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.

There’ll be fewer buses along the busway during the middle of the 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.

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      1. So what does it mean when it says, “This means a half hourly service weekdays, and hourly service evenings and weekends” and “Buses would operate hourly throughout the day”?

        1. “This means a half hourly service weekdays, and hourly service evenings and weekends”

          Is referring to Route 8.

          “Buses would operate hourly throughout the day”

          Refers to frequency of two new routes proposed to replace existing Route 26. I assume this means weekday peak service would be hourly on these new routes rather than half hourly on current 26.

  1. Wow, 11 cents per litre of fuel added since 2018 to improve public transport has in fact seen PT reduced. Great work team, slow hand claps all round. Imagine what 20 cents would do, see whole routes eliminated?

    Is the cost of paying private operators to provide these services whilst ensuring their shareholders receive maximum return on their dollar the reason for fewer services ? Clearly Ritchie’s are creaming it, buying out the competition.

    Or is it because bus driving is such a poor paying service industry job where drivers are no more valued than cattle fodder to their employer similarly to enhance profit, led to driver shortages meaning services simply can’t be provided?

    Whatever AT are doing to our underwhelming mid 50’s bus based PT system is simply making it even more desirable, as if it wasn’t already, and just down right more practical to take the car!

    As for Light Rail, saying it’s “delayed” is exceedingly optimistic and on par with suggesting the hopelessly lost Phil Twyford is even a tiny bit competent. It’s dead.

    Whatever the case, fewer services in 2020 says let’s end the fuel tax now so the public can use their own transport cheaper instead of gifting it to AT, since they clearly aren’t up to the task!

    1. ‘Delayed’ is extremely charitable. There’s not even a public business case for either route, and CC2M funding has been sent to the regions because National has started getting cut-through on the total lack of achievements in a so-called ‘year of delivery’.

      Hasn’t stopped Wellington getting promised a flash central city transport solution though.

      As for West Auckland, I note Kiwibuild houses are now popping up and sections are being intensified, on top of the existing developments going on around Westgate. It now takes forty minutes to get from Newton Gulley to the causeway on SH16. It’s like some sort of sick joke.

      1. “flash central city solution”

        Do you mean the LGWM light rail (or possibly fake tram bendy bus boondoggle)?

        Likely as much chance of happening as the ‘delayed’ Auckland schemes (at best).

        1. Based on Phil’s achievements as in none as is the case in any portfolio thus far and based on his consistency for honouring announcements if he announced it’s going to happen then rest assured it’s never going to happen! The giveaway is that he goes into hiding when questions about progress start being asked.

      2. By bicycle its a reliable 15 minutes with a couple of minutes here or there depending on wind direction.
        How much slower does the traffic have to be for people to discard their cars?
        “Delayed” is quite accurate. The bid from the super funds is serious with a lot of work currently underway due to be completed in the next few months. Design and public cost should be released next year. Given the government shambles, declining economy and lack of cash going forward, its likely only this option could be selected.
        I’d wonder how low for how long patronage would have to be for service frequency to be cut?

        1. Please tell me their alternative tram plan does not involve undergrounding along Dominion Rd?

    1. Even Phil Goff admitted if you wanted Auckland Council to cease working then make it’s staff use bikes or public transport.

      He’s knows it’s the truth but yet that’s the dog they serve up to the rest of us schmucks!

    2. As if AT managers would be caught dead using their own product. Remember their cosy staff shuttle van between the main rail hubs at Henderson and Britomart?

  2. So much for climate change. Let’s reinforce the car culture. Death by a thousand cuts a history of PT in Auckland. The story continues.

  3. Disclaimer first – I’m standing for Upper Harbour Local Board so delete if you want to. We’ve had a few ‘meet the candidates’ meetings recently and in some of them there were almost more candidates than voters. Public Transport was a key question from everyone, and if AT were there you would have guaranteed far greater turnout. Everyone wants more PT and more access to it. This seems a crazy decision given the gridlock we have and the CO2 emissions from driving. There are places in our electorate with zero feeder busses to the Park and Rides, we could have done with the $1.3M that Devonport had recently for their trial. There are also busses in some places that are almost empty as they go to Westgate rather than the CBD. It’s often easier to drive. This seems like a short sighted decision that goes against what is needed.

