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Growing public transport patronage – Expansion or retention?

Peter M’s recent post on “Making light rail make sense” threw up a lot of interesting comments.

One of the more interesting arguments went something along the lines of “many people will never catch a bus so we should invest in rail“. I find this line of argument interesting because it expresses a view (about how to grow public transport patronage) that differs substantially from my own. Having spent last night tossing and turning with this issue rolling around in my head, I thought it would be worthwhile to fritter away more time on Sunday writing this blog post.

Anyhoo, when people argue that the best way to grow public transport patronage is to invest in rail they tend to invoke the following logic:

  1. Premise 1: There’s a large group of people out there who don’t use public transport (true)
  2. Premise 2: Many of these people have preconceived notions of the merits of rail versus bus technologies, which typically favour the former (also true)
  3. Conclusion: Therefore growing public transport patronage is best achieved through investment in rail

While I agree with both premises, I don’t agree with the conclusion for the following two reasons:

  • Buses can adopt many of the characteristics that have historically been associated with rail. For example, if people appreciate ride quality, then maybe we should invest in higher quality buses and better road surface and geometry? If people appreciate the speed/reliability of rail, then maybe we should provide buses with similar levels of priority? If there are policies that help rail systems run faster, e.g. pre-paying for tickets, wider stop spacing, and all-door boarding then why not adopt them on buses too? If people are attracted to simpler operating patterns that are more legible then let’s operate our bus system the same way. Basically all of these factors, which people typically associate with rail, are not intrinsic to any particular technology, but instead reflect mutable decisions. The design of the Northern Busway and the Central Connector, for example, exemplify how bus corridors can adopt “rail” characteristics where desirable.
  • It presumes the best way to grow patronage is to attract new users. The above argument contains an implicit assumption that the best way to grow patronage is to attract people that are not currently using public transport. But what if your current public transport system is only meeting a proportion of the travel demands of its existing users? In that case would there not be an opportunity to grow patronage by increasing the degree to which public transport meets the travel needs of existing users? And if you consider that younger people tend to use public transport more, does this create the opportunity to grow patronage simply by slowing the rate at which current users stop using PT as they grow older? Stated differently, could we grow public transport patronage by slowing the rate at which existing users becoming non-users.

The first point noted above is, I think, fairly self-evident and does not require much further discussion. All I’d like to clarify is that I’m not suggesting buses can adopt all of rail’s attributes, only pointing out that it is possible for buses to adopt many of the attributes that crop-up most frequently in “mode centric” debates. And by adopting these characteristics buses can effectively narrow (not eliminate) the “quality gap” that many people have in mind when they express a preference for rail.

The second point, I think, is more interesting and deserves further discussion. What I am suggesting here is that attracting “new users” to public transport is only one way of growing patronage. Another way, which would seem to involve less effort, is to expand the degree to which PT meets the needs of existing users and, in particular, slow the rate at which they stop using public transport as they grow older. That is, to focus on patronage retention rather than simple expansion.

Indeed, evidence seems to suggest that in the wake of a PT improvement the most immediate patronage growth is attributable to existing users subsequently choosing to use public transport more. And given that public transport is more popular among younger people, in the long run such improvements may increase the degree to which public transport is incorporated into their future decisions, such as whether to get a drivers license, buy a vehicle, and – perhaps most importantly – the relative locations of their home/work. The logic of this argument could be summarised as follows:

  1. Premise 1: A large number of relatively young people are currently using public transport to meet a proportion of their travel needs (true)
  2. Premise 2: These young people will, in the future, have to make many significant transport/lifestyle decisions that will impact on their future demand for public transport (true)
  3. Conclusion: Therefore growing public transport patronage may be best achieved by focusing on meeting the needs of existing users which, in turn, will slow the rate at which existing users stop using public transport

Some numbers might also help to make this argument a little clearer.

First, consider a stylised world that consists of only three groups of people who are able to be completely characterised by their age-group. In the figure below the x-axis (horizontal) shows these three age-groups, whereas the y-axis (vertical) shows the percentage of trips made by car and public transport for each age-group (the MoT’s HTS hints at similar differences in use of public transport between age-groups, even if the mode share is different).

Mode share1

Hypothetical travel demands from the stylised world of Stuart’s imagination, which is very loosely based on reality.

Now if we know the population weightings for the 0-19, 20-65, and 65+ age groups – and we assume that all groups have the same daily need for travel (which may be approximately true for the 0-19 and 19-65 age groups) – then we can calculate the contribution of each age group to total PT trips, as illustrated below.

1. Base

Base mode shares

The first thing to note is that while the 0-19 age-group is only 30% of the population, they contribute 60% of all PT trips, which is more than twice as much as the contribution made by the 19-65 age-group. Similarly, while the 65+ age group is only one-sixth of the 19-65 age-group, the former contributes 2/3 of the patronage of the latter.

Using this little hypothetical quantitative framework we can now test a few different scenarios.

Let’s first consider a scenario where we invested heavily in rail with the aim of getting more people in the 19-65 age-group onto public transport. And let’s say that this investment was spectacularly successful, such that the public transport mode share for this age-group doubled from 10% to 20% (highlighted in red), while patronage in the other groups was unaffected (for the purposes of this exercise it’s useful to hold mode shares in other age groups constant). The impact on overall travel demands is summarised in the table below, where the important figure is in the right-hand column, second row from the bottom. This shows that public transport’s share of all trips has increased from 25% to 31% as a result of this investment.

2. Rail investment

Scenario 1 – Rail centric investment increases PT mode share for 19-65 age-group by 100% and increases overall PT mode share to 31%.

Let’s consider another scenario, where PT investment focuses on users in the 0-19 age-group. This might be, for example, a doubling in the level of concessions for these users and a focus on expanding frequency and span so that public transport meets more of their all-day, all-week travel demands. Let’s also say that this investment increases PT’s market share in the 0-19 age-group by 50%, i.e. from 50% to 75% (highlighted in red), while other groups are unaffected. The impacts on overall travel demands are shown below, where the important number is “32%”. So a 50% increase in PT market share for the 0-19 age-group generates slightly more PT trips than the 100% increase in PT market share for the 19-65 age-group.

3. Network wide investment

Scenario 2a – Network wide investment lifts PT mode share in 0-19 age-group by 50% and increases overall PT mode share to 32%

But that’s not all of course. The second part of my argument observes that investments targeted at younger age groups may impact on their future decisions about how public transport can contribute to their quality of life. Thus, let’s consider a situation where the 0-19 age-group, which is already more favourable to PT, “expands” to include people in the next bracket, i.e. the 20-24 age-group. This is basically arguing that the PT investment made in the previous scenario “slows” the rate at which people transition from the “young” to “middle aged” age-group, at least in terms of their travel patterns. This might occur, for example, if people decide to delay getting their drivers’ license or buying a vehicle, or choosing to live somewhere that enables them to access their work via public transport once they leave university.

The impact slowing down this demographic “shift” is highlighted in red in the table below, where the change in age brackets changes increases PT market share further to 37%.

4. Shift in age-group

Scenario 2b – Network wide investment causes an expansion in the size of the younger age-group, which increases overall PT mode share to 37%.

