As we start a new year, I thought it was a good time to review the past, present, and future of rail patronage in Auckland. Before diving into the data, I want to relay two relevant personal anecdotes.

First, my interest in Auckland’s rail patronage began in the early 2000s, when — as a mildly bored and nerdy young person growing up in rural south Auckland — I would download and analyse the latest monthly rail patronage statistics. I credit this experience with kickstarting my interest and career in transport more generally. So thanks to all the public servants out there who work hard to make this sort of information available, wherever and whoever you are.

Second, I was sufficiently enthused by the data to write to various politicians to express support for investment in Auckland’s rail network. I recall receiving a reply from Maurice Williamson in which he argued trains would go the way of the “slide rule”, and that in 20 years we’d be flying and driving everywhere. While Maurice’s opinion differed from mine, I was thrilled he’d taken the time to reply. So thanks also to all the politicians who take the time to engage with nerdy teenagers.

Now for some data. To set the scene for what follows, let’s first consider one of the founding documents of rail investment in Auckland, namely ARTA’s Rail Development Plan from 2006 (RDP), which included the following graph:

These patronage predictions were generated from the “Auckland Passenger Transport (APT) model”, which uses data on future land use and transport infrastructure/services to predict future transport choices and outcomes. The APT model predicted Auckland’s rail network would generate reach 16 million trips by 2016, which — as it turns out — was almost bang-on the money.

On the other hand, two things stand out from the above figure. First, from 2008 until 2015 actual patronage was below predicted patronage. The reason for the divergence becomes clear when you read the RDP, which made the following assumptions on implementation timelines for the core network upgrade (pg. 19).

Clearly, the RDP assumed upgrades would be implemented faster than what was achieved. With regards to electrification, page 9 of the RDP assumes there would be “28 trains in service by 2009 and 35 trains in service by 2011.” In reality, the first electric service did not operate until 28 April 2014, approximately five years later than planned. Delays in implementation seem likely to explain why actual rail patronage was less than predicted prior to 2015.

The second thing to stand out from the previous graph is that — in the two years since 2016 — rail patronage soared past 16 million trips, rather than flattening off as predicted by the APT model. The exact reasons for this discrepancy are unclear, but it may imply the original APT forecasts were on the low side. This is especially likely when you consider that Auckland’s electric trains are operating much slower than originally envisaged. Post-electrification rail services were expected to run from Papakura to Britomart in approximately 40 minutes, which is almost 15 minutes faster than what they currently achieve.

Why might actual rail patronage have grown more than originally predicted by the APT model? Some potential external explanations include:

  • Faster growth (population, visitors, economic activity) than originally expected, especially in areas that are proximate to the rail network.
  • Complementary transport investment and policy changes, such as city centre improvements (shared streets) and changes to parking policy.
  • Unforeseen technological innovations, such as the increased prevalence of GPS-enabled smartphones, which have made it easier to use PT.
  • Changing preferences, such as Millenials choosing to drive less and use non-car modes more.

You may be able to think of other factors that explain why growth in rail patronage has outstripped the original predictions. Aside from these external factors, it’s also possible that the parameters in the APT model were too insensitive to improvements in rail services. From the outside, there’s no way for us to know which of these explanations is most plausible. What we can say with some confidence, I think, is that the original APT forecasts for Auckland’s rail patronage appear to have been too low (in the order of 25-35%, if you compare 16 million to the current patronage of 20.3 million).

Let’s now predict future patronage using a simple model that is similar to those I first applied as a teenager. I assume that prior to the opening of the CRL, patronage growth declines (as per recent trends) in relative terms to settle at 3.5% and 7% p.a. in low and high scenarios, respectively. Based on these assumptions, Auckland’s rail patronage would sit between 24.5 to 28 million trips p.a. by 2023, as illustrated in the figure below.

This range of outcomes seems plausible given currently committed improvements, such as the New Network, electrification to Pukekohe, and ongoing rail service enhancements (e.g. improvements to frequency and span, especially following delivery of the next tranche of EMUs). These improvements seem likely to keep Auckland’s rail patronage growing faster than population growth, albeit at a slower clip than we’ve seen in the last 5-10 years following electrification and HOP.

