As COVID-19 continues to spread both locally and internationally, on Saturday the Prime Minister introduced a new four-level alert system. Each new stage gets progressively stricter in what measures will be taken,

In announcing the system, the PM also announced we’ve moved to Level 2. One of the measures included in there is:

  • physical distancing on public transport (e.g. stay at least one metre away from other passengers and leave the seat next to you empty if you can)

In more detail it mentions

Changing how we get around

We are asking everyone to limit your movement around the country to help us help us track and contain any spread of COVID-19. This means cutting non-essential domestic travel.

On public transport, including domestic flights, keep as much space between you and others as possible. Try to stay at least one metre away from other passengers, and leave the seat next to you empty if you can. Where possible, sit in a window seat in a row by yourself.

The number of people using public transport has already noticeably dropped, particularly as many workplaces that can have already started getting people to work from home and I we’ll almost certainly that trend accelerate in the coming weeks as more follow, as well as other institutions like universities.

The reduction in usage will mean there are less passenger fares coming in to help pay for services but I think now the need now for more physical separation makes it even more important that Auckland Transport (and other regions) don’t slash PT services to save money. We’ll need those extra services to provide enough space for people.

In response to the growing need to combat COVID-19, last week AT announced a few measures they were introducing from this week and is aimed at keeping bus drivers safe. These were:

  • Buses will not accept cash fares
  • You can get a free HOP card from one of AT’s service centres.

Over the weekend they added another measure to the list, saying from Tuesday, passengers will be required to use the rear door for boarding and alighting.

What I find interesting about these measures is they’re all things that would benefit both passengers and bus operations even if we weren’t in this crisis – well for the boarding, allowing all door boarding.

Given they’re focused on keeping staff safe, I hope they’re also looking at changing how trains are operated with train managers. It’s surely not ideal now to have them walking up and down the isle of the train and operating the doors. Ideally we wouldn’t have train managers but if we are keeping them on trains then they should the same procedures as happens in most cities overseas. That means they’re in the drivers cab at the rear of the train and they signal to the driver that the doors are clear from there. This has the added advantage of closing all passenger doors at the same time thereby speeding up our horrendously slow dwell times a bit.

They should also have the driver open all doors on all services so passengers don’t need to push the button. This currently happens on peak services but often not on off-peak ones.

In addition to the changes above, AT are also recommending that people use auto top-up (or I guess top-up online) so that you don’t need to use the top-up machines.

For those in Wellington, here is Metlink’s information. Like AT they’re removing cash sales – although from trains too given that’s still a manual system. To encourage train users to switch to buying tickets using eftpos before their journey they’re also offering monthly passes half price however the note

“Ten-trip and single tickets will also continue to be sold but we will ask customers to cross off each trip themselves under an honesty policy.

I have seen some suggestions that PT should close completely. I’m sure that’s what will happen in some of the higher levels of the alert system but until we get to them it pays to remember that many people simply won’t be able to work from home and until those higher levels restrict working further, people still need to get to their jobs. Equally, many people might not be able to use other forms of transport.

Of course, for as many as can we should be encouraging people to use bikes. AT need to quickly implement a pop-up bike network, perhaps even going as far as Philadelphia has and closing some streets to encourage it.

I also wonder if they should be making walking easier by removing the need to push beg buttons at intersections. Ideally this would be by making the pedestrian crossing phase a permanent part of the traffic light cycle. And it is again another thing that should remain once this crisis is over.

For those of you that are working at home still

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49 comments

  1. Silver linings etc… let’s hope that they are able to learn from some of these temporary measures and make them permanent. Will be hard to measure impact on PT with patronage falling through the floor but hopefully there’s a way.

    1. Yes, crises usually bring out a giant mirror that we can all grimace and wince at together while it’s happening. But this crisis is just so broad (albeit unevenly distributed across society), that hopefully it motivates us to make positive permanent changes in lots of facets of our lives.

  2. PT is an essential service. It cannot be closed.
    If they don’t reduce service, then the reduced patronage will be protection enough. Everyone except a few fools are already washing their hands immediately after being out and about, so any risk of touching things on PT is minimised. There is always a risk when you leave your house, but the point isn’t to eliminate all risk, but to reduce it as much as possible.

      1. I think PT could get closed.
        But primarily for staffing reasons. They won’t be able to muster enough staff to keep it running and keep the buses cleaned.

        I saw a headline in the Com’post about how metlink Wellington is standing down all bus drivers over 70. It’s incredible enough to me that anyone over 70 is still allowed to be driving a bus (nor would need/want to). But really: They should be standing down all drivers over 50 and/or any over 30 who’re smokers.

