Public Transport in Auckland has improved remarkably over the last few decades. The number of annual boardings have almost tripled from a low of just 33 million to 92 million today, well ahead of population growth and most of that in the last decade. PT is undoubtedly working a lot better than used to, but that doesn’t mean it is working as well as it should. For example, if right now we had a similar level of per capita usage as Wellington, boardings would be a third higher again. To achieve that sort of level in say a decade, once combined with Auckland’s rapid population growth, would require about 150 million trips, or 5% growth every year for a decade. There are clearly some big ticket items in the pipeline that will help, such as CRL and light rail, but they’re 5+ years away. To achieve that sort of growth in usage, and have PT play a bigger role in transporting Aucklanders, Auckland Transport are going to need to be more aggressive with improvements.

On Friday night, following a couple of drinks after work, I had one of those PT journeys that was full of examples of things to improve.

Not In Service

So far, public transport improvements have largely focused on commuters to and from the city. There are plenty of valid reasons for this; it is the largest, densest and one of the fastest growing areas of employment in the region. When coupled with the universities, it results in high levels of transport demand at similar times of the day. So, if you’re travelling at peak times in the peak direction i.e. to the city in the morning or away from it in the evening, PT now generally works pretty well. We can see this reflected in the numbers which show that now more than half of the people entering the city centre every morning peak aren’t doing so in a car.

But as our city and our PT networks have evolved, people want to use it for other trips. Making public transport viable for a wider variety of trip types will be crucial in getting more people to use it overall. Changes like the New Network can help with this but that alone won’t be enough. One thing that could help is making better use of Not In Service (NIS) buses.

Every morning, hundreds of buses make their way to the city loaded with passengers, after finishing their route many will race as fast as possible back to the suburbs to start another peak time, peak direction run. The same thing happens in reverse in the evening. As a result, many of Auckland’s 1,300 buses will only operate 2-4 runs a day, that’s not great utilisation. Making use of some of those buses to provide better counter peak and off-peak services could help improve connectivity and usage. Time for an example.

I made my way to Akoranga Busway Station, arriving just after 6pm where a crowd of 20+ people were already there waiting for a Northern Express (NEX) to the city. Just as I arrived a double decker NEX turned up. Great timing I thought. Only due to the events on that night, the bus was full and only one or two were able to squeeze on.

The doors are open but there’s no room for more passengers

The platform display said the next bus was about five-minutes away, more frequent than usual and not too long to wait. While waiting for that next bus, two more double deckers and two single decker buses flew past the station at speed and NIS, en-route to the city for another peak run.

Waiting passengers look on as empty buses race by

Only that wasn’t the end of it. The five-minute wait actually turned out to be about eight and when the next double decker arrived, it too was full and no one was able to get on. After another similar wait, two more double deckers and another single deck bus raced past the growing number of waiting passengers. Finally a NEX turned up that had enough space to to fit people only, but only just.

Had just one of those NIS buses stopped to pick up us stranded passengers we would have saved 15-20 minutes on our trips and been provided with a much superior customer experience. While this example was when events were on, it has been happening here on normal days too.

Firstly, AT needs to be running more of these buses in service. Not only would that help reduce these issues but the improved level of service would help attract more users too. Secondly, AT and the bus companies need to find a way to react to situations like this. One option might be for drivers of full buses to alert their depot and have the next bus stop and pick people up.

It’s worth noting that there were a number of buses that were heading directly to Eden Park that stopped and picked up passengers but didn’t do anything to dull the queues for the NEX. Also relevant, our comparatively high levels of peak to off-peak service is highlighted in this graph, from a post last year.

Finally on this, a couple of overseas examples to show how poor our bus fleet utilisation is. Our ~1,300 buses carry 66 million trips annually while Vancouver’s ~1,540 carry 250 million and Brisbane’s ~1,240 carry 111 million. Our buses need to be working harder.

Make PT easier to decode

If you’re travelling anywhere but to the city at peak times, public transport is often just too hard for casual users and so they just don’t bother. It’s partly why so many say that PT is terrible even though it has improved a lot. Why I was at Akoranga in the example above is a good case study of how hard things can be. I was in Takapuna and I needed to get to Britomart to catch a train. But buses from Takapuna don’t go to Britomart, meaning two buses are needed. There are actually two different bus route options, each of two buses. Sometimes there’s a clear choice of which option to go with but sometimes, even for an experienced user like me, it’s a 50:50 call. Get that call wrong or because something unexpected happened, like a full bus leaving you behind, and you can be stuck in the wilderness wasting time wishing you’d chosen the other option.

In this case, the two options to get to Britomart are either:

  • One of the Takapuna to City buses, with a transfer about 160m further down Fanshawe St
  • A bus to Akoranga and transfer to a NEX. Interestingly google maps doesn’t even give this route as an option.

While there are generally more buses on the first option, I’ve come to find the second is often easier as the Akoranga bound buses are departing from Takapuna, so do so on time, whereas the Takapuna to city buses have often been delayed en-route. Waiting at Akoranga is also nicer as it’s fully covered and quiet, unlike the fully exposed footpath on northern side of Fanshawe St.

