As you will have undoubtedly seen by now, the current Level 3 lockdown in Auckland has been extended till Sunday and then Auckland will move to Level 2 from Monday – like the rest of the country.

Level 2 of course means that more businesses and activities can take place, though there are still conditions around distancing and the size of gatherings allowed. More activity means more of a return to normalcy and more travel but this time one difference in Level 2 is that the government have mandated that masks must be worn on public transport. This requirement has come after it appears now two people contracted COVID while sharing a bus with someone who was infectious.

A fateful bus trip

It has emerged that there may have been a vicious irony at play with that bus trip. The reporting so far has suggested the trip took place on the morning of the day the city went into lockdown and that bus took 2.5 hours to move just 750 metres.

The trip in question: the 22N Service from Symonds Street Overbridge (Stop 7162) to New North Road (8200). The date: Wednesday 12 August, the day Auckland moved into Alert Level Three. The time: between 10:30am and 1:04pm.

According to Auckland Regional Public Health, the trip took two and a half hours. The reason for this was because “there was very bad traffic congestion that morning as people were heading home before the midday lockdown,” the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said.

They said the two people sat on the bus for an hour at Symonds Street.

It appears most likely that the congestion that caused this was actually the result of people queuing for the COVID testing centre that was initially set up on New North Rd.

With the lockdown only having been announced late the night before there was likely little that Auckland Transport could have done to address this by the time this bus trip took place. We need our buses to be able to operate without random events suddenly rendering them useless. So what it does highlight is how important it is for AT to get on and deliver what they now call their Connected Communities programme. This programme was set out in the latest Regional Public Transport Plan and is meant to be delivering ‘whole-of-route bus priority as well as safety and walking & cycling improvements to the corridors below (and some in the south). The issue, as I’ve pointed out before, is the programme is going nowhere fast. Note: I’m not suggesting that had AT delivered whole-of-route bus priority that those on the bus wouldn’t have contracted the virus.

Not everyone who was on the bus has been contacted yet highlighting why it is useful to register your HOP card.

Efforts are being made by ARPHS and Auckland Transport to follow-up on all the close contacts from the bus trip made on 12 August.

There were 16 passengers on the trip, plus the driver, of which only 11 were considered close contacts. Of these, seven have been contacted using their AT HOP cards. Of the remaining four, two were using unregistered HOP cards, and for two people, ARPHS only has their names only.

There are a few other bus trips now in question too.

Masks

Wearing masks on PT is a sensible step and it would be good if it led to a longer term culture of accepting mask use to provide benefits not just through this pandemic but at other times too. As always, wearing a mask isn’t just about you but also others on the bus too, including the driver – who is often forgotten about but that shouldn’t be.

However, during the announcement it did feel a bit like PT was being targeted a little bit and that the same requirement should apply to other aspects of society. And it seems I’m not alone with some experts saying the same thing too.

Mandatory mask wearing on public transport does not go far enough and should extend to any indoor place, a public health expert says.

New Zealanders should instead be following the lead of countries like Taiwan and wearing them at malls, universities, supermarkets, workplaces and bars and restaurants if they want to get a head of the virus, according to Otago University public health expert Professor Nick Wilson.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that from next Monday face mask wearing would be mandatory on all public transport including planes, buses, trains, ferries and Ubers. Children would be exempt.

I think it’s good that taxis and Ubers are included in the requirement however one issue that I’m sure is bound to crop up is where someone tries to board a bus without a mask – in fact there was a case last week where a user was denied access to the bus for not having mask. There would obviously be extra cost involved but I wonder if AT needs to consider having a stock of masks on PT that passengers without one can take and use. At train stations and ferry terminals these could be in the vending machines that AT have installed.

I do wonder if this incident and the mask requirement will have a longer term impact on the use of PT and general mode share. Only time will really tell that but what I can say so far is that as of the end of last week, the average daily PT use in Auckland was at about 11% of this time last year. That’s the same as what we saw during Level 3 in the first lockdown. During Level 2 in the last lockdown usage rose to around 45% of the same time last year and had reached about 81% of ‘normal’ in Level 1.