        1. Public transport isn’t closed on Wednesday, it’s just being restricted to travel for essential purposes, including getting groceries.

          “Public transport will only be available for those working in essential services, for medical reasons, and to get to the supermarket.”

  3. If the Govt can afford to bail out AirNZ then they can 100% afford to keep PT services running as per normal over the coming weeks.

    1. There’s a lockdown!!!!

      We don’t need the level of PT that we had last week because we aren’t allowed to travel (with some exceptions).

      No travel to the office because the office is closed.

      LIST OF ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES TO REMAIN OPEN (from covid19.govt.nz):
      This list may evolve over time.

      ▪️Accommodation services for essential workers and people who need to be isolated/quarantined
      ▪️Customs New Zealand, Immigration New Zealand and the Ministry for Primary Industries
      ▪️Building and construction related to essential services, critical infrastructure, or immediately needed to maintain human health and safety at home/work
      ▪️Courts of New Zealand and tribunals
      ▪️Critical Crown entities (eg Electoral Commission)
      ▪️At level 3 only: Schools and educational facilities (e.g. ECE centres)
      ▪️Businesses involved in the supply, delivery, distribution and sale of food, beverage and other key consumer goods (but not takeaway shops)
      ▪️Banks, insurers and other financial institutions
      ▪️Hospitals, primary care clinics, pharmacies, medical laboratories, care facilities
      ▪️Ambulance services
      ▪️Mortuary services
      ▪️Any entity involved in COVID-19 response or that has civil defence/emergency management functions
      ▪️Key public services
      ▪️Packaging, production and processing of food and beverage products
      ▪️Food safety and verification, inspection or associated laboratory services, food safety and biosecurity functions
      ▪️Veterinary and animal health/welfare services
      ▪️Emergency services
      ▪️Security and intelligence services
      ▪️Justice system
      ▪️Public safety and national security roles
      ▪️Any entity (including research organisations) involved in COVID-19 response, hazard monitoring, resilience, diagnostics for essential services
      ▪️Welfare and social services, including NGOs, which meet immediate needs (further guidance will be provided)
      ▪️Transport services
      ▪️New Zealand Post and courier services
      ▪️Any small passenger service vehicle driver – including taxis and ride-share services
      ▪️Electricity, gas, water, waste, fuel, telecommunication services, internet providers and media

      These businesses will continue working, but will put in place alternative ways of working to keep employees safe, including shift-based working, staggered meal breaks, flexible leave arrangements and physical distancing.

      Non-essential businesses must now close. All bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries, playgrounds and any other place where the public congregate must close their face to face function.

      Over the next 48 hours as we move to Level 4, takeaway services must move to close their operations.

      Physical distancing means staff and the public stay 2 metres apart, hand hygiene and cleaning must be maintained. Keeping full details of guests, and keeping people away if they are sick is required.

      Essential businesses and those that support them will continue to provide the necessities of life for everyone in New Zealand. This means food, healthcare, energy, internet, waste collection and financial support will always be available. They must have health measures and contact tracing in place.

  4. It’s not just beg buttons that need to go. Architects need to get with the program to reduce disease spread in future. Door handles on public buildings should be history as well – automatic doors or button-automated opening doors are a vital part of not spreading disease (touch them with your elbow). Specify brass door handles where possible as bugs can’t survive as long on copper-based substrates.

    But one thing that we could do as soon as possible requires movement by EFTPOS NZ. They need to make PayWave terminals the same price as the older swipe/poke terminals. Dramatic reduction in surfaces touched when using PayWave – its so simple. Unaffordable in NZ because EFTPOS are greedy. Easily rectifiable.

    1. +1

      Also blower type hand dryers should be banned from toilet facilities. Dyson et al market these as being hygienic but they in fact blow the microbes on each users hands all over the room.

      1. Beg buttons are for car drivers, so the pesky pedestrian cycle can be skipped completely if there are no pedestrians.

        The sounds are for the visually impaired and the little red and green people are for the deaf, and the rest of us.

      2. Ari – ummm, no, you’re completely wrong there.

        Crossings can still make buzzing sounds and flashing icons without you having to ask. It’s called automatic phase and it is what most of the world has as standard. Visually impaired and deaf patrons actually benefit from this, as they don’t need to try and find the button to ask for a crossing, they can just wait, knowing that the sequence will automatically give them the crossing asap.

        The sole reason that beg buttons are there are so that if no one has asked for a crossing, then the next phase of cars can go quicker.

