody forgot to order enough trains to have every peak service formedof 6 cars

    1. We know that, but AT could manage the fleet better.
      e.g. by asking CAF to have all EMUs sets maintained in advance so that they don’t have to have as many 3 car EMUs out of service each day as they do normally, during March.

      After all, its only for a month, its predictable as to demand, and therefore they should be able to pre-prepare the EMUs so that the bare minimum are kept back out of service during this time.
      [Even if it means running less 6 car EMUs in Jan as a stop gap].

      Of course there will be train breakdowns and such which require swapouts in March, but maybe they need to pay overtime to the CAF maintenance staff in March so that they can turnaround all such trains more quickly.

      Yes it adds cost, but so does having massively overloaded trains everywhere.

      The long term fix is to get enough EMUs in place full time.

      1. All well and good but trains do require routine servicing and defects do happen despite the best laid plans. The CAF contract is a bulk one and AFAIK AT can’t direct them to pay overtime. That also presupposes that staff will work extra hours.

        1. Probably wouldn’t actually need the extra hours as overall maintenance would be low in March freeing up staff to do the necessary stuff.

        2. Its a two way track Chris, if CAF want more AT business and a longer term contract to maintain them I’m sure they would willingly work with AT to come up with a workable solution – if asked in the right way.

          Of course staff may not want to work longer hours, and CAF may not want to pay overtime, who knows.

          Even so its not too hard to imagine that regular maintenance due in March can be bought forward to Jan/Feb, thus leaving extra sets for use to make up more 6 car sets than usual, ideally CAF should by now be in a position to know the peak demand for EMUs is in March and plan their complete 12 month maintenance schedules accordingly so that the minimum of maintenance is planned in March, thus ensuring any EMU faults that develop can be rectified and the faulty EMU quickly turned around to add to the “standby spares”.

          Failure to do so, is bad customer service, and as NZ Bus is finding out now, playing by your rules too much and for too long will only result in eventual heave-ho from your customers.

  18. Does anyone know whether the new double deckers will have more spacious seats?

    The current link buses have seats which arent wide enough for average NZ build, meaning you are literally squished in both side ways and length ways.

    Have often thought they should limit seating to three seats per row. They also need to focus on seat padding.

    Some people may laugh at these, but we need to be putting PASSENGER COMFORT very high on the list.

    1. yes, my understanding is that the new double deckers will be more spacious than the ADLs (used by NZ bus on the Link services, and H&E to a lesser extent).

      I agree on the seat configuration for the Link buses: They really should be inwards facing seats, at least at the front, to allow for faster boarding/alighting and more room for luggage and mobility devices, such as prams.

    2. Yeah I have trouble fitting my legs in a lot of buses, but it doesn’t seem like they care, just like the gate frame at sylvia park station which they have put so low anyone my height or taller hits their head on it… Complained and got told “its perfectly acceptable”.

      Urban express has some of the worst buses in terms of spacing that i’ve experienced, some don’t even have padding, just plastic seats similar to the Orbiter buses they used for rail bus replacements a year or two ago.

      1. I would also include train seating. Try travelling an hour on the train with a seat only slightly more comfortable than wooden seating! I guess in time they will soften, but it gives the overall impression that no one is paying attention to details.

        1. Meh I am sorry but I can never agree with the train one, the electric trains have some of the most comfortable padding I’ve experienced, a far cry from the SA’s. But I guess that comes down to opinion. The seating itself is a bit small though.

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