And what comes after 2023? Well, the CRL is predicted to add around 20 million trips p.a. Let’s assume the actual impact is somewhere between 15 – 25 million trips p.a., and that all of this growth occurs by 2030. If we add this patronage to my pre-CRL predictions, then we end up with 40 to 55 million rail trips p.a. by 2030. If we assume an additional linear growth rate of 2% p.a. in the period from 2023 to 2030 (independently of the CRL), then the extra 5 million trips p.a. takes us to 45 to 60 million trips p.a. If I had to pick a mid-point, I’d suggest 50 million rail trips p.a. by 2030 is reasonable.

This discussion highlights an important issue: Statistical uncertainty. One of the problems with current transport modelling practices is that they often do not communicate the level of uncertainty associated with our predictions. In reality, strategic transport models are based on inputs and assumptions, all of which introduce considerable uncertainty.

This uncertainty, however, tends to be swept under the rug for two reasons. First, senior executives and elected representatives are often risk-averse and statistically illiterate; they simply don’t like uncertainty. Second, accepting predictions of the model helps people to avoid taking responsibility for their decisions; “the model made us do it” line-of-defence.

In contrast, once you start to understand how much uncertainty is associated with the inputs and assumptions on which strategic transport models are based, then you tend to place less emphasis on the models’ predictions, and greater emphasis on strategic considerations, notably up-side and down-side risks to those predictions.

Contrast transport planning practices with macroeconomics, where uncertainty is presented explicitly, as illustrated below.

Unlike macroeconomics, I think the transport profession has collectively failed to find ways to communicate the statistical uncertainty associated with our quantitative predictions. While sensitivity testing is sometimes undertaken, this testing doesn’t usually communicate how much uncertainty is expected. For example, testing the sensitivity of benefit-cost ratios to variations in demand doesn’t tell you anything about the degree to which we expect demand to vary. Based on the standard errors attached to the economic parameters used in strategic transport models, I’d be surprised if 70% confidence intervals more than 10 years into the future were within +/- 30% of the mid-point estimate. The uncertainty involved really is that large.

Returning to the question of rail patronage data, some may argue that my predictions are “pessimistic”. While I’d be happy to be wrong, I suspect it’s unlikely. The reason is that the CRL business case predicted an additional 20 million trips by 2040, which I have brought forward to 2030 simply because (1) most of the uplift in patronage can be expected to occur within the first 5-10 years and (2) the APT model seems to have been conservative in the past. So I’ve arguably already been optimistic with regards to the effects of the CRL.

Rather than haggling over what might happen, I think the more interesting question is what can we do to push Auckland’s rail patronage towards the upper-end of the range of possibilities? This links to Patrick’s recent post, which considered possible directions for Auckland over the next ten years. Personally, I think Auckland would do well to focus on continuous improvement across a wide range of areas. Rather than looking for “one hit wonders” (beyond the CRL), I prefer an “integrated but diversified” strategy of improvements. By this I mean:

  • Invest in integrated transport/land use outcomes — especially in central areas and around major transport interchanges, such as Panmure, New Lynn, Otahuhu, and Manukau. Pedestrian access to rail stations is a strategic priority, especially in the city centre where we need to cater for the fountain of pedestrians travelling to/from Aotea and K Road stations in the post-CRL period. Initiatives like the Linear Park and Wellesley Street are key.
  • Review operational practices to align with strategic outcomes — Post Unitary Plan, I would like to see an increased focus on aligning operational practices with strategic outcomes. Everything we do to make the areas around rail stations more pleasant, especially for those who use non-car transport modes, is likely to contribute to rail patronage. That includes measures like reducing vehicle speeds and improved street-lighting.
  • Run trains faster, more frequently, and for longer span — while Auckland’s rail renaissance has been a huge success, there remains much room for improvement. Sorting Auckland’s painfully long dwell-times, while continuing to invest in frequency (perhaps even the 15 minute all-day frequency required to qualify for rapid service) and more span is likely to support ongoing growth. No shittake Sherlock.
  • Turbo-charge Auckland’s post-CRL bus network — while the New Network is exciting, the opening of the CRL presents additional opportunities to improve the frequency, simplicity, and efficiency of Auckland’s bus network. We should start formulating plans now to cut direct peak-only services to the city centre, especially from the west. This will free up bus capacity in the city centre, and generate savings to be reinvested in higher frequencies elsewhere.

