The Rail Station Ranking Rug

Last week I posted the latest data from Auckland Transport for how many people used each rail and busway station in the last financial year. I’ve been keeping track of the rail station data for quite some time, including from the annual counts prior to HOP existing. One aspect I find interesting is to see how the use of stations changes in comparison to the other stations on the network.

Using the most recent data I’ve updated a table I put together ranking each station by the number of boardings they had. It’s called the rug as it kind of resembles an abstract pattern on a rug. For the purposes of this it only goes back to 2011 as prior to that the changes in rankings are much more common and it makes the chart harder to read.

The station order on the left of the chart represents where stations were at the first point and stations can be traced through to now to see how they’ve changed.

A few notable features that stand out to me.

  • The top four stations have held their position for about the last two years, although looking at the actual numbers this is likely to change in the next six months due to …
  • Panmure has rising strongly since the vastly upgraded station was opened at the beginning of 2015. As the new bus network comes on stream I expect this to move up to become the fourth busiest station.
  • Manukau has been the strongest mover and benefited greatly from the improvements in frequency that came with electrification. Again the new bus network and bus station which will be next to the train station is likely to push the station much higher in the rankings
  • Another big mover, also on the Eastern Line, has been Sylvia Park
  • Like the top stations, the bottom stations have also remained the same for some time. As we know Waitakere – which was open for 19 days in this data – has now closed and so will drop off the list next time it is updated. Westfield is scheduled to close when the New Network goes live in October but Te Mahia had a reprieve from AT

Station Rail Stations Ranked Jun 2016

Is there anything that stands out to you?

2016 Rail and Busway Station Boardings

The biggest driver of public transport ridership over the last year has been on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), which consists of the busway and the rail network. Over the 2015-16 financial year both grew an astonishing 20.6% after each also grew by over 20% in the 2014-15 year. Trips on the RTN now make up over 25% of PT trips in Auckland, up from 10% a decade ago and that’s while usage of non RTN services has increased by 35% over that same time frame. The RTN has helped in showing that when relatively fast, frequent, reliable and high quality services are provided, that Aucklanders will flock to use them.

Auckland Transport have now kindly provided the the numbers breaking down both the busway and train results by station including where each

Before delving into it a few caveats.

  • The rail trips only count completed trips i.e. where both the origin and destination are known. This means trips where someone has forgotten to tag off, trips on some passes like the child monthly pass (a paper ticket) and special event trips aren’t included. The trips included below account for about 92% of all rail trips.
  • Where a train to train transfer takes place, such as at Newmarket, the transfer is included as a new boarding
  • The busway figures are slightly different and are based on trips that board or alight at a busway station. Outside of the busway, such as in the city, AT don’t show the exact stops where people board or alight but just group them into the general council area such as Waitemata and Gulf. As an example a trip from town to Albany busway station will show as boarding in the Waitemata and Gulf area and alighting at Albany station.
    • These aren’t busway stats, they’re results for the busway stations themselves. The results don’t show trips where people board and alight a bus outside of the busway where the bus travels on the busway for part of its journey e.g. someone who boards the 130 in Hobsonville and alights at Takapuna despite the bus travelling down the busway.
  • The busway results also include where a paper ticket is bought at a busway station but where the destination is unknown. Surprisingly that only accounts for about 7% of trips from busway stations.

As a result of the caveats above, I don’t think the rail and busway stations can be directly compared but seeing how they’ve changed over the year is valid.

This graph shows the change in boardings for each RTN station over the last year. The colours are based on the ones AT use with the grey, purple and orange depicting stations shared by multiple lines. I’ve also included the Waitemata area in the busway results as most of that will represent people catching a bus from town to a busway station.

  • As expected, Britomart easily dominates the results with 4.7 million people boarding a train from the station in the last year, up from 3.9 million the year before. In total 59% of all rail trips begin or end at this one station.
  • Some good growth too for Newmarket and for buses from the city too
  • Two stations actually saw usage drop, Pukekohe – which will almost certainly be attributed to the shift to shuttle services – and Sunnynook, for which I have no idea why usage has dropped.
  • Hibiscus Coast busway station only opened in about October last year so I haven’t included it here but impressively it now already it has about the same number of passenger trips as the Sunnynook station.

Station Boardings Growth 2016-2

The graph below looks at the how the usage of stations has changed as a percentage. Some observations:

  • Swanson has had great growth from its low base which I would assume is due to the opening of the new park & ride as well as the closing of Waitakere which will have seen a lot of users now drive to Swanson.
  • Manukau had the strongest growth and I expect that will only continue once the new bus network and particularly the new bus station open.
  • Puhinui is also improving well and even if you take the transfers out, it would still be up 28%

Station Boardings Percent Growth 2016-2

 

Below is a bit of a wall of number which are the basis for the graphs above for anyone interested. On separate tabs is also a matrix showing how many people travelled between each station should anyone want to make a visualisation of it. Or friend Aaron Schiff has in the past.

What do you think of the station usage results?

