Auckland Transport have set themselves the ambitious target of getting back to 100 million trips on public transport by the middle of next year – which is fantastic to see – as part of delivering a turnaround plan pushed by Mayor Wayne Brown. To help achieve that, they’re creating a Public Transport Growth Programme which they describe as “getting the basics right in order to rebuild Aucklander’s trust and confidence in their public transport network“. This is great and very much needed and the draft programme was shown at the Council’s most recent Transport and Infrastructure committee
Auckland’s impressive growth in the use of public transport in the decade or so prior to COVID was built off the back of a series of transformational changes to the network, such as significant improvements to the Rapid Transit Network with rail electrification and the Northern Busway, Integrated ticketing and fares through HOP, and the complete redesign of the bus network. There are more big transformational projects coming too with the likes of the City Rail Link and the extensions to the Eastern Busway. They’re very much needed, but they and other projects like them cost a lot and take a long time to deliver.
The focus on these big projects and the growth that came from the ones already completed also allowed AT to ignore the need to fix many of the smaller issues that plague our PT network, frustrating users and discourage its use. AT say this Growth Programme will “bring together the practical actions we will take to provide reliable services and customer experiences that accelerate patronage growth“.
Changing travel patterns has seen the average number of trips per customer fall, but pleasingly we now have more customers using the network than ever before. We have the following objectives to grow patronage:
- Win back customers who have not returned to public transport by:
- Improving reliability and minimising the impact of disruptions for everyone:
- Telling customers what has changed so they will try public transport again
- Making rapid, multiple and network wide changes that collectively aim to make PT trips faster, safer and more reliable
- Acquire new customers who don’t yet use public transport by:
- Promoting public transport more visibly to communities across the city;
- Delivering competitive journeys – improving certainty of journey time, making our services easier to find and pay for;
- Making it really easy for everyone, including visitors, to take their first trip on public transport
- Make it easier for people to use public transport more often in their daily lives by:
- Raising awareness of the benefits of the connected public transport network and how to use it to get around;
- Targeting pricing strategies; and
- Partnering with businesses and employers to encourage their staff to use public transport.
Getting back to 100 million trips by the middle of next year will certainly be a challenge. We’re currently tracking at around 80% of pre-COVID usage levels so this suggests we need around a 25% increase on current usage.
AT claim that this is comparable to many cities around the world but a quick comparison with some of the cities I’ve been tracking is below. We’ve certainly been tracking Sydney quite closely but many of the other (non-US) international cities I track are starting to push back towards 90-100% with some some pushing past pre-COVID levels.
The growth programme has been categorised into six key focus areas over the next two financial years. There’s more detail about these, and each of the initiatives in the paper. The paper also includes the prioritisation of each of these initiatives.
2. Providing faster, more reliable travel
The focus here is entirely on buses. That’s frustrating because it misses out one of the easiest improvements they could make which is to fix dwell times on trains. We’ve written about many times before so I won’t go into it too much,but Auckland’s trains typically take around 50 seconds (or longer) from the time a train stops to when it starts moving again, whereas many cities overseas achieve 30 seconds stops or less. This could easily be achieved in Auckland too through some simple and safe changes to the door close procedure train managers go through – I’ve even seen it done on an Auckland train. Fixing dwell times alone would speed up train trips from Papakura or Swanson by around 5 minutes.
On the bus network, there are still far too many routes that have bus stops too close together, such as only around 200m apart. Bus stops are important for access but when they’re too close together it can really help slow buses down. How about also improving buses through changes like all-door boarding and on busy routes, off-board fare payment to enable buses to load/unload faster.
How about also fixing AT’s bogus punctuality stats that count punctuality and reliability based on if a bus started its run on time and making those stats more easily available to the public. How about also tying some financial incentives to it so that if your bus/train/ferry is late or cancelled a certain number of times you get a free trip? Currently the cost of poor performance, both in money and time is borne entirely by PT users.
3. Help customers navigate disruptions, and build network resilience
The pop-up park and rides seems a bit out of place here. Even if AT could find a way to deliver 1,000 carparks, if all were used every working day it would only contribute around 500,000 journeys a year – and that’s if it was only used by people not already using PT.
4. Modernising Fares
While the initiatives in here are good, I do find the title of “modernising fares” somewhat interesting given it was less than a decade ago the entire fare system was overhauled. How about also doing things like not unnecessarily
expiring cancelling peoples HOP card.
5. Supporting the customer journey
There’s so much more they need to do with mapping. Information on our PT system is still extremely mode or location specific, for example, bus maps barely mention the presence of the rail network and there are not maps showing the whole PT network at bus stops or train stations. On the Northern Busway there’s no mention that it is part of a wider regional rapid transit network.
I’d also like to have seen AT do more to tie in works from its safety programme to do things like adding pedestrian crossings at bus stops.
6. Marketing great public transport journeys
While it’s pleasing to see AT finally looking to start to address some of these things, the programme does feel quite light on actions, especially things like how they’ll get bus priority though ATs traffic engineers who have prevented changes before. And why are they only investigating locations for priority now, they should have had a long list sitting there ready to go based on data about where bus speeds are the slowest.
Perhaps more importantly, there are a lot of unfunded initiatives in these lists. At the Committee meeting AT confirmed that these would form part of future budget discussions but surely it would have been helpful for them to put some figures around it to help give an idea of the scale of investment needed to get these basics right.
There wasn’t too much additional information but you can also watch the presentation of this to the council.