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Improving the alternatives to the AT shuttle

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.

  1. To help it reduce then number of fleet cars it needs (perhaps by up to 20) – something that will lower its costs and emissions.
  2. 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.

EMU est times on Western Line

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

Introduce WiFi

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

43 comments to Improving the alternatives to the AT shuttle

  • Rharris

    While I’d like to see public transport out west improved with more express buses, the electric trains sooner and the CRL, I do wonder would taxis be cheaper than the shuttle? I do find AT idea of trying to save costs worth pursuing.

  • Bryce P

    Just issue all AT and AC staff HOP cards. Make it free travel for them. It won’t really cost anything. Saves the hassle of claiming back.

    • Ran Derson

      Cost = fringe benefit tax. A significant cost and a compliance nightmare.

      I can imagine the taxpayers union having a field day reporting “Auckland Council blows millions of dollars on free transport tax”

      • Bryce P

        Or lobby for the removal of FBT in PT passes. After all, parking doesn’t attract FBT remember.

        • Exactly. How is it any different from unallocated staff parking – which attracts no FBT.

          • Harvey Specter

            Some staff parking does. Stupid rules but can’t be changed easily (they tried last year)

          • NIl Einne

            Harvey Specter: Didn’t they try the opposite? Well I mean they tried to put FBT on all parking rather than remove it from parking an PT. Personally I would have preferred this to the current system, but as you say, it didn’t happen.

          • Harvey Specter

            FBT currently applies to some carparking, but is easy to structure around (eg. lease rather than license). The IRD/Govt proposed to apply it to all carparking (in certain CBD areas) but the expansion was withdrawn due to complications and protests (due to things like cleaners using carparks after hours or carparks included for ‘free’ with the building lease).

            But if the carpark is licensed for the use by staff, it is subject to FBT even if it cant be attributed to an specific employee.

          • Sorry you are right Harvey:
            http://www.ird.govt.nz/fbt/fbtfaq-faq.html

            “Is the car parking that I provide for my employees subject to FBT?

            Yes, if you pay for this car parking. However, if you provide car parking on your own or permanently leased premises, you are not liable for fringe benefit tax.”

            So that just makes it even more ridiculous that travel passes paid for by a company are subject to FBT. I understand the distinction that Stu is making below re at work vs to work travel, but still crazy.

            Has anyone seen this paper before from NZTA?
            http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/474/docs/474.pdf

            Basically says that the current FBT regime is encouraging more and bigger company cars. I know my father was working for Siemens in Wellington and the Germans there couldn’t believe that employees in NZ still got company cars. Apparently that doesn’t happen in Germany anymore. But, hey, what would the Germans know about running a successful economy, right?

      • Stu Donovan

        at-work travel is not subject to FBT, hence you could issue all staff with an AT HOP card for them to use for work travel without incurring FBT.

        They just could not use that card to get to work in the first instance.

  • Ran Derson

    I’ve seen people tag onto buses and the card says “STAFF” on the HOP screen. Does this mean they get a staff discount? Anyone know how much this is?

    • Salad

      NZBus are onto it and provide their staff and staff’s family with free travel on NZBUS services.

      AT don’t do anything like this for their staff…..

    • Harvey Specter

      The staff cards would relate to the company providing the service who normally provide cards to staff (and family) – some have rules for off peak only but I don’t think this is enforced.

      They can be loaded with $ so that the same card works on other operators buses as well.

      I would think AT should be able to program the system such that during 9-5, fares don’t get charged to AT staffs cards, instead being billed back to AT. If limited to day time, there should be no FBT so the only cost is the fare (which may or may not be passed on to the operator depending on the contract) which would be less than any alternative transport. You could even argue for the free pass to be 24/7 for AT’s Public transport staff as any fringe benefit is subsidary to the work benefit of them seeing how the network works in practice (ie. getting ideas for improvement etc).

  • Bryce P

    And if they need an alternative to fleet cars there are already alternatives. Get CityHop into Henderson and Takapuna. Use these for AT and AC staff and it will also give CityHop a chance to develop more markets while lowering the risk. Think outside the square.