If we can implement a broad platform of complementary initiatives, then I suspect the experience of the last ten years may well be repeated again. That is, we may achieve less in the first 5 years than we want, while potentially achieving more over 10 years than we ever thought possible. What do you think?

Go well.

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  1. Great overview Stu. In my view there is considerable urgency in getting to an all day pattern of 10min frequencies on the rail network. The rail system (+Nth Busway) is the foundation of the New Bus Network, for example, is it really going to become second nature to transfer from buses to trains when outside of the peaks there can be a long wait in the middle of the journey?

    Whatever the difficulty here: funding, driver supply, or the need for the 3rd main and/or other network improvements, I’m sure AT/AC, KiwiRail, and the new govt, working together can accelerate this key fix.

    A consistent train every ten minutes the rail network will surely maintain increasing popularity, after all the shift to 10 mins at the peaks on the Western Line was met with a strong ridership response. Now it’s time to deliver on real ‘turn up and go’ all day frequencies all day. True Rapid Transit, and worthy of the brand Metro….

    1. +1.

      The increase to 10 minute peak timing was a significant attractor to many people who started using the Western Line. Delivering on the longstanding promise of all-day frequent service still has a way to go, both on train and bus.

      Also, if peak express buses into the city are to be dropped there will need to be a further significant bump up for local bus timings in addition to delivering on the rail promise, and efforts made to properly synchronise RailBus timings. As you say Stu, integrated and diversified is the way forward. Now that we have an interchanging network model, we have to work on all the strategic and detail issues that make it really sing and dance for people.

    2. Yes that’s my hope too Patrick: some urgency on 15mins or better all-day, preferably 10mins or better, frequencies, and fixing dwell-times would be top 2 priorities.

    3. Improved train frequencies would improve the whole network. I thought I was too far for the train to be useful, and almost never take the occasional bus/train combinations AT journey planner suggests. In fact, the feeder bus doesn’t take long – it is the infrequent services meaning I have to take both an earlier train than really required, and an even earlier bus (in case the bus makes me late for that train). More frequent train frequencies would be transformative for me – I could add in a reasonable time buffer for a late bus knowing that there’d be a train soon after.

      1. yes I’d expect a strong network effect from improving rail frequencies.

        In most parts of the network, bus frequencies are 15 minutes or better all-day and on clockface timetables, whereas rail frequencies are all over the place, especially inter-peak on the Southern line when trains cycle on a weird timetable. If you look at connecting between Frequent 33 and the Southern line inbound at Otahuhu, for example, you find the wait time can vary from about 5 — 20 minutes.

        1. The third and hopefully fourth main lines can arrive soon enough – Frequencies will always be compromised until then unfortunately.

  2. I’d like to see a discussion around late night services, especially on the weekend. Buses once an hour that travel a limited route don’t really cut it. How about supplementing the night buses by running rail replacement trains along train routes on the half hour as well?

    Or could we have 1am and 1.40am train services on the weekend?

    the thing is, I much prefer to use public transport to get from West Auckland to town for a night on the rantan. It means I don’t have to worry about parking, or arranging to come all the way from Oratia to collect a car in the morning, or if I am over the limit. But having to cat the last train at 00.40 is seriously a pain in the butt. If you want to get people thining about PT as a serious, default option to having a car then you’ve got to throw them a transport bone during their leisure activities and not just when they are commuting.

    1. Totally agree, we need way better services in the weekend. I also live in Oratia, and I find trains much better for accessing the city during the week, but they are woeful in the weekends. I often try to make the trip into town with the family, and even though we’re fairly organised a potential 20-30min wait can be frustrating – to put it mildly – and would be pretty off putting to people trying the train out in their spare time.

  3. I do wish people would stop harping on about dwell times and address the appalling inter station running times. 3 minutes Homai-Manurewa can be achieved in 2 and this applies throughout the Southern/Eastern network. At no time are the drivers using the power available to them, in fact they are having to crawl along at around 70kph to avoid arriving early and having to wait for 1-2 minutes at every station.

    1. Drivers drive to the available line speed within the maximum limits they have available, not crawl because they can. Where on earth did you get that from? But you do have a point about available power as I believe the EMU’s are purposely held back from operating at full power by AT, beyond driver input.

