Whether you’re trying public transport for the first time or you’re a regular user wanting to try to use PT for a new route, journey planning will play an important role in understanding your options. However, Auckland Transport’s journey planner has always been a poor experience.

I had hoped that might be about to change when last week Auckland Transport announced they had updated the planner on their website.

Unfortunately it appears that the new look is about all that’s changed and the functionality is as bad or even worse than ever.

Here’s the new look tool with styling that matches the mobile apps. The journey planner and real time boards were also both in the old toll too but the timetables section is a new feature – but more on that later.

For comparison, here’s the old version.

The problem is the look was never the main issue, it was, and still is the data behind it and the recommendations it makes. Below are a few examples of what I mean.

Let’s say I want to get to Smales Farm on the North Shore, the image below shows the first items that appear. As you can see, the options shown are not the location, or even the busway station as a whole but instead each individual bus stop. The actual destination only barely visible at the bottom of the scroll box. The number of people who could say exactly which specific bus stop they want to visit could probably be counted on one hand, and most of them probably read this blog.

And here’s what Google offers for the same search with the most likely result showing right at the top.

My local train station is another good example. Searching for the Sturges Rd train station I get the following

  • 126 – Sturges Rd Train Station (up until writing this post I had assumed 126 was referring to a street number but now I realise that’s actually ATs stop number).
  • Sturges Rd Train Station, Henderson
  • Train Station Sturges Rd, Henderson
  • Sturges Road Train Station, Henderson

Which one do I choose, does it matter?

This should be basic stuff for AT to get right and yet they seem to have no interest in doing do as it’s been this bad for at least a decade.

The one new feature added as part of the revamp is the Timetables section. In other cities, this is used to deliver a stop specific timetables which can be really useful for those with regular commutes as can be saved to a phone or printed out and put in a wallet or stuck to a wall/fridge etc. To search for a timetable you need to know the specific route number or destination and only then can you find intermediate stops.

Despite saying to search for a route, it requires specific route numbers or the origin/destination of a service.

A lot of the frequent routes on the isthmus are high frequency through the core of the isthmus but split at their southern ends. But say you’re living on Mt Eden Rd and just want a list of all the 27 buses past your stop. The AT tool will only show you the for each individual service pattern, which defeats the entire purpose.

And even if you do manage to find a stop, it appears the system isn’t working properly and will only show you the times after about 2:50pm (this was happening when I tried it last night too).

Overall the timetable feature is a good idea for AT to add this but ATs implementation leaves a lot to be desired and feels like it needs much more time in the oven before having been presented to the public as it requires an arcane knowledge of our PT system to be useful.

All of this makes me wonder. Why is it so hard for Auckland Transport to get this right, especially when other cities, an even apps designed by people in their spare time are often better. What are their customer experience team doing all day?

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77 comments

  1. What I found really cool in Sydney, is that you can see in real time bus services of that route on Google maps. Once I selected a route on Google maps, I could see 3 buses of the same bus number/route and there ETA in realtime. I would prefer to use Google maps, as this opens a combination of transport options, such as uber to Albany and then bus from there.

    https://developers.google.com/maps/solutions/transport-tracker/

    https://bgr.com/2018/10/01/google-maps-update-new-commute-tab-and-real-time-public-transit/

    1. Totally agree.

      Don’t believe TFL (Transport for London) ever bothered to create a journey planner app.
      They seem to have identified their job is logistics not web/app development, and also realised if the information is exposed apps will be developed that will be better than anything a logistics company will achieve, at no cost to them.

      So save money, get a better solution, no criticism of their app. What was the reason for creating the app?

      1. I find that feature useful in the app version.
        Good for seeing where the buses are when approaching a reasonably tight connection & for deciding whether to wait for an express vs stopping, etc.

  2. When I say what I do for a living people often reply with “oh I wanted to get a bus to [insert popular destination in Auckland] once and there weren’t any at all, the system is so rubbish”.

    The next thing I say is “uh huh… did you use the AT journey planner/website to find that out?”

  3. Here’s an idea for AT: contract out this job to the Swiss.

    Their app is the best – see “SBB Mobile” from the App Store.