Update: Thanks to some comments I found I made a mistake with the Sunnynook and Smales Farm results for 2014-15. I’ve corrected that in the graphs and data set.

The New Old World Order

The demolition of the Downtown Centre for the start of the CRL and the replacement of this 1960s structure by Precinct Properties’ Commercial Bay office and retail development is an important moment for Auckland on many levels.

Along with the obvious boon of the actual beginning of the CRL there is also something deeply symbolic here. The entire conception of the previous building was anti-urban, it was a suburban mall stuck right in the heart of the city. I have always been struck by the semiotics of this backwards invasion; instead of the usual order of things, where a smaller centre tries to present its developments as a new sophistication by reference to a bigger more glamorous centre, this whole building seemed to represent an inversion of this idea; determinedly aiming to be nothing more than a little bit of Lynn Mall in the city.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3187

But then it comes from that peculiar age in the history of city making; the second half of the 20thC, when, uniquely, dispersal and edge took over from concentration and centre as the formula for commercial success. See here for a fascinatingly detailed history of this development by architect Malcolm Smith, it is clear from this that it was extremely hard in those times to make such a location work, the city centre had just lost its mojo. To see how this came to be so in what now is so obviously such a valuable location, it is important to understand the historical context in which this development took place. This is well summarised on Auckland’s Wikipedia page (source).

The relocation of industries to outlying suburbs became especially pronounced in the 1950s, partly due to incentives made by council planners to create industrial areas in Penrose and Rosebank Road (amongst others) and thus rid the inner city area of noise, pollution and heavy traffic. This was mirrored by the development of suburban shopping malls (the first being LynnMall in 1963)[4]which enticed retailers to vacate the inner city as well. Attempts by the council to halt this pattern by constructing numerous public car parking buildings met with varying success. The rise of suburban supermarket and mall shopping that was created in places such as Pakuranga from 1965 onwards has been added to by the appearance of Big Box retailers in places such as Botany and the North Shore.[5]

It really is a perfect example of this zeitgeist, from its introverted retail pattern [blank walls to the street; its formation it actually consumed a city street], car parking orientation [Downtown parking building and airbridge], clunky sub-modernist massing, right down to the hideous 70s baby-kaka colour scheme.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3228

And now, it is my contention, its demise is also a perfect expression of the new zeitgeist; the return of the city. The inversion of the pattern in play at the time of its creation.

Which, as the name suggests, is simply a return to the timeless urban pattern of the preeminence of proximity and concentration: Where the centre is by definition the busiest and most valuable retail and commercial precinct. A pattern that would be recognisable to city inhabitants throughout all ages and nations, and is only worth emphasising here because everybody adult today has grown up under the opposite, and anomalous, pattern. So what is in fact abnormal and inverted in the long history of urban settlement is strangely conventional and may even seem natural.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3200

This explains the confused incomprehension of people like Herald writer John Roughan, a deeply committed 20th Century dweller who just can’t get to grips with this return to the natural urban order of things this century in Auckland, with the city reshaping itself again on urban terms, building proper city kit like underground rail and the volume of pedestrians pushing out the car from city streets. As opposed to the suburban auto-privileging order he is comfortable with. This is the pattern of the mid-late 20th century in Auckland; the good old days of auto-dominated yet unpeopled city streets, a commuter city completely unlived in, and dead at nights and on weekends; everyone having fled to the haven of the suburbs. So he confuses the vibrancy of crowded city pavements and new construction with some sort of disorder:

Meanwhile, the heart of Auckland looks like a body in the first phase of drastic surgery. It lies stunned, wan, with opened wounds and heavy bandaging.

Whereas to city lovers the scale and ubiquity of construction currently underway in the city is exhilarating and full of promise*. Auckland now has something of the energy of early 20th century North American cities; alive with commerce, construction, and crowds. Rather than the plodding predictability of the old provincial town that Roughan seems to be yearning for.

This kind of confusion and conflict is to be expected in times of significant change that it is clear that Auckland and many other cities are experiencing now. The bewilderment and anger of some older people at the [largely misunderstood] Unitary Plan is another sign of this: people tend to react fearfully when much of what they always assumed would be permanent and unchallenged starts to melt away. Views formed decades ago can calcify and to see their concrete expression demolished can provoke emotional reaction.

DOWNTOWN DEMO_3234

So we can expect more lashing out and confused editorials by those unable or unwilling to move with the times, because I am pretty certain this is a powerful and irresistible trend, as shown by the scale of work, over $10 billion of new construction underway or about to be in Auckland City along the CRL route. As powerful in fact as the last time our city conformed to international trends and profoundly altered its form and movement systems: yup that’s right, when we went all in for motorways, suburban living, and dispersed shopping malls.

