As I sat at my bus stop yesterday waiting for the bus to turn up to begin its run, which finally arrived about 7-8 minutes after its scheduled time, my mind wandered onto thinking about the bus reliability and punctuality statistics reported on in every monthly patronage report. Surprisingly, while our train network struggles to get 80% of trains to arrive at their destination within five minutes of scheduled timing, the bus reliability and punctuality stats are supposedly “out of this world” impressive – even though they need to compete with other cars while trains have their own right-of-way.
For example let’s take a look at April’s numbers:
Punctuality is measured in a different way for buses, with the question of whether or not they start their run within five minutes of scheduled being the key performance measure – whereas for trains it’s whether or not they finish their run within five minutes of scheduled times. Goodness knows the reason for the difference, but despite that these bus numbers are just staggeringly good. Even though Ritchies were scheduled to operate over 26,000 services in April not a single bus was cancelled – wow that must be some kind of world record! Out of the 9,686 trips Birkenhead Transport ran, only 9 of them started more than five minutes later than scheduled – that’s utterly incredible.
Oddly, these numbers also make me feel like I must be the unluckiest person in all of Auckland. I’m pretty sure every week or so one of the buses I’m hoping to catch doesn’t show up or is so late it clearly wouldn’t have started its run within 5 minutes of the scheduled time. But these statistics suggest that only 3 in 1000 bus services are cancelled and less than 1 in 100 services are more than 5 minutes late in starting their run. Do the bus companies know that I’m catching the bus or something, and go out of their way to cancel or delay the very services that I’m on – just to annoy me?
Of course I’m being facetious here. If you read the fine print of Auckland Transport’s description of bus reliability and punctuality you come across this:
Service punctuality and reliability are self-reported for contracted services by the bus operators utilising bus drivers logs. Auckland Transport is in the process of developing an automated tracking and monitoring system to report bus reliability and punctuality and provide enhanced data to improve service delivery across all bus services (contracted and commercial). A review of the reliability and punctuality of all bus timetables has also commenced to ensure timetables continuously reflect operating conditions.
So the bus companies report whether they cancelled a run or whether it started late. And considering there are probably financial penalties for such things, it’s pretty clear the bus companies are being rather less than honest with their reporting on such matters. The insane thing is that this has been going on for years with no action, even though the statistics are just so laughably bullshit.
Brian Rudman picked up on these hilarious numbers in a column a month or two back:
Auckland Transport’s latest “good news” bus-service statistics read like the electoral results of some tin-pot dictator.
Indeed, they’re so fantastical any self-respecting dictator would have had them scaled down.
The transport overlords claim last month, Auckland’s public bus fleet scored 99.88 per cent for “reliability” and 99.24 per cent for punctuality.
In bus talk, “reliability” means a scheduled bus actually reaching its destination. To score on the punctuality scale, a bus also has to “commence the journey within five minutes of the timetabled start time”.
So AT’s transport number-crunchers are asking us to believe that of the 171,610 scheduled bus trips last month, just 206 failed to reach their destinations – and presumably didn’t start as well – and that only 1304 – 43 a day – failed to start within five minutes of their scheduled start time.
It’s time we ended this joke. Let’s measure bus punctuality the same way we measure train punctuality – whether it reaches its destination within 5 minutes of scheduled time. Let’s take the numbers from the HOP system, which is impossible to lie about and let’s make the results publicly available in a detailed way. I want to see what proportion of Dominion Road bus services reach their destination on time, I want to see how badly bunched the Outer Link buses get. The public spends a huge amount of money subsidising our public transport – we deserve to see the real picture.