More and more people are using public transport, and that’s great, exactly the outcome we, as a society, have said we want. But there are only so many people that can fit on any one bus, train or ferries and so growing use ultimately means that over time, we need to run more services. Adding services also tends to have a bit of a virtuous circle element to it as doing so also makes them more useful and attracts even more new users. We may also wish to run more services on some in places to encourage more usage or make the overall PT network work better for people.

That all sounds great but adding services often requires additional buses and drivers and that costs money and where issues arise. The same thing applies for if we wanted to lower fares, or even keep them the same as we learnt earlier this year with ATs fare increases.

At the heart of much of the issue around PT funding is the NZTA’s Farebox Recovery Ratio (FRR) and Funding Assistance Rate (FAR). Just quickly

  • Farebox Recovery Ratio – This stipulates that 50% of public transport costs should be met by users through fares. It’s a policy introduced by the NZTA under the former government that sounds good politically but makes no sense in the real world – something even the NZTA admitted prior to it’s introduction. This is an absurd way of funding a critical part of our transport system. We don’t build roads based on how much fuel tax they’ll generate, in fact many are often justified by stating they’ll save drivers time and fuel. Why shouldn’t public transport be treated the same way?
  • Funding Assistance Rate – Of the remaining 50% of PT costs, the NZTA will pay half and the Council will pay half. This can bring its own challenges, for example if fares were covering 50% but the council couldn’t afford to fund their quarter, the extra service is unlikely to happen.

While we’ve seen the Minister of Transport talk about these issues in the past, it’s good to see the NZTA finally start to admit the FRR policy needs to change – they have already started offing greater FAR rates for some projects. reports:

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) says it’s now reviewing how it funds public transport nationally in the light of growing patronage and demand.

A spokesperson for the agency says times have changed and it needs to reconsider its farebox recovery system.

Auckland Transport’s (AT) public transport services are paid for through passenger fares and subsidies from Auckland Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). But under the farebox recovery model at least 50% of its costs have to be recovered through fares.

A spokesperson for the NZTA admits things need to change.

“The NZTA is reviewing farebox recovery. The policy implemented in 2010 set a national target for farebox recovery, but demands on public transport have changed considerably since then and the 50% target across the country is no longer appropriate within a regional public transport planning environment.

“The NZTA is keen to support regional councils in planning and providing public transport specific to their region, which includes developing their own revenue, fares and patronage policies.”

We look forward to seeing what the NZTA come up with but whatever it is, it really needs to happen soon. In general New Zealand’s farebox recovery rates are high compared to cities in Australia (high opex costs) and the US (low fares). Only Canada has better recovery rates and that’s because Canadian systems tend to have very high ridership.

In theory this should be able to happen relatively quickly and easily as the new Government Policy Statement (GPS) saw a significant increase to the amount of money available for public transport. This is reflected in the graph below showing how much investment is forecast in each funding activity class in the National Land Transport Programme. As you can see, PT funding has gone from about $1 billion over 3-years to about $1.75 billion. On top of this is the new Rapid Transit funding and transitional rail funding activities – the latter likely to be paying for the likes of electrification to Pukekohe.

But despite the talk from the NZTA and the minister, it appears it might not be as easy as it seems. In an OIA request I got back yesterday, the NZTA confirmed that as a result of the new GPS they have shifted some projects out of the state highway funding bucket and into the public transport category. The biggest of these is the $200 million Northern Busway but they also plan to do the same for the busway from the Airport to Puhinui. A few thoughts on this are below.

  • We know there were some at the NZTA not happy with the GPS and shifting major projects out of state highways and to other funding activity classes seems, at least on the surface, to be a way for them to keep maintaining the status quo. I hope this isn’t the case.
  • These seem like ideal projects to put into the Rapid Transit class, especially given the NZTA seem to be sitting on their hands about Light Rail.
  • I wonder if those making the decisions even bothered to read the GPS.

I’m going to be doing more work to look into this so there is bound to be more posts on it in the future. Even if the NZTA do drop their farebox policy, it seems there might not be much left to fund improved PT services.

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  1. Well that’s a muck-up of huge proportions. The GPS clearly says:
    The new rapid transit activity class in GPS 2018 allows investment in rapid transit infrastructure (e.g. busways and light rail infrastructure) indicated in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and for other major metropolitan areas.

    Could the PT fare increases recently have been avoided if this mistake wasn’t made?

    1. I assume that the numbers in the stats refer to capex, while the fare recovery relates to opex. If that’s the case then the recent PT fare increases would have been quite independent of the “investment” that NZTA has allocated, or have I misunderstood?

      The farebox recovery expectation as currently set out also makes for a real disincentive for new services being introduced as they would in the short term worsen AT’s financial position. Whether we acknowledge this or not, AT is between a rock and a hard place with regard to funding. It either has to go cap in hand to NZTA or beg for more money from AC. When the answer from both is “no” then it has no option but to put up fares – there is no other fairy godmother. Which is what unfortunately happened earlier this year.

      The result of the current policy can also be seen in the allocation of funding by the Rodney Local Board to fund three new services in their region. While I applaud their foresight and initiative, they should not have had to do this. The risk is that a future local board might have a less positive attitude to PT and pass the buck back to an unwilling and already seriously constrained AT PT budget. In that case the new services are very insecure – or other services might have to be cut to continue to support the new Rodney services.