CMJ AK STAR APRIL 1973_01_800px

Auckland Star April 1973

We are just changing horses again, and this time back to a normal urban pattern based on a hierarchy of concentration, but as with all evolutions or even revolutions, they still take place in the context of what went before. So Roughan’s sacred suburbia, with its rituals of weekend car washing, lawn mowing, and BBQs, will still exist, and in fact can still be the enveloping context for many people’s entire Auckland experience if they so desire. The wheel turns, but also rolls forward, building on the old, as well as replacing it. Just as buildings of earlier phases of Auckland’s history, particularly from its most urban period in the first half of the 20th Century, can (thankfully) still be seen in these photographs, so will the monuments of the second half of last century persist, the motorways, the malls, the parking buildings, the stubby towers, but the new emphasis is increasingly now elsewhere.

Only I would contend that this time we are being much less destructive than before; we are not dismantling the motorway system, or even running it down, although we will stop adding to it; importantly this is unlike what happened to the tram network and passenger rail during the motorway/sprawl era.

This change may be a shock to people like Roughan, but it really is more evolutionary than revolutionary, additional not substitutive.

All palaces are temporary.

Lower Queen St demolishion 60:70s

*= which isn’t to say that every change is ideal, see here for a critique of the public space issues at Commercial Bay: Are we getting the Public Space…

 

Behind the scenes on the electric trains

Looking at the AT website the other day I noticed that some previously confidential board papers had now been published. One of those was an update on our new trains, diving in to some of the technical issues they’ve faced.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

They say there’s been a lot of positives from the project including that deliverables were met within the original time, cost plans and budget. They also point out some fairly impressive figures

The fleet has accumulated over 5 million service kilometres, conveyed more than 24 million passengers and operated in excess of 150,000 services.

As has been reported elsewhere, since the EMU introduction there has been an ongoing increase in ridership and annualised patronage is fast approaching 17 million. Growth is therefore ahead of all original estimates.

The reduction in carbon due to EMU operation has been significant with CO2 emissions reduced by 82%, or 25 kilotonnes CO2e, annually (even with an increase in services).

While the reliability of the new trains has been fairly high, as we know, the roll out of the EMUs hasn’t been completely plain sailing – something to be expected with brand new kit. The report highlights the key areas where there have been reliability issues.

  • ETCS – they say this is mainly caused by balise misreads (transmitters on the tracks that send the signal information to the train as it passes over them). Some of the worst balise hardware has been improved and some issues have been resolved by having the 6-car trains set up a specific way with the pantographs at opposite ends of the train. Most concerning though is the statement below:

ETCS presents an ongoing performance and obsolescence risk as Auckland has the largest install base of this system manufactured by Dimontronics, a Spanish company who were acquired by Siemens in 2014. Unfortunately it has proven to be extremely difficult to agree a long term support agreement with Siemens on realistic terms, who continue to work to extract themselves from their contractual obligations.

Consequently AT will need to maintain in-house ETCS system knowledge to ensure system operation, maintenance and support are managed correctly.

  • Doors – This is door equipment failure rather than the lengthy amount of time they take. AT say the number of door faults have reduced significantly “due to a combination of technical improvements and operator competency”
  • Energy meters – This relates to a couple of issues with the of the overhead electrical equipment and water, one was fixed fairly easily but the other required the French equipment maker only recently managed to replicate in their fog chamber. An interim solution has been implemented and a permanent one is being worked on.
  • Cab related equipment – AT say that overall the cabs have been well received by the drivers but there have been a few issues with the windscreen wipers and the air-con, which they say didn’t perform to specifications. Modifications have been made for both of these issues.
  • Voltage Stability – you may recall some issues after the eastern line went live, there turned out to be voltage issues on the network which they’ve improved but will still be an ongoing issue. They say that if one of the substations was to go out they can only run 48 EMUs or more specifically 96 traction converters (two per EMU). They say current mitigation in that situation would be to limit 6-car sets to 3 traction converters which would only result in slightly longer travel times if it occurred during the peak. A more permanent solution is being tested that will raise the number of EMUs at any one time to 65 which will definitely be needed should something happen post-CRL.
  • Power Harmonics – there had been some issues with harmonics and the Transpower network but these incidents are now less than 50% of original levels and within standards criteria.

 

Next the report gives a hint at some of the changes to come under the title of “Budgeted project extensions“.

Passenger Information – AT are currently trialling digital screens to provide passenger information to replace the need for posters. I managed to catch the train that has them once, unfortunately it was dark so the image quality wasn’t great.

EMU screen trial

  • DOO – AT are obviously thinking about driver only operation and looking at what will be required. They say at a minimum it means an additional display for the driver (to see doors I assume) and planning for this is underway.
  • Communications – AT want to upgrade the communications on the trains to enable things like having the CCTV cameras transmitted to the control room in real time. In addition, they want to have Wi-Fi enabled on the trains. This requires upgrading the systems with 4G gear as they only came with 3G and why it hasn’t happened already.

Lastly there are also a small list of improvements they want to make to the depot now that they’ve had time to get used to it, although it doesn’t sound like these are budgeted for yet. Changes are:

  • Post incident cleaning – AT say the current process is labour intensive and time consuming. At a minimum they say they need improved methods for moving the vehicles through the wash pit.
  • Roof cleaning – There is no current way to clean the roofs of the trains so they want overhead walkways built in the graffiti wash building to do that.
  • Inventory Storage – they want a small add on to the depot to help store all of the spare parts to free up space within the depot.
  • Vandalism – Damages to seats, windows, external body panels and graffiti is costing AT in excess of $500k per year. They say new paint and repair techniques are being trialled to reduce the cost.

