Auckland’s public transport network has undergone significant change in the last decade. The upgrade and then electrification of the rail network, the Northern Busway, HOP and integrated fares, and most recently the roll out of a complete overhaul of the bus network along with a couple of significant bus/train interchange stations. These improvements have played a significant part in seeing PT ridership increase from around 55 million annually in 2008 to 95 million now – almost half of that (18m) has been on the rail network or Northern Busway.
There are significant infrastructure changes coming in the coming decade too with major projects like the City Rail Link, extension of electrification to Pukekohe, Light Rail, the extension of the Northern Busway, the Eastern Busway and at least the start of a busway from the Airport to Botany. All involve significant construction and unfortunately most are over three years away from having impact. But improving public transport in Auckland isn’t just about the big projects. There’s still a lot that needs to be done to improve services and the overall customer experience.
Outlining just how public transport will improve over the coming decade is the role of the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) and the draft of the latest version is now out for consultation. The RPTP is a statutory document that sets out the “policies and actions that will be used by AT to drive our approach to public transport planning, design, implementation and operation“. It even lists what changes will be made to each specific PT service. The plan takes a 10-year horizon but is refreshed every three years.
To give an idea of the importance of the RPTP, the version adopted in 2013 was what introduced New Network and the zonal fare structure we have today. While that plan represented somewhat of a revolution in how we plan for public transport, this version builds on that and so falls into the evolution category. But evolution takes time and unfortunately, like the big infrastructure projects, most of the good stuff is not due till the second half of the decade which puts them at greater risk should the political and/or funding climate change.
Onto the plan.
The key network changes
The new bus network that’s just been rolled out is based on the three principles of frequency, connectivity and simplicity. This means:
- Key routes that run ‘frequently’ all day, every day.
- A network designed around transfers, which helps make it possible to have more frequency
- A network that is simpler and easier to understand
The table below shows how the network is defined – although not everything meets this definition yet, for example, the rail network still operates only every 20 minutes off peak and on weekends and the Northern Busway services don’t have a fully dedicated right of way.
Looking forward to 2028, AT want turn it all up a notch with frequent routes running a minimum of every 10 minutes all day and with those frequent services having priority along their entire route so they’re not subject to congestion. Connector services are also expected to see improvements. This is shown below.
Fifteen minute frequencies are usually considered the bare minimum for a ‘turn-up-and-go’ network and shifting even to services every 10 minutes makes a significant difference to usability of the network.
On top of services running more frequently. AT also want more frequent routes. The routes that are planned to be upgraded are shown in the maps below which shows how things have evolved in just the last few years and how they’ll change in the next three and next ten years.
As mentioned earlier, most of the changes aren’t till later in the decade and below are the service improvements AT hope to make by 2021.
- Improved public transport to the airport
- Provision of the Airport to Puhinui RTN Link
- New regional connection from New Lynn to the Airport
- Core service improvements on FTN whole-of-corridor routes
- Additional weekend services NX1 (Northern Express – Britomart)
- Additional all-day and evening frequency on route 95C (Glenfield Road frequent branch)
- Additional all-day frequency on route 27 (Mt Eden Road)
- Additional weekday service at all times on route 33 (Great South Road/OtahuhuPapakura)
- Additional peak and evening service on route 32 (Massey Rd/Mangere-Sylvia Park)
- Additional inter-peak frequency on route 24 (Sandringham Road)
- Additional inter-peak frequency on route 22 (New North Road)
- Additional peak frequency on route 70 (Botany – Pakaranga – City Centre)
- Other improvements
- Extra inter-peak and evening frequency on 195 (Blockhouse Bay Road)
- Extra peak frequency on route 743 (Glen Innes – Panmure – Otahuhu)
- Extra peak and inter-peak service on route 966 (Highbury – Ponsonby – Newmarket)
- Extra peak service on route 323 (Panmure – Carbine Road/Panama Road – Otahuhu)
- Additional evening frequency 35 (Manukau – Ormiston – Botany)
Perhaps the key infrastructure delivery to support these plans over the next three years is what AT call the Integrated Corridor Priority Programme which aims to give buses on parts of the frequent network the whole of route priority mentioned earlier. The corridors being focused on are below but are only for the Isthmus and South at this stage.
