There have been a few bits of bus news recently
The first and most interesting is last week NZ Bus announced that that they hadn’t been short-listed for any of the routes as part of the new South Auckland bus network due to roll out in October.
NZ Bus advises that it has been informed by Auckland Transport that it has not been selected as a preferred tenderer for any of its South Auckland public transport services which were tendered for in late 2015. The NZ Bus services currently comprise 153 vehicles out of the total NZ Bus fleet of 1,070 buses.
NZ Bus Chief Executive Zane Fulljames said “Not being selected as a preferred tenderer in one of our incumbent locations is a disappointing outcome, particularly for our staff who work hard every day to deliver a high quality service and are part of the South Auckland community. However, as an incumbent we understand clearly the costs of operating in the South Auckland market and submitted a strong, high quality tender to reflect this.”
The tender outcome will have implications for NZ Bus staff operating in South Auckland. There is a 9 month transition period to the implementation of the new South Auckland contracts, and NZ Bus will be taking this time to work through options for minimising the impact on staff.
Mr Fulljames said it is important to keep this outcome in perspective. “While a number of contracts are being tendered across Auckland, other contracts are being renewed with incumbent bus operators through a direct negotiation process. NZ Bus has rights to negotiate a number of these contracts, representing in scale around 50 percent of its existing business in Auckland.”
A map of the south Auckland routes being tendered is below. They are split up into eight groups – called units – that were tendered for.
That NZ Bus didn’t make it to being one of the preferred tenderers from any of the eight is fascinating given they are the incumbent for the area. I’m told that AT are still negotiating with operators so there has been no decision yet on just who will run services so all we know for sure is that it isn’t NZ Bus.
There are a few thoughts I had upon hearing the news.
- I think this is good news as it suggests there’s competition for services occurring and likely suggests we’ll be getting better value for tax/ratepayers out of the new PTOM contracts. This is some ways is expected because as I understand it, AT have been rolling over existing contracts for some time meaning bus companies are likely amortising their costs over a short time frame. As the PTOM contracts are longer term it will allow fixed costs to be spread out more easily.
- It likely signals that companies will have to be more competitive for future tenders, NZ Bus have stated in the past that they want to about retain their overall market share so they’ll have to up their game to do so. Again this is good as it likely means we’ll get better value for money meaning either costs reduce or we can get more service for what we pay.
- NZ Bus seemed to use their most clapped out buses for use in South Auckland. A new operator should mean newer buses – especially as we know AT had some fairly detailed requirements for bus quality under the new network. This will be good for people using buses in South Auckland.
- It was interesting timing for NZ Bus to come out and say now that they hadn’t won the tender. I suspect part of that might be related to being owned by a publicly traded company while also them wanting to be able to tell their staff before they hear the news through other channels.
Stuff reports the Union claiming that Ritchies and Hamilton based Go Bus have won and that Howick & Eastern have also lost some routes but we’ll have to wait to see if that is actually the case.
The other piece of news is that Ritchies are now rolling out an additional 15 new Double Deckers to the Northern Express, adding around 15% more capacity – they may even be on the road already and join the 3 existing double deckers in service.
Other bus companies are getting in on the double decker act too. By the end of the year NZ Bus will have 23 of them and Howick & Eastern 15 of them.
Update: Auckland Transport have advised that due to a union meeting, there will be no NZ Bus services operating between 9 and 2:30 – although disruption will linger for longer than that (based on the last one there were still delays in the afternoon peak)
I’ve had two pieces of feedback following PT for Auckland Anniversery events on over weekend. The first is from reader Jeff
My friend started out with “Meet me at mine, Mt Eden, it should be a $15 Uber from here”
To which I said “I was thinking of Biking to the Train station, leaving the bikes there then catching the train in, It feels silly to not use PT into the CBD”
And such was my argument to my friend Matt who kindly cycled to my place from Mt Eden, to catch the train into Britomart for Laneway Festival at 2pm on a Monday.
And it was a good experience, a short ride downhill followed by a “Feels longer than it should” train trip into the city. In no time at all we were in the usual gridlock of Te Whero Bridge. (of course Matt would have been here half an hour ago if he took an Uber)
After the festival, come 10pm, we were done, ready to board a train at Britomart, destined for Onehunga to start the cycle home. Upon entering Britomart, it was desolate. The train signs on the board read Penrose, Newmarket & Waitakere. No Onehunga, and the last train on the board was a half hour away.
We were tired, grumpy, and had work the next day. as two slightly out of our comfort zone 30 year olds, professional jobs beckoned in the morning and enough was enough – Cue Uber. Surge pricing, equally long waits – One wonders if this could have been mitigated if trains were operating at a festival appropriate frequency.
We found a cab, and I uttered the most absurd phrase I have ever uttered. “can you take us from here to Onehunga Train station please?”
Sometime later we were back in Onehunga, we grabbed the bikes, and commenced the ride uphill to our respective homes. (along the new & lovely Onehunga Mall cycle lanes)
There is no way I’ll ever talk my friend into trusting the trains again.
