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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.

1. Boosting the Workforce

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.

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  1. Brethren, it is good we are now in agreement a deal can be made of sorts for Auckland amongst ourselves.

    As with all of these things the devil is in the detail – seen and unseen.

    Christopher and Wayne will work the detail through accordingly.

  2. Have AT delivered all those bus lanes they were going to deliver a few years back?
    It feels to me like the mayor has sensibly asked AT to get the best out of the bus network, and instead of actually listening and doing the obvious stuff (making buses feel more like trains because people prefer trains), they just fobbed him off with some stuff they were doing anyway.
    I take the 25 bus occasionally, I think it could be about 10 mins quicker with some intersection and route improvements and another 10 mins quicker with all door boarding and less stops. I also thought that 15 years ago, but AT still hasn’t thought of it. One day in 30 years time they will spend a few billion on LR or buses to fix it, but in the short term they won’t spend a cent.

  3. Generally PT is pretty good and there are some things that cant be resolved easily like the CRL nightmare downtown. I see they’ve cut a new trench through the recently dried asphalt over an earlier trench outside the mayor’s office in Albert Street . Bus scheduling in the inner city is a problem- annoying having to sit in a stopped bus outside Vic Park and to change buses with up to 5 stacked up. Likewise buses shown as scheduled on the signs turning to cancelled

    1. It is pretty slow. Most people don’t have that time to waste these days.
      Hence why all door boarding, more direct routes, bus priority, and less stops are very much needed.
      And it is almost impossible to catch a bus in the city. I know where my bus leaves from, but I have no idea about any other route. Even google couldn’t help me catch the 24 bus the other week.
      All of these issues could be fixed with a fairly small investment.

      1. Why don’t you download and use the AT app? It has all the information you’ll ever need about bus routes and starting points in the city. It really is a gamechanger compared with maps and paper timetables.

        1. I have the AT app. I could have used journey planner, but because I knew the route I needed I thought a simple google search would take me to the bus stop, but all it gave me was a map with no street names on it and I got a bit lost. When I finally got there I wasn’t sure I was in the right place, very little signage, dingy, it didn’t look like the origin of a frequent bus route that you want people to use.
          Its kind of like owning a shop in the middle of nowhere with no signage and hoping people use an app to find it.

        2. These bus stops are being moved around by the CRL works, that’s why they look temporary. Just roll with it.

  4. Riding on busses and trains is very safe. The opponents like us to believe they are not and we need more protection for drivers and more security people. I have used public transport regularly for 50 years or more and have never felt unsafe. The more people use public transport then the safer people will feel. People feel safer when being in groups such as walking busses, riding their bike on a busy bikeway, etc.
    AT announce on their busses 1000 times each day to thousands of passengers coming to the city and getting off at the Queen St bus stops that they should be wary of bikes and scooters. But actually the risk is very low because the bus stops have bus shelters, seats, trees and bins and bikers and scooters are keeping away from that area, There have been no accidents involving people getting off busses on Queen St.
    It is the roads that are not safe and hundreds of people are killed each year including the 2 year old girl killed in a the driveway in Epsom last week.

    1. Also as a bike and scooter user, the shared path up from Queen street is designed in such a way as to prioritise pedestrians. So you’re expecting to go slower and brake more often etc. It’s not an issue at all, I still prefer it to travelling on the road.

      Now the Quay Street bike path is another issue. That feels like (when you’re on it) that you’re encouraged to go at a good solid commuting pace, but people constantly step out into it as if it’s not there. I don’t know how you fix that other than just having people come a cropper every now and again and people learn from those mistakes… I of course do not want to be one of those people.

      1. I hope the situation will improve once the construction is finished at One Queen Street and the footpath on the other side of the road is opened. Would double the space for people and discourage the haphazard road and cycle path crossings.

      2. “Now the Quay Street bike path is another issue. That feels like (when you’re on it) that you’re encouraged to go at a good solid commuting pace, but people constantly step out into it as if it’s not there”

        Because Auckland Council decided – partly for urban design prettyness, and partly for stormwater reasons – to keep the primary downtown cycleway flush with the footpath/plaza space. Bike Auckland and Auckland Transport’s Walk & Cycle Team (it still existed then) both advised against it, but…

  5. Not much point in improving the train’s dwell times when huge chunks of the network are closed for years. Currently we’re back to the pre-1930 era of having just one line into the city from the south with all the constant issues that causes.

