Why is PT ridership falling in the US, but growing here?

Jarrett Walker recently posed an interesting question, that he was after some more in depth research on than the usual ‘reckons’, “why is public transport ridership in the US falling so much?”

This builds on a tweet from Kirk Hovenkotter, showing that ridership had fallen in most large US cities over the past year, which was reported on CityLab:

A number of “culprits” are suggested. The obvious one being that oil prices have fallen significantly over the past few years, alongside an ongoing process where immigrants – or poorer Americans in general – are being priced out of transit rich inner cities and into more car dependent suburban areas:

Some of the factors behind these declines are national, as the transportation scholar David Levinson points out via email. The economy is expanding, and oil prices are plunging. People are buying more cars and driving them more often, both to work and to weekend activities that are better served by vehicles. American cities continue to suburbanize, and as they do, taking transit often becomes a less attractive option. Immigrants, long a strong base of ridership for agencies, are increasingly moving out of urban centers… and buying and driving their own vehicles.

Other suggestions are that people are shifting to using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft – but the evidence is pretty thin on the ground when it comes to that:

This argument probably holds truest for weekend boardings. But the best research out there (and there isn’t much yet) suggests most workers don’t rely on Uber and Lyft for regular daily commutes. Ride-hailing may even be more supportive of transit than competitive, at least in the biggest cities (smaller cities might be another question). At the very least, it doesn’t seem to be siphoning a significant number of riders away. When Uber and Lyft left Austin, mass transit saw a very modest one percent bump in ridership, according to the transportation consultant Jarrett Walker.

Of course, meanwhile in Auckland public transport ridership continues to grow strongly, as I noted yesterday February ridership was up 8.6% on February 2016, with both the rail network and the Northern Busway again registering double-digit increases.

Even across Canadian cities that we usually enviously compare ourselves, ridership growth is much slower than Auckland – although they start from a higher base. This leads to an interesting question of why Auckland is bucking the trends seen elsewhere so strongly. I think there are a few possible suggestions:

  • Auckland’s recent rapid growth and the growing congestion it has created, means that PT offers a pretty competitive travel choice for many people – especially when using the rail network or the Northern Busway.
  • We’re still seeing the benefits of recent investment in rail electification and integrated ticketing, as well as the improved “value for money” offering that came with zone-based fares last year.
  • Service network improvements, mainly in the south so far, have also helped increase ridership – some of that is a result of us shifting to a system that encourages greater transfers although indications are that overall journeys have increased too.
  • The NZ/US dollar exchange rate usually offsets fluctuations in oil prices so we don’t see as rapid increases/decreases in fuel prices at the pump as is the case in the US. Also a higher proportion of what we pay is tax when compared to the US.

All up we are doing well to buck the international trends and it should give us ongoing confidence in investing in public transport – that people will continue to flock to where improvements are made even when fuel prices are relatively low. We’ve still got a long way to go but perhaps one day soon we can be envied as a city used in case studies of what to do to make public transport better rather than our history of the opposite.

February-2017 Ridership

Auckland Transport’s hold a board meeting next week which means we finally get to see how public transport performed in February. February’s results are always slightly more interesting than normal as they give an indication of what kind of results we can expect from March Madness as the busy conditions usually start manifesting in late Feb – and so far, March has been noticeably un-mad. February this year had an additional dimension to keep an eye on as last year had an extra day due to being a leap year – although there were the same number of normal working days.

The good news is the results were strong, the highlights are:

  • Overall ridership for February was 7.38 million, up an impressive 8.6% on February-2016. That’s almost 600k more than in February last year and sees ridership on 12-month rolling basis, rise to 85.7 million trips.
  • The Rapid Transit Network continues to see strong growth with usage on the RTN clocking in with 2 million trips, up 11.3% compared to Feb-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 10.3% to 1.6 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 15.2% to 395 thousand
  • The big surprise from February’s results was the non busway buses which hasn’t been doing as well as other modes in recent times. In Feb though, usage on them rose an impressive 7.8% compared to Feb-16.
  • Ferries continue to glide along with nice growth, increasing 6.3% compared to Feb-16.

Most PT trips happen on work days and for those, you can see on bus and train that February was well ahead of previous years and that sets us up for a great March result. Could we see March reach 80,000 trips per day on the rail network?

If the current trends hold then we’re in for a bumper result in March, and without almost all of the cramming and missed buses of previous years.

The farebox recovery has been a measure we’re been keeping a watchful eye on a lot recently to see what impacts the various service and fare changes made in recent years are having. The results for February are notable in that for the first time, the net subsidy per passenger km for trains is lower than it is for buses.

We’ve sometimes seen subsidies measured on a per trip basis however per passenger km is more accurate as it takes into account that the average train trip of 13.26km is longer than the average bus trip of 7.54km.

One aspect that isn’t clear is what is causing farebox recovery ratios on buses to be falling. I suspect one element of it would be all the extra services that were put on both recently and prior to Christmas to help combat March Madness.

While not ridership specifically, AT added an interesting set of graphs to their Monthly Indicators pack. We’ve shown them before for specific projects, such as with AMETI. In all but one of the examples, you can see that PT can often compete with driving usually in the peaks – although we think PT needs to be more time competitive throughout the entire day. There are a couple of things that stand out though and the biggest one is how in most scenario’s the travel time via PT is at least in the range or close to it, with the exception of one – the northwest. This of course highlights once again how important it is we get a proper busway built along SH16.