      And our lengthy dwell times are far too long and deserve ridicule. It would carve a shit load of time off of Papakura to Britomart trip, for example if someone decided to make it 15 seconds per stop. Having experienced the San Francisco MUNI and BART underground systems, the dwell times there are really short and correspondingly the system operation really efficient.

      It proves without doubt it can be done but only if AT cared!

      1. Not true Waspman. If drivers know there is slack time built into the timetable and that by running at normal speed the train will arrive early at the next stop, then they will often run at reduced speed which may feel to passengers like “crawling along”.

        The whole problem is that punctuality is currently heavily incentivised but not shorter journey-times. Thus it suits the operator to pad out timetables and slow everything down, rather than risk a penalty for late arrival at end-of-run.

    2. We “harp on” about dwell-times because they have the potential to deliver close to a CRL level of time-savings. Right now we’re spending nigh on 3 billion to deliver the CRL, hence why we think some attention on dwelltines is worthwhile. In contrast, not running full tilt between stations would save 1-2mins max. Still worth doing, but an order or magnitude less important. And as others have noted, may impact on freight services.

  4. “Drivers drive to the available line speed within the maximum limits they have available, not crawl because they can. Where on earth did you get that from?”

    From using the GPS on my phone every trip for 5 days a week!

    1. Did your GPS tell you its the drivers purposely holding the train back for no reason? They drive to the speed limits and to the signals in front of them. Nothing more sinister than that.

    2. From the third main business cases, we know that the trains can’t run at full speed to accommodate freight slots.

  5. Lets echo – Great overview. Every time a query popped into my head the next paragraph covered it. I was particularly impressed by the reluctance to propose a ‘one-hit wonder’ solution.

    It is remarkable how accurate the predictions have been – compared say with building the bridge and being surprised it would be used or a carpark for the Albany busway and discovering it was overflowing before the sun came up.

    I’ve searched to find something to query: “”Changing preferences, such as Millenials choosing to drive less and use non-car modes more.”” are they choosing or obliged by dramatically increasing parking charges, lack of parking, congestion and lack of money with their student debts and housing costs?

    My conclusion would be: future train travel usage is hard to predict in the roughly 15 year time horizon of the planners and their investing (extreme examples would be what about a decline in population or alternatively say two million extra climate refugees) but the results in getting it wrong are not equivalent. An enlarged rail network that is under-utilised would be disappointing and merely another waste of our taxes but a city bursting at the seems without functioning transport would be a much more expensive disaster for us all.

    1. Hi Bob glad you liked the post and yes i tend to agree: the upside of investing in rail is that if auckland grows more than expected, then we will have better transport outcomes. It’s a hedge against the city’s growth outstripping the transport infrastructure we can provide.

  6. As your post suggests we need to look back to see where we are at now.

    The mention of Maurice WIlliamson is an excellent example of why we are still so far behind in terms of transport. A man hopelessly wedded to the ideology of market knows best privatisation was in influential positions that ensured Auckland remained the City of Gridlock.

    In the 90’s traffic in Auckland was terrible but worse, the obvious solution to it namely decent Public Transport, was missing. So a report was commissioned. In the 1998 report by the National government titled, “Better Transport Better Roads”,, the term road or roads, strangely enough, is mentioned 722 times. Rail, 8. Maurice was dreaming of alternative funding models to roads using roading companies and road service providers, so blind was he to the causes of our problems. Needless to say Maurice the genius did his utmost to squander the opportunities given to him and things only got worse. Of interest the Business Round Table loved it!

    And yet even 10 years later their next transport minister Stephen Joyce felt the need to carry on the family tradition and held back the development of rail in Auckland too.

    Auckland really needs to go it alone both with funding and decision making taking it away from idiots and their political parties in central government. We are too at the mercy of blind ideology, as the last decade has proven.

    Were it not for the imperfect Len Brown the CRL would still be on the to do list!

    1. Great link! And yes i tend to agree. One hopes that one of the things National takes from their recent loss is that their monsoon approach to investing in roads, and antipathy to public transport, just isn’t that effective. This is especially true if the country grows faster than expected. Which is — after all — what National seem to prioritise.

      Less ideology and more strategy in our transport policy and investment settings, especially around upside/downside risks, would be a great place to start. As Bob notes above, if Aucklands growth really goes strong then we’re definitely going to need to make the most of our rail corridors.