While this hyper-simplified quantitative framework essentially “proves” very little, it is useful for illustrating the differences between the two arguments posed above. A focus on investment that retains existing (in this case younger) users can generate considerable patronage growth, because it combines immediate patronage growth (i.e. an increase in mode share, as per Scenario 2a) with an expansion in the size of the population that views public transport as being relevant to their lives (i.e. an increase in the size of the age-group, as per scenario 2b).

These two somewhat distinct patronage impacts are illustrated by the red arrows in the chart below, where the vertical arrow indicates the increase in mode share and the horizontal arrow indicates an expansion in the age-group.

Summarising the shifts

Ultimately, I think that the investment required to achieve the shifts shown in red above are likely to be easier than getting new people (i.e. the 90% of car users in the 19-65 age-group) onto public transport, mainly because people in the middle age-group will have already made many decisions, e.g. how many cars to own and where to live and work, which reduces the need for and effectiveness of PT. This in turn suggests that shifting these people onto PT, through for example investment in rail service, will be relatively expensive and inefficient because you are effectively fighting against major socio-economic decisions that people have already made.

Some of you might baulk at these conclusions.You could point out that increasing PT mode share from 50% to 75% for the 0-19 age-group is likely to be significantly harder than increasing PT mode share from 10% to 20% for the 19-65 age group (NB: These numbers are made up). Perhaps. It is certainly true that market saturation will kick in at some point, such that the size of the vertical red arrow in the figure would reduce and the role of the horizontal arrow would increase. But on the other hand I’d suggest that public transport in Auckland is far from saturation in any age-group, or indeed any market segment that you can think of. For example, while many young people use PT for travelling to/from school and university, the remainder of their travel demands are likely to be met by cars. Hence even though younger age-groups already use PT proportionally more, I suspect that there remains considerable room for further growth.

As an aside it seems to me that the best way to influence the travel choices of the 19-65 age-group is not by tailoring our public transport improvements to align with their preferences, but instead to change the way that we price and manage the use of private vehicles. This means targeting vehicle use directly through – for example through time-of-use pricing and parking pricing. Of course, in the process of improving the public transport service for existing users we are likely to attract some new users from outside our target markets, and these people definitely should be catered for as required. But they are a positive second-order patronage benefit, rather than the primary driver of investment in the public transport system.

In many ways this message is a relatively non-glamorous one of getting “back to basics”, i.e. placing a bigger emphasis on getting the existing network operating efficiently, rather than worrying too much about the technology being used to deliver it. On a simple level, thinking about public transport patronage this way encourages you to place a higher focus on existing users, rather than potential new users. More specifically, growing public transport patronage starts from having a detailed understanding of (and appreciation for) existing users. This alone can tell you a lot about the types of markets (and PT services) that are likely to generate the most patronage in the future. In my mind the “rail only” approach discussed above unintentionally demeans, or at least undervalues, the preferences of existing users – the majority of whom are using buses.

Before wrapping this up, I think it’s also worth mentioning that some aspects of this discussion are related to an earlier post on generational differences. That is, because most of our transport decision makers (including myself) fall into the 19-65 age-group there is a natural tendency for us to propose solutions that address our needs, rather than the needs of our users. This can result, for example, in a undue focus on high-speed services. For their part, PT users seem to not value speed – or more accurately “travel-time” – as much as other attributes, such as frequency, reliability, simplicity, and affordability. And in my experience relatively few people currently on the bus will complain that the bus is “not a train“.

None of this is to suggest that the attributes associated with rail-based solutions are irrelevant, or that investment in rail won’t attract new passengers – experience shows that it certainly will. But it is intended to highlight that the best way to grow our patronage is probably to focus less on large infrastructure projects and more on small to medium scale improvements to the existing network (whether it be rail, bus, or ferry). These will in turn help to generate more trips from existing users for more years. When you think about public transport from this perspective you realise that passenger retention equates to patronage growth; that the views of existing users, especially the young, are significantly more important than the views of non-users.

Having said all that, what would be my advice for the people at Auckland Transport and Auckland Council who are currently grappling with a slowdown in patronage growth, especially on rail? The first thing I would do, I think, is to get to know my existing customers better; learn to cherish their patronage and respect their choices; and – perhaps most importantly – consider initiatives that will encourage young people to keep using PT even as they get older. Some targeted market research into secondary and tertiary students who are currently using public transport, for example, might be a good place to start. Tertiary students that are about to graduate probably offer the most potential for future patronage growth. 

I get the feeling that’s what a good business would do.

83 comments to Growing public transport patronage – Expansion or retention?

  • Svartmetall

    A nice premise that overlooks a few points (in my perhaps not so humble opinion).

    Firstly, there is a reason for there to be a levelling off of rail patronage at the moment in Auckland, and I would say that it mostly hinges on reliability and frequency issues. The network is choked, using outdated technology (both rolling stock and signalling) and under construction so of course there will be a point at which one cannot attract more people to a broken system. There are a lot of projects underway to address that at the moment so I’m sure things will pick up in the future post-electrification, though I still think that rail will never have its potential unlocked until major frequency and reliability upgrades in the form of building the CRL occurs.

    Secondly, as you say frequency and speed are key factors. The problem is that generally buses do not achieve these two factors without significant infrastructure. Even in my city where there is bus priority and a plethora of bus lanes, the very nature of buses when it comes to loading and unloading not to mention there being far more of a driver focus with buses (how they drive the bus) means that they will invariably vary more. A single modern light rail vehicle easily has four door boarding. Even with a bendy bus with three door boarding (to use an example from where I live), it cannot load as quickly as a light rail vehicle unless of course you are proposing longitudinal seating on buses to ease passenger loading flow. Finally, providing dedicated infrastructure like the northern busway through key corridors in Auckland is impossible (the very best you could have is bus lanes with stops at intersections where there is bus priority), light rail is, however, very possible.

    Thirdly: As indicated before in my comment in the other post, there is significant evidence that providing a high quality rail corridor causes knock on effects on the local community. This has not be correlated in the same way to a busway. Using my US example from before, a 40% increase in property value along a light rail corridor in Santa Clara (all other factors being equal) is quite an incentive beyond a transport perspective. It would help Auckland increase intensity through private sector involvement in redeveloping along new rail corridors and the creation of more TOD in those areas.

    Whilst I agree that fundamental network improvements such as increased bus lanes, traffic priority, network restructure to allow more high quality bus corridors and a uniform clock face timetable, integrated ticketing and other such measures are of utmost priority, it doesn’t mean that time should be lost in building lasting infrastructure in a city that is crying out for it to be built. These other changes can be carried out for a far more minimal cost than providing new rail corridors so my proposal would be “why not both”? It seems a bit counterintuitive to separate both requirements for a functioning network.

    • Stu Donovan

      Just quickly:
      1. Yes, reliability and frequency are key attributes. Agree that current projects will address those issues, at least in the short term.
      2. Disagree. The level of infrastructure provided with Auckland’s “40% busway” is significantly less than that associated with most rail lines, especially in terms of how much space it requires in the central city and at stations. Many of the attributes you mentioned could be adapted on buses if required, e.g. all-door boarding and longitudinal seating. They already are used on some of Brisbane’s services …
      3. Incorrect. There is evidence from Brisbane and South America that high quality bus infrastructure lifts land values as well. You may be interested in these two papers: and
      4. Agree. I think we need to progress both types of projects, i.e. we need to retain existing users and attract new passengers. The reason I have raised it in this way is because a lot of people, in my experience, believe the only/best place to grow patronage is with large capital intensive expansions in rail service, e.g. Airport Rail and Rail to the North Shore. In my mind that misses a whole load of more humble opportunities for investment that would have a bigger pay-off, such as interchanges and stop/station accessibility improvements.

