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PT frequency of usage

This is a guest post by John Polkinghorne

The Ministry of Transport, bless ‘em, actually have a lot of interesting information on their website if you know where to look. One of the things they do is carry out a Household Travel Survey, which surveys 4,600 households in various parts of New Zealand each year. There’s plenty to look at, and you can check out various results at their transport survey, but for today I’ll look at a summary they put together on public transport use – taken from here.

The thing that stands out to me is a table showing the percentage of people who use public transport in NZ’s major cities. From this, 53% of Aucklanders surveyed hadn’t used PT at all in the last year. This put us on par with Christchurch and Dunedin, both of which are significantly smaller, neither of which have rail, and neither of which are particularly PT-oriented cities. We’re well behind Wellington, where only 27% of people hadn’t hopped on a train or bus at least once. Remember that (greater) Wellington is around the same size as Christchurch, and both cities are less than a third the size of Auckland.

Wow, that’s not a good start. How about people who haven’t used PT in the last month, but have in the last year? 17% of Aucklanders fell into this camp, in line with the other cities except for Wellington.

So, by this point, we can see that only 30% of Aucklanders had used public transport in the month before they were surveyed. We were in between Dunedin (26%) and Christchurch (34%), and well
behind Wellington where 46% of the people had used it at least once.

The last few lines of the table below are asking people how many days in the last month they had used public transport. I won’t dwell on it except to point out that half the Aucklanders who used PT in the last month hadn’t used it very often. Only 14% used it on 5 days or more, ahead of Dunedin (11%) but behind Christchurch (16%) and Wellington (27%).

PT usage by urban area

These results for Auckland are pretty poor, by any stretch of the imagination. As New Zealand’s largest city, and keeping in mind that public transport should be better utilised as cities get bigger, Auckland is dragging the chain.

I was genuinely quite shocked that public transport use in Auckland is not much higher than in Dunedin. Aucks is more than ten times the size of Dunners. I studied in Dunedin for the first 18 months of my Bachelor’s and never used public transport once. A lot of students would have been the same – the vast majority live within walking distance of the university. I would imagine that PT use by tertiary students is much higher in Auckland than in Dunedin, and (given Dunedin’s large student numbers, compared to its size) that’s probably the only thing that puts us above the southern city in terms of how often Aucklanders use public transport.

Coming in behind Christchurch is pretty embarrassing too, and not a little surprising. As mentioned above, Christchurch is a third the size of Auckland, and doesn’t have rail. Christchurch is a flat city which lends itself well to walking and cycling, and Cantabrians tend to do more of both.

Wellington is leaps and bounds ahead of Auckland, but I think we all knew that. I think these results are a pretty telling scorecard, and, to put it mildly, Auckland doesn’t look too flash. The majority of Aucklanders never use public transport at all, and most of those who do don’t use it very often. Two basic questions come out of this:

  1. Why don’t Aucklanders use PT very often?
  2. How do we improve PT usage in Auckland?

Questions that are answered in a number of different posts in this blog! A redesign of the network, and rail electrification, should help boost patronage over the next few years. But the thing is, we should really be aiming to get to where Wellington is now in the short to medium term. Anything less is short-changing ourselves in my opinion.

76 comments to PT frequency of usage

  • Interestingly if we meet the the targets set out in the Auckland plan, we should very much pass Wellington on a per capita basis. The goal is 140 million trips by 2022 and based on our expected population then would mean Aucklanders would average 80 trips per person per year where as Wellington is currently at 72 and its falling.

  • SteveC

    I’ve always been a bit skeptical about this survey, the total across the country is less than 8,000 respondents and the number of Auckland respondents should be closer to 2,500 to be proportional to population. I’d take these results as a loose guide and put more weight on the census for proper analysis. Shame is that we’d have something concrete from 2011 by now, but will have to wait at least another year for data from 2013.

    • You don’t have to survey the same proportion of a large population to achieve the same statistical confidence.

      The link to the survey has good info on household selection, sampling errors etc. The statistics seem relatively thorough. It ain’t no NZ Herald poll ;D

    • Dan

      The sample size in Auckland is easily enough to get a good idea of what is going on. It is easy to calculate the error caused using a random sample rather than questioning the whole population — this is known as sampling error. Respondents are not selected proportional to population so that sample sizes n the smaller centres are large enough to work with (eg the sampling error for 1700 respondents is about the same as that for 2500 respondents, but the sampling error for 200 respondents is much greater than that for 400 respondents. This is because the sampling error is inversly proportional to the square root of the sample size. Interestingly, the sampling error is independent of the size of the total population.

      • George D

        1000 is fine for something like this, and 1700 is much more than you actually need.