My questions to AT are;
- Was there a PT plan for this festival?
- Do you have a planning team responsible for PT during events?
- Was there a train coming? if not, why wasn’t it on the board? There was no way to check, and ‘waiting to see’ was unacceptable.
- Is this the experience a casual train user should be confronted with?
- How can you expect to compete with Uber or generic Taxis on trust, when they often provide a better ‘turn up and go’ service?
I realise this is an anecdotal experience, but if this was my experience, what of the other 10,000+ Laneway, or other Auckland wide event attendees?
And the second is from reader who had a number of observations from Sunday
- Standard anniversary weekend public transport troubles occurring again, with hopeless Sunday timetables failing to cope with CBD crowds.
- Saw NEX at 4.30pm leave 10 plus people behind, and Mt Eden bus at same time was jammed.
- Were huge numbers of people in town for fireworks last night, though most had choice of one or 2 services to get home.
- Same likely tonight with Laneway finishing at 10.30pm, and all trains gone, and only handful of buses.
- Plus despite official AC programme saying all trains running, there was nothing past Penrose or Sylvia Park.
- People have learnt to use event PT now, so expect it at major events.
- ATEED and AT need to get their act together, as leaving new users stranded is a very bad look, and puts people off.
- Saga will repeat itself again for Lantern festival in a few weeks time.
- Another good fix would be upping Sunday timetables to meet Saturday frequencies, many 20 or 30 rather than 15 minute frequency
Getting these experience wrong has long term impacts on how people perceive PT. It’s well beyond time that that AT should have learnt this by now, as Luke pointed out, people have learnt to use PT for events now so it’s up to the authorities to respond to that and provide it to an acceptable standard.ev
Auckland Transport are making a few changes to public transport fares on 28 February and some of them are bound to result in howls of outrage. The changes are part of ATs annual fare review and they have said they are being influenced by a couple of key factors:
- The need to achieve the NZTAs farebox recovery policy of 50% of costs covered by fares by June 2018
- Changes to operating costs
- Changes in preparation for ATs Simplified Fares which they say are currently on track to roll out at the end of July
I’ll cover off these aspects before going into the fare changes.
Achieving the Farebox Recovery Policy
As I talked about on Friday, the NZTA require that 50% of all PT costs across NZ are met by the revenue from fares paid by PT users. As Auckland accounts for over 50% of all PT across the country it means the city is critical to the country meeting that target. Of course this doesn’t mean that the target is rational or provides the best economic and social outcome but it currently exists so AT has to work within that. The good news is we’re on the right track. Farebox Recovery has increased to 47.8% from 45.9% the year before.
Changes to operating costs
The way that contracting currently works for most services is that the operator gets the fare revenue and AT pay the net cost of providing the service. The amount that AT pay is adjusted based on a cost index determined by the NZTA which takes into account changes to aspects such as labour costs, fuel costs, RUC costs etc. There are two indices, one for bus/train and one for Ferries. AT say these are up 0.5 for bus/train and 0.1 for ferry in the September Quarter and the fare changes are to respond to that.
Out of interest the NZTA’s info on the indices say that fuel prices only make up about 15% of the operational costs for buses and just over 30% of the costs for ferries. But those indices also suggest that while prices are up in the September Quarter they are still down on a year on year basis. In other words, as of the September Quarter – which would have been used by AT for their fare review – AT were paying less for services than they were the same time the year before. On a YoY basis they are -0.4% for bus and -3.7% for ferry.
Changes for ATs Simplified Fares (aka integrated fares)
There are two main and significant changes being made by AT to better align fares in the lead up to AT rolling out Simplified fares at the end of July. They are also the ones that will likely get the most reaction – especially from the media. The changes were suggested as part of the consultation for simplified fares but that won’t make the changes any easier for those affected. Essentially it seems like they’re getting the bad news parts of the Simplified Fares out of the way now so that when they do roll out in July the positive aspects don’t get overshadowed.
The first change is that Orakei Train Station to Britomart will go from 1 stage to 2 stages. The reasons suggested are:
- As part of Simplified Fares there will be a City Zone which is based on roughly the same area as covered by the current 1 stage fare zone and which is effectively a circle the same distance from the centre of the city. Orakei is an anomaly sitting well outside of that. In addition, buses from Orakei pay a 2 stage fare so there needs to be consistency. Changing the area to 1 stage would be unfair on others who are travelling a similar distance.
- The park & ride is often full as a result of people driving from around the region to pay for the 1 stage fare. They are hoping that changing it to 2 stages eases pressure on the station and that passengers will instead go to closer stations to catch the train.
- Hobson Bay is a logical boundary for a fare stage/zone boundary.
- As the station data AT provided suggested, the number of people affected isn’t that high overall. There are ~300,000 trips a year to or from Orakei which is around 2% of all rail patronage across the region.