It’s hard to change the two-bus nature of this trip (till CRL) but it trip could be made so much easier. For the purpose of this example I’m going to use the new network map because it is easier to read and the same flaw exists in it.

The issue is the Takapuna to City buses (the N4 in the new network) travel via Esmonde Rd and bypass the Akoranga Busway Station, despite passing within 200m of it. If all Takapuna bound buses passed through Akoranga it would make journeys much easier and allow users to pick the next bus that came along.

Admittedly, I’m always traveling counterpeak so others experience may vary, but very few people use these buses on or near Esmonde Rd. One option could be to have them follow the same route as the N25, N30 and N46 buses and use Anzac St and Fred Thomas Dr to access the station. Buses usually only take 3-4 minutes to make this trip and would be more reliable with bus lanes on Anzac St. An alternative would be to keep the N4 buses on Esmonde but divert them into Akoranga. The problem with this is that Esmonde Rd is often congested and so getting a bus to turn right could add unacceptable delays.

In my view, AT need to find a way of addressing this. Takapuna is a popular destination and buses are often very busy but how many people don’t bother trying to use PT to get there because it’s just too hard? Perhaps AT want to leave it that way to help fill up the giant carpark they’ve demanded. This is only anecdotal evidence but prior to the CRL works when Takapuna buses used to travel along Albert St, I would often see numerous regulars transferring between buses and trains. Now I seem to be the only one.

Pad the seats, not the timetables

The final stage of my journey involved a trip home on the train. I arrived at Britomart at just before the 6:40 was due to leave. However, for whatever reason it was delayed and didn’t depart till 6:46 (I was checking my phone). The train was busy, full with people going home or to Eden Park to watch the rugby. For the journey home I was engrossed in my phone so wasn’t keeping a track of things so didn’t notice the journey till I was about to get off.

I travelled to Sturges Rd station and the timetable tells me the train should have departed at 6:40 and arrived 47 minutes later at 7:27. Yet, despite leaving 6 minutes late, the train arrived at 7:30. So, even though the train had a large crowd on board, which usually delays things, the train made up at least 3 minutes on journey. I have no idea what happened to achieve that faster time. Was it a faster turnaround at Newmarket, faster dwells at stations, or was the driver just able to travel faster because he wasn’t being held back by a slow timetable.

Whatever the reason/s, why can’t AT achieve those sorts of travel time improvements for regular services? We know AT will often pad timetables to make punctuality look better and to build in some recovery time so following services are less likely to be affected by small delays but is that really the best option? A three minute saving, plus perhaps another minute if AT can get things like doors working faster, would go a long way the concerns we’ve had about the speed of our trains. It will be interesting to see just how much faster the new timetable due in August is.

Ultimately, the question is would you rather see trains running as fast as possible but having lower punctuality, so more chance of a train being “delayed”, or would you prefer trains that are always slower but stick to the timetable. Personally, I’d prefer the former, and then work on fixing whatever was causing some trains not to achieve those times.

Share this

88 comments

  1. It is a tricky thing, being a victim of it’s own success. After using the bike/train for the past 2 years to get to work, I’ve decided to go back to a car park in the city. Life is too short to be spent standing on a packed train for an hour. At least being stuck on the motorway I can sing as loud as I like and still get there quicker. PT is just too expensive and car parks in the city still too cheap.

  2. Surely the key is frequency of service. If buses and trains are frequent, the actual timetable becomes largely irrelevant, because you can just turn up at a bus stop or train station whenever you want, knowing that you will have to wait only briefly – a few minutes.

    1. +1.

      AT will actually save money and increase patronage by targeting a 5min frequency and forget about the timetable padding.

  3. Great post thanks Matt. I am finding myself enduring my PT travel lately rather than enjoying it. Two things from my travel: Train journey times are too slow. NEX is too expensive. On the latter, I travel from the cbd to Massey. The schedules seem to be organised so that you need to travel via Albany Station, which is one stage more expensive than Constellation. More services from Constellation would help to keep the fare price down.
    I note you bring up the train seat padding. That was always one of mine but the reasoning was that it was needed for fire redardation in tunnels.

    1. I was puzzled that you said you travel from the cbd to Massey via Albany. Then I realised you probably meant Massey University at Albany. But in case you did actually mean the suburb Massey in west Auckland, you would get off the NEX at Constellation and take the 120 via Hobsonville.

        1. The location of Massey University is terrible, as is the surrounding street network. There simply is no easy way to service the uni with quality PT given these realities.

          Unfortunately Massey will reap what it has sown through it’s own location choice. It is simply a less attractive location because it’s hard to access. And let that be a lesson for university administrators who entertain the idea of re-locating facilities to the awkward periphery of awkward suburban town centres.

          Ultimately, and I know this sounds harsh, but the best solution for Massey Albany is to close the campus down, sell the buildings/land (e.g. as a retirement village), and start again somewhere else. It’s the same conclusion UoA reached with regards to exchanging its Tamaki Campus for Newmarket.