      Much better that the FRR is relaxed and AT is given more breathing space to operate these services -and to operate new services elsewhere and to boost patronage by lowering or eliminating fares for certain kinds of user or at certain times of day.

      1. The funding range shown in that NZTA chart includes both CAPEX and OPEX. For PT specifically, the former govt combined the services and infrastructure categories. I suspect that was in part to hide how small the infrastructure category was, but also it did mean that there was a better chance of funding infrastructure that improved efficiency, like bus lanes.

  2. What this also means is that the drop in the state highway “improvements” budget isn’t really a drop in state highway building.

    How convenient for the road building industry. And what a pity for the climate.

    1. I can’t understand how there isn’t overlap between ‘road building industry’ and the people we’ll need for projects like LRT to the West and South. I would have thought industry pressure groups would be doing the hard work for us when it came to NZTA.

      1. I have the same thoughts myself, Overall the spend in the transport sector is not decreasing and when you add in other civil works such as waste water there is a huge amount of money and projects in the pipeline.

        1. There’s no such thing as a ‘road building industry.’ There’s a civil construction industry that’ll tender for whatever work is available and then get on and build it. For example Fulton Hogan has been involved in a number of the RONS projects but has just started building the Panmure to Pakuranga section of the Eastern Busway. Downer has also been involved in a number of the RONS projects but is pivoting to construct CRL. Those are just two examples of main contractors but it’s the same story for consultants, subcontractors and suppliers.

          The civil construction industry doesn’t really care what is being built, only that there’s a stable pipeline of work coming to market. That allows the retention of staff, the development of supplier relationships etc.

      1. So you can meet your desire to reduce your carbon footprint I’ll lend you my wings. Used once only, some melts, cute feathers.

        1. He’ll take you up on the offer, I reckon, if the wings are yellow. He particularly likes wearing yellow clothes. With beads.

    2. Yes Heidi, what a pity for the climate. As I sit in a congested traffic queue on SH16, smugly thinking I’m doing my contribution to lessening pollution having moved to an EV, I dare not roll down windows as the choking noxious stink from surrounding vehicles envelops my vehicle.
      This is the reality of Auckland commuting for many who are bereft of even basic PT. For NW the SH16 CO2 and NO contributed from congested traffic must measure many tonnes per year. Does anyone care? All we get is GPS and precious little action to address congestion and related climate issues. Great job Twyford, spin us more major announcements, that’ll fix everything.

        1. Unbelievable that Twyford as The Atatu MP and transport minister didn’t know about about the shoulder lane projects

  3. If extra money is made available i would like to see this used to lower fares for those who can least afford it e.g. community service card holders and off-peak travel as this will help spead demand.

    1. Right on. AT should be required to provide a scheme for community services cardholders. it could be done like tertiary stickers at MSD locations or even online with client numbers/realMe.

      1. Unfortunately AT is not the villain here – it couldn’t do what you suggest without support from NZTA and/or AC. Or without increasing fares for other users.

        1. well yeah those are options with increases being the worst one. It should be part of the mandate for all PT providers.

          The current situation offers nothing based on means. If you don’t qualify for mobility card or legally blind there’s nothing you can do but use core welfare entitlements.

          Note that WINZ is now funding youth vehicle licensing. An acknowledgement and yet reinforcement of our indentured SOV dependance. We can do more to make PT equitable too.

        2. I disagree entirely. Any reduction in the farebox recovery rate should be used to benefit the average regular user by daily and weekly fare caps not frittered away on some social welfare scheme. The future of PT in Auckland is based on making it attractive to the average car owner both in terms of cost and convenience/comfort.

        3. I think the future is more dependant on physical prioritization over the ‘car driver’ mode not just a cheaper status quo.

          And uh in my personal opinion, and evidentially, social welfare isn’t just some money pit. You’re relying on the idea that those who would benefit are obliged to use PT anyway.

        4. Zippo
          “Any reduction in the farebox recovery rate should be used to benefit the average regular user by daily and weekly fare caps”

          I completely agree with you. If we want a transport system that benefits the greatest number of people and encourages them to use PT then it should be cheaper. This will also cause the greatest reduction in carbon emissions.

  4. It seems to me that the figure of 50% is just a stab-in-the dark which means nothing. What was the justification for 50%, compared with alternatives of, say, 47% or 53%? And comparing our rate with Australia and Canada means nothing, because the economies and passenger densities are so different.

    1. Or 10% or 90%. I agree. The decision about funding needs to be made in line with stated goals – eg carbon emissions, safety, health, modeshift, social outcomes, balance of payments.

      Tail wagging the dog, I reckon. It’s probably a useful measure to keep tracking, but not to stifle activity.

    2. Yes it is absolutely a made up figure and if you follow that link back to the 2009 article you’ll see they admitted as much and that it didn’t take into account the economic costs/benefits of getting more people on PT

    3. Although I would say the current prices and service levels are pretty much right in Auckland so maybe it was a pretty good stab-in-the-dark.
      We could probably do with lower off peak prices.

  5. I take a somewhat different view. I think the farebox recovery ratio for big cities (namely Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) should stay at 50% (the Canadian experience shows it can be done) but lower for smaller cities (like 33%) as PT will never gain mass ridership due to less congestion making driving more attractive and PT functioning as mostly a social service for the elderly disabled unable to drive etc. In many regional cities PT is very bad already and struggling to survive. It’s those places not Auckland that are the real victims of the fairbox recovery policy. I think having some fairbox ratio is good to maintain some market discipline and ensure councils don’t waste money on useless services like the devenport AT local minivan boondoggle. With rapidly rising patronage Auckland is starting to look more and more like those Canadian cities. However the fairbox recovery ratio should only apply to operational expenses not capital expenditure (is this already the case?).