If there is to be long term mode shift as a result of these three cases then it feels even more important that AT get cracking on improvements to provide safe cycleways and walkways for people to use.

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44 comments

  1. Just make masks free on all buses and at stations (1 each). We want people to use PT and we want people to wear masks. Both have positive externalities and so both deserve a subsidy.

    1. You’d get people swiping the lot, just like what we saw with sanitiser the first time around.

      No, people need to carry their own masks. If they know they can get them for free then they will become reliant upon that source. Also, with their monetary value removed you’d wind up finding them littering both buses and stations.

      A culture change needs to be effected with this, and I don’t think hand-holding is the right way to do it. No mask, no ride. Lesson learned.

  2. I would like to think the government learnt a few transport lessons from this:

    1/ Make the announcement in the middle of the day so people can take their work home on their usual commute instead of creating traffic chaos the next day as they all drive to work to pick stuff up.
    2/ Covid testing stations aren’t immune from the transport problems associated with the space taken up by SOV’s – which is still larger than the space taken up by physically distanced people. I suspect there should’ve been a walk-in centre in the city centre.

    I won’t hold my breath though. I’ve been impressed with the government’s public health response to Covid itself but they have been transport-blind throughout.

    1. I think that they have been concentrating on the virus.

      Everything else has a “back seat” position, rightly so, IMHO

        1. I’m sure a bunch of vulnerable people (and others) didn’t go into work on the 12th, a deliberate delay in announcing would have meant some would have been on public transport. The infected worker at St Lukes Mall would have been working with the public most of the day rather than for 90 minutes.
          Surely the default is to announce as soon as practical, unless the delay will have clear net benefits.

    2. My guess is it was a queue from the testing centre at the White Cross place at St Lukes. It has parking for about 6 cars. They could have used the Epsom Show Grounds or Alexandra Park or Unitec or somewhere set up for parking.

      1. Hi Miffy,
        The queue was the Covid Test centre in New North Rd (between Dominion and Symonds St) Those queues hosed up NNRd, Sandringham Rd, Bond St, the top of Dominion and I have to assume the top of Mt Eden and Symonds St. That first day of lock down was intense around Eden Terrace. I think the White Cross in St Lukes has resumed normal medical treatments and does not do Covid testing.

        1. Yes, that’s right. https://twitter.com/PhilWarin/status/1293479423602114560

          From a reader, Sean:

          When we arrived around 8.10 am we were told they were no longer accepting walk ins. But then they allowed maybe 8 of us to join and then another 5 or 6 joined in the next 15 min… And that was with some terrible social distancing…

          Their recommendation was to go and borrow a car from friends and family…

          We were waiting in line with some students. And the only reason we were even allowed in the line was because an older white man threw a wobbly. The students had been denied twice… And were just lurking just in case.

          I feel like a major factor in not accepting more walk ins was due to safety. The end of the line was at the entrance to the Mt Eden CRL construction site.

          While we were waiting there was some serious traffic management issues for the CRL Mt Eden station.

          And on the way out we saw that the trucks for the site couldn’t get in as they were stuck in the Covid line on Khyber pass

          You should have seen these cars do a U turn on the street with huge dump trucks coming out of Mt Eden station. We were wincing with the close calls

          I would hate to know what the air pollution readings are all along that street.

        2. Imagine the taboo on no longer accepting drive-ins.

          Anyway it is baffling. Surely we can find large parking lots in Auckland, instead of queueing on public streets. And it is not like we have a lot of other large events going on right now that need those large parking lots.

    3. The announcements get made as soon as they’re required. With the most recent one, we found out about the outbreak five hours after the Prime Minister did. I would be furious if they began withholding information to make announcements more convenient.

      Potential transport problems are trivial in this situation.