      • Svartmetall

        Rebuttal time!

        2. The level of infrastructure required for that busway in Auckland is actually quite immense. The amount of space the stations take, the amount of space the segregated sections take etc is far higher than that of a segregated light rail line. When I said there was plenty of space – could you imagine implementing a segregated busway like the northern busway down Dominion Road? You could make a segregated light rail line in that space without impinging too much on road space, but you couldn’t do that with buses.

        3. South America is not the developed world, and any parallels between real estate prices there and in the developed world have to be taken with a grain of salt. There is a good paper here showing that even when one takes into account the proximity of the motorway to the property, the biggest determinate of increased pricing of real estate was the proximity to light rail in Santa Clara . I don’t know about you but I find it almost impossible to compare any economics with a developing city simply because all of the push-pull factors are different as well as mobility needs and choices. It strikes me almost as astounding that when the Sciencedirect paper you linked me to states that there are so many BRT options around the world that they only choose Colombia for their analysis of real estate prices and BRT. Is it because there is no correlation elsewhere between the availability of BRT and prices?

        • Stu Donovan

          2. How do you define immense? The cost was $300 million, so not very high relative to LRT. Note that most of the land at the stations is associated with P&R and adjacent platforms for local buses – both of which you would have even if the spine service was LRT. And if it had been LRT, then you would have needed A) a new crossing over the Waitemata and B) a tunnel (or at least a much deeper cut) between Sunnynook and Constellation (due to grades). In the central city the Northern Busway requires no dedicated infrastructure at all, except for bus lanes on Symonds. Immense? Hardly – LRT would have cost at least twice as much and likely required corridor widening on many of the sections with steeper grades and/or tighter grades (e.g. left turn into Britomart).
          3. That same research institute you linked to (ITS at Berkeley) produced a study in 2009, which found that BRT in Seoul, Korea had a positive impact on land values ( So the answer to your question is “no” – positive correlations between BRT and land prices have been found elsewhere.

          Ding ding. After round 5, I’m picking the red head is ahead on points ;)

          • Svartmetall

            How frustrating, I was typing a nice reply, and it got wiped as I clicked a link. =( Nevertheless, I really should try again, just for fun!

            2. I am not looking at cost when I use the word “immense” I am actually looking at physical dimensions of the infrastructure required. I am almost certain that a BRT will always win on CAPEX compared to light rail (though not on OPEX), so that point is definitely one I won’t point to. What I will say is that the physical profile of the infrastructure for a busway is definitely larger and possesses a larger footprint. Trams or light rail vehicles are fixed on rails and therefore require less “dead space” to the sides of the vehicle as there is far less chance for there to be collisions between them. A bus, unless on a guideway which itself takes up valuable space to the sides of it, will always require much greater margins to their sides, and this is exactly why I say that LRT is suited for Auckland’s arterial roads as it wouldn’t impinge on valuable space as much as the required bus infrastructure would. Whilst turning circles for LRT are an issue, I agree with you on that, the turn you describe could definitely be negotiated (though at a grindingly slow pace). It is, however, something that counts yet again in the favour of LRT – the fact that Auckland’s arterial roads are so long and straight makes them perfect for vehicles that don’t like corners!

            3. I just noticed that ITS is a “Volvo centre for excellence” – adds a little weight to my jibe that the bus industry is heavily behind the promotion of BRT as a viable option. That said, there is an interesting note here that stated that proximity to ALL infrastructure increased land value, not just BRT. So is it really worth saying that BRT in Seoul led to increased land value when also proximity to motorways and large arterials also led to increased land value? The paper itself points out there are too many idiosyncrasies with Seoul’s unusual real estate market (such as the value of multi-family dwellings and highrise apartments over private houses) that simply don’t fit with the trends elsewhere. The example I used is at least more of a “like-for-like” in as much as Americans, like NZers, drive more, live in separate houses and generally put emphasis on larger houses, back gardens and other such things that simply don’t enter the equation in Seoul. I still haven’t seen the literature that stated that Brisbane experienced a rise in land value along its BRT corridors – at least in those two papers you linked anyway, unless I am blind…

            Still, is the score still in your favour? I wouldn’t like to presume where it lies now! =P

            Also, could you delete my comment down at the bottom, it seemed my browser did a FUBAR.

          • Stu Donovan

            2. Really, it just depends on the environment contextal. LRT would probably have a smaller footprint in flat environments. On the other hand LRT it would have a larger footprint in hilly environments by virtue of its need for larger turning radii and shallower grades. In Auckland’s case an LRT corridor from the North Shore to the city would probably have required more land than what was taken to provide the Northern Busway …

            3. The idiosyncracies mentioned in Cervero’s paper are sympomatic of hedonic regression analyses of land values in general, including the one you linked to above. I would expect that proximity to motorways increases commercial property values (excluding retail) in most new world cities, provided that you control for proximity to heavy industry. Our own (confidential) research in Brisbane found positive land value impacts of +20%, which are supported by the following presentation: This study considers Pittsburgh: and finds positive land values.

            Oh but wait, it’s sponsored by the Natiuonal BRT Insitute so must be wrong. Just like all those other studies from “developing” countries .. poor, misguided developing world people, e.g. North Shore.

          • Svartmetall

            2. I at no point have said that I would run LRT instead of the busway to the shore, that is not what I’ve argued in favour of doing, and whilst I agree that in very hilly situations it can require a larger footprint, I cannot think that there is anywhere I suggested that would require a vast amount of reworking for LRT access, though it has been two years since I last went down Dominion Road so my memory on this part might be very fuzzy indeed!

            3. Of course, any analysis sponsored by an organisation with a vested interest should be initially viewed with scepticism until proven otherwise – academic bias is certainly something that (unfortunately) rears its head from time to time. I would view any study by Alstom saying we need LRT everywhere with a large degree of scepticism too! I’m not saying what they say is wrong because of this vested interest, but selection bias is of particular concern – we’re both guilty of that right now with the articles we’re choosing to support our respective cases.

            Also, when I speak about not using studies from the developing world, I think that is fair enough. I could post numerous articles about metro systems in China or India which would be just as fatuous as using Curitiba or Bogota as a case study simply because these cities are in a completely different stage of their development to Auckland and other developed cities.

            All this said, I will concede the point that it appears that BRT may be a positive influence on prices of surrounding land too, which of course is one of the factors that I brought up. So yes, you were right there to pull me up on saying that only LRT does that (as that was a bit of an absolute statement rather than equivocating like I should have).

            Now for some pointless anecdotal information to round off a fact slinging session (which I have enjoyed). I’ve been on two busway systems – the Auckland Northern Express and the Brisbane busway system prior to the opening of the northern section of their busway. I’ve also travelled to a lot of cities around the world with light rail and without a doubt, I prefer the ride quality, the noise levels, the ease of boarding and the general “feel” of the LRT systems. I also now live in a city expanding its LRT system which I use very frequently. I will actually go out of my way to avoid using the bus system so I can use the metro or LRT – an example of this. My trip home could consist of two buses (one short 5 minute journey, one longer 20 minute journey) or a short bus (5 mins), two metro lines (15 mins) and a walk. Invariably, despite the bus being at a 4-5 minute frequency for the short journey and a 10 minute or less frequency for the long journey, the metro is faster despite the bus priority lanes for nearly the entirety of the journey. Not only that, but it is more comfortable, spacious and generally a more enjoyable experience to be on the metro than it is to take the bus despite the infrastructure provision for that bus.