    1. In the absence of a NW busway, the connecting routes from Westgate to Constellation are the closest thing West Auckland has to ‘rapid’ bus access to the CBD. If the proposal is to repurpose those buses for North Shore use only then I can’t see that working out too well for infra-regional relationships.

      1. My point was more that from the meetings I’ve attended people want more PT not less, but PT that works. For the Westgate example I’m not saying get rid of it – I’ve not seen the analysis yet – but given there are only two ferries that go to the CBD in the morning from Hobsonville more PT to the CBD has been asked for. Lucas Heights and Paremoremo have zero feeder busses to the Park and Ride at Albany despite it being less than 10km away and no option for walking and cycling as there are no footpaths and it’s an 80km an hour road. All I’m saying is that this decision seems at odds with my own experience and what I know of – The demand for PT that works. Oh what I could have done with $1.3M for a trial of feeder busses.

        1. “feeder busses to the Park and Ride at Albany”

          Anna, sorry but what does this mean? Aren’t feeder buses intended to take people to other buses?

        2. People on the North Shore who don’t use buses themselves tend to refer to the whole busway system as ‘the park and ride’, because they think that’s what it is for.

          A lot of my friends and family from the shore think that the busway only exists to serve the parking lots, they simply don’t believe me when I tell them that the parking only generates around 15% of the patronage on the system.

    2. Over the past years that I have been following this GA website there have been 100’s of stories about how AT and NZTA have been opaque and put obstacles in the way of more public transport, car free streets and cycling.
      One of the worst was a plan for only one entrance to the new K’Rd station. Another by National to go back to diesel on the main trunk line.
      But slowly and with the help of the Unitary plan both PT and cycling are winning. If Auckland wants to be competitive in the world it must support PT as the majority of us want.

    3. Thank you for standing for the local board, Anna. That takes commitment and sacrifice. Sounds like you’re a good candidate.

    4. If you live in the Upper Harbour area I will vote for you. The board seems to be run by people who live somewhere else.

  4. Not to mention the bad communication and how much we pay for tickets. It takes me 3 hours to commute on public transport everyday because I live between 2 transport centres (wheel and spoke system isn’t working because your bus never arrive in time for your connecting bus). They never tell you when your train is cancelled until you actually swipe and got onto the platform so you had to ask another poor soul who could have gotten alternative transport. It takes an hour off my commute if I drive (and wait 2hrs in traffic). Even with the high petrol price, it still made sense for me and my husband to drive (but we don’t because burning all that petrol is bad for the environment). 🙁

  5. Route 68
    Reduced frequency to every 30 minutes before 9am.

    Doesn’t this need to be renamed to the 680 now? I thought a 2 digit bus route had 15 minute frequency 7-7×7 ?

    I guess it is a difficult scenario. Do AT keep running empty buses just to keep within the full definition of frequent?

    1. It’s not a difficult situation at all. We run empty buses to grow ridership. The difficult situation is the lack of funding.

  6. On certain routes they certainly could reduce costs by using smaller buses like used overseas. No point having a 70 seater bus rumbling around with 2 passengers on board! A 20 seater makes a lot more sense (less to purchase too and less road damage).

    1. I don’t know why they don’t have a small fleet of smaller buses to use when they’re establishing a new service, and move it on once patronage is higher.

      1. Because the main cost is the driver. A smaller bus just needs AT then neds to run and service (hold parts for) multiple types of buses. Driverless buses would be the real way to achieve cost savings but we seem to be more obsessed with driverless cars, which are just a pipe dream.

        1. I understand about drivers’ costs and multiple bus model maintenance nightmares, but there are still some advantages to this idea. Whereas bus companies benefit from standard models to keep their maintenance costs down, this could be AT’s fleet, part of their “innovating” kit, preventing them from signing a contract before they know what patronage is likely to be.

          It would also help with PR; the public seem to resist trying to understand the timetable effects, and why some services need to be provided to boost patronage across the board. Seeing smaller “trial minibuses” would be good for salving that miscomprehension.

        2. If carbon was fully accounted for, I doubt a bigger bus would stack up against a smaller van. The latter is also what we need more of for the last stage of people’s journeys from local hub to home.

