October 14 Patronage

October’s patronage results show Aucklanders are continuing to flock to buses and trains. It’s especially true for the rapid transit network which is seeing staggering growth, up over 20% compared to the same month last year. It’s showing that the public really value and are responding to services that have a decent priority so are less affected by congestion. Here are the results

14 - Oct AK Patronage table

14 - Oct AK Annual Patronage

We already knew that rail had passed the 12 million trips in a 12 month period mark earlier in October however it seems the growth continued on strongly with the October figure over 12.1 million trips, an increase of over 200,000 trips compared to the 12 months to the end of September. It’s also the second month in a row and the third month out of the last five months that patronage is up over 20% compared to the same month last year. The real stand outs are the Manukau and Onehunga services which of course are the only two lines so far that have the new electric trains on them. I suspect some of their growth is from existing users at stations served by both old and new trains changing their travel patterns so they can get electric services however there is also likely to be a lot of new users too. Of course the non electric lines are also showing strong growth too.

14 - Oct AK Rail Patronage

AT’s figures show that on weekdays, the average number of trips on the rail network has risen from around 38,000 to around 44,000. If you assume two trips per person that means an extra 3,000 people are catching the train a day.

The Northern express is also seeing staggering growth and as I talked about in this post, even counter peak is leaving people behind due to being so busy (it happened to me last night).

14 - Oct AK NEX Patronage

Considering there hasn’t been much in the way of additional services put on in the last year this patronage boost must good for farebox recovery.

And it’s not just the Northern Express that’s busy, other buses which provide the bulk of patronage in Auckland are up significantly too even off peak and on weekends.

Not everything is going up though unfortunately, patronage on ferries is down and AT attribute it to “the poor weather conditions throughout October, decreasing the number of noncommuter/tourism related passenger trips“. They say the trips on the contracted services (services except Devonport and Waiheke) were actually up however as the Devonport and Waiheke patronage makes up the bulk of the ferry numbers, decreases from them dragged the result down. Going forward I wonder how much the launch of the new Explore ferry service to Waiheke will affect things – and if they’re included in the patronage figures.

The other disappointment is that cycling numbers were down again too. I wonder if that’s also weather related as the morning peak numbers continue to show an increase in people cycling

Stuart’s 100 #52: Devonport Dining District

52: Devonport Dining District

Day_52_Devonport

What if there was an easy way to breathe new life into Devonport?

Most Aucklanders and visitors to this city would agree Devonport is one of those special places with many natural advantages when it comes to its setting sandwiched between the harbour and two volcanic cones with spectacular city and sea views in almost all directions.

As a place to live, it is certainly one of the special and most desirable parts of Auckland. But as a town centre, it is looking pretty tired and seems to have stagnated over the past ten years or more while other locations have really surged ahead in terms of destination activities like food and drink offerings and boutique or specialist retail that you might expect from a town centre in such a beautiful setting.

Interestingly, the Auckland Plan and City Centre Masterplan identified Devonport as an integral part of the city fringe making it akin to the likes of Ponsonby and Parnell as one of the heritage urban fringe villages that overlooks and feeds off the city centre. This sort of thinking could really change the future prospects for Devonport as a destination town centre should there be interest in pursuing those opportunities.

Wouldn’t it be great if Devonport could develop as a dining district? Attracting night time visitors from the city side with top quality dining options with unbeatable harbour views and village character, combined with summer’s evening promenading around the harbour’s edge seems like a real winner. So why isn’t it like that already?

Stuart Houghton 2014

 

Auckland Transport Late October Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meet today and other than the outstanding patronage results, here are the other items on the on the agenda or in the public reports of note. Firstly the closed session which once again contains quite a few interesting topics including:

  • Newmarket Crossing – This is the Sarawia St level crossing issue.
  • Penlink Designation – AT have been looking to make changes to the existing designation to Penlink although hopefully this doesn’t mean it is moving any closer to actually being built.
  • CCFAS2 – AT are being very secretive about just what the second CCFAS is looking at.
  • Integrated Fares Business Case
  • Amendments to Statement of Intent 2014-17 – perhaps they’re correcting for the really low rail patronage targets.
  • Parking Consultation Analysis – the feedback from the draft parking strategy consultation a few months ago.
  • CBD/West Transport – I’m not sure what this is about but I was told it is confidential as involves property acquisitions (or the potential for them).

On to the items that are in the public session. From the board report:

AT are responsible for developing a region wide wayfinding system. Some of it has started to appear and they say the next stage will see precinct specific signage go through user testing and stakeholder feedback in January and February next year.

