This is a post by Mark Lambert – Auckland Transport’s Chief AT Metro Officer.
Public transport is all about numbers – literally bums on seats.
When more people use it it’s cheaper to run and there are simply fewer cars on the road, meaning less congestion.
And in Auckland those numbers keep heading skywards, reaching 87 million passenger trips in the year to March, a growth of 6.8 percent on the previous year. March itself was a record with 9.4 million passenger trips across Auckland’s bus, train and ferry services.
That’s the most trips since 1956, when most Aucklanders weren’t even born and the last Auckland tram was decommissioned.
Auckland’s new love affair with public transport puts NZ third in the world in terms of growth in average public transport use.
The UTIP (International Association of Public Transport) publishes biennial global trends and in the most recent report, Public Transport Trends 2017, New Zealand has come in third, behind Belgium and China for growth in average public transport usage rates beyond the impact of population growth between 2001 and 2014. Since 2014, Auckland’s public transport use has grown even further above the rate of population growth.
Getting the massive increase in numbers of people using buses, trains and ferries has come from years of planning and strategy.
The development of a new Auckland public transport system – AT Metro – is well underway. It focusses on providing people with public transport choices that are frequent, reliable, safe and value for money.
In the early 2000s Auckland’s train system was nearly dead, in fact the commuter rail service was in serious threat of being shut down.
After a renewed focus and major investment in electrifying the network and a whole new fleet of trains, patronage has been increasing by around 20 percent a year; the sort of phenomenal growth that very few organisations globally can match.
Trains carried 19 million passenger trips in the year to March, with 2.2 million carried in March alone.
And once the City Rail Link is built both the capacity and the convenience of the network will push it even further towards the train system Aucklanders need.
Buses are the backbone of public transport used by Aucklanders, with 61.9 million passenger trips in the year to March.
The huge success of the Northern Busway now means that more than half of the people who travel across the Auckland Harbour Bridge on a weekday do so on a bus, and they get the bonus of one of the best views in the city, especially from the top of one of the new double deckers.
To keep Aucklanders moving AT is in the process of revolutionising the city’s entire bus network.
It started in South Auckland last year and in June it rolls out to the West, then it’s on to the East, the Central suburbs and North Shore by the middle of next year.
Historically our bus network has been like a plate of spaghetti thrown against a map.
Because there are hundreds of services that don’t link together it’s very hard to understand and many services are low frequency making them not that attractive. Operating many long, winding and infrequent services between as many places as possible is a very poor use of resources.
The New Network will bring a whole new transport philosophy to Auckland. Instead of longer, direct routes, there will be shorter, more frequent routes which connect with other bus, train and ferry services at interchanges.
This way Aucklanders can take advantage of rapid transit routes such as the Northern Busway, the train network and the ferries which are unencumbered by general traffic.
By bringing in frequent and rapid services that operate at least every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week we can move away from the idea that public transport is only useful in the morning and afternoon peaks. It also means there is no need to rely on a timetable – just turn up and go.
We are creating a network that people can use and rely on at all times.
The only way to really grow public transport is to provide frequent services across the whole network every day of the week.
Transfers and connections between services will be progressively made at new and purpose built facilities and stations such as the Otahuhu Station opened last year and the new Manukau Bus Station which will open next year.
New bus stops and shelters are being provided as the new bus routes of the New Network are implemented.
A number of Customer Service Centres have also been opened in recent years to enhance that critical face-to-face communication for people.
Digital technology will play a greater role in permitting people to access in real-time their public transport. The new AT Mobile app was launched in May which provides alerts for your services and tracks buses and trains. More digital experiences will be seen across the AT Metro system in coming years.
Park-and-Ride also has its part to play in proving access to the AT Metro system. More spaces are being provided across the network, particularly at the periphery where good local and feeder bus services are less economical to provide. Enhanced facilities will be provided in the next year at Silverdale, Papakura and Pukekohe with a number of other investigations underway.
The AT HOP card is used on more than 91 percent of public transport journeys, which is better than most bigger cities in the world.
The HOP card also enabled the introduction of Simpler Fares so that customers can tag-on and tag-off for each trip on buses and trains but only pay a single zone-based fare for their entire journey of up to five transfers over four hours.
Customer feedback on this initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.
With the rollout of the AT Metro New Network, new buses are being introduced and the age of the fleet is reducing with improvements in emissions and air quality. We plan to introduce the first zero emission bus into the AT Metro network in the next year.
Greater customer amenity is also being provided on buses with USB ports on the newer buses and WiFi is being trialled.
Improving the overall public transport experience is critical to encouraging more people to try public transport. New facilities such as click-and-collect are being introduced at some of our larger stations and wharves.
On one hand we are working to catch up to where we should already be because of decades of underinvestment while on the other we are working hard to keep up with the 45,000 people entering Auckland every year.
Adding that many people to the city is fantastic for the economy and for building a city we all want to live in but it does provide challenges for the transport system.
This means we can’t just think ahead one or two years, but we have to think about how we build the network over the next 10, 20, even 30 years.
AT has major improvements well underway for the short and medium term. They are all outlined under the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which was signed by the New Zealand Government and Auckland Council last year.
At the top of the list is the Northwestern Busway, which will open up more rapid transit options for the West.
By building the busway we can provide a separated route covered by rapid and frequent services from the West right into the city.
One of the other main challenges facing Auckland is how to move the more than 33,000 people who work near the airport and the more than 17 million passengers it services every year.
For New Zealand to succeed, Auckland must succeed and for this to happen it must keep moving.
Auckland’s journey to a perfect public transport system is one that will never end because there’s no such thing as a perfect system, but we’re making huge strides in the right direction – and those bums on seats tell us we’re getting it right.