  3. Its just the same as going to the supermarket or the few other places open under level 3. People need to have their own masks if they’re going out, home made or otherwise. Stupid that it wasn’t mandated previously.
    The real trigger for this is the drivers who weren’t wearing masks on the quarantine buses. Unbelievable they weren’t wearing them, I don’t know what the problem there was but I’d expect masks to be provided for them as its an item of work PPE. I hope they continue to wear them on the quarantine buses under level 1.
    As for the NN Rd bus, I’d see this route as primarily being a local feeder for the parallel rail service, which I probably would have walked to after about 10mins of sitting stationary and a quick google of traffic conditions.

  4. Saw this line ” bus took 2.5 hours to move just 750 metres” Which tell a story, there is a big need for a dedicated bus lane all around Auckland for the bus to move freely. This will encourage people to use bus more as they will know the traffic would not a big factor.

    1. You would have to really hate walking to stay on a bus for 2.5 hours to move 750 metres. I often bail from a bus if it gets stuck in traffic. I often get off the 380 and walk across from Mangere Bridge to Onehunga to avoid the crawl up to the lights at Neilson St. I doubt whether I have ever beaten the bus but I feel better for it.

      1. I remember one time taking 20 minutes to cross the Grafton Bridge. (towards Grafton, thanks to not having a bus lane on Park Road in that direction)

        And that is the outbound route for buses to almost the entire isthmus.

        1. I have out walked the Airport Park and Ride bus (Domestic to Verissimo Drive 2.2km) on 2 occasions both times pushing a trolley with at least two pieces of luggage. To me this shows that AIA have no interest in their customers once they have picked up their luggage.

  5. The AT hop cards should all be all personalized by default, and also Covid trace QR code should present behind every seat.

  6. What I don’t understand is why has it taken so long for them to inform the public about that specific bus trip? On the day that the person tested positive they should have gone out with that very important detail rather than risk other passengers then spreading the virus.

  7. Yes, I don’t understand what the obstacle to having a QR code unique to each bus would be. Chris Hipkins dismissed the idea the other day claiming that buses would be used on more than one route, so it wasn’t practical. But the operators and AT know exactly which bus is operating where and at what time – they have GPS tracking data for that. If a person is on a particular bus at a particular time that’s all the authorities need to know in order to trace them, either with the Covid app, or with HOP card data. Given not all HOP cards are registered, then using the Covid app seems to me like a no-brainer.

    There are around 1,500 buses operational on AT services, I believe. Adding a unique code for each individual bus would be the equivalent of increasing the number of places with QR codes by around 1%. In the overall scheme of things that’s nothing.

    1. FWIW the Wellington Transdev EMUs’ QR code only records the vehicle number (5252 last time I travelled), not the service. If it’s acceptable for them to manage things this way, why not Auckland buses?

  8. I am surprised by the comments here about not understanding the Government’s actions or inactions. Prior to Covid-19, this Government’s track record on getting things done was abysmal. This Government was incompetent prior to the crises, during the crises, and will be after the crises (whenever it ends).

    This Government cannot take its ideas and put them into practice – this was true for building houses, planting trees, building LR up Queen Street, and it is also true for testing frontline staff and effective contact tracing. Why is anyone surprised by this Government’s failures.

    1. If we had a National-led government, the pandemic response would still be carried out by exactly the same group of public servants. You would still have exactly the same issues with testing frontline staff and with the effectiveness of contact tracing.
      Of course, the current crop of one-eyed trolls would overlook the problems then – probably because they were too busy whinging about failure to deliver on rural motorway projects.

      1. I am not a one-eye troll. Many of the transport policies that the current Government wanted to do I support (after all they got most of their ideas from this site). They are not up to for whatever reason and overlooking the problems does not actually help us.

        It is not National vs. Labour on this – if Helen Clark was running the show I think we would get a very different result than the current PM’s fumbling.

        1. I agree the current government overpromised and underdelivered but their only serious failure was the overpromising part. Many of the projects they promised couldn’t be delivered within one parliamentary term. Look at the Hamilton to Auckland rail service; that requires very little new infrastructure but will only get going just after this election.

