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

Date

Time

Venue

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.

Missed news wrapup

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.

Recently Auckland Transport announced they had put the first tender out for the rest of the CRL project (after the early works currently underway). This week they announced they’ve put up the tender for the construction of the tunnels and two new stations.

Largest City Rail Link tender process starts

The largest component of the City Rail Link (CRL) project – the construction of the tunnels and new stations – took a major step forward today with the release of its first tender documents to the industry.

The project is picking up speed with Expressions of Interest sought only a fortnight ago for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden.

There will be two new stations as part of the build of the underground rail line linking Britomart with the existing western line near Mt Eden. The new stations will be near Aotea Square with entrances at Wellesley and Victoria Streets and a station in Mercury Lane, just off Karangahape Road. The present Mount Eden train station will be extended and redeveloped.

Tender documents sent out today are for the tunnel and station works that involve:

  • Aotea Station:  Cut and cover construction of a 15m-deep, 300m-long underground station and plant room box, including platforms, lifts and escalators to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment, full station fit-out and entrances at either end at Victoria and Wellesley Streets.
  • Karangahape Road Station:  Mined construction of a 32m-deep underground station, including platform tubes and 150m-long platforms, lifts and inclined escalator to street level, plant rooms housing station and tunnel equipment within two shafts, full station fit-out, entrance at Mercury Lane and provision for a future entrance at Beresford Square.
  • Tunnels:  Twin-bored tunnel construction (circa 7m diameter) between the Mt Eden station and the southern end of Aotea Station.
  • The provision of maintenance services for the new stations.

CRL Project Director Chris Meale says today’s development shows the considerable progress being made.

He says that as well as the tenders rolling out for future construction, current works are well underway. The 2m-wide tunnel boring machine simultaneously excavating and installing a new stormwater pipe under Albert Street has finished the first leg of its journey.

The nine-storey-high piling rig working in Albert Street has already dug more than 140 of the 376 piles required.

“What will be a highly efficient and reliable transport choice for Auckland is now visibly taking shape.”

The tunnels and stations contract being sent out today will be procured using a Design and Construct model with a lump sum price based on a bespoke contract.

They also put out a few new high quality images of the stations.

Aotea Station – Wellesley St

Karangahape Rd – Mercury Lane

Mt Eden

Hot on the heels of Auckland Transport announcing it was going to trial two electric buses in Auckland, operator NZ Bus announced they were trialling some BYD electric buses in Auckland and Wellington

BYD’s all electric battery bus, with fast re-charging

NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus

NZ Bus to begin trial of BYD electric bus in Auckland and Wellington

NZ Bus will this week begin trialling its new BYD eBus in Auckland and then in Wellington, as another part of its strategy to lead the transition to electric-powered public transport in New Zealand.

NZ Bus Chief Executive Officer, Zane Fulljames, said that the trial will enable NZ Bus to assess whether this fully electric bus, which is proven in other markets across the world, can meet the challenges of New Zealand’s unique topographical landscape and the specific requirements of bus networks in Auckland and Wellington.

“As a business we are committed to leading the industry towards an electric-powered bus fleet, as was reflected in our announcement last year to invest NZ$43m in Wrightspeed electric powertrain technology to be retrofitted to buses in our existing fleet.

“Trialling BYD eBus technology is about looking at options for the future in terms of our ongoing fleet replacement programme,” said Mr Fulljames.

The makers of the eBus, BYD Company Limited, operate across 6 continents, 48 countries and regions, and 200 cities. They are the suppliers of the largest electric bus fleet in Europe and are in fleets across Canada, USA, Chile, China, Singapore and Australia.

NZ Bus’ trial of its BYD eBus is expected to last up to three months. The BYD eBus may not attract attention as it travels Auckland and Wellington bus routes, given that it looks much like a conventional diesel or diesel-hybrid bus, but people might notice that it is significantly quieter.