            So am I biased against buses? Sure, I really don’t like the things. Do I believe they have their place in transport systems? Absolutely. Do I believe they should be used as a line haul service rather than a feeder. Now there is where I believe buses should only serve as a secondary to the main system. Rail expansion is definitely the biggest pull force in all cities with high levels of public transport use in the developed world of a similar size to Auckland. Beyond all these analyses which one can tailor to fit ones viewpoint a lot more easily, this simple correlation should serve to be proof enough.

            (By the way, thank you for your replies, it’s been a long time since I had a good transport debate).

    • James(ka9102)

      “could you imagine implementing a segregated busway like the northern busway down Dominion Road? You could make a segregated light rail line in that space without impinging too much on road space, but you couldn’t do that with buses.”

      building a minimum 6.5m wide tram corridor can be done without impinging too much road space??you must be off your rocker!how much of road space do we have along dominion road?be factual as no one has ever suggested a segregated busway down dominion road or any arterial roads therefore there is no comparision,besides tram/lightrail systems are known for taking too much of valuable road spaces as is noted even on wikipedia.

      “So am I biased against buses? Sure, I really don’t like the things”

      brilliant! so whom in the heck would take your words seriously? No one!

  • Sanctuary

    One of the primary reasons for the flatlining of PT is probably the completion of the Upper Harbour and South Western Motorways. Peoples habitual first port of call is their car. The slightest easing of congestion means they’ll go first to their car for their morning commute.

    Habit is probably one of the most important factors in increasing PT use IMHO. When people use PT, they become “PT literate” in that they have a mental time and space map of a city quite different from those who use cars. They’ll also probably have taken the three years tertiary study required to work out the various bus timetables. Habit means they first think of PT before they think of getting their car out of the garage, but habit forming require frequency and convenience. As an example, recently this site featured posts on the new Hobsonville/Beach haven/Downtown ferry. One commentator remarked how cool it was that you could now travel from (say) a central city apartment to the Hobsonville farmers market. Only this service doesn’t operate on the weekend…

    to that end, the best way to increase patronage would be a much, much simpler bus organisation (one unified bus comapny) and a much better map and timetable (colour coded lines like a LRT tube maps would be a start – why not fit buses with large removable panels, so a bus on an “orange” line will have an orange panel on the front and sides clearly visible at some distance?) with frequent weekend and nighttime services.

    • Stu Donovan

      Good points – yes competing alternatives will have an impact on patronage. Having one bus livery would also help; whether you need to unify the bus companies to achieve that I don’t know …

      • Harvey Specter

        Why would one livery help? As long as the ticketing is integrated, the colour of the bus shouldn’t matter.

        With an increase in transfers (ie. feeder services onto express services) I can see there may be issues if there are multiple companies operating – If the feeder service is running late, does the express service wait etc.

      • John Smith

        Stu: whether you need to unify the bus companies to achieve that [one livery] I don’t know

        No, you don’t. Perth’s bus service, which to the customer is a single brand, is in fact, unknown to the customer, provided by a number of different companies under contract to the State’s PT authority.

      • mm

        I find the different liveries to be very helpful actually. I catch either Waka Pacific or Metrolink and therefore I can ignore all the H&E buses and other types that go past – helpful because sometimes many buses arrive at a bus stop at once and you have to scramble to identify your bus easily before they drive past, and sometimes the bus number displays are hard to read in poor light or bright sunlight.

  • I think the biggest risk in focusing primarily on the younger group is that some of the potential solutions could be self limiting. By that I mean, some of the tools that you would use to increase share would invariably be related to price. We know tertiary discounts were a big thing in getting that group to be high PT users in the first place so extending it might get more trips but doing that won’t have any benefit at all for the older groups.

    Instead, focusing on infrastructure that people in the older group would use would have the additional benefit of also being attractive to existing users in that younger group. Getting that 19-65 age group to 20% of trip share would likely also see that 0-19 group get to 75% of trip share at the same time resulting in far greater overall use.

  • Bryce P

    My biggest gripe with using the bus, as I commented on a day or so ago, is the ride. I would walk or cycle further to catch a bus that would run on a smooth corridor rather than one that winds it’s way around the suburban streets. The worst part of the trip, in my example, is when the bus exits the motorway and heads up Great North Road and onto K’Rd and then down through the streets to the bottom of town. The constant stopping at lights, pulling in and out of traffic coupled with some very average driving habits (hard on the brakes / hard on the accelerator) and tight seating arrangements, make the journey unpleasant and just leave me wanting to get off.

    • Stu Donovan

      Yes in my experience ride-quality is a very important attribute that is possibly under-rated by the bus companies in Auckland. There may be a need for AT to implement an audit process (in conjunction with the bus companies) to monitor driver performance and identify areas for improvement. The buses I caught in Amsterdam, for example, seemed to travel much more steadily than those in Auckland – helped in part no doubt by the flat topography and good number of bus/tram lanes. I would have thought that an accelerometer randomly fitted onto buses might be a place to start.

    • mm

      True! Try going on the 392 down Wheturangi Road – 13 judder bars in total – yes, I have counted! Some drivers are better than others at getting the accelerating and braking right for those ones…

  • Mr Anderson

    Also I wonder whether the low hanging fruit more applies to raising the low proportion of people in the middle age range rather than further raising the already fairly high modal share of other age brackets.

    I actually disagree on the speed issue, but mainly because I define speed as “time taken from beginning of trip to end of trip.” My guess is that the reason sitting behind about 95% of decisions people make to drive rather than use PT is due to “PT is just too slow”. Sometimes that is counter balanced by “I don’t want to pay for parking” or ” I don’t own a car so I don’t have a choice” but making PT trips quicker (and obviously that includes higher frequencies & better reliability to reduce wait times) must be the fundamental principle sitting behind everything done to improve the PT network.

    • Stu Donovan

      Yes you’re dead right on the retention issue applying to all of your existing users – while I only focussed on retention for younger age-groups, there’s absolutely no reason why it does not apply more broadly. General message is that the customers you have are more important than the ones you don’t :).

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree on the speed issue. I think you’re overestimating people’s actual value of time, and also the degree to which they’re prepared to spend time on PT if it provides a pleasant environment. The cost of parking does not “counterbalance” the speed issue, it completely dominates it, i.e. the cost of parking is significantly more important than speed.

      I also think you’re in very dangerous territory when you rely on the stated preferences of non-users. People who are not currently catching PT may “say” that the reason they don’t catch it is because of speed, but that often does not mean that they start catching it if you make it faster – instead they usually come up with another reason as to why they can’t use PT. Reliability yes, speed meh.

      • Bryce P

        Speed as such isn’t necessarily the issue, more feeling like having to stop for another person every minute or so, or being stuck in a queue of cars. Longer distances between stops and bus priority would go a long way.

