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.