If Auckland Transport are to succeed in the goal of reducing emissions, congestion and improving mobility across the region, it will be key that they get more people to use public transport. Saying that is easy but actually achieving it is incredibly tough and one of the big challenges AT face is that the network is only as strong as its weakest part and every time someone has a poor experience on PT, it makes it all that much harder to get them to trust using it again.
When PT works as intended, it can be a fantastic way to get around the city but when things go wrong, they often go very wrong. I had one such experience on Friday night. It’s a good example of why so many people choose just to drive and how AT need to do so much better if they want to have a chance at achieving their goals.
With the move to the traffic light system, I was catching up with some friends for a drink in Pt Chev. We had a great evening and it was fantastic to be able to see people in person again. My issuer started when it came time for me to get home.
Those that have read this site for some time will know I live a short walk from the Sturges Rd train station. That gave me a couple of primary options.
- I catch either the Outerlink or a 66 bus to Mt Albert and catch a train from there, this was my preference as there are two routes and also they stopped at the closest bus stop to where I was.
- I catch an 18 bus to New Lynn and catch the train from there.
- I catch a 133 or 134 bus to Henderson and from there catch either the train, one of a few buses, or walk 15-20 minutes home.
I needed to leave around 8:30 and looking at Auckland Transport’s mobile app I saw a 66 bus was just a few minutes away, perfect. I walked to the stop and got on at 8:34 when it arrived. I also then checked the app for live departures for Mt Albert Station and it told me a train was due in about 15 minutes – by the time I got to the station that would leave about a 8 minute wait, not too bad (for Auckland) I thought.
Four minutes later I had tagged off but here’s also where I came across the first customer experience issue, the physical transfer between the bus and the train. There are a couple of issues:
- Why are there not bus stops on Carrington Road next to the train station? It is around a 300m walk from the bus stops near Benfield Ave which while not difficult for someone able bodied like I am, would be much harder for those with disabilities – this is also temporarily made even more difficult by the temporary traffic management taking up most of the footpath on the southern side. There is clearly enough space on the rail over-bridge for bus stops but AT have chosen to prioritise a small number of people turning right to New North Rd.
- Why is there no pedestrian crossings on this part of Carrington Rd, both to improve access to the bus stops but also to make it easier and safer for those on the Northern side of Carrington Rd to access the train station. How is a child or someone who isn’t mobile enough to run across the road meant to get across.
After getting to the station and tagging on at 8:42pm I encounter the first major issue. The real time boards were saying the train was 20 minutes away. Checking the app again quickly I saw it was still sitting at Parnell like was when I checked earlier. That’s not ideal.
About 5 minutes later there was an announcement that there was an overhead line fault at Newmarket and that Western and Onehunga services were effected (but not Southern ones?). It’s a real indictment of Kiwirail how many faults we seem to continue to have on the network, including track faults despite all the closures we as users have had to endure even just over the last year or so.
I’ve learnt from bitter experience over the years that sometimes unscheduled disruptions get fixed quickly but other times they don’t and given I didn’t have a lot of other options by this point. I thought I’d wait a little bit and see what happens. By now some services were starting to show up on the real time boards as cancelled. It felt like a long time but the time stamp from my message to my wife tells me it was about 10 minutes later another announcement was made that the fault had been fixed and services would resume. We’re back on track I thought.
Only during this time I was also checking the AT app and the train still was not moving from Parnell. Sure enough, a while later another announcement was made that there was an overhead fault causing issues.
After a bit more waiting, and being 30 minutes since I tagged on at the station I thought I’d give something else a go. Perhaps I could catch a bus to New Lynn and see if there was any progress with the train otherwise 14 bus to Henderson. At least that would get me a bit closer to home. Checking the app I was in luck, a 22N was just a few minutes away so I made my way to the bus stop and found another case of the bus stop being way too far away from the station – about 200m this time.
The bus trip to New Lynn was uneventful but arriving there I found the next 14 bus was over 20 minutes away. Meanwhile I had noticed on the AT app that the train had moved to Newmarket, which would be progress, but it had then been cancelled. I can only assume Transdev, the operator of the trains for a few more months, decided it was easier to do that and better for their stats than it was to help stranded passengers. The next train was only just leaving Britomart and so was at least half an hour away. It was at this point I gave up and got a taxi home.
I have a pretty high tolerance for issues. Yes sometimes things break and go wrong, and it’s not just with PT either, as evidenced by Waka Kotahi reporting near daily crashes or breakdowns on the motorways that block traffic.
Time and time again research shows that the two most important factors in getting people to use PT are frequency and reliability. That is needed not just for the 9-5 commute but for all trips across the day. While some of this, such as rail faults, are outside of ATs control, many aspects are.
AT have made some good improvements over the years but my experience on Friday is a good example that Auckland far too often lacks both frequency and reliability for public transport. It’s also the kind of experience that would lead many people to just give up on using PT entirely as being all too hard.
Mayor Phil Goff’s climate package, as well as other investments budgeted for in our long term plans, will help address some of these issues but not all of them.
It also made me think about how customer experience is talked about at AT and in particular to their board.
In the monthly indicators paper the board are presented with the following graphs on the satisfaction of Aucklanders. To me the message it sends is that PT, with satisfaction over 90% is fine and that the focus should be on other parts of the organisation where satisfaction is lower, such as for roads and footpaths. But there’s a fundamental flaw with the PT customer satisfaction numbers, they’re based interviews with people who are already prepared to put up with the existing system.