        • mm

          For me, it’s the wait time before the bus arrives that is important/frustrating. Once you’re moving and taking advantage of the bus lanes, then it’s probably equally fast if not faster than the car on some occasions e.g. AM traffic, and at least you feel like you are making progress towards your destination. If I drove to work, it would take only slightly longer than the bus and would cost only about $8 a week more in parking if I got a good deal on a carpark. But only if the bus is on time (thankfully it is pretty consistent in the morning). However, in the evening, although the buses usually are reasonably on time (sometimes) my schedule can vary and what would be a 20 min journey by car often takes 40 mins or more by bus by the time I get to the bus stop and wait etc. As someone mentioned earlier, it’s only really my habit of taking the bus, reading this blog, and having the bus driver drive me, that prevents me from switching over to the car.

        • David O

          For me one of the more frustrating things about the bus (a mode I use often) is that passengers getting on and off is still a significant hold up. The bus entry doors by the driver are significantly impeded when even one passenger is paying cash not using a HOP card. On exit, the tagging off thing is a pain also. In London they’ve fixed this problem by having bus fares fixed at a single fare for (I think) just two zones. This means there is no need to tag off. Makes a huge difference.

      • Mr Anderson

        In terms of the “stated preference” issue I’m more thinking about why I don’t use PT for a greater proportion of the trips that I make (generally anything beyond commuting to work). Nigh on 100% of the time the answer is “it would take way too long”.

        • Stu Donovan

          Yes but the problem with stated preferences in this case (in general) is that you don’t (usually) find out 1) how much quicker PT would have to be to get them to switch (light speed is often the answer) and 2) it does not tell you whether there are other “unstated” attributes lurking in behind the “speed” issue that would stop people from using PT.

          • SPT

            There are many good reasons to take public transport but speed is not one of them (at least on buses). My other half buses to work and has calculated that he spends an additional two hours a week commuting now than he did when he drove – and that is using the busway. He is another one who can’t read on the bus so in his view, that is simply wasted time (and time he would rather be spending with his family which it may surprise Stu to know he does place a value on). There are other advantages to using the bus of course but not speed.

  • Harvey Specter

    Long post and I must confess I stopped halfway down. My comments though:

    - bus transport can service a much wider area that rail (Auckland is never going to have a huge network like the London Underground). Therefore, even if more rail was put in, we would still be reliant on bus to get to the station.

    - Rail requires additional infrastructure. We already have road corridors. Not all areas have space for a rail corridor as well.

    - If people prefer the comfort of rail/ferry more than buses, then maybe we need to change the specification of buses. Bus tender is competitive so companies will provide a bus at the minimum level of requirement as that is what is needed to provide a competitive price. People complain about no air conditioning on buses – air conditioning is now a requirement so all new buses will have this so non air conditioned buses will be phased out. If people want air suspension (for example) make it a requirement and bus companies will get it – it will just effect the level of subsidy they request.

    - Integrated ticketing (deferred a few more months from what I have heard) and more rail-like timetabling is on its way for Auckland so this should help.

    - more bus lanes, more priority lights. Must be a lot easier and cheaper than putting in a rail line.

    - If driver style is an issue, maybe more training is required. Telemetry can now measure this so could form part of performance reviewed (jerky driving must also use more fuel and brakes so a win for the bus co as well). Having said that, some of the heavy braking is caused by avoiding cars (more bus lanes) and heavy accelerating is trying to keep up with a timetable (better timetabling, priority lanes, priority lights).

    Conclusion: there are a lot of things that can be done to improve bus patronage that will cost a lot less than putting in rail. Once these ‘easy’ wins are exhausted, then may be the time to consider the extremely capital intensive light rail.

    • Stu Donovan

      Well put. I agree especially with the comment on driver training and using telemetry to monitor performance. A lot of cities are doing that already not only for monitoring driver performance, but also improving fuel consumption as you note.

    • Stu Donovan

      P.s. You should have skipped the middle and read to the end; the conclusions are more important than the academic number crunching exercises – if I may say so myself ;)

  • JJay

    Thank-you Stu. In my mid 30s I would not quite deem myself elderly but after 20 years as a PT user
    I am closer than I have ever been to moving away from PT. Though I see good things in some of the “rail-centric”
    changes it will make my commute longer and not meet my needs in the same way my current
    set-up does. So while I wish all those making these improvements all the best with the future of PT
    -this blog has brought up numerous relevant points for me and managed to validate some
    of my feelings. Thanks for a well-considered post.

    • Stu Donovan

      I’m only 33 but after a hard day at work I’m feeling quite elderly myself. I hope that you don’t leave, that we can deliver find sufficient improvements to keep you using PT. If you would like to write a guest post of your experience as a PT user in Auckland over the last two decades and how it relates to your personal position now as someone in their mid-30s who is thoroughly fed up then just email it through (addresses at the top of the page).

      • jjay

        Thanks Stu – I will consider that if I can construct something useful and justified :) Probably just we stand to loose buses that are well patronised under the new draft plans coupled with 7 years of juggling kids on a daily PT commute
        can make you rethink your choices. Things that were not a big deal to me by myself seem a bit of mission with prams, thomas bags and toddlers in tow – direct routes are now my norm and
        the prospect that new changes add to the daily commute time seem a big deal when it means you get home just after that window of toddler dinner time and into meltdown time. Though that is something I would actually love to hear more about – from Mums and Dads like myself who choose to commute with kids – I would just love to hear what others find good and bad about it all -put it all in perspective :) And perhaps from those that don’t – what made them decide on different options.
        I know of many close enough to town who walk with kids, do many people choose to bike ? I suspect a small reason (though not the only one by far) that PT is less popular
        (according to your graphs) with people in their 20-60 age bracket is the fact this bracket encompasses a lot of parents. I wonder if there are stats like that – I wonder if the new census data would enable that info to be collected ?

        In theory the trains would seem to be more friendly for strollers etc and the new trains will be more so (from what I am hearing) compared to say buses. I do find this true esp with our fleet encompassing many old buses with narrow aisles etc. However as another commenter said treatment by staff/drivers makes a huge difference and I have been utterly blessed with several tolerant bus drivers which to be frank make PT viable for me despite the buses. That coupled with fellow
        passengers who have in most part been very tolerant after a long day at work. But I have had such a different experience on the train in terms of treatment (esp when they are full/busy) that it is not as ideal a mode of transport as it could be – during the rugby world cup though it was amazingly great treatment and it did make a big difference. Staff are like gold really – they make or break it – they are the human face and they don’t get paid that well for it but I sure do appreciate the good ones.

        Another thing I consider in terms of buses v. trains is a safety factor- there are quite a few train stations as it currently stands I would not get off/on at by myself and I would not wanting to be waiting for a transfer at.
        They are located in industrial areas or back of houses and have no street frontage/low road visibility and often walkways or alleyways to get to/from them. Buses by their different nature have less of these set-ups – tend to drop/pick-up people in more public places. Now that makes them “seem” safer but that might not mean they are safer. But it certainly affects choices people make. Also the safety of places affects how people feel about transfer trips etc.

  • I love trams/light rail and the best cities I have lived in (Melbourne, Prague) have kept and built on their network. It creates a great feeling in the city and people prefer the, in general.

    However, I also agree that we have to be realistic about what we can afford and as you say ask what is it really that people like about trams and light rail.

    For me, trams run on the street without their own ROW (like the old Auckland trams) and light rail runs on its own ROW. Obviously in that way light rail is far superior to trams or buses. So it will be difficult for buses to compete with light rail without a ROW.