Perhaps the buses along SH16 being so slow also has a small part to play in increasing popularity of the NW cycleway. For Feb, the counter at Te Atatu was up an massive 47% on Feb-16 while at Kingsland numbers were up a still impressive 18%

Lastly, Wellington also published their ridership numbers for Feb – but they’re definitely not quite as pretty as the Auckland results. For the month of Feb-17 compared to Feb-16:

  • Total trips taken were down 5.9%
  • Bus trips were down 4.7%
  • Train trips were down 7.7%
  • Ferry trips were down 20% – although this was off a very small base


Missed News Roundup – March-17

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Parnell Station opens

While the first services started using the station on Sunday, Monday saw the official opening of the new Parnell Station. Currently only the Southern Line stops there regularly with the Western Line only stopping in the evenings and on weekends. We’ve talked a lot about the station in previous posts so don’t need to re-litigate that here. As it stands the station is bare bones and AT even warns that it’s not recommended for mobility impaired passengers.

Photo by Alex Burgess from https://www.nzrailphotos.co.nz

The station currently has platforms, shelters, ticket and AT HOP card readers and an underpass to link the platforms.

When stage one is complete later this year the station will be equipped with electronic gates, CCTV, improved access, mobility parking, and upgraded connections to Cheshire St and to Nicholls Lane.

Refurbishment of the exterior of the heritage former Newmarket Station building will also be completed by KiwiRail.

When the station is complete and receiving full services up to 2,000 passengers a day are expected to get off the train every morning and head to the universities.

I’m personally a little skeptical that the station would see 2,000 people in the morning peak any time soon.

New Ferry for Devonport

Fullers have leased another ferry to support the Devonport Service

As tourism figures continue to rise in Auckland, so do passenger numbers on popular ferry routes. Fullers is introducing a new vessel, Capricornian Surfer (Cap Surfer), dedicated to Devonport. A unique destination, the charming seaside village of Devonport is a bustling visitor hub, but also services more than 1,000 commuters who rely on Fullers ferries daily.

Cap Surfer will begin service in the next couple weeks, complementing Kea. Since 1988, Kea has been the favourite vessel of the route with efficient boarding through side doors. Similar to Kea, Cap Surfer has side-door loading and four engines, allowing it to manoeuvre in the same way when docking. This will help keep the Devonport service running to schedule.

“We acknowledge some service interruptions on the Devonport run this summer, and want to let our passengers to know that we’re listening. We’ve leased Cap Surfer from Australia specifically for Devonport, freeing up other vessels not always suited to the Devonport route,” said Fullers Chief Executive Douglas Hudson.

Cap Surfer’s modern amenities:

The $6 million vessel is capable of carrying up to 380 passengers. It’s currently being fitted with a new café and bike racks, after 40 additional seats were installed on the back deck. Cap Surfer is spacious and comfortable, with big windows and air conditioning. The 35-metre EnviroCat uses less fuel per passenger than a small four-cylinder car. Its systems are computerised and fully integrated.

Crew training is currently underway, being led by Cap Surfer’s Australian crew while she was servicing the Gladstone to Curtis Island run in Queensland.

Designed to navigate shallow waters, Cap Surfer will also be able to service Half Moon Bay on low tides.

What’s next for Kea?:

As Kea closes in on 30 years of service, Fullers is investigating options for her future – while keeping a pulse on rapidly evolving technology, including electric ferries.

“By leasing a modern ferry for two years, we’re able to evaluate alternative propulsion technology and its suitability for Kea’s eventual replacement. Though Kea is a highly reliable vessel, we need to be looking ahead. Retirement isn’t imminent, but when the time comes, we’ll have a well informed decision on what technology to include in a vessel purpose-built for Devonport,” said Hudson.


AT saving water

Bus and Train stations might be a little dirtier than usual for the next few weeks

Auckland Transport to limit water blasting

Auckland Transport is doing its bit to help conserve water.

Following silt infiltration of dams in the region, Watercare Services is calling on Aucklanders to reduce water usage by 20 litres per person, per day until the end of March.

In response Auckland Transport has asked its maintenance contractors to limit water use and to carry out water blasting only if it is absolutely necessary.

“We have scheduled cleaning for facilities such as bus shelters, train stations and platforms but we’ve asked that water blasting only occur for hygiene reasons for the next few weeks,” says Tony McCartney, Group Manager Assets and Maintenance.

“We expect that this could save thousands of litres a week. As a result, some facilities may be a little grubby but this is for the greater good of all Aucklanders,”  Mr McCartney says.

Herald agrees on Wellsford Motorway

While not strictly a press release, this seems worthy of inclusion. An editorial by the Herald appears to agree with much of the criticism we have regarding the proposed Warkworth to Wellsford motorway route that was announced recently, they sum up with this:

It appears the cabinet is determined to proceed, regardless of evidence which ought it give it reason to pause. Transport Minister Simon Bridges responded to calls to scrap the project by arguing that the four-lane highway was a “game changer” , economically and socially.

He pointed out the road, which could shave seven minutes off the journey between Wellsford and Warkworth, was incredibly popular in Northland.

Roads, in particular links which could cost as much as $2b, should not be constructed on the basis of popularity. That is not a reassuring sign for completing the project, in time and within budget.

