This is a post by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan.

What is required to start developing a co-ordinated passenger rail and bus network for the whole country? One important step, outlined in the Government Policy Statement, is ensuring we’re gathering the right, quality data:

The NZ Transport Agency and regional authorities need to provide high quality analysis to input into a rigorous, fit-for-purpose investment analysis system. Robust business cases that are supported by evidence and good data gathering systems are vital to support this process. Therefore having data that is easy to find, share and use is important.

Investment in nationally-coordinated inter-regional public transport has, in recent history, been neglected in favour of roading and aviation. As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, we believe establishing a national public transport network is required to reduce our transport carbon emissions, and for many other environmental and access reasons. In a future post we will also discuss the safety benefits.

Under the current government, there’s been steady progress towards a more people-focused narrative. The NZTA’s descriptions and performance measures for its activity classes have improved. But a legacy still remains in the form of a clash between the scope and the expected benefits of NZTA’s work. Evidence-based decision-making would help prevent this clash.

For example, the scope of NZTA’s Regional Improvements work displays the legacy roading focus:

We plan and invest in infrastructure outside metropolitan areas (including roads, roadsides, intelligent transport systems and bridges) by working collaboratively with council partners to co-create integrated, system-wide solutions.

We deliver state highway projects, and local and regional councils deliver local road projects.

And yet the benefits expected from this Regional Improvements work are what we’d call rather aspirational:

The difference this output class makes

Regional improvements support regional economic development by creating a safer, more resilient transport system and improving access to social and economic opportunities. As well as seeking to reduce adverse effects, we look to identify opportunities to enhance the local environment and public health while providing more sustainable solutions…

We don’t believe a roads-only approach to regional improvements is the best way to achieve the stated goals of safety, resiliency, access, environment, health and sustainability.

Meanwhile, the NZTA’s Public Transport activity class is focused on supporting urban development, leaving inter-regional public transport neglected by both activity classes.

Now the government is committed to evidence-based decision-making, both the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA may need to question some of their long-held assumptions about regional transport. For this they need data, which the NZTA are well-placed to collect. When researching some aspects of a National Public Transport Network, we asked NZTA for some data, and were a little surprised at what we found.

(Photo credit: The Waikato Regional Public Transport Plan)

Data Collection about Regional Services

The NZTA already collects boardings, fleets, fares, passenger km, service km, and other data about public transport services, but only for some, mainly urban, services. According to their website this…


  • all contracted/funded services
  • all commercial services available to the public and recorded in the region’s passenger transport register or regional passenger transport plan, unless they are considered to be not material or relevant (based on the impact on the transport network)

And does not include:

  • commercial services not on the passenger transport register or in the regional passenger transport plan, including fare paying school services
  • Ministry of Education funded services.

NZTA’s public transport boardings data does not include InterCity, Scenic Rail, Ministry of Education services and many other regional public transport services.

We asked why:

The Scenic Rail network data is not included because it is a commercial service and does not access the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and is not required to provide data to the Transport Agency. The same reason applies to all regional bus services: regional bus service data is not included because they are commercial services and do not access the NLTF and are not required to provide data to the Transport Agency.

Data Collection about Regional Bus stops

We asked if NZTA keep a database of bus stops in rural and regional areas, including who owns the land, who maintains them, and how much money is spent on their maintenance:

The NZ Transport Agency does not have a database of bus stops in rural and regional areas, furthermore it does not have access to the raw data.

Data Collection about Regional Public Transport Safety

We asked if NZTA keep a specific database about safety associated with:

  • regional and long distance buses and
  • organised shared transport in the regional areas (smaller multiple-passenger vehicles, and also private cars used in schemes established to increase access for certain demographics), including
  • passenger injury rates, including from traffic trauma, accidents involving stationary vehicles, and incidents involving personal safety.

the Transport Agency does not keep a specific database on safety associated with regional and long-distance buses and organised shared transport in regional areas. However, the Transport Agency maintains the Crash Analysis System (CAS)… [and] the Motor Vehicle Register (MVR)…

the Transport Agency does not hold information relating to personal safety on either organised shared transport services or regional and long-distance buses.