In parallel with the BYD eBus trial, NZ Bus is also well underway with the process of retrofitting Wrightspeed electric powertrains to its existing bus fleet at its workshop in Wellington.

“As a major transport operator, NZ Bus has the scale for investment of the kind these initiatives represent. We are committed to continuing to lead the industry and contribute to reducing New Zealand’s carbon footprint through innovation,” said Mr Fulljames.

And finally, Mayor Phil Goff has kicked off The Auckland Bike Challenge

Mayor Phil Goff challenges Aucklanders to get on their bikes.

The Auckland Bike Challenge kicks off today and Mayor Phil Goff is encouraging Aucklanders to join the 2,500 people who have already registered for the free month-long event.

Bigger and better than last year, the Auckland Bike Challenge run by Auckland Transport is now part of NZ Transport Agency’s nationwide Aotearoa Bike Challenge.

The Auckland Mayoral Office has two electric bikes and Mayor Phil Goff is looking forward to getting on his bike during the challenge.

“Living out in Clevedon means cycling to work’s a bit tough for me, but I enjoy getting to meetings and events in the city on my bike, and use it when I can,” he says.

“Cycling’s a great way to get around our city. It’s a joy being out of a car in the fresh air, getting fit and reducing our carbon footprint.”

The Mayor says Auckland Council is committed to helping more people get out of their cars and on to bikes, and is investing in new world class facilities to make cycling safer and more accessible.

“The Quay Street Cycleway, the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki shared path, the Mt Roskill Safe route and the award-winning pink Lightpath on Nelson Street are very popular,” says Mayor Goff. “We will continue to invest in safe cycleways across the city to reduce congestion and pollution and make Auckland an even better place to live.

“The 2017 Bike Challenge is your opportunity to explore our beautiful city and to see it in a new way. I look forward to seeing you out and about and on your bike this summer.”

The Auckland Bike Challenge is a fun, free workplace competition that encourages people to give cycling a go during the month of February 2017.

More than 270 Auckland organisations have signed up and will compete against similar-sized businesses within the Auckland region and nationwide.

Run by Auckland Transport and supported by the Sustainable Business Network, Healthy Auckland Together and Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the event supports workplaces encouraging staff to ride for at least ten minutes during the month of February.

Rides are recorded online, and there are prizes up for grabs for both businesses and individuals.

There’s still time to register for the Auckland Bike Challenge at www.lovetoride.net/auckland. The website includes a live leader board to track results, information on prizes and easy ways to encourage others to participate.

Late buses

Public Transport that turn up late can be incredibly frustrating, and if it happens regularly and severely enough, it can put people off using PT services altogether. Monitoring if buses are on time is therefore a vitality important task for AT and if done right, can help identify where there are issues on the network or with how operators are doing their job. But correctly monitoring if buses turn up on time, also known as punctuality, is something that we’ve always struggled with and continue to do so.

Long-time readers may recall that in the past, Auckland Transport published each month punctuality and reliability (if buses turn up at all) statistics that would make a tinpot dictator proud. That’s because the results were based entirely on self-reporting by the operators. The foxes were guarding the hen house if you will and as such we would regularly see ridiculous results. The operators would tell AT they had over 99% of buses on time. Any regular user would likely instantly laugh at you if you tried telling them that result was accurate.

Then mid-2014, Auckland Transport mixed things up by moving to calculate the results based on the buses GPS location. This comes from the same system they use to display information on realtime signs. This had an immediate impact, dropping the results from 98.42% in June 2014 to 90.53% in July 2014. The number has improved in the last few years but it remains in the low 90s meaning that almost 1 in every 10 buses is late.

But while things have definitely improved from the old self-reporting days, we still have major issues with just how the number is reached. This is best explained here from AT’s stat’s report.

Punctuality is measured by the percentage of total scheduled services leaving their origin stop no more than one minute early or five minutes late.