          P.s. Is it possible to get to Massey via Constellation by changing services?

          1. Don’t forget Stu it was built on the old main road! When Massey Auckland was established in the late 80s, early 90s the motorway stopped prior to Albany by the sewage swamp and all traffic went through what is now know as Albany village, the original Albany. It is the stadium and motorway extension of the late 90s that changed everything.

    2. Massey Uni is going to be the same zone fare whether you change at Constellation or Albany station so I’m not quite sure where you are heading with that?
      Do agree with the journey times. Have long advocated that on the physical NEX busway the buses should be legally allowed to travel faster (100km/h would be good rather than the current 80km/h limit). This would save 1 minute off each journey (not a huge amount but over the course of a day it adds up).
      When the busway is extended to Albany that will of course result in further time savings (both the bus way and if allowed to do 100km/h on it).
      Before anyone says those speeds aren’t safe in a bus, there are DD just like ours overseas that do 110km/h on highways.

      Yes to using NIS buses (have also advocated using them as limited stop express buses – stopping at only Albany, Akoranga, Britomart).

      As for Takapuna buses – agree that they should go via Akoranga, but it would involve some changes to facilitate it (clear – no stopping hashes on the roads/green buslane diagonally across the road with buses getting a 2 second head start on cars to allow them to go from one side of Esmond to the other to get into the busway). Shouldn’t add long to the journey time as from Akoranga they are straight onto the busway under Esmond.

      As always we need to speed up our trains (both actual speed – accelleration+actually achieving top speed, and sorting out dwell times – anything over 30 seconds is excessive at most stations).

      1. Classic case of not reading what I wrote, or not being aware that there is a Massey University and also a suburb called Massey out in west Auckland.

      2. Just did a check on Journey Planner. Albert Street to Constellation Bus Station: $3.30. Albert Street to Albany Bus Station (where most of the Massey Uni services depart from): $4.80 I knew my bus driver was right. This is a rort.

        1. Yeah that would be because Albany and Massey are in Upper North Shore zone whereas Constellation is the border point for Upper / Lower. The fare to Massey would be the same regardless of which busway station services go via as it is in the Upper zone. Can’t see where the rort is as the boundary has to be somewhere,.

  4. I live in Rodney. Public transport is absolutely hopeless. A few buses a day heading for the city, rarely at times we need to go. For 2 people, it also costs 3 times the amount to go in by bus, even if we take account of the cost of parking and the fact that we have to pay a toll on the motorway. The buses usually only have a few people onboard. We know this as we see them while we are driving into the city. We lived in HK for several years, and public transport there is amazing – incredibly cheap, fast, no more than 400m from home and you would never wait more than 5 minutes for any form of transport. Sorry, but light rail to the airport or lines out west will never be of any use to us either.

    1. To be fair that is a choice you made when choosing to live in Rodney. Assuming you don’t live in suburban Orewa or Whangaparaoa (which you can’t with only a few buses a day), it is likely you will never have good public transport within 400m. The land use is the complete opposite of Hong Kong!

      Very low density countryside living, with the odd suburban pocket located far from anywhere else… plus restrictive zoning that means it will stay that way. It’s a geometric impossibility to provide transit that is both good quality and reasonably affordable to places with rural densities. That’s the trade off with lifestyle blocks and countryside living, you can’t get the same urban facilities as places that have ten times the number of ratepayers to share the costs among. Consider how many people lived within 400m walk of each transit stop in Hong Kong, given the extreme density there it could be in the tens of thousands. In the country parts of Rodney, you’d be lucky to have a few dozen.

      You can’t have good local public transport without a moderate level of density and a street network that supports it. You’re best hope would be driving to a Park and Ride near the end of one of those lines… or living in a suburb.

      1. Agree Nick. The NEX from HBC station is very regular now. Ideally would have buslanes on the motorway (and possibly add a buslane onto the overpass in Silverdale so buses can avoid the traffic at that intersection).
        AT should perhaps look at having some much smaller buses to service some of the surrounding semi-rural areas (the so called last mile – either that or build another Park n Ride somewhere that is rural (like Wainui – which in future will be developed) and have regular buses from there to the HBC station). The costs of building a park n ride out there in a rural place (where the land is relatively cheap and where it could be built cheaply as just a gravel type rather than expensive concrete/asphalt) could be a good option.

        1. Agreed.

          Large park and rides should also be built in strategic locations on the outskirts of the city where the State Highways and rail lines intersect with each other at Kumeu and Drury.

          1. “Large park and rides should also be built in strategic locations on the outskirts of the city”
            Sure if the users are prepared to pay to use them. Otherwise there is a huge incentive for people to live a considerable distance from the transport corridors. They benefit because their property is likely to be cheaper because of the remote location and then everyone else pays for their living there by providing the park and ride. Economic folly!

  5. I think it is crucial to get details right.

    Sort out the track faults and signaling issues!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ve noticed the trains have become more dented, dirty and tired looking. They need to smarten them up.

    The notification boards seem to have a lost connection message more often than they are working.

    Platform staff with their clipboards need to realise they are the face of AT and engage more with passengers.