Construction of the Wolverton to Maioro cycle route will happen over the year end school holidays

AT say after reviewing feedback to the consultation on cycling routes through Wynyard they are now looking at alternative options. You may recall these are the cycling routes that many of the local marine businesses complained about claiming the loss of parking would destroy their businesses despite them having off street parking and the on-street parks being empty a large amount of the time.

AT are still working on the new Otahuhu Bus-Train interchange however they seem to be getting more vague about when it will be completed. This is important as the roll out of new network for South Auckland is reliant on the completion of this interchange and when announced at the end of last year was planned for mid-2015. In August they said the bus portion was targeted for completion in July 2015 with the rail upgrade completed by the December 2015. In September they said the target for completion was by the end September 2015 although this wasn’t specific to modes like August was. Now they are saying the interchange is scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2015 and aligned to the new network. This suggests a delay both for the interchange and for the bus network rollout.

There are now 29 of a total 57 EMU’s now in Auckland with 24 unit’s with provisional acceptance (up from 20 in the September report). They say two more are due to arrive in November and another seven in December. Regular train users will have seen the EMUs start to be stabled at the old Auckland Railway station as Wiri only has the capacity to store 28 trains.

Strand Stabling Yard in use

Strand Stabling Yard now in use, photo by Jonty

There is more detail about the upcoming timetable change which will be the first major one for a number of years. It will come in on the 8th December and as we found out last month all services from Pukekohe or Papakura will go via Newmarket and all services from Manukau will be via Glen Innes. The services on the Manukau line will increase to 10 minute frequencies and should also hopefully include some longer trains. Now AT are also stating that weekend trains to Onehunga will also see improvement moving to a 30 minute frequency (it would be good if they did 30 minute frequencies on weekdays too). Early testing of electric trains on the Western line has also commenced after Kiwirail finally finished in September, over a year late.

The first stage of AMETI is now effectively complete. The new road parallel to the rail line and which includes a 220m tunnel next to the station, named Te Horeta Rd, opens to traffic this Sunday 2nd November and there’s a public open day on Saturday 1st from 11am to 3pm. A separate paper to the board shows some before and after photos. AT say there is still expected to be some minor works on the project till early next year and that the final cost for this stage is expected to be $212 million compared to the project budget of $239 million. Here is a video from AT of the road.

HOP use as a percentage of all trips remained at 71% after jumping strongly in July and August following the change in fares from early July despite AT selling 15,000 new ones in September. AT say that now almost 420,000 have been sold with around 56% of them registered. The exact figures aren’t clear but it appears that HOP use for rail and bus is approximately 79% and 69% respectively. We’re now almost two years since HOP first started rolling out so this got me thinking about how the uptake of HOP compares to similar situations overseas. Back in May 2013 AT received this report from Deloitte doing just that. In the absence of the actual data behind the graphs, I’ve manually added approximately where HOP is and as you can see the result looks pretty good. I would suggest to AT staff that they might want to highlight this fact.

HOP usage compared to other cities estimation

In a good move AT now have an agreement in place with Budgetary Agencies which allows them to give out a free HOP card as part of the assistance they give to clients.

September 14 Patronage

Auckland’s Transport’s patronage results for September are now out and they show that the city is experiencing spectacular PT growth, growth which is also setting a number of records. The big news was earlier in the week was that when it was announced that over the last year there had been more than 12 million rail trips on the rail network and that for the first time more trips than the rail network in Wellington. As it turns out the 12 million trips milestone has actually occurred some-time in October rather than in September. Here are the highlights according to AT.

Auckland public transport patronage totalled 73,957,488 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.1% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +7.6% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. September monthly patronage was 6,612,702, an increase of 782,718 boardings or +13.4%on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +11.0% accounting for special event patronage, one more businessand one less weekend day in Sep-2014 compared to Sep-2013. Financial year to date patronage has grown by + 8.5%.

Rail patronage totalled 11,923,347 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.7% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +16.7% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Patronage for
Sep-2014 was 1,119,230, an increase of 194,217 boardings or +21.0% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +21.2%. Financial year to date rail patronage has grown by +16.8%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,540,018 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.6% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and + 11.1% on the 12 months to Sep-2013.Northern Express bus service patronage for Sep-2014 was 234,282, an increase of 40,686 boardings or +21.0% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +20.8%. Financial year to date Northern Express patronage has grown by +18.6%.