If these gaps in data are not otherwise filled by the Ministry of Transport, proper evidence-based decision-making is impossible.

Examples of decisions that need better data

1. How to improve regional development outcomes with transport. Patchy data about regional public transport services is insufficient for multi-modal analysis. This is a worry, given that the NZTA believe they are able to advise on this work:

To support regional development, as a key partner in the Provincial Growth Fund programme, we will help to assess investment opportunities and plan and deliver transport infrastructure and services that support tourism, economic growth and regional connections…

We will… work with the Provincial Development Unit to advise on investment opportunities and applications and release funding for land transport projects…

2. Which bus stops or interchanges should have priority in investment. Without a database, would bus stops with the best returns on investment be improved first, or might we see some money wasted on “good ideas”.

3. How to target regional transport safety funding, considering both road improvements and public transport. Buses and trains are known to be very safe modes. Without a public transport safety database, it’s unknown how much benefit per dollar could be achieved by getting people out of cars and onto buses.

4. Whether to invest in overnight sleeper trains between Auckland and Wellington. This decision needs rail and bus ridership numbers, including how ridership has responded over the years to changes in service levels or cost. Bringing aviation into responsible climate stewardship will be easier politically if a well-analysed viable alternative to flying exists.

5. Whether the Ministry of Education bus services could be incorporated more efficiently into a regional transport service that makes better use of bus fleets, and provides access for more demographic groups. The school bus data may be available through the Ministry of Education, but data from the regional services is not.

6. Whether there are any systemic injury problems in regional transport services which warrant scrutiny. For example the lack of a public transport safety database means there may be information available from ACC about injuries, but not about the number of injuries per passenger km or per passenger boarding. This data could influence regulation around stairwell or luggage compartment design.

7. Whether the level of personal safety offered by organised shared transport (on a commercial, subsidised or volunteer basis, and in branded or private vehicles) warrants replacement by a bus service, or expansion for more purposes. Yet the people these schemes target are the more vulnerable in society: elderly, people accessing health services, people with mobility or disability issues, and children and youth.

8. How to best reduce regional transport emissions.

The information is important for regional councils, too. For example, Waikato Regional Council’s aspirational regional public transport plan “provides a long term blueprint for a preferred network of mass transit corridors for Hamilton and neighbouring towns”. For robust investment prioritisation, each Council needs full data of services within their region and those who pass through (such as InterCity).

Of course, private operators won’t want to provide data, and ideology will historically have prevented data provision requirements in regulation. Any rationale that private operators should not need to provide key information to enable planning is a reason against privatisation. The level of detail of routes, services and ridership required for planning the network is high. Aggregated, unidentifiable data would be insufficient but there’s possibly no need for the most commercially sensitive profit information such as fare yields.

This is just scratching the surface. There are many decisions good public transport data could help with in the realm of public health, tourism, local environment and social outcomes.

(Poster at Paekakariki Station Museum)

Last year’s amended Statement of Intent from NZTA shows we can expect them to start providing more mode-neutral information to the Ministry for consideration:

A guiding principle for the framework is mode neutrality…

Mode neutrality involves:

  • considering and evaluating all transport modes and options when looking for the best solution
  • making users and decision-makers more aware of the benefits and costs of different transport choices to incentivise robust decision-making and smart travel choices…

We also need to know that our activities and investments are having the right impact…

We’re on the cusp of a transport revolution

With the climate emergency, a national public transport network isn’t just a powerful tool for lowering transport emissions, it’s part of the lower carbon legacy our children deserve so they aren’t saddled with huge ongoing transport and carbon mitigation costs.

Regional transport is important for the whole country, including Aucklanders. It affects our safety when we’re travelling, the performance of our businesses and our holiday options. For regional communities, transport impacts employment and education opportunities, wellbeing and safety. Regional transport impacts our country’s economic prosperity, levels of equity, tax base and where people can live.

Both the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA have broadened their approach from a narrow focus on roads, and we’ve seen steady progress in the narrative, the activity class descriptions and the performance measures. The next step towards developing a national public transport network is some sound economic and scientific analysis of what systems should be established and what investments should be made. For this it appears they need better data than is currently being collected.