    1. Emphasising journey planning for a network that’s designed to be turn up and go, is incongruous. Better to provide simple, legible info about routes and the network at bus stops and train stations like the progressive transit operators in North America do. To quote a PT Customer Experience GM I met recently, “When we provide information about our services at the frontline that’s easy to understand day and night and that doesn’t rely on batteries or a power cord, that’s real customer service and good business for us”.

  4. If you want to know the next few services scheduled to turn up at a stop, actually Google Maps is better. Just select the stop on the map and it’ll show you the ETAs. If Google can do it (despite this not being only vaguely tangential to their core business), why can’t AT?

    I think most people who commute on a regular route and at a regular time don’t need to refer to the timetable very often. The journey planner and real time board would be most valuable when there is a service disruption… However this is when they’re the least useful, since the journey planner doesn’t tell you when buses replace trains and the real time boards don’t show those train replacement buses. I imagine the situation is similar when bus services are disrupted.

    1. Google can do things AT can’t because Google is a software company which employs a lot of very smart people at huge expense to write their code. AT isn’t, and can’t. Google can justify the investment because their product is used all around the world. AT can’t.

      (There are also capital expenses; Google spends a lot of money on computing infrastructure to train AI and run experiments.)

      Of course organizations make avoidable mistakes and AT could do better, but It is not realistic to expect AT to compete with Google on software quality.

      On the other hand delegating critical software infrastructure to Google has significant downsides. Maybe there is space for an open source system, perhaps based on OSM, for public transit services around the world to collaborate on.

        1. Who to?

          I’m going to bet they outsource to a company which doesn’t have Google’s advantages. The average outsourced-IT firm in NZ, and elsewhere, is only marginally more competent than people you’d hire to work in-house.

      1. The main hurdle is having an open, standardised format for the data. This has already been addressed, with GTFS (General Transit Feed Specifications). GTFS is well implemented by AT, and is used by hundreds of different applications, from proprietary (Google) to open (Waka is a local example: https://waka.app/ )

      2. Its a bit disingenuous to say Google can work that out, and AT can’t, because, after all, Google must be using publicly available data, presumably sourced by none other than AT themselves.

        But yes, i fully agree that the AT app is an absolute dog that deserves to be put down and buried. Mind you, can anyone recommend a City that actually does have a good solution (outside of leaving it all up to googols), as they all seem to be crap. Wellington’s app is crap. Christchurch’s app is crap. Dunedin is presumably still using pieces of granite engraved with bus-times from 1896. Auckland’s app is still crap.

        1. The Transit App – https://transitapp.com/ is used in 150+ cities worldwide (including Auckland). A number of transit service operators in North America are now EOLing their inhouse customer-facing PT info apps in favour of skinning the Transit App with their own service branding – partnering with a fully CX-experienced digital transit info provider.

        2. I use transit and love that it has bike hire and uber built-in! Now if they could just add the e-scooters that would awesome.

      3. I would say open up your PT data for others to use just like google or codeshare with open source providers who are looking for similar outcomes. I travel frequently and avid public transport user overseas and absolutely vouch for Citymapper app which relies and thrives on PT open source. It has covered so many cities and would love to have Auckland on its list considering Sydney and Melbourne are already ticked off..

  5. To be fair, you can choose any stop and it will get you routes to Smales Farm. But I agree it looks weird.

    I remember at some point in the past you could only get journeys starting from the current time rounded up to 15 minutes.

    So the “new page” is not functioning at the moment. Maybe they fixed their inanely stupid online departure board. It’s a website. It can scroll. You can display more than 4 departures at at time.

  6. I liked the Maxx journey planner. It was amusing to be told to walk from the North Shore to Ranui Station was a viable trip into the CBD.

  7. The last paragraph is salient – there are always going to be third party apps which do a better job of journey planning, bus tracking, etc. And in order to enable these apps to play nice with AT’s services, AT need to make sure they’re feeding the best possible data, updated regularly and conforming to the required standards.