    I agree with you about what people prefer about trams over buses, even withoput a ROW. One big issue is the slow loading of buses in NZ. The quick fix for that is to allow multi-door loading and enforce tickets with random inspections by plain clothes inspectors rather than putting the burden on the bus driver.

    This could be phased in by allowing multi-door boarding but also allowing people to buy from the driver. Random inspections would enforce holding a ticket. That intermediary position could last for one or two years until integrated ticketing had caught, people had AT HOP cars and we had a better network of ticket sellers (dairies, service stations, cafes etc). Then we stop the onboard sales altogether. This means the bus driver is free to concentrate on driving and can also be better protected behind a screen.

    The comfort element of riding the bus vs tram is a difficult one but I have travelled on some pretty rickety uncomfortable trams so I dont know how big an issue that is. Again, light rail is a completely different issue and can work very well. I lived in Rouen in Normandy (about the same population as Christchurch) and it built a light rail system (dedicated raised ROW) in the 90′s that worked very well for a lot of people. The city was still very auto dependent however, as first world cities of that size tend to be.

    • Ben S

      You’re right goosoid, the best cities have kept and built on their tram & light rail networks.

      Still it’s always great to go to a cool city where they have buses running everywhere and tons of bus lanes too – places like… um… oh god someone help me here, there must be somewhere…

      Anyway, just wanted to say in terms of what distinguishes light rail and trams (or streetcars) I’m not sure your distinction is that useful. Many light rail and trams systems mix up exclusive ROW with street sharing – e.g.:

      “Even the prototypical U.S. light rail project — the Portland MAX — includes significant track segments downtown in which its corridor is hardly separated from that of the automobiles nearby. And that city’s similarly pioneering streetcar includes several segments completely separated from the street.”

      Some people argue the space between stops distinguishes the two.

      • “Still it’s always great to go to a cool city where they have buses running everywhere and tons of bus lanes too – places like… um… oh god someone help me here, there must be somewhere…”
        How about Brisbane? Also, Sydney (in peak hour), Curitiba, Bogota.

        Perhaps that list doesn’t exactly distinguish itself as congestion free.

        • How about Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong…

          Sure these have metros and train systems, but they are also completely soaked with buses too. Trains don’t make buses go away. Paris is going crazy building bus lanes right now.

          • Svartmetall

            I wouldn’t say Tokyo is soaked in buses except out of the special wards where the bus routes are primarily run as community bus routes. Yes, you have the TOEI buses, but they really are only for old people who require lower walking distances. The buses used are also of low to medium capacity, not high capacity and are very much secondary in terms of their impact on modal share.

          • Ben S

            “Brisbane, Sydney (in peak hour), Curitiba, Bogota….. ” – that it? Brisbane, the jewel of the South Pacific (not been there recently but checking out onlone reviews of their transit system the locals don’t seem too enamoured of it); Sydney at rush hour is carnage – those buses swarm around Hyde Park like angry blowflies; Curitiba… well Brazil has the worst traffic congestion in the world so not sure about that one; and Bogota… yup, barrel, bottom, of…

          • James(ka9102)

            true nick,trains don’t make buses go away. however the majority of rail foamers on this blog and the cbt forum tend to worry about the growing of bus usage will make trains go away…catching a bus appears to them nothing but excruciating agony..

    • Mr Anderson

      That does raise the interesting point of how seemingly difficult it is to get bus lanes in place. Time for a bit of a campaign I wonder?

  • Kevin

    Last week I had 2 trips to Waiheke, the first using only PT and the second to minimise the number of bus trips used my car to get into the city (it was Saturday so the Beach Haven Ferry wasn’t running.)
    The Thursday journey in was lovely on the new Ferry, people were chatting, the seats were comfortable and the scenery was epic. The day was pleasant and all was well until the return leg when having missed the last Beach Haven Ferry I got onto the bus from Birkenhead. The bus was pretty full, arrived late, and was stifling hot. My fellow passengers looked miserable as they sat in their own world awaiting the journeys end which was further delayed by stopping at all bar 3 of the stops on the way back. When I arrived in Beach Haven for a 15 minute walk home I felt sick, tired and generally fed up. The total journey time from city to home was more than double the driving time.
    On Saturday I returned to Waiheke using the car to get into the city as the last bus journey was still fresh in my memory, on Waiheke we got the normal bus around the island and it too was too hot, very slow, and late. By the time I arrived at the picturesque little Oneroa Beach all I wanted to do was sit under a tree contemplating the next journey and whether I was going to stay there for 20 mins or 100 mins or 160 mins due to the limitations of the AT app timetable. The next 2 journeys were similar, although as it had to wait for the incoming ferry the last bus journey was the longest of them all.
    These 2 trips have taught me a few things:

    1)Buses make me travel sick – nothing else has ever done this
    2)The Buses we took were much slower than the timetable
    3)Stopping at every stop is uncomfortable and takes ages
    4)I like Ferries and judging from the looks on the other passengers faces I’m not the only one
    5)Staying sober at a friends wedding so I could drive home was way better than taking the bus home
    6)Using PT involves a lot of walking / rushing to meet timetables / waiting
    7)Taking the last ferry from Waiheke would have meant a long wait for the night bus as they don’t connect up
    8)My next leisure trip won’t involve any buses!
    9)If a journey could only be undertaken by bus I would likely avoid it

    I realise that anything against buses on here will be unpopular so I apologise for any offense I may have caused, however passenger comfort seems to be the elephant in the room and I have tried to tell it as I found it.

    IMHO Solve the ride / comfort / slow journey times and PT usage will increase,
    I used the trains in the UK and when they worked there were a good way of getting around if a line went between where you started and where you wanted to go, unfortunately their unreliability meant I had to change jobs to limit train use and always get an earlier train than I needed to. They were expensive and throwing several billion pound of public money at them didn’t seem to improve their reliability much for the end user.
    I have used the trains a lot in Sydney, and the service was good however the grafitti and state of the carriages was depressing.

    • Those are certainly some big problems with buses. I also get travel sick on buses and not on anything else. I think buses work well for a trip of 3-4 kms max but at that distance I would rather use my ebike.

      I take the ferry every morning to work from Bayswater and I cant think of a more pleasant way to travel. I see some incredible sunsets and sunrises, it really makes you appreciate what a beautiful natural setting the city we live in is blessed with.

      • James(ka9102)

        sorry i dont really wish to drag out this old article from the ages’ website,but here you go again,need i say more,an enditor’s “love affairs” with the trams.

        “Trams must be one of the most jerky, volatile, wrenching, breakneck modes of travel in the history of public transport. I have witnessed two significant incidents in the past month that indicate I’m not being fatuous or paranoid.

        On both occasions the tram I was on braked suddenly. At each shuddering halt, people flew past, some landing with a sickening thud on the floor. One young woman, whose head struck the floor, was left visibly disoriented but refused the help of fellow passengers.”

    • Harvey Specter

      Kevin – it is unlikely a Bus will ever be better than a car unless there is significant traffic and Buses have priority lanes. The question then is what is needed to improve them. From you post, I would summarise your thoughts as:

      - air conditioning (all new buses will have this so we are getting there)
      - more frequent timetabling (on the way I think in the next update)
      - run on time (not such an issue if timetabling is frequent enough and the gaps constant – ie. every 15-20 minutes). More priority lanes (and realistic timetabling?) would also help.
      - dont stop at every stop – cant be helped unfortunately. One thing public transport must do is cater to where people live so unless you want them all living at your house ….

