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Increasing PT Patronage

At Auckland Transport’s February board meeting there was a paper about the ongoing flattening of public transport patronage growth and ways in which Auckland Transport can look to grow patronage. Most of the paper consists of fairly boring excuses for the drop in patronage in recent months but towards the end of it there’s actually a bit of actual information on what Auckland Transport is trying to do about this drop.

These are some of the shorter term initiatives for rail:rail-growth-initiativesIt’s interesting that all the initiatives seem to be focused on marketing campaigns rather than trying to find ways of actually improving the system. I quite like the focus on off-peak, shoulder-peak and weekend patronage as these are times where we have the rolling stock and infrastructure to cope with increased usage. The problem is that on many routes the service offered at these off-peak times is completely rubbish. For example we still have only hourly trains (and often just two car ADL sets) on the Western Line at weekends, with trains only running as far as Henderson on Sundays. Same goes for the Onehunga Line, even though there’s probably plenty of potential for off-peak trips on that line as people visit Onehunga for shopping or people from Onehunga travel to places like Newmarket or the city centre.

I do quite like the marketing approach though (which makes it even more depressing that the service offered will be so rubbish):train-marketingTurning to bus, the focus here at least includes a number of actual improvements along with marketing. While of course the complete revision of the bus network is still sitting in the background as something to be rolled out over the next three years, at least there are a number of “minor” improvements that were recently implemented:bus-recent-initiativesMy general feeling is that these have been good changes – especially by improving access to the University and AUT from the North Shore. Other initiatives, particularly focusing on improving the reliability of services, have been rolled out in recent times or will be in the future:bus-improvementsWhile these are all good initiatives, they do seem like the kind of thing Auckland Transport should be doing as business as usual, rather than as any particular initiative to turn around the stagnation of patronage growth.

I do think that rollout of the AT Hop card across buses and trains (whenever that’s finally completed) should be a significant boost to both rail and bus patronage, largely as it should make it easier for people to take spontaneous journeys and easier to transfer between services. The new bus network, once it starts to rollout from the middle of next year, is also likely to make a big improvement, but I think that needs to be complemented by other matters. Nothing breathtakingly unusual but a proper commitment to rolling out more bus lanes, undertaking a detailed examination of delay points across all routes on the bus network and targeting small-scale infrastructure improvements to fix those issues (like where intersection signalisation is necessary to enable buses to avoid traffic jams from cars trying to pull out onto the main roads) and other small things like proper traffic light pre-emption by buses. In other words, a whole myriad of little things to make the buses go quicker.

Oh, and Auckland Transport should be the strongest advocates for getting rid of minimum parking requirements – though the benefits of that change will really only pay off in the longer term as the biggest subsidy for driving is slowly wound back.

51 comments to Increasing PT Patronage

  • Ian M

    One other improvement that I would like to see is improved lighting and access to stations. My local station Takanini for example is very poorly lit at night. I am aware of many who choose not to travel on the train, as when they arrive home in the evening it would be too dangerous to walk.

  • dan again

    The best thing about the train system is that it tends to be fast and reliable during peak periods, unlike cars and frustratingly buses sometimes. Advertising off-peak trips and in particular weekend trips would likely backfire
    as people go to use it only to find the line is shutdown for maintainence.

  • SDR

    Out of interest how widely available is this “draft” marketing material? As the domain names mentioned are not setup correctly. They are at least registered to Auckland Transport.

  • Christopher T

    Lipstick on a pig. I don’t know how many times AT have to be told that it’s counterintuitive to slap posters over bus/train windows, particularly when you they have the hide to suggest, via one of their ubiquitous photographs of a sweet little girl looking out a train window, that a view is one of the pleasures of train travel. In any case off peak timetabling doesn’t actually encourage ‘training’, to the contrary as those of us who try to use the Western line during weekends are only too keenly aware.

  • We’re encouraged to use public transport to go to the Groupe F “The Breath of the Volcano” in the Domain.
    For the Saturday performance, the show ends at 10pm. West trains from Grafton leave at 10:02pm (too early – only accessible by mad sprint, impossible in a crowd) then 11:02pm – that’s a long wait and hardly encouraging.
    There are no special event services that I can find, bus or train, for these performances.

    • Stu Donovan

      Good point – hope AT/Veolia are reading this.

      BTW I saw the dress rehearsal for the Breath of the Volcano the other night. Looked “o for awesome:.

