Almost exactly 18 months ago, Auckland Transport launched their AT Metro brand which is what they’re using to define public transport in Auckland. As part of that they also revealed that all buses would have a consistent livery. At the time they said:

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 how buses, trains and ferries serve different areas.

“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 PT system. “Knowing that all the services are integrated and part of the same system will help grow patronage”.

Fast forward to today and we’re seeing complaints from residents from the western North Shore wanting things to stay the same and complaints about the cost of it all.

Ratepayers are likely to be hit with a multi-million dollar bill following an order from Auckland Transport that all buses have to be painted the same colour.

The cost has been called “insane” by a ratepayers ginger group, but the move is being defended by transport bosses who say it will help to market Auckland as a whole.

It’s not known exactly how much painting the fleet the generic grey and blue will cost due to a combination of factors – contracts out to tender, new operators entering the market and buses being replaced – but an industry insider said it would cost upwards of $5 million.

The decision was made in 2014 to launch a “consistent brand” across Auckland’s buses, trains and ferries under the Regional Public Transport Plan.

….

Ritchies bus company owner Andrew Ritchie wasn’t sure how many buses in his fleet needed the transformation because he was currently tendering new contracts with Auckland Transport. However, each upgrade cost $9000.

“It’s going to cost millions all up.”

Mr Ritchie said the bill would be passed on to ratepayers because the expenses are written into the contracts with Auckland Transport.

“Someone’s got to pay – we’re charging someone and that will come back to the ratepayers.”

Birkenhead residents are set to submit a petition to the Auckland Council signed by almost 2500 people calling on Auckland Transport to change their decision to erase Birkenhead Transport’s 80 years of history with the stroke of a paintbrush.

Organiser Karen Goa said the fleet of 75 orange and cream buses was part of the neighbourhood’s identity which she felt was being lost in the Super City.

There are two issues here, one is whether we should let each operator retain their own liveries and the second is the cost of the change. Let’s look at both of those.

Livery

As AT say, cities all over the world work with a single brand and identity and all of which on systems much larger and more complex than ours. In my view having a different colour for every little corner of the city can easily cause confusion. We’ve even seen examples here in Auckland, even as recently as a few months ago when AT and operators shifted buses around during March to try and keep up with demand. That saw Ritchies buses running on some isthmus routes and had all buses been in the same livery passengers probably would never have even noticed a change.

In my view, the historic putrid colour scheme on Birkenhead Bus buses is like a giant billboard saying public transport is stuck in the past and only an option of last resort. It is not how we want the city to be represented to either residents or visitors.

In a choice of each corner of the city having a unique livery or having a consistent look for PT, I prefer the latter.

This isn’t to say I think the new livery is fantastic either. On single decker buses I think the new blue and grey looks awkward and ill-fitting but on the double deckers I think it seems to sit quite nicely and looks good.

NZ Bus double decker

As it happens AT are already in discussions with Birkenhead buses about buying double deckers for use on Onewa Rd services which brings us nicely

Costs

There are around 1,000 used for PT in Auckland, at a cost of $9,000 per bus that would cost about $9m but there are many reasons why it won’t be that high. AT anticipated the inevitable claims of wasting money at the time saying:

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.

That last point is the important part here. AT are currently rolling out the new bus network and with it new long term contracts – instead of rolling over existing short term contracts like they’ve been doing. The costs of repainting buses are able to be amortised across many years and would represent a tiny fraction of the amount we’ll be paying these bus companies over this time. And even with the requirement for a single livery, AT has managed to save $3 million a year on just the South Auckland contracts and once they complete contracting for the rest of the city the annual saving will almost certainly eclipse the one off cost of painting buses.

This goes even further though. As part of those new contracts, AT have said a number of bus quality requirements that mean operators will need to be buying a lot of new buses. In fact, the biggest operator in South Auckland as a result of the new contracts will likely need new buses for much of their fleet. The increase in the cost of painting new buses in the AT livery is effectively $0 to ratepayers as the cost would have been incurred anyway.

All up a bit of a storm in a bus stop.

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81 comments

    1. 18 months ago I thought that Auckland Transport missed a chance to go ‘back to the future’ by reverting o Yellow and Cream – personally I find the dark blue colour pretty drab, while I don’t mind the colours of Birkenhead’s fleet. Guess it goes to show how subjective colour schemes are:)

    2. Incidentally, that photo is a good advertisement for minimum bus standards. Prior to that the #19 North beach service ran comparatively modern red buses. Then Ritchies won lots of the routes and suddenly there were all sorts of random old buses running in Christchurch. Old buses are cheaper I guess…

    3. The new AT buses should be 2 tone color, i.e the top third the purple AT livery and the bottom third the operators livery for easy ID from a distance.
      For example, Richies white rainbow livery on the bottom third of the bus, yes some of us do have bad eyesight when looking at the buses display blind or now the led sign and can Id their local bus via color such as the link buses.