Auckland PT Performance Comparison 2017

Public transport in Auckland has come a long way over the last 10-15 years on the back of numerous improvements to the network. From the upgrading of the rail network to the building of the northern busway to improved local buses, all have played a part in the immense improvement in the PT network that we’ve witnesses. And it’s clear it’s not only us who have realised this with the numbers speaking for themselves and ridership booming.

The total number of trips taken on our PT network on an annual basis hovered just over 50 million for many years until mid-2007. In January this year we passed 85 million trips with 10 million of that coming in just the last two years. The growth has been especially noticeable on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN – Rail and Northern Busway), as can be seen in this graph which we’ve explained before here.

Of course, over that same time we’ve seen a lot of population growth so how do the results compare and also, how do we compare with other, similar cities. That’s what I want to look at in this post.

Since the beginning of 2003, which is as far back as I have monthly record for ridership in Auckland, Auckland’s population has increased from 1.277 million people to an estimated 1.636 million as of January this year, a 28% increase over 14 years. As mentioned, over the same time ridership has gone from 52.1 million trips to 85.1 million trips a whopping 63% increase. That has seen the number of trips rise from 40.8 per person per year to 52 as of the most recent results – during that time it at one point reached a low of 36.4 and in the 90’s reached a low of 32 trips per person.

Given we’re in the same country and working under the same overarching rules, PT in Auckland is understandably most regularly compared with that in Wellington. The capital city is also considered the PT capital of NZ thanks to consistently having a higher per capita use of PT. As of January, Wellington had 37.6 million trips on it’s PT network annually to give it a total of 73.8 trips per person per year, up from 68.3 at the beginning of 2003.

The difference between the two cities is shown below. Auckland has definitely been improving, and the gap is narrowing, but there remains a significant difference between the two cities.

Next I wanted to see how Auckland compared to other, similar cities. There is little point in comparing Auckland to mega cities like London or Tokyo, or even to cities closer to home but in the 4-5 million range like Melbourne and Sydney. So for this I’ve tried to choose cities similar in size to where Auckland is now, or will be in a few decades. In addition, I wanted cities that have a similar history, culture, housing mix, economy and who are making an interesting effort when it comes to improving PT. And of course I needed to be able to find data for them – which unfortunately often rules out cities from non-English speaking countries. If there are other cites which you think should be included and/or you have data for, let me know in the comments.

The cities I included for my comparison other than Auckland and Wellington are:

  • Australia
    • Adelaide
    • Brisbane and South East Queensland – I included SEQ as the data available is for the area rather than for just Brisbane.
    • Perth
  • Canada
    • Calgary
    • Edmonton
    • Ottawa
    • Vancouver
  • United States
    • Denver
    • Honolulu
    • Portland
    • Salt Lake City
    • Seattle

Unlike Auckland which, in my opinion, is lucky to have a single transport agency, many of the cities above have multiple transit agencies so one of the challenges with collating data for cities getting all of the details. As well as specific transport agencies, data for the information above has come from sources such as the American Public Transportation Association which publish some excellent data. For the Canadian and US cities, the data comes from their 2015 financial years.

The first thing to look at was boardings per capita. The thing that stands out the most here is the Canadian cities perform much better than all of the other cities by a significant margin. In my view, Auckland should be ultimately aiming to mirror what is being achieved in these Canadian cities but that will be no easy or quick task. Putting them aside, it appears to me that a good first target for Auckland would be to achieve about 75 trips per person per year. To do that with our current population would require us to be achieving around 121 million trips annually while to achieve Vancouver’s result would require almost double that.

Arguably it would be better to measure linked journeys but only the Canadian cities report on that – and even then they still outperform all of the other cities.

But the number of trips wasn’t the only data I collated. I was also interested in other metrics like farebox recovery. This is important as the government, through the NZTA require us to achieve a 50% farebox recovery. We’ve been tracking how we’re performing on this on a regular basis, and it had risen to a high of above 51% in May last year but has since fallen back to about 46% with changes like the introduction of Simplified Fares. The results below for Auckland are to the end of the last financial year. They show compared to other the other cities, Auckland (and Wellington) perform relatively well and at a similar level to the Canadian cities.

Given we perform well, I thought it would be interesting to see how those figures break down. To do this I compared the costs and fare revenues for each system to the number of passenger kilometres travelled and the results were interesting.

  • When looking at operational costs, Auckland is about average and within the same range as the Canadian and US cities. The Australian cities are notable for being much higher than cities in other countries.
  • For revenue, Aucklanders pay more per km travelled than all other systems I’ve compared to. Some of this will have changed with Simplified Fares which generally lowered fares for longer distance travel so it will be interesting to see what the results in the coming years are. I’m sure some would argue that we should try to reduce fares but given that ridership continues to grow, it seems like a better opportunity is to use that extra revenue to provide more services.

It seems to me that while Auckland still has a considerable way to go before we could say it is performing at a satisfactory level, by in large, Auckland is heading in the right direction. Ridership is growing both in total and per capita and compared to the Australian and US cities we, we do well on farebox recovery – although whether we should aim 50% is an entirely different debate. If we want to match the benchmarks set by those Canadian cities we need to keep doing what we’re doing but do a lot more of it. Improvements like those planned for the new bus network are an important element in helping grow ridership while keeping costs under control. But it’s also clear that the best opportunity for significant improvement to PT use is building of the Rapid Transit Network.