  • ” 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”

    Seriously? I would have expected that working for AT came with a 100% funded, unlimited HOP card for use at any time. Of course, not having monthly passes kind of kills that, but still…

  • mfwic

    Travel planning is supposed to be about providing efficient alternatives to the car. AT made the mistake of trying to actually achieve that. Had they just stuck with fleet cars they would never have gotten all the bad publicity and comments from people who seem to know better than they do how to get staff members to meetings in an efficient and timely manner. The message to other employers is “just provide cars and people will leave you alone.”

    • Dave B

      Yes, AT have dug an unfortunate hole for themselves by trying to offer something greener than the usual expedient of company-car for single occupant (or perhaps 2 or 3 occupants). If they had carried on as before, no-one would have asked any questions!
      What the episode has really done is to highlight the poor confidence AT have in their own PT services to meet this sort of need. One would hope they will take the criticisms on board, and work in the long-term to improve those services, to the point where they truly become the mode of choice.

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    “. . .Shifting the timetable slightly would make services more meeting friendly”

    Much better to shift the meetings to times that can be achieved by public transport!

    I have often reflected on how awkward it can be using public transport to get to scheduled events generally, where the PT frequency is half-hourly or less. The reason is of course that meeting schedulers assume people will be arriving by private transport, therefore clock-face start times will be easiest for “everyone”. Car-culture assumptions clearly reign, and it is indeed difficult to see how meeting-times could factor-in public transport times, where people might be arriving from different directions on different services. That said, where there is one obvious service that might deliver members to a meeting, it would not be unreasonable to take such into consideration.

    I wonder how the Swiss do it, with their famed high-usage of PT for business and leisure travel alike? Chances are, many of their urban services will operate at a high enough frequency that there will always be a service conveinient for event start/finish times. But even on inter-urban routes, the Swiss operate a “Taktfahrplan” system which ensures trains from all directions arrive at key interchange nodes together, to enable reliable, clock-face interchanging. One can imagine that meetings could quite easily be scheduled around these key timings.

    Oh for a culture that considered more than just the car!

  • Jeff H

    Running some Western Line services to eliminate the six stops between New Lynn and Grafton, as well as missing Newmarket would likely produce over 10 minutes time savings, making it competitive with other forms of transport to the PT disadvantaged people of the old Waitakere City.

  • Steve D

    > “. . .Shifting the timetable slightly would make services more meeting friendly”

    Can’t wait for those 10 minute headways which the RPTP promised would be delivered with electric trains. That would mean you wouldn’t have to make meeting times work together with a timetable.

  • Luke C

    Even if EMU’s couldn’t be introduced sooner, then 15 minute all day DMU frequency should certainly be introduced at the next timetable change. If train every 15 minutes then much more likely to be convenient for staff for both ends of journey. 25 minute trip isn’t much good if have to wait 25 minutes to get on it. Then a slower train trip becomes more worthwhile, esp if can work on the train.

    • Jeff H

      High frequency all stops versus lower frequency limited stops has advocates and critics on both sides, but in my mind 45 minutes and a dozen stops and starts is too slow considering the distance involved.

      Perhaps AT have some research on the public’s perception on this argument? Interesting their own staff clearly prefer a fast direct service from by shuttle every 45 minutes. I’m also reasonably certain the four stop NEX service to/from Albany is preferred by customers over a slower service through the bays. Surely part of why NEX is successful and getting people out of their cars too.

  • We only have two tracks. Can’t run frequent all stops plus additional limited stop services on such a system. 10 or at least 15 min frequencies make current journey much more usable and competitive with direct shuttle in variable traffic. Of course CRL makes the route direct and faster than shuttle.

    But would any of this fix the culture at AT where some, clearly, don’t want to use Transit?

    • Jeff H

      Why not? Points at stations allow trains to pass on two track systems and there are other options such as adding third platforms or sidings to allow trains to overtake, including metro passing freight.

      The idea is to give outer suburb travellers similar levels of service and only marginally longer transit times than inner suburbs. Similar logic to why we have built and continue to improve motorways.

      Is it really desirable in the long term to provide a metro service from the CBD to Henderson with an average speed of 29 kph and post electrification maybe 40kp? No wonder AT didn’t say faster in their advertising for the new trains. Just 12 more stops to Henderson – yawn.

    • Dave B

      It is possible to mix limited-stop and all-stop services without any overtaking, but it does disrupt the cherished ’10-min interval between trains’.
      Take the Western Line: The express departs Britomart at, say, 00, 20, 40 past each hour, skips Parnell, bypasses Newmarket, first stop Grafton, then selected stops only, from there to Swanson. The stopper leaves Britomart at 02, 22, 42 and proceeds all-stops via Newmarket as now. It arrives at Swanson 2 min before the next express. The stopper takes 55min, the express 49min.