  1. It seems that Auckland is the only city that wants to have a standardised colour scheme, whilst the other main centres are not insisting on bus operators change their colours to unified brand.

    NZ Bus in Wellington has its own brands to reflect the areas it services and each bus has the Metlink logo it. The same applies to Mana Transport and Tranzit. Thats all you need

    Whilst the concept is great for consumer awareness of a unified band for PT in Auckland, I can understand why bus operators are not happy, as service contracts offered by AT are usually 3 years. If a bus operators does not get their service contract renewed, then there is the cost of repainting the bus back to the operator’s own brand/s. If the service contracts are longer say 5-6years, then the cost of AT branding can be written off over the duration of the contract.

    1. I saw a Western bus (can’t remember the name now) doing a Waka Pacific route in Manurewa a few weeks ago. If they’re going to use substitutions like that, is it not better to avoid people freaking out?

      1. I tell a lie – Go West. I’d have stepped back and wondered if it really was taking me from Manurewa to Manukau.

        1. And from memory the difference depends on how they’re contacted so 6 years for a direct negotiated route or 9 years for a tendered route

    2. I think Greater Wellington is looking at a standard colour scheme for the PTOM contracts, and buses on Christchurch’s main routes are colour-coded in Metro-specified livery. The Christchurch system works very well from this passenger’s perspective: with its limited number of main routes under the new setup, Wellington should do the same.

    3. Sorry but … no.

      Auckland may be the only city ***in New Zealand*** that is moving towards uniform branding, but it is extremely common overseas.

      And desirable I would add.

  2. As you say they are gloating over saving $3million a year in South Auckland contracts.Just who is paying for most of that saving – why the bus drivers – because the pay rates between the NZBus and GO Bus Drivers is a difference of about $2.50 per hour it seems from what possible GOBus drivers have been offered. And flat rate and for driving similar buses over the virtually same routes.
    So you think driving down wages in an already low paid job is worth it for the saving on a paint job?
    As it is NZ Buses are only painted in new livery when the bus is due for a repaint so this is all just a bit of a beat up.
    Can the ginger group vent their spleen on how low bus drivers wages and conditions are being deliberately driven by the AT created PTOM contract system

    1. PTOM is in fact a creation of NZTA and the Ministry of Transport and mandated on AT and the other regional councils.

  3. Auckland Ratepayers Alliance is another of these groups that needs to change their name. I’m an Auckland ratepayer and they don’t support my views. Stick an ‘an’ in front of your name: “An Auckland Ratepayers Alliance”.

  4. Honestly I think it really is a waste of time and money(ours) and the public should get a vote. If this is what AT wants then AT should run the busses and eliminate its privatisation and all employees should now be employed by AT and receive every benefit and more. Also United should all bus companies stand against AT. If you have an AT hopcard it means that you can use any AT services who cares about the colour. All tourists should worry about is get a hopcard and travel tour heart away. Are the Ferries also changing their colours. AT please don’t waste our hard earned money when the country has real needs like newer housing and its pricing, insulation, child abuse, exorbitant daycare fees, lack of free education and medicals and etc.
    Transport Blog, bring out a open partition to who is in favor or who is against this robbery of our NZ people. This country used to be about non profitability and affordability and mostly about decent values lets not decent towards third world values as once entered extremely difficult to exit.

    1. You realise that this is a very small expense of considerable value; anyway buses need to be painted, this is simply about rationally choosing how they are to be finished. Ritchies want to keep their branding at our expense; tough. There is no saving to be made here by reversing this decision, well except from not wasting any money on pointless petitions on a minor matter that is already being competently handled by Auckland Transport.

      So, no.

      1. Hi Patrick,
        Honestly had no idea this was already decided. So any comment for a decision already made I now retract as you are correct that it would cost money again to make an decision. However still feel that the Auckland Council should have ownership of the public transport.