    1. Actually farebox recovery tends to be higher in smaller centres as they’re not having to add lots of additional and expensive peak services.

      I do think that on time Auckland will get to those Canadian levels but to match them we need 2-3x the level of PT usage and there’s no way we can do that without investing in more and better services. Like any investment, it takes time to make a return but you have to stump up the money on advance

      1. The peak services are full, so they’re not the problem when it comes to achieving farebox recovery. Add another one if things are busy and you still make money.

        The regional PT offerings may have good FRR because they don’t offer many services over and above the basic lines. But that is thinking the wrong way around. They won’t ever offer new routes or more frequent services if they think that will hit the bottom line of farebox recovery. And who loses out of that thinking? The user (or potential user) because the level of service is never improved…

        Perhaps we need to go back to the model of the early 2000s when the previous Labour administration offered patronage funding incentives to introduce new services and grow customer bases.

        1. That depends. If you have to buy and store an entire bus just to use twice a day it seems unlikely to make money.

        2. Feilding to palmy bus service is a good example of a regional service which needs improving. Has the best farebox recovery of all palmy services but the worst frequency – every hour and a half.
          Every time I catch it it has plenty of passengers, but the frequency never improves.

        3. Actually it’s having lots of peak services that often bring FRR down, even if they’re full. Each extra peak service requires additional buses and the cost of those needs to be recouped through one or two runs a day.

    2. Alternatively we could increase the fare box recovery to 80% like Rotterdam or 107% like London. It depends which cities you choose as comparitors. Better still we could aim for 100% in the peaks and 50% off peak to reflect opportunity costs.

  6. >This is reflected in the graph below showing how much investment is forecast in each funding activity class in the National Land Transport Programme.

    Yes, Although at the December Board meeting NZTA made it very clear they want to ADD $350 million back into the State Highway fund between 2018/21 and an addition $1 billion from 2021-2017….
    (pages 33-34)

    They just need to get the Minister to Agree..

    1. Great, $350m should go long way to get the essential SH16 bypass around Kumeu completed or at least construction underway in near future. This should relieve some congestion on existing sh16 to Kumeu so that opportunity exists to commence either RT busway from Westgate or the LR tracks. A win-win for Kumeu.

      1. I’ve put in an OIA to get the board paper, Bogle. I guess we’ll update you once we know just what games they’ve been playing.

      2. Bogle with the lower farebox recovery it could help with the restarting of the HR service through to Kumeu/Huapai and possibly further afield without the bean counters worrying about the lose . As it will be a least 10years before LR will up and running and it will get people use to PT out that way .

        1. Interesting comment. Talking to more than a few Kumeu residents it’s becoming clear that many have little confidence in there being any rail PT here for 20 years or more. Efforts to get HR to Huapai have been ignored for years.
          So the consensus is to push for road improvements, Kumeu bypass, more SH16 lanes, the Kumeu sh16 gyratory and widening feeders. Waitakere road improvements and much larger P&R at Swanson are immediate objectives.

        2. HR to Kumeu has not been ignored, it has been *discarded as a viable option*.

          Of course, if ‘residents’ weren’t throwing a tantrum over not getting their exact pet project, and genuinely did want good PT, they could push for bus lanes and temporary stations on the NW motorway. This would also give a single vehicle journey to the city centre, faster than the rail shuttle, and at higher frequencies.

        3. Sailor Boy there may be those that travel from Pukekohe that may change twice to get to places like say Panmure , Manukau or Onehunga and you don’t hear them complaining .

          And I think it was last year Kumeu residents presented Phil Goff with a petition asking for the service to be reinstated but has he responded to it yes/no so far I can’t find anything about as yet or is another item he’s buried in his office backroom ?

          As there is an election this year he should get his a into gear or he might be finding he will have to go to WINZ to find another job or get a hand out like others he has been screwing

        4. Pukekohe is a great example. The double tracked railway takes a direct route from Pukekohe to the city centre, and stop spacing is quite wide on the railway, with significant other trip generators.

          From Kumeu, the single track railway takes a massive diversion with very tight stop spacing in the urban area. There are fewer significant trip generators on the railway.

          Residents may well have petitioned Phil Goff. Given that investigations into HR services to Kumeu were part of the new network process, hopefully he decided to not waste ratepayer money repeating that.

          I have to ask why a small number of commenters are so adamant that an HR service would be better than improving the existing bus service with bus lanes and temporary stations at Westgate, Lincoln Road, and Te Atatu? The bus would be faster to the city, be able to operate at better frequency. The slowest run all day currently takes 90 minutes to the city centre, the train line takes over 50 minutes just from Swanson.

        5. Sorry SB you are completely wrong because HR to Huapai has never been discarded as a viable option. It is simply being ignored because it is HR and conflicts with those pushing the LR agenda as the future for rail in Auckland. Now that NW LR is probably a dead duck the LR brigade is trying to face save by repositioning to proffer a third rate bus service as a viable RT for the NW. It now looks like the RT 60km/hr buses on motorway shoulders is also a dead duck for foreseeable future.
          Perhaps you should visit Kumeu sometime and really see what is happening here with SH16. Then look at the fully functioning HR line right through Kumeu Huapai and explain why it should not be used for rail RT. Oh, btw, you would need to drive here as PT is practically non existent.
          And you seriously suggest Kumeu residents should push for bus RT when obviously nzta have money and motive to undertake roading improvements. Gimme better and more roads anytime rather than some false hope of LR or busway RT that is likely beyond my lifetime

        6. Instead of claiming LR conspiracies are at work (laughable), why don’t you post some detailed analysis to support your proposal?