At the time of writing the report, AT said 47 trains had achieved final acceptance under the supply contract terms with the remaining 10 due to be completed by October. The completion is based on reacting a set level of uninterrupted service kilometres.

 

The HOP Blacklist

Auckland Transport’s HOP card generally works pretty well for most people and is a vast improvement from what we had before with different ticketing systems for each mode/company. But almost 5 years on, it still has some amazingly annoying and very customer unfriendly bugs/features that they’ve never fixed. One of the chief among these what happens when an auto top-up fails due to a credit card expiring. The issue goes like this:

  1. Person sets up for their HOP card to be automatically topped up by a chosen amount from their credit card every time the HOP card drops below a pre-set balance. A great feature when it works.
  2. When the credit card expires – unlike most companies which a) stop attempting additional payments and b) contact the customer to get them to update the credit card details – AT keep on trying to charge the existing card. After failing a three times, AT then block the HOP card. The customer is blissfully unaware the payment has failed as the system will have already put money on the HOP card, until it is blocked.
  3. The customer then has to shell out $10 for a new card and in many cases loses whatever credit was left on their HOP card.

To make matters even worse, it appears that the original card and ‘stolen’ balance still show up when people log on.

Thanks to an OIA from one person affected, the herald have now revealed just how much this has happened.

More than 12,000 people have had their AT Hop cards blacklisted because their automatic top-ups failed.

And Auckland Transport is now reviewing its processes around how it notifies customers that their card is about to be blocked.

Yve Bourke was left stranded in July when her card was blacklisted and depended on the kindness of a stranger to pay her bus fare because Auckland Transport hadn’t told her that her card had been blocked.

“I went to get on the bus one morning and it declined and I thought, ‘That can’t be right’ so I tried a few more times and the bus driver told me I had to get off the bus.

“Luckily some lovely man paid for me who said to me, ‘You should check your credit card if you’ve got an auto top-up because mine expired mine last month and I got blacklisted.”

That turned out to be almost exactly what happened Bourke.

While I haven’t had it happen to me, I know it is incredibly annoying and embarrassing to find your card not working. I had it recently when an online top-up was delayed despite being before AT’s 10pm cutoff. This particular customer seems quite lucky that AT both transferred her balance and refunded her the cost of a new card. Most others I’ve heard this happened to aren’t so lucky.

So infuriated with the process, Bourke fired off an Official Information Act request to find out how many others had gone through the same ordeal.

Since their roll-out in June 2013, 12,124 people have had their cards blocked because of top-up failures totalling more than $330,000 in remaining value – however this figure includes the amount of the automatic top-ups even if the payment didn’t go through or whether the customer transferred the value to another Hop card.

Auckland Transport was not able to provide the actual amount of customers’ prepaid credit which it’s seized.

HOP actually first rolled out to trains at the end of 2012 but I’m guessing June 2013 is the date that AT pulled the data from. Based on that, it works out at AT blacklist an average of almost 11 cards every single day, that is huge. If it caused say 5% of those people to stop using public transport, that could equate to 300,000 trips a year.

Given the numbers this has happened to and the comments here and on social media we’ve regularly seen over the years, AT’s explanation that it they notify customers appears to be complete BS.

Spokesman Mark Hannan said three attempts were made to complete Bourke’s automatic top-up and admitted a trigger email wasn’t sent because there were two email addresses attached to her account and there “was some confusion”.

Usually, a customer would be notified of the problem twice before the card is blocked.

The agency is working on an AT Hop website improvement project which includes reviewing the notification process to “improve both the content of the email notification, and the subject, to make it clearer for customers”.

 

As mentioned this is only one of the many annoying quirks of HOP that exist and which have never been fixed. Some others include, but not limited to:

  • If you top up online but don’t tag on within 60 days the money disappears into a void.
  • Tagging on, then topping up as your balance is low, then tagging off can charge a penalty fare.
  • They still advise it can take up to 3 days for an online top up to occur – even only updating daily was archaic four years ago.

HOP Top Up Delay

I was aware the upgrade to Simplified Fares (this Sunday) involves some significant software upgrades to the HOP system. As such and not long before the fares were announced I asked Auckland Transport if the upgrade would also address some of these frustrations. The only answer I got was that they wouldn’t comment on it.

If improvements aren’t coming as part of the changes this weekend, then AT need to get on with it and with some urgency.

Thoroughly modern commuting

This is a guest post from reader Isabella

“You’re going to Auckland how?” said yet another person.

Why did it feel like I was doing something crazy? It was simply that in this day and age, I was eschewing flight in favour of going by train from Wellington to my conference in Auckland – and taking a ten-speed bike, no less.