  • KAB

    Shame the review of the bus services on Sandrinham Road didn’t include allowing the express services to include a stop at Kingsland Station( no stops between Sandringham Shops or Symonds Street or K Road ) so that those going east do not have to go into the CBD to connect to buses going east as they can jump on rail.Thought the idea was improving access.

  • mm

    A comment on the updates to the 392 timetable (Te Papapa) – so I was looking at the new timetable on the Maxx website and using their Journey Planner in early Feb – the new timetable was way out in terms of accuracy (e.g. a 20 minute journey was listed as taking between 5-10 mins between 5-6pm peak time) – the 5 min journey would have had to have the bus travelling at 64km/h with no stops….. So, I sent a complaint off and they seem to have remedied it, although no official reply was given to me. I think the changes have somewhat improved the reliability in the PM peak (except for the horrendous traffic this week on Khyber Pass Road – is that just the Uni students clogging everything up?). But, the AM trip that I take has actually decreased in reliability, in my experience, and I have seen people walk away from the bus stop in frustration in the AM (to use their cars presumably) as the new bus driver we got was really good at coming on time (or even a bit early!!) for the past 6 months or so, alas no longer. On the plus side, we got a new bus stop!

    Also, does anyone else find the new route maps at the bus stops annoying e.g. not showing the main roads – they might make visitors think twice about using the buses if tthey’re not familiar with the locale, and wouldn’t be handy for figuring out good transfers either.

  • Publius

    The best marketing is just to tell the truth.
    I’d like to see AT publish regular statistics of travel time from various points around Auckland at peak travel time to show the difference in travel time between taking your car and PT.
    ie. “based on real data this week traveling between Swanson and the cbd took on average x minutes in a car and y on the train.”
    This would take into account this weeks motorway delays and delays in the train too.
    “based on this weeks fuel costs this commuter spent $x while the pt user spent $y”
    Publish this every month online, in the paper, and in car magazines.
    If a PT route isn’t *either* quicker or cheaper then something has to change. either drop the fare or make the route quicker.
    PT should sell itself, but a market requires facts; you can’t expect to entice people from their car without giving then some data.

  • Unless they put on more services people simply won’t use trains at the weekend. A whole extra hour to wait if you miss your train is just too much time wasted, especially if you had other plans that relied on being home at a particular time. Flash marketing won’t change the harsh reality that we have a commuter rail service that is passably functional for weekday travel outside the peak and utterly useless at weekends.

    We have the trains, we have the staff, what’s the bloody hold-up on getting useful weekend service frequencies?

    • My Sunday wait for a train at Swanson is quite long – until 5:37am on Monday in fact!

    • I don’t think we do have the staff actually, that’s probably the problem.

      Drivers can only work so many hours a week of course, with careful management of shift times and lengths to avoid dangerous fatigue.

      I’ve heard a lot of drivers get trained up, work here a little then move to Australia, and they are chronically short of drivers.

      • If they’re leaving for Aus after getting trained, bond them. It’s one of the things I’ve heard the distribution electricity industry talk about in response to HV lines technicians getting trained here and then jumping the ditch. Training people for these jobs is expensive, and they get high-quality training here, so it’s not at all unreasonable to require them to serve out a period of time or forfeit a sizeable sum of money if they choose to leave.

  • Frank E

    Interesting that they’re giving out free HOP cards now. They really should’ve done it initially (at least for a month of so) considering the issues with the rollout.

    • Steve D

      How do you get a free HOP card?

    • Steve D

      Although, for that matter, why can’t you buy a HOP card online and have it sent to you?

      • JeffT

        Free Hop card!? If so, I want a refund.

        • Publius

          If you read the AT board reports you’ll see that it’s a proposed marketing campaign to send promotional material to residents near a train station and a free hop card to encourage them.
          Re buying a hop online, the postage would make this prohibitive, although maybe a $50 card with $50 preloaded and free postage could work.
          I’ve proposed before that a new hop card should on it’s first use give a free all day pass for unlimited travel for the remainder of the day as a simple way of ‘refunding’ you for having to travel to buy one.

          • Steve D

            Auckland Transport is happy to post you a card if you already have a purple Hop, which also only costs $10, so I don’t see why the postage is such a killer. They already have someone mailing out cards, they can already accept credit cards (for topups) – everything’s all ready. Even if they charged a few dollars for P&P that’s easier for a lot of people than shlepping out to a distant train station.