    So it’s good to see they’re hiring for an API Specialist, who would oversee precisely that: https://careers.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/jobdetails?ajid=Au1B9

  8. They should just leave these apps to the experts. It seems transit authorities in many cities have tried to create their own journey planners / real time board apps and most are terrible compared to Google or Citymapper. Why spend money reinventing the wheel? Google does an excellent job – they should just focus on providing Google with the best info and encouraging people to use that. Also works better for visitors to just have one app that works in most cities.

    1. I mostly agree but there are real risks with leaving trip planning entirely in the hands of company which has absolutely no accountability to our communities. At some point they may simply stop caring for arbitrary reasons and drop features or fail to implement new features the community needs.

      1. I doubt it. They’ve not responded to all sorts of suggestions, including from people they’d know might be likely to blog about it.

        1. Yes I do doubt it too. I have several stops local to us that is in their app or journey planner on the web and other apps etc that seem to use the same data eg Google Maps and these stops don’t exist in real life. Really annoying, have job requests for it to be sorted and one year since the new central network and they are still wrong. It actually affects the apps suggestions as the walk is either longer or shorter etc. must catch out new users.

    1. Seems to be working again.

      Have to wonder about order of suggestions. Tried “Queen Street” & top of the list was in Warkworth. Surely the Auckland Central one should top the list…

  9. I do wonder why they don’t just release their real time API as part of the GTFS feed. Then google, city mapper any anyone else can just pick it up and run it all over night. It’s a bit like AT starting a engineering workshop so it can build its own trains.

    My only guess is they are still trying to build some MaaS type application out of the AT app building in AT local and whatever.

    I’d rather they just let it go public. OVernight we’d have several companies offering PT real time intergrated with uber, lime, onzo etc etc.

    1. The API is available for the Auckland Transit App which works well for rail.

      Like anything computer related it is subject to GIGO

      1. I use that app all the time and it is great. Much much better than the official AT one.

        Nick, I believe it does do real time for trains. Definitely does for buses.

  10. My other big beef with the Journey Planner is that it recommends journeys that are almost impossible to meet – for example it says that you can get from the CBD to Richmond Road in 8 minutes – that is assuming the bus turns up and leaves on time (unlikely). It seems many of them have not been tested and are based on estimates with no real input into whether they’ll be completed in real time – it also doesn’t pick up when services have been canceled or already left – so it tells people to go to bus stops for non-existent buses that will never turn up. This is extremely frustrating when people use the journey planner to get to appointments etc. It is also very frustrating that it is very easy to accidentally escape from the journey planner (once a journey starts), which then means you lose the information about what stop to get off at etc.

  11. NZTA tried developing apps to enable transport choice and discovered, to their cost, that it was not a sensible approach. Google was always several steps ahead. I wonder if AT is persisting with their journey planner approach because of concerns about transport data ownership, and reliability.

  12. You expect an bumbling organisation to do something well??

    These people have no idea what they are doing half the time. Literally. One team has no idea what the other team is doing.

    I haven’t used the AT bus app in years because it was rubbish. So ever since I just use another app which does the job ok.

  13. Matts post seems to be about the website Journey Planner but a lot of comments are about the App. What’s wrong woth the app. I type Smales Smales Farm Bus Station is the second option it lists all options from this time or any nominated time arrive before/leave after with maps and a cost. Why use the web

    1. It shouldn’t matter either way – results should be the same.

      Why use the web? Not everyone is glued to their phone the whole time (or even has a smartphone).

      [Also, if yo have previous searched for plain old “Smales Farm Bus Station”, that makes it to the top of the list when you next start typing “Smales”.]

      1. Yes likely some smarts in there giving people different results at different times etc. if you log into the website I wonder if it gives different results.

  14. So if the AT website/app is rubbish, what 3rd party apps do people suggest? I’d be very interested to try some alternatives. Thanks

      1. Yes it’s good, some aspects a bit more of a learning curve though.

        It even has a beta version of first & last leg of journey using Uber or Ola with a fare estimate etc.

        Also shows a faint line for where the bus or train comes or continues to, not just the part of the journey that you actually use it for.

        One fault which must be a data fault from AT? is it assumes Britomart & Lower Hobson St are basically 1 min apart. Think it’s the only fault I’ve noticed apart from crashing when I click on the details on Wellsford to Port Waikato!