      2. In Hong Kong they have Public Transit Vans and riots.
        Still after the climate strike and Greta’s speech we will just have to hope people will use public transport even if it isn’t very good. I suppose what AT is trying to do is raise the numbers per bus up by cutting near empty services. And what I have found is that public transport will get you there even if you have to be real inventive with the route you take if the train network falls over.

    2. It costs about the same to buy and run a 70 seater as a 20 seater, half the cost is driver wages for a start, and the difference on fuel and purchase depreciation over 10 or 15 years lifespan in minimal.

      So they cost the same when empty. The difference is when full, a 20 seater only hold 20 people, while a 70 seater can hold 70. Or to put it the other way, if you get a bit busy at peak times you suddenly three times the number of buses and drivers.

      It doesn’t cost anything to move empty seats around, but it costs a lot to put new buses and drivers on. Therefore, having the biggest bus you can fit on the road is the best approach.

      1. Bullshit. A 20 seater is a lot less to purchase in the first place then uses quite a lot less fuel. Maintenance costs and things like tyres are also less. Only constant is the driver. Over the life of a bus the savings would likely be around $800k per bus. Over 100 buses that’s $80m saved (and that’s not taking into account reduced road maintenance costs from lighter buses or less emissions).

        1. Nope no bullshit. A 20 seater bus that meets the standards and access requirements is just like a normal bus but about 3m shorter. If you are thinking about vans or something they wouldn’t be legal, you still need low floors, level aisles and wheelchair access.

          Same engine, same tyres, same maintenance regime, practically the same cost.

          FYI the ADLs used all over have only 32 seats to start with, so we already run pretty small buses on a lot of routes.

        2. Do the Devo Trial cars provide same level of access? I mean, they’re obviously not a roll-on scenario, but are those drivers and cars meant to be able to provide for the same levels of disability? For someone who would be able to roll onto a bus in a wheelchair, but with a car, requires assistance being lifted out of the wheelchair and into a seat, and vice versa, plus would require the wheelchair being put into the boot and set up again after the ride…

          I guess I’ve answered my own question. There’s a standard of access that we use which limits our options in terms of having a cheaper, tactical “tiny fleet” to build up and assess a route’s potential.

          But AT don’t apply the same standard of access to the Devo trial. Because, I suppose, cars.

        3. The Devonport AT local trial has a fleet of six vehicles, three vans (7 seater) and three cars (4 seater).

          One of the vans is accessible, the other five vehicles are not. If you need that you specifically need to book that one, presumably well in advance, and one assumes that the process of boarding and alighting takes quite some time and requires assistance from the driver.

          There are a range of short 6 to 8m urban buses out there that could be a good fit for some Auckland routes. But there isn’t any real cost saving to these, the tangible advantage is in manoeuvrability on smaller local streets and intersections.

  7. A bit worrying.

    With the departure of Ludo, disbanding cycling team, cutting PT budget, delaying light rail, it feels like Auckland is going backwards.

    If they shift the budget responsibly, they should also adjust the budget value to compensate for the shift.

  8. Doesn’t surprise me, a lot of buses are running around the CBD at night carrying nothing but air. Even more ridiculuous is running Inner Links and the like to midnight on a Sunday.

    1. Some services need to be provided even if they’re not well patronised, in order to boost patronage throughout the day, because people need to trust that they can get home … even if the chance of them needing to stay late is small.

      Each evening service may mean hundreds of people took public transport earlier in the day who would not have taken PT had that evening service not been provided, even though they didn’t end up using it.

      This is a vital part of a low-carbon, functioning public transport system.

      It cannot be analysed by looking at individual services, the network effect is far more complicated than that.

    2. Having low use buses late in the evening is not only normal, it is essential.

      Having a viable service late in the evening gives people the confidence to use PT earlier in the day, with the knowledge that they can always take a later service if they get delayed or things change. If you don’t have this, many people don’t take PT at all because the can get caught out.

      In other words, nobody ever plans to rely on the last few buses of the day, they plan to use the earlier ones and have the last ones as a back up. THey are supposed to be poorly used, in effect.

      The problem comes if you cut out the later ones, the last viable buses shifts forward in the day, so the the buses people can plan to take shifts forward in the day.