What do you make of these results?

ATAP ASAP’s – Eastern Busway

In Part 1 of my series I wrote about the third main between Westfield & Wiri as being an ATAP ASAP, a first decade project that in my opinion needed funding straight away. My second post of this series was about the need for extra trains prior to the completion of the City Rail Link. The third chapter is about a project that had kinda fallen off the radar, the Eastern Busway but specifically the Pakuranga to Botany section as opposed to the Panmure to Pakuranga section AT are looking to consent.

In ATAP the project is listed as a 1st Decade Project, we haven’t heard much since June when AT made public the AMETI Sequencing Delivery Strategy for Panmure to Botany, which was likely in response to AT initially trying to defer the Reeves Rd flyover. That was to allow them to accelerate the Pakuranga to Botany section of the busway and add bus lanes on Pakuranga Rd up to Highland Park. Unfortunately, and in part due to political pressure, AT ultimately backtracked on the flyover, putting it back on the table and leaving a funding gap again for accelerating the busway.

The report put the projects in the following order:

  1. Panmure to Pakuranga Busway; (Stage 2a)
  2. Pakuranga Town Centre Busway, Bus Station and Reeves Road Flyover, including implementation of bus lanes on sections of Ti Rakau Drive (until the busway can be delivered) and localised widening at Gossamer Drive / Ti Rakau Drive intersection; and
  3. Completion of the Pakuranga to Botany Busway as early as possible.

And “There is a $172m shortfall between the current Long Term Plan cash flow and the recommended AMETI delivery strategy.”

AMETI Funding

Progress however continues to be made on Stage 2a, which AT are now just calling the Eastern Busway, with the consenting process now underway. By chance I happened to be at Panmure station on one of the days the team where talking to the public, they confirmed two things for me:

  1. The intention is still for a median alignment busway for Stage 2b which is great.
  2. That bus lanes are being planned on Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park which is also great. Pakuranga Rd is an ideal candidate for bus lanes as is 3 lanes each with with slip/turning lanes/medians in sections so it should be a relatively easy from a infrastructure perspective to put in place those lanes.

However, recently AT have put out a tender for the design/consulting of stage 2b.

This project is a critical link needed in the development of our rapid transit network and alongside bus lanes to at least Highland Park, will be important in delivering vital PT improvements to an area that has very poor access to decent public transportation. It is surely is a prime candidate for central government to step in and fill the funding gap as for a small amount of the the NZTA’s expected overall transport budget. Perhaps the Government could announce a quick win for coming up the elections by being able to say the Eastern Busway is funded, as well as giving the community, developers and businesses confidence to get moving with the certainty the announcement would bring, just as they did last year with the CRL.

January-2017 Ridership

With Auckland Transport moving to having less frequent board meetings it makes it more difficult to get monthly updates. However, while not quite as detailed as the reports presented to the board meetings, we can get an indication as to how performance is going from this ridership report AT update monthly and has been updated to include January.

The headlines are:

  • Overall ridership for January was 5.64 million, up 6.7% on January-2016. Importantly, on a 12-month rolling basis ridership has now surpassed 85 million trips. That’s pretty good considering that only just passed 75 million just over two years ago. The majority of that 10 million increase has come from the Rapid Transit Network which increased by 7.7 million trips over the same timeframe.
  • The strong growth on the Rapid Transit Network continues to drive ridership growth with usage of the RTN in Jan at 1.5 million, up 16.4% compared to Jan-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 17.9% to 1.2 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 10.8% to 301 thousand
  • On buses excluding ones that use the busway, ridership was up 2.6% to 3.5 million
  • Ferry use continues to grow well, up 8.8% in Jan to 617 thousand

While we haven’t yet seen the January version yet, the results for December show positive movement once again on metrics such as weekday boardings and farebox recovery.

The strong growth on the rail network in particular, is seeing boardings on business days skyrocket and as you can see the difference between Dec-16 and Dec-15 is substantial. As you can also see, March tends to set a new benchmark for usage so we’re expecting another big jump this year. Could we hit 80k per day?

Farebox recovery had taken a dip recently which was expected to a degree with the introduction of Simplified Fares. While only one data point so far, it has hopefully started to turn around now as I suspect this is what could partially be behind AT not improving aspects like rail frequencies off peak like they need to. What is also interesting is the subsidy per passenger km for bus and rail are now close to identical and I suspect in a few months, rail will actually perform better.

December also set a new record for rail punctuality with 98.4% of all trains arriving at Britomart within 5 minutes of their scheduled arrival time. That’s a far cry from the months before the full roll out of electric trains when it plummeted to below 75% with the old trains breaking down frequently.