      • Yep that’s about the time saving the old express used to have. Given trade off I’d much rather have 10 min frequencies than 20 but with a 6 minute faster trip to the end of the line (less for closer in stations). I time my train in the morning but do turn up and go in the evening.

      • Dave B

        Oops, I’ve made a mistake. The pattern suggested above assumes
        both stoppers and expresses depart at 10-min intervals EACH (i.e. a massive 12 tph each way!). Unfortunately Britomart would probably choke at this.

        What I meant was, stoppers and expresses both depart at 20min intervals (still 6 tph). In which case the express could probably achieve significantly less than 49min, without risk of catching up the previous stopper.

    • Steve D

      Could we have a six-car EMU leave Britomart for Newmarket, then split into an express front half and an all-stops rear half? Still only uses one slot out of Britomart, although we’d double the number of drivers needed to keep 10 minute frequencies.

      • Greg N

        Wouldn’t the discount and reconnect up time be more than the time savings achieved?

        Having 2 drivers would not be a logistical problem, and was suggested earlier to cut the train turnaround time – although rather than having to physically split a 6 car EMU set, why not run the 6 car EMU out of Britomart as normal, at Newmarket, those who want the Express service change train to the waiting 3 car Express EMU which is ready and waiting right across the platform.

        Express leaves first, then all-stops second. This only uses 1 slot at BM, but allows for faster service for those prepared to switch trains at NM. If the Express service needs more than a 3 car EMU, then a 6 car EMU can be used instead as well as the normal 6 car set. So for total of 2 EMUs (using either 3 or 4 3 car EMU sets), a Western line express service can be put in place.

        And as per Patrick’s musings, if the express only stops at gated stations, then those who want an express stop at their local station, first they’ll have to lobby AT for gates to be installed.
        Make it a first – people lobbying for gated stations at their local.

        Coming into BM, at peak the reverse applies, off peak the Express train could simply run straight through to BM, then run back out to NM ready for the return service as slots at BM should be available.

      • Glen

        FYI in Japan (a model for efficient train operation) suburban trains where the train is split typically allow five to ten minutes for a train split stop (compared to one minute for a regular stop).

        This can be seen in action on Tokyo suburban lines such as the Takasaki Line at Kagohara Station (where the last five cars of a 16-car train are often stopped and the rest carry on, typically a five-minute stop AFAIK), and at Shimo-Imaichi Station on the Tobu Nikko Line (where trains are split to head north-west to Nikko and north to Kinugawa Onsen and further, typically a five-minute stop for the front half of the train and more for the back half). Reconnecting the trains takes a similar five to ten minutes in the other direction.

        AFAIK the splitting and reconnecting is only ever done on long lines with trips of two hours or so total, significantly longer than in Auckland.

        • Mike

          Splitting/joining takes place regularly throughout the day on shorter journeys than that on the London suburban network at Purley, where I think 4 minutes is allowed.

          It’s not something to be done lightly, though – a single splitting/joining train takes two paths, reducing possible frequency, and it’s a good opportunity for things to go wrong mechanically, electrically and electronically.

  • Ari

    Good work guys. I don’t agree with all the suggestions, but at least you are offerring some good ideas which is better than complaining but offering no solution.

    AT caters to it’s biggest customer: The car driver. Thus the use of the shuttle simply says AT have great confidence in their best product and not so much confidence in their niche product.

    I agree that AT/AC staff should all get free PT via Hop cards. It sounds so simple but seems so difficult. Even if it is just for 9-5 travel it is better than nothing.

    Best alternative: Use a car so you don’t get yelled at for trying to not use a car.

  • Truly

    This morning’s herald and AT turned away tennants for the Devonport wharf as they were considering it for themselves! Jeez. Seriously. What’s not to love about waterfront offices on Aucklands most expensive land with the best and most pleasant public transport and a fully new multi million renovated downtown space- nothing is too good for our council and public servants. To hell with West and South Auckland and there transport problems that affect their ability to do business and prosper. Shape up Auckland Council – not good enough

  • Andrew J

    Good luck doing 70 between Morningside and Newmarket!

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