    I’ve stopped one attempted theft of the phone of a sleeping passenger and felt uncomfortable a couple of times recently. This in combination with a train stopping twice recently due to “platform issues” and passenger problems” and media reports of tagging incidents I et the feeling that with rising patronage their is an increasingly need for greater security – preferably BEFORE a serious sexual or physical assault occurs.

    1. Staff need to have the authority to tell passengers to get their feet off seats. This is a problem with the seats nearest the doors. It’s unhygenic, given that passengers use public toilets, and I and probably others refuse to sit on those.

      Boarding the train at Manukau: the display has never worked properly. It has never shown how many minutes remain before departure. Also, it’s never clear which train to board, since there are always (off-peak) two sitting there side by side.

      Coming into Manukau: the train always comes to a stop on the Manukau Branch line for 1-3 minutes to allow a departing train to pass. Admittedly, this is off-peak, when I travel there. Why this should be, when there are two tracks right into the station, is anybody’s guess.

    2. Many assaults have already occurred, along with multiple other issues like people being robbed, fights, carriages being tagged on the inside, people smoking and drinking alcohol onboard.

      This tends to happen on trains run with 6 car sets when the Train Manager is in the other set.

      In the past when there were more staff on the trains (Clippies) and all staff were checking all tickets, and Train Managers (Guards) had more support from their employer to deal with problem people, there were far fewer problems.

      The current system of having Train Managers not checking tickets and a ‘back off’ approach to problem people due to liability with the new Zero Harm law and the primary focus by Transdev being on keeping the trains on time above all else to ensure performance targets are met and performance bonuses are obtained, means many problem people and undesirables are now coming onto the trains because they don’t have to pay and cause all these problems. Because they can get away with it, more and more do it, and thus the problem gets worse and worse. Just remember how quickly many of the EMU got all their glass etched into with tagging.

      This in turn becomes a viscous cycle and gets worse and worse and you end up decent honest law-abiding people being put off using trains, particularly females at night now, because they don’t feel safe.

      Auckland Transport’s and Transdev’s approach to dealing with the large scale graffiti attacks on trains is appalling, where the graffiti vandals pull the emergency door release on the outside of the trains to prevent the trains from moving, leaving all the passengers trapped inside like hostages being gassed out by paint fumes. The trains are physically capable of moving still in this situation, with a switch which the Driver can flip, but Transdev won’t let train crews do this because of the Zero Harm law liabilities if the taggers get hurt by the moving train – never mind the fact that they are illegally on the trackside committing a vandalism crime.

      The privately employed contracted security guards on the trains and platforms are absolutely useless and are a waste of money as they too have a ‘hands off’ instruction and don’t have any deterrent factor about them, so why bother wasting ratepayer money on having them.

      Transport Officers are not the solution because they are not police officers and don’t have the powers of arrest. They can’t force problem people to get off the train and they can’t hold and delay trains. They can only fine fare evaders they catch if the fare evader if good enough to provide their real name and address – which of course is very unlikely.

      What is needed on the trains is the Train Managers re-designated as Guards again and given more powers or at least support from Transdev and Auckland Transport to deal with problem people and to have the Guards checking all people have a ticket or HOP card which would flush out a lot of the problem people and fare evaders. There should be either two Guards or a pair of Transport Officers with a Guard on all services run with 6 car sets.

      And yes the trains are looking dirtier, grubby and run down, because of the cleaning contract Auckland Transport put in place a few years back where the cleaning contractor ICS employees fewer staff than the old contractor had and they only ‘spot clean’ carriages at night and don’t fully clean them. The new cleaners get paid less to do twice as much work, resulting in the situation you see.

      Auckland Transport and Transdev are trying to do the same sort of thing with their (un)SAFE project as a cost cutting exercise to get the Drivers to take on all the Train Manager’s responsibilities for very little extra pay and only have pairs of Transport Officers on some trains randomly. The Transport Officers get paid less and are on lesser conditions that the RMTU member Transdev employed rail staff.

      So going by all the above to date which has been instigated by Auckland Transport, do you think things will be better and safer under this system? The answer and feeling by the union representing staff and the majority of passengers is no, hence the recent industrial action.

      1. If bouncers are legally allowed to remove people from bars or concerts how is this any different to security guards (especially transport officers)?

          1. All railways in NZ are considered to be private property where it is illegal to trespass on – owned by Kiwirail.

          2. I’m not a lawyer but I don’t think that interpretation is quite correct. Land owned by KiwiRail is publicly-owned (KR is a state entity that receives funds via government budget processes) but it is access controlled.

            I think the same is true of state highways? Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

          3. Funding and ownership make no difference to property ownership – private property (even if owned by a public body) is still private. Whether the public has access over that property is a different, unrelated matter: roads and other rights of way can be owned by anyone.

      2. Political correctness aside, they need to employ some heavies with physical presence. Skinny Indian guys (as are most of the current lot it seems) aren’t going to do the trick.

        I felt a lot safer when the Maori Wardens were on board.