By waiting a little longer than usual for this post, it also allows me to include the January results for Wellington too. The good news is ridership in the capital has been growing, but not to anywhere near the levels that Auckland has been experiencing. Because we don’t talk about it as much, I’ll focus on the 12 month rolling results. The key highlights are:

  • Overall in the 12 months to the end of Jan, ridership is 2.9% to 37.6 million
  • Bus use continues to fluctuate a bit but as a general trend is going up and to for Jan it was up 0.8% to 24.3 million.
  • The rail network has been seeing some decent growth over the last year or so and is currently up 6.9% to 13.1 million

Are we finally ready for March Madness

Next week, the transport version of a perfect storm kicks off in the form of March Madness. It’s the time of the year when both roads and public transport use is at its heaviest. This is generally the result of a few factors that combine to create a significant surge in transport demand. These include:

  • Primary and secondary kids are all at school
  • Tertiary institutions have started for the year and students tend to be more keen and eager to attend classes
  • A lot of people take leave over Christmas or around the various public holidays early in the year rather than in March so more people are at work
  • Coming out of summer, more people are also at work and not struck down by the winter illnesses that tend to sweep through workplaces and classrooms.
  • The weather is still decent so people are less likely to be put off walking/waiting for services.
  • As the roads get busier, more people try out public transport as a way of avoiding congestion

That last point is important because if people try PT and it works well, they’re more likely to keep using it later in the year. If instead they find buses and trains too busy to get on, caught in congestion they’ll be much more likely to give up and go back to driving.

A typical scene in March in previous years

To highlight just how much busier March tends to be compared to other months, this graph shows March coloured red.

You can also see it in these graphs from Auckland Transport’s monthly indicators showing the average boardings on business days. March last year saw almost 250k people a day on buses and over 70k per day on trains.

For many years now we’ve repeatedly asked the question of whether AT is ready for March and every year, once March hits, they’ve been caught short and images of full buses and trains are a regular occurrence. Some people have reported in the past of up to 12 buses passing them before one turned up that they could get on. Often AT have capacity improvements planned but they’re not due to be implemented till after March which defeats the purpose. Last year things were so bad that AT got operators to pull out every old dunger of a bus they had hiding out the back of their depots just to try and meet demand. So, will this year be any different?

Positively, while I expect March will continue to be busy and put pressure on bus and train capacity, I think there’s a greater chance than ever of getting a good result. That’s because AT appear to be learning and have been adding capacity *ahead* of March.

Auckland Transport is putting on more services to meet passenger demand during March.

Group Manager AT Metro Operations, Brendon Main says in the morning peak there will be 56 more city bound bus trips each morning compared to March last year. That’s 5% more capacity overall for bus services and an increase of up to 34% on some corridors. “We know the number of public transport passengers peaks in March as students head back to their studies, schools are in term and lower numbers of people are on leave. It’s known as “March Madness” and since March last year we’ve worked hard to get more services on some of our busiest routes.”

Mr Main says last March some peak time trips were crowded and these are the services being targeted with extra buses this year.

“We will have more than six and a half thousand extra spaces on buses and trains, this will go a long way towards meeting demand.”

Bus capacity has increased by close to 5400 spaces and timetable changes for trains from 12 March will mean an additional 1200 spaces are available in the morning peak.

Mr Main says double-decker buses are also coming to Birkenhead to help with the demand.

From next Monday, 27 February, four double-decker buses will commence services on routes between Beach Haven, Glenfield and the central city providing much needed additional capacity along Onewa Road.

New routes for double-decker services are 970, 973, 973B, 974 and 974B between Beach Haven and the CBD and the section of routes 950 and 955 between Glenfield Mall and the CBD.

Mr Main says public transport will be busy but Auckland Transport and its service providers will be closely watching the situation. “You might not always get on the first service but we want to ensure wait times are acceptable and, on some routes, better than last year.”


Here is where the additional capacity has been added, most of occurring late last year which is likely why, for me at least, February doesn’t feel to have had the same trouble indicators as previous years.

AT also say that the change to the rail timetable on 12-March will see 1,194 spaces inbound during the morning peak, split between the Eastern Line (796 spaces) and Southern Line (398 spaces). The western line had a capacity boost last year when it moved to 10-minute peak frequencies and the services I catch have been busy but not crushingly so.

The table AT provided raises a few other interesting aspects.

  • In March last year, Dominion Rd and the Northern Busway had similar levels of capacity but my understanding is that ridership is notably higher on the Northern Express.
  • You can also see the impact that the double deckers have on operations. Both routes had capacity for just over 4,000 people but the NEX did that with 43 buses compared to 63 buses on Dominion Rd. That means Dominion Rd needs additional drivers and buses to move the same number of people and with so many buses down the corridor, on which the bus lanes aren’t continuous, it can lead lots of issues of bunching, slow services and ultimately a worse experience for passengers. This is ultimately why AT want to put Light Rail down Dominion Rd but given that’s some time away, they really need to improve the bus lanes now and that could also help reduce operational costs.
  • Given many of these services have been in place for a few months, they will already be reflected in the very peaky nature of our services.

Let’s hope that this year services handle the PT pilgrimage better than they have in the past and we don’t have people being left behind.

The tyranny of the peak

Recently Thomas Lumley, a Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland and author of statschat and Biased and Inefficient, created a bot that follows Auckland Transport’s real time feed between 6am and 10pm and tweets every 15 minutes how many buses it can see active in the system and how many of them are on time.

I thought it might be interesting to track the results for a week to see if there were any trends with on time performance, such as during the peaks. The data I collected for on-time performance was interesting but what turned out to be more fascinating was the overall bus numbers. The graph below shows how many buses are active in Auckland throughout the day based and you can see that weekdays have a very similar and distinctive pattern to them.

I’m not sure the peaks could be any more visible if AT tired.