      3. hahahaha, completely wrong aye? So you were involved in the design of these devices and their purpose? Go ask the Blind Foundation and Deaf Society and get back to me.

        You do realise you get old people who cant see well and cant hear well simultaneously? Some old people can’t even bend their head up to see the pedestrian lantern. The push buttons vibrate to help these people know when the crossing has started.

        Go ask someone living in the city with those buzzers going off all night long during a hot summer how they feel about having constant crossings running with no pedestrians when they need the windows open for fresh air.

        How does a blind person know which crossing is running? Or how can they start crossing at the right angle to get across the road if they don’t have a reference point to start crossing from? Not all crossings are straight and not all intersections have tactile pavers and those things arent installed correctly half the time. Not ideal, just reality. Multiple points of reference are better.

        What you say is a world-wide standard is actually just an old inefficient way of doing things that is slow to catch up. It is becoming less common as technology is updated. Next you’ll be telling me we should get rid of tv on demand and go back to old tv scheduling. Or that we should scrap flexible work hours and go back to rigid 9-5 for all businesses. Just because some other countries are stuck in the 1960’s doesnt mean we should be.

        Automatic pedestrian phases make sense when you have a constant flow of pedestrians. This is already done all through the city centre. Outside of that situation you just increase delay for everyone else such as cyclists and people on buses and other pedestrians. It’s just stupid.

        Typical commentators speaking from their point of view while ignoring minorities. Not suprising.

        1. I’m well aware of the fact they vibrate, that of course doesn’t require it to have a button.

          As a kid in Dunedin I remember there was a different sound for each direction, I guess that has been superceeded by having them vibrate.

          If beg buttons are really vital it would be good to have extra buttons maybe 30m back from the intersection so peds can push it as they approach.

          If I end up jaywalking because I have just missed my cycle and the next is 2 mins away I usually push the button anyway so the next person walking to my local train station can benefit from it.

        2. So perfectly OK to make traffic, including bikes and buses, wait to say turn left when noone is there to cross. But of course red light rules wouldn’t apply to you because you are so special…. and you wonder why people then run the red light!

        3. Pedestrians are allowed to cross if there is no red person, so I’m definitely not thinking of myself by pressing the button, I’m thinking of the next pedestrian.

          No buses turn left at this particular intersection and if I had my way cyclists would be able to treat a red light as a stop sign.

          I actually don’t have a problem with beg buttons, my main issue is with how long the gap is between pedestrian phases while crossing a side street. Higher priority is given to rat running cars than pedestrians approaching a train station.

  5. Even if I had no other travel choices I wouldn’t get on public transport at this time. I would stop travelling rather than ride on a public bus. You may as well lick public door handles as touch hard surfaces that are touched by thousands of people every day.
    If I were in charge I would close the bus system down and convert all bus lanes to bike lanes and give bikes the left hand lane of each clip on on the harbour bridge until this thing is either stamped out completely or has burnt it self out.

    1. The harbour bridge idea is a winner.

      Yes to the bike lanes, but there’s much more space wasted on general traffic lanes that should be used before taking the bus lanes, most of which can already be used by cyclists.

      Most useful would be measures to keep the cyclists safe throughout the network. 30 km/hr on local roads everywhere in Auckland would get more people onto bikes.

      And some strong direction to bus drivers about safe driving would go a long way. With less traffic, they are getting ahead of their timetables, so they need to be directed to go more slowly, which will help to keep other traffic speeds lower and reduce DSI, keeping injured people out of hospital.

      Incredible that the buses are still running red lights!! We need some leadership on this.

      Some people are reliant on public transport to keep their jobs and to reach their family members in self isolation so they deliver essential items. Your comments – based on your options – don’t really help people in less fortunate circumstances.

      1. This is not intended as a lecture it is intended as me setting out my reasons for thinking public transport should be closed immediately. If I am wrong people can tell me and I will change my views.
        The NZ response to COVID-19 is contact tracking. It exploits the weak point of the virus and turns its strength into a liability. The virus lives in a new host for a while then it spreads and then the host feels unwell. Almost everyone who has spread it didn’t know they they had it and by the time the test result arrives it is to late to stop them spreading it to others. Contact tracking makes use of the growth period in the new host to find the next lot and stop them spreading it. NZ has an even chance of getting rid of it completely now as it is working so well. But contact tracking requires that you can trace the people you had contact with. Public transport puts random people together. I think it should be closed. Essential travel should be by bike car or taxi / uber as you can trace those drivers and they can trace their other passengers. Most people should be at home and essential workers should be provided with one of the alternative modes.

