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B-Line on weekends too?

The B-Line initiative on Dominion Road and Mt Eden Road bus services has apparently been quite successful. For a minimal resource investment (just a few stickers and a marketing campaign) patronage has apparently increased quite markedly on these two bus routes. Hopefully Auckland Transport will share information on the increase shortly so we get an idea about how many more people, on average, are riding these two bus routes now compared to the months before B-Line was launched.

I was initially a bit sceptical of B-Line: not because I didn’t think it was worth doing (in fact quite the opposite), but because the “a bus every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday” undersold the actual quality of both the Dominion Road (which has a bus every 5 minutes) and Mt Eden (a bus every 10 minutes) bus services. I do still wonder if they’d advertised it as “a bus at least every 10 minutes” whether we might have seen even bigger patronage increases.

But that’s a bit beside the point. The reason B-Line has been a success is pretty obvious: the services are marketed (and deliver) as being a high quality service run at better than normal frequencies with better than normal buses enjoying better than normal bus priority. In effect, it gets around the general perception of Auckland’s buses as being crap, slow, infrequent and unreliable by distinguishing these routes from the “dirty masses” of other bus routes throughout Auckland. These are sold as superior routes – and people have flocked to them.

Auckland’s not the only city in the world to adopt this kind of approach to improving buses. New York has its “select bus services” and Brisbane has its “BUZ routes” (which I became aware of thanks to a comment from BrisUrbane). The principles of the BUZ routes are somewhat similar to the B-Line: a service quality/frequency guarantee: One thing that I really like about the BUZ is that way that it can be shown on a map – as is outlined above. I’m very hopeful that as Auckland’s B-Line system expands we can create a map showing all the B.Line routes on it – similar to the map above. The other thing that really impresses me about BUZ is that Saturday, Sunday and evenings are included in the “timetable guarantee”. That means pretty much no matter when you want to catch a bus along these routes, at worst you’ll have to wait 15 minutes. By comparison, Auckland’s B.Line only offers its “a bus every 15 minutes” guarantee 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday.

The network features show a focus on integration with the rail network and looking to serve trips made outside the traditional commuting hours. The results of the BUZ initiative are really interesting. Patronage along all the routes has increased dramatically, but perhaps even more fascinating is which particular times of the week that have enjoyed the greatest patronage gains. Weekends and evenings. The results indicate a percentage increase on patronage in the 2003 base year before the initiative was introduced:

The beauty of having massive growth in off-peak patronage is that generally this won’t cost anywhere near as much compared to having to cater for increased peak time patronage. That’s because you already own enough buses and probably employ enough drivers to operate a peak time timetable: the extra operating costs for the off-peak services are minimal and therefore you can effectively get patronage gain for very little cost. By comparison, if peak time patronage had gone up by 250% on the 130 route listed above the transport agency would have needed to buy a massive number of new buses.

Looking at the figures above, the immediate thought that came to my mind was that the Sunday and evening increases probably look so big because they came off a very low base. While this is true to some extent, as the graph below shows along a lot of routes more people now travel on Sundays than previously did on weekdays. That is quite spectacular growth in weekend patronage: It would appear that people are very willing to catch public transport on weekends and in the evening if they are provided with a service that they know is high quality and frequent.

So my challenge to Auckland Transport is to extend the hours where they provide the “B.Line guarantee” beyond just 7am-7pm, Monday to Friday. Make it seven days, make it all evening. Judging by what has happened in Brisbane, the results should make the effort well worth it.

22 comments to B-Line on weekends too?

  • Matt L

    The Infratil monthly report for December suggests that Mt Eden Rd patronage has increased by 20% recently so that is probably a good indication of how it is performing.

    http://www.infratil.com/media/Email/infratil_newsletter_december2010.htm

  • Thank you for running this. These spectacular patronage increases have occurred in one of the LOWEST DENSITY CAPITAL CITIES IN AUSTRALIA (Brisbane ~ 950 persons/km2) and goes to show that low density is now NOT a valid excuse for bad public transport!

    The speed at which the changes occur (massive increases begin happening in 3 months) is too fast to be attributed to density increases (because a house takes more than 3 months to build!, and size of the changes simply are too big).

    The unbelievable patronage increases in the evenings and weekends confirm, very strongly that the reason why people don’t catch public transport is because the scope of hours is totally inconvenient and the frequency is terrible.

    Can you imagine what would happen to your patronage if you put on no-compromise train services on (in conjunction with feeder buses to rail stations)?

  • Hope you don’t mind- I’m going to add a link to this blog from my blog!

  • Matt

    In some ways, people will be more concerned about frequency at evenings than they would be at peak. Why? Because it’s no fun wanting to be home in bed when you’re waiting for a bus. Or because you’re missing out on that extra pint, or few minutes of chatting with the guys and gals after your social sport or whatever it is that’s got you away from home.
    Being late for work is annoying, but losing personal time to crap public transport service just gets a lot of people really wound up. Most people appear to value their personal time very highly, which is fair enough, and that means that not wasting it with shoddy public transport is a high priority.