Improving access to PT
Along with making PT services better, AT also say they want to make it easier to get to PT. This is very much needed and one of the big pieces of low hanging fruit that exists. Here’s a summary of how they say they’ll do it.
Some other interesting bits
There’s quite a bit in the plan but some of the parts that particularly stood out include.
The impact of PT
This comes from the section looking at the impact the improvements to PT have already had. The comment about the impact on the harbour crossing really helps to highlight one of the values of good PT, it saves spending a lot more on some big, expensive roads.
However, at the sub-regional level the public transport network has successfully played a key role in increasing the capacity and throughput of some of the most critical parts of the network, especially during the peak period. This has enabled more Aucklanders to travel at peak times and access popular destinations. For example:
- A combination of PT, walking and cycling has allowed the city centre to keep growing without increasing reliance on private vehicles. More than 50% of travel to the City Centre in the peak is by PT or active modes.
- Around a third of Aucklanders making trips over the Auckland Harbour Bridge in the morning peak-travel period take the bus. By increasing the capacity over the bridge the Northern Busway has delayed the need for an additional harbour crossing and spending billions of dollars, freeing up funding for other transport projects.
- During the peak periods, PT carries over a third of the people on key isthmus arterials such as Dominion Rd. (36 percent, am and pm peaks) and Great North Rd. (38 percent am and 42 percent pm), increasing to around two thirds for major routes into the city centre such as Fanshawe Street. (78 percent am and 66 percent pm) and Symonds Street (81 percent am and 82 percent pm).
It then includes this table with a break down by road.
Getting a better understanding of the true impact of PT
Alongside Central Government and Auckland Council, complete an investigation into the wider social, health, environmental and economic benefits of public transport with a view to expanding the vote-funding base accordingly for developing the public transport network
AT to investigate buying PT assets themselves
Undertake a Programme Business Case to investigate the purchase of key public transport assets to lower barriers to entry into a competitively tendered market such as depot, bus and/or ferry purchase
Outer Link to be reviewed
One of the biggest disappointments from the new network was retaining the Outer Link as is. AT have signalled they’ll review it and the Balmoral Rd crosstown services in 2019.
Light Rail frequency good
As part of listing details about all services, AT have to specify the frequency it will run. It appears frequency will be excellent with services every 4 minutes at peaks and at worst every 10 minutes on weekend evenings.
The not so good bits
There are a few things that particularly stood out to me as no so ideal.
The Farebox Recovery Ratio remains in effect
There’s still far too much focus on how much is collected in fares rather than looking at what will deliver the best overall return. The government have talked about changing this but we’re still waiting to here more.
Too slow on the uptake of electric buses
AT say that they’ll require new buses entering the fleet from 2025 to be low emission (electric). This seems too far away.
The role of PT
The plan, particularly in the text, still feels like it is too heavily focused on peak time commuters and dismisses or ignores the idea PT for a wider variety of trips
Train Frequencies vague
ATs service lists include the proposed changes to frequencies for each service, many with changes in 2021 and again in/by 2028. Rail notably doesn’t have anything till 2028 and bizarrely remains below the definition for a frequent service.
ATs expected results
Here are what AT expect to achieve as a result of all of this investment. First, the 2021 results and while most are about keeping things about as they are now. the one that really stands out to me is the overall boardings number. Increasing to just under 105 million boardings represents only about a 4.3% increase in PT use per year. Given we’ve only just finished rolling out the new network this seems too low. To put it another way, in just the few months since the end of the 2017/18 financial year (30-June) boardings have already increased to 95 million by the end of October and it would not be implausible for us to reach 100 million by this financial year.
Looking forward, AT say they expect boardings to increase to 149.7 million in 2028 with rail trips more than doubling to around 43 million. However, they say these figures don’t include the impact of Light Rail to Mangere or the Northwest, both of which would generate significant ridership. Notably, the 150 million trips AT are predicting is significantly less than the 170 million trips ATAP says we’ll achieve by that time and while light rail may help close that gap, it won’t completely.
If AT and its partners manage to pull all of this off, in a decade PT will look and feel very different to what it was just a few short years ago.
Let me know if there’s anything missed that stood out for you.
The consultation is open till December 14 and there are some public sessions that people can attend listed on the website. What they haven’t included on the website is actually how you can submit your feedback – let’s hope that gets fixed soon.