  7. Stu has the Southern Airport Line between the Airport and Manukau being factored into rail patronage forecasts?

    Stage 1 (as bus as currently planned) is due to be completed to Puhinui and Manukau Stations by 2021 and Botany 2023. The rest including eventual LRT would come later.

    As the Southern Airport Line links up with the Southern and Eastern Lines at two different stations I was wondering if that version of the Airport Lines could boost patronage to the heavy rail network as well.

    That is more people would take the Southern and Eastern Lines from the north or the south to Manukau or Puhinui stations then transfer onto the Southern Airport Line to either continue to the Airport or even head to Botany (vice versa equally works as well especially when Regional Rapid Rail starts) than pre Southern Airport Line.

    I have an inkling the Southern Airport Line connecting at Puhinui at least would give the Southern Line a shot in the arm with patronage especially as Papakura to the Airport would be 35mins (try 70mins on the road on a Friday afternoon) pre and post CRL.

    Modelling also might suggest that busses are going to underserve the Southern Airport Line right off the bat and we should go straight to LRT.

      1. “Modelling also might suggest that busses are going to underserve the Southern Airport Line right off the bat and we should go straight to LRT.”

        Given Auckland has had a tendency to undershoot patronage and investment that is why I said might suggest. So lets do it again for both BRT and LRT and factor in some TODs, patronage boosts on the Southern Line triggered by the SAL, Puhinui and Manukau Interchanges

        1. No i haven’t factored in any projects apart from CRL. Everything else os wrapped up into background growth rates. Personally I’d be surprised if any new heavy corridors were opened before 2030. Plesantly that is!

  8. Interesting analysis Stu – you are absolutely right to say that predictions from the early days were on the pessimistic side. This conservative aproach was quite deliberate in order to reduce the risk of criticism by the skeptics that the numbers were over-optimistic. Before the 2006 RDP that you refer to there was the business case for Britomart which really kicked things off. From 1998 I had access to most of the documents and attended most of the relevant meetings as an observer. Pre-Britomart train services were infrequent and patronage was low – just over 400 passengers came to the old Beach Road terminus each morning peak. Predictions for Britomart were for this to rise to 10,000 (an almost 2500% increase) but even this was not sufficient for the nay-sayers – today it is several times that number and set to double again post CRL.

    As a real measure of how far we have come in the last two decades – John Banks was first elected Mayor of Auckland City Council in 2001 with plans to scrap all investment in rail and convert the rights of way to busways. Fortunately he found that the rest of the region (ARC and the other constituent councils) were committed to an upgraded rail network and that (his?) Auckland City Council had already signed a contract for construction of the Britomart that he could not weasel out of.

    1. Great background thanks Graeme. I actually appreciate the conservative approach to forecasting, and think there’s strategic value in consistently underpromising and over delivering to vanquish critics, like quax and williamson. Although I’d probably prefer is the difference between actual and predicted patronage was in the order of 10% rather than 40%!

  9. Rail patronage could be increased by:

    1. Expanding the network with more lines such as extending Western Line services to Kumeu with double tracking, electrification and daylighting the Waitakere tunnel, together with building a large park and ride at Kumeu. Also building a heavy rail line from Onehunga to the Airport and onwards to Puhinui and Manukau.

    In addition, introducing new inter-regional services to Hamilton and Tauranga / Mt Maunganui and to the Bay of Islands (with an upgraded NAL relaid to Kawakawa).

    2. Build more stations where they are needed and are in convenient locations such as Walters Road to serve all the large new residential and commercial development in this area which are immediately adjacent the railway line and in easy walking distance of a huge potential catchment area. Also at Drury next to the SH1/SH22 Drury interchange adjacent Great South Road and Flanagan Road where a large park and ride should be built to serve the many commuters coming into the city from further afield.

    Train speeds and dwell times could be improved by:

    1. Addressing the computer software issues and easing the incredibly restrictive ETCS which are the primary cause of the EMUs being no faster than the diesel fleet they replaced. The adhesion and braking in the wet with the new EMUs is also another issue, with being much worse than the diesel fleet.

    2. Fixing the constantly repeated cock ups made with timetables where conflicting trains are timed to all converge at the same time at junction points like Wiri, Britomart tunnel and Papakura, and would also help with trains not having to stop at red signals or be held back by restrictively slow speeds imposed by the ETCS (programmed by KiwiRail) with the EMUs following each other closely.

