This is a guest post from Malcolm McCracken and Pim van den Top

On Sunday 23 August Auckland had its first day of free fares to celebrate hitting the milestone of 100 million public transport trips within 12 months. As a fun way of taking advantage of this event, I created the “Auckland Transit Challenge”. Based on the London Tube Challenge, the task would be to pass through every rapid transit station in Auckland as fast as possible.

The rules were as follows:

Some quick points to note:

  • Hibiscus Coast Station is not complete so was not included in the challenge
  • The city stops for the NX2 were not included (perhaps one day the University bus station and Wellesley Street busway will be part of future editions!)

I was inspired to try this by the Tube Challenge in London. Although admittedly the Underground has 270 stations across 11 lines which is significantly more than Auckland’s 47 stations across the 5 lines. The radial nature of the network meant there was a real challenge in finding the best transfers and other public transport connections between lines. This meant that, as far as I know, everyone competing was attempting different routes. I personally spent a couple of hours calculating the times for different variations before arriving at the route below

RouteLineDepartArrive
Britomart to OnehungaOnehunga Line8:489:10
Onehunga to PenroseOnehunga Line9:169:22
Penrose to PapakuraSouthern Line9:3810:08
Papakura to PukekohePukekohe Connection10:1410:30
Pukekohe to PapakuraPukekohe Connection10:4310:59
Papakura to PuhinuiSouthern Line11:1411:31
Puhinui to ManukauEastern Line11:3911:43
Manukau to BritomartEastern Line11:5312:30
Britomart to SwansonWestern Line12:4213:34
Swanson to HendersonWestern Line13:4213:50
Henderson to Constellation120 Bus Route14:0014:53
Constellation to AlbanyNorthern Express 214:5314:59
Albany to BritomartNorthern Express 115:1115:44

And off we went, charting our progress as we ventured out to the end of every line.

https://twitter.com/urbanistfromwhk/status/1142534896482545664

On paper this route should take 7.06 hours. However, thanks to a very quick connection at Constellation Station, which I didn’t think we would make, we saved a 10 minute wait. A light jog between Lower Albert Street and Britomart also saved a few minutes bringing our total time down to just under 6.50 hours.

There were two key transfers to get right. The first was between the Onehunga Line and the Southern Line at Penrose. The lines operate at different frequencies during the day. When I calculated the times by doing the Eastern Line, then Southern Line and then Onehunga Line, I found that the northbound southern line service is timetabled to arrive when the Onehunga bound service departs Penrose. This would’ve left us a 30 minute wait. Doing the reverse transfer, from the Onehunga line to the Southern line, left us with a mere 16 minute wait.

The second key transfer I found was between the 120 and Constellation. The 120 route has no bus priority and therefore has a higher risk of running behind schedule, but by doing the 120 to Constellation Station, the higher frequencies on the busway means a shorter wait regardless of the scheduling of the 120. In this case we got lucky, taking less than a minute to transfer onto a Northern Express.

Other participants used different tactics. Some simply went to the end of the Western Line and Northern Busway and then doubled back. One person tried the 68 frequent bus route from New Lynn to Onehunga. The route we took may not have been the fastest possible; if you can think of an alternative connection you may be able to find time savings to beat our time.

Learnings and other thoughts:

The free fares day was a resounding success; there was heaps of kids on the network, including plenty of unaccompanied teens exploring all parts of the city.

The Pukekohe shuttle was well patronaged in both directions. Having 2 fare zones between Pukekohe and Papakura likely makes free fares more enticing than in other places were only 1 zone is saved.

Despite attempting the challenge on the weekend, the longest wait time for a transfer was 16 minute wait at Penrose. This shows that the improvements to weekend frequencies makes a big difference to what we’ve had in the past–despite the rail lines still not having true RTN frequencies. It would be interesting to see how much time could be saved by doing it in a weekday peak when trains are operating at 10 minute frequencies on the four main lines.

If the fares were not free, a daily fare caps model would make this sort of adventure much more accessible, as well as other (less nerdy) adventures that take you across Auckland.

You can read all of Malcolm’s tweets here and Pim’s here. In the future, this challenge is likely only to become more fun and interesting! Our future RTN means more lines and many more route possibilities, and we look forward to trying it again in the future and hope that some of you, will join the challenge.

