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.