In other words, as long as a bus leaves the first stop within 5 minutes of its scheduled time, it counts as one time. The major problem with that assumption is that most people don’t get on at the originating stop but further along the route. As such, by the time the bus reaches people further along the route, it could already be significantly late. The other PT services are now measured this way too, although for rail at least, AT also still publish the data using the old methodology – which counts services based on when they arrive at their destination vs the timetable. How we count reliability is something I’ll come back to.

Yesterday the herald published the results of an OIA by the Green Party into just how late buses are. What’s interesting is they had AT break the results down by route, allowing us to see just what the bad routes were.

Punctuality has always, publicly at least,

Ever wondered how often your bus arrives on time? Now, we can tell you.

New figures from all 280 bus services around Auckland show the percentage of time each service arrives within five minutes of its scheduled departure time.

Auckland Transport say the figures are improving and hit an all-time-high of 96.36 per cent of buses running on time in January.

But broken-down data, obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, shows the most unreliable bus services include the popular Inner Link and routes on a new network introduced in South Auckland three months ago.

Three out of 10 Inner Link buses turn up late, as do many South Auckland routes, according to the figures.

Of the 20 worst bus routes across the Super City, 11 are in South Auckland where Auckland Transport trumpeted a simpler network, more buses and better fares last October.

With so many routes in South Auckland near the top of the list, surely its time for AT to start putting in some bus lanes around the place.

 

So just how could/should AT be reporting punctuality?

Option 1

One option would be to adopt the strategy of Transport for New South Wales. Here’s how the bus operators reliability KPI is determined.

(i) At least 95% of Published Timetable Trips and Headway Trips commence each Trip On Time

(ii) At least 95% of Published Timetable Trips and Headway Trips leave the mid-point Transit Stop on each Trip On Time

(iii) <5% of Published Timetable Trips arrive at the last Transit Stop of each Trip Late

What I like about this method is that is that that it takes three measures into consideration for more a balanced result. This means its not just counting if a bus left on time but that it was also on time during it’s journey. This surely wouldn’t be too difficult for AT to do.

Option 2

AT could report even more detailed information. Thomas Lumley recently built a small bot to check punctuality of the real-time info vs the timetable and tweet the results every 15 minutes. For an explanation of the bot, it’s worth reading Thomas’ post on the matter.

I don’t recall having seen the percentage on time over 80% since the bot started tweeting on 21-Jan and I’d suspect this probably better reflects people’s experiences with the bus network. Either way it’s clearly possible to report the results better.

Option 3

Ultimately the thing that causes the most for buses to run late is other drivers on the road – also known as congestion. The solution to that of course is to put in more bus lanes so that buses don’t get caught up in it. The map below is a year or more old now but shows where bus/transit lanes exist or are planned. On the isthmus there is generally good coverage of bus lanes, although the existing lanes could still be much better than they are today.

What do you think about bus punctuality and how should AT report it?

Anzac St in need of some attention

Takapuna is already one of Auckland’s most strategically important locations and that is only set to continue if the various plans, such as The Auckland Plan, The Takapuna Centre Plan and the Unitary Plan are ever realised. This is also why the centre is one of the key focus’ of Panuku Development Auckland. The various plans for Takapuna understandably focus on the core of the centre itself, and some of this includes the potential development of council own sites like the Anzac St carpark and the old Gasometer site.

As many of you may know from past posts, I spend my weekdays working in Takapuna, I see daily the huge potential the place has but I also think there’s a corner of Takapuna that seems to have been forgotten and left out of the discussion. This corner is Anzac St from Fred Thomas Dr to Auburn St.

Currently, from what I can tell, there is nothing in the council’s Long Term Plan that would see Anzac St upgraded, in other words changes could be more than a decade away

In this post I wanted to look at some of the reasons I think Auckland Transport need to consider making some changes to the street

The Unitary Plan

The Unitary plan allows for a lot of development in the Anzac St corridor southwest of the Takapuna metro centre. It almost exclusively zoned for Terraced Housing and Apartment Buildings (THAB – orange).