Bus services excluding Northern Express carried 54,387,408 passenger trips for the 12 months to an increase of +1.0% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +6.2% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Bus services excluding Northern Express patronage for Sep-2014 was 4,887,764, anincrease of 516,418 boardings or +11.8% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +8.8%. Financial year to date bus services excluding Northern Express patronage has grown by +7.1%.

Ferry services carried 5,106,715 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +0.6% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and an increase +2.0% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Ferry services patronage for Sep-2014 was 371,426, an increase of 31,397 boardings or +9.2% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +8.1%. Financial year to date ferry patronage has decreased by -0.3%.

14 - Sep AK Patronage table

14 - Sep AK Annual Patronage

At 73.96 million trips to the end of September represents a massive jump in usage compared to last year and even from last month when the total was 73.14 million trips. Importantly it’s not just from the growth of rail but increased bus patronage too that’s causing this surge. The Northern Express along is up 21% on the same month last year. It definitely appears that AT’s major projects such as integrated ticketing and electrification are starting to pay off and with so much positive change to go the tend is only likely to accelerate. One little milestone that did occur is that per capita we crossed 48 trips per person which is the first time that’s happened since 1989.

The rail patronage growth has been stunning for months and is really highlighted on the Onehunga and Manukau lines – the only two running electric trains so far – which respectively saw a 32.6% and a 50.6% increase for the month compared to the same time last year. I’ve personally really been noticing of late that both buses and trains have been getting very full, even if travelling against the peak flow such as from the North Shore to the city in the afternoon suggesting that we’re likely to see this strong patronage growth continue in October and be hopefully beyond.

14 - Sep AK Rail Patronage

Crucially the growth of PT is also happening faster than the population growth in Auckland with the latest results showing Auckland increasing at 2.3% per annum. With PT having grown as 7.6% over the last year it shows the growth is coming from many existing Aucklanders.

Moving on to other modes, for Ferries one thing that did catch my attention was this patronage graph. Significantly they have split out ferry patronage by whether the service is subsidised (contracted) or not. As I understand it only the Devonport and Waiheke runs are exempt and the graph shows how significant the patronage from those two locations compared to the rest of the ferry destinations.

14 - Sep AK Ferry Patronage

Lastly after a few lower months (possibly due to a faulty counter) cycling numbers are up 6.3% on September last year and 11% on a 12m basis (despite what the Monthly Cycle Monitoring Report says). Partly because we’re now in spring but it certainly feels like in seeing a lot more people out and about on bikes, even compared to previous years.

Improving AT’s Patronage Reports

This week we should learn about the patronage results for September and with this post I want to explore whether Auckland Transport are delivering the results to the public in the best way that they can.

Currently we get patronage results a couple of reports that go to the AT board each month. There is the Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report, the Monthly Transport Indicators, the Statistics Report and even some details about HOP usage in the Chief Executive’s Report. Each offers the same high level information but there are variations between them. I tend to use the Statistics Report as that generally has the more detailed information than the other reports. The fact there are multiple reports to begin with is odd and at the very least the Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report, the Statistics Report and the HOP reporting from the CEO’s report should be combined together in a single report.

Other than the number of them, there are a couple of other issues I have with the reports. The primary one is that they are only available as a PDF report. That means each month I have to go through the report and pull out all of the details manually if I want to keep track of them (which I do and I know some others do too). This opens up the chance of data entry errors with the information or incorrect numbers if a figure is revised which happens from time to time and happened recently with the ferries. You also have to know that the patronage results are included in the board reports and where those reports are buried on the AT website. Other issues relate to what information is available compared with what other cities provide.

So with that in mind here are some examples of what some similar organisations provide to the public.

Wellington

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) through Metlink recently improved the level of information they provide and importantly do so in an easy format for anyone wanting to look at it. They provide a range of graphs showing the monthly results for the current financial year or the annual results as far back as 1999/2000 and most of the data is available in a spreadsheet that can be downloaded. The data provided includes many of the same types of areas that AT provide but there are some important additions. In particular

  • Annual peak and off-peak patronage – this shows how much patronage occurred during the peak and off peak and in the spreadsheet is also available by mode.
  • Annual passenger kilometres by year and mode – This shows how far people have actually travelled on each PT mode which is useful for seeing how commuting trends are changing. As an example on average bus trips are getting longer while rail trips are getting shorter.

The one downside to how GWRC produce their PT information is there is no context able to be given, for example patronage that is impacted by special events or holidays etc. The results are updated approximately 1-2 months after they occur.