The second change also affects the city zone and will see the removal of the current CBD zone which was a separate price for those catching a bus purely within the CBD (and a little bit around the southern end of Symonds St as shown below with the lighter area. Again it’s so that there will be a single City Zone. Until the Simplified Fares roll out it means trips within the CBD will be a 1 stage fare however importantly this doesn’t affect the CityLink buses which will remain at $0.50 if you use HOP.
There is one other aspect is at play in the fare changes, AT say that compared to many other cities our short fares are often a bit cheaper while our longer distance fares are a bit higher. AT have decided to use these fare changes to try and balance that out slightly and so the fare changes are primarily for shorter trips.
Adult fares are below and there are no changes to child, accessible and tertiary fares with the exception of the child monthly train pass (which still uses the old cardboard tickets). As you can see stages 1 to 4 increase by $0.10 if you use HOP while other fares remain unchanged
There is a change to the Adult Monthly passes too with the 2-zone monthly pass (the one I use) going from $190 to $200. There are a few changes to child monthly train passes too as well as family passes – on those AT say they are still working out just what the future will be for family passes and hopefully will finalise that soon.
Ferries don’t escape the changes. They are splitting ferries into three zones which they say simplifies things and allows for better integration with the future integrated fares pricing structure – although they’re not quite ready to say how that integrates the approach they indicated to me sounded pretty reasonable. They’re working to align ferry fares within those zones over time and the new Adult HOP prices for them are below.
- Inner Harbour (Birkenhead to Devonport) – $4.50 – these prices are now aligned.
- Mid Harbour (Half Moon Bay, Hobsonville/Beach Haven, West Harbour) – $7.04 – $8
- Outer Harbour (Gulf Harbour, Pine Harbour, Waiheke etc.) – $11-$11.20
AT want more ferry customers using HOP and as such they’re making some changes including removing some pass options and increasing the price of some too.
Lastly as a quick update to Simplified Fares. As mentioned it is due to roll out in July this year and AT say the project remains on track and they are currently testing some of the new functionality. They have confirmed the zones that will exist but are still reviewing four of the zone boundaries based on feedback from the consultation. These are:
- Upper North Shore/Lower North Shore – There are a few school trips affected by the boundary on the map below.
- Huapai/Waitakere – how it integrates with the new Westgate/Massey North development
- Waitakere/Isthmus – again some school trips and short trips are affected but the boundary on the map below.
- Manukau North/Manukau South – impacts on trips around Manukau
So what do you think of the changes and how much will they impact you.
Public transport fares are often a contentious issue. Too high and they can put people off, too low and it may increase the subsides needed or you may need to cut services. So it’s interesting to think about fares in the current climate we have in Auckland. We know from the last AT board meeting that the annual fare review was up for a decision/approval in the closed session. Given this is the time of the year they usually announce the outcome of that fare review I expect we’ll be hearing soon what they’re going to do.
Over the last few years we’ve seen fares for most people (HOP users) stabilise quite a bit and even fall while fares for cash payers to increase to help encourage people to move to HOP. Given some of the trends we’re seeing and what’s planned it seems that other than perhaps a few small tweaks any substantial changes can’t really be justified – in fact possibly the opposite, reducing fares might be justified.
We know that later this year Auckland Transport will be implementing integrated fares which will see us move to a zone based system. It’s quite likely they’ll use the fare review to move towards what’s planned for integrated fares and that could see some interesting changes, one of these could be around Orakei train station which sits outside the City zone in the proposed map below.
The NZTA require that by mid-2018 public transport has a farebox recovery ratio of 50% – the percentage of costs that are covered by passenger fares. Auckland has traditionally hovered around 45% meaning that if we’re to meet the national goal then AT needs to do better – whether 50% is the right level to get the best economic outcome is for a different debate. Many of the current initiates such as electrification, the new bus network and PTOM contracts are all expected to improve Auckland’s performance through both reducing costs and increasing patronage and therefore revenue (AT’s farebox recovery policy is in the RPTP). For this year Auckland Transport and the Council set a formal target of 46-48% as part of their Statement of Intent.
The good news is that the surge in patronage that Auckland has been experiencing over the last year has had a noticeable impact on the farebox recovery ratio. The most recent data up to October last year show it sitting at top of the target range at 47.8%, that’s up from 45.9% the at the same time the year before. Does this suggest perhaps there’s some room to move on fares while still keeping the farebox recovery ratio within target?
In the past when they’ve raised fares AT have said that one consideration in setting fares is the cost compared to driving for an individual. We know that in recent months fuel prices have fallen (shown below) which obviously makes it cheaper to drive. The decrease
Diesel prices have fallen even more sharply and that will likely be having an impact on bus operational costs.
There are likely to be some other factors I’ve overlooked however it seems to me that given the broad factors we’re seeing that raising prices is about last thing we should be doing.
Inevitably when discussing fares many like to compare Auckland’s to those in other cities. In September I took a look at a number of Australian and Canadian cities. One thing that was clear from doing that activity is it’s incredibly difficult to say whether fares are too high in Auckland. Every city has very different fare structures and often who is cheapest depends on distance travelled and the mode used.