      • Stu Donovan

        The only thing I would add is that once we get to a sufficient level of frequency (e.g. 5-10 minutes) on key bus corridors then you can drop the timetables altogether and simply promote a headway based timetable, as TfL does in London. This simply states, for example, there is a “bus every 3-7 minutes (on average) between 7am-7pm). Beaut.

      • Kevin

        One thing that does need serious consideration is COMFORT it seems I’m not the only one getting travel sick on buses. Better road surface has a part to play as does suspension that absorbs bumps rather than passing most of them onto the passengers. Comfortable supportive seating wide enough to fit in a normal sized adult would help too.
        How about express peak time buses that don’t take detours or stop at EVERY opportunity? I’m not talking no stops, just less of them. For example all Beach Haven buses go via Birkenhead and its painful speed humps, not sure what the patronage is between the 2 centres but it would shave 10 minutes and several stops off the journey if this was served by 2 seperate bus routes when the patronage justified it. It would be quicker to walk from a stop on the main route to the centre of Birkenhead too! I’d guess there are things like this all over the city. On the way home the bus went from the main stop in Birkenhead to one around the corner, with the waiting around at the main stop for people to board and also the traffic it would have been much quicker for the sole able bodied adult that got off at the first stop to have crawled there.

        • Harvey Specter

          As I said above, comfort specifications have to be set by AT as no point buying nice luxurious buses just to be undercut in the next tender round by another company going for the cheapest option.

          Wider seats – buses are a 2 + 2 layout. To go any wider, you would have to go to a 2 +1 layout, side ways seats, thinner aisle, etc. What trade off do you want to give for the wider seats. I must confess, when I get on a bus, I normally choose to sit next to the thinest female, not because I think I’ve got game, but because I like the shoulder room.

          Agree with Highbury bypass buses and express services (I think some of the Glenfield ones don’t stop till the top of Onewa but none of the Beachhaven ones are express??)

          Onewa road is a perfect example of where a bus/T3 should be put in but that got turned down when suggested last year. I don’t think the new proposal has been announced.

          • Steve D

            Even if the width can’t change the seat pitch could be a lot better. It’s much more cramped than the seats on planes.

          • Kevin

            Good luck with getting anyone in a
            large government organisation to set a sensible spec, I truly hope they do.
            Can’t comment on the seat width as I have no experience other than the elderly minibus I took around Waiheke on Thursday having 2 + 1 seating, plenty of padding and as a bonus it didn’t make me feel sick. Given that off peak all the seats are often not full you have to wonder whether less seats and more buses when needed in peak time would work better.
            Last time I looked Onewa Road was T3 in one direction and due to most driving in the middle of the road a mainly lame the other way.
            Maybe a T3 the other way would cause some lane discipline? Then again what’s wrong with T2? It would better than the current unmarked road

          • Harvey Specter

            Kevin – the proposal was to put in a T3 lane up Onewa road in the Evening peak. In my view this should go ahead – I actually think Onewa Road should be 2 lanes 24/7 (ie. no street parking) with T3 during peak. I will leave the bus land v T3 v T2 to another thread.

        • SPT

          “Comfortable supportive seating wide enough to fit in a normal sized adult would help too.”

          I don’t really mind buses but the last few times I caught one, I really noticed this. I am an average sized woman (I think :) ) yet I found the bus seats to be very cramped. Why are they so small and uncomfortable?

          I totally agree with Stu’s comment about Auckland Transport being more customer focused. Having a friendly, helpful bus driver for example can make a big difference to how you perceive your journey. I take may hat off to those who go the extra mile like this – it must be a stressful job.

  • George D

    Four different people have mentioned travel sickness on buses. When I made a comment about this yesterday, Stu basically told me to stop griping.

    Many in the transport planning industry seem to have the impression that buses and trains offer a functionally equivalent service. I would respectfully suggest that for a significant proportion of the population, the propensity of buses to make passengers feel like vomiting is a disincentive to use, at almost any price.

    • JJay

      My Mum used to get terribly travel sick on the buses of old – I certainly cannot read etc on the bus whereas the trains
      not so bad. Mum now ironically has no travel sickness – it disappeared when she lost most of her sight so she
      can’t really say if the new buses are any better in that regard.
      I have to say though – I am a happy bus user overall – though we don’t have air conditioned buses and I have heard rumours
      that some other parts of Auckland have all airconditioned buses. Thats certainly an area where are trains exceed our buses -
      cool is nice !

      • Actually my understanding is that motion sickness is effectively the brain interpreting the signals from the eyes and ears differently. The eyes are saying one thing but that is being conflicting by the bodies sense of balance saying something else. That your mum might now be mostly blind means she is probably isn’t getting that conflicting info any more.

      • mm

        Does anyone else think they overdo the aircon on some of the new buses though? it can be freezing in them – when I sit up the back there are air vents that blow the cold air on you if you are by the window, so I tend to sit on the aisle seat if I can. brrr!

        • jjay

          I will tell you when we get aircon on our buses ……..I don’t think any of the ones I regularly get have it at all, though they do have an
          underseat heater thingy ……….sometimes that can get a little toasty on the legs ………..

    • Stu Donovan

      Stop griping! :)

      Nah seriously thought – ride-quality is an issue and (as someone that readily gets motion sickness) I can identify with what your saying. In saying that, try catching a double-decker tram in Hong Kong versus a double decker bus in Edinburgh – I think you will find that “ride-quality” is not as simple as often made out, i.e. LRT good, buses bad.

      Or – perhaps a better comparison – a tram in Amsterdam versus a bus in Amsterdam. The latter ain’t too bad (actually it’s better, IMO).

  • George D

    A fascinating article about the differences in how public transport users occupy their time on Wellington’s public transport.

    . Most passengers (65.3%) were “looking ahead/out the window” at some point in the observation period, more on buses than on trains. About one-fifth of all passengers observed were seen reading, more on trains.

    The article offers a few suggestions about why this might be.

    The study found people on the bus were much more likely than train passengers to be looking ahead/out the window. Some of the differences between bus and train
    passenger activities may be owing to the frequency of the service, the nature of the vehicle, or the length of the trip, as suggested by Lyons et al. (2007) above. On
    a short journey, one may not bother to get out a book or newspaper. Wellington trains run less frequently than many buses. Eating and drinking is formally prohibited on buses and some trains. In Wellington, many of the bus routes are through winding, hilly roads, possibly discouraging passengers who are even slightly subject
    to motion sickness from reading or writing. Activities also are constrained by whether or not one has a seat; it is difficult to read a newspaper while standing on a moving bus. The train offers a smoother ride, and more people were reading on the trains. The two-hour commuter train provided power-points and tables/trays, facilitating computer use and writing.

    There are obviously a range of factors affecting use, and some of these are due to the nature of the mode while others are dependent on the type of trip that mode is making. It’s no use complaining about the latter, but neither is it useful to ignore the former. Every mode has strengths and limitations.

  • Bryce P

    Question: Once the new network is up and running with more frequent services so potentially less patronage per bus, will there be an opportunity to remove a few seats to create a nicer seating experience?

    • Stu Donovan

      They should probably do that anyway. I’m personally surprised that NZ Bus have not tried a seating configuration on the new Link buses where one side of the bus has only a single row seats (facing forward) that were slightly larger than average. Not only would such a configuration provide more standing room for busy times (assuming axle loads are not an issue, which it might be) but also contribute to shorter dwell times and easier access for wheelchairs and prams, primarily due to the wider aisle.