As you can see, the AM peak is by far the strongest with over 800 buses on the road at the highest point which occurs around 8am as people go to work, school or other activities. There are more than double the number of buses on the road during the peak than throughout the interpeak period. The evening peak is more spread out though reflecting that schools finish at around 3pm and that workers finish at a range of different times and/or have other activities after work.

But being so peaky, especially in the AM, is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one side, it’s a positive as it reflects a lot of people finding PT the best way for them to get around to work, school or their other activities and of course we want to encourage as many people as possible to use PT. On the other side of the sword, being so peaky means AT and its operators need to commit a lot more resource to the system than they might want or otherwise need, just to serve the customers they already have. That pushes up costs to run the network.

A queue of buses at Akoranga Busway station (and more were out of shot) – plus an airport shuttle van in the mix

To get an idea of the impact, let’s consider what would happen if could knock the top off AM peak during the weekdays and spread it out more. During the AM peak, bus numbers top out at about 830 buses while the busiest period in the PM peak is about 710 buses, a difference of 120 buses. From what I understand, an average bus can cost around $400,000 (even more for double deckers), that’s potentially $48 million of capital operators have tied up in bus that might only get used once or twice a day. On top of the capital costs of the buses there is also costs for larger depots, maintenance facilities – 120 buses take up a lot of space. On top of the capital costs are of course the operational ones and they can be substantial.

Trying to spread out the peak could have a lot of positive impacts for the overall PT network. Here are a few suggestions we could implement.

1. Add more bus lanes and bus priority
Adding more bus lanes and other bus priority measures is vital as they are able serve a number of purposes. Faster and more reliable buses help to make buses more attractive to users, growing ridership, but they also improve bus operations because they can mean a single bus might be able to run more services in the same amount of time. This means fewer buses are needed to provide the same capacity/frequency or alternatively more capacity/frequency can be added to the network for no additional cost. In effect this isn’t likely to reduce the peakiness but it can help reduce some of the additional cost associated with it. As we reported the other day, it appears AT are looking at more bus priority across the region.

2. Extend bus lane hours
This is kind of related to above but is worth highlighting on its own. Many bus lanes have very narrow windows during which they operate, often 7-9am and 4-6pm (although there are some other times). Outside the bus lane hours the road space is often handed over to the driving public for carparking. It’s common for drivers to target these hours in order to get a good space but given the roads are often still quite busy, it can cause havoc on buses driving around the city, making them less reliable. As such means passengers often try to catch earlier buses than they otherwise would just to ensure they get to their destination on time. Extending bus lane operating hours would help address this and make travelling on later buses more viable, spreading the demand.

3. Off-Peak discounts
Along with extending bus lane hours, it’s common for cities overseas to offer discounts for travelling off peak. The purpose is to use pricing to encourage people who can to travel at times when it’s not so busy and there’s spare capacity available. There are a couple of different ways it could be implemented, such as having it automatically apply when you tag on/off or having people buy a pass that is loaded onto their HOP card and entitles them to the discount. AT staff have told me in the past they want tools like this so we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever happens.

4. Improve Frequencies off peak
Along with improving bus priority and offering financial incentives to travel off peak, we also need to ensure that our transport network has the services needed to encourage use. In other words, not having half the buses disappear back to the depot at 9am. This is one of the key reasons the New Network is so important, as it creates a lot of strong all day network that people can use to get around.

5. Change school hours
As mentioned, everyone rushing to work and school at the same time of the day is why the morning peak has so many more buses at any one time. One option could be to shift the start times of some schools to later in the morning in a bid to spread out the demand. High Schools would make a perfect candidate for this, giving teenagers a chance to get more sleep and perform better. This is obviously outside of AT’s control but is a discussion we should be having as a society.

For those also interested, this is what the punctuality data looked like, you can see the peaks in some of the days but it’s not as defined as the bus numbers above.

February-2017 AT Board update

Tomorrow is the first Auckland Transport board meeting of 2017 and so as usual, I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. The very first thing I noticed wasn’t even in a report but was the meeting timetable for the year. In past years there has always been a monthly meeting (except for January) but not it seems they’re moving to having a meeting every 6 weeks. I’m not sure of the reason for the change and one thing it could do is also mean we don’t get information like ridership data as regularly which would be a shame.

Closed Session agenda

The closed session is of course where all of the interesting discussions take place and despite being two months since the last meeting, there’s surprisingly not that much interesting on the agenda.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Draft Statement of Intent 2017/18 – 2019/20
  • Advanced Bus Solution next steps
  • Delivery of Transport Networks for Growth
  • Quarterly report to AC

Items for Noting

  • AT Rollover Designations
  • CRL Update
  • Speed Management Update
  • AT Deliverables:
    • Results for Projects completed to 31 December 2016
    • Tasks for completion by 31 March 2017

The most interesting of those is the Advanced Bus Solution item. This relates to the NZTAs investigation into a bus alternative to AT’s proposal for light rail on Dominion Rd and to the Airport.

Business Report

There are quite a few things from the main business report and the order of items relates to where they appeared in AT’s report.