After the nth explanation of why I was doing it (as an experiment, and ‘cause I could), I promised to write honestly whether my next Tamaki – Pōneke trip will be back on the plane, bikeless, like a normal person.

Northern Explorer At Strand

The Northern Explorer at The Strand station, Auckland (photo: Kiwirail.co.nz)

So here’s how, from my data point of one, the Northern Explorer stacked up vs the Boeing (and its buddies): on time, cost, emissions, and convenience.

If your boss or some other constraint forces you to fly, well, you have my sympathies. But if you have any say in how you get around, read on!

Carbon – way better

Emissions might not factor much in many people’s travel decisions, but I’ve always been (slightly) bothered by the carbon footprint of flying. Now I’m at liberty to choose how I travel, I thought I’d factor it in. Results are below (note that my loathing of long solitary car trips precluded driving).

Enviromark’s carbon calculator gives a Wellington CBD to Auckland CBD trip (one way):
Aeroplane + bus for the airport-CBD connection = 147.56
Aeroplane + taxi / Uber for airport-CBD connection = 152.7
Train (goes directly CBD to CBD) = 17.98

So from CBD to CBD, the Northern Explorer comes in at just under 12% of flying plus taxi/uber for the connections, or just over 12% of flying plus the airport buses.

It’s still dirty ol’ diesel but the emissions are tiny in comparison. I can “go around in a cloud of climate smugness” as a friend said.

Time – way longer, and great

This is the biggie.
From roll up (for checkin) to roll away (at the destination), the train is just under 12 hours – a full day. The opportunity cost of the time is what makes many people go “Oh hell no I couldn’t do that”.

Northern Explorer Smallest Seats

The smallest seats on the Northern Explorer

But for those of us whose office is mainly their laptop, it’s a different story.

Vodafone’s gappy provincial reception meant I couldn’t dial into one regular meeting. But once I switched off data, I had a rare and precious gift: several hours of truly thought-based work. It felt fantastically luxuriant to be able to think continuously – compared to the shallower, time-bound, interrupted thinking that’s so common (and much less productive).

Breaks were great too! Reading novels in the café carriage, downing (pretty decent) coffee, and wine, and Wishbone food, taking in fresh air and stunning scenery in the open-sided observation carriage.

Northern Explorer Ruapehu

Things to enjoy on the train: Ruapehu from the observation carriage

Northern Explorer Books

Things to enjoy on the train: Tools for relaxation

Northern Explorer River

Things to enjoy on the train: River gorge from the observation carriage

So – 12 hours, yes. But account for the productivity, the relaxation, and avoided airport connection hassles – it’s a great use of time.

Cost – comparable or less

For a return trip, the train was a grand total of $358.

($303 for tickets, including a checked bag and $10 each way for my bike, and $55 on food, wine and coffee).
That’s it! No extras. Here’s a table comparing my alternatives:

Main trip + connections: taxis + connections: Ubers + connections: airport busses PLUS bike costs Total
Air NZ: $209 $439 $329 $259 + $90 box & packaging $529 – $349
Jetstar: $139 $309 $229 $171 + $90 $399 – $261
Northern Explorer: $283 +20 $358 incl my gluttony

Whaddayaknow? The total cost of going by train is at the low end of the total costs of flying.

Destination convenience – a whole new world!

Gotta say it: doing short trips across Auckland’s sprawling centre(s) is infuriating. A bike makes it doable – one with a few gears, that’s easy to hop on and off, and has a decent rack. So Queenie the Morrison Monarch was coming along to make the destination better – and she would also tow my little Burley trailer with the check-in luggage. (Yes obviously four pairs of shoes for four days.)

Northern Explorer Bike and Trailer

Queenie and Burley trailer, homebound, with the loot from Auckland shopping

Getting there

Wellington end, 7.30am: cruise to the station. Check in bike and trailer. Settle in with coffee. Ahhhh.

Auckland end, 6.45 pm: retrieve bike and trailer. Don my lights. Follow another bikey person onto Beach Road, thence ten minutes (of protected cycleway gorgeousness) and I’m outside my Air BnB on K Road. Woohoo! Dump the luggage and hightail it to Coco’s Cantina.

Northern Explorer Fresh of train

Fresh off the train – an aperitif while waiting for my Air BnB host and getting excited about coming back for dinner

Homeward bound was even easier: downhill (early morning) means eight minutes to the station. I did have to ask some roadworking guys how to get into The Strand station – it’s not well signposted, and I didn’t pre-read the directions.

Northern Explorer Bike and Trailer Grafton Gully

So much protected cycleway serenity

But compared with the stress, cost and unpredictability of getting across Auckland to the airport – especially with a bike (and no don’t even ask about riding all the way), not to mention the hassle of re-assembling a bike and readjusting everything… train + bike is completely delightful!

Getting around

Auckland’s CBD is improving but is still oases of “place” in deserts of inhospitable stroad. For an out-of-towner, seeing friends and contacts (and shopping) around conference sessions is only really doable with a bike – avoiding hassle / lugging laptop and conference bag / Uber cost / asking people to come to you. (Not to mention night time – my lone female self safely biked back to my accommodation after nights out, where walking would feel very sketchy at several points).