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  1. Perhaps NZTA could get their Connected Journeys team onto it. They could spend $6.7million apps that don’t really work.

  2. Would love to see passenger rail rejuvenated.
    Have my doubts about AKL-WLG rail services simply because our rail is in such a state it’s a 12 hour journey (should be 8) versus flying (45 minutes – or 2.5 hours total including travel time etc). Would love to see the RRR happen and weekend ski trains in winter to Ohakune.

    1. To me getting the Auckland to Wellington rail time down to about 8hours should be important as the backbone of regional services. It could connect with coaches at multiple places. Nobody wants to spend all day on a bus.

      1. It would have to run on time if your imagining coach connections to Auckland Wellington trains. Its pretty hard to do that with a single track and frequent heavy freights. It was always the problem back in the days of the Government run NZ Rail. Better to concentrate on Auckland Waikato although an Auckland Wellington sleeper might work if it was run at cost.

      2. Dedicated regional rail urban semi and rural, infra and inter-regional services with inter-connecting bus services is way to go. Long distance passenger train services will not work for semi and rural, infra and inter-regional bus services.

    2. The Northern Explorer currently takes 10h 40m, but I agree it really needs to be down to 8hrs and with more stops than it currently makes.

      1. Thats a contradiction. More stops means longer time, as on these sorts of journeys 30-40 sec isnt enough.
        The Current Northerner timetable gives times
        Auckland 7:45am
        Hamilton 10:14am
        Otorohanga 10:54am ( for Waitomo caves)
        National Park 1:14pm
        Ohakune 1:44pm
        Palmerston N 4:19pm
        Paraparamu 5:29pm
        Wellington 6:25pm
        Its 682km in track length and those are arrival times after Auckland
        Some of smaller stops might be a minute could be longer, with extra time to slow to a stop and then speed up again.
        Looking at the track distances between stations and the train timetable gives the approx train speeds
        Auck-Ham 56 km/hr
        Ham- Oto 72km/hr
        Oto-N.P. 63km/hr
        N.P -Oha 56km/hr
        Oha -PmN 72km/hr
        PmN- Par 75km/hr
        Par-Wel 52 Km/hr

        Clearly surburban sections ( 50+kph) are quite a bit slower than the rural ones(70+kph) and the central plateau has some slow ( steep?) sections

        1. I have a copy of the October 2000 Tranz Scenic Auckland-Wellington “Overlander” timetable. Back then the train departed Auckland 8:30am, arriving Wellington 7:27pm (total journey time 10hr 57min), stopping at Middlemore, Papakura, Pukekohe, Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Otorohanga, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui, National Park, Ohakune, Waiouru, Taihape, Marton, Feilding, Palm Nth, Levin, Paraparaumu, Porirua.
          The total time going the other way was 10hr 50min.

          What knocked the service was the relaxation of maintenance standards under privatization which led to severe “Heat-40” restrictions coming into force over a number of summers. The timetable was slackened to try and allow for this. Things improved as the maintenance backlog was got on top of, but when the Overlander was replaced by the Northern Explorer in 2012, it was decided to delete a large number of stops as a way of speeding the train back up.
          Now we have a train that stops in far fewer places, and (in the northbound direction at least) is now 5min slower than with all those stops back in 2000!

        2. To increase the Northern Explorer running times, the North Island main trunk line, needs major upgrade of track, remove more kinks, add more passing loops, better signalling and train control to cope with increase passenger and freight traffic.

          The problem with the Northern Explorer, it is traveling on essentially ‘freight’ tracks and is subject to speed restrictions.

        3. “the central plateau has some slow ( steep?) sections…”

          Yeah, the Raurimu spiral is there, which necessitates a slow speed because of all the curves.

      2. It’s not contradictory. It means getting track and train speeds up to a level that the service could be run in 8 hours with more stops than there are currently.

        I agree it can’t be achieved with the current track and rolling stock but that is not my point.

        1. A simple stop costs two minutes. A major one maybe four.

          8 hours is an average speed of of 85kph, ambitious but not impossible.