        1. Can’t help feeling you are right. Closing down all PT would be a disastrous outcome for many people but then we are in the midst of a disaster.
          Even the average cafe has got more space, distance than a bus or train.
          Although could we keep PT going for essential workers? But I’m not sure how that would work.
          I know a few people who work at Auckland hospital who rely on PT to get there. I used to work at the hospital and didn’t have a car but then I could walk there.
          It’s all very difficult – I don’t envy the people who have to make these decisions.

        2. Yep, that’s all fair enough Miffy. But it just reinforces that the virus is utterly brutal on the elderly, the less healthy and the less wealthy, even if they don’t get infected. It’s very boo.

        3. Is this a short term thing or do we now have a virus that will mutate as quickly as all the other coronaviruses do? Is this a once-in-a-fifteen-year crisis or will be seeing a crisis of one sort or another – infrastructure, extreme weather, geopolitical, supply chain – every few years now? We don’t know but we do have the future scenarios for climate changed mapped out, and from those we can be pretty certain that there’s no normal to return to.

          While it’s important to cope with the immediate problems facing us we also have to establish systems for the long haul. Public transport is critical to those long term solutions. We need systems that are robust to keep it going as continuously through the likely coming crises as we can.

          Contact tracking is easy with registered HOP cards. Rather than cancel PT, perhaps we should mandate that all users have a registered HOP card during a crisis? People could then choose PT or anonymity.

          On the other hand, contact tracking in supermarkets, shops, public places, nightclubs, cinemas, organisations is far more difficult. And while I’m sure you’d be happy for many of those things to close, the point here is that keeping the whole of society at level 4 indefinitely creates many other problems with huge knock-on social and health effects. It cannot be done lightly; this must be managed.

        4. With PT now all persons using it have to have a card to get on and off , so at least 75% plus have registered their card online and those that have been in contact should be easier to trace which is a lot better than being in the street or any stores .

        5. I think we are probably only 4 weeks from being rid of the virus but only if we took strong steps. The problem is we would then join a few other countries that don’t have it and we would have to stop travel from every other place. The government probably isn’t ready to tell the tourism industry they can only have visitors from China and Taiwan. Maybe they want their airline to be worth something.
          But if we miss this one-off chance we will probably regret it dearly.

        6. Keep PT going to provide the essential service but they should reduce services to allow them to cleaned between each service. This may not be the bus driver’s job. What is the point of running them empty. I saw 3 outer link buses in a row in middle of day yesterday with no passengers – OK it was a Sunday but still unnecessary.
          If AT do stop or heavily reduce PT then they need to temporarily stop all restrictions on parking in/near the city. With the reduced traffic this wont be an issue.

        7. So will the Hamilton to Auckland commuter train service even bother starting now? Should it be delayed 3, 6 months or longer?

        8. @Paul Ress:
          I think the Hamilton-Auckland commuter should be delayed until the 3rd main is completed and it can get people closer to the Auckland CBD.

        9. Paul Rees , KR Have cancelled all their long distant services until further notice and that includes passengers on their ferries , but still running those for more freight .

        10. Stu, frequency at peak can be dropped. Off peak, if it is dropped any further, the network doesn’t work. This allows a frequency that means extra cleaning is possible both at peak and off peak.

        11. miffy, imagine if we had a tourism industry focused on domestic tourists instead of high carbon emitting international ones.

          The government wouldn’t have felt any pressure from the industry to keep the borders open, so the virus would be far more under control.

          Meaning there wouldn’t be a reason to suggest NZers don’t travel within NZ, and the tourism industry would be fine.

        12. Heidi I watched the PM announce the move to defcon 3 then 4. This is going to be hard but they are doing the right thing and if they didn’t we would all be wondering in 6 months why they didn’t.
          I agree with you about tourism. The industry was based on long distance air travel but it also had a lot of other disadvantages.
          This is a chance to make a real difference to emissions in the long run and it might also fix the housing crisis. Hundreds of houses used for Airbnb are now coming back into the rental market.
          The people involved in tourism will suffer but in my view the sooner they move into other industries the better. We could end up with more productive industries, reduced emissions, more housing available and fewer crapping freedom campers.
          The key is signalling to people a need to get out of tourism ventures and put that capital into other things.
          But for now they need to be quarantining NZers returning from overseas, they are now the major health risk. Why not use the empty hotels and put a guard in the foyer for enforced 2 week stays?

        13. Reducing some of the frequency of the train services should be considered to perhaps allow them to be cleaned after every run.