          On the other hand they have actually achieved a lot of incremental improvements with legislative and policy tools. Things like the Zero Carbon Act and various policy statements. They aren’t a big physical thing you can point to but they’re there and will make a big difference over time.

        2. I think all governments would have struggled with the Covid situation. The reality is bureaucrats designing systems and giving advice on something that simply hasn’t happened in NZ before.

          Politicians are making decisions based on incomplete information and educated guesses, I think they have done pretty well all things considered. The Clark and Key governments would probably have also done reasonably well.

  9. We’re a long way off having any reliable data on exactly how every transmission of the virus has occurred, and to which ethnic groups (the data will probably slowly percolate out over coming months or even years), but we do seem to have gained some common knowledge points that have an effect on all this. The virus is primarily airborne, mostly from direct breathing/sneezing/coughing, and I’ve seen nothing so far to indicate that surfaces have infected anyone. A recent case involving someone getting infected in a lift – more likely have been the air in the lift, rather than touching a button in the lift. Similarly in the bus – probably not likely to have been a hand touching a button or a pole, but simply breathing in the virus with the air inside the bus.

    We need to start changing our attitude towards enclosed spaces (not just in NZ, but worldwide). Mask wearing is an obvious first step, but there are other things we can do. Opening windows on buses would help – extract air instead of supplying recirculated air. Aircon on lifts instead of letting the moving lift push the air through the vents as it moves. Voice activated buttons rather than push buttons – movement activated automatic door opening rather than have to use a common door handle. Avoid activities involving people sitting inside breathing each others air – hold meetings and courses outside wherever possible. How hard would it be to repurpose the HVAC systems on tower blocks to suck instead of blow? As designers of the physical environment around us, it is time that we start to get these measures into play on our buildings. No time like the present – may as well start now!

  10. “New Zealanders should instead be following the lead of countries like Taiwan and wearing them at malls, universities, supermarkets, workplaces and bars and restaurants if they want to get a head of the virus, according to Otago University public health expert Professor Nick Wilson.”

    I live in Taipei City, Taiwan and this is inaccurate.
    Masks are compulsory on PT and at government service centres.
    Optional at private businesses and nonexistent at places such as malls, supermarkets and bars etc.
    I was at Raohe night market last night, the first time at a night market since the coronavirus started in Wuhan, China in Jan ‘20.
    No one was wearing a mask and it wasn’t compulsory. I bought one with me and when I asked if I needed to wear it was laughed at and playfully mocked.

    Just in case you want correct information, cheers.

    1. Thanks for that on the ground perspective. There’s been a lot of misinformation in the NZ media about what’s happening in other countries, particularly without a big english language media presence.

      Common misconceptions:
      “Sweden has kept its economy going by carrying on life as normal (apart from over 5000 deaths)” – In reality schools and universities closed and a lot of people have been working from home if they can. Their economy has taken a bigger hit than neighbouring countries.
      “Japan has contained the virus without a lockdown” – They had a de facto lockdown by the government asking everyone to stay home and everyone complying because that’s the cultural norm when collective action is required.
      etc.

    2. Well, yes, but also: there is no doubt that Asians (of all ethnicities) have had a more mask-wearing attitude than white folk have had. It was highly noticeable when I was in Vancouver recently, prior to Lock Down, that nearly every Asian was wearing a mask – on the bus, on the train, even when alone in their own car. Chinese Canadians. Korean Canadians. Indian Canadians. But not European Canadians – at that stage, I did not see a single white person wearing a mask, anywhere.

      Noticeable again, much more lately, in pictures coming out of America, and especially with Republicans and other pro-trump idiots, how they are fighting against wearing a mask. due to their ideologically warped perception that helping save their own life (or others) is an infringement on their liberty to do what they want and to die how they damn well please. So be it.