        1. Really? I ride a moped or bike most of the time. My moped broke down a couple of weeks ago. I installed and caught a bus home with no problems. I’d previously used Moovit so I had no experience with Transit.

        2. The directions are easy to learn to use. I just find when you want to find a stop to get departure times or line you are not near sort of hard to get used to as it’s quite different to other ones.

  15. I can usually find my way OK with the journey planner, when needed, but that’s probably down to years of experience with the tortured logic of its search function. You get good at finding notable locations at the start and end of your journey that the system actually recognises.

  16. What worries me the most is the dangerous directions that the journey planner gives for people walking. I’ve contacted them through two different avenues to let them know that they are directing pedestrians to cross over the Greenlane Roundabout where there is no footpath. I also mentioned that I can provide more examples. The Journey Planner directs people to walk across the forecourt of services stations and across the Panmure Roundabout.

    This hasn’t been fixed by the new look Journey Planner. I would’ve thought that should’ve been a priority before what they changed. Here’s what the new one says for Panmure: https://i.imgur.com/AxhpBlS.png

    1. Less extreme is it ignoring crossing and lights, and suggesting crossing mid-block. Between my home and Ellerslie Train Station it says to cross Rockfield Road, dog-leg through the car park of an office building, and cross Great South Road (4 general traffic lanes, 2 minimalist cycle lanes, and a flush median) – right next to a busy side street. Totally ignoring the sensible option walking along the footpath (route about 20m longer) to use the crossing at the lights. Nearly anyone starting to follow the instructions will get to Great South Rd, realize how dangerous it is, and divert the 50m up to the lights. It’s obviously a systematic widespread issue.

      1. It’s because there are no walking planners at AT. Literally not a single person in the whole organisation responsible for planning the most important mode. You can hire 40 tech guys to produce an app but if the underlying work is not being done of course it’s going to churn out bullshit, it’s built on a foundation of bullshit.

    2. There is a pedestrian underpass which lets you cross the Greenlane roundabout. It is on the southern side and also allows access to the station. Other than that I agree you would only cross Green Lane East at the Gt South Rd traffic lights. Even with the centre island that road is too busy.

      1. Yes, and some of the instructions use that underpass. And some don’t, like this one: https://i.imgur.com/XFCWFR0.png

        I think it’s very dangerous. As I said in my letter to AT, “For a child intending to catch a bus, who suddenly finds that the journey planner’s instructions are directing them over the Greenlane roundabout, but who would have to take a very long detour to get back on track, who knows what choice they’d make? They’d undoubtedly have to forego the bus they intended to catch. They may have no phone on them, just instructions they noted. They may not be able to contact the person who is going to be meeting them. As a child, they are therefore weighing up the traffic risk with the risk of being stranded, or not knowing what will happen. Very scary.”

        Over a year since I first contacted them about it.

    3. It’s because the walk routing uses OSM data. You could correct the OSM walk routes if you like? You could also un-correct (which opens up a whole can of worms)

      1. Without me researching it and for the benefit of others. How do you go about correcting routes in Google or OSM data or whatever? Not sure if anyone can do this or what & been meaning to figure it out.

        One that affects me is Google, but not the other apps I use, doesn’t realise you can walk from the Sylvia Park bus stops through the shopping ctr to the train station which is quite direct and fairly fast. As a result it won’t tend to suggests using the Eastern train line for journeys or gives big wait connection times etc as it thinks you have to walk right around a slow way around the outside. It will often suggest a southern line connection from Penrose which maybe slower for example. I suspect it could be to do with that fact that it’s a non public building where opening hours may restrict access, I’m not even sure if it’s always open through here say after midnight (but the train or buses wouldn’t really run then anyway).

        My children & a lot of users use Google and so this is a barrier to PT use.

        1. Thanks, “right-click and select report an error” seems the only way then. I’ve reported this Sylvia one to them last week, lets see what happens.

  17. Yes, the AT mobile app (which I use very regularly indeed) has its faults and failings. But to suggest that it produces “garbage results” is a little over the top, I’d suggest.

    At least I haven’t had a “result” like the one I had on Waiheke several years ago when I was using the then current app to find out when the bus to take me to the last ferry would arrive at Oneroa. The result was accurate as to timing, but quoted a cash fare of more than $1,000,000. I tried it again a few days later and got the same result before advising AT of the glitch.