    3. Train travel times and dwell times could be further inproved with ETCS level 2, and fixing the computer software on the EMUs which delay how fast a Driver can open the doors and can move off after the Train Manager has given the right of way bell signal.

    4. Train travel times and patronage could be significantly improved with quadruple tracking Papakura to Westfield and triple track Westfield to Parnell via Newmarket, which would enable new express services to run (as well as freeing up commuter lines with freight trains and long distance passenger trains removed, improving on time performance), which would make rail services very attractive and appealing to use with the time saving benefits over driving, particularly at peak times.

    1. Not a bad list. Couple of comments:

      Kumeu-Huapai: How much patronage would be generated by extending rail services Kumeu/Huapai? I believe the previous Helensville rail trial (which stopped at Kumeu) was attracting about 50-100 trips per day (typically 25-50 journeys). Let’s say your turbo-charged rail service attracted 100 times as many passengers, so 5,000 — 10,000 trips per day. That’s still only about 100,000 – 200,000 trips p.a. In the context of a rail network that’s carrying 21 million trips p.a. — rising to 50 million p.a. post-CRL — the effects of Kumeu-Huapai are effectively just background noise. Basically, I’m saying that the patronage effects are negligible and wrapped up in the background growth rates I have assumed.

      New stations: The trade-off of adding new stations to the network is that they slow down existing services by 1-2 minutes, and in turn make travelling from further out less attractive. That in turn tends to suppress patronage from those locations, such that the net patronage effect of new stations is smaller and even negative in some places. If we are serious about extending passenger rail services south of Papakura, then I’d suggest we probably want to reduce the number of stations enroute at places like Te Mahia and instead focus on high frequency bus connections to town centres and stations nearby.

      Agree with pretty much everything else you have written though!

  10. AT should be continually looking at patronage numbers.
    At times some buses and trains have few passengers and the frequency of service could be reduced. With busier routes frequency could be increased.

    1. “At times some buses and trains have few passengers and the frequency of service could be reduced.”

      Please no. The purpose of frequency is not just to accommodate high user numbers, but to also improve utility. I’m not going to catch a bus to the movies, or the beach, or to wok if it only goes once an hour. I might if it goes once every ten minutes. Our current frequencies are abysmal and I see no routes where frequency could be reduced at any time.

      1. Still its not a good look when we have trains and buses running past with no passengers. Maybe we could have two car trains or bus replacement for trains or smaller buses for low demand periods. I can remember catching a one car train on the Ubahn in Frankfurt early on a sunday morning. I suppose every empty carriage is at least 30 tonnes so there is a cost involved in dragging empty carriages around. And now I have just heard they are increasing fares on trains. Stu will need to redo his spreadsheet.

        1. The look of congested multiple SOV’s is of course far worse. No hope for improvement there, whereas at least seeing an empty bus reminds me of how empty the Outer Link used to be on the weekends – I was often the only passenger. Nothing wrong with having a set of minibuses to use when introducing a new service. But also, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in low patronage on certain services while making the transition away from a car-dependent system to a more sustainable one.

        2. Wait till you notice all those cars with only a 20% loading! For load obsessives check out the cycleways, the vehicles there are all at 100% loading, the occasional one 200 or 300%! Also these are by far the most efficient convertors of energy to motion anywhere!

          Additionally, cutting frequency or services is the single worst way to increase load efficiency on a PT. Under used times may in fact suffer from too little frequency to attract users, it’s hard to rely on infrequent services; better take my own vehicle then…

        3. Provided the overall/average increase in fares is more or less in line with CPI, then I wouldn’t expect it to have any effect on patronage.

        4. Smaller buses for low demand periods? That is an awful idea.

          You seriously want to have a whole duplicate fleet of buses, to swap out the big peak buses with smaller off peak buses twice a day, just so they feel fuller?

          The cost of that would be insane, the operational implications a nightmare, and it would achieve nothing.

          A large bus carrying ten people costs practically the same to run as a small bus carrying ten people. Given that you need large buses to carry peak loads, what do you hope to achieve by not just keeping the same buses in service?

        5. yeah I tend to agree with Nic here — there’s little value to be found from running smaller vehicles on fixed route services.