And now it’s way safer and more relaxing to bike around AK, and improving all the time – the Quay Street cycleway actually opened while I was there. The incomplete cycling network wasn’t a biggie (and the bits that are done are great). With multiple transformations on my whim between lane-owning, traffic-pacing Friendly Cyclist, humble, courteous wheeled pedestrian, and true pedestrian (i.e. wheeling Queenie), Auckland city was my oyster.

I shopped, I coffee’d, I went for runs, I beer’d and dined, I conference’d, I mixed it all up and did it again, riding and walking and gently scooting, all over the city, usually grinning.

The verdict: for a trip of more than a day, train + bike = a great way to go. Definitely how I’m rolling for my next visit.

Northern Explorer Luggage Label

Britomart’s new entrance now underway

If you’ve been though Britomart in recent days, you’ll have noticed the rear entrance has been closed off. This is related to the works on the CRL kicking up a gear as AT build a new entrance to the station while the CPO is closed for strengthening so tunnels can be built under it, something we talked about a few weeks ago.

Britomart Temporary Entrance

Here’s AT’s recent press release about it.

Commuters using Britomart Transport Centre will notice a few changes from this Sunday (24 July) as the City Rail Link takes another step forward.

After years of planning, the first phase of work will begin at Britomart next week with the closure of the Commerce Street entrance for six months. The station will stay open and will be accessible from Tyler, Galway and Lower Queen Street, as well as the eastern entrance at Takutai Square.

A new entrance facility will be built in Commerce Street to replicate the facilities in the historic Chief Post Office (CPO) building which will be closed early next year to allow the CRL tunnels to be built beneath.

CRL project director Chris Meale says it’s an exciting next step for the project with construction on two fronts; Britomart and Albert Street, making the project very real for Aucklanders. “We’re beginning construction on the busiest public transport centre in New Zealand which will continue to function throughout the work.”

Hoardings will be in place throughout construction with wayfinding and signage to guide commuters to the nearest entrance/exit. During this phase, bus shelters and the drop off/pickup area will be removed with alternative drop off and mobility parking on Galway Street. Two delivery and service vehicle spaces will also be available on Tyler Street.

Dale Burtenshaw, Project Director for the constructors leading the Britomart construction says: “It is fantastic that Downer Soletanche Bachy JV can now start the works with Auckland Transport for the first construction package to the City Rail Link. Given our history with the Chief Post Office and construction of the Britomart Transport Centre, we are excited to work together to on this very important project.”

The temporary station entrance will be completed in early 2017 and will house the ticketing office, retail units and will function as the main entrance to the station. Phase two will begin once the temporary station entrance is complete and is expected to finish in 2020.

And here’s a shot of the inside

Britomart Temporary Entrance inside

While on the topic of the CRL, if you’ve been past Britomart recently it’s hard to miss that heavy construction work is well underway in QE2 Square with piling work going on. I had a meeting in the HSBC building yesterday evening so took the opportunity for a quick photo before showing the work.

2016-07-26 - QE2 Square CRL Construction

While James replied to a tweet about it with this image showing work going on and a sizeable hole at Victoria St to deal with services before the actual tunnel can be constructed.

 

June-2016 Patronage

When it comes to public transport patronage, June is always important as it represents the end of the financial year and so also gives up the official annual results for the year. The June results are now available and the result was fairly similar to what we’ve been seeing for a few months now, continued strong growth on the rail network, decent growth on the ferries but with bus numbers relatively stagnant, even after some fairly great growth on the busway services.

All up patronage grew by 4.6% to 82.9 million and I’ve heard that only one other region in NZ experienced growth over the 2015/16 year, which I assume to be Wellington based on the numbers up to May. That’s the highest patronage has been since 1956 – although we obviously had a much lower population then.

1920-2016 Auckland Patronage

The breakdown of the June results is shown below. A couple of things that stand out in particular include:

  • The busway continues to show great growth, good thing we have all of those double deckers on it but perhaps more will be needed soon.
  • Other buses are performing poorly, some more details of which are below.
  • Rail is still performing strongly and the western line is clearly benefiting from the increased peak frequency.

2016-06 - Patronage Table

For a bit more detail, here are some comments from AT’s business paper on the results

Bus 

Bus patronage has grown by a modest +0.7% which is contrary to the general downward trends experienced across New Zealand where Auckland is only one of two systems (18 in total) that have experienced growth. The comparison found after allowing for population changes, the total New Zealand boardings /capita in 2015 declined by 3.2%. This may be compared with increases in 2013 (+1.0%) and in 2014 (+0.4%). The main reasons cited for the 3.2% decline include a real reduction in fuel prices impacting boardings by (-1.5%) and car ownership increase as a result of real price reduction in cars of (-0.8% reduction in boardings). Specifically in Auckland fare elasticity on a single service resulted in (-1.1%) reduction in boardings. In addition there were some unique events affecting Auckland, including disruptions as a result of CRL works and a bus strike earlier in the financial year

2016-06 - Bus Patronage

Rail

Train services totalled 16.8 million passenger trips for the 12-months to June, an increase of +20.6% on the previous year. Patronage for June was 1.5 million, an increase of +17.3% on June 2015. June normalised adjustment ~ 15.5% accounting for special event patronage, with the same number of business days and weekend days/public holiday. Rail patronage during FY16 has continued to grow in line with extra capacity provided by way of a homogenous EMU fleet, improving passenger comfort, punctuality and reliability. An increase in western line peak frequency in May 2016 with timetable improvements in February 2017 should see continued growth in this mode.