  • Christopher T

    Matt Clouds, for the past five of years or so years AT have been trotting out the tired old excuse that they’re not going to do anything about weekend timetables while there’s so much potential disruption on the line, initially due to double tracking, then electrification. This chestnut has nothing to do with reality: in terms of the electrification programme, pretty much nothing warranting the full closure of the western line has occurred since last September. I noticed during the launch of the latest timetable that this excuse is being replaced by mutterings that Veolia don’t have the staff to run more regular weekend services. I used to think it had something to do with the fact that the last chairman of AT had a vicar for a father and didn’t want people getting around on a Sunday but now I suspect it’s due to AT management’s conviction that nobody of any significance would want to take a train when they could drive their own car. I mean, there’s no congestion to relive on the weekends, is there.

    • Surely a vicar would be the first person to want people to get around on a Sunday? After all, they have to get to church somehow.

      • Stu Donovan

        Ha! Well done Matt, that’s my comment of the week.

      • Publius

        I seem to recall reading somewhere that back when Auckland had trams this was a very real issue. If tram drivers had the day off then how would people get to church? Some compromise was found IIRC.

      • Steve D

        Back in the days of the trams when more people still went to church, there were a lot more churches and people could usually walk.

        • Christopher T

          Precisely: a congregation was always meant to be local so that the vicar could look after his ‘flock’. From distant memory I recall that the Rev Ford was a quite decent sort, your conventional CofE vicar.

  • dan again

    Unrelated question but, what distance will our new trains need to either accelerate or decelerate from 80km/h. Based on my numbers here a bus needs 170m to not exceed passenger comfort.

    • Steve D

      They will accelerate at 1m/s/s (3.6 km/h/s). I don’t know about braking. That means it takes 22 seconds and 247m to get up to 80 km/h.

      • Nick R

        Braking is the same, limited at 1ms-1 for passenger comfort except during emergencies.

      • Yes it is up to 1m/s/s however that is not constant. The train can maintain that level up until 35kph after which it starts to drop away. The trains also have a handy feature which will keep acceleration the same regardless of the weight. So if the driver moves the handle up by 1/4, it will accelerate exactly the same full or empty.

    • Dave

      @ dan – My understanding (but don’t quote me on this!) is that:
      For a train accelerating on level track under normal conditions , 0-80km/h should be achieved in about 410-430m.
      For a train braking on level track under normal service braking, 80K-0 should be achieved in about 300m.

      Both accelerating and braking are limited to 1.0m/s² for reasons of “passenger comfort”, but this value is only attainable at speeds below about 50K. Acceleration falls off to 0.3-0.4m/s² by 80Km/h..

      For a bus to achieve 0-80K in 170m its average acceleration must be 1.45m/s². In practice it will have a higher acceleration at low speed and this will fall off with increasing speed, just like the train.

      So in theory through having a lower max acceleration the train should be more comfortable than the bus. However acceleration per-se is not the main determinant of passenger-comfort and I believe some woolly thinking and inconsistency tends to creep into specifications here. For example, Wellington’s Matangis are limited to 0.9m/s² because someone decided this represented a “comfort threshhold”. Meanwhile various overseas metro systems systems run acceptably with accelerations significantly in excess of 1.0m/s².

      A more realistic determinant of comfort-level is the rate-of-change in acceleration – i.e. whether or not there are sudden jolts or lurches. A high acceleration that comes on and goes off both smoothly and predictably is no problem. But an acceleration that wasn’t there one instant but is suddenly there the next is what makes for discomfort, even if its actual value is low. Too often I think the wrong determinant gets used for setting these values. And the same conundrum exists around the setting of curving-speeds on grounds of passenger-comfort. Trains “corner” with a much lower cant-deficiency than buses (which can lead to trains being less time-competitive). And in reality, the increased comfort from the lower acceleration and lower cant deficiency of trains can be completely wiped out if the track conditions are such that there are frequent jolts and lurches.

  • Dave

    Off peak frequencies are a vexed issue between the service-planners (who are very rarely users of off-peak services), and the users (who seem to have very little say in the planning). Wellington’s evening train service provides an interesting example:

    Historically, after the evening peak had died down, Wellington’s trains ran hourly until midnight. This seemed to suit an city regime in which there was very little night-life once the commuters had gone home. But this was Wellington back in the 1980′s. Things have since changed.

    In 1995, a bold new timetable was introduced which doubled weekday off-peak frequencies to half-hourly right up to midnight (though still hourly at weekends). All of a sudden, using the train to go out for the evening became a viable option and patronage climbed. This timetable remained in place for nearly 10 years.

