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Duncan Garner on using Public Transport

Radio Live host Duncan Garner decided to have a car-free day on Sunday and take his family from Avondale to Devonport using public transport. He has written about his experience here and it highlights many of the things wrong with our current system. He starts:

So, we decided to have a car-free day on Sunday. We had four kids and the wife and I decided to take them to Devonport to climb North Head, explore the tunnels and have some lunch. We arrived at Avondale station, close to where we live to take the train. First mistake: the Mrs read an expired timetable at home and we arrived as a train was just about to leave. Did they see us? Yes. Did it stop and let us on? No. No worries! Our mistake. So the wife pulled out her ‘Hop Card’ and tried to buy us a family pass to Britomart. Did it happen? No. Is a family pass an option? No. Hopeless. So we bought four kids tickets and two adults. Total cost – $19.40.

After going on to describe his day in more detail he ends with a summary of his impressions

So what are my impressions of going car-less? 1. It’s actually harder and you have to plan meticulously. 2. It’s not cheap – the return train cost us $36.20 – that’s a lot of petrol in my car. 3. It takes longer to get places because it’s not point to point. 4. Why couldn’t I buy return tickets at Avondale train station? 5. Why couldn’t I buy a family pass or off peak pass? 6. Why do they offer cheaper prices at Britomart but not at outer suburban stations? 7. As a first time user my wife’s hop card did not work for the train and therefore we flagged it for the ferry. We paid cash. It’s not user-friendly for families. 8. Why were there four ticket inspectors on my train on Sunday afternoon? Almost one per passenger. 9. It involves a lot of walking and we were all stuffed by 7pm Sunday evening. All up, it cost me $68.20 to get to Devonport with my family – that was return. I could get almost ¾ of a tank of gas for that. And I could have driven point to point. I want to use public transport, but it needs to be cheaper and it needs to go to more places, more often – but that won’t happen unless we get the incentives right. Let’s get this right. Let’s make it cheaper. Let’s get people on the trains and buses. There is still plenty of work to be done.

A couple of the points he makes I think are a little bit wide of the mark, for example the ticket inspectors need to be seen on a variety of services to be effective and surely a degree of walking was always going to be needed however his comments about the cost of tickets and how easy (or not) it is to buy them are what AT need to take on board.

Auckland Transport seem to primarily focus their attention and pricing on competing for solo trips to and from town and there has been almost no consideration of people who might want to travel in a group. That can mean even just travelling as a couple can be more expensive than a car and parking. Family passes are one solution to trips like the ones Duncan made however as he found out, they are only available at a handful of stations making them useless to most people.

The range and pricing for group travel leaves a lot to be desired which is a great shame as particularly on weekends they represent a great opportunity for people to try out the system as part of a family outing.

67 comments to Duncan Garner on using Public Transport

  • A question for those in the know: Have the powers at be pulling the strings of public transport in Auckland given some genuine thought into introducing peak and off-peak rates? If no, is there a reason why? If yes, what’s the reason for not adopting this? It strikes me as piss easy to do with the digital HOP system.

    • Off peak, including weekends ought to seriously discounted in my view. There is considerable economic benefit to people travelling outside of the peaks on all modes and this should be incentivised.

      • Jeff H

        Agree. People are more likely to travel in couples and groups on weekends so the total cost is a consideration. Introducing off peak fare incentives in the months ahead of full electrification will encourage more people to have HOP cards and eventually to use the PT system at other times. Would be a great counter to the recent moans about Wilson Parking doubling some CBD evening car parking rates to $25 when events are on.

  • Limabean

    Why not something like this if the trains are going empty anyway, the marginal cost of getting additional people on is pretty close to zero:

    http://www.sydneytrains.info/tickets/which/funday

  • Simon

    Ticket inspectors don’t need to be seen at all in that context. They just need to be seen busting people and dispensing large, enforceable fines. But these issues have been discussed previously. I guess I’m just saying having them uniformed is optional and not necessarily optimal.

  • Matthew Percival

    The return ticket thing is a bugbear of mine. I work in Newmarket and travel into town around 4-6 times a year using the train. Why can’t I buy a return ticket from Newmarket? There are only 3 ticket machines in Britomart which is ridiculously low and one of them doesn’t accept coins. WTF?