          All I hear is an echo chamber and a guy trying to rally people to his cause without doing the hard yards himself.

        7. “Sorry SB you are completely wrong because HR to Huapai has never been discarded as a viable option. ”

          Except during project DART, and again during the new network design, and again in the Northwest Rapid Transit Programme Business Case. Much like HR to the airport, advocates for HR to the airport like to pretend that studies they don’t like, don’t exist.

          There is nothing to suggest that NW LRT is a dead duck either. It’s funded through ATAP and currently going through another business case.

          If you consider shoulder bus lanes as third rate rapid transit, then what rate is a slower, less frequent heavy rail link? Fourth? Ninth? Never able to qualify as rapid transit due to frequencies?

          I’ve already explained why the HR line shouldn’t be used for rapid transit right now (it could be a good link in the future): it’s slow and couldn’t support good frequencies.

          A Kumeu bypass would be eight years away if we committed to it tomorrow. You need to do business cases, designation, property purchase, and construction.
          At least with LRT we have done the first business cases and most of it already runs in motorway or railway designations.
          The bus lanes and temporary interchanges are already part way through the business case process, are entirely within the motorway/state highway designation, and construction is simple. They could be delivered within 2 years for a committed government.

        8. KLK, you might be right that’s why I now realise that supporting nzta road improvements for NW is the only realistic way to go. I’d like to see some widening and straightening for Waitakere Rd and it would be just magic if a cycleway could be included – at least around the worst junctions, around Waitakere township through to Swanson station. But that’s likely a pipedream.
          Swanson P&R really needs doubled in capacity asap too as CRL will make it 30 minutes from cbd.

        9. SB, you should have been at that Labour Party public meeting where Twyford practically shot dead any hope of NW LR with his considered wisdom and statement that ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’. I felt real pity for MattL and the nzta geek who made excellent presentations in support of NW LR. They must have felt used by Twyford whose only interest was to spin the virtues of LR to disguise the fact NW Auckland PT and RT would likely not be funded. But it’s so heartwarming to read your faith in NW LR happening because it’s in ATAP and the fact it’s going through another business case must mean it’s a definite goer.
          I just looked at CRLL web pages and there it states a 17 minute journey time Henderson to Britomart via CRL. Allowing another 17 minutes for Huapai to Henderson that would be 34 minutes total. Let’s say 40 minutes. The current journey time via SH16 is well over an hour. Unless there is some major investment in NW busway then by 2024 with 5 more years worsening traffic congestion any bus RT will really be bus creepy crawly.
          Stinky diesel cramped bus stop starting and crawling through SH16 congestion is 3rd rate.
          Air con not cramped comfortable rail carriage smooth transit between stations is normal
          HR from a Huapai, faster, higher potential capacity, lower opex (compared to multiple buses to equal train capacity)

        10. Sounds like you heard what you wanted to about NW LRT. Matt and Patrick got a different impression.

          You’ve misinterpreted the CRLL website, which say a 17 minute saving from Henderson to Aotea. That still means 45 minutes on the train from Swanson and another 5 minutes for the transfer and 15 minutes to Kumeu. That’s 65 minutes. The current journey time on SH16 is about 90 minutes at peak of peak. With some minor improvements to should bus lanes, this could easily go down to an hour. Plus you don’t have to wait for a half hourly (at the very best) rail shuttle.

          Your comparison of buses and trains is comical, btw. All Auckland buses have aircon, your shuttle would also be a stinky diesel and given the current rate of progress in electric vehicles, a bus may not be, a bus may have a slower speed, but if it does a shorter route it doesn’t matter if it hits a little congestion where bus lanes have to stop.

          I’m also not convinced that Opex would be lower: you want to maintain and operate two diesel shuttles to get half hourly frequencies. A bus would be an extension of existing routes to a nearby village; that’s cheap.

  7. Good post & I do really hope they get rid of these silly policies. Especially the FRR…I guess.

    It does seem logical though they have shifted some of the projects out of the state highway funding bucket and into the public transport category if that is what they are. Agree though they seem more like rapid transit items, but perhaps this would leave more funds for other rapid transit items like the light rail projects.
    Are the SH safety improvements sucking up more than they first envisioned? What is the Transitional Rail category again, without me looking it up for for other readers information?

    Really just need more more from roads into PT full stop.

    1. Grant, not only a transfer from roads.
      This change seems to allow parking revenue and infringement revenue to go into bus opex.
      I note that it was reported yesterday that cameras in bus lanes generated $22 million. That alone would have prevented a PT fare increase this year.
      Imagine if AT was really serious about mode share shift. They could introduce evening and Sunday parking charges in metropolitan areas and use this revenue to improve frequencies.
      The $3 million bus terminal in Takapuna could be scrapped and the money could be put into something that might be more useful – turn up and go frequency. Our local Board seemed supportive of this.
      Scrapping the farebox recovery will be a huge step forward.