          Also cut back the timetable in the evening to have services finish at 9pm. There are very few people on the late services at the best of times and in the past few days many of the late and last trains have been empty.

          The Pukekohe trains generally have no one on them after 9pm. AT could reduce the wear and tear on the ADLs which are being run down, by not running them needlessly so late into the night when no one is using them. Just have an AT Local Rideshare taxi van on call if and when there is anyone needing to travel between Papakura and Pukekohe after 9pm.

    2. “You may as well lick public door handles as touch hard surfaces that are touched by thousands of people every day.”
      What a colourful career this “miffy” must’ve had to be in any position to make such hyperbolic calls.

      “If I were in charge I would close the bus system down and…”
      Well you aren’t.

      1. Great call there Daniel. While you were posting this the people who are in charge decided to close it down for all except essential travel. Thank goodness they are in charge and not you.

  6. Very disappointed with you Matt taking advantage of a national crisis to push a personal agenda, namely to remove Train Managers off the trains. Putting a large number of people out of work when it is not needed as the country heads into a recession, is not smart and seriously brings into question the morals and ethics of anyone who would want this.

    The train dwell times are not because of Train Managers, they are primarily because of the slow computer software and ETCS on the EMUs which means it takes longer for the Driver to be able to release the doors and to be able to move the train again after the Train Manager has given the right of way signal to the Driver.

    Also the amount of time it takes for the steps to eject and retract on middle trailer (AMT) carriage and the time it takes for people to push the button to open the door when the Driver doesn’t open all the door and just gives the release. AT wanted this system to reduce wear and tear on the doors and to help maintain the air conditioning temperature inside the train. The only time when Drivers don’t open the doors now is at night when it is dark.

    These are the reasons the dwell times are longer than the previous SA and DMU diesel fleet.

    The ETCS, which AT wanted, is the reason train timetables with the EMUs are still no faster than the diesel fleet, despite the EMUs being much faster to pick up speed than the diesel trains. The SA trains were probably the best trains Auckland had in terms of overall speed, minimum dwell times, smoothness of ride, seat comfort and capacity.

    The Train Managers are there on every train for the safety and wellbeing of all people on the train. By walking up and down the trains they can also observe if there is anyone who is obviously sick who might be coughing and sneezing all over everything around them, and can make arrangements to have the train to be cleaned, such as they already do now if someone vomits or soils the train – and this happens fairly often (just think about all those stains you see on the seats and carpets).

    Have you actually ever met or corresponded with the RMTU directly to hear these issues directly from them, to provide balanced and informed information before pushing AT cost cutting agenda?

    Be weary of what AT says. They recently said that all frontline staff have been provided with hand sanitisers. They have not. They also claim the trains are getting extra cleaning and sanitising. No one has seen this being done and going by the visual state and smell of the trains, there appears to be nothing different from usual.

      1. Air NZ are deliberately using a orangey-brown disinfectant on their aircraft, smearing it over the tray-tables so that you can see that it has been done. Ironically it makes them look dirtier, but apparently it is harsh on germs. Interesting tactic.

    1. 1. I’ve long said we shouldn’t have train managers so this is consistent with that.
      2. I do say that if they can’t be removed, they should be in the rear cab, like most cities overseas do. Now more than ever it is inappropriate for them to be walking the train.
      3. There are a lot of things that contribute to dwell times and that includes the processes TMs use because they close all but the local door, check the other doors are clear then close their own. Checking doors are clear and providing clearance from the rear cab would save that separate door closing. Even if there weren’t issues with time the software takes we should be doing this.
      4. Train managers provide no safety and wellbeing, particularly on 6-car trains when they can be in the other unit. I’ve seen them walk away from even minor issues multiple times which has contributed to a worse experience for everyone else. Another example a few weeks ago, an old lady sitting next to me started hurling racist abuse at what appeared to be some French tourists, I spoke up against her comments and then others joined in. The TM came and threatened to throw off the people who objected to the language being used.

  7. Yes well about to be level 4 , so would expect PT to be pretty empty soon anyway especially around school times etc but needs to be kept on for those that need it.

    Seeing a 3 carriage run on the weekend would expect 6 would be better to maintained off peak to maximise that social spacing (would involve more cleaning etc of course).

    As talked about earlier we don’t want to cut off-peak travel (to save money) so much as peak when demand will now drop off considerably though need to carefully manage loading sizes with that.

    Agree beg buttons shouldn’t be needed to be pressed and this is a great time to cycle & trial emergency bike lanes.

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