    Anyone else had wacky answers like that more recently?

    1. David, that was a yet be generally released feature based on setting individualised fares using profiling to identify, and deter troublemakers from using their public transport.
      You must have really upset them, Was it too many critical posts on GA?

    2. At least Waiheke has timetables in all their bus shelters and the routes to the ferry are accurate to within a few minutes but from the ferry it can be up to 10plus minutes late ,and it’s worst on the holiday period but we get use to it

  18. AT does have an issue of designing user friendly way-finding, maps, app for casual users.

    The ‘reference’ information are only useful for people who use the route everyday, knows exactly where to get on/take off, can remember the bus stop ID.

    For casual the information is not user friendly.

    It creates a very high learning curve which just creates a barrier off many potential new users who wants to try PT.

    1. Yes, I agree.

      One problem with it is for a 2-leg journey starting in suburbia, with the first leg being a feeder route or frequent route, and the second leg a frequent or rapid route, it’ll only list certain combinations, based on some optimising algorithm which may not apply to the user. It needs to be able provide options such as:
      a/ take bus 1 and connect to any of these bus services at bus stop A, or
      b/ take bus 1 and connect to any of these rail services at this station, or
      c/ at peak hour, there’s the option of this combination as well.

  19. Its interesting to compare a search term in the app and also direct in the base data behind the app. You can access the AT Bus Stop database and see how the database is structured and why you are getting the results you are seeing. Its probably not so much the app that needs work but the base data behind it if you are looking for more user friendly search terms.

    https://data-atgis.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/bus-stop/data

    Incidentally, for those that are interested, you can download a lot of AT data from this site https://data-atgis.opendata.arcgis.com/

  20. Remember this is the organisation that brings us the steaming dog turd that is the AT Hop Card website. It’s a very nervous few days after updating my auto top up settings.

    1. On hop cards, AT need to lose proprietary cards and enable people to use phones or debit/credit cards (appreciate the less tech savvy will still need other means but let’s keep up with the play). Google “Apple Pay express transit” and you can see where other transit orgs are moving

      1. You mean “NFC”? The same tech we were using in NZ years before Apple stuck their logo on it and ‘invented’ it?

        1. Yes, NFC, but implemented in an easy to use way. I dream of the day when I can ditch the wallet- bring on digital drivers licenses too!

  21. My booking confirmation for the Northern Explorer Train said the train left from “Auckland Strand Station, Strand Station, Ngaoho Place, The Strand”. The Journey Planner (old and new) don’t recognise: Auckland Strand Station or Strand Station. Eventually “The Strand” works – the train station is the fifth option on the list.

    My booking confirmation for the Intercity bus said the bus left from “Sky City Bus Terminal”. The Journey Planner (old and new) don’t recognise “Sky City Bus Terminal”. To get the bus terminal on the Journey Planner, you have to type in “Intercity Bus Station”. The Journey Planner would get you to “Skycity, Auckland Central” which is the same building, but I’d imagine most people would prefer a confirmation in the name that it’s the bus terminal they’re being directed towards, given they have a bus to catch.

    A simple piece of coordination. Please put someone onto this, AT.

  22. Matt you have been too kind with the phrase ‘garbage results’. The AT journey planner is a joke. I can get to work in 30 minutes by walking 10 minutes, bussing 10 minutes, and then walking another 10 minutes. Yet the AT journey planner tells me to leave the house 1 hour earlier to catch an infrequent bus that comes every half an hour and will probably not even turn up and just disappear off the real time tracking board.