Lastly another topic people love to raise is fare evasion and suggest we should gate all stations immediately. To put some things in perspective the last I heard fare evasion – which I believe is based on how many passengers are found without a ticket by the ticket inspectors – sits at around 6-8%. The amount of lost revenue from those evading fares is the vicinity of $2.5 million. The reality is that if AT tried to eliminate fare evasion the amount of money they would need to spend on staff and infrastructure to enable it would dwarf the amount of money they end up collecting. The key is to get the right balance rather than an impossible attempt to stop all evasion (which still happens on systems fully gated)
Next week marks the start of annual madness season – the time of the year where use of public transport ramps up over February and culminates in what we call March Madness.
The spike in patronage seems to be the result of a combination of factors. Schools and universities kick back in to gear for the year (the school term officially starts again on Monday) which also more parents back to work. Those naturally make public transport busier and of course roads busier too. It also seems that a lot more people are willing to give public transport a go, perhaps a result of wanting an alternative after suddenly being exposed to the full mind numbing horror of driving on congested roads once again – especially after the easier driving over the summer period.
You can see the impact of March Madness in the chart below showing patronage in each month with March in Red. February is obviously lower due to fewer working days and PT use ramping up over the course of the month. Unsurprisingly the years where March wasn’t the busiest month of the year or where other months were very close (2008 and 2013) Easter was either partially or fully in month. Of course we have Easter falling fully within March this year – although due to the way the weekends fall it only represents one less working day than last year.
By the end of February the March Madness conditions will be in full effect so it’s important that Auckland Transport have the PT network working well to ensure that people can actually use it and encourage those new adopters to keep using it well into the future.
In the past they haven’t done well on this front. Both buses and trains are often packed to the point of turning people away. Last year I heard stories of some people on routes such as Mt Eden Rd waiting and watching as up to 12 buses went past too full to allow them to get on.
The numbers tend to die down after March due to a combination of factors such as school holidays and people giving up on the overcrowded PT services and going back to their car.
This all begs the question of whether AT are prepared for this year’s madness. In my view they aren’t.
Since this time last year the electric trains have been rolled out to the Southern and Western lines providing a little bit more capacity however even in January – normally a quitter time – trains have been very busy thanks to all of the patronage growth that’s occurred. The Western line is still stuck with trains at peak times only every 15 minutes despite AT and its predecessors promising 10 minute services would happen from as far back as 2010. Indications are we’ll finally see that increase happen this year but not till April/May, after the rush.
On the bus network it’s a similar story, not much capacity has been added but some is on the way. We learned last year that the various operators were buying 56 double decker buses to be used in Auckland. Some are already in use on the Northern Express and one is used by Howick & Eastern for trips between the city and Botany but it appears the bulk of these might be too late March. The expected roll out of them is below.
- 18 buses on the NEX Northern Express (Albany to Britomart via the Northern busway) by April 2016, with the first ones on the road now
- 15 buses on the 500 route (Mission Heights to Downtown via Botany Town Centre, Pakuranga, Panmure, Ellerslie and Newmarket) by September 2016, with the first ones on the road now
- 15 buses on the 274 (Three Kings to Downtown via Mt Eden Rd) and 277 routes (Waikowhai to Downtown via Three Kings and Mt Eden Rd) in May & June 2016
- 8 buses on the 881 route (Albany to Newmarket along the Northern busway) in June 2016
What we have seen though is that AT have been advertising their arrival.
I think AT have actually done a good job on the advertising, both in the design and placement of the ads but I do wonder if they’re a bit premature. The majority of them won’t on the road till after May so will provide no relief for busy routes like Mt Eden Rd so advertising them now might be giving a bit of false hope.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the system copes.
Last week Patrick posted the latest set of results of rail station data. We’ve long wanted to also see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and it’s fascinating, especially when compared alongside the rail station results.
Many people only associate the busway with the Northern Express however it is actually used by quite a number of services for part of their route, for example the popular 881 which travels from Torbay Bay and the city, joining the busway at Albany. If you are catching a bus to/from a busway station, then integrated ticketing makes it easier than ever to catch whatever bus turns up next but also means that when considering busway station usage you have to take into account more than just the Northern Express service.
The data Auckland Transport have provided is for the 2015 calendar year and shows the number of people boarding or alighting at any of the busway stations along with where they came from or went to. For trips where the origin or destination was outside of one of the busway stations they have broken the results down by broad geographic area. For example, someone catching the 881 at Torbay and getting off at Smales Farm would be counted as Boarding in the North Shore and alighting at Smales Farm. Crucially though this omits another important group of busway users, those that board and alight outside of the busway but whose trips benefit from the busway e.g. the people who board the 881 at Torbay and alight in the city.
Unlike the rail network we don’t have any information on how this has been changing over time but it’s good to finally have some results. Here are some thoughts I’ve had looking at the data.
- Usage of the busway stations is very strong and stronger the further you get from the city. I wonder how much this is a reflection of the very high peak frequencies provided and how much of it is due to the busway being very competitive in terms of travel times, often twice as fast as driving.