        I’d be more interested in what their sampling techniques are – if they’re doing landline surveys they’re likely to miss a great number of youth, those working non-traditional hours, and immigrants not comfortable conducting a survey in English. The demographics that disproportionately fill our trains and buses. Unless they’re weighting their sample, they’re going to present an incomplete picture.

        I’m not suggesting that this is the case, but that there is difficulty in sampling something like this properly.

        • Dan

          The survey is done in person and the method looks pretty sound to me:

          A trained interviewer visits each selected household and invites the members to complete a memory jogger to record all their travel over two days. People who drive a truck, bus or taxi for a living complete a special professional driver memory jogger. The interviewer returns after the travel days to conduct a personal interview with each person in the household. The interview includes questions about the travel in the memory jogger, crash history and alcohol consumption.

          Selecting households

          Blocks of houses used for the Census (called meshblocks) are picked at random. Selected houses in the meshblock are sent a letter describing the survey and advising that a surveyor will call. An interviewer visits the houses and invites people to take part. The people in the house note down their travel on two particular days. As soon as possible after the travel days the interviewer comes back and interviews each household member. Over seven to eight years every household in the meshblock will be invited to take part in the survey. Then the survey will move to different meshblocks and the process will start over again.

          • George D

            That’s excellent methodology. I’m glad they’re putting this much effort into it.

          • SteveC

            my initial impressions of this survey were driven some years ago by the cycling figures, which I think were under-represented, my apologies to the more numerically literate for my baseless generalisations! mea culpa ;)

  • John (P) while a great post I think (from experience) the obvious is missing to give our flagging P/T patronage especially our rail patronage good kick until the infrastructure comes on cue over the next 10-30 years.

    I take note here: “Why don’t Aucklanders use PT very often?
    How do we improve PT usage in Auckland?
    Questions that are answered in a number of different posts in this blog! A redesign of the network, and rail electrification, should help boost patronage over the next few years. But the thing is, we should really be aiming to get to where Wellington is now in the short to medium term. Anything less is short-changing ourselves in my opinion.”

    Those are the two questions we are all seeking to actually answer and the reason why (do my personal disagreement as well as Councillor Mike Lee not being amused either) AT are about to embark on spending our money on “professional experts” ( http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10855436 ) in finding “fixes” to our rail slump,

    However again Councillor Mike Lee has hit the nail on the head right here with this comment from another article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10857062
    “Mayor Len Brown says the arrival of the trains will be “a huge step on the path towards the kind of integrated transport system an international city like Auckland needs”.

    He believes the electric units – which will have greater acceleration and braking power than the existing diesel fleet – will make rail patronage “rocket” and create even more pressure for a 3.5km underground rail extension from Britomart to Mt Eden.

    But council transport chairman and veteran electrification campaigner Mike Lee believes the new trains will not be enough to boost flagging patronage unless they are supported by general service improvements, notably far better punctuality and extended weekend timetables, without prohibitive fare rises.

    “I would not bank on electric trains in themselves fixing chronic underlying human management problems,” he said.”

    Basically cutting it short why don’t Aucklanders use P/T much and how do we improve our P/T usage in Auckland? Well the infrastructure part of the answer is being dealt with so to me it is rather irrelevant in this point in time. The actual answer came from Dr Lester Levy – Chair of AT:

    Dr Levy said he agreed there was a need for “critical measures” to be adopted and Auckland Transport needed to be far more customer-led in creating a demand for its services.

    And there is the answer right there and there – he said it himself: ” Auckland Transport needed to be far more customer-led in creating a demand for its services” THAT TO ME IS (and excuse the caps) PRIORITY NUMBER ONE above else at the moment.

    2013 is going to be long and interesting year getting the patronage back round again. However (and in my opinion (what ever that is worth these days)) we (by we I mean AT, Council, the p/t user, you guys here at the blog, myself, and others who give a damn about our city) can do this – slowly but surely. :D

    • George D

      But council transport chairman and veteran electrification campaigner Mike Lee believes the new trains will not be enough to boost flagging patronage unless they are supported by general service improvements, notably far better punctuality and extended weekend timetables, without prohibitive fare rises.

      He’s right. It doesn’t matter how fast and shiny the trains are if they’re still late and unreliable, and riding them costs more than ever. Every time fares rise, demand decreases – we’ve actually reached the point now where we’ve passed an equilibrium and ridership is decreasing towards a new equilibrium with those who are prepared to pay for a particular level of service.