  • Kevin

    How is the comfort on the Northern Busway? Surely with a dedicated road and newish buses this should be similar to a train when on the busway albeit with the too small seat problem?

  • Rob

    Tangentially related question: Approximately, how much is 10km of electrified twin track rail, with appropriate rolling stock vs 10km busway with rolling stock vs 10km of grade separated motorway? (not completely fair including rolling stock, because the motorway cost doesn’t include cost of cars) I know the figures have been on this blog before, but someone must have them in their head :)

    In other words, if half of the budget for the Roads of National Stupidity were put into either or both of those alternatives, how many km would be served alleviating the comment above of PT being at capacity?

    • Mr Anderson

      That’s a very good question Rob and something that the bus foamers often conveniently ignore – i.e. to provide a similar level of quality infrastructure for buses and trains you probably need to spend a similar amount of money. Just it’s easier to cut corners with buses.

      Classic example is the 41% Northern Busway.

      • George D

        To be fair to rail, you have to put in a 16 lane highway to carry the same number of people as a double-tracked railway line. So, for every 1.25km of rail, you’d compare that to 10km of four lane motorway :)

        • Rob

          Yes, I understand how rail can carry far more people than a motorway, but if I have 20 billion $ to spend, how much ground am I going to cover in each mode? Politicians might find it easier to relate to km than to potential capacity (maybe easier to argue to their electorate). And new full on grade separated motorway must be up there with the cost of rail.

          • Rob, I guess it also depends on the area being proposed. There is little space for any surface corridor of any kind left in Auckland and that is part of the reason why Waterview is in a tunnel. I would guess that in general underground construction would favor rail other the other two due to not needing ventilation stacks to deal with exhaust fumes

      • I have looked at it at a high level and my guess is that rail or a busway cost about the same. It cost just over $210m for the northern busway (excl stations) which is ~7km long which is ~30m per km. The Manukau branch cost something like $50m for ~2km. Onehunga which was a rebuild of a disused rail corridor cost about $13m.

        • Rob

          Thanks for those comments Matt. I’m surprised that Bus and Rail might be similar, which I assume is a short term.

          Good point about ventilation stacks. I was driving from Sydney airport out west in the tunnel and was gob smacked (actually, choking is more like it) at the black air. Totally disgusting.

          Good discussion. Sorry for taking it off on a tangent :)

          • My feeling is you pay for a level of service i.e. grade separated ROW but what mode you put on that actually has little difference on the overall cost. Where the difference comes in is how you stage the project, or what you are hooking it up to. With rail it either has to be an extension or a new line that goes somewhere useful whereas with a busway, it can come to an end with buses chucked out onto normal streets until such time as you can go futher, like what we have on the shore.

          • Most sources I’ve seen put equivalent levels of busway and rail at around the same price. Building a stable roadway with a a smooth surface can often cost more than laying sleepers and rail on ballast. the money goes on the land for the right of way, the quality of the stations, the desire to tunnel or bridge through terrain to get smooth even grades. That’s the same with bus or rail, perhaps the distinction comes by the ability to ‘cut corners’ with buses by building steeper or windier routes or simply leaving out the hard bits and sending the buses back onto the road.
            The northern busway is a good example, it stops north of constellation and south of Akoranga, has some funny compound curves at Tristram Ave and gnarly grade at Sunset Rd. Biggest thing is using the motorway to get over the harbour bridge. If they had built a new bus tunnel and stations under the city it would have cost billions, like an equivalent rail line.

            Brisbane for example has spent $2.6 billion building it’s three bus ways, not exactly cheap.

  • yk

    Can AT access to the AT HOP card accounts to analyse the travel pattern of the existing customers? I’m sure it would not be that hard since with snapper hop card, we can check the transaction history on line.
    If they could access to the accounts, they would be able to collect so much data about the travel patterns and they can also combine those information with the account details like home address and age of the user.

    It would be useful once the integrated ticketing and the new timetable is completed as peoples patterns of transferring routes at main transfer stations like Albany and New Lynn can be analysed in detail. (For example, most transfers in the daytime off peak at Albany would be between NEX and the buses to and from the mall and the other commercial area whilst in the evening and morning peak more transfer between NEX and the buses to and from the residential area.) And with more detailed data, they would be able to design a timetable more suited different demands at different time.

    • WAI

      I agree that it is necessary to look at the patterns in the data. And hopefully they use HOP and Snapper data, in particular to investigate daytime of travel and where people de-board. Traveling frequently on the western line, actually shows that trains quite full till Grafton and arrive with 1/3 of the passengers at Britomart, that would e.g. speak for a line avoiding Britomart and travel e.g. south, as i believe that some people change in Newmarket, maybe the data advocates for that.

      However, we must be very careful in using statistics. Let me cite an old and famous example form WWII. The Royal Air Force and US Air Force lost in the beginning of the bombing of German cities quite a lot of planes. So they were running an analyses on the planes coming back to figure out where to additionally arm them. Finding the cabin, the wings the rear should be armed more as there were the most hits. Result – no improvement as they did not arm the main body where fuel and the bombs are and of course a hit there….. So what can we learn about using usage statistics. We can use them for improving existing services like YK mentions (timetables, route optimization), but not for justifying future plans. Using existing statistics still confirm what we know. But what we can also learn is using that knowledge that current usage is not useful to argue with opponents, as those guys usually exactly cite statistics to show that there is no demand, or that the patronage is not high enough.

      Drawing on the fuel price and this discussion, I guess when fuel prices increase people will be more willing to use PT. We see it already in 2012. PT increased when fuel prices were high, peak in August, however in end September the fuel price relaxed, and although it is still high this is a psychological effect, as people see even a small decrease as beneficial, so thinking it gets cheaper again (in fact it is still more expensive compared to the year before) increased car usage.

      I agree to a certain extend that busses fit the needs, as long as they can run on dedicated, and i mean fully dedicated, lanes. The Northern Busway is a good example. But in that moment the busses get in normal traffic every advantage is lost. And honestly as discussed above I also believe that a full busway is not that more cost effective. First busses need to be replaced more often, second, the ecological footprint. Third, you need one bus driver for 50 people, alone the Employee-Passenger ratio is worse.

      What i also learned from the work I’ve done, is that it is also very dependent on the network. My old city used a star system. Similar like in Auckland there was one central square where all bus lines start and end. What they improved based on the customer survey were through lines. Means connecting east and west, south and north, what was before not possible without changing. Additionally they did finally not build the tram system, but added on the existing rail network (also running like a cross through the city) new stations, and fully integrated the train in the system. Before the whole city had only 3 stations, now they are building no. 7. As in the city two main communter lines join, they almost have a frequence of 15 minutes. And this is a city of only 100.000 people (density lower than Auckland). Considering all the efforts, of the new RTP-Draft i can see some improvements. But even the new plans do not connect suburbs, and with some exceptions, feeding the Rail and Busway network is still a bit lacking. One major way for growing might be looking at the weekend services, where people might show a different behavior (so looking on the existing data does also not work; e.g. who travels now on PT from lets say Balmoral to Mission Bay?). So looking at the Traffic data, and that must be available as they have the indication system of the motorway how long it takes to get to places, might be more promising to find new need and demand.

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