- Usage of Albany are huge and even larger than Newmarket making it the second busiest Rapid Transit station in Auckland which is impressive considering the busway itself stops at Constellation Dr. To me the numbers once again highlight just how important it is that the Northern Busway is extended at least as far as Albany.
- Constellation Station is also very strong and it is the fourth busiest Rapid Transit station, significantly ahead of New Lynn.
- Smales Farm ranks at 10th overall, another impressive result and one that I suspect will grow strongly as the area is further developed.
- Sunnynook gets very impressive results for what is by in large a walk up station. It ranks 16th overall and is only slightly below Henderson.
- Even Akoranga which is largely an isolated island (with the exception of the nearby AUT Campus) does better than most of our rail stations.
I think it also highlights that we probably need to rethink how we count trips in Auckland. While many of the rail stations such as New Lynn and Panmure have strong patronage we only count rail trips from the station. Perhaps we should also be counting those arriving or departing by bus to give a more complete picture of how these stations are performing. For the busway it would also be interesting to know just how many people travelled over it i.e. the ones who caught the 881 from Torbay to the City.
Lastly it’s interesting to think of the impact that park & ride has on patronage. Many people suggest that it is key to getting a lot more people to use public transport. On the busway only Albany (1,100 spaces) and Constellation (450 spaces) have park & ride. They do get some use on weekends but primarily it is on weekdays that they fill up. Even every space was being used every day for a trip (including weekends and public holidays) it would account for less than half of the boardings at each station (402k at Albany or 43% and 164k at Constellation or 22%)
Overall some very solid numbers from the Northern Busway Stations and ones we can now start tracking to see the change over time, like we’ve done with the rail station figures.
Auckland Transport normally releases their monthly patronage data at their board meetings but as the first one for 2016 isn’t till February they’ve kindly provided me the results for December.
Overall patronage growth has remained strong with trips in December up 7.4% on December 2014. The 12-month result has now topped 81.5 million trips which is up 7.6% on the same time last year.
One concern though is that the growth is increasingly being driven increases in the rail network and on the ferries. This is due to a slowing on the rate of patronage growth on buses. My guess is this reflects there hasn’t been all that much in the way of service improvements on buses over last year or so and I suspect some of the growth that has occurred has been due to HOP making travel easier. The growth that is occurring on buses is mostly being driven by growth on the Northern Busway.
We will hopefully see the slowing growth reverse once we finally get the new network starting to be rolled out which is happening in South Auckland later this year. Integrated fares are also likely to help and we should hopefully know more about that soon.
I was expecting the rail results in particular to be very strong as the network was open for Christmas Day and Boxing day while the Western line and the inner part of the Eastern Line remained open all through the Christmas/New Year period. This has shown through in the numbers with rail ridership in December up a staggering 32.6% compared to December last year reaching 1.1 million trips. That leaves January as the only month that has now carries less than a million trips a month and given many of the same factors are at play I’d expect that to change once we get the January results next month. The chart below shows how patronage has changed for each month since 2002 and you see just how big the jump in 2015 was compared to previous years.
The 12-month result is up 22.9% or 2.9 million trips to 15.4 million. Related I remember when the case for electrification was being made about a decade ago they touted it as delivering 15.6 million trips by June 2016. It looks like we’ll surpass that despite the actual roll out happening a few years later than predicted.
The last year has seen good growth on ferries on the back of service improvements on a number of routes. Patronage for the month was up 9.6% compared to December 2014 to around 580,000 trips and the 12-month result is up 10.7% or just over half a million to 5.7 million trips.
All up December was a continuation of many of the trends we saw throughout 2015. It will be interesting to see if those same trends carry on through to 2016 or if things slow down. Rail likely has a bit of strong growth left yet, especially if AT improve frequencies and move the rail network towards a proper raid transit service with decent frequencies off peak too. The roll out of Integrated fares is likely to help patronage too and the big unknown will be the new network which rolls out in South Auckland in October.
Related, last week Patrick posted results of the latest rail station boardings. I thought it would be interesting to plot the change in rankings over time based on data I’ve collected over the years. In the end I’ve only done it from 2011 onwards as prior to that the movements were too erratic which will be in part due to the how station usage was counted. It might look like a mess of lines now but was worse with pre 2011 data included.
To be clear this only looks how the stations rank compared to other rail stations so isn’t looking at the size of growth but there are a couple of notable points.
- The impact of Manukau is very clear and between mid-2014 and mid-2015 rose substantially and is currently the 13th busiest station.
- Panmure is also seeing strong growth, moving from 14th to 5th busiest.
- New Lynn shifted from 7th to 3rd.
- Given the stations above along with Otahuhu and Henderson will also have bus interchanges in the New Network then I’d expect them to keep seeing them with an upward trend in coming years.
- Sylvia Park shifted up 7 places to 8th.
- Onehunga moved up 8 places to 21st.