      • He is right alright – good old Councillor Lee. So as ratepayers and for the ones who do travel by p/t especially rail (and as I wrote this an ADK class DMU just went screaming by) what and where next – serious question

    • Bryce P

      Quote from Bob Lutz’s book – Guts.
      On announcement of a CEO’s decision to hire a consultant to write the company’s strategic business plan the CEO was told “Look. This board is certainly willing to pay for a business plan. Now we can either pay you to do the strategic thinking for this company, or we can pay the consultant-but we’re only going to pay once!”
      Surely the brains trust at AT should be skilled enough to sort this out? If they are not, then they should be replaced with people who can. We’re paying a lot of money to this organisation through rates and taxes.

      • One would think so Bryce, one would think so with AT and the formidable resources the wield. However that Herald article was not inspiring in that regard.

        I have to be careful where I tread taking the debate down this philosophical debating path but it has to be said: What are the purpose of Consultants then?

        Could consultants in this instance give a second opinion on the matter – something AT have missed or are we throwing more money at something that is going to tell the ratepayer the blinking obvious?

        I suppose we shall know in February after the next AT Board meeting. I am sure Councillor Lee would have more to say on this matter.

        • Bryce P

          I’m more than happy to pay for consultants where it is a one off basis – like for instance the redesign of the bus network but customer service should be a basic function of AT. If the people there cannot cope then there need to be some very serious questions asked.

        • Sacha

          Using consultants can also reduce the impact of internal politics/culture on their findings and make organisational change simpler to get started. A new Chair would not be oblivious to that.

          • Bryce P

            If you have to use consultants to effect organisational change then I’m ok with that. From what we have been hearing, and from a conversation I had this morning, there are some people within AT that are holding the organisation back. They need to be found out for their shortcomings and removed. As a shareholder (ratepayer and taxpayer) I demand no more excuses. Action is needed.

  • jonno1

    It isn’t very helpful that the most recent PT survey is for 2009.

    • Glen K

      Actually the survey is continuous, they do ongoing surveys every year. The most recent data for Auckland and other main urban areas (2-yr rolling averages to June 2011) can be found in the spreadsheets at http://www.transport.govt.nz/research/Pages/LatestResults.aspx; they just haven’t produced an updated PT results flyer. Interestingly the results show very little movement in the number of PT trips in Auckland over the past few years; somewhat at odds with AT’s own data.

  • Bob

    During peak hour if this is only 7% of Aucklands pop taking PT I’d hate to see a higher percentage. Almost every peak hour service that I have taken (Sandringham Rd, New North Rd, Mt Eden Rd, Dom rd) has been overcrowded

    • bbc

      Mode sharing going into the city is significantly higher, on the order of 50%, they like trotting out the Auckland-wide 7% as a justification for not spending on PT when it doesn’t give the full picture.

  • Christopher T

    Notwithstanding the obvious sample bias of the MoT survey, I’m actually amazed that 47% of Aucklanders attempted to use PT at least once in 2009 given the abysmal quality and infrequency of the network. Case in point: today I had to go to Freeman’s Bay from Avondale. Caught the 09:17 train; arrived Grafton 09:32; attempted to catch an Inner Link bus but it drove past leaving a couple of slightly pissed off potential passengers in its wait; next rail bus in 17 minutes according to the PID; boarded a one door rail bus packed with mothers and strollers; caught an Inner Link bus which stopped for 2-3 minutes at a couple of stops in order to ‘catch up’. Arrived 10:05. On the return trip I caught another Inner Link bus (3 x 2-3 minute stops); arrived Grafton 10:55 to discover that the 11:06 train to Waitakere had been cancelled, explained later over the PT system ‘due to earlier track failure’ along with an apology that had all the sincerity of a post war Nazi apologising for a couple of atrocities a few years back; caught the 11:06. The time I wasted and the cost I paid for it almost made it not worth my while to use the network. Had I driven the ubiquitous private motor vehicle, I’d have been there and back in three quarters of an hour, with, today, no delays. Carrots for car drivers; expensive sticks for the users of PT seems to be the operational thinking at AT.

  • Graeme

    This blog has a lot to say about where large amounts of capital are required to be spent on public transport, the CRL being one such project. However, I feel the focus now should not be on new big projects but getting the people of Auckland using what they have already got. Clearly public transport is not meeting people’s needs. If I want to go somewhere I would expect a frequent and realiable service. It also has to be time efficient and seamless between transfers.

    Once the electric trains are up and running, the focus should be directed towards paying attention to the fine details. An integrated ticketing system. Minimising delays and promptly dealing with breakdowns. Perhaps as far as possible, improving the frequency of service. Once patronage increases, then the case for big infrastructure projects, such as CRLs and a new Waitemata Harbour PT corridor could be justified.

