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
    • Electrification
  • 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.

2016-05 - Total Patronage

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.

Census Journey to Work - Auckland Central West and East

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?

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  1. deadlines help to focus people’s minds, but there are some unintended consequences: Complex and unforeseen challenges do arise, and the last thing we want is implementation to be compromised simply to meet an arbitrary deadline

    So Matt my questions for you are:
    1) what PT improvements would you prioritize? E.g extending hours for bus lanes x, y, and z, And
    2) by when do you think they can be implemented?

    1. So Matt my questions for you are Okay I’ll answer those ones):
      1) what PT improvements would you prioritize? E.g extending hours for bus lanes x, y, and z, And

      a) 24/7 enforced bus lanes
      b) Order another 20 trains
      c) Pukekohe electrification and the 3 new stations
      d) Te Atatu Bus Interchange
      e) $2.50 flat fare all day Sunday like Sydney
      f) Route protection for heavy rail to the Airport and the Botany Line LRT

      2) by when do you think they can be implemented?
      a) When AT get off their backside
      b) As above
      c) By 2018 and before those SHA’s in the south are complete
      d) By 2018 also
      e) See a)
      f) See a)

      As you see it comes down to will power from AT especially if they are serious about the 8-80 city (they are not otherwise A, B, E and F would have already been done by now)

      1. Most of those do nothing for census day though e.g. more trains will take a minimum of 2 years to deliver if they placed the order toda. Puke electrification looks more and more to be battery EMUs (can buy 10-14 battery EMUs for the price of the wires) and can’t be done before census. Sunday fares don’t help when census is in a Tuesday, and doesn’t help the weekday peaks.

        Route protections are only for future PT and priority is the Onehunga route.

        1. And we wonder why the Airport Line goes no where because of this fetish for Onehunga like LRT. Gold plated solutions that do not give the wins nor value for buck in Auckland.

          And from the rest it looks like a cynical attempt to gerry-rig the Census day itself rather than hogging over the period of time.

          If you cant do A-E because AT is busy in A mode then not even a Census will help you as perceptions go beyond a certain day.

        2. Actually I think that family pass Sundays, which is what the flat fare on Sunday was initially about is key to driving patronage, it both removes a cost barrier for taking the whole family on PT, which is important for getting children used to the concept of going somewhere on PT and more importantly provides the opportunity to convince some people they don’t actually need a car to get around, because it’s both cheaper and more convenient to actually use PT on any day.

          Weekends with RTN routes provide support to the overall transport system being a viable option, that a bus every two hours (which until recently was the majority of Sunday timetables outside key routes) can never do.

          As a side issue, there will be an interesting experiment in Sydney as some of the travel benefits are rolled back as they try to improve farebox recovery. The key one will be the half priced travel after the eighth trip (it’s currently free), weekend carmeggedon is being predicted, as the base cost will rise for most metropolitan PT users.

      2. 24/7 buslanes? Perhaps on certain streets but certainly not over the entire city. What is the point of having a bus lane at 10 o’clock at night on a route that has otherwise empty general traffic lanes?
        It does nothing to improve bus travel times but does stop people from parking there overnight (unless that is the real aim – stick it to motorists by constraining their ability to park – something which has been promoted in one way or other on this blog. I don’t have too much of an issue with that in terms of city centre but think it’s a bit unnecessary out in the burbs).
        In most of the burbs buslanes 6am-8pm will suffice quite nicely. City centre and places like Newmarket 24/7 sure thing.

        1. Why should we be parking cars on arterial routes, which is where you’d expect bus lanes to be implemented?

        2. No reason not to at night. While you are right that arterials should always be prioritised for movement, there is no reason that during the periods with very low volumes people shouldn’t be able to park their cars.

      3. Ben while I agree with you on all the other points you can not electrify to Pukekohe without rebuilding the motorway overbridge at Drury due to the height and the width of the rail corridor under the existing bridge (Kiwirail will require a third main to maintain their timetable if the metro timetable is increased, something that will be likely once electrics go to Puke). The airport via Onehunga is what AT want whether it is the best option or not so there will be no other routes considered so can’t be protected and AT seem to also be against rail in any form to the eastern suburbs.

  2. Something like extending bus lane hours seems like it should be so simple I’d be appalled if it wasn’t done by then.

    I guess the biggest thing is capacity in March, we need more in many routes to stop people being turned off PT because they can’t get on it. Things that support that will be key so having plans for extra buses and drivers (perhaps from out of Auckland if needed), off peak fares to help spread the load etc.

    1. OK, so we have:
      1 Extension of bus lane operating hours; and
      2 Capacity increases, preferably timed to occur by say January.

      Sounds achievable! I’d add:
      3. Spend 100% of the cycle budget, especially money tagged to the urban cycleway fund.