What’s more the corridor is ripe for development with a lot of older single storey dwellings and importantly, THAB development is already well underway. The houses that were renovated in the first series of The Block have already been moved off the site (or are about to be) and piling is already underway for. For example this image put together by reader Jochem shows some currently proposed and underway.

It wouldn’t surprise me that if over the next decade, we saw at least half a dozen more proposals developed and built. All up this could see thousands more people living in this corridor in a fairly short space of time and so Anzac St could see a lot more people walking, cycling and even catching the bus. If nothing else, we owe it to the thousands of potential new residents with a street environment that is no so hostile to them.

New bus network

Takapuna is already served by a large number of buses and that won’t change with the New Network, under which most reach Takapuna using Anzac St. From what I can tell – and we’ll have to wait till the tender process is complete to see the exact numbers – we have Takapuna served by 7 routes – although one route passes Anzac St twice so effectively 8 routes. This document also tells us just how frequent the routes are. The routes and their all day/peak frequency are listed below:

  • N6 – 15 minutes all day, 15 minutes at peak (frequent route)
  • N25 – 30 minutes all day, 15 minutes at peak (doubled route)
  • N30 – 30 minutes all day, 15 minutes at peak
  • N32 – 60 minutes all day, 60 minutes at peak
  • N41 – 30 minutes all day, 30 minutes at peak
  • N42 – 30minutes all day, 10 minutes at peak
  • N46 – 30 minutes all day, 30 minutes at peak

Based on this, in each direction there are about 17 buses an hour using Anzac St all day and 27 buses an hour at peak times. I’m not sure what the rules are now but an AT document from about 2011 looking at how to determine if a route should have a bus/transit lane suggests that over 15 buses an hour should at least be considered for one.

I think it’s fair to say that at the very least, Anzac St (and Taharoto Rd) needs to have bus or transit lanes installed.

Walking and Cycling

Like many arterials in Auckland, Anzac St isn’t the most pleasant street to walk down. It has in places some relatively narrow footpaths that are set right next to the traffic lanes and they often contain obstacles such as power poles or stormwater catchpits that further narrow down the space available for people on foot.

Things are even worse for those on bike. Many of the roads that approach Takapuna, like Taharoto and Lake Roads. Those two roads already have at least painted cycle lanes but in both cases the lanes stop short of the actual town centre. I’m sure I don’t have to explain how silly it is to have bike lanes short of destinations. In the case of the western side, that was extended slightly last year to be just after the start of Anzac St.

I already see a number of bikes in and around Takapuna and I suspect the centre has the potential to be one of the most popular destinations by bike if we were to build the supporting infrastructure it needs.

 

How could it be upgraded

The Anzac St corridor is advantaged over many other arterials in Auckland by not having to also cater for on street parking. By my estimations, the street is 24m wide giving plenty of space to play with. Below is one option for how I think the road could be upgraded while all fitting in that 24m width.

As this could take some time, AT should look at what options they could implement to get a solution like this sooner. Perhaps that means some improved footpaths

Are you familiar with Anzac St, what do you think should happen to it? Like me do you think it needs some attention?

December-2016 Ridership

We normally get our monthly dose of ridership stats from Auckland Transport’s regular board meetings but with the holiday season, the next meeting isn’t till mid-February. Thankfully, AT have already updated their public facing data, which despite not as comprehensive as the board reports, it does allow us to see how we performed in December. The good news is that we performed well. Here are some highlights.

Compared to December 2015:

  • Total Ridership was up 4.9% with a total of 6.12 million trips.
  • Use of the Rapid Transit Network continues to grow impressively and increased by 16.2% to 1.68 million trips. The share of PT trips on Rapid Transit is quickly rising. Within that RTN figure:
    • the Busway was up 10.7% to 325k
    • the Rail network was up 17.6% to 1.35 million. On a 12-month rolling basis, Auckland passed 18 million trips in December only four months after hitting 17 million.
  • Ferry trips were up 4.5% to 601k trips, continuing the steady growth we’ve been seeing for some time now.
  • Other (non busway) buses continue to struggle, up only 0.6% to 3.84 million trips.