  6. Everyone I’ve met inside Auckland Transport complains about the buses and trains and doesn’t use them as a result. Different teams, but even they seem powerless to solve these problems.

    I don’t think AT knows what they are doing with regards to transit, hopefully the new CEO is going to cull all the dead wood and instigate fundamental reforms – he at least lives in the city centre and does not own a car, so will be experiencing first hand the issues.

    1. It depends, the folk at AT I work with all use PT daily and do know what they are doing, but admittedly they are only a few people within a very large organisation.

    2. Auckland Transport needs to encourage it’s staff, in particular senior managers responsible for making decisions, as well as it’s contractor operator staff to use public transport so they can see and experience first-hand from the perspective of a passenger the issues. Staff are best placed to raise and get issues addressed and to make improvements and provide better service based on better understanding.

      They could do this by providing all staff with a staff privilege AT HOP card which gives staff free unlimited free travel on all AT public transport modes, as an incentive for staff to use public transport.

      Auckland Transport and Transdev should also stop using taxis so much and use their own public transport system instead. It is crazy that train crews get sent in taxis all over Auckland every day as part of their shifts (and getting stuck in traffic) when they could instead use trains – for free. Not to mention the waste of public money on taxis.

      If the public transport system is not suitable for the people responsible for running it, what makes them think it is going to be for everyone else?!

      The public transport system really needs to be sped up. A direct cross town heavy rail network running from Albany to Pukekohe, Helensville to Waiuku and an airport loop line with linking up the Onehunga Line and Eastern Line together via the CRL and Manukau would achieve this.

          1. Almost everything I suggest has me laughing, Ari, it’s so far from the present reality… 🙂

          1. Yes it does – Henderson office, all AT-owned rail depots. They even had staff parking on the end of Queens wharf!

        1. Re AT Parking in general, rates too cheap but probably so the buildings are actually kept fairly full. Really they should remove one of the AT big carpark and charge more for the others.

  7. Akoranga and Smales Farm share the same flaw: it is cumbersome for local buses to get to those stations.

    In case of Smales Farm, it’s really like someone sat down and tried to come up with the worst possible design for that area. Local buses go onto the busway for a little tour around the station building, before stopping at platform 3.

    From the timetables:
    – Line 913 goes to both the hospital and the station. Getting from Taharoto Road and back (stop 3306 to stop 3347) is timetabled at 9 minutes.
    – Line 975 just doesn’t go to the station. It spends a more modest 5 minutes detouring to the hospital.

    1. Buses a) have to turn around as they only have a driver cab at one end, and b) only have doors on the left side.

      This means they will always need to do a bit of circulation to get in and/or out of bus stops at terminals. Using the station apron is more efficient that extra roads and roundabouts and the like for the buses.

      What do you propose as a solution that would be different?

      1. There already are a few more roads and roundabouts on Smales Farm. Maybe buses could stop along The Avenue and then go around the block back to Taharoto Road. Or move the stops to Shakespeare Road.

        Yes those introduce a short walk, but right now, if you come from Birkenhead or Northcote, you have to walk in all the way from Northcote Road.

        1. I think having local buses stop at the station is pretty important, although it can be annoying if you aren’t going there.

          1. The problem here is the other way around. The detour is so slow that many buses don’t go to the station at all. If introducing a 1 minute walk means all local buses can go to the station it might be worth it. Key is then to make that 1 minute walk not ridiculously unpleasant.

          2. At 40 km/h a bus can travel 6 km in 9 minutes. Presumably it isn’t distance that’s adding the time, but intersections and lack of bus priority.

    2. Roeland, Akoranga Station is indeed a disgrace. After only a year AT have managed to clear all the cars parked on the verges that impeded buses. Absolutely pathetic that the fix took so long.

      Another issue is that at peak times the bus (along with cars) heading to Akoranga from Takapuna gets stuck in the line of traffic heading to Esmonde Road and the motorway. So its a double whammy. The bus is slowed and the kiss and ride traffic is impeded. I know its hard to believe that when AT is encouraging PT usage that the motorway traffic appears to have priority.

      I am not a traffic engineer but it seems that the fix could be incredibly simple. My idea is that the rightmost lane could be a right turning one and the bus and kiss and ride could proceed quickly. I have sent an OIA to AT asking what they have done to fix this particular issue. I shall post the results.

  8. Without a doubt the patronage figures are certainly looking better from the no so long ago “bad old days” – when buses didn’t run at all on Sundays in the ’90s and it looked like [weekend and off peak] buses might follow the trains out the door for a while.

    And most of the issues and solutions we face today are predictable, obvious and long overdue, considering these issues have been around for the better part of many decades, well before AT, electric trains and such were even on the horizon.

    So it is staggering to see how far we’ve come, yet to also realise how hamstrung we have made our PT systems. Even so we do have to look back once in a while to see progress and to relearn the lessons of the past.

    So as a slightly off-topic but related question, in yesterdays flashback post on the near death and revival of Auckland passenger trains you had a graph of train passenger usage covering a few decades up to 2014 or so.

    In that graph there was a substantial up tick in patronage between 1975 and the end of 1976, which wasn’t surpassed until around 2003 .

