Before getting into this post, I thought I’d highlight a few important factors:
- Public transport is growing rapidly, having recently passed 100 million trips.
- There is strong public support for more and better public transport.
- There is strong political support for more and better public transport – although more on that later.
- Auckland is in the midst of local body elections where transport is once again perhaps the single biggest talking point.
So it’s more than a little disappointing to find that in just over a week, the day after elections, Auckland Transport will be cutting a large number of bus services. This time the cuts are primarily to the North Shore and Isthmus but similar changes have also recently occurred in other parts of Auckland.
From Sunday 13 October there will be changes to some North, Rodney, Central and West bus routes
These changes are to add some bus trips where needed, remove some where patronage is low, improve connections between services, and improve reliability of services. If you use these buses you may need to re-plan your journey. From 1 October you can check the AT Journey Planner or AT Mobile for the updated timetables.
Other minor changes are being made to timetables so that they better reflect the actual running times of buses.
In total changes are being made to over 30 services although not all involve removing services, with some even adding a few extra at peak runs, but a fair number do. However unlike previous changes, this time even some of the most high-profile routes are affected. For example, Auckland’s busiest and most bus route, the NX1 along the Northern Busway, will have its inter-peak frequency reduced from about every 7.5 minutes to every 10. This might not sound like much as a bus every 10 minutes is still pretty good by Auckland standards but the reduction adds up to 19 fewer services a day.
It’s not just the busway as many isthmus frequent services are also affected – although generally it tends to be one or two services in the early morning or late at night. Perhaps one think notable is that some of the cuts, such as those the 22, 30 and 75 routes, will see AT break its own marketing (below) as the routes will be dropping back to just half hourly, from as early as 9pm.
As AT say in their explanation, they are doing are targeting the services with low usage but every time they make these cuts it does help to undermine how many people see public transport.
So why is this happening, AT don’t just cut services for no reason and in this case the reason will be due to budget pressures and they don’t have enough money to run all the services they want to. That raises the question of both the Council and Government. Why, with both levels of government so eager to get more people on PT is funding not increasing enough to cover costs.
One of the reasons there’s not enough money for more services despite the government increasing PT spending to record levels is that the NZTA have shifted a couple of big projects out of their state highways budget and into the public transport category. These are
- The Northern Busway extension – $200 million
- A share of the costs to widen SH20B – implementation funding for this hasn’t been approved yet so we don’t know the final cost.
On the surface that shift may make sense but in both these cases it would have been better to fund them out of the dedicated Rapid Transit funds that was to be used for the now delayed Light Rail project. But because that didn’t happen, it has basically frozen the amount of money available to be spent on running services.
Speaking of that Light Rail money, the NZTA announced last week that of $313 million ‘freed up’, most of it would now go to funding state highways around the country.
Of course, it’s not just the council and government here, AT could also help themselves more by tightening up and stop doing silly things like the Devonport rideshare trial.
As mentioned at the start of the post, there is an election on right now. Perhaps one question that needs to be asked is what candidates will do to increase operational funding for PT and not just talk about the big shiny projects that get media attention.