2016-06 - Rail Patronage

Ferry

Ferry services totalled 5.9 million passenger trips for the 12-months to June, an increase of +6.2% on the previous year. Patronage for June was 0.41 million, an increase of +9.6% on June 2015. June normalised adjustment ~ 9.6% accounting for special event patronage, with the same number of business days and weekend days/public holiday. Ferry patronage growth of +6.2% has been strong, with Gulf Harbour, Hobsonville and Pine Harbour showing strong growth in line with increased residential development in these areas. Additional sailings by two competing companies on the Waiheke route also saw strong growth both in terms of service trips and patronage. Continued expansion of capacity and further development in these areas

2016-06 - Ferry Patronage

It will be a few months before we see any results but it is going to be fascinating to see just what impact the introduction of Simplified Fares will have on the numbers. Also likely to be having an impact soon will be the introduction of the New Network to South Auckland, due on 30 October.

The recent changes to SuperGold is likely driving some of the changes with HOP usage, as of the end of June AT say 78.2% of all trips used HOP while I understand some days are now seeing well over 80% HOP usage which puts it on par with systems like Brisbane which has had integrated ticketing and fares for about a decade.

2016-06 - HOP Uptake

One area AT have been doing particularly well on has been farebox recovery which has now stormed above 51% to the end of May (it is always two months behind). This is a great result considering that the NZTA require AT to reach a 50% farebox recovery by the end of June 2018, so the recent results should have given them a bit of breathing space. One of the biggest factors has been the significant improvement in the rail result thanks to electrification lowering costs and encouraging more people to use the system. In the coming year a number of things will be impacting this including:

  • Simplified Fares which will see a lot of trips get cheaper, the question is just how much impact it will have, perhaps it will drive enough additional people to use the system to offset some of the costs.
  • The New Network in South Auckland which will considerably improve services while seeing AT also save around $3 million a year in costs.
  • Additional rail service improvements, likely to come early next year should see better off peak and weekend services to tie in with the new network.

2016-06 - Farebox

With a lot of the improvements on the way it’s going to be another interesting year ahead.

 

Auckland PT fares to get a whole lot better

The next revolution of public transport in Auckland now has a date, August 14. That’s the day that the city will finally shed its clumsy and expensive fare system with Auckland Transport finally implementing what they call Simplified Fares, also known as integrated fares, which will be smarter and in many cases cheaper.

Currently Auckland has a stage based system where you pay for every bus, train you use based on how many stages you pass, with only a small transfer discount for those that use multiple services. With Simplified Fares it will shift to paying one fare for your total trip based on how many zones you travel within and that includes using up to five services to get to your destination over a four-hour period. Even better is the cost for most trips is set to get significantly cheaper for a lot of people thanks to the new fare structure.

The confirmed fare map is below and AT say this about it.

Zone overlap areas (grey coloured areas on the new fare zones map) at some zone boundaries allow for travelling to the edge of the zone borders without crossing into another zone.

The zone overlaps are much more defined than they were in the consultation which is good and there are a few new/bigger ones too, such as at Westgate and Otahuhu

Simplified Fares Map

And here is the fare table

With an AT HOP card, you will pay for one entire journey from A to B, instead of paying the fare on each bus or train separately.

During your journey:

  • You can use up to 5 buses or trains within 4 hours, just ensure you transfer between each trip within a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • Tag on and off each bus and train as you do now and simply count the number of zones you travel through to find out your fare.

Simplified Fares - Fare Table

As mentioned for many fares will get cheaper or at least not get more expensive, in fact AT advised me that they calculated 99% of all trips taken will fall into that category which is great news. As an example of just how much cheaper this makes trips, here are a few personal examples. They don’t entirely reflect the costs I pay as I usually use a monthly pass simply due to how expensive it can be but that also makes it a good example.

I live not far from the Sturges Rd train station and travel to Takapuna. This usually involves me catching a train to town and since the bus changes for the CRL transferring to up to two buses, a Northern Express to get me to the Victoria St bus stop where I transfer again to a bus going direct to Takapuna (as an alternative I sometimes catch the NEX to Akoranga and transfer to a local bus or walk). If I was to use normal HOP fares that would be:

  • 5-stage train to Britomart = $6.00
  • 1-stage bus to Victoria Park = $1.30 ($1.80-50c transfer discount) – I could reduce this to $0 if I used the City Link or walked up to Wellesley St but both are less convenient.
  • 2-stage bus to Takapuna = $2.60 ($3.10-50c transfer discount)
  • Total = $9.90

Instead with Simplified Fares I would pay for 4-zones, Waitakere, Isthmus, City and Lower North Shore and all up that would be $6.00. That’s a saving of $3.90. Even if I was just going to the city, for 3-zones I would be paying $4.90, a saving of $1.10 over the current HOP price.