      So frequent service to midnight lets people comfortably rely on transit for trips at eight, nine or ten o’clock, with the knowledge they aren’t screwed if they get delayed.
      Cut the service to eight, and your ‘dependable’ time shifts back to six pm, etc.

      I can guarantee, these moves cutting service at ten and eleven will result in lower patronage at seven and eight. You see it the world over, every six months you cut another service back, earlier and earlier.

    1. Heidi

      this AT Local is a disgrace on so many levels and I wasn’t afraid to say so in my election material and at the Devonport candidates meeting. There was no push back from the audience, because it is hard to argue that individual trips that cost AT so much can be justified.

      Alongside fare reductions I saw someone advocating that promotion of the service needed to be stepped up, as if that would somehow fix the problem. Surely it doesn’t take a business person to realise that if trips could be offered profitably for around $2.50 everyone would be doing it.

      I saw a piece on Stuff today that our response to climate change needs to be taken over by the people because our politicians can’t or won’t fix it. I think that Auckland needs the people to deliver an EU styled SUMP (sustainable urban mobility programme) where as a city we deliver the solutions. The more successful ones have delivered incredible results because small parts of the city can not hijack the process simply because they have more money. Sadly the missing ingredient is a leader who believes in emissions reduction; congestion reduction; safety; health benefits and better transport outcomes that will drive an enormously difficult process to a conclusion.

  9. I guess to be fair here there is a lot rejigged times to match ferries & other transfers and some increased services but only in the obviously maxed out peak times. Yes the NX reductions and route 30 dropping to every 30 mins at night is stupid. This combined with the 295 reductions means those that may have walked more for a 30 due to its better frequency now have a double whammy drop in service.

    “…it would have been better to fund them out of the dedicated Rapid Transit funds…”. Yes this is it, effectively big money ended up on state highway maintenance.

  10. 30 mins frequency or less is basically useless. That’s what currently kills the whole system. It doesn’t matter that the train runs every 10mins if my connector bus is there only every 30 mins. And even if I can time this in the bus -> train direction in the other one – it just plain doesn’t work. I ended up catching the earlier train every time, just in case the ‘optimal’ one is delayed (which happened a few times) and waiting for 20 minutes for the bus, which simply makes the trip unnecessarily long.

    By removing some trips AT in fact removes far more, as many people won’t be taking other trips either, which leads to lower patronage, which over time will see more service cuts. I start to think that from AT’s perspective having no routes and no buses would be the ideal scenario.

  11. This is ridiculous. I had no idea that some bus routes were changing – where was the communication from AT? If I didn’t read GA I wouldn’t know that my usual bus route is about to be cancelled!

    Anyway, I will be switching back to my car now. I have free parking at work.

  12. Yep so they cut the low use infrequent routes, so they can have even lower use and be cut all together. Ridiculous, if they had half a brain cell they would be increasing the frequency of infrequent routes to make them more attractive…

    I live on a route which is hourly, half-hourly at peak, rarely ever see anyone on it. Perhaps if it had a timing point at the train station instead of half-way up a hill in the middle of nowhere, people would be able to utilize it. But no it whips through 20 minutes early just to idle in the middle of nowhere, who would wait potentially 80 minutes to catch a bus that just takes you just down the road. You might as well walk.

    So yeah, make infrequent buses more frequent instead of the reverse. Not everyone lives along a niche frequent route. Plus fix the bus operations, early running buses still plague the city and make travel by bus almost impossible, especially outside of peak.

  13. Hot on the heels of abandoning providing the North West with rapid transit, the Government’s Port Working Group has recommended that POA be moved to Whangerei and an Auckland Freight Centre be set up….in North West Auckland.

    1. As a resident of Te Atatū Peninsula I’m starting to feel really depressed about this – it looks like Auckland Council is happy to sprawl even further out whilst AT provides exactly nothing for the new residents. What’s worse – that additional traffic affects already mediocre bus services, as there’s no bus priority along SH16.
      The lack of actual vision and leadership in AT is forcing everyone to drive, and all of that when Auckland Council declares ‘climate emergency’.

      1. To be fair to AT, routes along the NW motorway would need stations on the motorway for which NZTA are deferring funding. This is what the LRT funding should have been put into.