  • nick1234

    I’m pretty certain public transport will never really be suited to trips like this. Why? It’s quite a long way and involves changing, so public transport is always likely to be slower at off-peak times. Also, a family is travelling, so there’s a huge benefit in having the flexibility of a car even it it did take longer, and not having kids getting tired and grumpy etc. Having four people in a car makes it likely that it’s the cheaper option too, in comparison with four separate public transport fares, even if it is a family ticket.

    But that doesn’t matter. Cars will always be useful in one form or another, particularly for families. But there’s still huge numbers of journeys where public transport is the far better option, and that’s what we need to focus on, and encourage people to change. A family travelling from Avondale to Devonport at the weekend? Makes sense to drive. A sole commuter travelling from Avondale to the CBD in rush hour? Public transport 100%, yet loads of people still drive. Those are the journeys that need to be targeted.

    • conan

      I’d agree that many family trips are well suited to using a car. However in the situation outlined I’m pretty sure that part of the ‘attraction’ of the trip was to try something new (though even as a fan of PT I wouldn’t have attempted the journey outlined with children). My own children really like catching the bus and especially the train as it’s reasonably novel for them.

      But too often such adventures go bad (buses don’t turn up, linkages are poor) and it’s expensive as is pointed out compared to the marginal cost of using a car for the journey. And so the novelty of trying something new is replaced by a very rational determination to never try that again.

      Surely one simple solution is free travel for children off peak with a fare paying adult. And capped fares (rather than family day passes). Encourage children to have HOP cards by making the free travel linked to a linked HOP card (so they can still use barriers and get used to how it all works). This stuff (I hope) is simple.

    • I think PT can work very well for families. Kids love travelling by train, ferry and bus and it can make for a much more flexible trip – i.e. walk through the city to another station without having to go back for the car. Kids often get bored out of their brains in the car (like my niece and nephew) or car sick (like our little girl).

      Obviously for out of the city trips it is much harder but for the kind of trip Duncan Garner made, a well functioning PT system should be (and is overseas) an advantage.

      The ticketing situation is ridiculous and needs to be addressed.

      The biggest problem seemed to be “you have to plan”. But now with the smartphone apps it is really easy to get the information. Its not like you need to carry around a paper schedule anymore.

    • Simon

      Nick1234 great post

  • Matthias

    We used to catch the train to Britomart on weekends, but it makes more sense to go by car now that you can no longer get a family pass from Manurewa. Maybe if the powers that be got out of their company cars and dedicated shuttles and ate their own dog food some of these blindingly obvious issues might get fixed…

  • Jonty

    I was under the impression that AT’s “Integrated Ticketing” was going to be something like Sydney’s rail where you buy a ticket from a machine that lets you through a turnstile to get on, and only lets you back out through a turnstile where you’ve paid for to get out. The turnstiles here could also accept AT Hop card. I know it must be expensive to set up this kind of thing, but surely it will make things easier and force people to pay for what they use?

  • Bryce P

    My name is Bryce and my family is an off-peak user of Public Transport in Auckland :-). Our usual trip is to park at Albany Park’n’Ride and catch the NEX to the city. The return trip is roughly $25. Now, I cannot be bothered driving into the city and finding parking so I’m ok with this (kind of) but the average family out there would, rightly so, see this as an expensive trip and continue to use the car. The marginal cost of dropping the ticket prices off-peak and fully utilising existing services is virtually zero as the driver is already being paid and a bus or train use not much more energy whether empty or full. Just drop the prices and get people using it. NOW!

    • Stu Donovan

      it’s just not possible for AT to drop fares Bryce. For the simple reason the Government has set a farebox policy of at least 50%, i.e. fares have to cover 50% of the costs of operating the services. So the best AT can do is selectively drop fares in ways that appeal to price sensitive trips (such as an off-peak discount) and/or result in systematic efficiencies (such as increasing HOP discount).

      But any discount has to be covered by an increase somewhere else, lest AT fails to meet the NZTA’s farebox policy and thereby fails to qualify for central government funding.

      • simon

        You miss a fundamental point: revenue can be increased by dropping fares if the increase on patronage as a result of that drop results in an increase in revenue. This is the great thing about PT. In that it actually costs the same to run a bus/train/ferry whether there is 1 person on board or hundreds.