  8. So in the past, the state highway improvements activity class was for all modes along the state highways. By splitting the other modes out, we won’t have a way to track what is happening with state highway budgets over time.

    And conversions of motorway general traffic lanes or shoulders to busway projects should remain as state highway improvement projects. Designed as public transport or rapid transit from the start, the busway projects would:

    1/ cost less, and
    2/ perform better.

    If they’re on motorway shoulders, they are in the emergency break down lane, and therefore don’t qualify as rapid transit, which according to the GPS, has “largely dedicated or exclusive right-of-way routes”.

  9. Busway Puhinui railway station to the airport – waste of our money. Clearly no LRT will be built there any decade soon. Maybe some bus shoulders will do until a final decision on airport transit is decided.

    1. “Busway Puhinui railway station to the airport – waste of our money. Clearly no LRT will be built there any decade soon.”

      Councillor Cashmore tells me an announcement is imminent. ????

      1. Is Cashmore(less) going waste our limited pt funds on a temporary but expensive busway? Very 21st century for our major airport. Not.

        Let the patients run the madhouse.

        1. Ben
          here’s what I have,
          “What I am arguing for is a mass transit option preferably light rail , from Puhinui and Manukau to the airport with a substantial park and ride at Puhinui. There might be an announcement around that soon”

        2. Why on earth would you demolish homes at puhinui to build a park and ride. If we build anything there it should be high rise hotels or apartments!

        3. There is Kiwirail land on the eastern side and presumably council land on the west sides. I am sure a number of car parks could be accommodated. Presumably there would be a charge especially for long term airport parking. However Puhinui Station is right in the flight pass so I would think that rules out any high rise parking building or high rise apartments on the site. Not that I am advocating for park and ride but some parking will be possible.
          The other point is wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a public transport project that actually came in on time for a change. Any change to light rail at this point would push the completion date back years. We already have an electric bus on the 380 route so I fail to see what advantage light rail would bring certainly not to much difference in emissions anyway. So lets just stick to the original plan. And not get sidetracked into another grandiose scheme we have got to many of these as it is.

        4. Mid-rise is possible. My warehouse is right on the flight path right next to SH20. It is 12m high and could have been higher.

          Park and Ride would be very poor use of the land around a major transit junction.

        5. So maybe there could be some three story townhouses. I expect that most of the land on the Westside could be taken up with the busway itself. But the land on the east could become a food forest anything except grass that needs to be mowed. In that way it can still be used for rail or public transport purpose in the future if need be. Better than another car park anyway.

        6. @Nicholas Lee, that is stage 1, that loop is the bus stop and, by the looks on it, about 10 drop off spots. That’s a sensible level of provision, IMO.

          I don’t accept the flight path excuse. Planes are 12m up before the end of the runway, by the time they get to Puhinui they would be nearly half a kilometer up. I don’t see any reason we couldn’t have 20 storeys (~80m) here.

        7. @SailorBoy

          Actually most of the time flights are descending along side Puhinui.

          I can send some photos from my office, but they often feel only 100m above ground.

          The could be high at the station, but smaller planes may not.

        8. We often forget just how massive planes are, making it very hard to judge height. Flights landing at Heathrow come in at 3 degrees, but most airport do at least 1.5 degrees. Take off is usually steeper, too.

          Puhinui Station is 6km from the end of the runway, even at 1.5 degrees a plane would be over 420m up. We could build 20 storeys and still have over 300m of clearance.

    2. I’m pretty sure they are just using bus shoulders to start with. There are no stations along the route so they will be nearly effective as an actual busway but at a fraction of the cost.

  10. This is a baby step in the right direction. The arbitrary 50% max subsidy was a Stephen Joyce creation to neutralise PT’s potential and stop silly waste on silly things like alternatives to cars as much as anything. It never had any science behind it.

    And is the Public Transport Operating Model going to be reviewed too? It is a race to the bottom as far as service providers go, clever to start with but now causing never ending problems caused by low pay for drivers and what appears to be ever squeezed margins for operators. Is this why the 88 year old Birkenhead Transport is being sold off by its family owners? And Wellingtons bus services appear the worst example of its failure.

    It’s a very obvious issue that AT will have increasing problems with.

    1. I seriously think/agree PTOM has had its day, as does the rule about forbidding local councils to run their own bus services (not sure how Christchurch Council with its Red Bus company skirts that law).

      If there was any particular law or policy changes coming from Central Government that would be likely to be better than Farebox Recovery Ratios and FAR stuff, it would be this one change.

      Yes the old bus operations under ARTA weren’t perfect, but like privatising the old Yellow Buses and NZ Railways showed. Sometimes assuming private enterprise is the best answer isn’t the best [or any] solution in the end. As we have found our here, and also other countries have too.

      And I think i’d much rather have the old Council/Regional Council run bus services than any number of modern PTOM bus contracts using whatever mix and match of NZ Bus, Ritchies, Go Bus, Birkenhead or you name it many using the crappiest and cheapest buses [and pay rates for staff!] they can get away with under the rules now with no thought as to whether there will any money left over to pay the drivers of the buses when the contracts are all locked down and the profits have been milked.

      As Wellington is finding, picking what looks like a good bus operator means nothing if they don’t or can’t pay the drivers to actually, drive, the buses within the regulations for working hours and pay rates. Or those same bus drivers are from out of town and don’t know the routes. Get lost, sick, or otherwise poached to better paying jobs elsewhere causing no end of problems.