Wellington Patronage Spreadsheet

Perth

The Public Transport Authority runs PT in the Perth through their Transperth brand. The authority provides monthly and annual patronage information via an online interactive table by mode and for trains by line. It’s not clear how frequently the information is updated however as the image below shows, it’s not as frequent as Auckland or Wellington. There are no graphs or any contextual information however. There’s also no information on other metrics

Perth Patronage Tool

Portland

PT in Portland is run by TriMet and they provide a number of ways for the public to get patronage information. Firstly there is a Performance Dashboard which shows graphs about the average weekly boardings per month (instead of total patronage) but most interestingly they also provide financial information including the average cost per trip and revenue. Reporting revenue monthly is particularly interesting as in most cities you have to delve through dull Annual Reports to find the information hidden in the financials – although even this isn’t possible with Auckland Transport as it isn’t specified in their annual report.

In addition to the Performance Dashboard also publish monthly reports which includes all of the figures from the dashboard plus a few others and to top it off the data is also available back to mid-2008 in one file.

One of the more interesting aspects about all of the TriMet data is how they break the bus data down by whether the bus is a frequent route (at least 15 minutes all day) or a local connector route. In Portland frequent buses carry over 50% of all bus patronage. As Auckland Transport roll out frequent buses as part of the new network here I hope they differentiate between the frequent and non-frequent services too.

Portland Operating Cost per Ride

It would be great if AT could also provide operating cost information regularly

 

San Francisco (BART)

San Francisco is unusual in that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is run completely separately from the rest of the PT services in the Bay area. The patronage information BART release doesn’t show the total number of trips, instead it shows the average daily ridership for a weekday, Saturday or Sunday. One of the advantages of using an average weekday result is it more easily accounts for the variations of the calendar and is something Auckland Transport have recently started doing. Instead of just showing the overall result the monthly data goes a step further by using an Entry/Exit Matrix which shows the average daily ridership from each station to each other station on the network. The image below is from last month and as an example it shows that on average for a weekday 852 people catch a train from El Cerrito Plaza (EP) to Berkeley (BK). This is a level of detail is likely to only be practical to provide for a rapid transit system and something I think AT should definitely do for both the rail network and the Northern Busway.

San Fran patronage matrix

In addition to the level of detail the files are updated quickly and are usually available by the 5th of the next month (compared to almost one month later in Auckland). Lastly one extra feature is that a spreadsheet is available with the annual patronage information back to when the system opened in 1973

Conclusion

So what could AT learn from these cities to improve how it provides information on patronage to the public.

  • At the very least:
    • consolidate the various reports into a single report that contains all the relevant information
    • a page on the AT website with links to each of the monthly patronage reports to the board.
  • Should have:
    • A page on the AT website with some graphs explaining the key PT results
    • Provide a downloadable file with historical patronage results
  • Would be nice to have:
    • An Entry/Exit Matrix for the Rapid Transit network (rail and busway)
    • Data updated automatically earlier in the month
    • Operating Cost and Revenue information
  • Would be ideal but won’t hold my breath for:
    • An Entry/Exit Matrix for the entire PT network that the data wizards out there can use to create new insights into our system.

Is there anything else you would like to see?

AT’s Get on Board with Jerome Campaign

Auckland Transport recently launched a new campaign featuring Jerome Kaino encouraging people to use PT and HOP. It seems to be primarily an online campaign focused on the videos below however I’ve also seen a few ads on the backs of buses too. Overall I think the campaign is pretty well done and Jerome seems like a good choice to front it.

I’m not sure I agree that the journey planner is as great as Jerome suggests. I find it often ignores the most logical or sometimes even the fastest options. For example to get from Takapuna to New Lynn on a Monday afternoon it only suggests catching the horrid 130 bus for almost two hours but ignores the much faster option of catching a bus to town and then transferring to either another bus or a train.

It’s good to see AT talking about what’s coming up and importantly highlight that the changes are helping to give Auckland a system like found in many other cities around the world.

Overall I think AT have done a decent job with this

Although it doesn’t have quite as many cool points as this 1980’s style video that L.A. Metro has just released.

New Waiheke Ferries

News broke this week that from Saturday there will once again be some competition on the Waiheke ferry route.

The battle for passengers on the Waiheke ferry service is about to heat up – much to the relief of many who say the current Fullers service is just not reliable enough to get them to and from the island.

New rival company Explore will offer 12 sailings a day from this weekend and give passengers an alternative to Fullers, which has been going through a difficult period with several vessels out of action.

No details were available last night on just how competitive Explore’s services and prices would be.