      1. Not sure that I agree with that statement in its entirety. Working at Heathrow for one of the world’s largest airlines, many Asian countries do not use them at all. My employer has to give masks/shields to customers coming from The Indian subcontinent as most don’t have them.

  11. “Sweden has kept its economy going by carrying on life as normal (apart from over 5000 deaths)” – In reality schools and universities closed and a lot of people have been working from home if they can. Their economy has taken a bigger hit than neighbouring countries.

    Hmm suggest some references for that, especially when its used as an example.
    Swedens schools have been open throughout the pandemic.
    https://www.skolverket.se/regler-och-ansvar/coronaviruset-och-covid-19—regler-for-skolor-och-forskolor/regler-for-forskolor-och-skolor-som-haller-oppet-eller-behover-stanga-pa-grund-av-coronapandemin
    Swedens tertiary and vocational education establishments closed in March and reopened on the 15th of June.
    https://www.skolverket.se/regler-och-ansvar/coronaviruset-och-covid-19—regler-for-skolor-och-forskolor/regler-for-forskolor-och-skolor-som-haller-oppet-eller-behover-stanga-pa-grund-av-coronapandemin

    This shows the difficulty in getting things right, when facts are in languages other than English. The reference above is from the Swedish National Agency for Education which is the government agency in charge of education.

    Swedens economy has shrunk more than its neighbours, thats a correct statement. BUT a quick glance at why is of interest. It is related to one factor solely, export. Sweden is an export nation and its export differ substantially from its neighbours.
    Its neighbours, Norway (petro-economy) and Denmark (agri-based economy) does not have industry similar to Sweden hence the comparison is difficult and the stats does not paint a picture that can be related to Sweden, it is instead more of a reflection of the economy in Sweden’s largest export markets.
    Internal demand in Sweden has however remained relatively strong. The site SCB.se is where government stats are found. The first graph in the source compares GDP growth with EU and OECD. Sweden has faired pretty well.
    https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/redaktionellt/coronakrisen-skiljer-sig-fran-tidigare-kriser/

    With that said I am happy that we did not choose Sweden’s approach. We are an island and can close the borders with relative ease and our government in my humble view did the right thing.
    But as always with stats, especially when the issue has become political, facts tend to be the first

    1. Whoops thanks for the correction on schools. I must have got that impression from universities being closed. I guess my misunderstanding just reinforces the point though.

    2. Being outside of NZ looking in, I think the opposite.

      NZ is suffering socially and economically whether people on this blog like to admit it or not.

      It’s likely this virus will be with us for ever much like other Corona viruses. Watching the mad scramble for the testing stations and the bus example above just proves it.

  12. What’s the actual story under Level 2 re: PT social distancing? My understanding was that masking replaces the prior mandated distancing on buses, which were running about 10-20% capacity. But someone else told me that wasn’t the case, and that the former capacity restrictions will apply.

    To sum up, in that case you have a train system that has been effectively temporarily decommissioned, and a bus service where even if you have a mask, you stand a good chance of being turned away.

    Sounds to me like we are doing our level best to kill public transport.

    1. Largely agree Brutus –
      The bus system isn’t great for a lot of people travelling longer distances that rail was better at serving (Henderson, Manurewa etc). The current network is great for the smaller, more local trips in these areas, and relies on the rail network for the longer trips. This is now painfully slow.
      So basically those that have the option of driving, and traffic isn’t terrible, they’ll drive.
      Does any one know if parking buildings in the city are offering cheaper rates as they must be empty at the moment?

  13. Do you think it is possible we can make greater inroads on the price o carbon before to long?
    Is it possible that we can redirect the economy into avenues of economic activity which does not involve going back to such high dependence on tourism and carbon?
    If so will that make us a more caring connected community?
    I feel very lucky to be living here in a community which is basically caring and considerate . i hope that we can slow down and smell the roses a bit more and appreciate what we have, with the aim to leave it better for our descendants than we found it. This does mean we need to take steps to change the way we have been living to a more sustainable lifestyle.

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