Every month AT list the projects that were approved for funding by the NZTA. There are usually a few items but one this time stood out. Almost $40 million is going on business cases for projects in what will be greenfield growth areas. This is from the TFUG work. As a comparison, a detailed business case for improvements to Lake Rd was also approved at a cost of $630k

Transport Network for Growth (Detailed Business Cases for North, North West and South) – this activity was approved with conditions for $39.5 million

Technology – There are a number of technology updates:

  • It appears AT are working on a new version of the AT Hop website

The AT HOP Web Rebuild project is on schedule to be delivered by 24 April for the rebuild of the Customer Web Portal, and the Customer Contact Centre Web Portal. This project will deliver a better online experience for our AT HOP customers.

  • It appears there will be more public information available

The EIM (Enterprise Information Management) team has launched an initial instance of a public GIS (map-based information) information website and an open GIS data website. The open GIS data capability allows customers to access and download authoritative GIS datasets. The initial 20 datasets will continue to be expanded upon as we move forward with new datasets being uploaded regularly.

  • And more mobile app improvements

Metro AT Mobile Application: The new AT Metro mobile application is in the final stages of end user testing prior to launch. This will be followed up with seven other items of additional functionality over the next few months including the addition of Train and Ferry services.

Newmarket Crossing – AT note they’ve got an agreement in principle with the appellants for the Newmarket Level Crossing project which will see Sarawia St closed and a bridge built between Laxon Tce and Cowie St.

Smart City – AT are going to conduct a ‘smart city’ technology trial in Devonport. It’s currently going through procurement.

A trial of smart city technologies in conjunction with UI is being developed for the Devonport Ferry Terminal, Bus Interchange and Park-and-Ride precinct.

Technologies to be trialled include, CleverCiti Parking Sensors for real time parking tracking in the Park-and-Ride area (144 spaces), SMIGHT smart poles for integrated sensor capability (including integrated cleverciti parking sensors, environmental sensors, wifi and electric vehicle charging).

Integrated analytics combining parking data, pedestrian data and AT-HOP data will help to build a picture of how people drive, walk/cycle or use buses and ferries to get to or from Devonport and improve our understanding how people integrate these modalities (e.g. arrive by car, take a ferry or a bus, arrive by ferry and then walk/cycle, arrive by ferry and then drive off in a car etc).

City Centre Roads – AT now report to each meeting how the city centre roads are coping with the disruption caused by the CRL and other road works. This is related in part to resource consent conditions for the CRL. Once again though we see that despite the disruption, most streets monitored are actually performing better than before the works (blue is the baseline). This continues to show that AT has a lot of scope to drastically change the city once the CRL is complete and refocus road corridors more towards people on foot, bike and bus.

New Network – For the first time we’ve got some information about how the new network in South Auckland is performing. It appears that the number of trips in December are up significantly on last year, including a lot more people transferring. For some reason they’re reporting on trips and transfers separately rather than just reporting on journeys which is what they should be doing. The information by suburb shows that Otahuhu has seen significant change which will almost certainly be due to the newly upgraded station

Integrated fares – over successive fare changes, AT have constantly increased the price of monthly passes well above other changes in what has felt like a deliberate attempt to be less customer friendly to some of their best customers. The report, written before the most recent increase in price suggests monthly pass numbers have been slashed by a third.

Bus train monthly pass ($200) sales have stabilised with (~5,000 per month down from 9,500 per month) many passengers migrating to stored value.

March Madness – For perhaps the first time, AT are introducing additional capacity ahead of annual March Madness. They say 34 extra peak trips will be added to the NEX this month while Birkenhead Bus are introducing double deckers to Onewa Rd. As we highlighted the other day, they’re also boosting rail capacity as part of the new timetable due mid-March. Not related to march madness but they also say double deckers will be introduced from New Lynn to the city along Great North Rd on June 11 when the new bus network rolls out in West Auckland.

Train Stations – There are a number of changes to train stations planned.

  • AT have previously said they’re looking at gating a number of stations later this year. One of those was Middlemore but they’re now saying those plans are under review “to align with the planned third main line“. Hopefully that means we’ll see some progress on that project soon.
  • AT plan to install a new LCD based information displays at Parnell, Remuera and Greenlane which will display additional information around approaching trains that are not stopping (as also mentioned in the post the other day). They will also eventually have automated PA announcements for this too. I hope these new displays could be rolled out elsewhere to display information like how many cars the next train has etc.
  • They say a working group has been formed with Transdev and other stakeholders “to progress the opening of platform-2 at Newmarket Station for passenger use” by Easter this year. This is excellent news and well done to Harriet for pushing it.

Hibiscus Coast Station – AT have had a long battle to get resource consent for the full Hibiscus Coast Station. They now have approval and are starting by building the park & ride (till November) followed by the station building itself which isn’t due for completion till April/May 2018. In my mind they should do those projects the opposite way around.

Bus Priority – It appears AT are looking at more widespread bus priority across the city including for all frequent routes which is excellent news but that’s tempered by knowing they’ve been behind in implementing what they’ve said they would and are yet to fix what should be easy wins with extending bus lane hours.

A strategic bus priority plan is being developed to scope completion of citywide bus priority network over the next 3 years and extended over 10 – 15 years for the Frequent Network identifying high level budget requirements and key risks.

Customer Satisfaction – AT’s quarterly customer satisfaction survey is looking promising, especially for trains which they say recorded the highest result ever

City Centre Buses – AT say they’ve been reviewing the city centre experience for bus users to look for ways to improve it and improve bus use. Recommendations included:

  1. make existing bus stops more visual to customers
  2. to prototype and test new customer signage at two bus stops (two sided info-boards),
  3. better utilise the space on the reverse of passenger information displays to display key bus stop information.