      In terms of #1 do we know anything about the bus lane extension programme that was partly funded by the targeted transport levy? I suspect #2 will be partly addressed via a combination of PTOM contracts, NN roll-out, and double-decker delivery but it’s good to identify it explicitly.

      As for #3 I’d be keen to see a list of upcoming projects to salivate over and advocate for.

      1. Extended Buslane hours are vital. I also have issue with tidal ones. Many places especially in the inner areas don’t simply exhibit monotonal one way flows at different times of the day like arterials to and from dormitory ‘burbs. Where streets are busy in both directions at the peaks the parked cars are stuffing up the bus and general traffic lanes on at least one side.

        So longer hours, and less intermittency.

    2. It doesn’t help when AT introduce something like double deckers but then reduce the number of services meaning the increase in capacity on the route is not as much as it could’ve been. Honestly to see a tweet within a week of Mt Eden double deckers being introduced with someone missing getting a bus because that bus was already full and now having to wait longer because AT cut the number of services was just crazy.

  3. Looking at that patronage chart, the Rugby World Cup blip is obvious. Are AT looking forward to the World Masters Games in Auckland next April and preparing adequately for that. Many of the 25,000 competitors will buy a Hop card as part of their registration and will be expecting world class and reliable PT to get them between accommodation and venues and around the city. We cannot afford another RWC PT fiasco and the detrimental effect that will have on the support of everyday PT users.

    1. I thought the World Cup blip was also about the HOP transition and the change in the way trips were counted, along with the using up of paper tickets.

  4. There should be a review of all arterials with >x buses/hour at peak. Bus bottlenecks should be identified and dealt with, hours extended etc. This should be able to happen in 12 months.

  5. A little off topic, but it is good to be reminded of the phenomenon of fewer and fewer people travelling as passengers in private vehicles. The AKL data above is consistent with changes in other western countries too.

    1. It is interesting to speculate about the cause; ageing population perhaps? Fewer young people getting driven in household car? Or is it the ever increasing dispersed nature of the city? Fewer people from same household going in the same direction?

    2. Comes exactly as the technophiliacs are all claiming we are soon going to pootle about in bot-cars together. As part of the ATAP modelling, for example, they are doing runs with average vehicle occupancy of 1.6 and above, just as in the real world it slips below 1.2. The futuristists may be all wrong about this…..?

    1. Replying to your off-topic point #2, car occupancy will increase only when car ownership drops. I tried out uber’s ride sharing option in Paris, which is essentially the bot-car-share idea but with a full-time driver:
      I shared the uber with a mother and daughter. It’s a compromise (I had to detour to pick them up; they had to wait while the driver found the train station entrance and unloaded my luggage), but it was personalised taxi service with elements of PT sharing… It worked because of population density (= increased chances of routes overlapping), cost saving (half price ride), convenience (app did the passenger match up; if no share can be found the ride goes ahead anyway but at full price).

      1. No, it worked because Uber doesn’t meet regulatory standards and can thus undercut the providers who pay for safety

  6. I am incredibly disappointed with the Central/East Suburbs “New Network”
    1. We haven’t got higher frequency
    2. We haven’t got earlier (or later!) buses in fact the earliest bus is now later than the current bus!
    3. There’s no indication of quicker trips

    I had incredibly high hopes for this, and am very disappointed at how little is changing. And it’ll take another year before we even get it.

  7. It seems the plan is to go right on spending money until every car passenger changes to a more expensive mode. (Figure 3.4)

    1. Like NZTA spending billions and billions trying to push PT users back into cars to justify that spending?

      PT the more expensive mode? Pfft….

  8. Sorry, but I just don’t see the census as being a good enough reason to try to rush through a long and complicated process of getting the new network in place. The timeline has been set, I understand, to allow tenderers sufficient time to purchase the necessary buses, for one, so it’s entirely possible that advancing the schedule to be completed in September 2017 would mean that there weren’t enough buses to operate the required services. That would be a massive own goal.

    There’s a constant theme from some posters that assumes that AT can just magic up the cash to do everything yesterday, and that the people who work there are inherently stupid. AT’s decisions are based on a far wider and more complex set of variables and criteria than any poster would be aware of. There are political, financial and operational constraints on what AT can and can’t do, and most of them are beyond AT’s control. Timelines are set for good reasons, and aren’t put in place deliberately to delay positive change. That’s not to say that AT does everything right – of course they don’t – but the most credible posters on TransportBlog are those who give thoughtful analysis and give credit where it’s due, rather than those who constantly shriek hysterically about how useless AT is. Boring.

    1. I think you’re quite right about what you’ve said. In my opinion Auckland Transport are one of the most competent public sector organisations in the country.