    Any ideas what happened to make the train usage pick up so much in that period? And importantly for this post, are there any lessons there we should maybe (re)learn from, and apply to todays issue with a modern twist?

    Of course, its one thing to have a PT system in place that is well used, but I doubt neither the trains or the buses could cope today with the percentage [or possibly absolute] increase in patronage such as was seen back in the mid 1970s. And whatever caused the usage uptick then, should it recur again, in one form or another, as the system stands right now, we could see significant ongoing “March Madness” for every month of the year.

    1. “In that graph there was a substantial uptick in patronage between 1975 and the end of 1976, which wasn’t surpassed until around 2003. Any ideas what happened to make the train usage pick up so much in that period?”

      My best guess: that’s two years after the first oil shock in late 1973 which roughly tripled global oil prices, so over a couple of years some Aucklanders probably concluded that sky-high fuel prices weren’t going away and swung (briefly) towards rail rather than driving – also encouraged by a recession which would have made it tougher to afford everything, petrol included.

      EDIT: AKLDUDE was thinking on the same lines as me but also notes carless days, which kicked in during 1979 and might have produced the milder uptick from that year on.

      1. Yes I commented yesterday on this, seems it was mainly fuel prices. With the proposed new tax increases this may do this exact thing we want with a stick: more PT use. I wonder if some improvements of service or increasing city congregation back then added to this upswing? These must be someone that know more about this without a huge big research exercise.

        1. And don’t forget AT has already calculated that the small fare increases they made recently would result in 600k fewer PT journeys. Reverse that now, and scale it up…

      2. The increase in rail usage only put it back to the level it was a few years earlier so still was likely plenty of capacity to handle it, and the increase wasn’t all that much in real terms compared to what we’ve seen since. But it is an interesting question, what would happen today if we saw a big spike in usage, say about 25%. On rail that’s about a 5m increase and that should be able to be absorbed, especially with the new EMUs coming. On many bus routes there have been similar levels of increases over recent years and with NN adding a lot of capacity, we should be able to handle it on most routes.

        BTW, here’s what that graph looks like when updated to include the last few years

  9. I highly doubt the AT senior management who decided how PT works actually use them regularly.

    They have their own carpark in the AT head office and use their luxury SUV to commute to work. When is the last them they use bus or train?

    They are totally out of touch with the issues for those using it.

    Therefore, the first thing AT should do is remove all carparks for its senior staffs in the PT department and ban them from driving.

  10. Thanks Matt for the post. Other systemic flaws in the PT system that need to be sorted to improve the experience and boost patronage are:

    1/ Bus stops need to be located where it makes sense for the PT network, not where it makes sense to maximise traffic flow. Where routes intersect, the bus stops need to be as close as possible to the intersections, not hundreds of metres away.

    2/ Pedestrian amenity needs to be improved both for safety and to minimise the time taken to connect between routes. NZTA says best practice for urban areas is 30 second maximum pedestrian wait time. Again, this needs to be prioritised over traffic flow.

    3/ Bus stops need to be located where two lines have merged, not on the individual lines before they merge. For example, the 030 and 018 both travel along Great North Rd after they merge at the Surrey Cres shops. There used to be a bus stop that served buses merging at those shops. Now you have to choose between waiting on Williamson Ave or on GNR before the merge, meaning you invariably see the other bus you could have been on going past. Similar thing with 007 and Outer Link, and probably many others.

    4/ Where different serves originate at the same point, then diverge somewhere along the route, there will be some people who could take either. Even if they diverge after only a km or so, those multiple services could be connecting to another network route. It is therefore important that the services are staggered in their departure times. No point having, say, the 030 and the 007 both departing at the same time at 30 minute frequencies from Coyle Park when they could be providing 15 minute frequencies by being staggered. (These services connect to multiple other routes such as 018 and Outer Link.)

    5/ Electronic boards are all very fine, but each and every bus stop should at least have a printed timetable. Hopeless lack of being able to plan the journey en route otherwise.

    1. +1
      The bus stops are so flagmentated with little information that makes it difficult for casual users.

      Even the map doesn’t shows the exact location of individual small bus stop. It is very hard for a casual user to know where to board and off.

      Different little bus stops for different routes should be consolidated into bigger better more visible bus stop with ample onsite information, weather shelter, comfort seats and realtime board.

      That will help to make the network simplier to understand for casual users, as well as making it easier to transfer and cherrypick bus on same route at the same bus stop.

          1. Yes and we could have free group tuck and roll classes put on
            monthly by AT so we can all use the service most effectively & efficiently. Then post graduate tuck & roll classes specialising in HOP tagging off while still rolling.

  11. The main issue here is, AT senior management has no incentive to boost ridership and user satisfaction.

    Their KPI only cares about punctuality and absolute safety.

    If there is no incentive, why would they want attract more riders by making train run faster but risk being unpunctual.

    The only way is to have a target KPI for improved ridership and user satisfaction. If the senior management underperform too much, they get fired and replace with somebody else who performs.