          I’m personalIy not interested in “looks” at all, but would rather focus on metrics like cost per passenger. So if there was evidence that a fixed-route service had a higher cost per passenger than could be achieved from, say, an on-demand taxi service like Uber/Lyft, then I’d be open to replacing the bus with the latter.

          In saying that I don’t think Auckland’s PT network is mature enough right now to make such calls. Our RTN has a long way to go before its potential effectiveness is tapped out, and improvements in the RTN will increase the attractiveness of connecting bus services, some of which may be largely empty right now. Plus the city is still growing.

          So personally, I’d leave such discussions about rationalising services until (1) after the CRL has opened and (2) and PT patronage has flat-lined. In that scenario then I’d agree there’s probably a need to re-visit the network structure if there routes that were consistently under-performing.

        6. Along Station Rd at Otahuhu there are many near empty buses. Buses cost $200000 each plus running costs. Having 4 buses per hour rather than 5 might reduce the chance of a fare increase for all.

        7. “Along Station Rd at Otahuhu there are many near empty buses. Buses cost $200000 each plus running costs. Having 4 buses per hour rather than 5 might reduce the chance of a fare increase for all.”

          $200,000 to have a sensible and useful bus network? Absolute bargain. No one who is time constrained and actually uses the PT network for day to day transport would suggest that.

        8. Okay so how can we full up those buses and I am particularly thinking about the ones we have running around in the Papatoetoe and Mangere areas. One thing I thought of was to allow school age children who are travelling with a parent to travel free. This would teach children how to use public transport and reduce congestion with less car trips especially around school start and finesh times.

        9. “Okay so how can we full up those buses ”

          A) they don’t need to be full to be useful. If they get people with no other option from A to B, then they’ve done their job (especially if they are coverage routes). Ridership focused routes might be emptyish during the day, but those riders may well be coming back on a full bus or continuing on a full train. Sometimes you need near empty buses to fill other services.

          B) increase density. Inner London has all of it’s buses basically full and we see the same on Dominion Road. If we want to achieve full buses then we need to increase density.

          C) Be careful what you wish for. Dominion Road and the Northern Busway have full buses all day. now we have to upgrade them to LRT because they are too full, especially at peak.

          To sum up; some of your buses will be near empty, some of the time. Just like some roads are near empty some of the time. This doesn’t necessarily represent a bad design. It may represent a design that values overall ridership over overall occupancy.

        10. I agree with SB’s answer, and also think Royce’s question is worth asking. Each location is different – I haven’t looked at those areas, but sometimes bus stops are ill-placed, ill-served by pedestrian access, sometimes development is too far apart and too far back from the road, sometimes particular bus service times don’t mesh with school hours. There might be some local changes that need to be made, as well as all SB’s suggestions.

          Having encouraged children from a number of families to use the bus by travelling with them until they are comfortable to travel alone, I don’t like seeing any policy that prioritises children who are with adults over those who are not. The children who don’t have adults available to assist them are already disadvantaged, and need a bit of a helping hand, not an exclusion.

        11. Note that buses are more like $400k but depreciate over 10-20 years so $10 – $40k p.a.

          In terms of increasing bus utilisation, the main things are:
          — getting rapid and frequent network cranking
          — lower offpeak fares by say 40% discount
          — time of use charges for roads and parking.

        12. Another thing is some buses look empty at certain ends or sections of a route but quite well used in the other bits. Eg perhaps 007 Pt Chev to st heliers and 32 Sylvia Park to Mangere. So probably quite efficient to keep the long route instead of breaking up into little sub routes For the sake of a Few seats for a few kilometres. These may also have a different use at peak or off peak. So what we observe At a certain place at a certain time of the day might not be the whole picture.

  11. A first principles question:

    For route timetable integration purposes is light rail going to be treated as part of the bus network (because it is on roads) or part of the rail network (because it is light rail) or (most likely knowing AT) as a completely separate beast (trams!) and never the twain shall the timetables meet?

    1. Thanks Heidi — my goal right now is to do my best to leave a planet that is inhabitable for my daughter’s generations and those that follow! And that means burning less fossil fuels.

      1. Your typo made for a very easily-achieved goal! 🙂 Finding a way to pursue the goal of a habitable world while letting the children grow up unfettered by the enormity of it is an art in itself; not sure how well I’ve done. I know too many depressed teenagers. I do think you’d like the short book I suggested once before: “The Art of Frugal Hedonism”.

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