Today is the final day for submissions on the draft Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). You can read our first post on it here. Below is our submission on the RPTP (although there may be some tweaks today before we hit send).
Reflections on the 2015 RPTP
We would like to congratulate Auckland Transport on the recent successful rollout of the new bus network. It has been a significant undertaking and combined with other improvements in recent years, such as integrated fares and new electric trains, represents a step-change in the usability and quality of public transport in Auckland. This step-change has been reflected in the significant increase in ridership that Auckland has experienced.
Notably, the new bus network and the zonal integrated fares structure were first proposed in the 2013 RPTP which helps to highlight the importance this new version should have on future development of our public transport network.
Focus Area 1: Expanding and enhancing rapid and frequent networks
One often underappreciated aspect to the improvements we have seen is that it has shown Aucklanders will respond to improved public transport in the same way as residents in other cities all over the world. While there is still much we can learn from other cities, we are now able to look at ourselves to see what works. We can be confident that improving the quality and usefulness of public transport will result in improved usage, both in total and at a ‘per capita’ level.
We support the aspiration to increase service levels on the rapid and frequent network, both through having more frequent services and more routes meeting the frequent status. Frequency is the single most important driver of public transport usage. This observation is supported by ATs customer surveys, international experts and importantly Auckland’s own experiences.
Services every 15 minutes are considered the minimum possible for ‘turn up and go’ frequencies but is at a level that many users will still depend on timetables to ensure they’re not waiting for long periods of time. This is even more so if a transfer is involved. Improving frequent services to being a minimum of every 10 minutes (or higher) may not seem like a lot on paper but represents a significant improvement to user experience.
Improved frequency can also help improve safety as:
- More vulnerable members of society are not waiting as long. For example, an online survey by for the NZTA found that “40% of people felt very unsafe walking and waiting (whether on buses or trains) but only 10-15% of people felt very unsafe when travelling”
- Knowing that the next service isn’t as far away means public transport users are less likely to feel the need to ‘rush’ and potentially dangerously crossing roads to ensure they catch their service.
Improved frequent span – as well as the improvements to frequencies we’d also like to see the span of hours the frequent networks run at increased. Ideally this would extend till at least 8pm but 9pm would be preferred.
Rail network rapid only in name – A key driver in the new network was to remove duplication between our rail and bus networks. Rail, like the Northern Busway, was to become a backbone to our public transport network. However, Auckland Transport have failed to deliver the improved services needed for the rail network to act as that backbone resulted in some ‘feeder buses’ operating more frequently than the trains they feed into. The draft 2018 RPTP not only continues this trend but represents are reduction in future service from previous RPTPs
The 2013 RPTP proposed the following frequencies
This was improved upon in the 2015 RPTP with explicit differentiation between pre and post CRL services.
The 2018 RPTP suggests a significant downgrade in proposed future services that
- Do not meet ATs proposed criteria for rapid or frequent services of services every 10 minutes throughout the day, every day of the week.
- Suggests no improvements on current services till 2028 which;
- Takes not account of the significant investment being made in the rail network, primarily in the form of the City Rail Link.
Reduced Peak Focus – We have observed in recent years an increasing focus on peak commuter trips, often in response to increasing demand. While servicing peak demand is clearly important, it needs to be recognised that adding capacity at peak times can be very costly as it requires additional buses and drivers.
We would like to see AT given attention to encouraging trips on off-peak services to help spread the demand and avoid costly extra peak services. This would also help AT achieve its service frequency improvement aspirations. Some examples of options for doing this could include:
- Offering off-peak discounts
- Extending bus priority – we’ve heard of students who travel at peak times simply because off peak buses take longer due to a lack of priority.
An example of how peaky our public transport can be is shown below, tracking the number of active buses from ATs data feeds.
The RPTP mentions the challenge in achieving a balance between services focused on coverage and ridership. It suggests that as a general principle that 80% of resource is focused on supporting high-patronage, frequent services. We’d like to see that ratio set as a formal target or policy to ensure there is a balance across the PT network.