  9. Much as I would like to see much-needed and obviously-beneficial public-transport improvements fast-tracked, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that such impatience is futile in New Zealand. Our transport authorities do not react to deadlines or potential lost-opportunities when it comes to PT. Of course it is different with roads. I still can’t get over how quickly the $124m Arras Tunnel vanity-project in Wellington advanced from John Key’s whim to completion! Just shows what can be done when politicians are interested.

    But public transport advances at its own glacial pace. We learn to shrug at the squandered opportunities to designate future routes (eg Airport rail), to plan for future extension (eg Manukau Station) or to include PT in major highway schemes (eg NW busway). We know that sense will eventually prevail and these things will happen, but at much greater cost and much forgone-benefit compared to prioritising them now, but that is the Kiwi way.

    The thing that offers some encouragement is the unstoppable nature of glaciers!

  10. Deadline stops bureaucrats mucking around and get things done in reasonable time.
    We are losing patience for things such as train speed improvements.

    1. I don’t know about other parts of the network but the trains in Britomart tunnel and around the vector curve seem to faster these days. They certainly aren’t crawling like they did when first introduced. May I suggest it’s time the blog did an update on the train speed and station dwell time issue.

      On a related note I wonder if the blog authors have heard whether Cowie Street residents are going to appeal the independent Commissioner’s finding over the Sarawia Street crossing?

      1. The curve speeds were improved as part of work done over Queens Birthday I think it was (deliberately targeted at improving them). As I understand it there are a number of things that have been done to improve speeds but we aren’t seeing them as drivers need to drive to timetable. The intention being that they’ll get all or a lot of the improvements done then make changes and speed up the times. Improvements are one of the reasons why punctuality has gone up to over 95%.

        Oh and I’ve tried to get details for an update but AT don’t want to talk about it

  11. IMO, Matt is considerably overstating the importance of the Census as a determinant of the optimal timing of (public) transport improvements. Their timing should, in general, be as early as is achievable, given funding constraints and the myriad of other constraints faced by AT.

    I suggest that Matt is overstating the importance of the census to project development, assessment and decision-making. While the census data provides a useful ‘snapshot’input to transport planning, it has considerable limitations: for example, it does not cover travel to/from education (including tertiary education), which comprises a substantial portion of peak period travel; and it tells us nothing about the timing of commuter travel (and so about peak spreading etc).

    For urban transport (including PT) planning generally, census data usually only plays a small role relative to other data sources. These include: the NZ Continuous Household Travel Survey; AT’s monthly PT patronage (boardings) data; continuous travel time and traffic volume data on state highways; surveys of ‘congestion’ levels on main routes (every six months); and periodic surveys of car occupancy rates.

    Figure 3.4 is interesting. Is one of its conclusions that, while the efforts and expenditures allocated to improving PT since 2006 have had some success in increasing PT mode share, their primary result has been to attract previous car passengers (who in many cases were using ‘free’ seats in cars that would be making the trip anyway) to improved/expanded peak period PT services (which are certainly not cheap to provide and operate)? This may or may not be a valid conclusion (I hope it isn’t)– but I don’t think we really know?

    1. We still hear in conversations it referred to as fact. Also as mentioned in the post it appears stats are set to add journey to education to the next census.

    2. Ian every Transport Minister I have meet has quoted census Journey to Work to me data to explain why they just have to build ever more vast motorways. I know that is illogical, doesn’t follow, and so on, but that’s how goes, and that argument still flies with the public.

      Any improvement in headline gross data will help at the political level. I know it is hard and often unpleasant for technocrats and experts to lower their thinking to the political level, but this is where the money comes from so they really ought to make the effort.

      1. Another factor with the census data is that it usually takes literally years to get all the analysis done. Where “journey to work” information ranks in the overall scheme of things I don’t know, but I suspect it’s not the top of the priority list. Another reason why pulling the new network completion forward won’t deliver measurable benefits in a reasonable timescale.

        But the NEXT census – well, that will be interesting . . . I hope!

    3. I think the truth is in between. Yes the census is only one data source, and there’s lots of other things that influence transport planning analyses.

      On the other hand Patrick is right: when national transport ministers are asked about their governments ridiculous subsidies for highways they often respond by pointing to census results.

      So perhaps the importance is psychological more than technical, but when it comes to winning hearts and minds we all know which is most important, a’ la brexit.

  12. Confused by what is meant by integrated fares coming 31 July. There is a revamp of the monthly pass, to cost $200 per month. This is significantly more expensive than 40 1 stage bus fares which cost $72. This can’t be called an integrated fare because a sizeable portion of people who would transfer won’t be using the monthly pass at this price. I submit that it is going backwards by getting rid of the zones from the monthly pass – a Zone A pass is going from $140 to 200 and is therefore less useful

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