A spokesman said Explore was still finalising details and awaiting Auckland Transport approval to begin sailings on Saturday.

This would consist of running ferries between Auckland’s Downtown ferry terminal to Waiheke Island 12 times a day, catering for the large number of commuters to and from the island.

Two boats would operate initially, led by Explore’s flagship vessel D5. Another new boat, D6, will be added to the fleet before the end of the year to boost capacity during the busy summer months.

Explore chief executive Kit Nixon said the company had 15 years’ experience in tourism in Auckland and was best known for its fleet of sailing boats on Waitemata Harbour.

Explore’s catamaran D5 had been refurbished to give a sleek and comfortable ride and travellers would be able to recharge their mobile devices and laptops. The vessel would eventually be equipped with wi-fi.

Mr Nixon promised “great value” fares across the board, including a 42-trip pass for Waiheke residents, commuters and frequent travellers which would roll over to the next month if a customer did not use up all their days.

Customers could reserve a spot on a specific sailing to guarantee them a seat.

The last time there was competition on the route was about a decade ago and I’ve seen a lot of comments from Waiheke residents over the years unhappy about the level of service they receive and the prices they pay.  The Waiheke ferry along with the Devonport ferry are unique to PT in being Auckland/NZ in being fully commercial services. That means there is no public subsidy to run the ferries.

Since the original article in the Herald a few days ago the prices have been revealed and at least for casual users are the same as what fullers offer. What’s also not clear is if these ferries will accept HOP

Explore - Waiheke Prices

While these prices are the same as Fullers the company is saying they they’ll offer some better pricing on passes.

“We want to provide flexibility, real value for money and fairness around the way people are buying their passes,” said managing director William Goodfellow.

An option offered was an equivalent to Fullers’ adult 30-day pass at $355.

“But the frequent pass can be used across two months not one.

“Also with a frequent pass you are allowed to tag on family and friends”

However, Explore would offer a resident’s pass at $15 for a one-way trip – a $5 saving on the other operator’s adult one-way fare.<\blockquote>

And here’s the timetable. One positive is that it does give Waiheke effectively a 30 minute frequency for much of  the day.

 

Explore - Waiheke Timetable

I wish them the best of luck in carving out a slice of the market because as has been seen before, Fullers won’t give it up easily.

The costs and trade-offs of free public transport in Auckland

One perennial discussion in transport circles is whether we shouldn’t just do away with public transport fares completely and make the whole network free of charge. Why not fully subsidise the network as a public service using public monies as we do with most education, healthcare and other social benefits? I wish to use this post to explore the idea. A word of caution though, I am a dilettante when it comes to economics so by all means feel free to enter into debate!

Obscure but relevant Sci Fi/economic theory reference. Bonus points for the first to work it out.

So, why would we want free fares anyway? Promoters of free public transport suggest various benefits, which from what I can see generally boil down to three main concepts. I think it is worth picking these apart a little.

Freedom for all?
First of all there is the idea that making PT free would make it universally and freely accessible, a benefit to individual mobility that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of their financial situation. This is what we might call the social equity argument.

Universal public transport access is a worthy goal, however I am not convinced that free fares is the way to go about it. My main retort is that the number of people that can’t afford public transport in Auckland is actually quite small, and giving everyone a literal free ride along with the small needy minority is probably not the best answer. There are presumably much more effective ways of targeting improved transport access for those that truly need it.

In this regard I’m drawn to the concept of the “middle 80%”. This suggests that we should strive for a public transport system targeted to the needs and means of most of the general public, but not waste resources on chasing the patronage of either the 10% of the wealthy elite nor the 10% of the most vulnerable poor. The argument is that you will expend increasingly excessive funds on rapidly diminishing returns trying to attract CEOs out of their Mercedes and onto public transport. Yet similarly trying to design a public transit system that works for the very least privileged is also a quixotic exercise in subsidy and economic inefficiency, one that can undo the whole enterprise. However if you aim for the majority between those two extremes you are targeting the bulge in the bell curve, rather than the little asymptotic tails.

Put simply, it would cost a lot to provide free fares for everyone and that would most likely come at the expense of good service (more on this below). In that regard it seems that targeted financial benefits are a better way to serve the transport needs of our very poor, rather than making it fully subsidised for 100% of users to meet the needs of 10%.

Increased patronage?
Secondly there is the subsequent argument that if you make public transport free it would be very well used, and therefore result in all the benefits of well-used public transport like reduced traffic, lower emissions, reduced fuel consumption, etc. Basically, this idea is you make it free and lots more people use it, which is a good thing for the city and society and worth the cost.

