It’s Anniversary weekend and once again it seems like, despite the huge number of events going on little effort is being made to provide quality public transport options for those travelling around Auckland and going to these events.

  • Buses are only operating to normal timetables, which means low frequencies on many routes and an earlier than normal end to services. Not great for those visiting events like the Laneway Festival that finish quite late.
  • Trains aren’t even running on the Western Line and on parts of the Southern Line

Events are opportunities to get people to give public transport a try, which is important as our system has improved dramatically over the past decade and may be much better than people remember it. Therefore it’s important that Auckland Transport focuses more on getting public transport right for major events.

This reminded me of some observations on previous Anniversary weekends, in particular this post from two years ago, which I’ve posted below in full.

I’ve had two pieces of feedback following PT for Auckland Anniversery events on over weekend. The first is from reader Jeff

My friend started out with “Meet me at mine, Mt Eden, it should be a $15 Uber from here”.

To which I said “I was thinking of Biking to the Train station, leaving the bikes there then catching the train in, It feels silly to not use PT into the CBD”

And such was my argument to my friend Matt who kindly cycled to my place from Mt Eden, to catch the train into Britomart for Laneway Festival at 2pm on a Monday.

And it was a good experience, a short ride downhill followed by a “Feels longer than it should” train trip into the city. In no time at all we were in the usual gridlock of Te Whero Bridge. (of course Matt would have been here half an hour ago if he took an Uber)

Laneway PT experienceAfter the festival, come 10pm, we were done, ready to board a train at Britomart, destined for Onehunga to start the cycle home. Upon entering Britomart, it was desolate. The train signs on the board read Penrose, Newmarket & Waitakere. No Onehunga, and the last train on the board was a half hour away.

We were tired, grumpy, and had work the next day. as two slightly out of our comfort zone 30 year olds, professional jobs beckoned in the morning and enough was enough – Cue Uber. Surge pricing, equally long waits – One wonders if this could have been mitigated if trains were operating at a festival appropriate frequency.

We found a cab, and I uttered the most absurd phrase I have ever uttered. “can you take us from here to Onehunga Train station please?”

Laneway PT experience 2Sometime later we were back in Onehunga, we grabbed the bikes, and commenced the ride uphill to our respective homes. (along the new & lovely Onehunga Mall cycle lanes). There is no way I’ll ever talk my friend into trusting the trains again.

My questions to AT are;

  • Was there a PT plan for this festival?
  • Do you have a planning team responsible for PT during events?
  • Was there a train coming? if not, why wasn’t it on the board? There was no way to check, and ‘waiting to see’ was unacceptable.
  • Is this the experience a casual train user should be confronted with?
  • How can you expect to compete with Uber or generic Taxis on trust, when they often provide a better ‘turn up and go’ service?

I realise this is an anecdotal experience, but if this was my experience, what of the other 10,000+ Laneway, or other Auckland wide event attendees?

And the second is from reader who had a number of observations from Sunday

  • Standard anniversary weekend public transport troubles occurring again, with hopeless Sunday timetables failing to cope with CBD crowds. Saw NEX at 4.30pm leave 10 plus people behind, and Mt Eden bus at same time was jammed.

Missing the bus - Luke

  • There were huge numbers of people in town for fireworks last night, though most had choice of one or 2 services to get home. Same likely tonight with Laneway finishing at 10.30pm, and all trains gone, and only handful of buses. Plus despite official Council programme saying all trains running, there was nothing past Penrose or Sylvia Park. People have learnt to use event PT now, so expect it at major events. ATEED and AT need to get their act together, as leaving new users stranded is a very bad look, and puts people off. Saga will repeat itself again for Lantern festival in a few weeks time. Another good fix would be upping Sunday timetables to meet Saturday frequencies, many 20 or 30 rather than 15 minute frequency

Getting these experience wrong has long term impacts on how people perceive PT. It’s well beyond time that that AT should have learnt this by now, as Luke pointed out, people have learnt to use PT for events now so it’s up to the authorities to respond to that and provide it to an acceptable standard.

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34 comments

  1. Thanks Matt for raising a subject I’d given little thought to: the importance of PT at special events, festivals, etc. Without any data to support my assertion most Aucklanders (or maybe many Aucklanders) have little experience of public transport. So the various occasions that Aucklanders have reason to act like bees in a swarm is also the time PT has an opportunity to sell itself.
    My local bus company does a good job of public relations by providing free buses for the Christian ‘Stations of the Cross’ walk and also for the sad ‘Walk to remember Blessie Gotingco’ – these are free buses for those too elderly or infirm to walk.
    Auckland Transport should be thinking is the same way. Gaining NZ residency I decided to celebrate by participating in every ‘Round the Bays’ walk. When I first walked I think the buses back to the CBD were free, then they became $2 and then $4 and the last time I used them $5 (Goldcard refused) and most passengers standing. So the last couple of years I have staggered back to Mission Bay to drink coffee and call my family to pick me up by car. An opportunity to sell the concept of PT missed.