    They should also get bonus for overperforming as well, so they can be more aggressive than minimum requirements.

    1. “…They should also get bonus for overperforming as well, so they can be more aggressive than minimum requirements…”

      You mean like at Pike River?

  12. re the train timetable: Seems like the train manager and/or driver were in catchup time mode then forgot to slow down again, shows you how much time they can save even with current setup. I’ve seen this happen with about 30-40sec dwell times. The slow as train timetable is really starting to put people off using the trains I suspect now the novelty of the new shiney electric system has faded somewhat.

  13. When I nwas a trammy in Melbourne, no tram was ‘not in service” unless it was defective in some way. You had some explaining to do if you arrived at the depot without a “Preston Depot” (in my case) desto on the front so that people knew, even though your tram was not running a full route, it could still get them somewhere.

  14. Another nice bit of special-event customer service on Friday: I was on a New North Rd bus and a couple (tourists by their accent) got on with their game tickets and asked if the bus went near Eden Park. ‘Yes, but you can’t get on with that.’ No advice on whether the event buses stopped at that stop, just told them to pay cash or get off. AT really need to make special event tickets valid for all public transport – visitors and irregular users are just going to be put off by the arcane rules around when you can use your event ticket and when you can’t.

    1. I agree with making it free for all buses. Since I live out west near a train station I normally go by train to Eden Park. I don’t go to that many events so was surprised when one time when I was late going to North Harbour stadium, I got on a Northern Express bus and found I needed to pay. I just assumed I could use it. I’ve never looked that hard but I’m guessing there are also a bunch of people who could take a bus to a train station or whatever and have no event buses nearby, but need to pay.

      And despite my limited usage I’ve had some weirdness with Eden Park too. E.g. only 3 car trains right after the game ended or I think one time the train wasn’t waiting despite the ending time being fairly predictable.

      Another event management failure, during the most recent Lantern Festival I decided to stay for the fireworks on Sunday. Was going to take a train except I looked into the schedule and whoops unless I really rushed I would probably miss the last train. I had a look at buses and I probably could have made it but decided it was too complicated and ended up driving to the city, paying for parking and walking. (As there were 2 of us, I think it didn’t even end up costing more.)

      I know there were strikes affecting that but AT’s response seemed naff. Also did the strikes really prevent them from at least putting on enough trains to ensure those who stayed until 10.30 could make it home? And was this at least in part because they didn’t plan far enough ahead?

  15. Please AT get serious about bus lanes. You now send buses like 18 down Queen St from K Rd and from the Town Hall they barely crawl at peak times. Every time frustrated passengers go up the driver and plead unsuccessfully to get off. Walking is faster.
    Or do the inevitable and ban cars from Q St!
    The Link buses are a joke. Never to timetable and a bunch then arrive in unison. Sort this out and again institute bus lanes to help make them work.
    Transdev and AT stop lying. Three staff I work with have quit using the trains recently because of the vague nonsensical delay excuses lately such as ‘due to train crew matters’ accompanied by no explanation of when a train might appear. This poor on station communication has been going on for years.
    The truth is AT customer service and media bullshit is driving people away. Can the new CE take some bold steps please to clean up the act.

    1. Yip. The Outer Link will be made more reliable when they block Meola Rd to the private car, and make it just for buses and bikes. Unfortunately they don’t realise they’re going to do this yet. 🙂

  16. I’m loving this new time travel service on the train that arrive before it left…”didn’t depart till 6:46”…”Yet, despite leaving 6 minutes late, the train arrived at 6:30.” if they can get this running on all services so they travel back in time, it doesn’t matter how slow they are. Patronage will hit record numbers as PT services all get you there 1st.

  17. A major impediment to AT boosting PT ridership is that car travel is made so comparatively cheap by AT’s parking policy or its application, or lack of application of the policy. e.g. Matt has commented previously that with the current high occupancy of the Ronwood car park AT should be lifting prices.

    I suspect that the problem is much bigger than this however and I am about to enter a discussion with AT and Auckland Council about whether the Auckland Parking Strategy is fit for purpose.

    As Matt says the strategy appears to have allowed the development of the gasometer parking building in Takapuna although AT’s own consultant report says that it was not necessary.

    1. Fyi Taka-ite, I brought up the possible effectiveness of suggesting an ombudsman be contacted about a particular carpark where AT is not following it’s own strategy. Good-hearted fireworks around that table ensued, and as a result Council is talking to AT about how not following their own parking strategy at that carpark:
      -undermes attempts at placemaking, wasting local board and council money, and
      -reduces pedestrian safety.

      Consistency, AT! Please start doing what you say you’ll do in your various documents.

          1. Sorry. They are refusing to ramp up or enforce the parking restrictions in a free 3-hour suburban shopping carpark, so it is usually way over the 85% capacity trigger point. It’s possibly used for Park and Ride and staff parking; it’s certainly used by the community for low-value trips that could easily be done by foot or cycle if there was a safer active mode network.