If you unpack the logic of this argument you can arrive at two statements worth testing. Effectively the argument suggests one of two things:

A) There are plenty of people who would use public transport, except the ticket price prevents them from doing so. In other words, price is the major reason more people don’t use public transport in Auckland. …or

B) Price may not be the major factor preventing people using it, but if you make it free people would be willing to overlook all the other reasons and use it anyway.

I think proposition A is clearly false and could be easily demonstrated so. Ask folks why the don’t take public transport and cost is not a major response. Normally you hear things like “it’s takes too long”, “it doesn’t go where I want to go”, “it doesn’t run at the right time”, “you have to wait ages and the bus is always late anyway”. For that middle 80% of the population the cost of the ticket is far down the list, and it is practical things like timing, connectivity and reliability that keep people away.

So proposition B, if we make it free will people see it as good value despite the other problems and be willing to foresake their time and convenience to save a buck? Again I think not, well maybe for the poorest sectors of our society but not for the general public. If the bus can’t get you to your workplace, then a free bus that still doesn’t get you to work isn’t going to make you switch. Likewise an unreliable service that makes you late for your appointments isn’t going to get more timely if it’s free, nor are you going to use the free ferry that still doesn’t run on the weekends when you want to go out for a night on the town. You get the point I’m sure.

It seems free PT would probably just benefit existing users with a cash windfall. I’m not convinced there are particularly significant amounts of people who don’t use public transport now, but who would start using it if it were free.

Operational benefits?
Thirdly, there is the idea that there are operational benefits to doing away with fare collection. Namely passengers can simply hop on and off any transit vehicle without stopping to pay or use a card, such that dwell times are minimised and staff time spent on revenue collection is done away with entirely. This would then result in either lower staff costs and cheaper operations, or better service delivery from the same staff and operating expenditure.

Personally I think this is the most concrete of the three arguments, but also the least significant. In Auckland we are now in a position where smart card ticketing and prepayment on the rail network have already minimised the impact of ticketing on operations to the point where getting rid of ticketing entirely would only have a small marginal effect. Furthermore, at particular problem points we still have some scope to improve without dropping fares, for example by fitting all our bus stations and city centre stops with HOP machines and making them card or prepay only. I believe the effect of no fares over a well used HOP system would be minimal, and not a good return on the large costs required to cover the farebox take.

What would it actually take to make It free?
Surprisingly this is a question that doesn’t get asked very often. How would you actually make PT free, what would it require and how much would it cost?

The first question is whether it is actually possible to prevent operators collecting fares. Under the previous contracting regime I would have said no, operators were entitled to run any route they like and charge whatever they wanted and it was illegal for local government to ‘interfere’ with their business. Under the new PTOM model I would say maybe, effectively it would mean every route would be a fully subsidised contract.. I think. Someone with better knowledge might care to comment.

For now let’s assume the contracting arrangements can be taken care of, so what of the cost? Here it is important to lay out a few known facts. Fares revenue in Auckland isn’t something that is published publicly. However by picking through NZTA reports we can estimate it amounts to roughly $150m a year, and we do know Auckland has a farebox recovery rate of a shade under 50%. Using those estimates this means the cost to run all the existing buses, trains and ferries amounts to about $300m each year, with something like $150m of that covered directly through passenger fares and the other $150m covered by ratepayer subsidy. Take away the fare revenue and we are left with a $300m operation cost with only $150m in revenue, in other words a $150m shortfall per annum.

With these fiscal facts in hand we can see there are only two fundamental options for making PT free in Auckland: either we drastically slash the network so it can be funded with half the current budget, or we need to find $150m extra per year to keep transit operations at the existing level.

Free PT option 1: Halve the network to meet existing subsidy levels
Looking at the first option, to go fare free we would need to halve the service delivery costs to keep funding at the existing level of subsidy from ratepayers. Halving the service delivery cost means halving the network effectively (in fact it’s a bit worse than that because you would lose some of the economy of scale of running a large PT network). That means half the frequency of service, half the operating hours, half the peak capacity, or rather some combination of the three. Halving the service budget would be a tricky exercise in prioritisation. My guess is you would see some peak capacity cut so that people would be literally left standing, with a larger cut in interpeak frequency and bigger cuts to evening and weekend. Your bus that only comes once an hour during the day would now be once every two hours, buses and trains that run late at night would have to end around 7pm, and you would probably have to stop most weekend service entirely.