  14. Some response from employees of AT would be really useful here about now. Your continued silence is a sign of cowardice rather than of confidence in the actions you propose.

    Doesn’t AT have a PR person to do this sort of engagement? Rule number One: talk to the public.

  15. Frequency is everything – people don’t have time to wait endlessly for buses, especially when they have to connect to another service. Why are they making it SO hard for people to choose PT?

    Hearing that Light Rail has been delayed just makes me absolutely despair for this city and the absolutely shambolic, chronic mismanagement of public transport by the people in charge.

    Can’t we please just reinstate the incredible light-rail network Auckland USED to have – many of the big wide corridors are still there – the old tram map shows it was a comprehensive network. Am I the only one who thinks this will solve (almost) everything?

  16. Twyford hasn’t achieved anything he has been put in charge – except a $60 million bus stop at Puhinui Station.

    Why isn’t GA promoting dumping private bus companies clipping a large ticket for providing public buses? Imagine the cost savings without the ticket clippers?

    Yes, Goff’s 11.5 cents a litre fuel tax looks dumb with pt being cut.

    I seriously doubt Labour is going to do very well in Auckland next year. There seems to be a backlash against Labour backed tickets and candidates now.

  17. I suspect there’s been a bit of stealth around the cuts anyway, with numerous buses being cancelled on a regular basis. Even at inception, AT gave the promise of more frequency but in reality it wasn’t so true for some commuters because despite the same numbered route, some buses terminate at different points along the journey. e.g. when the 856 terminates at Smales rather than going to Takapuna. And don’t get me started about whether the changes were for the better anyway.

  18. Yes the concept of the light rail was wrong whereas some tram routes in the inner city would be much more useful.

    1. Ah yes, the outer suburbs should take on almost all of the housing development, have no rapid transit and the inner city suburbs should get the shiny things.

      1. Its too late to build multi mileage light or heavy railways through suburban Auckland. You should have a busway along the North Western Motorway and the heavy rail needs to run to at least Kumeu if not beyond. We should have built a light rail from Mt Eden Station to Britomart or the Wynard quaters instead of shagging around with the CRL for 20 years. The single track Onehunga branch should be extended to as close to the Mangere town center as possible and the Southern Line should have regular trains running to at least Pokeno and three or four services per day to Hamilton.

        1. You think Light Rail is somehow harder to do alongside a motorway, inside an existing transit corridor than realigning a whole bunch of Heavy Rail?

  19. The PT funding paradigm has to change.

    Central government needs to directly majority fund & require comprehensive coverage networks that provide 100% urban coverage with max 30min headways (preferably with pulsed transfers) & running from, say, 5am to 12 midnight daily. The network could be time varying & use on-demand services where fixed routes are not viable.

    The poor is society require access to a transport system & it needs to cover all O-Ds. There are socioeconomic benefits of doing so and the funding liability falls with central government.

    Local government can then provide more funding (reduced FAR) for service level improvements over and above this base level.

    1. “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.”

      Yes great question Matt. Why for example in Takapuna do all our local Councillor candidates want to spend about $3 million on a bus shelter for Takapuna? At the moment peak services are at about 11-12 minute intervals. Shouldn’t the next step, with the poulation expected to triple in Takapuna, be to increase frequency? With a greater frequency it becomes turn up and go i.e. no need for a grandiose shelter.

      I am sick of these schemes that seem nothing more than an election promise and aggrandizement of elected officials. Set some spending priorities that actually put people on public transport and in that way we will lower the operating costs by having greater revenue.

      Compare Takapuna with the crowds using Victoria park stop and see how turn up and go operates.

    1. Good question. I have a few others like it…

      There are a few egregious things that AT is doing… and which Council should have done something about now.

  20. The cut to #30 after 9pm wouldn’t be so bad if they re-scheduled the timings for #309, which takes almost exactly the same route between city centre and Onehunga. You could still achieve 15-min frequency if you bumped the #309 to run in between each 30 service. Unfortunately, the current schedule has #309 running within 5 minutes of #30. So you have two buses in 5 minutes, then have to wait 25 minutes for the next. I really don’t understand this as I often bus home from the city centre after 9pm and it has quite a few people on it!

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