On the same topic we’ve long wanted to see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and I’ll post this in the next day or two.
Houston is often known as a large sprawly city built on the back of some truly massive motorways such as the Katy Freeway which is the world’s widest road and is now up to 26 lanes wide in places – yet more congested than ever after a NZ$4.3 billion upgrade.
Despite that this year it will be a city to watch when it comes to public transport. Here’s why.
In 2014 Houston went out for consultation on a re-imagined bus network to completely overhaul their PT network. Helping lead the design was Jarrett Walker who has been doing the same thing in Auckland. He talks in more detail about the network and process in this post. Like Auckland, Houston were running a lot of buses but due to the poor network design many duplicated other services, meandered all over the place or were focused on serving a small population and as such the network was not effective. The map below shows the frequent routes under the old system
And here’s what the frequent network looked like after the reimaging. Like the proposals in Auckland there are other services running at lower frequencies too.
One area Houston have definitely got over us is that after going out for consultation in May 2014 they implemented the entire network in August last year. By comparison Auckland Transport consulted on the idea of the new network in the 2012 Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP), launched consultation on the South Auckland part of the new network in 2013 and aren’t expected to implement it till near the end of this year with the whole network not likely to be rolled out till the end of 2017. I’m suspect one of the reasons Houston was able to make the change so quickly is that the buses were run by transit authority and they already had the interchanges they needed in place.
At the same the city has also been rolling out improvements to its light rail network. In late 2013 it opened an 8.5km extension to their original Red Line and in May 2015 it opened two new lines – Green and Purple with a further extension to the Green Line still under construction.
What makes Houston interesting to follow is to see particularly what impact the new bus network has on ridership. The image below was being shared around social media last week and Kent included it in the most recent Sunday reading.
When a complete bus network is changed a decline in ridership is is expected early on but it’s expected that over time it will then rise and do so at a faster rate so that after a few years the system is performing better than it was had the change not happened. The results above are surprising in just how fast the change appears to be happening. Bus ridership in Auckland is been growing however if the same sort of improvement in trend was seen it would be very positive.
Looking into the details a bit further one of the reasons for the good result in November was actually due to an extra working day which accounts for about 46% of the increase however even taking that into account the result is positive. Obviously it’s only early days but I’ll be keeping track of what happens in Houston as it might be an indicator as to what will happen hear following the roll out of the New Network in South Auckland. I’m sure many other cities will equally be watching what happens to see the value in moving to a connected frequent network.
In looking into the details I was also able to get ridership results for the city for the last 5 or so years allowing us to the trends that have been happening. One thing that surprised me was how comparing it to Auckland’s. At the start of the period Auckland had around 62 million trips to 69 million in Houston. As of November Auckland had 81 million trips to 74 million in Houston. Things obviously aren’t so comparable on a per capita basis as their urban area has around 5 million people so per capita they are much lower than Auckland
A breakdown of their results as a 12 month rolling average is below and as you can see a lot of their growth is being driving by growth on light rail since the network was expanded – much like how in Auckland the rail network is driving the growth. The big difference is our bus ridership has also continued to grow. Interestingly their Red Line on the light rail network is carrying about 54,000 people a day which is about the same as Auckland’s entire rail network.
Given the implications for the new network I’ll continue to keep an eye on what happens as it may be an indicator of what we can expect.
This is a guest post from William Stewart in Christchurch.
In 2010, I wrote a short article about the need for Public Transport integration with shopping centres and the need to consider this integration when granting resource consent.
I love the idea of having public transport as part of the mall, not just tacked into the side of a building, or 5min walk away across several streets with heavy groceries. Here is what I consider essential to the uptake of public transport, and making PT relevant and usable for everyone that uses shopping centres.
- Routes – All PT routes near a shopping centre should stop at that shopping centre. The stops/stations should be as close as physically possible to each other, and different routes should use the same (where possible) stops, not different stops blocks away.
- Access – Stops / Stations should be conveniently located to main entrances to the mall. They should not be located outside the carpark, but rather right next to the door. There should be undercover access to the stop/station
- Station Quality – Stops / Stations should have enough seating for the majority of shoppers using PT. The station should be undercover, and have windbreaks and where possible should be inside the building (like the new Christchurch Exchange lounge) but unlike the Invercargill Bus waiting room (which is about 200m from most of the bus stops.Stops should have the complete time tables displayed for all routes in the area (including routes which may depart from other nearby areas). Additionally electronic signs must be visible and display the next 5 buses or so on the way (Christchurch is pretty good for this)
- Integration with the Mall – Public transport times should be concurrent and relevant to the hours of the shopping centre. The shopping centre should display time table information within the mall, perhaps in the food courts or at a high traffic zone which is further away from where the stop is.
Westfield Riccarton Shoppingtown is one of the largest malls in New Zealand. Unfortunately, while it sits on the busy and congested Riccarton Rd, near the heart of Christchurch and with over 10 bus routes, integration with transport is woeful. There are 4 bus stops which service Riccarton Mall. Of those the closest, the minimum distance to walk is 50 metres from the mall exit , which is unsheltered from wind or rain. The stop on the other side of the road is another 100 meters away. There is no in-store mall signage for public transport to advise people where the bus stops are, nor to advise the times of services.