  2. Getting these experiences wrong is a long term AT strategy. But as they are Council Controlled Organisations and not answerable to the very people who fund it, ratepayers – cheers John Key and Rodney Hide, they can and do get away with it.

    Part of the issue is the minimalist staffing numbers they have to run day to day PT services that precludes them having the ability to staff most extra events.

    1. “Part of the issue is the minimalist staffing numbers” Yes that would fit. Efficiency being the enemy of resilience, or in the case, of PT PR and user satisfaction. Different silos, I guess.

  3. It seems everytime there is a long weekend with anything to do with time and a half and days in lieu the trains never seem to run , and does this mean AT and their providers don’t like paying the extra when they can make more out of the public that want to take their families out for a special day trip in something that doesn’t require sitting at traffic lights ? . And then the providers of the services can take monies from AT without batting an eyelid and saying they run a good service Ha .

  4. Typrical bureaucratic organisation behaviour – do the minimum and get most funding.

    AT has no competitor and there are no benchmark to compare with, so they can get away with poor service and inefficient operations. If government ask more, AT ask for much more money.

    That is the dark side with only one agency.

    1. Yeah, we tried the other model of 8 different Transport agencies and an overarching one on top.

      It didn’t work that well either. And we’re still living with that legacy.
      So I don’t know what your point is.

      “The market” is not always the answer to every problem in Auckland you know.

      AT just needs to become “customer focused”, and not just “roads customer focussed” which is their thinking now.

      A few less silos wouldn’t go amiss either.

      But they do have a large number of things they are responsible for and not every silo needs to be consulted for every decision.

      But yes, trains should by default be running during public holidays.

      1. Greg, that was 8 different non-competing badly run monopolies, moving to one badly run monopoly. There is literally no difference. That’s the point.

      2. Privatizing public services does not work, as can be seen from the terrible drop in service levels in UK rail after BT was broken up and sold off. Private companies do not serve the public, they are there to make money.
        What AT needs is a coordinated approach with ATEED (who really should be driving these things) so that they have enough notice to provide proper event level services. Currently it would appear that, aside from games at Eden Park, this is not happening.

  5. I recently spent New Year’s Eve in Melbourne. From 6:00pm till 6:00am next morning all public transport was free. That is: all trains, trams and buses. The trains were packed and everyone was in good humour.

    Admittedly Melbourne is a large, world class city and perhaps they have economies of scale that Auckland cannot match but even so, it can’t be that hard, and I don’t see why we can’t at least try do do something similar during major public events.

  6. AT’s running of standard scheduled services has improved greatly over the last few years, but they still fail to cope with anything out of the ordinary. On the Friday before Xmas, everyone left work early – as they do every year. But only the standard off-peak services were running. That meant there were huge numbers of people waiting for, in my case, single-decker NEX buses running once every 15 minutes (every 30 min’s to Silverdale). They were already full by the time they got to Victoria Park, so didn’t pick up anyone.

    As I had no choice but to catch a bus to Silverdale, I ended up walking in to Albert St, to catch the bus at the start of its journey. Not everyone’s able to do that.

    AT needs to plan for these highly predictable, but out of the ordinary, events much better than it’s currently doing.

    I’ll probably drive in to town for the next such event, so that I don’t have to wait an hour to get on a standing room only bus.

    1. I wonder whether anyone here who knows enough about the contract process could tell us how long it could take for AT to add new clauses. I’m thinking of clauses that require extra services at particular times according to a calendar of expected events and situations. And perhaps clauses penalising service disruptions on particular days.

      1. I’m not sure but I imagine AT wouldn’t be able to add new clauses at all. They would either have to specify the clauses at the start of the contract, or negotiate with the operator for a contract variation that included them.

  7. As a Union Delegate, my concern is for the staff who have the right to enjoy a long weekend the same as most other workers’.

    There are also issues around rostering and payment of OT.

    1. That’s what days in lieu are for. PT is an essential public service. The staff that work on the public holiday can have a long weekend in upcoming weeks using their lieu days.

    2. Yes, sympathise with that but other’s that have this day off can’t enjoy then weekend so much as there is cut down PT running. It can also show Auckland in a bad light when they are showing off it’s other good features to visitors. As someone mentioned above, also a good time for non PT users to give it a go for a change when they are not so sticking to a tight schedule for work etc.

      1. Yeah, lets take time off when no one else in my family is. Great idea. I would hate to be forced to work if there were no one else who wanted to work over the holidays.

        1. Perhaps the whole city should just stay home on public holidays. Perhaps hospitality workers should have the day off so that no one can go out to lunch, perhaps dairies should all close so no one can get a newspaper to read at home, perhaps Bunnings should close so that no one can do work on their home.