      Of the many things done to our PT in the last 25 years, privatising the council bus operations [and the depots!] and that stupid PTOM system would have to be the two dumbest ever decisions. And there have been so many of those decisions, picking these two as standouts reall tells you something about how bad they have been.

      1. Umm, I don’t get your comment about the “crappiest and cheapest buses” being used for PTOM contracts. My understanding is that there are strict requirements on age and condition of buses. It’s clear that since the new network PTOM contracts came in there have been literally hundreds of new buses added to the fleets of the various operators and manky old buses put out to pasture.

        1. Yes I think the buses have been very good. And our route just got upgraded to double deckers which are exceptional. Most of the issues I have with buses lie with AT not the operators

        2. There are age condition rules but no real restrictions on “suitability for its route”.

          Hence the reports of those small (but new!) ADL buses infesting routes they should not be on.

          This is a bit like 3 car EMUs where a 6 car EMU is needed.

          And in a few years time when all those “new” buses are aging fast or falling apart /polluting as fuck thanks to little maintenance or just too small or too badly laid out.

          What rules prevent/protect against that?

        3. “There are age condition rules but no real restrictions on “suitability for its route”.”

          That is entirely the fault of AT and not the PTOM. Specifying that correct sized vehicles be used is so basic even GW can manage it.

          GW have fined NZ Bus thousands of times for using unsuitable buses (i.e. smaller than specified for that particular service). Suspect most of those were ADL 200s used instead of larger 3-axle buses…

      2. PTOM has it’s flaws but it is far, far better than what we had before. No way we could have had the new network and integrated fares without it. And I would hazard that without the new network and integrated fares we wouldn’t be building the CRL (limited growth without connecting buses) and planning light rail (no case for it if bus use isn’t exceeding capacity).

        1. We could have had these a lot sooner if the buses and routes hadnt been sold off in the ’90s which is my other issue.

          NZ Bus intransigence over “their” routes and fare revenue and passenger/route data was mainly why HOP and NN was so fucked up/delayed.

      3. A number of companies have handled PTOM well, it appears to be more a reflection on the companies’ respective management as much as anything.

        To be complaining that they can’t keep staff on the wages they pay suggests some very poor planning when putting their tenders in. I expect we will see some companies disappear by the next round of tenders, with a few that have their front office sorted surviving.

        Christchurch gets around it by having a City Council owned (through a Holdings Company) bus company being contracted to provide services for for the Regional Council.

        1. “I expect we will see some companies disappear by the next round of tenders”

          What would really help with allowing the market to work like this, is some leadership from above requiring safety standards to be met. Allowing safety to be compromised as it is at the moment is rewarding the companies that cut the corners.

      4. “As Wellington is finding, picking what looks like a good bus operator means nothing”
        Sticking with NZ Bus was certainly a mistake, by far the worst performing with the worst buses.

        “stupid PTOM system”

        I see that you prefer the previous system where incumbent operators would block any meaningful integration or improvements by tricks such as making some services commercial while others on the same route/area were subsidised, every operator running there own stored value ticketing system, etc, etc. All things that were crap for passengers.

        PTOM: biggest improvement since services were (stupidly) flogged off in the 90s (& that’s with all the problems it has) . Needs improvement, not dumping.

    2. I’ve heard lots of people complain that PTOM should be scrapped, but nothing on what should replace it or how PT should be organised in a PTOM-less world. Most of the complaints about PTOM seem to be that the wage levels that are paid to drivers encourage a “race to the bottom”. To me, that’s a simple issue with a simple fix – make a “fair wage” requirement one of the conditions of any PTOM tender.

      It’s worth remembering what PT was like in the “pre-PTOM” environment – a mix of “commercial” services, over which AT had little control, and “subsidised services” over which it did have control. Planning for route development was constantly stymied by the fear that there would be implications from the impact on “commercial” services. With PTOM, there is a level playing field. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater in a knee-jerk reaction but address the real issue which, as I see it, is wages being so low that it’s hard to attract drivers.

      I’d go so far as to say that PTOM should be extended to cover at least the Devonport and Waiheke ferries. I feel less concerned over Skybus, given that it’s a specialised service and will be supplemented soon (I hope) with a publicly-run light rail service. But those ferries – there’s absolutely no excuse for their control to lie outside of AT.

      1. I’d say it’s fairly capitalistic – a number of companies all competing for employees. I don’t think they are paying below market rates. Yes it sucks that bus drivers get paid crap, but I’m sure that applies to lots of jobs doesn’t it?

        1. It sucks so much its getting unreliable.

          This is is suggested as much with Birkenhead Transport having issues providing services, evidenced by the use of other operators filling in a peak times, the 95G in the morning for example, denied of course by them and well and truly evident in Wellington.

          If it were truly capitalist the market would meet the demand but instead it appears demand is met with work visas to attract desperate immigrant populations to prop up the system.

          It sucks to the point where exploitation is the foundation of this model.

          Hence the PTOM needs a real good look. I don’t think its sustainable.

        2. If a company can’t reliably find drivers they will get fines on their contract. If they get too many fines, the contract won’t be profitable.

          If a councils buses are regularly cancelled then they haven’t negotiated high enough fines and should do better next time.

          If a council is upset about low driver pay then should mandate a minimum in the contract.

          A lot of people like to blame PTOM because they don’t like what the council has negotiated.

        3. Sailorboy, they can’t find enough drivers, that’s just it, look at NZ Bus in Wellington. It’s a mess. And I would safely assume, maintain them long term.

