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Fairer fare zones

One of the most discussed parts of the draft Regional Public Transport Plan seems to have turned out to be the proposed fare zone map. My fellow bloggers Mr Anderson and Stu Donovan discussed the zones in previous posts, while today’s NZ Herald also quotes Labour MP Phil Twyford’s criticism of the proposed boundaries.

A draft published by Auckland Transport for public discussion shows eight travel zones proposed for introduction between the middle of next year and the end of 2014.

Unless the plan is radically overhauled after submissions on the regional public transport plan close on November 5, passengers will be able to travel to central Auckland from as far north as Long Bay for a two-zone fare, at a price yet to be determined.

But it will cost a three-zone fare to travel from anywhere west of New Lynn or south of Onehunga or Otahuhu, despite New Lynn and Onehunga being 10km from the city centre, compared with 20km from Long Bay to downtown.

Mr Twyford, Labour’s transport spokesman, said that was blatantly unfair on low-income working families in his area and South Auckland who relied on public transport.

“It looks like the public transport map for Alabama, 1955.

“The parts of West Auckland I represent are probably the worst served by public transport of any area in Auckland City. I don’t believe they should be disadvantaged in this way.”

Mr Twyford’s analogy is a bit excessive, but looking at the zone map he does have a bit of a point about the North Shore doing unreasonably well out of the proposed boundaries:Long Bay, Kumeu, Whitford and Manukau all roughly fall about 20 kilometres from downtown. Yet the zones they fall within are very very different:

  • A trip from Long Bay to the city would only be two zones
  • A trip from Whitford or Kumeu to the city would be four zones
  • A trip from Manukau to the city would be three zones

The other anomaly in the zone map is, I think, the huge southern zone. Does it really make sense for trips between Mangere and the city (barely 10km) to be charged the same as a trip from Drury to the city (over 30km)? I don’t really think so. While huge zones have a potential advantage in that you can take quite a long trip for the price of a single zone, they will inevitably mean a fairly high price per zone travelled through. With the large zones above I can’t see this system stacking up with prices of much lower than $2.50 for each zone you travel through – which would mean some pretty whopping costs for people outside the isthmus to the west and the south. Smaller zones seem likely to result in a lower charge “per zone” and therefore probably less change from the current fare levels.

For a start, let’s split that northern zone into an upper and a lower zone. For simplicity’s sake let’s just use the current boundary for the Northern Pass
The logical place to split the southern boundary is at Manukau City, with a bit of a “grey boundary” across a band east and west of there to ensure short trips don’t fall into the cost of a two zone ticket.

That leaves us with something like this:

There would be some other implications for outer areas:

  • The outer north would fall into the same zone as the outer west as both would be 4 zones from the city. This cleans up a fairly odd anomaly in the current maps.
  • Whitford and Maraetai would probably fall into the “four zones from city” zone along with Manurewa, Papakura etc.
  • Pukekohe would probably now be five zones from the city, which makes sense as it’s similar in distance from the city as Warkworth (which actually gets a bus service in the RPTP and also would sensibly be five zones from the city)

I think that altogether this would make for a fairer system and probably result in lower “per zone” fare charges and less change from current fare levels. The only other possible question is whether the isthmus should be split into an eastern zone and a western zone to further lower the cost of each zone’s travel.

37 comments to Fairer fare zones

  • jonno1

    Mr Twyford really has jumped the shark on this one. Inconsistent fare zones equate with apartheid? I don’t think so. I noticed he had ignored the southern zone which you also picked up Peter M. But your suggested tweaks make a lot of sense.

  • SteveC

    distance is only one aspect of PT travel, it might be the same distance from Albany and Manukau to the CBD, but I bet it’s a lot quicker by bus, which could make the perception of travel costs quite different

  • Good work Peter, much better. No zone system can be absolutely perfect but your suggestions make this one certainly much less imperfect.

  • Malcolm

    The big North Shore zone might be to entice people to catch the bus, thus relieve pressure on the harbour bridge.

    • Hamish O

      Using that theory though you could say a big southern zone encourages people to catch the train, relieving pressure on the southern motorway. It just needs to be consistent in all directions, and have reasonably sized zones that are not too small, but not too big either.

  • obi

    There are always going to be issues with a zone system where someone pays for two zones to travel a kilometer across a zone boundary while someone else pays for one zone and can travel 10km or more. But wouldn’t the easiest way to fix Twyford’s issue be to do away with the City Zone? Just merge it in to the Isthmus Zone, so that all three outer zones are adjacent to the central combined City&Isthmus Zone?

    “It looks like the public transport map for Alabama, 1955″

    Really? This must win some award for most bizarre political metaphor ever used in NZ. Are we supposed to imagine South Aucklanders being forced to sit in the back of the bus, and big-gutted police giving them a beating if they refuse.

    • That would push the price of a single zone fare quite high though, as you’d have a loss of fidelity on your key radial trips. Making everywhere from Albany to Westgate to Botany to Papakura two zones from the city (and three from eachother) would mean each zone increment was very expensive.

  • John Smith

    Obi: “There are always going to be issues with a zone system where someone pays for two zones to travel a kilometer across a zone boundary”

    You can have overlaps, as Melbourne does – see http://ptv.vic.gov.au/maps-stations-stops/metropolitan-maps/metropolitan-train-network-map/

    It makes sense for major centres to be within the overlap, as Peter M has suggested for Manukau.

    • OrangeKiwi

      Having an overlap – regardless of size – will always move the problem to the next stop or station over. Why can’t we do away with the zones and charge distance-based fares. With GPS technology abound surely it can’t be hard nor expensive to implement?

      • Because distance based fares disincentivize people from making any trips but the ones they absolutely have to, because each additional trip is charged at the same rate as the first ones. People might do their commute by PT or catch it to a stadium or something where congestion or parking is an issue, but the second it’s not hard to drive they’ll be straight back into the car.