      • Geoff Blackmore

        Actually Stu, AT can drop fares, by reducing its own cost structure. AT is a cumbersome entity that is addicted to overspending. PT planning and cost structures everywhere else is much lower. In Wellington you can buy a 3 day pass for $21.00.

        A few ideas off the top of my head – quit paying so many staff over $100k salaries, quit painting road markings two weeks before resealing the road, quit running shuttle buses in competition with their own PT services, and quit relying on hundreds of external consultants for everything they do.

        • NIl Einne

          While some of these may be a good idea, it seems unlikely many of them actually contribute much to the cost of providing the PT service which is part of the farebox, unless the system is way more screwed up then I thought.

  • David B.

    Duncan is bang on about the cost of public transport in Auckland. I’ve found the same – looking at public transport options to take a family of four to the zoo or to the museum (from Devonport) the total charge mounts up really fast. While a private car offers convenience, It is not acceptable for it to be the only affordable option for travel in Auckland, especially when we are talking about moving around populated areas that are all fairly close to the city centre. Yes it might ‘make sense to drive’, but it should not be the only option available.

    I’m in the minority in that I actually want to use public transport as a matter of principle, but when it costs $40-$50 just to get the family to the zoo/museum/football and back I have no choice but to drive.

    When the extra travel time is also factored in, I can understand why people want to drive and to spend money on roads rather than public transport infrastructure. That’s not where we want to be if we have any aspirations at all to become a modern city. What is infuriating is that Auckland Transport has just reviewed public transport fares and seen fit to increase them – how out of touch are they?

    • Glen

      I agree with most of your points Dave, but don’t get too carried away.

      1. Auckland Transport is only increasing cash fares. AT HOP fares are either staying the same or falling https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/service-announcements/fare-changes/

      2. Many football games are free to get to with the game ticket. Blues and the Phoenix game spring to mind https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/events/

      Having said that I agree that it should be easier to use PT to get around as a family. Family passes and off-peak discounts should be happening already. With luck they will happen when integrated fares come in, if not earlier.

      • Even if HOP fares are staying about the same or dropping slightly, the point still stands that off-peak travel for groups of more than one person rapidly becomes vastly more expensive than the equivalent journey in a private car, even allowing for parking; especially since many of the weekend destinations have uncharged parking.

        • NIl Einne

          Personally I’m not convinced family passes are that important. Yes it’s great to encourage families to use public transport to get them in to the habit. However I don’t see that there’s anything unique about a family or group. They don’t take up less space on the bus compared to an equivalent number of people not in a group. They may reduce boarding time slightly but may be not.

          Furthermore, while I’m loath to advocate cars. Travelling by private car when you have four people or whatever is one of the more effective forms of travel. It’s really the SOVs that we want to discourage most of all.

          In other words, it seems to me what we need is an overall reduction in fares combined with with other things like the proposed off peak price reduction rather than concentrating on a group or family pass.

  • I understand that this has definitely been looked at by AT, but there is apparently a significant constraint in the version of the Thales system that AT bought. This does not allow for variable pricing based on times. Seems odd, but probably reflects the cheap and cheerful version they bought for the funding available.

    Presumably major hard coded upgrades would need to take place to allow this to be bolted on as a feature to the core system, but this would come at significant expense.

    Variable pricing during off-peak definitely makes sense, especialyl with the huge increases in capacity that the 15 minute frequenct network will deliver. We have the space, let’s fill the seats. Obviously some revenue modelling would need to occur to ensure this is not a big giveaway for little patronage growth. Let’s test it in Hamilton first!

    • tuktuk

      I’d say a matter of some urgency to sort out – this variable pricing modification.

      I presume AT are concerned about potential software problems with any fundamental upgrade. With a well designed interconnecting trains and buses network coming on-stream, and a 20 million riders target for the rail corridors, variable pricing and a reliable ticketing system becomes mission critical.

    • Seems odd, but probably reflects the cheap and cheerful version they bought for the funding available.

      !!! They spent over $100 million on it, is that is what is called “cheap and cheerful” these days?