Here are the 12-month rolling results showing the impressive growth in the RTN, particularly over the last few years.

On the topic of ridership, there have long been a couple of things that bug me about the results we see on a regular basis that help to misrepresent some of the results. So I set out to see if I could change that.

1. Rail Ridership and the RWC

Ridership as a whole, but particularly on the RTN has been increasingly solidly for some time with a notable exception around 2011/12 and is most prominent if looking at the rail numbers which showed a roughly 10% reduction in usage. Of course the primary reason for this was the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But just how significant was the RWC or did people genuinely stop using the trains?

I recalled seeing some numbers in old patronage reports estimating the impact of the RWC on a monthly basis so I went back and got those results and adjusted the graph accordingly. Here’s what the rail graph looks like once that RWC ridership is taken into account.

Now as you can see, adjusted for the RWC numbers it becomes there was more a case of the rail network not growing anymore rather than fewer people using it. But you can also see that there’s still a little dip in the results. That’s because right as the impact of the RWC was wore off (both October 2012), AT introduced HOP to the rail network which changed how tickets were counted. Trips using the old paper tickets were counted when the ticket was bought so people could buy a 10-trip ticket and it would be counted immediately in AT’s numbers but the owner of the ticket could still be using it months later. Of course, AT gave people time to use up their old paper tickets. By comparison, HOP trips are counted when they occur.

Taking this impact into account is much more difficult than the RWC but if we were able to, I’d suggest it would all but remove that remaining dip leaving a relatively flat line through to mid-2013 when numbers definitely started rising again.

2. Change in Busway counting

Last year AT changed how they counted the busway. Prior to that point they only counted ridership on the Northern Express even though many people caught buses like the 881 all the way along the busway or local buses used the busway for a small part of their journey. AT’s change was to also include trips from other services that used the busway, assuming they boarded or alighted at a busway station.

The issue is that if you just look at the current information, it appears there was very rapid growth from about mid-2015 – although that doesn’t change the fact during the last year we’ve seen 20%+ growth at times. So going back over some old AT reports I was able to find the differences and separate out some of the differences between the two metrics. The result is below and shows a difference of about 500k trips annually.

 

Now, neither of these results mean a lot in the overall given the stellar rise of PT in Auckland since the times mentioned but I found them interesting none the less so thought I’d share them. What do you think of them?

I’m also interested in your thoughts about what is usually the busiest time of the year that is coming up soon and culminating in March Madness. My anecdotal observations have been that despite schools still being out and roads relatively empty, that PT is already feeling noticeably busier than last year, suggesting we have a huge March coming up.

We also haven’t covered the numbers from Wellington recently so here’s a quick update to the end of November.

  • The bus numbers remain relatively flat with only very small growth in bus use on a 12-month rolling basis.
  • Wellington has been doing better with rail ridership recently with the 12-month rolling result up just over 7% compared to the year before to 13.1 million.

Rapid Transit strengths

This is not a post about Busway’s vs Rail as modes, but a fun comparison of my experience on the Northern Busway to our Rail Network.

I recently went to the North Shore for an appointment where I had the pleasure of using the Northern Busway. I had not used it for some time, well before Double Deckers were a regular occurrence. As a person who usually uses the rail network it was interesting comparing my experiences, so I decided to create list of where I think each excels.