    However, it has been pointed out to me that one challenge PT faces in Auckland is that most of the population do not work in the CBD and the majority crossing the Auckland Habour bringe have not come or are going to the CBD. So again, Public transport has to have a rethink of how it could best meet the needs of these people.

    • Patrick Reynolds

      Graeme I agree, but not until the Great Upgrade is in full swing (ticketing/electrification/new bus network) for the simple reason that the services are simply not there or those that are are often overcrowded.

      The systems have to actually be workable before they will grow in appeal. But the great news is that to profoundly grow the uptake of Transit in Auckland doesn’t require any unusual behaviour by citizens here but simply that we are likely to respond to a higher standard of service with an average level of uptake to similar cities in NZ and around the world.

      So to answer John’s question: why are we not using it so much? Because its not there. This is a more convincing answer than the one commonly put forward by opponents of Transit investment: That Aucklanders are somehow different from other city dwellers everywhere, somehow our DNA has evolved in a few decades to produce uniquely Transit adverse citizens…..

    • Matt Lee

      The level of subsidy per passenger would indicate that rail services as a whole are not overcrowded. (Unless there are too few passengers, at this stage, to sustain the fixed costs of the network?)

      My perception is that there are more serious cultural issues underlying the poor level of service, that won’t go away by themselves when the lovely new trains come on line.

      Irrespective of what infrastructure we have, it doesn’t cost a lot to treat passengers respectfully, and to apologise and communicate in a helpful manner when trains are late etc.

      • Nick R

        Peak services are very crowded, the high level of subsidy per passenger is indicative of the currently very high costs of service delivery. That’s basically due to a fleet of lumbering old diesel vehicles which are expensive to fuel, expensive to maintain and expensive to staff with drivers, door operators and ticket collectors. The new electric fleet with (probably) driver only operation will address a lot of that.

        • Plus off-peak service utilisation is still quite low, largely because services outside peak remain somewhere between distinctly average and outright useless. Better off-peak services would improve general utilisation, improve perceptions, and probably increase peak ridership by people who currently distrust rail because it doesn’t meet their off-peak needs.

  • Duncan

    I think it is true, public transport being unreliable and incomplete etc etc has been drummed into Aucklanders for the last 40 years, and the calls for motorways got answered and public transport left in the dust. The baby boomers are still adamant they should be able to drive everywhere, it is my generation and those younger who are pushing and using public transport. It is an attitude that we will all have to help change, but the infrastructure etc has to match as well.

    • Duncan if you care to look the history is odder than that. Auckland had one of the highest Transit mode share ratios in the western world and then the system was systematically dismantled in the mid fifties in order to prove the need for a investment in a very expensive and invasive motorway system. That is still being built today, still very expensively. And since this period all other modes were sidelined, sold off, fragmented, and starved of investment until recently.

    • JeffT

      And yet it’s interesting to note the number of boomers and oldies using rail, particularly in the weekend. If it’s available people will use it but I think cars have been presented as the way to travel for forty years.

      And what happens when the oldies become concerned about driving on the congested roads out there? They’ll want PT options. (Should’ve invested in it).

  • Mr Anderson

    I think the answer is most strongly linked to Auckland’s transport history. 60 years of spending almost no money on PT plus a very extensive motorway system means that Auckland is one of the most car dependent cities in the world.

    That takes a while to turn around.

    • Matt Lee

      Yes of course. And to the extent that people/households have “capital” tied up in car ownership it takes time to see shifts in behaviour.

  • JeffT

    Sorry I was adding to Duncan’s views there Patrick. We posted at the same time!

  • Christopher T

    Quite agree Mr Anderson; and the point you make Patrick is, of course, extremely pertinent. But surely AT has to throw a few carrots in the direction of would-be passengers, rather than penalising them. Weekend Western line rail timetables are a case in point; the Hop fiasco is another, brought home recently when rail replacement buses were unable to take Hop cards notwithstanding an expensive marketing campaign exhorting all of us to acquire them but three months previously; and the arbitrary cut off point for ten ride passes (31.12.12) while Veolia was still selling paper tickets. They’re all micro issues but they are the ones that, I suspect, make or break the popularity of PT. There are other annoyances such as the insufficient allocation of ticketing machines at stations, etc, that are obviously budget driven, but why, for example, didn’t anyone at AT think about printing brochures for Gold card holders explaining why they now have to buy either a Hop card or a paper ticket; in other languages too, Hanyu, for example? I really look forward to the revised bus network, to proper integrated fares, to the new trains and the CRL, but there’s a heap of stuff, little stuff, that has to be done in the interim if we are to lure people back out of their cars and, frustratingly, it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment.

    • Mr Anderson

      Yes something is wrong in the day to day management of PT at the moment because a lot of little things seem to be going wrong and seemingly without much plan.