          Or perhaps we accept that we prefer treating public holidays as an additional day of annual leave for shift workers and getting all of the benefits of operating society on public holidays?

        2. How do you feel about the track workers who were forced to work over the long weekend? The closures were not to give train staff a break they were for track works.

          Maybe we should just give all of ambulance, fire and police the day off on Anniversary Day.

  8. Is there any reason they just run the Southern trains from Manukau to Newmarket. They did the same over new year. Terminating services at Manukau makes some sense but why not run into Britomart. Doesn’t seem as though there’s any construction going on.

  9. This has irked me for a long time, so when I read on the AT site on Friday that this was the case again for the busy anniversary weekend with events like Laneway and the Vector Lights going on you could imagine how bewildered I was. After recently having the pleasure of travelling around Japan on their incredible public transport (which I could talk about ad nauseum), I came crashing back to reality here in Auckland. It beggars belief that AT would shut down or reduce such publicly-beneficial services on important weekends such as these. To me it seems it’s not just public holidays that the train lines are closed for “maintenance” – there have been times when it’s almost every other weekend the Southern line terminates at Manukau. I take the train from Newmarket to see family in Pukekohe, which is over an hour each way, and the frequency ex Pukekohe is 1ph. With only one car between my partner and I, I’m more than happy to take the train because time can be so much better used for reading and writing that can’t be done when driving. It’s just incredibly painful how inconvenient it is to have those plans changed when you find out trains aren’t running. The buses replacing trains from Manukau to Pukekohe adds almost an hour each way, which simply isn’t workable. The AT website states that Wiri-Pukekohe was closed this weekend for the Takanini motorway-widening project, which I can understand (although why isn’t this construction work performed at night when road and rail traffic is low or non-existent?), so driving down the motorway today I expected to see some construction progress being made. Wrong. Not a single worker. It’s just shocking, but I don’t know why I expected anything else.

  10. Long weekends provide the biggest window of opportunity for maintenance to be done and offers the least disruption. Win win for everyone.

    1. Between midnight and 5am offers the best window for getting work done with the minimum disruption to passengers.

      Imagine if they closed a motorway for the whole long weekend. I can only think of two instances of a motorway being fully closed for part of a weekend and that was for the Newmarket viaduct where there was no other option.

  11. Me and my partner were caught up in the bad planning last night, fireworks finishing at 10pm on the port and then expecting to get train home. To be greeted with no trains and a very irregular replacemnt bus service. So UBER to the rescue yet any and even our cab driver was decrying the bad Auckland Transport planning. Giving stories of many stressed parents with pushchairs waiting at Briomart. Once home and checking out the Auckland Council website, it helpfully listed all the events, scroll down a little further and a list of trains not running!!! Surely any forward looking leader, Mr Goff and Mr Leevy, would be thinking about extending PT for Auckland Anniversary weekend. All the events run by ATEED and Ports to name a few, would warrant extending services times, stopping any track maintenance for this one weekend. Why can’t you actually start talking to each other to ensure all the CCOs collaborate and make Auckland the most liveable city for at least one weekend a year, rather than operating in your usual silos and your rate paying residents not wanting to turn up next year?

    1. Incidentally did anyone catch the last Eastern train home last night (@10:14pm) and see if it was able to take everyone that wanted to board & was it 3 or 6 car set? We walked around to see the Harbour Bridge lights after the Port concert/fireworks event, so didn’t catch this like we could of, then forgot that it wasn’t Saturday night later trains (I originally was thinking Fireworks was Saturday night for some daft reason so hadn’t rechecked the timetable – which is easy to misread anyway, especially for a casual user, with the foot note way down the bottom about Saturday being the only night with extra late services).

  12. Yes I think long weekends I guess have to be used for the bigger very important rail maintenance jobs (Newmarket Crossing for example) but Auckland Anniversary & New Years Eve are bad times to do this with all the events and things on. Rail at least should be going better. Central New Network Buses will help I think once rolled out. We were saved by an Eastern bus to Panmure at 10:50pm then Urber from there to home (saved money) did the trick..actually to car parked at nearby train station as the buses to them are too infrequent to use on Sunday.

  13. As a CCO, I was under the impression AT was a “*Council Controlled* Organization”.

    I just don’t see anything to validate that in the decision making there. Whether it be their approach to train schedules, “draft” budget cuts to cycling, a continued roads-focus and other things like spitting in the face of plans for the Linear Park.

    They seem to just do their own thing which more often than not is in direct conflict with the goals of the organization (AC) under whose control they are supposed to be.

    Far from being in control, AC just look toothless to direct them.

    1. Although it is a CCO, Rodney ensured in the Super City legislation that AC were not allowed to direct AT in any way, possibly in retaliation to the way certain councillors were able to push the Regional Council to do things like the Helensville trial and the Parnell Station. Expensive that were, in the way they were executed, were designed to fail

      That is why the legislation needs urgent amendment.

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