Busway

  • The dwell times – The dwell times are good even on the Double Decker’s, as a rail user it was pleasant for it to feel like a stop, not a whole century.
  • The motorway alignment – I swear nothing is more awesome than sitting top deck watching yourself race past all the cars at standstill on the motorway, you partially have that experience on the Southern, but the long dwells kinda ruin it.
  • Double Decker’s – That view of the Waitemata from the top deck going over the bridge.
  • The stations – I like the stations, they feel accessible, easy to use/transfer (when the bus turns up on time, curse you 881) and many have extra useful amenities inside.

Rail

 

  • The ride – Smooth and so quiet, except the ADL’s to Puke but they are the fun part of any trip the Puke, though understand the people using it would rather have the Class AM’s for everyday use.
  • Single deck – Yes I know I said I loved the Double Decker’s but it can get quiet frustrating having to wait for people who only used the bus for a short distance coming down from the top deck, use the bottom for short journeys >:(
  • Speed – It’s always fun on the Eastern when you speed through the Meadowbank-GI section especially the Purewa Tunnel.
  • The Stations – We’ve not got some fantastic stations. Britomart & New Lynn are my favourite, there is something about underground stations under fantastic architecture, and I always love coming into the New Lynn trench. Grafton is ok but I rate it 0/10 would not try Wifi through again.
  • Fully separated – the Busway is great but it can be frustrating when it ends, you have some bus lanes on the Motorway but not in all sections, and when I was using the NEX a car was using the Bus Lane slowing us up around Onewa Interchange.

So what are your favourite strengths of the Northern Busway and the rail network?

Electric bus trial in Auckland

Some good news late on Friday with Auckland Transport announcing they would trial two fully electric buses in Auckland.

Auckland Transport is to carry out a full trial of electric buses.

The government has announced funding for the E-Bus trial and related infrastructure as part of the EECA Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund.

AT has been awarded up to $500,000 to part fund an electric bus trial and close to $300,00 for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Auckland Transport will top up the funding so two buses can be used in the trial.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says, “Great news for Auckland as we do our part to reduce emissions and combat climate change. Whether it is trains, buses or cars, electrification of our transport network is key to making Auckland a cleaner more sustainable city, and providing a better customer experience for our public transport users.”

Auckland Transport Chief AT Metro Officer Mark Lambert says AT wants to test current E-Bus technology in Auckland. “We will trial two E-Buses to gather real operating data and to raise public awareness of the technology. We expect them to be used over different routes and conditions to fully test them.”

Mr Lambert says AT is constantly reviewing planning to ensure emerging technology like E-Buses is considered when new infrastructure and services are planned and delivered. “One of our challenges is to accurately estimate when this technology will meet the needs of our customers and service and route characteristics and also commercial viability.”

Mr Lambert says the grant from EECA will mean that a full trial can begin later this year. “Auckland Transport is working to develop a Clean Bus Roadmap for Auckland.”

Modern electric buses can have a range of more than 200 km with one charge and can be enabled for fast or overnight charging.

Funding has also been provided for installing 60 EV charging stations at AT parking facilities around Auckland.

AT say they still have to work out the exact details but it is likely they will own the buses themselves and used on various routes by different operators.

It may only be two buses but this is a positive step and are hopeful we’ll soon see many more electric buses rolled out in Auckland. They along with other improvements to buses we’ve been seeing, such as the double deckers, will help in changing the image of buses in Auckland and eventually other parts of New Zealand. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on what happens with this trial.

BYD is a large builder of electric buses, here’s an example of one of their buses in London.

Transit fare changes for 2017

Yesterday Auckland Transport announced that at the end of the month they are changing some public transport fares after just reducing them less than six months ago when the rolled out their Simplified Fares scheme.

Bus, train and ferry fares will be changing from 29 January 2017.

Auckland Transport is required to review fares annually to ensure they keep pace with operating costs and a portion of cost recovery from fares.

Colin Homan, Group Manager, AT Development says Auckland Transport has a target to recover 50 percent of the cost of public transport from fares, but this is currently at 46.3 percent.