    • Matt Lee

      Well new trains won’t fix this kind of nonsense. And I don’t see them as small problems either.

      No hop cards on rail buses?! Is there anybody taking responsibility?

      New Zealanders are way too easygoing.

      • Bryce P

        How many people are using the rail buses? I mean, would it be better to take the financial hit and operate them for free over the shutdown period? Long term thinking.

        • Nick R

          I’ve always thought railbuses should be free, partly to reduce the collection costs, partly to compensate users for the delay and inconvenience.

          • Hamish O

            Me too.

          • Bryce P

            Having done car sales you find out pretty quickly which details youy sweat over when it comes to keeping customers enthused and happy. Unless the rail buses could have been used as per the trains they should have been free. If they could have been used as per the trains – ie HOP, tag on off etc, then I think they would not have been such a PR nightmare. Even then I would love to see the budget to provide the rail buses over the past 12 months. I bet it’s pretty insignificant in terms of Aucklands PT spend and a service that has been pretty well lambasted.

          • Matt Lee

            Agreed. Free or reduced fares would be nice. I suppose, tho’, they are under a lot of pressure to maintain farebox recovery.

            And maybe there is a risk of revenue “leakage” from regular bus services if free travel were offered on the rail replacements…..

  • Luke C

    I wonder if there are much smarter ways to use railbuses.
    Ie like don’t even try to run them to a timetable, but have a non stop circuit, with one turning up continuously between Newmarket and Britomart.
    Also when services are cancelled out to the edges of the network run a few expresses straight to Newmarket and Britomart, so people aren’t stuck with a torturous 1.5hr journey from Papakura.
    Having free services would save heaps in operational costs too.

    • jonno1

      Excellent suggestions Luke C. This morning there was a row of buses parked on Remuera Rd as I drove past :) – seemed like overkill. I was heading out to Pukekohe for lunch, so not a great opportunity for PT, but had I been heading downtown I might have been tempted. OTOH, the southern motorway was magic: no delays, steady speed, no drama and minimal marginal (ie fuel) cost.

  • Mr Anderson

    What’s really interesting in the stats above is that many more people use public transport “occasionally” than “regularly”. I wonder whether these are people who catch it to work once in a while or whether they are people using PT for non-work trips – indicating a potentially massive, willing but generally highly neglected market.

    • Stu Donovan

      And one that would not benefit particularly much from highly discounted monthly passes ;)

      • Bryce P

        I don’t think we should be too critical of monthly passes. Have a look at Vancouver’s Translink for some of the options they have. The employers pass is interesting. I think we could learn a lot from, already successful, operations overseas. The ‘off peak’ all zones for the single zone price is cool and would encourage more off peak PT use.

        http://www.translink.ca/en/Fares-and-Passes.aspx

        • Stu Donovan

          Depends on what you consider to be “critical” :).

          In my considered opinion, monthly passes are a historical throwback that have been rendered obsolete by modern ticketing systems. We would do well to follow the lead of Canberra and Brisbane, who have fare caps beyond a certain number of trips (and/or level of expenditure), rather than monthly passes.

          • Agree. Also AT should be approaching employers near good Transit services with deals for staff.

          • I am aware that they have done this in the past with some businesses by offering free monthly passes to staff who don’t currently use PT (which pisses those that do off). the most recent one I heard of was about a month ago.

          • Bryce P

            It should be pointed out to the disgruntled employees that their car parks cost the company as well. In fact far more than any PT tickets.

          • No I was referring to those that are honest and say they use PT get pissed off as they still have to keep paying for tickets as normal but those that normally drive get offered a free monthly pass

          • Bryce P

            Fair call :-). Maybe a scheme like the Vancouver one where a company with 25 employees (the number can be changed but for the sake of the discussion I’ll use what is on the trans) can get a discount on fares? It’s kind of t like the Southern Cross bulk signup scheme. the employees have to pay but they get the benefit of the discount.

            http://www.translink.ca/en/Fares-and-Passes/Employer-Pass.aspx

          • Patrick Reynolds

            I wasn’t thinking free, which is unsustainable and inequitable, but rather ways that AT could offer bulk discounts of say year passes to employers to include in renumeration packages. I think I’ve mentioned before that I had this when living in London, an all zone annual pass was agreat thing to have and certainly made me feel better about my employer.
            It was amazing the new sense of freedom I got with that pass; I went to places I otherwise wouldn’t have especially off peak (there you go Stu- low marginal cost to the provider) sometimes riding to the end of the line just to see what it looks like (I don’t recommend Morden).
            Of course it meant that my salary was lower but not pound for pound, in other words everyone in this situation was a winner; I got more travel (a new sense of freedom) for less, and basically free personal travel. My employer got loyalty from an employee at a lower cost. And London Transport (as it was then) got a bump to its float at the beginning of the year and an efficient pass using rider using all sorts of services, becoming habituated to using Transit (something I never used previously in Auckland) who often dragged others along.