If you don’t use HOP – why wouldn’t you and now over 80% of trips are by HOP – cash fares are changing too. The fares have been rounded to a dollar amount which should help make it easier for drivers needing to give change. See AT’s website for those details.

In addition to the zonal fares, AT have introduced a new child weekend fare which looks good with a maximum trip cost of 99c for using HOP with a child concession.

A new AT HOP child weekend fare will be the most you pay for weekend and public holiday bus and train journeys when paying with an AT HOP card with a child concession applied (excluding SkyBus services).

You can take up to 5 bus or train trips over a 4 hour period with a maximum transfer time of 30 minutes between each trip and pay a maximum 1 zone fare (99 cents from 14 August 2016) regardless of how many zones you cross.

Like the monthly pass, AT are also moving to a single Daily Pass which will cover all zones. It also comes with a price change and will be $18 as opposed to the two passes it replaces being $16 and $22. I can’t imagine too many would buy this. AT have said in the past, and reconfirmed to me recently that they want to eventually move to having daily and weekly fare caps which would solve this issue.

At this stage the new fares only cover buses and trains. I’m aware that AT plan to integrate ferries into the mix although that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be fare parity. We’ll have to wait to hear more about this from AT.

Overall this is going to be great for Auckland and I can’t wait for it to be implemented.

An electric network, one year on

It seems like only yesterday and at the same time forever ago that Auckland finally rolled out electric trains across the region (except for Pukekohe). Yesterday marked one full year since electric trains rolled out to all lines. Electrification was the result of a strategy a decade in the making but the originated in dreams and discussion going back to at least the 1920’s.

Coming to the western line soon

Since going all electric the results have been fantastic and the constant increases in train use have been both impressive and staggering. In the last year alone patronage has gone up by 2.9 million trips and AT say that over the last 12 months just under 17 million trips have been made, an increase of over 20%. The sparks effect in action. The growth has been so strong that we’ve surpassed usage predictions originally set a decade earlier despite implementation occurring two years after initially planned. Those predictions expected us to hit about 15.7 million by the end of the June 2016 (rounded up to 16m). Instead we surpassed that mark in April and as of 30 June hit 16.8 million trips in one year.

2016-06 - Rail Patronage

Shortly after all services went electric, the final of the 57 trains we ordered arrived in the country but it definitely won’t be the last. With growth exceeding expectations and a lot more expected, even before the CRL is complete, we’ll soon need some more.

AT are also keen to having electric trains run all the way to Pukekohe but doing isn’t cheap and estimated at over $100 million just for the infrastructure. As such, AT have been working with supplier of the trains to investigate the option of battery powered versions. As I understand it they would be exactly the same trains as we have with about 10 fewer seats in the middle/trailer car which is where the four-tonne battery along with associated equipment would go. By being otherwise identical it means that in the future if we ever did install wires the batteries could be removed and the trains would be identical to what we already have. As the services would go all the way through to the city, buying a batch of them would then free up some of the current trains to add capacity to services. One of the biggest issues is that even if the government approved funding for the trains tomorrow they would take at least two years to get here.

Below are some figures from AT.

  • Patronage has risen by 2.9 million trips
  • Trains have travelled 3.8 million kilometres over the last year
  • There are now 158,000 rail services operated a year
  • The busiest time on the network is between 7.30 and 8 on weekday mornings
  • Britomart is the busiest station and at peak in the morning there are 6,500 passengers using the station an hour
  • Punctuality for services has improved from 82 to 96 percent – although some of that is due to lengthened timetables
  • For the year to April (the last data available at the time of writing), farebox recovery has increased from 30.4% to 37.7%. The cost per passenger km travelled has decreased 27% from $0.469 to $0.343.

But while there has been some great news as a result of the move to electrification, we still haven’t yet seen much in the way of speed improvements and the train timetables are slower today than they were with diesel trains. This has been due to a combination of factors including dwell times, line speeds, signalling issues etc. Last year Auckland Transport started working on a big list of initiatives to improve the trains including making them faster and more reliable. Some of those tasks have been completed and are contributing to the improved performance figures but others, such as improving dwell times remain a distant dream.

I understand the next timetable change, which is likely to be in February, will finally incorporate the benefits from some of the initiatives into improving performance. Whether that will include any changes to dwell times remains to be seen.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

Overall the improvements to rail services and the network have been considerable and very welcome. AT’s target for this year is for rail patronage to hit 19.5 million trips. With the growth we’re seeing and what can be expected in the next few years following integrated fares and the new network we should see that mark easily reached.