Additionally, from around this time or prior, the Christchurch City Council (CCC) has been fighting an up hill battle to try and install bus lanes on Riccarton Rd, a core arterial route through one of the biggest shopping areas in the city for many bus services, but also very congested. Until recently, they have been defeated by shop owners waging short sighted battles against losing their car parks.
I’m happy to announce that recently it was announced that this section would be redeveloped to add in bus lanes, that the bus stops would consolidated, moved closer to the mall entrance and a suburban lounge would be built.
It should be noted that while you would assume Westfield would be supportive of enhancing access to their shopping centre and eager to provide better facilities for their customers, this was not the case.
“[Christchurch City Council] then looked at the possibility of putting the interchange along Westfield shopping centre’s prime Riccarton Rd frontage but it had to drop that plan because it could not negotiate a satisfactory ground lease over the 10 parking spaces required for the project.”
“Cr Paul Lonsdale agreed the Westfield frontage was the best location for the interchange but said he had been privy to some of the negotiations with the shopping centre’s owner and it was clear to him that option was closed.
“They (Westfield) are trying to hook us into something we cannot do. The only option we have is this option. I’m disappointed it is the only option but it is the best of the options we have,” Lonsdale said.”
“This is by far the best interim option we have had. It needs to serve the bus users right now. We can’t afford to have our bus users waiting in the rain for another winter,” Clearwater said.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that we can not rely on corporate interests to choose the best deal for the benefit of the public, nor should we let those short-sighted interests continue to hold back progress, as the last 5 years have done. But enough of that sour note because this is a celebratory post as the CCC has planned, overcome and delivered and further below are the pictures of the first Christchurch suburban interchange, followed hopefully soon by our new road layout.
I would also like to acknowledge Generation Zero for their “Get Riccarton Moving” campaign which saw them encourage the public through an email campaign and an “80′s Dance Party” event to collect public submissions on the improvements, sadly the wonderful work they do doesn’t often receive credit.
Thanks to everyone who signed and shared the petition. There’s no mention of it (or our submissions) in any of the articles the Press has published, but I went to the end-of-year Public Transport Advisory Group meeting last night and was told first hand that the petition was brought up numerous times by councillors in yesterday’s Council meeting where they made the final decision. It had a real impact apparently! – Rosalee Jenkin, Christchurch Gen Zero”
Before we show you the final results, here are the plans:
This success story has been 5 years (if not longer) in the making, and it’s easy to see how much this development will improve the lives of the thousands that use these bus routes. I’d also like to bring pressure on other shopping centres that have poor public transport integration and challenge these destinations to embrace changes like these.
For just one example of many, here is the Palms shopping centre in Shirley, Christchurch. Note the distance from the mall entrances (green). Below is a photo of the closest bus stop to the mall – doesn’t make public transport a very appealing choice does it?
With the year rapidly drawing to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred over the year. There is too much to squeeze into one post so this is the first of four posts reviewing the year – one each day – and will be followed on New Year’s Day with a look at the year ahead.
2015 has been a huge year for PT. While there haven’t been any major infrastructure changes, we’ve seen the completion and roll-out of a few projects but the important story is how people have responded to those changes. We’ve also seen significant progress on plans for the future.
Overall PT patronage for the year to the end of November was 81.1 million trips which is up over 6 million (8.1%) on the same point last year.
By far the biggest story though has to be how people have been flocking to the use the trains in the wake of the roll out of electric trains. Patronage on trains has jumped from 12.3 million trips in November 2014 to 15.1 million in November 2015, an increase of 2.8 million trips or staggering 22.6% increase. We had already started to see patronage rising strongly at the end of last year and the question was how long it would continue. I had thought we might at 14-14.5 million trips by the end of the year but it looks like I under estimated by about a million trips. The thing that has surprised me the most about rail patronage has been just how consistently strong it has been, sustaining 20%+ increases all year. Just how long it can keep doing that will remain a question in 2016.
The growth is so strong that if trends continue we’ll hit the government’s target for the CRL in 2017, around three years early.
Of course buses still carry the majority of PT trips in Auckland and bus patronage for the year to the end of November was 60.4 million trips, an increase of 4.9% or 2.8 million the same as the increase on rail. Given we haven’t seen too much change with buses this year the result isn’t too surprising. The strongest areas of growth on buses remain the busway and frequent routes which is unsurprising and highlights the importance of the changes the new network will introduce. As such I expect we’ll see much stronger growth on buses in a year or two once the new network rolls out – something I’ll cover later in this piece.
Lastly the ferries have been shown some decent growth in 2015 with patronage up 10.5% to the end of November to 5.7 million trips. During the year AT changed the way they reported ferry patronage, splitting out exempt and contracted services. Exempt services are run fully commercially with no subsidy and are Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke and these routes carry over ¾ of ferry patronage. Interestingly the strongest growth has been on the contracted services where AT have started to make a number service improvements and in November they had increased by 15.9% for the year.