            And even when I was down to my last quid I could go out and ride to something cheap or free (Highgate Cemetery and Hampstead Heath for example). And I saw a lot of obscure and out of the way museums, some of which are fabulous….(Sir John Soane Museum is my favourite, not that it’s that out of the way). Now that has all sorts of social and mental health beneficial externalities that would be very hard for economists to capture.

          • Bryce P

            Just like what translink do Patrick (see link above) :-). I think it’s a fantastic idea even though it would not benefit me in the slightest.

          • Translink also have an interesting approach to monthly passes for uni and polytech students…

            http://www.translink.ca/en/Fares-and-Passes/Student-Passes/U-Pass.aspx

            Each Uni/tech holds a referendum on whether they want to take part in the U-pass system, and if a majority approve then *all* students are required as part of their institution fees to purchase a monthly u-pass while they are enrolled…
            The discount is fairly attractive, around $35 a month, vs a full adult rate of $170 ( all CAD), so even if you walked to Uni, it would still be much cheaper than paying for regular fares for you personal travel around town….(although having UBC and SFU as self contained campuses that are are fair distance from downtown (and everything else) probably encourages having one)

          • bbc

            Back in the days of compulsory student association membership such a scheme would likely be quite easy to implement but allowing students to vote on whether everyone should be a member of something was banned by the Act/National government.

  • Christopher T

    Ritchies, who won the 06/01/13 – 20/01/13 rail bus replacement tender currently have heaps of idle school buses floating around and I’ve noticed them parked all over the place; Mountain Road for example, even though there were cancelled rail services from Grafton. Ritchies usually get the annual rail closure contract but, obviously, Bayes undercut them this year. The existence of superfluous buses suggests highly padded contracts but, more interestingly, it reveals the absolute inadequacy of the rail replacement service; people just don’t want to use them because they’re slow, crowded and absolutely unsuited to purpose. There’s a world of difference between a train trip and time endured on buses.

    • bbc

      It doesn’t suggest padded contracts, it suggests the whole system is geared around extremely high capacity at peak and then extremely low frequencies off peak, meaning the sunk cost of all these buses is poorly used.

  • LucyJH

    i think the NZ Household Travel Survey has a pretty strong methodology and because it is a regular survey it is an incredibly rich source of data. I’m always kind of surprised that the government hasn’t cut it yet but perhaps this is an indirect and positive side effect of the government actually being willing to spend quite a bit of dough on transport – not all of it is going on motorways (yet). I really hope they keep it going for another 20 years because then we will start to see long-term trends in a more meaningful way.

    on another note, I wonder if the quite high occassional PT use in Wellington is actually more closely related to a lack of parking in their CBD? Or better off-peak services? Or just a much spatially smaller city? When I visit Wellington I often notice that the locals use PT quite a bit and not just to go to work but also for things like going out to gigs in the evening or visiting friends at the weekend. Hard to say why but I suspect the difficulty of parking in some parts of the city does have an influence.

    • Bryce P

      I really think the network changes, once they get here, will make a big difference. I have tried to use the bus numerous times (there’s a stop 80m down the road) but each time the wait is just too long. Up to an hour between buses, in weekends and off peak, is just crazy. When you combine a long wait with a long trip time it’s just a hindrance. I can handle a long wait or a long trip but not both. A bus going past my house every 15 minutes will make a big difference to me and I presume I’m not alone.

  • Lisa

    The low pt mode share is reflective of 60 years of under investment and transport and parking management policies that give precedence to private motor vehicles. Until such time as AT seriously start to rethink proposed activities to shift investment from increasing roading capacity to seriously prioritising quality pt, pt will remain the poor transport relation.

  • Dave

    Something that really annoyed me was Steven Joyce’s argument that because 94% of urban journeys in Auckland are made by road (I may not have the exact figure but it’s of this order), then transport infrastructure-spending should reflect this – i.e. spend 94% of it on roads because this “caters for people’s preference”. However Joyce seemed oblivious to the reasons for PT-use being so low, and that these reasons greatly skewed people’s ability to exercise any real preference. Strange then that Joyce never cited Wellington’s 30% PT mode-share (or whatever it is), as justification for spending 30% of funding on PT projects there. And he never thought to ask why Wellington’s PT use is that much higher. The answer is simple: Because the service is there, and it meets people’s needs to a greater degree than Auckland’s. Equally obvious is that if the service is not there or if it is poor, then of course people will not use it. A pity that no one ever tried to trip Joyce up on this one during parliamentary questions!

