March madness officially kicks off tomorrow with university students back to classes. This is the busiest time of the year where buses and trains are at their busiest and every bit of capacity is needed. Roads are more congested than normal too. But if you catch a train, things are about to become a whole new level of busy.
Late last night, Auckland Transport advised that due to industrial action, peak train services on the three main lines will only run every 20 minutes instead of every 10. Temporary timetables can be found here.
The Rail and Maritime Trade Union (RMTU) has given notice of its intent to commence industrial action from Monday 26 February to Friday 16 March. This action will affect some peak services on the Southern, Western and Eastern Lines. All inter-peak and off-peak services will run as normal.
Auckland Transport and Transdev have developed a temporary timetable to minimise disruption and provide consistent rail services on these lines during this period.
Customers can expect Southern, Western and Eastern line weekday peak train services at 20-minute intervals, with inter-peak and off-peak services running as normal.
Many trains on these services will run with six cars, which can hold 900 passengers, to help reduce impact.
Onehunga and Pukekohe weekday train services and weekend train services across all lines will remain on their usual timetable.
Ferry and bus services will operate as normal.
Auckland Transport’s Chief Transport Services Officer, Mark Lambert says, “With increased demand for services, the trains will be fuller than usual. I encourage people to plan ahead and consider other travel options such as travelling outside of peak hours, carpooling, walking or cycling.”
Mr Lambert says AT staff will be on duty at some busy locations to assist customers with information and advice. Daily service updates will be provided on the station information boards, the AT website, Twitter and Facebook.
AT is proposing to transfer the responsibility for train door opening and closing from Train Managers to Train Drivers with specific safety controls, pending safety case approval from independent rail regulator, NZ Transport Agency, and replacing Train Managers with a larger team of roving Transport Officers.
Currently, Train Managers work alone and, when in a six-car train, cannot provide customer assistance in both 3-car units at the same time. They are not encouraged to intervene in incidents and cannot leave a train service to manage antisocial behaviour off board.
Transport Officers are trained as first responders to incidents across the network. They have warranted powers for fare enforcement and can also be deployed in larger patrols to focus on trains that need additional assistance. Transport Officers are trained to manage anti-social behaviour, security and medical incidents. They have the flexibility to move any antisocial behaviour from the train onto the platform where additional assistance can be provided, without stopping the train service.
Transport Officers form part of a wider series of customer experience improvements including an intensive gating programme that will mean 90 percent of all passengers will have to pass through an electronic gate before going onto the station platform.
AT believes these changes will improve safety and security on the rail network and reduce fare evasion and antisocial behaviour.
More than 30,000 people travel by train around Auckland on an average weekday.
This is going to have a massive impact, obviously the point for the union, but the people it will hurt is not their employers or Auckland Transport but other workers.
This action is also likely to have significant and long term impacts on PT use. The stunning growth in rail use, particularly in recent years, has helped to justify more investment and more services. For example, projects like the City Rail Link would likely not be happening without it. That growth is driven in large part by this time of year when people, sick of the congestion, give PT a go. Many will choose to keep using it. This is reflected in this graph showing the average number of boardings on business days.
Apart from being the busiest time of the year, there’s another reason the timing on this is terrible. We’re just about to have the latest census. Whilst there are many other sources of data these days, the census still seems to play a disproportionate role in making decisions. This action means we’re going to get a lot less accurate reflection of how transport is working in Auckland and that could lead to poorer decisions in the years to come.
My suspicion is that the public will quickly lose patience with this action. A one day strike, like we had in December, is an inconvenience. After three weeks of disruption and super crowded trains people are going to be frustrated and annoyed. Especially so as in replacing train managers, who are only really there to open doors, AT are wanting to put more staff on the network. Personally I think claims that TMs are there to customer service and safety to passengers are bogus. It’s particularly hard for them to be able to do anything, or even provide passive security, when they’re in the other train on a 6-car service.
So, if you use the trains you definitely need to think about how you travel. The temporary timetables are here.