As I wrote at the beginning of the year, Auckland Transport has a weird obsession with subsidising taxis in Devonport. That seems to be continuing and instead of cutting the expensive and failing service, AT seem to be looking to remove the buses it ‘competes’ with.
Residents in Auckland’s Devonport will have to choose between traditional bus services, or a controversial publicly-funded ride share service which has been given one final three-month extension.
AT Local has been running for 18 months in a trial providing a home-to-ferry terminal, on-demand service for $2.50, with bookings through an app.
The trial has been extended twice, after AT’s board was unconvinced by the results of the first 12 months of the highly-subsidised service which has cost around $1.5 million so far.
The on-demand service has been extended until August, after being shut down during Covid-19 alert levels four and three, and resumed last week.
Auckland Transport said consultation with Devonport locals would begin soon, as it could not justify running both the subsidised ride share, and subsidised bus services, with both terminating at the ferry.
That AT are consulting the public to try and decide which service to keep shows there’s something seriously wrong inside the organisation. It feels like a last ditch effort to save a pet project that has missed its targets and can’t be justified by any measure other than “some customers like it”.
The trial was started at the end of November 2018, less than two months after the new bus network for the North Shore was launched. Although the basic structure of the bus network on the Devonport Peninsula remained largely the same, there were some changes and they never really any time for it to ‘bed in’ before AT Local launched. The current network and the area served by AT Local are shown in the map below.
When AT talk about replacing the buses, I assume they’re talking about the 806 and 807 as they’re the only two routes fully in the AT Local area. These two are probably the shortest bus routes in Auckland and while are separate services, they’re effectively run as one with a single bus. That bus leaves from the Devonport ferry terminal on the 806 route and heads to Stanley Point about 2.6km away. There it turns around and heads back to the wharf, all up taking 14 minutes. After it drops off passengers it then heads out on the 807 route for a round trip of just over 4km which is scheduled to take 10 minutes. After a short break, the process repeats with services running every half hour form the first loop at 6:30am with the last one starting at 7pm – they only run on weekdays.
If you’re on the route for them, how useful these feeder buses are would likely depend on just which ferry you catch but one of the reasons for highlighting how it operates is that it would appear to be quite simple/cheap to have both of these running every 15 minutes at peak times.
More important for this discussion though is how the routes perform.
For every route, AT have classified how much ridership they expect to get for every hour of service they operate. The table below shows how the Devonport peninsula routes have performed. As you can see, the 806 has performed as expected while the 807 has performed above expectations. So too has the 814 which also outperforms a number of frequent routes. Of note, AT aren’t counting December in this due to the significant NZ Bus industrial dispute that basically halved ridership for the month.
Metrics per service hour are important but but I’m sure you’ll also want to know about total boardings/usage. This is shown below, and for the 12 months to the end of February, the AT Local subsidised taxis carried just over 52k trips while the 806 and 807 combined have carried less, but not that much less at 42.3k
Clearly AT local became more popular over time although it also extends up to Belmont and so many of those could be to places that could also be served by 814. To make it a fairer comparison, we really could include some of the 540k trips that took place on the 814. Even if we say just 5% of them were to the Devonport wharf, that would suggest buses are doing a larger share of the transport task than those taxis are.
Previous research has also suggested that more than half of the users of the taxis previously walked (31%), bused (13%) or cycled (8%) – so with the service AT have undermined the city’s goals.
Of course the rides are one thing, we also need to consider the costs
The subsidised taxis have cost about $1.3 million so far and over the course of the trial there have been just under 57k trips. That works out at about $23 per trip to operate.
For those two buses I’ve estimated how much they cost to operate based on how many hours they run for (about 3,300 hours annually) multiplied by an average ‘per hour’ fee, and I’ve also compared how much AT pay to run all the buses on the peninsula – they’re let out all as a single contract. This suggests the 806 & 807 combined cost AT about $400k annually to operate or about $9 per boarding, nearly a third of what the taxis do.
We also need to consider that the subsidised taxis have only reached the level they have after significant advertising and continued discounting including giving away free rides
AT: Sorry, we don't have enough funding so we're cutting frequent bus services.
AT: Here, have some free rides and off peak fares on our Devonport rideshare! pic.twitter.com/EwHaDxzDMs
— geogoose (@geogoose) October 2, 2019
I wonder how much could be achieved with those buses if AT advertised them to the same extent?
Fare Integration coming
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things the prospect of these bus services being replaced by these taxis is that it breaks the promise of the PT network and what AT themselves, as well as predecessors spent decades fighting for. Currently you can catch any bus, train or ferry in the Auckland region using just your HOP card. Integrated ticketing and later fares has been one of the significant contributors to the massive growth in PT over the last decade. But if with just the taxi’s people would have to then download and sign up to another app. It’s like whoever is driving this within AT has no clue about how PT networks work.
Even worse is that bus/ferry integration is meant to get better, hopefully any day now, when AT launch ferry fare integration. This was meant to go live in April but has presumably been impacted by Covid-19. Fare integration makes using those buses free.
This will see single zone bus or train travel, at both the start and end of the ferry trip, included within the existing AT HOP ferry fare, effectively making single zone connecting AT Metro bus or train trips free. This will be provided for Bayswater, Beach Haven, Birkenhead, Gulf Harbour, Half Moon Bay, Hobsonville, Pine Harbour and West Harbour ferry services contracted by AT. In addition, Fullers360 has confirmed simpler fares will also be provided on its Devonport and Waiheke ferries when passengers use their HOP card.
Why are AT rushing to kill the bus service when they’re due to launch such a significant and positive change?
The world over rideshare services like this have failed and Devonport doesn’t look to be any different. If AT had of spent that money on boosting those local buses I wonder what that would have achieved. Imagine too if they had done something about the free parking at the wharf. It’s crazy that you have to pay for a bus or taxi but that it’s free to park your car at the ferry terminal all day.
Perhaps AT should trial temporarily removing AT Local, introducing ferry fare integration, boosting the bus services (use the taxi vans on a fixed route if that’s easier), and charging for parking. Only after they’ve given this a fair trial should they have this conversation.
Oh, and if they do decide to keep the taxi’s based on locals wishes, there should surely be a targeted rate imposed to pay for them.