    And the corollary to Joyce’s insistence that funding should reflect (and therefore reinforce) current modal shares, is the assumption that it must therefor be desirable to preserve this state of affairs and not use transport funding as any sort of tool to alter people’s travel patterns. I guess you have to expect such a paucity of analytical thinking from an average kiwi bloke who made his money through a radio station and whose only prior understanding of transport was that “Kiwis love cars and rail is a bottomless pit”. And Brownlee and Key are no better.

  • Glen K

    There’s been quite a bit of more detailed analysis of the Household Travel Survey data by researchers, trying to extract any useful patterns out of it. Some of the more interesting ones are http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/353/ (Nat’l Travel Profiles Pt.A), http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/373/ (Trends in Trip Chaining), and http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/467/ (Nat’l Travel Profiles Pt.B).
    In the latter report it is interesting to see that Auckland is above Chch and behind Wgtn for commuter PT trips to work/school (section 4.4), but Chch comfortably leads the three main urban areas for trips for shopping, social visits and recreation (or at least did, prior to the quakes). I have wondered whether that reflects the way that Chch’s PT service was developed with good integrated ticketing (MetroCard), frequent all-day services, free-transfer periods and maximum daily fares, allowing for easier use for quick trips to the shops or across to your friend’s place, etc. Some of that goodwill has since been “broken” by the quakes and it will take a bit of work to get the new system up to the previous levels of use. But some of the previous efforts may serve as lessons for making Auckland’s PT service a more useful “all-round” system for the potential pool of “customers”.

  • JohnP

    Interesting comments all, and one of the major themes that comes through is that there’s already planning underway for various kinds of network improvements (the network redesign, electric trains etc) but that work needs to be done on the everyday niggles that persist with PT. Improving the reliability of travel times, better customer service, more sensible fares etc. Essentially, getting a bit of a culture shift through the PT providers in order to drive a culture shift among potential PT users. Because at the moment, I’m sure all of us have a friend or relative who talk about a bad experience on PT which has turned them off using it more. Those bad experiences are still all too common.

    The big projects like network redesign and electric trains will help with some of these issues, but Auckland Transport and the various other stakeholders can’t take their eye off the ball on the small stuff, and realistically, need to demand higher standards than have been the case in the past.

  • First time caller

    Christopher Ts comments here are very important and need to be listened to by AT as they are just an indication of the growing dissatisfaction with the present PT operations. I’m distressed that at least 20 people I know who used PT over a year ago now drive to work or anywhere after giving up on PT. Stories about how bad things are were legendary amongst friends at summer BBQs I have been to. Even if they go out for a few drinks, they now opt for a shared cab home whereas trains were once a potential option. The appalling weekend train timetables is one factor here.
    I suspect many key people in AT never use PT- and as he apparently lives on Waiheke, I assume even Mike Lee rarely does. So they have no idea of the day to day frustrations and things that could easily be fixed while they hire at ratepayer expense expensive consultants to tell them why patronage figures have tanked. AT comparing the patronage figures today with rugby world cup times is a case of putting their head in the sand. And Lee is correct is warning that fancy trains won’t suddenly make people put aside their experiences.
    It would be worth Transport Blog officially asking how many AT board members and key management use PT at least 4 times a week. I suspect they all have HOP cards but rarely use them. Have they tried to go anywhere at night or weekends on PT?

    They have no idea of the frustrations on the ground. To be honest, after three years of using PT 6 days a week, I am also seriously considering going back to driving this year and it makes me sick that I am even thinking so.

    I have given up on trains after several cancellations just before Christmas –accompanied by the appalling lack of clear or indeed any communication from Veolia staff or in one case outright rudeness from a Veolia staff member on the Britomart platform who treated me like dirt.

    They can’t even do the basics at Britomart. For example, why are the electronic signs not updated quickly when late changes happen and why are there not PA speakers near the trains on the Britomart platforms so that on the lower platform or sitting in the train you can actually hear announcements if trains are cancelled or platforms changed? .
    One BBQ recent story I heard was of someone on a train with signs in the window saying Swanson heading off to Papakura because of a very late platform change. That is the sort of story I used to tell when I started taking trains and it is amazing such things still happen. How can people have confidence in such a system when they hear such stories.

    My recent experiences with buses have driven me to despair. The Outer Link is, as has been blogged about here, a good idea but sadly a complete fail taking for ever to get anywhere without any clear indication when you might arrive (basic info you need in planning whether to take it to a particular destination to meet an appointment).