        1. Sunesh I agree about ownership if we were starting from scratch. But given where we are I think the city can achieve many of the benefits of ownership through regulation and contracting without the huge cost of buying out the current owners, as every penny is needed elsewhere on our growing networks. Also there the small matter of the government outlawing direct public ownership in the 1990s in a fit of ideological purity.
          There are some practical issues too, the bus companies do also run private services outside of the peaks with their buses which is an important service, to schools etc, and I’m sure we really want AT burdened with that business too…

      2. Patrick, I think that the concern has arisen around Birkenhead’s fleet, not Ritchies. Ritchies put several new buses on the road last year when I was working there and they were introduced with the AT colours to save on later repaints, but not the branding.

        much of the criticism has been stirred up by that bastion of the sense free press, the North Shore Times, well known for reporting storms in teacups and the views of Generation 2040

          1. BHT has also started painting in the new colours (without branding). I think you will find the uproar is coming from local residents, not the company.

  5. “The cost has been called “insane” by a ratepayers ginger group”
    – is that GINGER as in how they “ginger” horses by putting ginger up their bums to make them more active?
    If so, I think it’s an excellent term and will use it forthwith.

    1. Maybe we should do that all our politicians – put ginger up their arse to make them more active.
      These so-called ratepayers groups really don’t cut the mustard with these antics.

      Actually … having said that about mustard – putting mustard up said politicians arses might be more effective than ginger.

  6. Yep, I would expect from Ritchie’s comments here that they pass on their costs of repainting their buses to ratepayers as part of their normal business practice so might as well get them to paint in one livery. Birkenhead, are you part of the city or not? If so, get on board.

  7. I think it’s a good idea to have standardised colour scheme but perhaps it should be phased in to save money? ie as buses are replaced then they’re in the new paint scheme. Buses that are due to be phased out in the next 3 years there is no point in painting them. Just leaving the others to be painted.

    1. As I understand it, the new scheme IS being phased in, and the majority of the repaints were earlier said to be scheduled for when buses needed a repaint. If that’s the case, then the cost is a non-argument.

  8. As a regular user of Birkenhead Transport (and the buses of bus companies) I am very upset at this. When you are standing at Victoria Park and a whole lot of buses are bearing down on you at great speed it is very difficult to read all the destinations. If you don’t work out which one is yours very quickly it is likely to pull away before you can get on it. Same when trying to catch the Link bus – at some bus stops it is difficult to see the destination until the bus is almost upon you, and if more than one bus arrives it is easy to hail the wrong one as the one you wanted sails past. Also, I prefer to avoid Ritchie’s if at all possible so am very happy to have them in a different colour.

    1. I do agree with you that it’s easier to pick out your bus from the colours, Karen. Bus drivers need to get a lot better at picking out their passengers. They often drive past bus stops at great speed. I remember missing my service often for this in my bus-catching days.

    2. The problem then is not the colour, instead the setup of the bus stop. I’ve been sending feedback to AT for a while to split the Victoria St bus stop into three, based on destination: 1. Busway/Express bays, 2. Kaipatiki (west North Shore), 3. Takapuna/Bayswater. Then the colours become unimportant. The good news is that they’re extending Victoria Park stop, but it’s a mystery whether they’ll split that stop.

      1. Exactly the same thing I asked AT about.

        Not sure if it has changed recently. But when used to use it, I found the Victoria Park stop at 5.30pm on a week day was chaotic. Buses that are overly full driving past, other diving in from one end to the other, with masses of people having to stand up under the trees to figure out which bus is which and try and rush from one end to another. And in a narrow footpath which did not help.

    3. I think a large reason for that is that the route info displays on the Birkenhead buses are mostly ancient and very dim so you cant see them until they are really close. Hopefully there are minimum requirements for these displays on the new contracts also.

      1. In addition most BT buses only display their destination at the front – nothing on the side, nothing at the back. At some bus stops it is very difficult to identify which bus is the right one – so colour helps, but if there was signage on the side and back as well, as there should be, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

        1. Yes good point. Overseas most buses have the route number on the back as well and often have it on the passenger side too in one of those old style dot matrix type scrolling displays (or newer LED ones).

          1. I’d be surprised if AT didn’t specify side, rear and interior displays in tne PTOM contracts, as well as the livery. Such things are basics nowadays.

        2. not correct, probably only the oldest remaining BHL buses have signs only on the front, many have rear facing electronic displays, although a few still have old scroller blinds!