AT completed the roll out of electric trains in July when the Western Line was the last to go fully electric. This was a little sooner than they had expected but was needed as the reliability of the diesel trains became a major issue – in June over 6% of all services were cancelled and over ¼ of those that did run were more than 5 minutes late. Since going all electric reliability has soared to record highs and in November 99% of services ran and over 95% of those arrived within 5 minutes of the timetable. The impact can be shown below.
The final train arrived in August and was celebrated at an event at the Wiri depot that included the Prime Minister.
Not everything with the electric trains has been smooth sailing though. The earlier roll out left many services without enough capacity and severe crowding – although that eased a little as more units came on stream. There have also been a number of issues that have meant the trains aren’t operating as well as they should do – such as hugely excessive dwell times. Despite a timeline to address the issues it doesn’t feel like a great deal has been done.
The first part of AT’s action plan to improve rail performance
Electrification to Pukekohe
Not much progress appears to have happened on extending the wires from Papakura to Pukekohe which is expected to cost over $100 million but AT have said they are looking at an interim solution of buying some new trains that include a battery to power them for the distance. At this stage all they’re saying is that the idea is looking promising.
This year has seen progress on a number of areas of the new network – although also repeated push back of when we’ll see key parts of it rolled out – South Auckland is now not likely to be rolled out till October 2016.
In March we had the outcome for the consultation for the network in West Auckland – which has been severely limited by the lack of priority on building interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu – and in the Franklin area.
In June AT launched consultation for the North Shore network
In October they launched the last major consultation and the biggest of the lot covering the Isthmus and East Auckland.
We will hear the outcome of these consultations in 2016.
For South Auckland AT finally started the tender process for the South Auckland network and their requirements for buses going forward will see the quality improve over time. We will hear about the outcome of the tenders in 2016 and so far all AT will say is they are happy with the level of response they’ve had.
Lastly the first of the new network rolled out a few months ago on the Hibiscus Coast. Part of that was also the extension of the Northern Express service to Silverdale. So far AT have reported that patronage is up about 10% in the area which is a promising start and should only improve once integrated fares roll out.
One of the issues in 2015 has been that many key bus routes have struggled with capacity. We frequently heard stories of people on some routes (such as Mt Eden Rd) watching multiple buses sail past them completely full. In September AT announced that bus operators were buying 53 new double deckers for use in Auckland, many of them being built in Tauranga. Including the original from a few years ago there are already three on the Northern Express with many more due in January and one being used by Howick & Eastern. Unfortunately, most of the ones for NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern are not likely to arrive till after the rush in March.
AT continue to work on integrated fares with the latest go-live date being July 2016. AT consulted on a zonal system including expected prices. This was confirmed in August although they say they are still working in more detail about some of the boundary issues identified. The changes indicated will see the cost of PT travel reduce for most people although there are some exceptions.
The year kicked off with a huge surprise from Auckland Transport – they’ve been seriously looking at building a light rail network on the isthmus. It stems from the realisation that even with the CRL, the number of buses in the city centre from areas not served by rail will be too much for the streets to cope with. As such they’ve been looking at ways to deliver more capacity and have decided that light rail on the isthmus is the best option. Over time it could see tracks laid down Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd – some of Auckland’s original tram routes.
One of the interesting aspects of this proposal is just how fast AT are talking about moving, they’re suggesting the first tracks could start being laid in the next year or two.
Given the reasons for it’s also hard not to see increased pressure coming on ways to address the huge number of buses coming from the North Shore.
Northern Busway Extension
One positive piece of news was that the NZTA will now be including an extension to the Northern Busway to Albany in their massive motorway works planned for the area. When the government announced their accelerated motorway package back in 2013 they specifically left busway extension out of the programme despite advice from the NZTA to build it. It’s still some years away from construction but it’s great that it’s back on the agenda.
Not a great deal seems to have happened with the AMETI busway in public this year. AT had been set to go for resource consent but as far as I’m aware they’re still finalising some details. Early in the year they announced they would delay the Reeves Rd Flyover and use the money to accelerate the next stage of the busway to get it to Botany sooner. Unfortunately, a few months later they announced the original announcement was not correct and delaying the flyover was just one option being considered. I’ll talk more about the flyover saga in a separate post.
Lastly I of course have to mention the CRL. The project has progressed this year and the project officially started a few days ago with early works beginning on Albert St to move services in advance of tunnelling work. We also learnt a lot more about the project including station designs.
The one major disappointment with the project has been that AT cut the Beresford Square entrance for the K Rd station from the current plans in a bid to save $30 million. Work will still be done in the area to enable it to be opened later but we feel it should be done at the same time.
We hear that the government is close to committing to an earlier start to the project which would be a welcome piece of news.
Overall it’s been a big year for PT in Auckland and the future looks promising. Anything you think I’ve missed from my round up?