A new rideshare service in Devonport will give customers improved access to public transport, reducing congestion and freeing up parking.
Auckland Transport is seeking expressions of interest to launch a one-year trial of a ridesharing service called AT Metro Local.
It will allow customers to use a smartphone app to schedule or call an on-demand electric vehicle to take them to and from the Devonport Ferry Terminal and their destination.
This scheme aims to encourage more people to use the ferry, which will reduce congestion on the roads, as well as opening up more parking spaces at the ferry terminal.
The vehicles will operate within a 3km radius of the ferry terminal, primarily in the morning and afternoon peak.
AT’s Chief Transport Services Officer Mark Lambert says, “This is an exciting opportunity to try a new way of using technology to improve public transport for Aucklanders.
“This trial will give customers more options to access the public transport network and attract new customers. The intent of the trial is to test how this type of service can improve access to public transport with a view to future potential roll-out to other hubs on the network. An added benefit is that it will use electric vehicles, which reinforces AT’s sustainability programme.”
Devonport has been chosen as the location of the trial because it has a unique geography in which the only ways in and out are on the ferry to the city centre or along the heavily congested Lake Road.
Last year AT did a two-week trial of the service which showed that ferry passengers were enthusiastic about it and there is enough demand for it to work.
Once the tender process has finished AT will announce the start date, which is expected to be mid-2018, and how much it will cost to use.
They’ve even produced this video about it
I do think that ultimately, services like this could be useful in some locations around Auckland, particularly in areas with poor connectivity and options for feeder buses. But while I think it’s good that AT want to try things, I’m not convinced this particular case is a good idea or use of ATs resources. I also fear it will suffer the same fate as other trials they’ve done recently, such as the Half Moon Bay trial which was a dismal failure.
Why I think this isn’t a good idea
Devonport is already a captive PT market
Due to many of the aspects AT list, Devonport is already one of the areas with highest use of non-car modes in Auckland. Put simply, if battling Lake Rd isn’t already enough to put you off driving then there’s probably not much that will. At the last census just 56% of people in the Mt Victoria area unit, which the ferry terminal is a part of, who travelled to work did so in a car. That was down from 65% in 2006. In the neighbouring Stanley Bay area unit it was even lower at just 42%. By comparison, that number for all of Auckland was 83% in 2013, down from 85% in 2006.
The reason this is important is that it means there’s likely to be a smaller potential market for new PT users compared to other areas in Auckland. Most of the potential users of this trial service are likely people who are already catching the ferry, with the only difference being it costs ratepayers more to get them to the terminal. This is similar to what’s been seen when Park n Rides are built and many of the users of it are people who were already using the station but getting there a different way, such as walking, cycling or being dropped off.
More commuter only focus
We’ve long been critical of ATs almost singular focus on only improving PT at peak times. Much of the additional resource over recent years has gone to serving peak users and little regard has been given to improving off peak services, which can be achieved by using existing resources more efficiently. That focus seems to be continuing with Auckland Transport saying that the service will work primarily in the morning and afternoon peak. That’s obviously when the most demand is likely to be but is also the time when other options, such as existing feeder buses, are likely to be running. It also likely excludes a lot of potential users, such as people not working a standard 9-5, or people wanting to visit the city for shops, to see friends etc.
It doesn’t sort the parking issues
AT list one of the goals as freeing up parking yet there is nothing to suggest this trial will do actually do that. Any person who’s currently parking at/near the terminal who switches to using the service will just be replaced by someone else.
If AT really want to manage parking, and there are good reasons to such as freeing up space for those who need to use the terminal during the day when the shuttle isn’t running, then they actually need to manage it. They could start by treating it the same they do with carparks in the city, charging a fee at a level that ensures there are always a few carparks available. I’ve heard that research has already been done on the existing park n ride users and a large number of vehicles are registered to addresses even within easy walking distances. Perhaps as part of charging, AT could promise that any revenue went back to improving options for accessing the terminal by other methods.
One aspect AT don’t seem to have reconciled in their hype is that parking is currently free but the shuttle will cost money to use. The incentives are all wrong and so who would really use the shuttle?
AT doesn’t really benefit from it
Getting more use out of our PT system makes a lot of sense. In most cases, more users on services make them more efficient and delivers more revenue which goes towards reducing subsidies. All good stuff. The difference here is that the Devonport Ferry is one of the few fully commercial routes in the country and so if AT do manage to drum up some new ferry users, it’ll be Fullers that benefit from it.
In addition, Devonport has the highest frequencies of all ferry services in Auckland. The 3km radius that this service will operate in would extend as far as Belmont which is closer to the Bayswater ferry. It would also be a poor outcome if existing Bayswater users diverted to using Devonport because of the presence of the shuttle.
The money is needed elsewhere
As it stands, AT doesn’t have enough money even to properly roll out the new bus network across Auckland. They have even less money to roll it out properly and has already resulted in aspects of the network being scaled back, such as reducing services on some routes to the point they no longer quality as all day frequent. Hell, we know they currently have no plans to even make the very core of the network, trains, frequent off peak and on weekends like they promised.
It seems absurd that at the same time that they can’t even afford to get the basics of our PT system working properly that they’re trialling a service like this.
There are many other stations/terminals without even basic access amenity
I would be less opposed to ideas like this if we already had well developed bus, train and ferry terminals. Yet right now, most stations/terminals lack even the most basic facilities such as sufficient shelter on platforms, improved walking access or sufficient bike racks (let alone covered ones or bike lanes). I suspect that using the money this trial will ultimately cost for basic improvements across Auckland is likely to deliver much greater results. Overall it feels like AT are reaching for the shiny tech solution that they can talk about at some overseas conference while ignoring their basic responsibilities.
Related to this particular case, we also recently covered the disappearing cycleway not far from the terminal. Something that will do nothing to help encourage more people to access the station by bike.
Where could it be trialled
Putting aside some of my comments above, if AT were to trial this service, a better location might be Albany. Here’s why:
- Albany has very high peak and good all-day service frequency. The busway is also very time competitive with the motorway
- The station is isolated from much of the surrounding housing and employment meaning it has poor walking connectivity
- Those surrounding housing areas have very poor street networks making it difficult to run any decent feeder buses
- There is significant employment near Albany that could provide for counter trip demand i.e. shuttle picks up people and drops them at Albany station where it picks up people who have arrived on a bus from the city and drops them at their workplace off Rosedale Rd
Overall this ATs trial feels like the wrong thing at the wrong time. I hope to be proven wrong.