Every year for many years now March has been mad for public transport use and every year that madness has been entirely predictable. It’s happens due to a combination of many factors such as high numbers of people being at work, schools and universities all back in action and generally decent weather. But predictability doesn’t mean AT do anything all that much about it and this year, AT’s solution publicly was just to tough it out
Mark Hannan, Auckland Transport spokesman, said it was too early to say if complaints had increased this year as tertiary students had only just started back.
“The numbers travelling on buses and trains does increase but settles back again as students work out their schedules. The best advice is to plan ahead and try to travel outside peak times.”
Now we know they did a little more than that, for example getting bus operators like Party Bus to run services but that was far from enough. While I accept that some of the factors will change over the year, one that AT seem to not even consider is that people are so put off by the poor and crowded services that they simply go back to driving.
As well as the ‘tough it out’ stance of AT, I’ve noticed over the year’s people increasingly fed up with how AT handle complaints, often feeling that no one has even cared about the issues raised and that’s if they hear back from AT at all.
This year our friends at Generation Zero ran a campaign asking for people to provide on poor bus experiences they’ve had and they’ve now released the some of the results of their survey. Overall they say they had over 1,000 responses which is impressive as by comparison it appears AT had about 1,900 complaints. The complains came from primarily along the isthmus and Mt Eden Rd is very noticeable.
Unsurprisingly the big issues related to buses being late and full/overcrowded.
There’s a lot more in the report breaking down the results in various ways however the key takeaways for me are that AT need to do better to improve capacity through more frequent/bigger buses as well as get the bus lanes sorted so they’re more useful to buses and therefore the city.
After Generation Zero released the report, AT responded and continued continuing the line that people just need to tough it out.
Auckland Transport welcomes the Generation Zero: Better Bus Report but General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says it highlights some of the key initiatives already underway that will improve bus services in Auckland further.
“We would generally support the report and its findings and note we are already working on much of what it recommends.”
Mr Lambert says the Generation Zero report highlights the increased travel demand in March but doesn’t consider the fact that Auckland Transport has to plan for all 12 months of the year.
“March Madness is an annual phenomenon which isn’t unique to Auckland. During the month we carried 5.9 million bus passenger trips. March is the month each year with the highest demand on transport and other services. With the end of February it includes the start of the tertiary year, schools are back and more people are in the city following summer holidays.
“With significant public funding provided for public transport, it would be financially irresponsible to plan for the least possible wait time for a bus during the busiest period of the year, otherwise we would have empty buses on the network for the rest of the year. But we do need to ensure that average wait times for buses are acceptable and improved. On some corridors, especially Mt Eden Road, wait times were too long in March.”
In the 12 months to the end of March public transport use has increased by 4.1% and now exceeds 81.4 million passengers trips a year with record bus, rail and ferry passenger levels. In January, Auckland Transport recorded its best ever month for bus punctuality and in March punctuality was down slightly to 90% of bus services operating within 5 minutes of schedule.
In the past year Auckland Transport added 53,000 extra seats on public transport with 30,000 of those on buses. “We are also part way through a programme to roll-out more than 60 double decker buses to the Auckland network and in the year to the end of June we will add another 17 kilometres of bus lanes.”
He also says Auckland Transport is planning more services, more often with the public transport New Network which starts in the south later this year. The New Network reviews every bus route in Auckland and is implementing from October a hub-and-spoke system of feeding local bus services into a connected network of higher frequency services that will operate on key corridors, either rail or high frequency bus routes, operating 7 days a week between 7am and 7pm.
Mr Lambert says a simpler and more logical public transport fares structure is planned to be launched in the coming months to encourage further public transport use.
“With all these changes we are in a much better position to handle the growing demand for bus services in Auckland but we have to work within current budgets.“
The problem with the theory that it’s all just a one off month and that things will soon return to normal is that it hasn’t. Even in May we’re still hearing/seeing people commenting about full buses. One such example was yesterday by Journalist Kim Baker-Wilson but there have been plenty of others.
Checkpoint producer @natashamfrost asked Ak Transport why umpteen full buses went by her this morning and got told March Madness (it's May).
— Kim Baker Wilson (@kimbakerwilson) May 3, 2016
Perhaps we need a name for each month to describe the overcrowding. This month could be May Mayhem while next month could Jammed Up June.
AT also make mention of some of the projects they’re working on like integrated fares – which ironically could encourage more people to use PT, possibly making it worse. Double deckers on additional routes and the New Network are also mentioned. All of these changes are good of course but they’re taking an age to complete. AT need to get these changes rolled out faster.