      2. Birkenhead’s buses also have a silver company logo on the front left, so it just means that you have to look for something smaller and more subtle than a beige bus with black stripes

        that said, operator logos get much greater exposure in London’s uniform red scheme, but with the above exception, not here, I would have thought that the operators would have argued for higher visibility with their logos on the buses

  9. There are two issues here – the branding and the colour.

    I feel quite strongly about the branding – the services under the new network will not be Ritchies or Birkenhead Transport or Go West services – they will be AT services, with the service requirements set by AT after public consultation and for the public good. The successful operator will merely be the one which wins the tender. So I think that the branding should be AT’s and AT’s alone. It’s hard enough to sell a product in any field without a good, strong, consistent brand, and public transport would be no exception.

    However, there may be a bot of room for manoeuvre with the colour. We already have acceptance of an “individual” colour scheme for the three Link services and route 380.Perhaps AT could roll that concept out further, by (say) painting all “Frequent Service” routes with an individual colour scheme, but with consistent AT branding, not company branding. BHT’s Beach Haven services could, for example, retain the ugly beige colour scheme with the AT branding being in black on the beige background. I rather fancy a large two-digit route number for FSN routes also being painted very bigly on the side of the bus as well but that’s another story

    1. Branding: spot on, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

      Re frequent routes and colours, that’s just what Christchurch does, pretty effectively.

      1. So does Wellington with its Go Wellington, Valley Flyer from NZ Bus and Mana Coachlines brand for their Porirua, Titahi Bay, Nagio and Khandallah and Tranzit for all Waiararapa services.

        The locals wont like it if Greater Wellington Regional Council tries to impose the Metlink brand similar to the suburban trains on the buses.

        1. But Kris, GW is already starting to rebrand public transport with the Metalink brand. They have already started the rebrand with trains. The tickets have already been rebranded to metlink. Also if you look really closely at the Matangi trains, they have already started removing all of the tranz metro branding, and leaving the Metalink brand in place only. They will eventually start doing this to busses once the new contracts come up for renewal.

          1. The small Tranz Metro branding on the Matangi sets has been removed, but I think it’s going to replaced by similar small Transdev branding, as on the AMs. But other Tranz Metro branding is starting to disappear, for example the TM website is being closed down with the info transferred to the Metlink site, and text alerts are being taken over by Metlink.

        2. Kris, we’re talking about service branding, like the Link: what Wellington has (except for the Airport Flyer) is operator branding, precisely what Auckland and Christchurch (and Wellington, I think) are moving away from. Operator branding will in fact be meaningless, because the product will be specified entirely by AT, with negligible differences between one operator and another, but significant differences between one service type and another.

    2. Branding: yes, agreed. Colours: By introducing yet more colours, you’d remove flexibility for the operators to substitute buses. So no for me. I agree that the chosen dark blue is ghastly, but I don’t want any change if it’s going to cost more.

  10. I’ve missed buses because the “usual” bus was replaced with a bus from some other bus company. There is no way to tell until they are so close it’s too late to put your arm out. That wee card in the window by the drive isn’t readable until it’s too late.

    One livery to identify them all and in the darkness…..find them.

    As for cost….I see it as the cost of correcting a long-standing mistake.

  11. An exception could have been made for Birkenheads historic livery. None of the other operators have similarly historic or community valued livery. Disagree it indicates the buses are stuck in the past – the buses aren’t old just the colours. There are many international examples of long standing pt brands.

      1. Clearly we are all paying including the community in question. Note I didnt say the business likes it and therefore should be able to keep it.

    1. No exceptions please, keep it consistent across the whole network. There’s no reason why Birkenhead Transport needs to be somehow different. Reminds me of the concrete heritage road at Northcote Point.

  12. Obviously Birkenhead Transport are now changing to the new corporate colours but God it’s a dour look. Why such an uninspiring colour combo? I realise Matt L loathes BTL’s fleet colour but truly the new one is worse, Iron Curtain in its austerity, urban camouflage and misery. Joe Stalin would approve. Even a couple of brand new buses in their fleet look little better than the resprays. And wait a couple of years until the paint is flat, bad all round.

    Although the standardised colour scheme is also about ease of tender changes for AT and therefore control, I don’t disagree with a corporate look, but this? Try harder AT! A revival of the old Yellow Bus scheme would have brightened up the streets and made the buses not only instantly standout but it would also look uniquely Auckland.

    1. Agreed. Perhaps they could make it a bit lighter going forward, but please no change to existing ones – I don’t want to pay for it.

  13. AT branding is good but I would prefer a colour code for north, south, east, west, central, inner link, outer link.
    This is only 7 colours, so 7 spare buses.
    I’d prefer lighter brighter colours for better visibility, I don’t like the dark AT colour scheme.