Notes from Matt:

I look forward to seeing how this evolves once we get new bits of the network online, like the City Rail Link, the Eastern Busway, Airport to Botany and Light Rail to Mangere.

I thought about the cost of this were it not free but perhaps surprisngly it is less than most might expect. ATs rules on what is considered a journey are below

  • Up to 5 trips on buses or trains.
  • Tag on within 30 minutes of tagging off your previous service.
  • Complete this journey within 4 hours, otherwise it will be considered two journeys and you will be charged accordingly.

But because if you’re transferring trains, you don’t tag off and back on again, in this example the four hour time-out would occurred just after leaving Britomart for the second time on the Western line. That’s $7.60 for adults and $5.85 for students. The second half of the journey would involve six zones but only 4 tags so within the rules. That would be $8.90 for Adults and $6.85 for students. So all up the cost would be $16.50 for adults or $12.70 for students.

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44 comments

  1. This just emphasised that the Onehunga line is the one true alternative to the private car.

    If you worked in the city, Newmarket or anywhere on that line and lived anywhere from Ellerslie to Onehunga why would you use anything else?

    1. Yes, the Onehunga Line is the most efficient and cost effective of all the train lines into the city but only for one person. For a family of four to go into town for dinner and back on a weeknight or to go into town and back on the weekend, its far cheaper to take the car. Same goes for a family to bus into town from Onehunga and back. PT is not just about commuting and revenue comes from affordable fares offered during weeknights and weekends. Until AT introduces offpeak fares for weeknights and weekends across the entire network, people will keep using their cars to get to their ‘destinations’ city-wide.

      1. This is true for everywhere, it is marginally cheaper for one person to use public transport over a private vehicle, but once two people or more are travelling, a car makes financial sense (not environmental however). Of course this is not calculating the true cost of ownership of a private motor vehicle, just the usual calculations that people use. Some kind of family, or multi discounts on the hop card could go some way towards fixing this.

      2. True and that is a massive challenge because our PT is an absolute system designed for individuals only.
        But not insurmountable.

        Family ticketing is surely do-able.

        1. Maybe the cost of driving Is also too cheap, parking on the CBD should cost a lot more as its prime real estate.

        2. The reason that CBD parking is so cheap is AT – leading a race to the bottom. Just sell a parking building and free up some land for apartments or office space.

    2. I’d add the Eastern line to that. If you live and work anywhere along that line between Sylvia Park and Britomart it’s by far the best choice.

    3. There should be apartments going up all over Onehunga to take advantage of this. It’s such a waste in its current state – especially the area around the station itself.

      1. Dan if they build those apartments make sure they are more secure/safer than the one in Victoria St in the city that fell to pieces during the wee rain storm on Thursday

  2. Cool, google says a trip by car from Britomart to Albany station to Swanson, Onehunga, Manukau, Papakura, Pukekohe and back to Britomart takes 3 hours and 8 minutes.

    1. Did the car journey pass through all the other stations on the network, that would certainly slow it down a bit.

      1. I would hope that cars are not allowed to pass through such stations, surely that is the least a patron of public transport could expect?

      2. Better than that you can add any other destination you like and it would still take half the time. And if you don’t live at Britomart station you can even use the car to get home afterwards.

        1. Funny, but nobody ever seems to get excited about the prospect of spending all day driving in traffic…

          Not so much a fun challenge as an arduous chore.

  3. Off peak fares & Family passes are the answer to more affordable public transport & cost competitive with the private car.

    1. The obvious circle would be the eastern line and southern line changing at Otahuhu. Not sure how many pubs you would find though!
      Maybe another option would be western line, change for 68 bus at New Lynn, then Onehunga line. I’m sure you can find pubs at Mt Eden, Kingsland, Morningside, Mt Albert, Avondale, New Lynn, Onehunga, Ellerslie, Newmarket and maybe others.

