Auckland Transport has been in the news all week over its spending of $122,000 on a shuttle between its CBD and Henderson offices for a six month period. For its part AT has argued that the shuttles serve two primary purposes.
- To help it reduce then number of fleet cars it needs (perhaps by up to 20) – something that will lower its costs and emissions.
- To improve productivity by getting people between the offices faster as the PT options are too slow.
Both of these are worthy goals and ones that AT should be pursuing, however the condemnation has been about the hypocrisy of it all. AT are the ones that control the PT system but that they don’t see it as good enough to use themselves.
My main comment over the shuttle issue has been that if the PT services aren’t good enough for AT to use themselves then they probably aren’t good enough for the general public either. The inverse of that is if AT were to instead focus on making the PT system more competitive for them to use, then that would encourage more to use it.
In defending the use of the shuttle AT have said it takes about 25 minutes to do the trip between Britomart and Henderson although it has been reported as sometimes taking 30-40 minutes. In comparison it takes close to 50 for the train due them being slow and taking a very indirect route. They’ve also said that until the City Rail Link is in place that the train will be too slow yet even with the CRL the train will still be slower than the shuttle simply because the shuttle is non-stop service and takes a shorter route. Of note I’ve caught the train off peak quite a bit and actually found it to be decently patronised, often with over 150 people on board.
ATs response suggests that the amount time taken isn’t the only consideration and that a slower PT service can still be a good option. With that in mind here’s a couple of generally low cost ideas AT could look to implement to speed up existing services and make staff more productive that would also benefit the rest of the travelling public.
Introduce the electric trains off peak sooner.
Once rolled out the electric trains are *meant* to be able to deliver time savings over our existing clunky diesel fleet. ATs strategy with the EMU roll out is to wait till there are enough trains to do an entire line at a time and the Western line is slated as the last to change over. While I personally would love it, I can understand why we can’t do the Western line straight away however AT have also suggested that when the Manukau line goes electric in September or October that they might also roll out the EMUs to all lines on Weekends which need fewer trains operational due to lower frequencies. The western line runs at the same frequencies off peak as it does on weekends (half hourly) so perhaps they could launch off peak electric services later this year. That could deliver faster services for the off peak services the shuttles operate during.
But just how much faster could the electric trains be out west? A while ago I was provided with some documentation (from before the first train was constructed) showing how fast CAF say the trains will be able to operate based on track conditions (although I would guess not taking into account the speed restrictions around level crossings). Below part of that for the Western Line however it is worth noting that for an operational timetable extra recovery time would be added.
This suggests a trip from Henderson to Britomart could be as low as 36 minutes instead of the current 45. In reality that’s more likely to be say 40 minutes so a five minute saving.
Note: I say meant as the signalling system is apparently quite restrictive on speed around level crossings near stations and the Western line has a heap of them. This assumes AT/Kiwirail is able to address this issue.
Speed up the Newmarket end change
Most western line users will know one of the most frustrating parts of the journey is the wait at Newmarket while the driver walks from one end of the train to the other. It’s currently scheduled to take up to 3 minutes to do although I find it varies quite a bit depending on the driver.
One solution could be to hire additional drivers to have waiting at Newmarket. The idea would be that a western line train would pull in to the station and the waiting driver would jump in at the Northern end and take over the train to drive it to Britomart or towards Henderson. The original driver would then walk to the other end of the platform to wait for the next train and repeat the process. This could save 2-2.5 minutes per journey
Time the services to better suit meetings
Currently the trains arrive at Henderson or Britomart at inconvenient times for most meetings. For most of the day they arrive at Henderson at 7 or 37 past the hour making an inconvenient wait before the start of a meeting. Going the other way it’s even worse with trains set to arrive at Britomart right on the half hour meaning you either have to be a few minutes late (assuming the train’s on time) or again take an earlier train. This is one of the things that really frustrated me when using the train to get to meetings in town.
Shifting the timetable slightly would make services more meeting friendly
One of the massive advantages of the train is that it’s quite easy to do work on. It’s great that we now have WiFi at train stations however it’s currently missing from the trains themselves. Addressing this could mean that AT staff would be able to work easily on the train on their way to or from meetings assuming they are using portable devices. It would also be really popular with others who use the trains.
Make it easier for staff to use HOP
This one’s not something that would benefit the public I’ve heard from staff that one of the issues with using the PT options is that addressing payment for the services. I hear there are some internal HOP cards that can be used for work travel but that there aren’t many and it can be a hassle to sort out. That leaves many staff using their own HOP card and having to go through the hassle of filling in expense claim forms. There are a couple of possible solutions here as I see it:
- get more staff corporate HOP cards and make it really easy for staff to get and use them. This is something that AT should also be suggesting to other firms that make trips between multiple offices.
- create a special concession for staff that works similar to how the Super Gold card does which provides free travel at certain times of the day (off peak). Basically employees would have it loaded on their personal HOP cards and if making a trip during business hours it’s free. The reason for going this route rather than just free travel for all staff members is should avoid the issue of having to pay fringe benefit tax.
If this worked AT could look at pushing these solutions out to other businesses that need to send staff around the city.
In summary these suggestions could help both speed up trains and make them a more attractive option not just for staff but for all residents of this city.