Tomorrow the Auckland Council’s Transport Committee meets and there are a few notable items on the agenda.
The meeting will have presentations about the Waitematā Harbour Connections Project and an interim Update Auckland Floods and Infrastructure Impacts but there are no reports yet for either of those. Of the two reports that are available
Auckland Transport Update
While this is titled an Auckland Transport update, the contents are almost entirely about the public transport network and the challenges it is facing right now.
The first interesting thing to note is that due to the floods two weeks ago, AT have decided to defer their plans to increase PT fares in mid-February. This is the right decision, though they should really just give up on them all together. Given the state of the PT network right now it is a case of rubbing salt into an open wound to then put prices up too.
These are the impacts they say the fare change would have
It is also worth noting that in some places, AT haven’t changed on-street parking prices since 2017 despite PT fares having increased by as much as 24% in the same period.
PT use had been starting to recover again at the end of last year and by the end of last year and the first few weeks of this year was at around 65-75% of pre-COVID levels. Putting aside the impacts from the recent emergencies, it wouldn’t surprise me if by the end of this year we were seeing this at the 80-90% range for some weeks/months – some cities I track at or even above this level already.
They also note
The recovery in Auckland is strongest in Central and West, which are both currently around pre-COVID-19 levels. Recovery on trains is currently lower due to the KiwiRail Rail Network Rebuild affecting patronage on the Southern and Onehunga lines while ferry patronage is now greater than pre-COVID-19 levels.
One stat I haven’t seen before, AT say “While around 12 per cent of trips at peak time are made by Public Transport, this reduces to less than 2 per cent at off-peak times and weekends”
While we want both figures to be much higher, what I think they really highlight, and what AT don’t seem to fully grasp, is such a large discrepancy is in large part because off-peak PT is significantly less competitive than driving. In many cases the journey alone can take 2-3 times longer which can be hard to justify and that’s even before you consider that services run at a much reduced frequency during these times.
AT have been making some changes though, in part to help deal with the bus driver shortages but also to respond to things like changes in travel patterns as a result of COVID. It involves reducing peak frequencies on some routes, changing the timing of some trips but also improving inter-peak frequencies on some routes.
Peak services are the most expensive to run as they require extra drivers and buses which may only be needed for a couple of runs a day. As such, they say “reducing peak frequency and saving in the order of $4 million with minimal customer impact”.
As for the driver shortfall, Auckland is currently short 485 bus drivers and also 45 ferry crew. This is a 21% and 23% shortfall respectively. This is resulting in around 8 per centre of bus trips being permanently suspended and a further 8 percent being cancelled daily. On the water, services to Devonport are running at reduced frequencies. AT claim that Wellington and Christchurch are seeing similar levels of service cancellation.
There are some positive signs though, the bus driver numbers have improved by about 40 so far this year and since the government made some temporary changes to immigration settings for drivers, they say about 250 candidates have so far been recruited from overseas and are being processed by Immigration and the NZ Police.
Finally, I’m surprised it’s taken this long, especially following COVID and the number of assault incidents that have occurred recently, AT are working with one operator and unions to trial screens to protect bus drivers. I’m not sure what it will look like here but is is a fairly common sight on buses overseas.
ATAP by another name
The final item on the agenda is titled the Auckland Integrated Transport Plan, which the council describe it as
The Minister of Transport and the Mayor have agreed on the need for a broader plan to futureproof Auckland with a high-quality, joined-up transport system, which more closely integrates decision-making on cars, buses, trains, ferries, cyclists, pedestrians, freight and passenger rail and light rail. This includes considering steps to address immediate and pressing needs, as well as long-term city-shaping initiatives.
This is something Mayor Wayne Brown pushed shortly after being elected and was mentioned in the council’s Letter of Expectation to Auckland Transport. On the surface, and perhaps to some voters, this might sound like something new and welcome, and it is good that the government and council work on ensuring they have alignment, but don’t get too excited because as expected, the detail suggests this is really just new version of ATAP but with a different name.
The only real difference seems to be a requirement to use existing studies to “Provide commentary on implications of consolidating and moving the Auckland Port“.
Given there is also only three months for officials to deliver this plan and given we haven’t seen drastic changes to ATAP through successive governments and councils, we also shouldn’t expect anything drastic here. The reality is, by this stage these projects have been assessed and reassessed so many times not a whole lot will change, other than perhaps shuffling around the priority of a few projects.
What I worry about more is that:
- Given this will essentially be a new version of ATAP, that like last time this will continue to be a plan that perhaps may have looked great in 2013 but doesn’t do enough to reflect the realities of the world in 2023. That it will still leave us with a plan to continue increasing emissions and congestion.
- That despite the inevitable talk about how this is fully funded by the council and government, that agencies like Waka Kotahi will turn around and continue ignore it, like they have in the past.
- That projects, despite being given a high priority, will continue to be put through unnecessary, Kafkaesque rounds of business case hell.
Whenever the plan is announced, I’m sure there the speeches will be wonderful but unless the plan is able to address these issues, it is unlikely to have a material impact.