      • Roger W

        To quote a person who shall remain nameless telling me about his friend who contracted at AT in the IS dept (who shall also remain nameless)

        “It’s like AT is where Auckland Council put all the people they hated to work with before they dumped it”
        and
        “I’m never working there again”

        to whit:
        Oh, you can’t register your HOP card online because you’ve used your email address in our support system in the past
        Oh, you can’t reset your password for it because the form is broken (or, alternatively, because you’ve used your email address in our support system in the past)
        Oh, when you use the website contact form it takes us a month to email you to tell you that we will be looking into your problem
        Oh, you have to allow 72 hours for that electronic transaction you just did to percolate to the other electronic system that actually lets you use your money on the bus/train, just in case, it will probably only take 24-48 hours

        You can waste an awful lot of money when you can’t do the job right the first time.

        • Neil

          While I too have heard this nasty rumour about IT staff, the real problem with the HOP contract is that they asked people to response to a specification written by “experts” who had never operated a similar system. They would have been better to have looked at standard systems available and bought the best bang for bucks. Both Hong Kong and Singapore have excellent systems that cover bus and rail. Why did we have to pay so much for so little?.

    • Stu Donovan

      if this is true, then it’s a disaster.

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    I believe the problem is that urban public transport in New Zealand is basically considered only as a peak-hour tool to try and reduce road congestion. What happens outside of the peaks is not seen as important enough to insist on any meaningful standards of unsability. What is provided is token only.
    Same with interchanging. The peak-time commuter journey is assumed to be a one-seat ride from suburb to CBD and that is all the powers-that-be consider themselves obligated to provide. Those who want to make complex, multi-stage journeys across town with families in tow are considered an oddball minority for whom the system is not designed.

    This is New Zealand I’m afraid, and until we get a strongly pro-P.T. government I can’t see it changing. I have been through many years of similar experience in Wellington when our family was young and still living at home. Numerous times we would have benefitted from greater consideration of these issues, but instead had to lump whatever scrappy service was provided. Or else be “normal” and go by car! Same when trying to use PT for an evening out. The system just not there to facilitate this.

    • David B.

      Hi Dave B, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the government for this (not this time anyway).

      We are fortunate in that the infrastructure to go from Avondale to Devonport and back is already in place. It just needs AT to manage it properly so that it costs the Garner family maybe $15 or $20 for the trip, not nearly $70. And to run the whole system with 10/15 minute frequencies so that it doesn’t feel like it takes half a day to get there and back. It’s not about off-peak pricing – $68 for such a short return family trip is far too much, peak or off-peak.

      We are now paying a lot of money to the Council and to AT so it’s time they delivered – they rather than Wellington are responsible for these high fares and low frequencies.

      • Dave B (Wellington)

        Totally agree. These problems have persisted while government of various hues have come and gone. And you are right that big improvements could be achieved simply by making better use of what is already in place. However it is my understanding that government directives to local authorities (and NZTA subsidies) are only aimed at mitigating peak-hour congestion. Thus there is far less impetus for councils to do anything meaningful to improve off-peak or non-commuting journeys. This is not to offer any excuse – of course AT should be striving to offer the best possible service to users. But unfortunately I fear the No1 imperative is to keep the minister happy, not to strive for excellence.

    • Simon

      Dave also frustrated by the lack of multi service options in Wellington. Why does transferring cost. I’ve especially experienced this issue on weekend mornings

  • Effectively off-peak PT is priced *higher* than peak, not lower. This is because price is the sum of ticket cost and time cost… and time cost is higher when frequency is lower (longer average wait and/or more time invested in avoiding waiting time). Really, off-peak should have discounted tickets just to remain comparable to the peak cost.

  • Geoff Blackmore

    $68.20 Avondale to Devonport and back – pretty shocking.

    These extremely high prices are what I’ve been ranting about here ever since HOP was introduced. The pre-HOP maximum Duncan would have paid was $24.00 for his entire family to make this journey. And they only made a short-distance trip. Imagine if he gone from Papakura to Albany! The old $24.00 would be over $100.00 post-HOP.

    One small bit of good news is that AT have introduced a $16.00 fare cap for individual users, essentially the Discovery Pass reintroduced, and it’s valid for 24 hours from time of purchase, so you can use it during the morning peak as well. That means people using the trains for longer trips, such as Henderson to Glen Innes, or Manukau, or Papakura, or Onehunga, don’t have to pay beyond six stages. Not as cheap as the old day pass which was $12.00, but certainly better than paying full fare. Hopefully some of those commuters who switched back to driving when HOP was introduced can be enticed back.