            The consequences are many and varied and include:

            1/ Use of the loading zones by anyone who feels they won’t be there long. This means the postal van and courier drivers have nowhere to park so they park where no parking is allowed, right by the centre’s pedestrian entrance, making it dangerous for pedestrians. This undermines all the work being done to try to improve placemaking by improving walkability and safety.

            2/ Avoidance of the centre by local businesses because they can’t be sure of getting a park. As an indication, a neighbour of mine drives much further to post her parcels at a post office in another suburb because she can get a park right outside. Now, I don’t need to go into my reservations around this businesswoman’s decision process. But I can probably surmise that if the business owners and others won’t even go to the local centre because it’s too hard to get a park, none of the work we’re doing to try to make the place appealing to locals, to reverse the 71% wealth leakage from the suburb, even has a chance of happening.

            As you know, AT’s strategy includes adjusting time and price of the parking to ensure there are always parks available. It also includes following the same strategy across the city so people know what to expect. At this carpark, they are doing neither.

  18. “The issue is the Takapuna to City buses (the N4 in the new network) travel via Esmonde Rd and bypass the Akoranga Busway Station, despite passing within 200m of it. If all Takapuna bound buses passed through Akoranga it would make journeys much easier and allow users to pick the next bus that came along.

    Admittedly, I’m always traveling counterpeak so others experience may vary, but very few people use these buses on or near Esmonde Rd. One option could be to have them follow the same route as the N25, N30 and N46 buses and use Anzac St and Fred Thomas Dr to access the station. Buses usually only take 3-4 minutes to make this trip and would be more reliable with bus lanes on Anzac St. An alternative would be to keep the N4 buses on Esmonde but divert them into Akoranga. The problem with this is that Esmonde Rd is often congested and so getting a bus to turn right could add unacceptable delays.”

    Matt, I travel this route every day at peak and there is always a very significant number who board near Esmonde Road. The most that I have counted is 37 at the bus stop on Esmonde. Obviously they all didn’t fit on a nearly full bus. I suggest that it would be useful to keep this route as is and have another route via Anzac that is a continuous there and back Akoranga to Takapuna. (I agree with you that this could be a 10 to 15 minute frequency.) Already on Anzac there is the Shoal apartments (a tidy walk from Akoranga) and in less than two years there will be Summer Gardens, The Sargeson, The Alba, the development on Killarney, 8 Lake Pupuke and maybe The Paragon. The area around Lomond St will only intensify.

    If AT have $30 million to splash on the Gasometer car park then the above route is small change and may go some way to meeting the collective goals that the Council, AT and Panuku have for Takapuna and ameliorate the negative impact the carpark will have. It will also help to reduce the oft heard complaint that Akoranga has no park and ride.

    Of course this route will provide a great connect between the NEX and Takapuna. It would be a much more efficient off peak service than having a bus trundle the 10 odd kilometres from the city.

  19. Great post Matt.

    I’d add all-door boarding to the list, which helped San Francisco speed up its services, attract passengers, generate fare revenue, and reduce costs.

    As you say, nice problems to have but ones Auckland will need to solve if it is to continue to grow patronage.

  20. Just back from Seoul and Kuching (Malaysia) and read your excellent post. Seoul is an amazingly connected city with I think 18 subway lines. I was near line 9 which runs very efficiently with alternate local and express trains (29 stations v 12). Then went to Kuching a city on Borneo with a regional population of close to 700K and virtually no public transport. A traffic jam nightmare. What a contrast. In Auckland we are somewhere in between.

    Matt, your excellent article highlights where we can do a lot better with a little thought. As a North Shore resident I have had a keen interest in the New Northern network and made a series of submissions on it when it was being planned. I totally agree with your comments about the N4. AT say it is all about transfers and then they have a major new frequent service not go to the place to make transfers – there are people from Milford and Takapuna who do want to go to Ponsonby, Newmarket, Auckland Hospital, Downtown etc all places served by frequent buses through Akoranga Station. The N4 needs to go there so an effective transfer can take place. Maybe it needs to follow the route of the present 843 from Takapuna (new N46) if the right turn is too difficult from Esmonde Road. It needs a bus priority right turn into Fred Thomas Drive if using Esmonde.

    This is only an example of the shortcomings all around the region such as our trains not being frequent and finishing too early – we have the buses connecting to the train stations but no trains! Oh for even a tiny fraction of what they have in Seoul!

  21. “Firstly, AT needs to be running more of these buses in service. Not only would that help reduce these issues but the improved level of service would help attract more users too. Secondly, AT and the bus companies need to find a way to react to situations like this. One option might be for drivers of full buses to alert their depot and have the next bus stop and pick people up.”

    Agreed that NIS buses speeding past is a great annoyance, but there are a few factors in play, for example:
    a) the bus may be heading back to do another outbound peak service, with no time to stop for passengers on its way in;
    b) the bus may be heading for the depot, off a passenger route;
    c) the driver may not have sufficient time (either driving hours or shift time) to allow for passengers on that particular trip;
    d) untimetabled/unrostered changes will have an impact on reliability.

    None of these are insurmountable, of course, but would require changes in bus numbers/timetables/shift patterns, all of which have their issues – and cost money!

Leave a Reply