        2. The stops are quite long in practise when I travelled on it, don’t remember exactly, but especially if passengers got off for a stretch etc.

        3. Yes. If train is ahead of time, a longer stop would be OK.
          Once you get into suburban networks, you can only go as fast as the suburban train in front.
          I think 8 hrs is out of the question. Its a single track most of the way and a 3rd line in Auckland only gives so much extra speed.
          For people on a train, what does saving 2 hrs do ?
          The Sydney- Melbourne XPT train is about 10.5 hrs for a longer journey but a more comparable is the 646 km from Central to Albury at almost 8 hr.
          Its not its the UK where London is Auckland and Otorohanga is Birmingham and 2 hr away. Switzerland is smaller than Canterbury and has 10x its population.
          Resources should be into smaller DMU trains and more frequent service not trying to ‘run before you can walk’

        4. Remember, prior to the Electrification easements and deviations a standard railcar did the trip in a little over 8hours. A glimpse of what is indeed possible.

        5. Yes it leaves and arrives at peak suburban train times at both ends so it dawdles along at start and end or
          even has to stop hence the slow average speed at the ends on probably better maintained track.

          Not that I minded on a scenic one off journey.

        6. pinokio – I completely agree this is not the top priority, just something I think we should aim for in the future. Much higher priority is introducing rapid rail on the Auckland – Hamilton – Tauranga corridor.

        7. I note that the Northern Explorer currently only runs three times a week and fares start at $159. Currently, sadly, this is not at a price point to suit everyone.

          I have not used this train, but certainly the Tranzalpine was a great trip.

          As much as I enjoy travelling by rail I think that the immediate focus needs to be on high speed services to the Golden Triangle, as others have suggested. With my business background my first thought has been, could these services be run economically, but from an environmental perspective my thought is, can NZ afford not to do this?

          I guess this is where the analysis that you were suggesting comes in Heidi. What does it look like now; but more importantly what does it look like in 15 years when there are either road tolls, or carbon charges in some fashion?

        8. Actually the Northern Explorer is only $119 but even that is not really competitive when you consider all the $39, $49 $69 etc fares put out by Air NZ.

          I traveled on it just over 3 weeks ago and getting out of Auckland included waits at Westfield and Wiri junctions so it wasn’t that much faster than an Auckland suburban train.

          Some of the stops were relatively long, partly because we were running early and also because of the need to unload passenger’s luggage from the baggage van…Hamilton and National Park had the longest waits.

          But we were 10 – 15 minutes early all the way down as far as the Kapiti Coast (helped on this occasion I think by there being few, if any passengers south of National Park so the train did not have to wait for them), at which point we hit upon the Wellington Suburban Network and had to go slowly behind suburban trains and ended up arriving at the scheduled time.

  3. AKL – WLG passenger rail is a bit like the CBD to Auckland Rapid transport case.
    The case needs to be made not for the end to end journey but all the possible combinations of journeys between.
    That should not prevent progress being made on increasing the use of this corridor for passenger rail in the meantime.

    1. Yes and I think working on each end, increasing the speed frequency, span and distance to new communities until finally the whole route is linked is the way to go.

  4. Great post Heidi.
    Evidence based policy making has never been more crucial…

    Minister’s aka ‘3 Year Parliamentarian Contractors’ should be required to go on the record ‘Hansard’ to state why they’ve deviated from Official’s advice.

    The problem is that often the work/advice of actual experts never gets to see the light of day because it is politically unpalatable and could be an impediment to the 3 year Parliamentarian Contractor being awarded another contract. There is an inherent bias here that the system needs to resolve.

  5. A lot of comments about Auckland to Wellington, but I feel like the big wins for inter-regional public transport will be where it can be made time-competitive with flying. The Waikato example in that graphic is awesome. We need one of those for every region. Then over time the “outback” bits like improving the rail line between Marton and Taumarunui will follow on naturally.