    But that wouldn’t have helped Duncan. The Family Pass also needs to be reintroduced.

    • Geoff Blackmore

      Frgot to mention – these high prices are unique to Auckland, and are not indicative of PT in New Zealand in general. Outside Auckland prices remain very competitive with the car.

      In Wellington you can buy a $21.00 pass for the entire rail network valid for THREE DAYS.

      Auckland needs to do better.

      (waits for Stu to defend Auckland’s prices as “not expensive”)

      • Dave B (Wellington)

        In Wellington, the three-day, $21 ticket is only available Friday-Sunday, for one person. For a family you would either need a Group Rover ticket ($40 for 4 people, per day), or else a $14 Day-rover which allows you to take a child under 15 free. Two adults + 4 children (over 5) would need 3x Day Rovers (=$42), and that is only for trains. If you want to use buses as well, you would need a Metlink explorer ticket ($21 for 1 Adult+1 child, per day), hence for Duncan’s family, 3 of these would be needed (=$63). Not far short of what he paid for his family trip to Devonport!

        Wellington’s fares are too high also!

        • Simon

          DaveBW agree. Wellington get yourself sorted. Although I vaguely recall reading that wellington’s integrated ticketing was waiting for auckland’s back office software to be sorted to enable the two systems to use it. Anyone know?

    • Bryce P

      It doesn’t need a family pass. Just need good off-peak fares such as that enjoyed by Vancouver residents.

  • George D

    Once again, the fares are too damn high and we’ll get all the wrong outcomes until this changes.

  • At one stage, a lot of papers in London used to charge you, for reading them.

    A lot are now free ( as in your money )

    At one stage you had to buy music.

    A lot of this is now free ( ditto ).

    Someone suggested free PT. Why not? Make it free, then figure out how to make it revenue neutral, or profitable ( although ideally, the reverse)

    Can’t be done? Here are a few ideas, I seriously doubt other people don’t have better ones.

    1. Allow people to sell things on PT – drinks, food, t-shirts, pets

    2. Encourage sponsorship, not advertising ( they sound the same, but they are not ). Think Barclays Bike. You pay, you benefit.

    “So it goes”

    • mfwic

      We could charge a toll for road use then make PT almost free.

      • How to wake up an Aucklander?

        Interfere with their use of car, warning, they may bring pitchforks. I’d be inclined to argue for carrots, and a lot of them. Some people don’t like vegetables, and for them there are Brussel Sprouts. You may have been told this is a vegetable, I suspect it is sick in a roundish form.

    • If I remember correctly the firebox take in Auckland is about $175m a year. So if you want to make it free then you need to find $175m every year from somewhere… Just to maintain existing service levels. So would making it free without improving any services, any reliability, any travel time or adding any routes do anything at all? I doubt you’d have much growth in usage at all. The one large city that has tried it, Tallinn, saw a 4% increase in patronage after making their whole city system free. Basically nothing.

      If we are going to find an extra $175m funding each year I’d rather we put that in to doubling service levels while keeping the existing fares. What keeps people off PT isn’t the cost, because the alternatives are at least as costly. And really, we can’t design a system intended to make a once a year Sunday jaunt by a journalist the primary focus.

      • Free, as in reducing friction, so service levels aside, it’s a mindless choice.

        A bill, needs to be paid, sure.

        There are all sorts of “creative” ways to fund , anything, and I simply suggest that to help the people of Auckland embrace public transport, we have to find ways that for want of a better word, helps them “love” it more.

        PT as a mobile business, for anything, even the sale of pets, all bets are off, hold a competition for ideas. Business doesn’t fit in Bus? Redesign the bus.

        PT linked to apps, über, hail a bus ( hello Auckland City Shuttles)

        Competition : How to make PT free in Auckland, and cost the ratepayer nothing.
        Prize : A trip to the Moon

        Apparently there was a big push for A Statemenf of Imaginafion from the council

        http://transportblog.co.nz/2014/06/19/auckland-transport-to-create-a-statement-of-imagination/

        How I’d love to see more imagination, I don’t even care if the attempt fails, see what works.

