Radio NZ data journalist Farah Hancock has been digging into the issue of bus cancellations in Auckland and Wellington and has started a fascinating series about it.
In the first article on Monday, she’s taken a look at the overall picture based on data from February.
On an average weekday last month in February, 1085 Auckland buses listed in timetables failed to show up.
In Wellington, an average of 448 daily cancellations left passengers stranded.
The data, revealed in an RNZ investigation launched today, is evidence of urban bus networks in crisis, according to critics.
A live tally set up for the day of the article showed that a month on, that trend is still holding with 1,040 buses cancelled in Auckland on Monday and 404 in Wellington (that itself sounds like it’s part of a joke – 404 bus not found)
But these numbers are based off cancellations to the current timetable and so would be a lot worse if they also counted the original timetables that were in force before Auckland Transport removed around 1,000 trips a day last year. And if the mayors proposed budget passes, those cuts will become permanent as part of a plan for Auckland Transport to find $25 million in savings.
Both cities trimmed bus timetables in late 2022 due to frequent cancellations.
Wellingtonians used to get an average of 3621 trips on weekdays. Roughly 143 trips were removed but driver shortages meant an additional 448 trips on a typical weekday were cancelled.
Prior to Auckland Transport removing or pausing certain services in the latter half of 2022, Aucklanders expected an average of 12,696 weekday trips. In the month of February, weekday trips averaged 10,669.
As I’m quoted as saying in the article, I think public transport right now is a “system in crisis”, one that is already putting a lot of people off using buses and that if not fixed soon, one that is likely to have significant long term implications for PT use in this city.
However, it’s clear AT have their head in the sand as to just how serious this is, effectively saying “Look at all the buses we didn’t cancel yet”.
Auckland Transport metro optimisation manager Richard Harrison, however, insisted the city’s bus system was in good shape.
“I’m a user of the bus services, I would describe them as great. They’re constrained, they’re challenged, but we’re still running 12,000 services a day.”
When asked whether “great” was a disconnect with the reality of daily cancellations frequently in excess of 1000, he explained Auckland Transport had spread trip suspensions and cancellations across the network.
The summary above highlights that the worst effected area in Auckland is the North Shore followed by the Central Isthmus. That’s important as those are areas typically account for around 70% of all ridership so those cancellations are likely to have a disproportionate impact on ridership.
Yesterday looked at the worst routes in both cities and based on above, it’s no surprise that the North Shore is in the worst shape, with some routes seeing one in three buses cancelled.
In Auckland, it’s the 845, which had more than a third of its scheduled trips cancelled in February. The service between Milford and Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore includes stops at schools and North Shore Hospital.
The 845 route is one of 16 that operate in North Auckland among the 20 worst routes for cancellations.
North Shore ward councillor Chris Darby said he’s heard frustration from constituents.
“Right now our bus service is missing the back axle, so to speak,” Darby said.
Parts of a city can be hit harder than others because of the way the contracts are awarded to private companies. Routes are bundled into ‘units’ and companies bid to secure the contract for the unit. If the company holding the contract struggles to retain and recruit drivers, passengers in that unit will be hit with cancellations.
Five different companies run northern services: Ritchies, Tranzurban, NZ Bus, Go Bus, and Bayes Coachlines.
Ritchies, which runs 62 percent of northern trips, cancelled 17 percent of weekday trips during February. Tranzurban runs a single service, the NX2 from Hibiscus Coast to Auckland University. It ranked 12th worst for the percentage of weekday trips cancelled. During February, more than 1300 of approximately 5000 scheduled trips were cancelled, representing a quarter of timetabled trips not occurring.
NZ Bus, which runs almost 20 percent of trips, had 2 percent cancelled.
The article also includes a couple of interactive graphics. One lets you select a route and see just how many cancellations there were each day in February while a second ranks all routes.
Another thing it highlights to me that while the bus driver shortage has improved a bit recently, things are likely to get worse again as we head into cold and flu season.
Unsurprisingly, most cancellations are happening at peak time as this is where we need a lot of extra drivers and buses to cope with higher demand.
For those interested in Wellington’s worst routes can see them here with the same breakdowns.
The work so far by Farah is fantastic but also it’s something she shouldn’t have had to do. To me, as part of how they try and manage this crisis, AT should be publishing this sort of thing themselves in order to show that they understand the issue, as well as the things they’re doing to try and make the situation better. As it stands, they seem either oblivious to the issue or unsympathetic to the thousands of Aucklanders suffering as a result of it.