Disruptions to public transport have long been a frustrating fact of life in Auckland, but the last year has taken this to a whole new level, with the ongoing longterm rail shutdowns with bus replacement services, plus thousands of bus cancellations a day becoming a regular occurrence.

Things are currently so bad that AT has now permanently removed a large number of bus services from timetables altogether, rather than display just how many regular cancellations there are. This has resulted in passengers having to endure poor quality services – or likely, in many places, giving up on PT entirely.

And it seems we could be trending up again, as more services come under pressure of one sort or another. This week, it’s been ferries.

The biggest cause of disruption has been the shortage of bus drivers. At least on this front, both the government, Auckland Transport and (the previous) council have made moves to improve diver conditions, most notably through higher wages. These changes, when fully implemented, will mean the average wage for a bus driver will have increased from $23.71 per hour in the middle of last year to $30 per hour.

The concern now is that the council will look to cut the ‘removed from the timetable‘ services permanently, in a bid to save money.

Regardless of what fixes are put in place for services now, there will always be disruptions of various kinds, and how AT deals with that is has always been a point of frustration.

It seems improving AT’s communication on this front is something Council’s new Transport and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Watson wants to fix.

Auckland Council’s Transport Committee chair says his priority this year will be ensuring commuters get clear communications if city services are delayed or cancelled.

John Watson said without this, or the necessary substitutes to make up for it, people would continue to be pushed back into their cars rather than making use of the city’s public transport system.

“People have got all variety of apps these days for monitoring what’s going on, and the one consistent thing you hear from commuters is ‘we just want to know what’s happening, and we want to know with a reasonable lead-in time'”.

I have to say, I would have thought actually fixing the issues causing the disruption to services would be the priority – although of course better communication is always needed.

But this brings us to the real point of the post: what can be done to improve communications during disruption.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but here are a few ideas  that might help. It would be good to get other ideas too in the comments, including any great examples from overseas. Disruption is not unique to Auckland, and surely we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Better Network/Disruption Maps

Every bus stop should have a full network map plus more localised or stop-specific maps, so that passengers can see at a glance what their options are.

In some places it’s not uncommon to have multiple ways of getting the same destination, but many people are only familiar with the service/s they regularly catch – so there may be an easy alternative, if they’re shown that it exists.

Related to this: it would be a big job to do this for every station or stop on the PT network, but at least at train/bus stations, ferry terminals and other major bus stops, AT should have clear posters displayed with options/instructions of what to do if disruption strikes.

AT will have plenty of data to draw on to know where most people from that location (or on that route) are going, enabling them to easily provide options for the majority of movements their passengers are likely to make.

A network map of frequent services by Nicolas Reid

Timely and accurate communication

One of the big frustrations I’ve experienced, which is most prevalent on the rail network, is the uncertainty of whether the disruption applies to just the train I’m on – in other words, should I just wait for the next one, or should I be looking to make other plans.

Sometimes not knowing this means you miss out on a quick and easy alternative, turning a minor inconvenience into a PT disaster.

AT needs to find better ways, and not just (belated) tweets on a useful but obscure Twitter account, to communicate real-time disruption to passengers.

This probably means better use of their app, but also better use of and a more expanded network of electronic displays. To support this, they’ll also need better/faster processes for understanding and relaying when something goes wrong.

Change Train Managers to be Station Managers

Another rail-specific angle: a big frustration to me is that we have staff on trains whose main job is to close the doors at the stations, and this strikes me as a real lost opportunity.

While the train managers are also ostensibly on the train to provide customer service and passive security, in reality that often doesn’t happen – as they may be at the other end of a carriage, or on a 6-car train being in the other 3-car set. There are many trips that you’ll never see the train manager at all.

During disruption, it’s not uncommon for a train manager to know less about what’s going on than the passengers – and if something goes wrong there’s not much support they can provide on what passengers should do.

Our trains are designed for driver-only operation. So perhaps we should look to instead deploy the train managers towards permanent staffing at each station. In this role, they could be much more helpful during a disruption event in helping guide passengers on their options.

They could also provide a lot of benefit for new users trying out the network for the first time – something likely to be needed much more in a few years once the CRL opens.

Transparent Reporting

While this doesn’t directly help passengers when disruption happens, it seems odd that that there is no publicly available reporting on how many and what services are being cancelled, so people can understand the broader context.

For example, University of Auckland statistics professor Thomas Lumley tracks bus movements for a Twitter readership, with a regularly updated web display of the (more or less live) state of play. But you do have to wonder, how has this important reporting task fallen to public-minded tech-savvy citizens to take care of?

Also slightly unrelated, but while we’re at it: it’s well overdue that AT got rid of their bogus Punctuality and Reliability stats.

AT measures public transport reliability as the percentage of (non-cancelled) services that depart from their starting point within five minutes of the scheduled time. For the 12 months to the end of September (the most recent data they’ve published), they report that 98% of buses were on time.

But in practice, travel delays – typically caused by a lack of bus priority on the roads – means what people actually experience is wildly different from that.

Instead, to be a meaningful measure, punctuality should be based on a service’s ‘on time’ performance at a number of stops along the route, which is similar to what I believe Thomas Lumley’s Tūreiti bot measures.

These are just some ideas. How do you think AT should improve communications about disruption? Any great ideas from elsewhere?

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  1. Here’s an app suggestion: embed the “live departures” into “tracking your journey”. If I see that I will likely miss my connection, I would like to be able to make a quick decision to transfer but I want to know that that service isn’t cancelled.

