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.

Performance

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.

Costs

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.

Advertising

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

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.

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55 comments

  1. “It’s like whoever is driving this within AT has no clue about how PT networks work.”

    I’m sorry but does anyone in AT know how PT networks work?

    1. Yes the public transport team know very well, they’re world leaders actually from the experience of delivering the new network.

      Unfortunately though, there are just a handful of people in a very large, traffic focused organisation with an absentee board and a caretaker CEO.

  2. Is this what AT staff do all day? Does the head of the public transport division not know what the staff are wasting their time and our money on?

  3. When will AT ask me whether I want a door to door service that’s subsidized at $27 per trip? Or do I not count because I don’t live in Devonport?

  4. From the AT Local page on AT’s website:

    “you’ll find hand sanitizer provided on board.” – not available on the buses. It’s just a Devonport subsidised taxi privilege.

    “Priority will be given to trips to and from the ferry terminals.”
    “Trips to or from the three local ferry terminals are currently discounted to $2.50 per person and trips to or from all other locations in the rideshare zone cost $5.00 per person.” – So although it was originally touted as something “to try to boost ferry ridership” it’s trying to catch any business it can.

    “Just download the AT Local app” – And AT intends to extend this mad trial to other areas, including poorer ones. Yet they’re ignoring the fact that some people don’t want to have smart phones, some can’t afford to have or run smart phones, and anyone can break/lose/forget to take their smart phone.

    But all good, I guess, since every mini-me has a phone.

  5. Can I have a say in the consultation because some of my rates money is being squandered in Devonport? If its such a great idea have whether a question regarding a targeted rate as part of the consultation process.

  6. Different teams and different budgets. Silly excuse but that will be the reason why one is being promoted and one is being cut/reduced.

    That $10 free + $10 for each referral promotion is shocking.
    HOP cards should be promoted in a similar way, would achieve a greater end result.

    1. I don’t know James. Todd Niall reported:

      “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 implies someone is looking at both services and wanting a decision about continuing with one or the other, not that one is being promoted and one is being cut/reduced in a passive outcome of different teams and budgets.

  7. Wow, plenty of interest here in reducing public transport for people in Devonport, not so much in improving it. How about looking at the real problems that exist here:

    i. still no integrated fares unbelievably

    ii lack of fare equality with the rest of Auckland with ferry fares still not subsidised (other modes subsidised at least 50%).

    iii. still no frequent services of any type. The nearest frequent service is about 7km away; for most people on the isthmus a frequent service is no more than a 10 minute away.

    I have a suspicion that some of the people commenting above are enjoying all three of the benefits above, yet are happy to see services further reduced to those enduring poor public transport choice. Please, don’t be that person.

    1. Do you like AT Local at the expense of the buses, David?

      Matt’s suggested: “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.”

      If Todd Niall’s correct, and AT is intending to launch consultation to allow the locals decide between AT Local and the bus services, which one would you support? If it’s to keep AT Local, how does that improve PT?

      1. No, just proper integrated fares like everyone else has, plus a frequent bus service up Lake Road towards Takapuna and the busway. Having such infrequent buses is the reason the road is so congested, polluting and dangerous.

      2. No, just proper integrated fares like everyone else has, plus a frequent bus service up Lake Road towards Takapuna and the busway.

        Having such infrequent buses is the reason the road is so congested, polluting and dangerous. With the state of the climate and Vision Zero it is absurd that we still have arterial roads without frequent public transport.

        1. Agree the Lake Road bus should be frequent, although thats the same for a lot of local arterial bus routes across Auckland. They should be frequent but aren’t.

          I’m not sure I support your vocal ‘poor me’ attitude about integrated fares. Sure that would be ideal, but to be fair you already have the same proper integrated fares like everyone else, integrated bus, busway and rail. The difference is you also have three ferries serving your neighborhood that everyone else doesn’t get. You already have the same, but more.

          Or to put it another way, I only have one basic bus in my neighbourhood, frequent at peak and half hourly otherwise. I have to transfer at Takapuna to get anywhere useful. If I also had a an additional ferry option and an on-demand trial I certainly wouldn’t be complaining the amount you do.

    2. This problem has spelled out exactly the real problem. Some techbro at AT decided to spend $1.3m on a subsidised competitor for uber, rather than doing the basics of a frequent bus and integrated fares.