    Then in 2004, ostensibly under the excuse of “driver shortage”, the service was not only thinned back to hourly but the last departure curtailed to 11pm. Needless to say patronage plummeted. An evening trip out now requires planning and estimating as to whether or not it can be achieved (particularly if a transfer of any sort is necessary). Going to a restaurant or movie now means continual clock-watching and possible early-exit, just so as not to miss that last train. Most people no longer bother. The planners killed the evening off-peak service, simply by removing four services which provided the ½-hourly infill up to midnight. And no attempt has since been made to rectify this, even after the driver-shortage was over. I am sure that to this day, those who made this decision have no awareness of the effect it produced and others in the same seats now simply shrug off low evening patronage as being “the public’s chioce”. Bah!

    Note that I speak here with particular reference to the Johnsonville line, since that is the one I am familiar with. All lines had their services cut, but I am not sure how evening off-peak patronage on the other lines has held up through this saga..

  • Ejtma

    Both my wife and myself were regular users of the train, at least one of us would travel both ways each day, whilst the other would drive as we would need a car for work, and both finished and started at different times.

    During the ridiculous shut down this summer, on the Eastern Line, we had to use the car to get to and from work, we formed new habits, and managed to align our working day, the result we broke the old habits, now happily drive to work each day, come and go when we want, and surprisingly it doesn’t cost us any more, we get to work in around the same amount of time, and between us have used the train twice between us since they started running again in January, and sadly have to say are unlikely to do so again for some time.

    I wonder how many more people are in the same position as we are.

  • David O

    Services are poor, unreliable, and expensive for what they are. It’s not complicated. There is no way on earth that we would consider using the Western line for weekend family outings given the utterly crap timetable AND the cost. And three of us are regular weekday users, so we don’t need persuading – what we need is a decent service that is cheaper than parking.

    • Stu Donovan

      Or do we need parking to be more accurately priced, i.e. expensive? Do we have a chicken-eggy problem?

      My hunch is that the ubiquitous availability of cheap, i.e. subsidised, parking in Auckland will forever undermine PT.

      • Steve D

        It’s not a chicken and egg problem. It’s a public transport system that’s not providing a usable service. Here’s the minimum of what you need to grow patronage:

        1. Run services
        2. Where people want to go
        3. Frequently
        4. On time
        5. Reliably

        Once you’re doing that, then you’re in a position where you’re starting to compete with cars and you can worry about whether cheap parking is undermining PT, or whether fares are too high, or whether the vehicles are too slow, or other stuff like that. But the first step is to have a product. If you’re going to a gunfight, you need to at least bring a gun.

        • Fares are definitely too high. My partner and I are at least $12 return on the train to town from home in Ellerslie. Unless we’re paying casual rates during the working day there’s no way that parking for most things we might do in town come close to being that much, and because we’re so close the unseen costs of petrol and maintenance are very, very low. Once our child arrives we’ll get a couple of years of grace and then we’ll have to start paying for them too, at which point parking would have to be ludicrously expensive to make the train cheaper (I have no desire to try and take a toddler on the bus!).

          • Steve D

            When it comes to patronage, what matters is the relative cost. You can lower fares, or raise driving costs, and you’ll get the same results. But in order for either to work, there needs to actually be a PT option that people can switch to and rely on.

          • Parking costs would have to increase very dramatically, particularly when the destination is some distance away and thus public transport incurs a much higher fare. If we want to move away from the CBD fixation, which is where the Council can exercise particular influence over parking prices and availability, then the ready availability of un-costed parking spaces needs to be considered when setting fares. At present there’s a fixation on the CBD and on working-day services. There’s no compelling price proposition outside those times, even if we ignore the miserable services, and the Council lacks the power to influence parking space owners’ behaviour.

            A targeted per-space rate aimed at the shopping malls, along with removal of minimums, would probably be quite effective at reducing the number of spaces provided. However, since the Council would almost certainly get slapped down for even suggesting such a rate, I’m lost as to what other options they have beyond tweaking fares to try and make off-peak public transport use attractive.

          • Steve D

            Just removing minimums would have a big effect, as long as it included existing developments. Of all possible ways to stop choking the city with cars, it’s the most politically palatable (Reform the RMA! Removing red tape! Housing affordability! etc. etc.).