  6. Sadly, feels like a lot of talk that will be followed by very little action. AT is great at making plans. Like for the T2 lanes along Te Atatū Rd in Te Atatū Sth. They happily consulted on them and later decided that it would create too much congestion, so they can’t actually implement them. WX1 won’t have priority entering the motorway (neither on Newton Rd or Westgate on-ramps), how this brand new service is supposed to be reliable is beyond me. And the list goes on. It’s not like AT doesn’t have an idea what to do to make the trips more reliable, they just won’t be able to implement it, because they’re organically incapable of changing the status quo.

  7. My partner and I are regular PT users. We use both the bus and train network regularly. We are older, so have the Gold Hop Card and don’t want to drive in unfamiliar places. We have number of problems with PT – mainly resulting from operational difficulties. We find that NZ Bus frequently puts buses out for service with inadequate or non-functioning air conditioning, and damaged seats or on one occasion with sopping wet seats from a leaking roof. AT refuses to address the issues. The train dwell times can be a problem for older people with less mobility, we have problems getting up from our seats and getting to the doorway while the train is moving, (the priority seats by the doors are always occupied by others) and when we get to the door there are usually a couple of young people standing in the stairwell. This means that we cannot put our hand on the handrail that we need to safely exit the train steps. There is no signage or enforcement of keeping the doorway and stairwell clear. We want to keep on using PT but because there is no enforcement of the things that are supposed to help us we don’t now how much longer we can do it.

    1. Use the flat floor carriage of the train to avoid the stairwell issue. The place to wait and board is usually marked on the platform with a wheelchair symbol.

    2. I feel like these issues are the ones that should be started with. By making it easier for existing users, word will get out and more can be done with current resources and capacity.

  8. They should actively be working with apps like Citymapper. There are much better solutions out there than the AT app.

  9. Bus lane and other bus improvements on a lot of the busiest routes were delayed and tied up in Connected Communities … Will be interesting to see if AT can roll out quick bus lane and other bus improvements on some of those routes in the near future.

  10. After finishing work last Friday 20th October & walking down Wyndham St – noted how gridlock & congested the traffic was both ways by mostly single occupant vehicles. Something must be done now.

    “Initiative 20: Working with businesses to support their employees to get on-board with public transport, including through workplace public transport subsidies. This will allow businesses to report on & reduce their carbon footprint & will incentivize PT use for their employees.”

    1. Perhaps they prefer breathing clean air rather than air that has already been through hundreds of other lungs without filtering.

      1. To be fair lungs do a pretty good job at filtering air, so you’d think if it went through hundreds of them it’d be squeaky clean after that!

    2. > After finishing work last Friday 20th October & walking down Wyndham St – noted how gridlock & congested the traffic was both ways by mostly single occupant vehicles. Something must be done now.

      You could have written this is 2023 or 2003, nothing has changed. Without a major shakeup you will be writing the same message in 2043.

  11. Wonder if the “Hold my Bus” function would be something they will put on the app to hold the bus if it’s early or pretty much on time when you are transferring.
    Not sure if is covered but the Eastern Busway should have light priority, saw a recent tweet saying how they had stopped at every light.
    I note how most of the ideas, and there are many good ones, are unfunded.

  12. Use the empty buses for backloads. I cant use the buses because they are Out of Service driving beside me on the motorway as they head to the start of their routes .

  13. I’m being a little cynical here, but most of the “funded” initiatives are for marketing of existing services. I don’t question that we need to make sure new users are aware of what public transport exists, but marketing will not solve attrition and so without more funding I suspect at best this would be a zero sum game.

    I understand the safety aspect is primarily focused on worker safety, but the only thing about PT that makes me feel unsafe is unreliable services that mean I’m standing around waiting for a train that never arrives, sometimes at a station I’ve never previously visited (when services are cancelled partway through).

  14. Re dwell times: on a recent trip through Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and France I timed bus and light rail dwell times. 30 seconds was common and sometimes 25 seconds.
    Re all-door loading: Seemed very common on buses throughout Europe. Extended bendy buses have 3 doors, all accepting boarding and departing riders.
    Why is AT incapable of doing either of the above?

    1. You’ve just listed three countries that are not overly bothered on fare evasion. Look at other places like the UK, Spain etc for a better comparison.

    2. I’ve been using the Paris metro daily for the last week and a half including the driverless lines. Observed and timed dwell times average 18 seconds.

  15. Auckland Transport can raise extra revenues by seeking private investment to backup Local & Central Government funding for increasing public transport patronage. The incoming National/ACT/NZ First coalition Government is planning private investment funding for new roading infrastructure., New public transport infrastructure can be funded & built by the same funding method.

    1. Private investment for vital infrastructure is a poor idea, be it roads or public transport. The end result tends to be poorer and cost the public more than if they were to do it totally state or regionally funded.

      1. But it isn’t going to be locally or centrally funded – there are no infrastructure plans to address the shortage and what we need for the future.