      1. I doubt think the purpose is to be a competitor to Uber, the purpose is to get people who don’t live within walking distance of frequent PT to be able to get to the closest frequent PT in a timely way. Yes it may have attributes similar to Uber, just like public buses have attributes similar to Intercity.

        1. “the purpose is to get people who don’t live within walking distance of frequent PT to be able to get to the closest frequent PT in a timely way”

          That sounds a lot like a task for taxis such as Uber.

        2. John D you are probably right, but remember it is a trial. I imagine one end of every journey should be a frequent PT station and the fare for the ride should include that PT cost too to prevent people using it as a taxi.
          If AT do indeed consider it a taxi and not a PT range extender then they have rocks in their head.
          Sailor boy taxis and Uber cost proper money not fake subsidised money. If it is cheaper to take the car then people will.

    3. There should be a frequent service between Devonport and Takapuna but if AT are going to keep throwing money at a service that competes with Uber it is going to be hard to find the finds to support a frequent bus.

      If you catch a core service on the isthmus you are definitely not being subsidised by 50 %, routes like the 25 and 27 go close to recovering all of their running costs. If you catch the 856 from Browns Bay to Albany there is probably a subsidy of 80 to 90 %.

      1. Yeah the 814 should be upgraded to the 81. It already runs frequently at peak times so just needs better off-peak and weekend services. As it is it already carries more people than the 20, 32, 35 and 68 frequent routes

    4. iii. still no frequent services of any type. The nearest frequent service is about 7km away; for most people on the isthmus a frequent service is no more than a 10 minute away.

      Funny, the ferries on Devonport’s doorstep run later than the only bus service in the part of Auckland I used to live in. And I know it sounds outlandish, but they didn’t have a heavily subsidised ride-sharing program at all. Absolute savages.

  8. I’m actually with AT on this. I think the days of local buses are numbered. They either run almost empty at a slightly useful frequency or run almost empty at a completely useless frequency. And the frequent useful routes are effectively subsidising the crap out of them. For anyone that doesn’t live near the frequent routes, these local buses add so much time to their journey that the car makes more sense, hence why they are empty.
    If AT can get more people to use the frequent routes by providing more timely and direct access to them then it seems logical.
    I think the bad decision they made was choosing Devonport for the trial, partly because its Devonport and partly because the local buses do work OK there.

    1. I can’t see AT Local bringing significant numbers to frequent routes. It is basically an on-demand shuttle, if it is popular enough to bring decent numbers it wont be a quick trip as it will have to meander around and pick everyone up. It offers a convenient trip to the ferry in Devonport simply because so few people use it you can rely on it being available.

      1. Just look at the boardings per service hour above and this becomes painfully obvious. Even the basic-as 806/807 routes achieve 10 to 20 boardings per vehicle hour.

        How is a six seater van supposed to achieve anything close to 10 to 20 pick ups and drop offs each hour? Just to come close to those local buses each van would have to make three circuits per hour, every hour of the day, being full to capacity each time. It would need to be averaging one pick up or drop off every 90 seconds to do that.

        It simply not possible, the vehicles are too small and the trips too dispersed.

        1. A bus is probably also more reliable, even if it is infrequent. The shuttle might be available at 7:30 one day and take me straight to the bus, the next day it might be available at 7:40 and go via Jane’s house and Bob’s house to pick them up.

          I use a number of options to get to the airport – drive, taxi or train/bus, but one I always avoid is the shuttle as I have no idea what I’m in for.

        2. Surely the cost is much lower than a bus though, it may be two shuttles for the cost of one bus.

        3. If I had the option of a 15 minute walk to the local bus with an average wait of 20 minutes (because it has no priority as well as the odd time where it comes early and the next one isn’t for 60 minutes), then a slow trip with the bus zig zagging around a silly route, compared to a service picking me up at my door and taking me there in a few minutes, there wouldn’t be many times I would choose the former.

        4. Not actually, over half the cost of running a bus is the staffing wages. About a quarter is the cost/depreciation of the vehicle and a quarter on fuel and maintenance.

          With a van, your driver wages will be the same per vehicle, while your vehicle and fuel costs will be lower, but not as much as you might think. Buses are expensive, but they last for fifteen years or so, about a million kms. I doubt those van things will still be trucking along with even a quarter of that, so they’d need replacing every three or four years instead.