        Zone passes allow people to travel to their hearts content, and effectively give people ‘free’ additional travel once they’ve bought a pass for their main purpose of travel. Under that situation, those peak commuters who have already bought zone passes have the choice of travelling again by PT for no extra cost, or taking the car with it’s associated fuel and parking costs. So many will chose to just take PT again. If you keep charging them by distance for every PT trip they make then they’ll take the car.

        If, like the Auckland Plan suggests, we want to increase patronage, get bums on seats and have people travelling by PT all over the region and at all times (not just peak hour weekday commuters to the CBD), the zones are the way to go.

        • OrangeKiwi

          Substitute zones for a set distance you can travel and you’ll have the same outcome. A ‘distance pass’ instead of a zone pass. Could be more flexible as you’re not confined to one set geographic area. Travel to your hearts content in any which direction you please.

  • Stu Donovan

    Vote equality; vote no zones. Non-discriminatory distance-based charging is coming to a bus near you!

  • The split on the North Shore seems reasonable, except it leave the Shore with two small zones that don’t work so well alone, and a four zone trip requirement to do a relatively short trip like Browns Bay to Ellerslie.

    Better would be to move the split so that Greenhithe is in the upper zone, and join that upper part of the shore to the west Auckland zone to create a northwest zone. that would be about the same area and shape as the south zone on the other side of town. Then the remaining lower part of the shore could be joined with the isthmus zone as a ring around the CBD. That way if you’re going from the lower shore to the isthmus you only need a two zone pass, not a three zoner.

    I like the idea of splitting south Auckland around Manukau. All that together would result in zones that are fair for a radial commuter perspective, but also function well for local travel.

    • Louis M

      Good idea and maybe instead of named zones it would be better to say Zone A for inner city, Zone B for Isthmus / Lower North Shore, Zone C for Upper North Shore / West / South and Zone D for outer trips.

  • Torbayite

    For some reason I quite liked the orginal boundaries.
    I cannot work out exactly why – perhaps something to do with local geography!!
    any ideas for my bias??

  • Icebrid

    I’d take Nicks’ idea and extend it a bit further, with 4 ring based zones.

    Zone 1 – Inner city
    Zone 2 – Isthmus and lower North Shore
    Zone 3 – Manukau, Waitereke, upper North Shore
    Zone 4 – Everything beyond that.

  • Chris

    Not sure what mode of PT this map is for but I assume its for trains. If that is the case why bother with zoning, the stages at the moment work well and the pricing is equally fair?

  • SPT

    Perhaps fairer if you only view public transport as a means to get into the city. However, that zoning means many (most?) trips within the shore will be two zones. Examples: Mairangi bay to Albany; Northcote to Massey uni; Browns Bay to Takapuna; Browns Bay to Sunnynook, Murray’s Bay to Constellation Station. None of these trips are very long, yet under this system they would all be two zones. Perhaps have the shore one zone for local trips and the suggested change for trips into the city? No idea if that is feasible though.

    • Peter M

      There is always a tradeoff in zone sizes. The bigger the zone the higher the price for each zone’s travel will be. You could have a flat fare for all travel but then that would probably cost around $4 so really punish shorter trips.

  • SPT

    A question that just occurred to me. If I take a feeder bus to Constellation Station and then the NEX into town, would this mean that I would be charged four zones (two separate two zone tickets)?

    • Peter M

      No. The zone system will charge you based on how many different zones your whole journey goes through. So the trip you talk about would be three zones.

  • Rob

    This is typical of the Lefts attitude to the North Shore. We are not poor enough or brown enough for the Left PC Brigade.

  • Richard

    Why not join city and the isthmus zones together, and leave outer zones as they are?

    • Richard

      Sorry, I missed obi’s comment above… but he makes a good point. With overlap regions (a la Melbourne) then it can work. For very short journey’s perhaps a special-single-discounted-no transfer-ticket could be offered. If someone transferred then the max they would pay would be the full zone price.

  • joust

    off topic, but to implement the system shown above we’ll need “route validators” at Newmarket (for example) to allow passengers to prove their journey from south to west went via Newmarket not Britomart and avoid paying for the city zone.

    Or without them does the system just calculate the shortest route between tag-in and tag-out? What’s to stop people travelling from Sylvia Park to Penrose via Britomart to drop something off to someone (again, for example).

  • TimR

    Like it. Bus + train zones defined by flight paths, AKL international and Whenuapai. Ardmore and Dairy Flat next.

  • Steve D

    Well, Phil’s comments got me interested, and turns out the real-life Montgomery, Alabama circa 1955 didn’t have zones, but charged a flat rate of 10c. It’s now $2, which includes free transfers. Which sounds pretty good, actually, and of course these days you can sit where you want.

  • Georgia

    I like the zone suggestions made in the article, they seem fairer to me. I think the inner city zone will provoke me to get off the bus on the edge of town and walk in from there.

  • Lianne

    I find it ridiculous that currently we live on the outskirts of Kingsland, and we could walk to our closest bus stop, but it’s technically in Morningside and is two zones, which costs $3.06. Or I can walk an extra 5-10 minutes and take the bus from Kingsland, which costs $1.62 (both on HOP). It seems to make far more sense to be charged on the distance I actually travel rather than some random, arbitrary line. I also find it ridiculous that I can only top up my card with ten ride passes at Britomart (which I can no longer do) and cannot do any sort of monthly pass, AND that the monthly pass (when you buy it separately from HOP) makes little difference in zones or distance travelled.

  • RJ

    i think they should use that 10km radius they have on it and lets those be the zones…so 10km = 1 zone, 20km = 2 zones etc

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