        So its private funding or nothing (or very little…).

  16. Personally, having moved back into the city centre six months ago, I find buses very useful; but if a train or ferry is available, that will always be my preferred mode, as general traffic has become less and less patient.

    I do not envy the bus drivers that have to avoid collisions with less and less attentive private vehicle operators.

    AT will need to begin to address car dominance if it is to truly make a difference for our city, and the only influential person that I have ever heard speak publicly about it was Fa’anānā Efeso Collins during his mayoral campaign.

    For us that understand the calm of public transport, driving seems silly; but it will be very difficult to wrestle the steering wheel from an eight decade grip that men (particularly but not exclusively) seem unwilling to release.

  17. Auckland Transport & NZ Government – Rates & Taxes are the answer to make public transport infrastructure an attractive choice & everyday option for our people’s.

  18. Modernising Fares makes a few good points. However the system seems utterly complicated in Auckland. For example the number of zones could be reduced.

    A weekly far cap is nice, but from a tourists perspective providing a weekly ticket which you can buy everywhere would also do the trick.
    In Austria public transport is at record high since the introduction of the climate ticket (, similar to the 49€ ticket in Germany). I have a regional version which is 1€ per day. In Vienna more people have one of these yearly tickets than a car. And if most users have one of these no need for gating train stations, you just have to show it when the conductor comes and asks for it. The advantage is that you don’t need to bother about tickets, you just buy it once a year.

    Greetings from Austria

    PS: How would Auckland and New Zealand compare?

  19. In addition to the missing item of pedestrian crossings (AT’s own guidance is for one between every pair of bus stops), AT’s plan is lacking a focus on:

    Improving transfers, by
    – prioritising space for bus stops over turning lanes at intersections. Currently bus stops are located too far from the intersections, adding delays. Quite often, loading zones, taxi stands and even general parking gets space closer to the intersection. This was supposed to have been a feature of the New Network, but it seems AT’s dinosaurs are still calling the shots.
    – prioritising pedestrians over general traffic in the traffic light phasing.

    Improving bus journeys by changing traffic circulation, with a focus on low traffic neighbourhoods and VKT reduction. It’s like AT are keeping their heads in the sand about the efficacy of this approach.

    Improving land use near stops and stations. The pop up park n ride idea is particularly stupid, and telling, but AT should be rolling out a steady programme of land use change that’s designed by looking already at for active users approach the stops and stations, and what their needs are.

  20. Auckland should introduce a traffic bylaw to give buses priority for pulling back into traffic. That’s another step towards improving scheduling reliability.

  21. This job ad that AT have put out to support the “get us back to 100 million” typifies the problems that AT have, despite recent structural changes – – the requirements are focused on commercial matters and business skills, which will arguably attract totally the wrong person. Until AT realise (or are forced to realise) that they are a council organisation that is tasked with running public transport services, they will never get the right people into the place to sort out the basics – which are quite simple: reliable services, smooth connections and friendly staff. It really is that simple…

  22. For every journey I start by thinking “can this be done on foot or using public transport?”. So I use public transport where I can. The main issues for me are:
    1. Transferring from bus to train works reasonably well (as lots of trains go through Newmarket), however transferring from train to bus in the evening is too unreliable. So I usually drive/train when I would prefer to use bus/train.
    2. Lack of seating at bus stops. I have a disability and struggle to stand more than 5 minutes. Eg no undercover seating at a bus stop I use on Commerce Street (stop 7028). I complained to AT but didn’t have any luck.
    3. Some bus reliability could be fixed by looking at the route and making a few minor changes. I had to give up one bus option as it got stuck in traffic after they changed the route and it took another 15 minutes to get to work. AT ignored my feedback.
    4. Improvements to reliability and if there are issues improve information on delays/cancellations – eg I wanted to catch a bus to a medical appointment last week but the bus was cancelled at the last minute and I had to drive. This wasn’t the first time it had happened.
    5. Think about those of us with disabilities. Eg in the train station they make announcements in Te Reo first – it gives me less time to change platform if required and I’ve missed trains because of this. How about putting the annoucements in English first and Te Reo second? Note that less than 5% of NZ’ers speak Maori about 24% of us have a disability
    6. Double decker buses are not good on busy routes at peak times – they take too long to board and let people off. I would prefer more frequent single level buses. Double decker buses are good on routes with less stops or express services.
    7. In addition you need to think about having a system on buses so that young and fit patrons (esp school kids on discounted fares) have to stand for older patrons. My disability is a hidden one and not obvious, so a simple approach like this would work. Or having a badge like some places overseas that people with disabilities can wear.

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