          Of course the difference comes with capacity, a small bus can scale up from one passenger to about 50 passengers with the same driver, same vehicle cost and almost the same fuel cost. A van can only scale by adding extra vehicles and drivers, it would take ten of them to do the work of one small bus at peak times.

          This is basic transport planning, shame the clever clogs at AT didn’t ask their own transport people for advice before committing to this thing.

        5. Jimbo – in that scenario I’d probably just take the car but yes I’d take the shuttle over the bus. However, I think it would be a very rare scenario where someone is 15 mins walk from a feeder bus route that runs only hourly but close enough to a frequent route that AT could run an effective shuttle service.

          It’s such a small and dispersed market I don’t think it’s worth AT even wasting money chasing.

        6. JohnD if half the cost is the driver’s wages then a bus only costs about $40 an hour to run. Makes you wonder why any subsidy is needed at all. However Matt estimates 3,300 bus hours a year cost $400k which is $121 an hour.
          As for the direct service we know Uber can do it for $6.50 (and that is an unshared journey). This is just a trial but I can’t see any reason it couldn’t be outsourced.

        7. If Uber can run run a service for $6.5 an hour then it’s drivers are certainly not being paid properly.
          Even if that’s just one run, how many runs can they do, perhaps 6 an hour if you’re really lucky but normally fewer as it will be timed with ferry arrivals/departures. If you’ve got a full ferry arriving and lots want to use the service, that’s a lot more drivers and vehicles you need.

          For clarification on the buses, in an hour they’re doing 2 runs on two routes, so four runs in total. That cost also includes the amortised cost of the vehicle. Uber drivers need to provide their own vehicle.

        8. Matt yes that $6.50 is the minimum cost of an Uber per trip (and I imagine all trips within Devonport would be the minimum). That is the total cost including labour, car, petrol, etc. It also includes GST (not sure if those PT costs do) and the cost of payment (CC fees, non payments, etc).
          As for buses I was just debating whether labour is in fact half the cost; does it really only cost $40 – $50 an hour to run a bus (twice the hourly cost of labour)? My guess is that the inefficient nature of running buses makes up a big part of the labour costs. Making trips to and from depots, waiting around for the next route, endless breaks, union meetings, etc.

        9. “If Uber can run run a service for $6.5 an hour then it’s drivers are certainly not being paid properly.”

          Uber works like a payday load scheme for its drivers. It costs them more money to drive people around than they earn when you take account of wear and tear. But they get the money up front and suffer the monetised costs later.

        10. Staff costs is more than just the hourly wage they pay the driver. You need to factor in all the costs to the business of providing staff. Including not just their normal pay but also paying sick leave, annual leave, statutory holidays, breaks, recruitment, training, uniforms, employers ACC contributions, depot facilities for staff, etc. Then once you have added all that up you divide it by the actual work hours delivered (buses in service) my guess is the true staff costs per operating hour are likely to be at least double the hourly rate the drivers earn.

          There is also potentially some grey areas in those cost splits anyway like whether cleaners are treated as a staff costs or a bus maintenance cost.

        11. To add to this IIRC, I thought Uber from a global perspective isn’t really making a profit yet? They probably are also subsiding their drivers trying to get an increasing larger market. A bit like The software company Zero.

          Good points regarding scaling up issues, the reliability would really suffer.

          I thought also That roughly $20 hr driver cost was an actual accounting figure including all the non driving factors.

          Disclaimer: This comment all done on the fly without Googling anything.

        12. Elbear I agree but I also think a lot of those extra costs are more associated with buses than a van service. So even if the van needed 5x the driving hours that doesn’t imply it will be 5x the total labour hours.

        13. Grant Uber do make a loss in the US but I have talked to several drivers here who say they take 30% (even more at peak). Surely they can’t make a loss on that, they would have very little cost here.

        14. Thank you Elbear, yes the staffing costs per in-service hour are approximately double the drivers hourly wage. My estimate is that it costs an average of $80 ish an hour to run a bus in Auckland, all inclusive. But that’s average overall. An extra peak time bus doing only one or two runs a day could amount to two or three times that, while an extra run in the middle of the day using an existing bus and a driver on a split shift might be a fair bit less.

          For those of you comparing to Uber, they can’t run a service at all. They lost five billion dollars in the last quarter. They whole thing is a scam continually propped up by share issues paying for operations out of investor capital.