          In fact there a few if any operators not advertising for drivers right now.

          Ritchie’s wanted immigration rules loosened as they could not attract drivers.

          The blame lies squarely with the PTOM, driving costs down by law and guess who wears that?

          And how then does the AT’s of this world expand services in an environment like this?

        4. They can’t find enough drivers *at the rates they are offering*.

          The blame lies squarely with farebox recovery ratios and council’s desire to keep rates low, which provides an incentive to keep costs down. PTOM does not drive costs down by law: councils have chosen to drive down costs using PTOM. Companies could have (and did) pay peanuts before PTOM was introduced.

          AT can only expand services if Council and Government expand funding.

  11. A) Central government has social policy objectives and should fully fund (via general taxation & fuel excise tax) comprehensive coverage urban PT networks at max 30min headways and with preferably pulsed transfers where possible. Where fixed routes are not economic, on-demand transit to/from PT hubs and or nearest fixed route can be provided.

    The poor in society should be provided with realistic transport options (not everyone can bike or walk or get a lift from friends) so that they can play a full roll in society, have job access, training access, and access to friends and family.

    There would be a farebox recovery requirement for A in terms of shifting between fixed route and on-demand services to encourage efficiency.

    B) Local government should then fund most of the cost of service level improvements over and above this which will mainly be for commuters & non-transit captive (assuming there would still be some NZTA subsidy left after A).

    There should be a farebox recovery but the %FR should reflect economic costs & the externalities not always paid for by vehicle drivers, not just social costs, eg:
    i) congestion saved
    ii) crashes saved including full health system costs
    iii) air pollution saved (assuming Euro 6 or electric buses)
    iv) carbon savings
    v) vehicle operating cost savings
    vi) parking space savings

    C) I agree PTOM should be heavily modified. Labour costs are really the only variable cost in bus route tendering so PTOM simply forces a race to the bottom. PTOM needs to be based much more on quality attributes.
    i) set the minimum wage in the tender (no more race to the bottom)
    ii) require bidders to already have the trained drivers (or contracted agreement with a supplier)
    iii) set the maximum bus age, emission standard
    iv) require the bidder to already have the buses (or contracted agreement to provide the buses with a supplier)

    C. There is no need for Councils to own bus companies.

    1. We don’t need to change PTOM. All of those things are possible under PTOM, councils just need to choose to do them.

      1. And if council “chooses” one competitor over another on many of those non-financial criteria grounds, I am sure the loser will be off the courts for a judicial review as soon as it can.

        So councils end up and play safe, they don’t rock the boat and the bus operators don’t think outside the box with their offerings, or if they do, council is too timid to consider them.

        So we get the same rehashed shit time and again.
        Wellingtons current shitstorm is simply the same crap NZ Bus gave them for years, simply rehashed with other operators serving it up.
        Welling doesn’t have the benefits of a coordinated fare system first, which Auckland has, but which has taken years longer than it should to get in place. Thanks to NZ Bus and Snapper and meddling by Joyce et al.

        But when you step back and take a look. Tell me how THAT means that PTOM in reality is actually any improvement on 30 years ago when ARTA [for Auckland, or CTB for Christchurch] owned and ran the bus services for the most part?

        Because from what I see not a lot of difference since PTOM came in in a practical sense.

        We have succeeded in spite of PTOM, not because of it.

        Big difference.

        1. AT specified age and emissions standard for vehicles on every single route in all of Auckland over the last 5 years and no one took it to court, so that’s just concern trolling.

          I agree that councils should be able to run their own buses. However, at least with PTOM they get proper control of route planning. Most councils would still contract out routes, even if they could run their own.

  12. ” There is no need for Councils to own bus companies.”
    There’s no reason why they should not own them either; depends on the circumstances.

  13. Maybe with the demise of the farebox recovery we could have some probing conversations. For example, we know that there are 6 million 3 zone adult trips on our public transport system every year (2018 figures). What if we discounted the 3 zone fare by $1.00 per trip, or $2 per day. What would be the effect on ridership? If fares are discounted by $2 per day, would it be reasonable to charge $2 per day for park and rides and feed that revenue back into funding public transport opex? How would such a move compare with an investment in park and rides?

    If public transport capital spending and operating costs are now interchangeable should AT be required to go back to first principles and investigate the most efficient spending of public money?

  14. Sailor Boy says:
    April 24, 2019 at 8:36 pm
    Why on earth would you demolish homes at puhinui to build a park and ride. If we build anything there it should be high rise hotels or apartments!

    Two things here.
    High rises, as conventionally known, wouldn’t fit under the approach to the airport
    The old marshalling yard at Puhinui would make a great park and ride without having to demolish houses. Take a look at what is happening at Takanini – the effect at Puhinui would be roughly the same

    1. Park and Ride at an urban station like Puhinui is an absurd waste of space. Completely without merit or value. Should not even be a consideration.

      Height limits are irrelevant, pretty much any building at that location has more value than than the wild spatial inefficiency of car storage.

      1. Patrick
        leaving aside the wastefulness of it all what is the point of it?
        If it is a park and ride for the airport, Sth Auckland has one at Ronwood Avenue already, obviously a quick train ride to Puhinui. That car park could certainly do with more patronage to make it profitable.

        I admit that I am not familar with Sth Auckland, but when I take the train to Manukau I see businesses with hundreds of car parks. Wouldn’t feeder services from the surrounding areas make more sense?

