Auckland is in the midst of the most transformational change to public transport the city has seen since the trams were ripped out in the 1950’s – and I’m not even talking about the City Rail Link. Much of the change is the result of strategies set a decade or more ago but which have only really started to be implemented in the last few years. Once complete they represent the laying of foundations upon which we can build public transport to a level Aucklanders expect and can start to be proud of and with this, projects like the CRL will never be as successful as they could be. The changes are both public facing and behind the scenes with some of the main ones being:
- Integrated Ticketing
- Integrated Fares
- Rail network improvements
- Double tracking the western line
- Reopening the Onehunga Line
- Building the Manukau line
- Station upgrades
- New contracting model (PTOM)
- New Bus Network
Some of these are already completed while others are due to start rolling out soon, for example integrated ticketing first started rolling out in 2011 while integrated fares are due to go live on 31 July. The results from the initiatives that have rolled out so far have been impressive. Overall, annual patronage in the last decade has increased by nearly 32 million trips a year from around 51 million in 2006 to nearly 83 million as of the end of May. Despite rapid population growth, per capita usage has increased by around 14 trips per person per year up to nearly 52 – although that is still low by international standards.
The biggest aspect yet to be implemented is the new network with the first part in the South due to roll out in October. The West was tendered for recently and AT are currently evaluating the responses at the moment but the other parts of the network aren’t due to roll out till next year or even early 2018. The timings below come from AT’s latest Board Report.
Oct 2015: Hibiscus Coast bus service design implemented
Oct-2016: South bus service design implemented
May-2017: West bus service design implemented
Aug-2017 to Feb-18: North, Central and East bus service design implemented
Getting to the point of the post, I feel Auckland Transport need to impose upon themselves a deadline of around 14 months to get all of these changes implemented.
There are few reasons for this. First and foremost, the sooner we get the new network rolled out, the sooner we can start to reap the benefits from it but there’s now another reason too. Last week the government announced the date for the next census as Tuesday 06 March 2018.
The census is important as the results are used heavily in many analyses’ for projects and policies as it’s the only to get detailed journey and mode data across the entire (working) population. With Auckland in particular changing so rapidly, being able to show that through the census results is important. As one example, the last census in 2013 revealed that as a change in modal share, PT and active modes in Auckland were all improving and given the results we’ve seen I’d expect that to continue from the 2018 results.
The data has also been used to create interactive results like the commuter view, allowing you to click on an area unit and and see where people are coming from or going to for work.
Maximising the outcome for PT and active modes represents a great opportunity for AT to show how the city is changing and it’s one I think they should be looking to take which is why I think they need to set a deadline to get as many PT improvements in place prior to that time.
But why only allow 14 months, that only takes us to about September 2017. The main reason for choosing that date is that it’s about 6 months prior to census day. Having everything implemented by then would therefore allow users to adjust and get used to the changes and new ones to start to take advantage of them. We know from overseas that these types network changes often result in an initial reduction in patronage but they achieve stronger growth over time as new users try the changes and adapt to them. Conversely, holding off changes till after the census is also not a great idea as it will mean the network isn’t operating as well as it should be and patronage growth wouldn’t be as strong as a result. AT need to find the goldilocks zone.
On top of just rolling out the new network by that point there are a couple of other things they need to have sorted by then.
The census takes place in March which we know is traditionally the busiest month of the year for the transport system. In the last few years we’ve seen repeated issues with buses being overcrowded resulting in people sometimes needing to wait for up to 12 to go past before one with enough space turns up. While the new network will address some of that, on top of setting that up they’ll need to be working with operators to have extra capacity provided during that time. Unfortunately given the lead in times it will be too late to do anything to get extra trains in so there are likely to be some busy trains by that point.
AT will also need to get moving on getting more physical infrastructure rolled out to support the new network, this includes upgraded bus lanes or other bus priority, improved stops and signage etc. In essence they need work on ensuring there are significant improvements to the customer experience.
For one more reason why it’s important, previously the census has only asked about journey to work which excluded a lot of trips, especially PT trips by students. Following consultation it’s appears quite likely that Stats NZ will add to the census a question about journey to education which should give a much more relevant picture of transport use.
What do you think, is it time for AT to put some harder deadlines in place in advance of the census?