That is the price of halving revenue: half the funding for service delivery means a massively less useful transit network. Say goodbye to any chance of a frequent, all-day every-day, connected network. With half the funding all you could achieve is a rudimentary ‘network of last resort’ as a basic public welfare service. Rather than increasing patronage, such a move would kill off all but the most captive of trips sending the system productivity into a death spiral.

So the ‘cut service to meet the budget’ option seems like a non starter. Needing to cut half of the service out of the network would never achieve any of the claimed benefits of free public transport. Instead of growing patronage we would lose much functionality and most customers.

Free PT option 2: Double subsidy to run existing network
This second option has a little more currency I think. To make fares free in Auckland without cutting service and halving the network, you would need to double the subsidy income to cover the shortfall. For this Auckland Council ratepayers or New Zealand taxpayers would need to step in with an extra $150m of operations budget per annum. In the scheme of the national transport expenditure that’s not an enormous sum. However to be perfectly clear, that’s an extra $150m each and every year just to keep things exactly the same. Twice the operating subsidy for no extra services, no extra buses or trains, no longer hours, no faster trips or easier rides.

So maybe some government might step in with the money, but that wouldn’t really change much. A few people would get a break, students might bus around a bit more often, but on a whole the city would be paying twice as much for a network that is only as useful and accessible to most people as it already is today.

Alternative investment options: the double down?
This leads us to a subsequent question. If council or the beehive did step in with an extra $150m a year, every year, would free fares be the way to spend it? That’s a big stack of cash to pump the budget each year, more than the entire HOP card system cost for example. In other words the opportunity cost of free fares amounts to over a hundred and fifty million a year, what other opportunities do we have for that money?

We could, for example, go the other way: spend it to boost service delivery by 50% across the network. That sort of funding would allow us to extend the frequent network to just about every route in the region, and run that frequency an extra few hours a day. Consider what might happen if we could guarantee every bus route in Auckland ran at least every fifteen minutes, from 6am to 10pm, seven days a week.

Another option would be to take the core of the proposed Frequent Network routes and run them at a minimum of five minute headways all day instead of every fifteen minutes. This would be doubling down on where we know PT already works well. Surely that would be a lot more useful to more people that free-but-mediocre service?

There is another way to think of this too, turning extra revenue into capital expenditure. With an extra $150m a year we could build an extra billion and a half worth of busways and rail lines in the next ten years. Plus if you use that funding stream to service debt over twenty-five or thirty years, you could fund perhaps three or four billion worth of projects in the same time. Again, what would do more, what would create the better outcome for the people and the city?

Conclusion: fare-free public transport is an expensive answer to the wrong question
It appears to me that having fare free public transport in Auckland would not result in very good outcomes. Dropping fares would either require slashing the public transport network to half it’s current level, guaranteed to decimate patronage, or it would require an extra $150m a year in new subsidy just to keep running what we have today. If we did have an extra $150m each year to spend it would be far more effective to spend it on extra services or infrastructure instead.

Many of the supposed benefits of free fares aren’t actually attributable to the lack of price itself, rather most are related to assumptions of increased patronage, faster travel times, reduced traffic congestion, etc, resulting from zero fares. These assumptions are tenuous, and all these factors are things that that Auckland can and will achieve anyway through good planning and design.

The one exception to this is social equity issue. Free fares would indeed make public transport truly accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of their means (although what they have access to might not be particularly useful if the price of free access is much reduced service span and coverage). However, making public transport free for everyone to address an equity problem for a small fraction of the population is clearly not an efficient or effective means to that end.

Rather, those few that legitimately cannot afford to travel because of the ticket price should be served with targeted subsidies or other interventions. Pensioners are already covered with the GoldCard scheme, perhaps there are grounds for something similar for Community Service Card holders and their dependants, or for increased discounts for children and students of all levels. That could take many forms: pure discounts on the cash price, discounted annual passes, two for one deals, bonus credit after the first trip, child travels free with an adult, etc.

Personally I like the idea of fare structures that give extra value for the same price, the kind of thing where you travel twice in a day and all further trips are free, or a price cap, or bonus days when you use it X many times a month. Hopefully with the proposed integrated fares system we will see some of that.

One final note. I think it is clear that free fares is not a good move for Auckland in the foreseeable future. However, this isn’t to say that the existing prices or fare structures are necessarily perfect. Perhaps cheaper fares will result in more people travelling at more times of day, in particular cheaper off peak fares could fill up empty seats leading to more net revenue without more costs. Greater occupancy means better revenue per kilometre run overall, so some tweaking may be appropriate. I think AT could do with another small discount on HOP fares, if only for marketing purposes, but in the long run holding fares constant as patronage and efficiency increases would result in real prices becoming cheaper over time. That said, we are far away from the conditions where reducing fares to nothing would be either feasible or effective.