Information Displays – AT have been trialling digital displays on a train and some buses but it hasn’t been a hit with passengers.

On-board digital screen trial (five buses and one EMU). The initial feedback from customers during the trial was mixed, which was validated with further customer centred testing via Customer Central in December. On-board journey and wayfinding content was valued more by new and irregular bus users. For regular commuters most used their own smart-device as a means of journey entertainment


There’s certainly a lot going on including a lot I didn’t cover. Have you read the report and picked up on anything else I missed?

AMETI finally moving forward

One of the items I had on my list to write about this year was to ask what was happening with the AMETI busway. That’s because since at least as far back as September 2015, the notice of requirement for the Panmure to Pakuranga section has been listed in AT’s board reports as being due to be lodged within the next three months. In April last year they even put out a press release saying they’d lodged the notification but nothing was heard since. Well now they’ve finally said the project is open for public submissions.

The Panmure to Pakuranga section, otherwise known as AMETI Section 2A, includes a number of big changes, such as:

  • The notorious Panmure roundabout will be replaced by a signalised intersection
  • About 2.4km of urban busway from Panmure to Pakuranga – an urban busway means there’ll still be some at grade intersections, as opposed to the Northern Busway which is grade separated, although some current intersections with Pakuranga Rd will be closed.
  • The route will have a mix of shared paths or and dedicated bike facilities
  • The busway and walking/cycling paths will be accommodated on a new, dedicated bridge crossing the Tamaki River
  • Changes to how side roads in Pakuranga interact with Pakuranga Rd, this includes linking some cul-de-sac’s together so only one intersection is needed.

The intersection that will replace the Panmure roundabout

The busway can’t come soon enough. East Auckland is easily the poorest served part of the urban area when it comes to public transport and as such it’s no coincidence that PT usage is low leading to a high reliance on driving and of course, congestion. The low use of PT is easily seen in this map of census data based on journey to work data showing East Auckland being equivalent in usage to rural areas. The busway will help extend decent quality PT further into the east, especially when combined with a quick, easy and free transfer at Panmure to the rail network.

Here are a couple more images suggesting what the project will look like.

Stage 2A is shown in the map below in yellow and is the first stage in what will eventually be a 7km busway that extends all the way to Botany. AT have also said they plan to put bus lanes up Pakuranga Rd towards Highland Park and that too and combined, will make PT much more useful and reliable in the east.

In their press release, AT do say they’ve made some changes to the design based on earlier feedback and that the changes include:

  • Changes to the design of the Panmure intersection.
  • Adding in a U-turn facility on Queens Road in Panmure.
  • Moving the proposed new Panmure Bridge 5m north to future proof the upgrade of the existing road bridge.
  • Widening Williams Avenue in Pakuranga to allow parking on both sides and two lanes of traffic.
  • Improvements to property access along the route.

Along with the public submissions opening for this stage of the project, AT have also released a new video of the project.

In both the video and the press release there are a couple of things that caught my attention, the biggest of which was the positive language used. For example from the video:

  • “Imagine getting into Auckland City from Pakuranga in less than 30 minutes”
  • “A new congestion free urban busway will provide a fast, reliable travel alternative”
  • “When the busway is finished, you can travel stress free between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany”

While the press release said

Auckland Transport AMETI Eastern Busway Project Director Duncan Humphrey says the project will deliver the initial stage of New Zealand’s first urban busway, allowing bus travel on congestion-free lanes between Panmure and Pakuranga.

“AMETI is aimed at improving transport choices and better connecting residents of east Auckland to the rest of the city.”

“The Panmure to Pakuranga section of AMETI will allow buses to travel on congestion-free lanes. It’ll mean quicker, more frequent and reliable buses on lanes separate to general traffic, making public transport more attractive and improving the quality of service. It will also see major improvements for both cyclists and pedestrians giving them safer, more direct connections.

It’s fantastic to see AT using the term “Congestion Free”. When we created the Congestion Free Network back in 2013, one of the key aims was to get AT to improve how it discussed and presented rapid transit. We encouraged them to embrace the network and terminology and it appears they’ve done just that.

The video also highlights a couple of other things too, that the existing Panmure Bridge will be replaced in about 20 years with a fourth general traffic lane added – which seems odd given the changes above will leave Lagoon Dr with only a single lane each way for general traffic. It also shows that AT are still pushing on with the Reeves Rd flyover, at a time when many cities are, or are planning to tear down similar structures.

As part of the notification, AT are holding some open days for the project. The details are




14 February 2017 6.30am – 9.30am Panmure Station, mezzanine level
16 February 2017 4pm – 9pm Pakuranga Plaza (outside Farmers)
18 February 2017 6pm – 10pm Pakuranga night markets, Westfield (under The Warehouse)

Overall, it’s good to finally see some progress on this project which has been on the books now for over decade. AMETI was born out of the failed pushed for an eastern motorway by the likes of John Banks. It started as a scaled down version of that motorway plan but positively, over time it has morphed into a more balanced transport project although it still retains some of its heritage in the likes of the proposed Reeves Rd Flyover. The biggest concern however is the timing, even this section of busway (if the consent is approved), is not expected to start construction till about 2021.