    • Yes. I feel that public transport’s share of the travel market for commuters to the CBD is already saturated- further growth will come from aggressive targeting of passenger trips in the off-peak and weekends, and also orbital and cross-town trips (Melbourne’s Orbital SmartBus is the BUZ equivalent here) as these types of trips are currently have market share dominated by car.

      Initiatives such as BUZ should help the farebox ratio heaps, which is a double bonus!

    • Penfold

      @Matt – You touch on a point that amazes me. We have massive problems with drink-driving (you mentioned that extra pint), concerted police efforts and major advertising campaigns, yet we don’t provide cheap and realistic alternatives for most people. If you’re stuck with a $50 cab ride or waiting an hour for a bus the idea of driving home suddenly seems like a good one (even though it is a very bad one). PT on a reasonable schedule, such as every 15 minutes, then makes it possible for people to have a few drinks and be responsible without breaking the bank (taxi) or wasting a lot of time. If you give people a reasonable alternative then they might take it, so I believe that good evening PT services should be part of an integrated approach to reducing drink-driving.

  • Ross Clark

    The BUZ routes seem to complement the rail system nicely, and intersecting it in places as well (Route 111 is the main south-eastern busway).

    In the UK, very good frequency in London is one bus every three-five minutes, and good frequency is every five-eight minutes; this is about as good as Edinburgh gets. Every five-eight minutes would also be a good benchmark for Auckland to aim for on its main routes, if you aren’t there already (ie Dominion Rd).

    • When i lived in Dalston and the 38 route had the old routemasters, it was 1-2 minutes during the day, dropping to every 2-5 minutes between 1am and 6am.

      And as it was a routemaster, 1-2 mins means one is either just arriving or leaving, and if it’s leaving you just run after it and jump on the open back, no waiting :)

      The frequencies have dropped back a little bit now they have higher capacity buses ( 68 of them to run that route! )

  • Bonnie

    I agree with B-line initiative being extended to weekend and off-peak services. It is these times when reliability in a service is particularity important in increasing PT patronage. Especially since we are starting to see some concerning congestion patterns developing in the weekends, which are possibly in part a result of perceptions about the reliability (and frequency) of weekend services.

    I would also like to see the b-line concept extended to some of the other services in the region.
    Also given that reliability is one of the biggest barriers to increasing PT patronage, ideally a guarantee of frequency of peak services that matches supposed existing timetables(which in some cases claim bus frequency of around every 5 minutes or less) should be introduced. Unfortunately this is dependant on some serious efforts being made on reducing bus bunching and service cancellations, and to improving bus priority measures, amongst other things.

  • ingolfson

    I agree with admin that the fact that it got such high patronage increases despite not that much publicity/effort, makes this a very promising lead on improving efficiencies. Combine it with simplified fares/routes, and better bus lanes, and you have what the software guys call a “killer app” ;-)

  • I’m waiting for Sandringham Rd (and not just the bit between New North and St Lukes Roads) to join B.Line. I wonder when they’ll expand it (anywhere)?

    Oh and…

    “The other thing that really impresses me about B.Line is that Saturday, Sunday and evenings are included in the timetable guarantee” … shouldn’t “B.Line” be “BUZ”?

  • Luke

    Onewa road, Remuera road, New North road, Great North road, Great South Road should also be added as b-line.
    These routes generally have 4 buses per hour, however they are irregular, so the routes need some reworking to ensure 15min frequency.

    • Matt

      Remuera Rd needs to have end-to-end bus lanes first. The uppity locals need to be told “Suck it, bitches”, rather than being pandered to when they whinge about how bus lanes get in the way of their dropping Little Josephine off at Dio.

  • Every QTN bus route on the transport strategy should be a bLine. They are basically identical conceptually, so why not just progress that?

    • Matt

      Maybe a b-Line in design, but not in branding. I think the entire brand concept for PT in Auckland needs to be rethought, including for trains, with north, south, west, and east designated colours and those colours used for branding the services that go in those directions. Paint the trains, paint the buses, just make it absolutely clear which direction a service is going.
      Makes it much clearer when you look at a map, makes it much clearer when you’re standing by the side of an aggregated corridor such as Symonds St.

      • In an ideal world we should have all PT vehicles in three colours. One for the RTN, one for the QTN and one for the LCN.

      • Gian

        absolutely agree. When I moved here two years ago from Melbourne it was impossible to understand anything of the PT, with different buses, different colors, companies, stages, prices, lots of coins, trains, useless numbers (635, 625, I still confuse these two). For the first week I walked everywhere, then I bought a bicycle…
        Then I found out that i could use a card, the gocard. useless as well: expensive, poor discount, can’t use it on all buses. no free transfers.

        They really need to seat down and make it look nicer and tidier before the RWC or it will be a big mess.

  • Rob Russell

    Now imagine the animation of the bus or train routes set to music like this:

  • I agree with admin that the fact that it got such high patronage increases despite not that much publicity/effort, makes this a very promising lead on improving efficiencies.

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