        15. Thanks for that. Yes thought later couldn’t possibly be ~$20/hr as that’s near minimum wage anyway.

          I looked it up after commenting, and yes Uber still makes a loss especially didn’t help the COVID-19 crisis, but that was slightly off-set by their Uber Eats picking up esp with in house restaurant restrictions helping with that.

          Zero had finally made it’s first 6 monthly profit back last year it seems.

        16. lol – “Xero” not “Zero”.

          No wonder my Googling had trouble finding anything, yet it still found something.

    1. Worth pointing out that AT already has six vehicles and six drivers on at peak for the trial (there are probably more like 12 to 15 actual drivers on the payroll to staff this thing for 16 hours a day each day) .

      By comparison the two feeder bus routes are run by one vehicle and one driver alternating.

  9. A simple reorganisation of the bus routes would solve the coverage issues.

    Change 814 so it travels straight down Lake Rd – no dog leg to Narrow Neck. This provides coverage to the peninsula west of Lake Rd north of the golf course. it also removes the endless wait to turn right out of Old Lake Rd northbound.

    Change 807 so it travels from the Devonport ferry to the Bayswater ferry via Narrow Neck. This retains service from Cheltenham, Vauxhall and Narrow Neck to Takapuna albeit with a transfer at Belmont, but also adds a useful link for kids going to soccer training at Bayswater Reserve. If it was timed to meet the ferry at each end it would give people an alternate ferry option – catch the Devonport or Bayswater ferry.

    The other issue with the 814 is poor reliability and incredibly slow speeds. A straighter route would help but it desperately needs bus priority. Unfortunately, the recently released draft corridor management plan design only allows for T3 lanes north of TGS and 50m of bus lane south of the Belmont shops.

  10. Oh poor me, I live in Devonport (not), with some of the most expensive real estate in Auckland, beautiful beaches within walking distance, fabulous views, wonderful cafes, restaurants and shops, a lovely village, and I desperately need my transport cost subsidised; yeah right, get real. The ferry cost is nothing compared to the benefits, and what is wrong with catching a bus anyway?

    1. I know it’s fun to dump on Devonport but the suburb is changing. Thousands of new homes are being built in ex Navy land owned by Ngati Whatua. This new density needs PT to work.

    2. What about people travelling to Devonport to enjoy the beautiful beaches etc etc. or the people travelling to Devonport for work eg Navy or the wonderful cafes ir to service the bourgeoisie. Should bus fares vary based on where you board or alight?

  11. Perhaps if a map of where AT managers live on the shore were produced, the subsidized limo taxi would finally make some sense?

  12. The AT Metro Local Rideshare service is being trialed in the wrong area. This sort of service would be much more appropriate and better used in Pukekohe instead of having large buses running empty on fixed routes, which has been the case since they were started in Pukekohe when the New Network was launched. Pukekohe doesn’t have the population density or traffic congestion issues that other urban areas of Auckland have, so the buses which run along long meandering routes are not well used.

    A lot of people in Pukekohe do however use the train service for commuting. The Rideshare service would be a better PT option within Pukekohe and surrounding villages, as it would provide a more attractive service taking you direct from your house to the station, rather than having to walk from your house down to the nearest road that the bus runs along, exposed to the weather standing in the rain at a bus stop with no seat or shelter.

    1. It will only provide a direct service from your house to the train station if it is used a small number of people, otherwise it will end up going on a meandering trip to pick everyone up.

      If it is being used by only a small number of people you have to question why AT would spend any money on it.

  13. that’s honestly disgusting. but it’s AT. That organisation needs to be completely rebuild. Otherwise there is no hope. I also had dealings with them. It’s a highly corrupt organisation. They do not care about improving anything. They care about LOOKING like they’re doing something. If you happen to have quite rich/influential neighbour you might at least get some safety improvement in your area done. Otherwise sorry but we are all …

  14. I think a lot of people forgot that AT have to run to a budget and that their contractors are profit orientated.
    There is no benefit in running big diesel busses on routes with just a handful of passengers. People would rightly complain about the GHG costs per person.
    I am sure AT and it’s contract provider monitor demand and if there are constantly more passengers than seats, they would run bigger vehicles.
    If it’s a case of providing the solution first, ie: running bigger buses and that will attract passengers, then everyone that is complaining is missing an opportunity. Buy a buss and bid on the route at the next tender.
    Complaining is easy when you don’t have skin in the game.

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