“Compared to many other cities, Auckland short distance fares are relatively low so we have targeted some small increases for fares for some shorter trips. Fares for longer trips, beyond 4 Zones will not change.  We want to promote reducing congestion by making public transport fares attractive for people making longer journeys.”

Mr Homan says public transport in Auckland still represents very good value for customers.  Auckland Transport has added a number of new services over the past year, such as the introduction of 65 double decker buses, the roll out of a new bus network in South Auckland, the addition of 19 km of bus lanes in the year to June 2017, rail service increases on the Western Line, as well as Simpler Fares (which allows customers to take a bus, train or combo and pay just the one fare for the entire journey).

Mr Homan says that over the past 12 months Auckland Transport has reduced the cost of public transport by on average 7 percent through Simpler Fares and encouraging customers on cash to transition to HOP, which represents at least a 20 percent saving.

He says in the year to the end of December 84.8 million trips were taken on public transport in Auckland, an increase of 4.6 percent since July.

“Even though the average fare increase is 1.7 percent, the average cost of travel for customers remains lower than it was at this time last year.”

Main changes

  • AT HOP bus & train fares for 1 Zone, 2 Zones and 4 Zones increase by 5 cents and 10 cents
  • Cash bus & train fares for 1 Zone and 2 Zones increase by 50 cents
  • AT HOP tertiary student bus and rail fares increase by 4 to 8 cents between 1 Zone and 4 Zones to ensure a consistent discount compared to AT HOP adult fares
  • AT HOP Monthly Bus & Train Pass increases by $10
  • Ferry fares reflect a mix of increases and decreases to continue the alignment by distance travelled in preparation for full ferry fare integration
  • AT HOP adult and child fares are at least 25 percent lower than the equivalent cash fare
  • AT HOP child fares are at least 40 percent lower than adult AT HOP
  • AT HOP tertiary fares are at least 20 percent lower than adult AT HOP

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about this, in no particular order

If you’re paying by HOP, and you should be, the main changes suggested certainly aren’t huge at 5 to 10 cents per trip. For a regular commuter doing two bus or train trips a day this equates to $25-50 a year. Also, note that the 3-zone fares actually come down slightly too. The new Adult bus and train fares are below.

As a reminder, four zones cover all trips from the main urban area to the city centre

But what I do find odd is that this comes so quickly after Simplified Fares rolled out in mid-August. With Simplified Fares one of the aims was have as few people as possible negatively affected by the change. Perhaps AT didn’t get their modelling quite right and went a bit too far in this regard. We’ve certainly been seeing the farebox recovery rate (below) fall in recent months since the introduction of Simplified Fares and the later the New Network in the South.

I also get the feeling some in the organisation might have panicked without giving the changes a chance to settle in. Big changes like the New Network or fares, are not quick fixes and time is definitely needed for the public to adjust their travelling behaviour based on those changes.

 

One group of customers that have had some wins is users of some ferry services, most notably Hobsonville Point users who see some decent trip savings – 50c per trip for Adult HOP users. This is part of AT’s goal of aligning ferry fares for similar distance trips.

One area I find extremely disappointing is that AT have once again put up the monthly pass, this time by another $10 to $210. Monthly pass customers tend to be some of AT’s most loyal. As a regular monthly pass user myself, I find I’m much more likely to use PT for a wider range of trips when I have a pass than when I don’t have one. AT continuing to push up the price of the pass seems to be part of a wider strategy to stop people using it all together which, in my view, would be a huge mistake. If anything, they should be doing the opposite and trying to make it more attractive to encourage more people to use PT.

A wider issue at play here is the NZTA’s arbitrary farebox recovery target that by mid-2018 50% of all PT operational costs nationally need to come from fares. Whilst that sounds good in theory, it’s a really blunt instrument that is likely meaning we’re not extracting the most value out of our PT system. For example, what if a 40% farebox ratio delivered a better overall economic outcome due to moving more people and taking an the edge off congestion.

 

What do you think of the fare changes?