    2. Brew on Quay, Britomart
      Landmark, Panmure
      Garrisons, Sylvia Park
      change trains at Otahuhu but don’t bother looking for a pub.
      Union Post, Ellerslie
      The Lumsden, Newmarket
      Good Home, Mt Eden
      Kingslander, Kingsland
      Galbraiths, Mt Eden (on the 22 bus route back from Kingsland)

      1. There use to a bar across the road from the GI station but not to sure if it’s still there , as it was created from the Old GI hotel . And it would be one of the closest tothe rail line

    3. Great idea!! No chance of stopping at a decent pub in West Auckland – we can thank the wretched Trusts for that!

      1. Yet in Avondale (trusts) they have 2 pubs while in Mt Roskill where I live (not trusts) the only one I can think of is The Richardson (which is by no means great). They are pretty similar suburbs; if anything I imagine Mt Roskill to be a lot bigger.

        1. Avondale has one – The Taphouse and it is awful. From memory, Mt Roskill was “dry” until fairly recently. West Auckland – especially Avondale and New Lynn are right on major transport networks and have major developments planned in the near future. Good hospitality options should be developed at the same time – unfortunately The Trusts probably aren’t skilled to deliver them.

        1. +1, especially if you’re having 12 pints, you need to walk to keep your head straight!

  4. I would hope that cars are not allowed to pass through such stations, surely that is the least a patron of public transport could expect?

  5. The comparison with the London Tube is interesting as it show how unpopular public transport is in Auckland. The three busiest London tube lines alone each move three times the total Auckland PT number – all nearly 300 Million trips.

    Not that good public transport makes up for the disadvantages of density – the average commute to work at 46 mins is nearly twice anywhere else in the UK. Everyday Londoners spend over 40 mins extra away from their homes as the rest of the country.

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/661933/tsgb-2017-report-summaries.pdf

    1. This is the sort of thing we need to realise makes up part of ‘well-being’. Yes, I *could* read a book on the train, but the extra hour or so of commuting time it would take each day to do my work commute by PT comes out of the one thing people can’t make more of: time. Whether that is less time with families or less time sleeping, etc, it adds up.

      Access to frequent, rapid and reliable transport needs to be seen as a key part of well-being and we need to accept that the alternatives (escalating congestion, associated environmental issues and slow public transport people can’t use) has a real cost.

      1. I’m about to start a new job in Greenlane, and live in Torbay. 90 minutes by bus, or 40-90 minutes by car. That’s possibly 2 hours a day extra to take PT 🙁

    2. That’s a long bow to draw between density and long commutes. I’d say it is much more likely driven by the extraordinarily long commutes some people make between satellite towns on the periphery of London.

      This in itself is at least partially driven by density restrictions in the inner parts of London. Sure it is a lot more dense than Auckland but there are still restrictions and the corresponding high land prices.

  6. One thing I noticed is that no-one has picked up on the error in the 1st paragraph – “On Sunday 23 August Auckland had its first day of free fares to celebrate hitting the milestone of 100 million public transport trips within 12 months”- I though this was 23rd June .

    And for those that want to do a similar challenge go across to Sydney for the same across their network . As per this link on youtube 176 stations in 1 day ;-

  7. A key thing not mentioned (as far as I can see) is who did it in the shortest time? Did you Malcolm and Pim?

    If you were to do this on a day that wasn’t busy and particularly in the earlier less accurately run EMU days you could take the chance to transfer at Penrose to the Onehunga direction just in the hope that the southern arrives a bit earlier and/or the Onehunga bound one arrives late. Sprint to the Onehunga bound 3rd platform. In saying that, it’s not all that close to get to in a hurry & if you miss of course the biggest wait ever.

    The southern arriving & probably leaving at penrose still does occur in less busy periods IIRC. We certainly don’t run trains to Japanese disciplined standard here…yet. In fact on that very Sunday I caught it going north & I asked the Train Manager to hold it a tad (even when it was a couple of mins late already) while members of my family trailed behind after running up over the platforms. So sorry anyone who got held up…lol…actually it was early enough that I think it pretty much made up time by the time it got to Britomart (with quite a lot of boarding going on), which shows how much fat is in the timetable still.

    Actually, not having to tag on or off that day helped in this situation. On buses it also meant boarding was not excessively slow as you could imagine (if you had the same scenario somehow all things been equal) with new users, children & people paying cash.

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