    Just before Christmas, I waited 40 minutes in Customs St for a peak time Link bus then had to put up with the driver smoko breaks and wait time so the bus was on time (a joke as it was running late).

    Too many bus stops have no electronic signs or those push button machines of any sort.
    Buses I often wait for go past even though I try to wave them down. As Christopher explained getting from point A to B in Auckland cross town using PT can feel like a full day’s journey. Trying to use the Journey Planner on the AT site to plan such a journey is often a surreal experience where the start point can not be found accurately and you are told to walk places even though services do exist.

    HOP should have been a success story that gave people confidence we were moving with the times to become a liveable city of international standards but continues to be a visible sign and reminder to potential users of how mangled things are. Even putting aside the Snapper debacle, why is there still not a deal with Fullers so that it is worthwhile buying an HOP card to go to Devonport on the ferry?. Instead even AT marketing tells passengers it is not a good choice because it is cheaper to use the existing printed passes.

    Some of those I know who had used PT but got fed up found that when fares went up, the early bird parking offers around the wider CBD have now made it worthwhile for them to take a car and they have got used to the convenience and reliability.
    Of all those friends who no longer use PT it is not through a willingness to do so. They are of an age and culture that support PT. But it has become too unreliable, too hard and for those who have done OE overseas, feels still to be in a 1950s mode run by bureaucrats who are often arrogant, always defensive and simply fail to understand how often simple changes and improvements could make it practical to use. It makes me weep.

    • Christopher T

      I know that Mike Lee is a regular user of the Western line and he’s probably the best advocate passengers have when it comes to dealing with AT’s complacent bureaucracy. He’s also well aware of the need to improve passenger communications: the incremental improvements we’ve seen over the past few years are testament to that, but small as they are, they’ve required considerable pushing and shoving from, largely, Councillor Lee. First Time User is quite correct when he points out the enormous gap between what’s provided by way of PT overseas and what we get here; PT in Auckland sometimes feels as if its run by a bunch of amateurs whose real interest is in planning, designing and constructing motorways or, at least, their regional equivalent.

      The Link bus system will never work until those in authority at AT find the guts to bus lane the entire route and install bus priority traffic lights at all intersections. Until that happens it’s going to remain an immediate and highly visible testament to Auckland’s failed PT strategies.

      • JeffT

        Wow. I’ve had to catch my breath a bit after reading the last two contributors. And not just because I’ve just been for a jog! I just found my head nodding back and forth while reading.

        I’ve already discussed the issues that cause me frustration with the rail operations and I thank the moderators for allowing the reflections here.
        Anyone know if Mike Lee reads the blogsite? He could probably get all the info needed for increasing patronage by reading this site rather than AT hiring their expensive consultants.
        They’ll probably undertake a CUSTOMER SURVEY.

    • Dave

      And it’s the same in Wellington, when it comes to journeys which require a transfer or evening off-peak trips. Between 1995 and 2004 under an enlightened management, evening off-peak frequencies on the trains were increased to ½-hourly Mon-Fri (though it remained hourly at weekends), with a last departure from Wgtn midnight (and 1am, 2am and 4am departures Friday night/Saturday morning only). Compared to the hourly service prior to 1995, this was a godsend and made the train a reasonably viable option for a night out. But in 2004 the service was cut back to hourly-after-9pm, with a last departure 11pm (1am Friday). The reason given at the time was shortage of drivers, but the former ½-hourly service has never been restored, even with the coming of the Matangis. At the time the cuts were made, evening patronage visibly collapsed and it is obvious why: To use the service for an evening out now requires constant clock-watching and calculation of how not to just-miss the hourly service, and often requires an early exit from a show or movie, purely to avoid missing that last 11pm train. And likewise if an interconnection between hourly services is needed the journey can become absolutely fraught or else requires an inordinate amount of buffer-time to be allowed to guarantee that interchange, with all the thrills of waiting around at an empty station or windswept bus stop after dark. So the simple measure of increasing train frequencies from hourly to ½-hourly makes a huge difference to the usability of the service but the powers-that-be are completely blind to this, somehow convincing themselves that what they are offering is ‘appropriate’. And don’t get me started on the problem of Wellington’s station being at the wrong end of town for where much of the action is, and the crying need for some form of rail extension to serve more of the city – something else that totally fails to register on the radars of the bureaucrats in charge. Like ‘First Time Caller’, it makes me weep.

  • Ari

    PT is expensive, unreliable and inconvenient when compared with my car. until that changes I doubt you will increase uptake more than incrementally.

  • Riccardo

    So you manipulate every other Aucklander Ari? Until YOU are satisfied noone will change their behaviour. Just so we’re clear tha YOU are the centre of the universe.

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