What to do with the Central Wharves

The Downtown Framework (18MB) was released last week and one of the interesting set of challenges to deal with is the Central Wharves. These are the finger wharves spread out across the core of the CBD from Princes Wharf in the west to Bledisloe Wharf in the east.

Central Wharves

There are a number of challenges but the key ones seem to be

  • The future demands of providing public transport. Patronage on ferries has increased by ~140% over the last decade and almost 600% since 1992 (less than 900k trips in 1992 and over 5m now), that is likely to grow further.
  • The future demand of the cruise ship industry which like ferry patronage has grown strongly and is expected to keep doing so. This means more ships and people to accommodate as well as the providoring needed for them. In addition ships are expected to get larger.
  • Managing the demand for water space, cruise ships often like to leave port during the evening peak right when ferries are busy.
  • The demand for increased and improved public space including making Queens Wharf a Peoples Wharf
  • Managing port operations and the impact the other changes will have on them.

Getting the right balance will be tricky and to help guide the decision a Central Wharves strategy is being developed while the Ports of Auckland are also developing the second stage of their Ports strategy. Some of the options being considered in the strategy are below and some of them would see significant change on the waterfront. A key to them is below

Wharves options Key

 

Wharves options 1

There seems to be a few common themes amongst all options which is aimed at addressed some of the key challenges listed earlier. In particular all four options involve the extension of at least one wharf, the largest of which would be to Bledisloe Wharf. Most of the options would also see Marsden Wharf removed to create more space for the growing size of passenger and cargo ships.

Of all the options #4 presents perhaps the most radical change and would see the ferry terminal moved to a new purpose built floating pontoon facility in the place of Captain Cook Wharf. I personally have always liked the idea of #3 having Captain Cook Wharf as the primary cruise terminal which is able to service multiple ships at once but which is still extremely close to Queen St. That would then allow Queens Wharf to become dedicated public space.

All up the information suggests an interesting and exciting future for Auckland’s and one we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

The Alternative Mode Commute

Yesterday I decided I would complete what I call the Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute. In essence I managed to combine walking, cycling, a bus, a train and a ferry trip into my commute between Henderson and Takapuna.

Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute 2

 

I started by riding along Northwest cycleway in to town including down the newly opened Grafton Gully cycleway. It definitely made things quick for getting from upper Queen St to Quay St although I did manage to get held up for a long time at every single set of lights between Grafton Rd and Quay St. I’m not sure if that was just me being unlucky or if perhaps AT had the cycling phases permanently on during the weekend in anticipation of lots of people using it. I’ll probably ride my bike home tomorrow however I normally do that via Upper Harbour.

I managed to time my run to the Ferry perfectly and turned up just as it was unloading. I used the route that Peter outlined in this post. Of course while ferries do have some limitations, the views they offer on a nice day aren’t one of them. One big frustration I have though is the absurd situation that monthly passes doesn’t cover the use of ferries.

Ferry View to CBD

For my trip home it was a walk to the Akoranga to catch the Northern Express (NEX) back to town. I could have also just caught the bus from Takapuna which would have been faster but I’m trying to add a bit more walking into my daily routine so have been doing this walk more often recently. Catching the in both directions has also really highlighted to me that while it’s an awesome service, it does need some improvements to it’s counter peak frequency. Buses are only every 10 minutes on the runs back to the city in the afternoon. For most Auckland bus routes that would be fantastic however for the NEX it’s clearly not enough as the bus was at bursting point which is a fairly regular occurrence in the afternoons. It is probably time for AT to make use of some of the buses which provide extra peak capacity to bump up the counter peak frequency.

A short stroll from the corner of Customs St and Queen St provides a connection to the train which would take me my local station.

Lastly from my local station it’s only about an 800m walk along quiet back streets to my house and which completed my alternative mode commute.

I’m guessing I’m fairly unique in that I’m actually able to combine all of these modes in a semi logical way – albeit one that’s definitely not going to break any speed records. At the very least it’s a n idea I can cross off a bucket list hidden somewhere. It’s also a commute I’m not likely to do again as if I’m riding it’s quicker and cheaper (because it’s free) to us the Upper Harbour route.

The question for readers is what’s the most number of modes you have used as part of your commuting and if you had to, how many could