Along with improving services, it is important that the ‘base’ timetables (before additional peak only services are added) are consistent throughout the week and throughout the day. This means services depart at the same time regardless of the day of the week and they depart at the same intervals throughout the day i.e. so there aren’t a number of services in quick succession but then long gaps with frequency ‘averaged out’ to achieve the target thresholds.
We note that some recent changes to/from West Auckland now have different departures on weekends to weekdays which adds to customer illegibility.
Integrated Corridor Priority Programme
We support the aims of the integrated corridor programme to provide whole of route priority to public transport services as well as improvements to walking, cycling and safety. We would like to see and indication of other routes that would need similar treatment in future tranches of the programme, such as on the North Shore and in West Auckland.
Focus area 2: Improving customer access to public transport
We support Auckland Transport’s intention to improve how people access public transport. Being able to easily access public transport is critical for more people being able to use it however to date, access to and from public transport has largely felt like an afterthought.
As well as the improvements listed in the RPTP, we’d like to see a number of other improvements, some of which will benefit not just public transport users. These include:
- Improving the quality of existing footpaths and creating new ones where they don’t currently exist.
- Improved lighting
- Looking at options to create new links to stations or stops. This may include new bridge or even links through what may currently be private property.
- Improving safety with new pedestrian crossings.
- Improving shelter – many bus stops still lack any shelter and many train stations have insufficient amounts.
- Easier access to purchase and top up HOP cards
- Train stations need more HOP machines, at least in the peak direction
- Train stations need more HOP tag posts – at many stations long queues can form in the afternoon peak while people wait to tag off.
- Improved amenities at train/bus stations
- Implementing all door boarding on buses – this has been successful in many cities at improving dwell times thereby speeding up services and attracting more passengers.
The rollout of the new network has been successful, but many people seem unaware of how much public transport has improved in recent years. We’d like to see more emphasis put on marketing the public transport network.
Better understanding the customer experience
Auckland Transport appear to have started to look more closely at the overall customer experience but that isn’t represented very well in the RPTP. We’d like to see more explicit indication as to what AT expect the customer experience to be, what known pain points are and what they plan to do to address those.
Focus area 4: Harnessing emerging technologies
Technology has an important role to plan in improving the public transport experience. AT should focus its efforts on technology solutions that have a proven benefit rather than trying to be at the forefront of new ideas, such as with trials of on-demand services and mobility as a service. There are plenty of improvements that can be made to improve the quality of our public transport system without diverting funding and attention to concepts that have not been successfully proven to work in other international cities.
Other comments about the draft RPTP
Farebox recovery – The government have indicated a review of the current farebox recovery rules and reasonable to assume that this will be concluded in 2019. Auckland Transport at least how they’ll review or change plans depending on the outcome of the national farebox recovery rules and funding assistance rates.
The value of public transport – Public transport has a significant and growing impact on how Auckland performs. We support the initiative to better understand the full impacts it has and that will likely be important for feeding into the outcome of the farebox recover policy review. It is noted that even the draft RPTP doesn’t do this well, talking about the costs and subsidies associated with PT but not the benefits, like would happen for any other transport investment.
Expected results don’t align – The RPTP suggests that with the proposed changes Auckland will reach about 150 million trips by 2028. This represents a big improvement on the 95 million we have now however this is notably smaller than the 170 million trips as suggested in the 2018 Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). Auckland Transport need to look at improving the RPTP so that the ATAP forecast can be achieved as not achieving it may have flow on affects to other strategic initiatives.
Unambitious targets – Many of the proposed targets/expected results seem to lack ambition. For example, only reaching just under 105 million by 2021. Given current trends we’re likely to hit that target a year or two early.
Low emission buses – ATs Low Emission Bus strategy does not give sufficient weight to the passenger (and pedestrian) benefits from having low emission buses. AT need to include that in the RPTP and also look at opportunities to get more low emission buses rolled out sooner.