  23. Well over a year ago AT announced the final form of the central area new bus network which put a bus route on the bottom part of Franklin Road for the first time. This coincided with the design phase of the Franklin Road rebuild.
    The rebuild team after consultation, selected a site outside no 125 and had this built complete with pull in bay, nice bus shelter and all the legal markings in time for the new route just over a year ago.
    Meanwhile the bus network team, had other plans, and located their version of the bus stop 200m further up the hill opposite 78 Franklin Road, where it is still located on their computer.
    This was source of the driver route instructions and the AT maps and route planner.
    At the beginning of the year because of driver confusion, including a driver instructor who informed my wife that the shelter and bus stop sign was not a bus stop and in future passengers would not be collected there, I took it upon myself to send of an email explaining the discrepancy and this incident. A few weeks later I got a reply, stating, one, they very busy, and two, stating that bus drivers were instructed that they were to stop at bus stop 1349 opposite no 78, The mythical stop halfway up the hill. So I rang them having just had encountered another confused driver and I thought I had carefully explained the situation, and thought I had got them to accept it was an AT problem, not operator or bus driver problem. I was wrong, some weeks later I got another reply, again, starting off with how busy they were, and then stating that they had now instructed the bus company to notify it’s drivers that the stop was located opposite no 78!
    A further phone call, this time with a synthetic stroll up Franklin Road on Google Street View I finally got acceptance that the full sized layout on site, in concrete and steel was correct and their computer was wrong, and that it was imperative to amend their route instructions to the operating bus company. They also conceded, correctly that fixing the computer entry would take some time. We still await.

  24. I’ve been meaning to write up this list of things I’ve found with various apps some may find useful:

    For journeys I generally use Google or Transit App (more & more so).

    Now and then I will check the quality of the AT one or use it if I want to know the price of a journey or the other’s are giving me results that I know I don’t want.

    When out on the field or for a few favourite stops & I want to track a bus or train quickly, I find the fastest is Kiwi Hub. Loads very fast & is easy to use. This also can give you a full schedule of routes for any day(up to a week).

    There are some advantags of the AT Mobile app & Journey Planner:
    Can give you the journey price or your HOP card balance.
    Can filter out School Routes that Google can’t.
    Can actually set the max walking time, not just minimise it etc
    Has more accurate operator details etc
    Shows both the SkyBus & the train/380 airporter bus combo options to the airport.
    I Think it is more likely to show the rail replacement services correctly for scheduled track maintenance periods.
    Won’t mention the disadvantages as this has been well covered.

    Googles advantages & disadvantages are:
    Speed.
    Nice interface.
    Gives you InterCity or other operator options, this can also be a pain if you want to force it to not use these (normally for longer jouneys like to Wellsford etc)
    Walking directions or proper address data can like the AT one can be bad or inaccurate (as commented above: Bus to Sylvia Park, walk to Train won’t suggest walking directly through the shopping centre)
    You can already be on a journey but are not sure what to do next, close the app or a change of plan means you can set a starting time in the past.

    Transit Apps advantages are:
    Speed
    Nice interface with colour coding
    Allows you to exclude other options like the Northern Busway, Link Buses or the more expensive SkyBus service
    Gives you walking, cycling & even ridehail services on the initial results screen to compare against PT options.
    Gives you ridehail services (& I think Onzo) for first & last mile options.
    Good and sometimes bad depending if you know it will be an accurate bus timed stop or not:
    Doesn’t allow the buffer of approximately 3 mins between transfers like Google & AT for example when it’s not necessary. This can mean a journey that will show as 1.5 hrs on Google/AT Transit can actually be done in 1hr. Sometimes this is not a good idea when you know a certain “transfer to” bus will likely turn up early, but fine if the “transfer to” bus is likely to be late anyway.
    It assumes Britomart & Lower Hobson St are basically 1 min walk apart (there may be others like this).
    You can already be on a journey but are not sure what to do next, close the app or a change of plan means you can set a starting time in the past.

    Kiwi Hub advantages & disadvantages are:
    Speed
    Great for a few favourite stops & I want to track a bus or train quickly and/or set alarms on.
    Good for seeing the full schedule quickly on any day (up to a week).
    Can use it Auckland. Wellington. Christchurch. Dunedin & Queenstown.
    Can link to see your HOP balance.
    Pretty hopeless for journey planning, few options & can’t use real places only street addreses.
    It’s a bit painful removing favourite stops.

    One tip, when planning ahead is to try more than one app.
    Another tip is to set the leave or arrive time a min, two or three before or after the time you want to get somewhere & see the different results you can get. Some events are fine for turning up a min late for example and often if you walk fast or the bus is early you can get quite a bit faster or more convenient journey.

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