        More generally I have little confidence in the Mayor and Council to address traffic issues and by extension, climate change. They seem to be immersed in that old Nero tradition. In the modern day translation it is fiddling around with a stadium while at least one of the current light rail projects seems at risk.

    2. Christopher, I’m really curious to know why people don’t yet understand the error of park and ride. Are you able to help?

      In your case, did you forget to think about it from the point of view of a 12-year-old or a person with failing eyesight who cannot drive, for whom a park and ride will disadvantage them further? Did you forget all the subsidies to driving and that we need to eliminate them one by one, not add more?

      Do you think we need a good post on helping people to see park and ride from the point of view of somebody else? Or any other ideas…?

      1. “Do you think we need a good post on helping people to see park and ride from the point of view of somebody else? Or any other ideas…?”

        Heidi, it is way more simple than that. Start to charge for park and ride and it will suddenly become way less popular.

        Suddenly there will be kiss and ride, people walking to the station, or biking, or ride sharing, or taking a feeder bus.

        Are we ever going to win an argument with the recipients of free parking that they should pay for it? It’s unlikely. Projects often happen because they are driven by self interest rather than what is good for society as a whole. It seems politicians love park and ride because they can give their constituency “something for nothing.”

        I think the argument is more likely to be won if the majority (non park and ride users) realises that their fares could be cheaper if they did not have to pay for park and ride they don’t use. Without farebox recovery, money previously allocated to park and ride could be diverted to holding current fare levels.

      2. Heidi if you are talking to me, and suspect you are actually talking to Patrick, I have never ever had any objection to park and ride anywhere. In fact I am suggesting that a linear park and ride a la Takanini would be a good option at Puhinui.

        1. “Start to charge for park and ride and it will suddenly become way less popular. Suddenly there will be kiss and ride, people walking to the station, or biking, or ride sharing, or taking a feeder bus.

          Are we ever going to win an argument with the recipients of free parking that they should pay for it? It’s unlikely.”


          We have a city-wide problem around people’s belief that they have a God-given right to store their private property on public space for free, or at a heavy subsidy. Why would we want to reinforce this?

          If we want to provide PnR then we charge for it, and we do so at market rates or at a level where it gets to about 80% full. The world won’t end and as John says, people will adapt accordingly and we will get the most ideal outcome.

        2. “we charge for it, and we do so at market rates or at a level where it gets to about 80% full”

          Eventually, we’ll have to charge for it at the full cost of providing it, including the lost opportunity cost, the public health cost involved with the traffic it induces, the social cost of not using that money to provide actual access for people who don’t drive, the climate change costs associated with not just the carbon emissions from the traffic it induces, but from the carbon abatement costs involved with not having taken the opportunity to shift towards a low-carbon transport network legacy for our children.

          These costs are far higher than the underpriced market would suggest.

        3. There’s only one thing worse than a park n ride at an urban station, and that’s an uncharged PnR at an urban station. And here it would just be publicly subsidised Airport parking, which would be even more absurd.

          Additionally the perpendicular bus line will carry through to Manukau City, which as John points out, is awash with (underpriced) parking.

          Puhinui will be a transfer and local access focused station, or at least should be, in order to optimise its performance, effectiveness and efficiency. And to gain the maximum public value out of the land use uplift its upgrade will deliver.

  15. I totally agree about urban park-and-rides, but let’s avoid the trap of one-size-fits-all thinking. Using feeder buses is much better than driving to a park and ride, but only if those feeder buses are available. We still have many people languishing with half-hour gaps between feeder services, or even worse in some areas or after dark. This is where park and ride is environmentally a positive step up from having commuters drive all the way to their destinations.

    Needless to say there should be nobody withing the urban area without regular feeder buses in a proper new network.

    If it’s difficult to provide a frequent service, such as to Piha or parts of Waiheke, then we could charge for park-and-ride if we must using a HOP card and treat it the same as a feeder bus fare. However the priority must be to get people using the service and thereby getting vehicles out of the city.

    1. It’s really hard to get a feeder bus to work if you use all that huge subsidy up on Park and Ride instead. Where a feeder bus – unfettled by a park and ride undermining it – still won’t work, then either:

      – the housing density is very low. In which case, you don’t want to provide an incentive for that density to increase by providing a subsidy in the form of a park and ride. If one is provided, it would need to be costed fully as per my other comment. I doubt anyone in Auckland is prepared to pay this.
      – it is on the very edge of the city and has a large rural catchment. In which case, the same situation applies as above, but also, you need to be particularly aware of what the council is planning for the area. Do they intend growth? Do they intend for it to become a new housing area? In which case, those initial broad brush strokes of design are key to providing a quality urban design. The design of new housing and township absolutely requires that there be no park and ride next to the transport hub.

      In some situations, there could be a call for a park and ride at a distance from a transport hub, with a feeder bus between. Land next to a transport hub is far too strategic and valuable to be wasted on car infrastructure.

  16. David B
    I really struggle with the concept that is someone wants to live at lifestyle reasons that AT has an obligation to provide them with park and ride. This sort of thinking encourages urban sprawl everywhere.

    1. Agreed.

      Dave, you mention avoiding “one size fits all” thinking, but then fall into the same trap: everyone must have a PnR facility if there is no regular feeder bus.

      As John points out, some living options will be great for lifestyle, not so much for transport choice. Piha fits into that category, surely. There will be plenty of others.

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