The Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) is an important statutory document that lays out how public transport will develop and operate in the region. It includes Auckland Transport’s vision, goals, policies, plans for PT as well as a description for all services they intend to run and the frequencies they will run at, over a 10-year period. While it is a 10-year document, it is typically updated more frequently than that. The current version was signed off in 2018 and so AT are in the process of updating it, with a view to adopting it later this year.
Previous RPTPs have been quite important towards improving PT in Auckland. The 2013 plan represented something of a revolution, introducing the ‘new network’ and zonal fare structure we have today – while the current 2018 version presented a major evolution of that, by hoping to significantly expand the reach and quality of the rapid and frequent parts of the network.
Attached to the agenda of Council’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee meeting last week was a presentation from a workshop AT held with councillors in December about what this latest update involves – and unfortunately there are quite a few concerningthings in it.
The first thing that stands out is a graph of how AT is tracking compared to the focus areas they set themselves in 2018. In many of these, they’ve met their aims, or are on track to meet the actions they set themselves – with the notable exception being the most important: expanding and enhancing rapid and frequent networks. Some of this has obviously been outside of AT’s control, thanks to the pandemic and more recently issues like driver shortages and rail network meltdowns.
AT’s report also highlights how Aucklanders use and perceive PT. There are some interesting insights, such as that the pandemic has reduced the frequency of trips people make but not the types of trips they’re making. I do worry, though, that AT take the wrong lessons from this data.
For example, they note that most trips on PT are for access to jobs and education, predominantly in the city centre, with trips to other areas or for other reasons being more occasional. In the past, AT’s approach has therefore been to simply further improve PT for trips to the city at peak times – rather than question why people aren’t using PT for those other types of trips and work out ways to make PT more competitive and convenient for those trips.
A slide called “Opportunities for the 2023 RPTP” notes what the updated plan will cover:
- AT’s vision for public transport over the next 10 years (2024 onwards)
- Funding levels, including what we are currently funded to deliver and our aspirations beyond that
- Contracting (PTOM) reform and the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework
- Decarbonisation and electrification, building on the low-emission roadmaps
- The implementation of the Climate Action Targeted Rate (CATR)
- The opening of the City Rail Link and related train service changes
- Labour shortages and the impact this has on delivery of services
- Council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) and the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP)
Funding is shaping up as being a big issue. Most concerningly, it could mean – at worst – reducing existing service levels while also redirecting funding from the Climate Action Targeted Rate that was specifically intended to improve service.
The improvements the CATR fund is meant to provide, which are now in jeopardy, cover routes across most of the PT network.
The second major concern is that AT plans to treat climate change as a “nice to have”, or something for someone else to have deal with. Putting the implementation of council and government plans in the too-hard basket is a completely unacceptable approach in 2023.
Ultimately, AT says:
While we considered a more aspirational approach, given the potential funding challenges and existing issues facing our public transport network (including driver shortages and up-coming closures of the rail network), we have decided to focus on a ‘fundable’ RPTP.
This is a bit like slowing a bus timetable down because you’re not running it properly and then celebrating how great you are that buses now run on time – which is something AT also does. Without an aspirational approach, there will be nothing to encourage AT to make improvements. As the saying goes, it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.
AT says it’s taking a three-phase engagement model, which began with key stakeholders in December last year (I wonder who they included there). There will be some early public engagement in March, followed by full public consultation in June, with the final plan to be approved and released in September.
I hope that by the time it gets to public consultation that AT is a bit more aspirational for how PT could develop.