    1. Inspired by Shaun Hendy’s recent account of his attempts to adapt his travel patterns to the crisis of climate change, #NoFly: walking the talk on climate change (BWB, 2019), I recently took a Coastal Pacific train (Picton to Christchurch). The 348 km journey took 6½ hours, an average speed of 54 kph, which is ridiculous, even for a tourist train. The condition of the track was such that even on dead straight runs, eg Rangiora to Christchurch, the average speed was more like 20 kph. Mind you, the locomotive was spewing sufficiently filthy exhaust to suggest it was running on low grade coal not diesel. Disheartening and alienating. It comes as no surprise to learn NZTA doesn’t collect data on the ‘scenic rail’ service.

      1. The reason is, Kiwirail scenic train services are not urban, regional and inter-regional public transport services. The same applies to InterCity Coachlines and Skip bus/coach services.

  6. You might want to have another go at some of the phrasing here. “Aggregated, unidentifiable data would be insufficient”, but that’s the only kind I want government having about my use of public transport.

    1. Fair point. We were thinking of data that can be identified to a company. You’re quite right to point out that data identifiable to a person is quite different – and not something I’d like to see being kept by government.

  7. Beyond overnight sleepers, I don’t think rail could be successful if it is slower than a bus. To be really successful it needs to be significantly faster than a car to allow for the fact it won’t be door to door.
    Tracks for fast trains are expensive.
    Data comparing bus and car journey times vs what might be achieved with 160km/hr tilt trains on the existing track, and an “upgraded” track would be useful. The journey times would then reflect on mode shift and patronage numbers.

  8. I love the proposed Waikato network it would great if we could make it happen. We should start with buses and build from there. It would be good if Intercity and other coach lines and the various regional transport authorities with the help of Kiwirail and NZTA could create a coordinated network.
    Of course the coach companies won’t want to drop their demand management pricing structure so the best solution would be to have regional bus and train operators adopt it as well. You could just look at it as discount for off peak services. And maybe some sort of subsidy should be offered to Intercity which would only be fair as subsidised trains and buses would be competing against them. I could imagine trains running peak services and buses running off peak on certain routes.

    1. My issue with the Waikato network is it is only really for people that don’t have a car, or possibly for commuters if it is fast enough. For people that do own a car (the majority of us), it isn’t going to be faster or cheaper or more convenient than driving.
      Getting reasonable transit to the further cities (Napier / New Plymouth / Wellington / etc) would be different as those are currently a hassle to drive to. Who wants to concentrate on the road for 5+ hours?

      1. Napier and New Plymouth well its got to be bus so that’s where Intercity comes in. And Roturua and Gisborne and Taupo for that matter.

  9. Thank you for this post. Interesting. But why isn’t this already being done?

    From that reply you got it looks like the bus information is only gathered if the government is spending money on it, as if spending is the only thing that’s important. Don’t they keep other information about things they don’t spend money on? Like, I don’t know, car imports?

    And having a safety database just seems basic. I imagine they keep databases about injuries in other places. Workplaces and child care centres and stuff.

  10. Looks to be a good post thanks, will read more thoroughly later. Yes gathering quality data is an important first step. Garbage in garbage out.

    I like that Waikato Regional Council concept map, they seem to be good at this, very regional type area perhaps helps that.

  11. Heidi, who do you propose run the passenger trains? KiwiRail has a policy of maximising costs in order to increase profit. They are all priced at what international tourists will pay. Domestic rail travel is dead until someone other than KiwiRail operates the trains.

    KiwiRail prevents the passenger business from owning its own locos and having its own drivers, so that they have to be hired from freight. This approach creates a profit for the freight business on top of the profit for the passenger business.

    To get that profit-on-top-of-a-profit they need to generate a huge income from each passenger, either by setting fares very high, or in the case of the planned commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland, setting subsidies very high. The actual running costs of the trains are lower. The subsidy is largely for the freight business, which is otherwise counter-productive and unecessary for the establishment of domestic passenger trains.

    If the government wants to get serious about domestic passenger rail, they’ll need to establish a separate company with its own locos and drivers (a sort of kiwi Amtrak). That will strip out the hire costs and profit for freight, enabling lower fares and lower subsidies.

    1. Geoff, I’d like to think this mess can be unravelled because it doesn’t need to be this way.

      A separate organisation of some sort seems necessary. I suspect it needs to incorporate bus and rail network planning as well as passenger rail operations. I know some readers are developing suggestions.