        I offer no answers, but would like to see the people we pay to apparently come up with them ( see shelters which don’t shelter ), ask some more interesting questions.

      • nonsense

        Tallin was probably Very cheap anyway… so little difference.

  • Jacques

    One gripe I have with the HOP card system: it can take up to 72h (! yes, 3 days!!!) for funds to be available on the card if you top it up online. Just unbelievable! I sent them feedback on this, to which they replied that that’s the way it is. That means for most people (ie those who don’t live close to a train station), you need to ensure your card is very well topped up indeed, or else plan a bus trip 3 days ahead… Most online merchants can confirm a transaction within seconds of it being done on a credit card, but Hop cards somehow need up to 3 days… go figure.

    On the issue of fares, it’s partly a chicken and egg problem – the ridership is low because the system is bad and overpriced, therefore the ridership is low. One way to improve this without killing the profitability of the private companies that run the buses would be to add lots of bus lanes, making the commutes quicker for bus riders than it is for cars. This would be a sure way to get more people using buses, solving the ridership issue and then fares could probably be made to drop as the revenues grow. Also, AT should control and report on the profitability of the private bus operators.

  • Profit to the people, or atleast, no money for jam.

    Is there anyone that thinks the guy who’s been allowed to develop Bayswater Marina, into apartments, is not going to make a buffet load of cash?

  • exaucklanderinsydney

    This trip would have cost them $2.50 in Sydney for the whole family. Im not saying it should be that cheap in Auckland but its sad they don’t offer any discount for Sundays which is a low demand day.

  • bjfoe

    By far the most alarming aspect of this story is that one of NZ’s leading political broadcasters can only afford to live in Avondale. Domestic fame is truly a poisoned chalice

  • HV

    Hey the kids would of loved the train and ferry! Maybe a once off thing, so it possibly ends up being a cheap day out! North head and Devonport are great so everyone’s a winner!

  • Don

    One item of the whole rail project I have noted it is Central Auckland focused. It is not Greater Auckland focused. Why cannot you purchase return tickets at Avondale to anywhere on the network?
    Why do you have to travel to Britomart? Getting more people into Central Auckland will not improve what is a ‘dive’ anyway? AT is Auckland Central focussed, stuff travelling from suburb to suburb.

  • Phil Hayward

    The biggest joke of all here is that a 5 seater car with all seats filled from start to finish of the trip, which trip can be considerably more complex than anything PT can provide anyway, is considerably more efficient than PT in any form. There is no loss at all if PT is “not suited to family group travel”. That is where the wonderful invention called “the car” absolutely cannot be beaten on any measure.

    • Maybe the citizens should equip themselves with uber, we seem to have sufficient people going places, often accompanied by a car.

      “I’m a driver”… “I’m a long suffering commuter”… “Hop in, and mind the goat”

    • Sacha

      That’s fine, Phil. It doesn’t have to be the right option for everyone.

      Should be an option, though – or every other big city on the planet is dumb and you’re really smart.

    • Dave B (Wellington)

      Hi Phil. No, a “5 seater car with all seats filled from start to finish of the trip” is not more efficient than the marginal efficiency of those same 5 people going by an un-congested off-peak public transport service which is running anyway with empty seats.
      True, car will usually be more convenient but a comprehensive and well-run PT system (eg Switzerland’s) can make a complex PT journey far less awkward than its equivalent here!
      And sometimes, the walk from door to PT can actually be seen as a desirable and beneficial component of the trip, not automatically an imposition.

  • Pip

    Journey planner on AT’s new website is down – VERY frustrating and particularly bad timing given that it’s school holidays. I’ve got a houseguest who needs to catch a flight this morning and after several attempts (and a few tears and expletives) last night and this morning I gave up on the website and called someone. They confirmed the journey planner wasn’t working but had no idea when it would be up and running again. Nothing on the fancy new website to say certain functions aren’t available (real time board is also down). It’s school holidays for goodness sake. How many families have tried and failed to plan a trip on the buses/trains/ferries as a treat and simply given up? When I said I liked the old Maxx journey planner better, the customer service person told me change is good – yeah, but only when it works.

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