    1. That would remove flexibility for substitutes. There are already North Star buses running on western and central routes that are normally serviced by Metrolink or Go West. So no for me. But in regards to colour, I agree a lighter blue would’ve been nicer. But don’t change the existing fleet anymore, I don’t want to pay for it.

  14. “residents from the western North Shore wanting things to stay the same” it’s all about status quo. I still remember flying into NZ reading the 2008 Lonely Planet: Nz is a progressive place they said. Yeah right. A fight for changing a bus livery, an ugly one as well!

  15. Birkenhead Transport should keep their historic livery on all their buses operating in their traditional region. This move to a unified paint scheme is about consistency, so lets celebrate a company that has some of the most consistent branding in the country!

    1. Has it been confirmed that Birkenhead Transport will be operating routes, in its traditional area or not, under PTOM? If no, the livery question is academic; if yes, they will have had to agree to AT’s PTOM contract conditions including livery, so the question is academic there too.

  16. I assume the link is changing? They only chose those colours a couple of years ago. If not its a bit bizzare to have ine colour for every route in Aucklamd except 3 which all have their own colour.

    1. No the Link colours remain for legibility, and they are entirely local; if Ritchies’ buses served only one route and were in fact so branded rather than branded by ownership, then there would be a case from the users’ point of view; but they ain’t and there ain’t.

      1. Not sure what you mean by local. Who owns the link buses? If someone else wanted to tender for the contract doesn’t the same issue arise?

        1. The colour of Link route buses is in the contract exactly the same as for the Metro routes. It’s not hard is it? If you want to bid for the contract you have to satisfy the terms…. Ritchies should shut their moaning, or if it’s that important to them, then don’t bid for the work.

          1. I don’t know who you are addressing but I don’t care one way or the other about Ritchie’s comments. NZ Bus run link it turns out. Does AT own the IP? Ie are they being contracted the same as the others?

          2. The link routes are probably being negotiated, not tendered. So unless they can’t settle on a price, NZB will retain them.

  17. BHT had already started changing its colours. New buses are blue. The question of cost depends on the phase in period AT requires. Over 5 years and I can’t see it being a major issue. Buses have to be repainted every 10 under PTOM anyway.

    BHT are in the process of getting double deckers and they should be on the road by year end.

  18. I think the dark blue n silver look ok. But it being dark and Auckland getting a bit of sun over the year. Will mean for a hot uncomfortable ride, oh they have A/C you might say, but most of the time the air conditioner can’t keep up in our hot summers.
    and 1 in 4 buses I caught the A/C had broken down, and these buses have no openable windows and the bus will not move if a door is open.
    So the original Birkenhead bus color makes sence.
    And one of the Richie’s bus drivers told me that AT had forced Richie’s transport to lease 12 of there new MAN buses to NZ bus. And if they hadn’t Richie’s transport would not have got a contract renewal.

  19. Uniform branding is definitely the way to go. With regards to telling which bus is yours, it’s simply not efficient to have different colours for different parts of the network. NZ Bus tried and failed.

    As for colour schemes, I’ll leave that to the marketing experts.

  20. If BHT are unwilling to procure double Deckers in my opinion they shouldn’t win any NS tenders.

    The reason for the single branding is simple we are creating a unified intregated network, the branding is a part of this so for consumers transfers and the network feel more seamless and connected.

    1. What makes you think they are unwilling. This story is all about a group of locals who want a local business to keep its identity.

      1. “If they are unwilling” didn’t say they were, only if. Any company unwilling to procure double Deckers shouldn’t be considered for tender for those routes.

        A business can keep its heritage as much as it wants, just can’t do it with AT and NZTA subsidies.

        1. They are willing and it isn’t them that is behind the Brouhaha so not really sure what you are on about. They have already started painting buses blue.

          In fact it is surprising they haven’t even commented on the issue. Ritchies are the only ones that have commented on it and that was really just to point out that the cost of any repaint will be passed on to AT/ratepayers (though as pointed out, depending on the phase in period, the cost will be minimal).

  21. I can see that BHT is colouring their buses. so far i think there is only 3 of them out of 77 of buses being painted. I am just wondering, how come when they have a new buses on the road and they know it is going to be used in Auckland anyway, they should just came into AT colour before accepting the delivery. surely the manufacturing company of the bus able to paint the AT colours beforehand….

    looking at the discussion, looking forward to see BHT will have double decker buses too.. it will be interesting to see when it is on the road….

    Regards
    Jacky

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