    2. Yes, Geoff. There are precedents here is good old Telecom being split into two; separating the pipes business (Chorus) from the content business (Spark). Another precedent is Air transport which has public and private entities providing airports. Public companies (with a big Government stake) running the airlines and a Crown Enterprise doing the traffic control. So splitting Kiwirail into separate infrastructure and Traffic Management businesses to support multiple and separate freight and passenger service providers is not such a big leap.

  12. We don’t need anymore ancient dirty diesel locomotives pulling ex Auckland train carriages on the network. These carriages were paid for by Auckland rate payers and it was a disgrace that electric locomotives were not purchased to run them after electrification was completed. However I agree with Geoff Kiwirail should not be allowed to screw the scrum and multiple charge any passenger operation. Its up to the Government to establish appropriate rail services without this sort of jiggery pokery. Here the thing the taxpayer is subsidising the national network whether this is done in the form of a capital grant or an operational grant doesn’t matter its still a subsidy. Kiwirail is trying to make its books look better but I don’t see the point unless the CEO and the board have some sort of bullshit bonus deal going on. Any new passenger rolling stock should be dual mode multi unit hybrids either diesel and overhead power or battery and overhead power. The rail network only exists because it is subsidised. Its up to the Government to provide appropriate passenger services and do it a way that is economically transparent and provides the cleanest rolling stock that current technology can provide. At the moment Kiwirail through its pricing is making the decisions.

    1. I agree with you. The national rail network track, tunnels, bridges, signalling, etc and train control is transferred out of Kiwi Holdings Ltd into an rail infrastructure entity an ‘open access’ cost recovery crown entity under the Ministry of Transport dubbed ‘Railnet Infrastructure’ and is funded by track access charges and subsidies from fuel tax and RUC’s. Kiwirail Holdings Ltd would be a state owned enterprise with the government having at least 51% share holding, operating intra/inter-regional and long distance freight and long distance passenger train services.

      This allows any rail operator and heritage rail museum/s to have access to NZ’s national rail network without protectionism which is currently happening with Kiwirail owning the track, signalling infrastructure and train control functions.

      The government would initially need to invest in upgrade and future proof where possible, the national rail infrastructure for increase rail traffic.

      This is similar to what has happened with VicTrack in Victoria. VicTrack owns and maintains all the track and signalling infrastructure and train control including inter-state tracks operating in Victoria and track infrastructure of Melbourne’s tram network.

      1. All logical Kris but I wonder if its more complicated than it needs to be. I remember back in the early days of Rogernomics when they were trying to explain the state owned enterprises to the people everybody was just saying “what”. It didn’t make much sense then but we have gradually got our head around it but it sure as hell hasn’t made anything cheaper. If Kiwirail were told to charge their services at cost then add on 10 percent for a bit of cash. Then it might be easier to get new services off the ground. Any shortfall could just be met with a subsidy if the Government wanted to proceed with any particular project. The subsidy would be transparent rather than hidden in Kiwirail books masquerading as a normal commercial transaction when in fact it is just its anything but. In the end taxpayers and ratepayers are paying for it regardless of where it is recorded on the books. As it is maybe gouging on passenger operations is subsidising freight operations we wouldn’t know.
        “Lies Damn lies and Accountants.”
        Maybe turn Kiwirail back into a Government Department.

  13. perhaps someone needs to make sure the responsible people for the Regional Growth Fund read the bit where it becomes clear that NZTA has no competence to advise as they have no data to base their advise on!

  14. Here’s a standard of public information to aspire to, produced in NSW under a conservative government, and published for all to see on the internet. Advice from the public service is more difficult to obscure as it’s based on data the public service are required to publish. They haven’t outsourced their rail operations, so they can publish these costs too:

    Having recently travelled on the Japanese bullet train network, I don’t think it is a model to aspire to between Auckland and Wellington. The track infrastructure and maintenance requirements would be just too great for NZ’s low population density, and the population of towns/cities along the route is so small. Much of the patronage on Japan’s fast trains are between relatively closely-spaced cities along the route rather than end-to-end. One trip we took was from Tokyo to Hakodate (4 hrs, 870 km), but most of the passengers alighted at Aomori (3 hrs, 720km, similar to Auckland-Wellington at 642 km). Fast trains struggle to compete with air beyond about a 3 hour journey time. Track maintenance charges must also become high with longer rail journeys, whereas the airlines only have charges at takeoff and landing. A better model to follow is that of Victoria’s regional fast rail lines, which with 160 km/hr operation achieves times such as Melbourne-Ballarat (64 minutes, 116 km, similar to Auckland-Hamilton at 123 km). Beyond the 160 km/hr rail tracks, trains travel at 115 to 130 km/hr, and there are also transfers to buses.

  15. Several comments to make here:

    * I worked for the old Tranz-Scenic as-was and there was no way we could get it to “pay”. Operationally, trying to do anything sophisticated in a slow single-track network like New Zealand’s is asking far too much on current conditions. This will need significant “outside” investment – Shane Jones, are you listening?

    * I have raised the issue of a national policy for inter-regional coach services with the Bus & Coach Association and they didn’t seem to be especially interested. they wouldn’t be handling more than two million scheduled coach passengers per year, at the maximum, and the likely number is probably more like one million, assuming fifty timetabled services/day. In Scotland, similar population to New Zealand, the main intercity bus company handles about five million passengers a year (yes, I know the comparison is, to quote Dr Johnson, “odious”, but it’s the best one I have.)

    * Passengers loathe having to transfer in a journey, and will generally prefer a one-seat journey on a coach to having to transfer to a train, and especially to another coach.

    * A small but cheap fix: paying for more coach services than the limited frequency we have.

    1. Thanks Ross. Significant investment and a level playing field would be good. If all costs imposed by each mode were internalised, public transport would be far more popular.

      I’m not sure if passengers loathe to transfer, and most would want at least part of the journey to be by train if that is possible, I would’ve thought. But transferring is a problem for children travelling alone. So we’d have to plan with that as a central design parameter: Transfers, information technology, passenger management systems and wayfinding could all contribute to a system where parents, children and operators alike are fine about children travelling alone.

      1. the bus companies and railways used to be fine with children travelling alone – I travelled numerous times from Hawkes Bay to Wellington and back alone in the 70s by Newman’s bus or on the “Endeavour” rail service.
        The differences between then and now? The train was a single journey, and any child alone would be seated near the train manager. The bus might have a transfer, but there was a depot in Palmerston North that had a large waiting room with a number of staff. along with a cafeteria – not like now where you’d be sitting alone ouside at poorly built “shelter”.

      2. If all costs imposed by each mode were internalised, public transport would be far more popular.

        I’m not sure I agree. Modal choice decisions are about much more than cost. If it is a choice between driving from Wellington to Auckland, and taking a train, at the minute driving would be the far more convenient option, especially when seen in terms of end-to-end journey time. And travellers really value convenience.

        Also, I don’t think internalising the costs would make overmuch difference either; e.g. higher fuel taxes, to reflect environmental concerns, might well have the effect of suppressing demand, rather than diverting it (the logic, in reverse, of generated as distinct from diverted traffic). OTOH supporting new inter-city coach services would almost certainly generate more traffic; it might even divert some from cars.

        1. One way to understand it is to realise that demand for public transport is currently suppressed. Have another read of “Regional Access” – there are plenty of people who are simply not provided with access because the driving mode is the only one on offer. That’s an abnormal situation, brought about by a long-term subsidy to the driving mode, via not requiring it to pay for the costs it imposes on current and future generations.

          Think not just the climate change consequences of fuel use (particularly from aviation), but the costs of unnecessarily wide roads to maintain, the poor land use effects, the public health and water quality impacts, the traffic trauma, the balance of payments as so much of NZ’s wealth is going overseas to oil companies and car manufacturers.

          The question isn’t whether demand would now be suppressed, it’s whether we can return sustainable and healthy access, which doesn’t put other people at risk, to our population.

          I believe we can, and I believe pricing mechanisms are simply a normal and healthy part of that process. Because of the historical bias in investment, more than pricing mechanisms will probably be required to balance the field.

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