            I don’t disagree with you on fares, but I think you’re thinking two moves ahead – move one is to fix those miserable services. It may take a few years, but it will build lasting habits, and people will invest in living without a car. A huge part of the cost of driving is the fixed costs – learning to drive, buying and maintaining a series of cars, the time taken on all the little trips that are needed to keep a car running. Even if fares are higher, you can compete more easily on price by providing a service of “live without a car”, than “take this one trip without a car, but you still need to own one”.

    • JeffT

      Yep, that’s what needs changing. Flash marketing campaigns won’t fix the underlying issues.

  • Going to be an interesting exercise this marketing campaign.

    Lets see, I did note above someone mentioned “lip stick on a pig” which would be apt for this marketing campaign AT are about to commence.

    One way of at least getting patronage back onto the existing services (I remember Saturday Eastern Line trains and Onehunga trains being full) is bring back the old Family Pass. Today would of been a good case of a Family Pass to allow people to get to Britomart or Morningside by train then a shuttle bus using the same family pass for today’s Pasifika. Although in saying that running a Friday timetable today would of also have been useful.

    But hey seeing the four AT Officers running around ducking for cover after having the torch apply to them by the Auckland Council Transport Committee on Wednesday (was great entertainment especially when Dr Casey really applied the torch to COO Greg Edmonds over the briefing by media comment) rather than getting onto actual solutions shows we have a long way to go before improvements happen (although we got one out of Strategy and Finance on Wednesday)

    • Go figure, I just finish writing my above comment and I see this: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10870203 Traffic chaos continues after crash

      Then again I did Twitter this to AT (then wrote a post on it afterwards): Ben Ross ‏@BenRoss_AKL
      and @AklTransport any reason why Rail Ticket Inspectors not selling the old Family Pass up and down the entire network today?

      Ross ‏@BenRoss_AKL
      @AklTransport any reason why we are not operating Friday Train and Bus Timetables today with the amount of events on. #repeatingthursday?

      I dunno – shall we all do a mass official protest at the next Transport Committee?

  • Bryce P

    Lipstick on a pig alright. How not to do it:
    On Thursday night the Te Atatu Peninsula services stopped running from town. My brother and other users sat in town waiting for their bus even while New Lynn and Henderson services were still running thus ruling out not being able to run due to the accident on the Southern.. There were numerous Go West buses sitting at the stop with Out of service signs up. When users approached the bus doors to try and find out what was happening not a single driver would open a door and chat to them. Not one out of 10 or so. Even worse was the MAXX help service whose best response was we can take a complaint and get back to you in 10 days. Not helpful when you are sitting in town. Eventually, 2 hours later the group caught a Henderson bus, got dropped off on Te Atatu Road (South) and made the trek to the peninsula on foot. Ahh, what world class PT we have.

  • Liz

    AT definitely needs to realise that service improvements need to come before/alongside marketing. I have overheard several comments recently that were quite disheartening, from both peak/commuting and off-peak users.
    The first was a couple of older ladies in a bus, saying that they would never catch the train again because it was too unreliable. From their conversation, I think that part of the concern was that if a train is delayed, there’s nothing you can do (whereas on a busy bus route you can catch an alternative bus), but the main problem seemed to be all the line closures recently. This was a bit of a surprise to me, since I have always preferred the train over buses (and considered it more reliable), but I haven’t been catching it during all the disruption lately and so hadn’t realised how many problems that caused.
    The second comment was from a guy at a bus stop, after a bus had gone past full (this happens quite regularly on that route apparently). He said that it was enough to drive him back to commuting by car.

    • Liz

      Also, I just went to top up my AT HOP card online and there’s a fee! Why? I thought they were getting rid of that type of stupidity.

  • Thanks to dave for the comments above on acceleration. The world reached about 1m/s/s acceleration about 40 years ago!

    You can certainly feel the uncomfortable effect of the variation of acceleration if you ride a Cityrail S-set (2nd gen rolingstock) as compared to an M or A set (Millenium or Waratah), in spite of the latter having more acceleration than the former. Seems the former had too loose couplers but I digress.

    I think we can certainly have acceleration above 1m/s/s – a 737-800 at max thrust+max weight would be almost 3m/s/s on the take off roll. Cars and buses can also do it. Why not trains?

    As for Stu Donovan’s point about removing unsubsidised parking, yes that is also a factor but surely providing higher quality services is something that should also be done. I submit that the quality of the services is reduced by low acceleration policies.

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