    1. ATs solution for busses for several years has been run so many services it doesn’t matter if single bus is missing. A missing bus on the true frequent routes like the 18 or 82, is hardly an issue.

      We are already paying CATR, which should be significantly expanding the number of frequent bus routes…. But Brown was elected mayor so incredibly that is in doubt.

  2. Why do we not have the bylaw as in Sydney: let the bus go first?
    i.e. when the bus is indicating to leave a stop, cars must give way.

    Surely cameras / fines would help get this small aspect in place.

    But we need buses and drivers first….damn.

    1. A Road User Rule change for this was consulted on several years ago but no government has chosen to put it through.
      It would be very useful but enforcement would have to depend on expensive camera installation. But then, good rules don’t always require heavy enforcement. A sign on the back of the bus could get reasonable compliance.

  3. The red inner city bus now announces to passengers on Queen St at each stop to “watch out for cyclists and scooters when getting off the bus”.
    I doubt any cyclists or scooterists ever ride closely past the open door of a bus.

    1. Probably because of the fool that took out someone getting off a bus a year or so ago. They were going too fast and the person getting of the bus didn’t look either and it didn’t end well. Common sense from both parties didn’t prevail on that day.

      1. You can easily solve (i.e. ensure they never happen) 90-95% of such issues with proper footpath / bus stop / cycle lane design. The issue is that that needs space which we generally have all given to (yet another) cars (lane).

        On the positive side, the relevant guidance requirements have been ramped up. On the negative side, too often the outcome is still that they (they guidance) still does get compromised, or the footpath/bus stop/cycle lane works simply get tossed into the “too hard” or “too costly” bucket after all.

        1. You have a good point their about having separate lanes which is great, but in order for that work I believe some form of enforcement is needed. In Australia New South Wales has ban e scooters fearing people get hit by them and in the state of Queensland in Australia police go out and enforce speed limits for e scooters especially in share zones. This is not an issue for e scooters you can hire but more of a concern of e scooters people buy on the internet. Some e scooters reaching the speed of 90kph.

  4. AT should change punctuality measure to arrival time at final destination. Would tell a very different story I think although they would then always caveat it with “traffic conditions”

    1. Agree wholeheartedly. Regardless of mode, isn’t that how we measure our own punctuality? “Sorry I’m an hour late to work, it’s fine though because I left within 5 minutes of the usual scheduled time”

        1. Even saying “Within 5 minutes” is punctual in itself is ridiculous, really. So if my theoretical journey is 40m, adding 5m means the journey took more than 10% longer. And bus companies (and AT) are expecting a pat on the back for that?

          It reminded me of the NYT article I read about Tesla auto-driving recently which set that “this particular Tesla was set to drive 15% above the speed limit”. I was like “WTF??? How is stuff like that not immediately leading to suspension of Tesla’s [relevant license/approvals]” ?

    2. That’s great, but while living in the UK, trains that were late would often run express (miss stations) to get to the end on time, so the measure needs to be slightly more nuanced than “arrived at destination with x minutes of scheduled time”

      1. Yes I think with the buses here they sometimes drop customers only to get back to start their next run on time. The measure they use is really just are they organised to start the next run on time which sometimes means sacrificing the current run.

  5. Driver Only operation requires platform infrastructure currently not provided in Auckland, mirrors or spot monitors so the driver has a view of the entire train. There is also the issue of wheelchair ramp deployment.

    1. Driver only operation in the UK has resulted accidents leading to life changing injuries to a number of passengers – accidents that would have been unlikely to happen if there had been a guard on board. Search RAIB website

  6. “John Watson said without this, or the necessary substitutes to make up for it, people would continue to be pushed back into their cars rather than making use of the city’s public transport system.”

    This is just taking the piss, considering that Watson – like Mayor “Code” Brown – WANTS to push people back into their cars and run down the PT system.

  7. The train boards only show the next service is cancelled it doesn’t show if the following one is as well so you don’t know if you should wait or go and find a bus. The bus boards are better sometimes scrollinv three pages. I suppose the train ones are an older model. Also in the event of a train or track fault no one knows when services will resume. They should be displayed. With TBA flashing. To be announced. That way a soon as its known a service can run it can be displayed even if its running late.

  8. I visited London in 2018, 15 years after living there. All the ticket offices on the tube has been replaced with automatic machines. But they’d kept the staff so each station had several people mulling around explaining ticket machines giving directions or explaining where the next tube stop was if the station was shut. It was great. Presumably they were also h&s and security. On my last day one explained how to get a refund of our 5 pound Oyster card cost. They got the cards we got the cash. I know the trains aren’t the tube but I totally support the idea of a human in the stations whatever their job title

  9. The short-lived Buswise app was great for providing a live view of all buses moving near you, or indeed in any area (eg the interchange you are heading to) on one map.

    This would be super useful to have in the AT app for when services are cancelled; allows people to make quick, easy assessments of which other options to try (when they exist).

  10. The new generation solar PID’s that AT is now rolling out, when budget permits, should be able to do more than just display real time info. They “should” be able to display timetable data AND disruptions data that can be pushed to the unit display remotely. I think it requires some back of house investment, but the units themselves are relatively cheap, certainly a lot cheaper than post mounted PIDs.

  11. Lol, I love it how this site is changing from “Let’s make PT better because it makes Auckland a better city and is needed to limit climate change” to “Let’s have ideas how we can make the worsening PT less painful”.

  12. “AT measures public transport reliability as the percentage of (non-cancelled) services that depart from their starting point within five minutes of the scheduled time.”

    This is the craziest thing I have ever heard.

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