There has been a lot of talk about the new bus network that was first proposed in the Regional Public Transport Plan. Thankfully it received extremely strong support from those that made submissions allowing Auckland Transport to start working towards implementing it. While the overall concept has been accepted, there is still a long way to go yet as the specific routes that make up the network will need to be consulted on. Today Auckland Transport have formally started that process with the release of a video to explain the new network. Here is the press release:
Transforming Auckland’s Public Transport Network
Auckland Transport will shortly hit the streets to consult over the New Network for public transport services in Auckland.
The New Network is a region wide public transport network which is proposed to deliver bus services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week on major routes between the hours of 7am to 7pm. Services will connect better with train services for those customers who require connections.
The New Network will be rolled out by Auckland Transport over the next three years starting with bus services in South Auckland in 2014/15.
To help people understand what the New Network will mean for them, prior to consultation, Auckland Transport has released a video guide today. It can be viewed at: http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/newnetwork
Auckland Transport’s Chief Executive David Warburton says; “We are in a period of transformational transport change in Auckland. Any change is challenging. Significant changes in the transport area in Auckland includes the completion over the coming months of Auckland’s integrated smartcard for public transport, the final step in the introduction of the AT HOP card on bus services following the roll-out last year on trains and ferries, the arrival of the first of Auckland’s fleet of new trains and our New Network for public transport services. These are large-scale transport projects for a city undergoing transformation.
“If Auckland is to cope with expected growth in population, public transport must become a very real transport choice for more Aucklanders. But in order to encourage greater uptake, we need to make bold changes to provide a better level of service, respond to public demand and expectation and provide better connections to the places people want to go.
“Due to the sheer scale of the changes we are proposing, consultation and implementation for the New Network will be broken up into several phases. Consultation on the New Network begins in June in South Auckland. Other parts of Auckland will be consulted on in the coming years”.
Dr Warburton says, “The changes will not happen immediately. Any significant transformation requires disruption which is part of change. Implementation of the New Network for public transport will be challenging for a period.
“The video released today demonstrates the scale of the changes the New Network will bring to Auckland.
“In June and July, Auckland Transport will have people in the markets, shopping centres, transport hubs and on the streets in South Auckland talking to customers about these changes and getting their views”.
Dr Warburton says, “ The public will be invited to fill out feedback forms at the Open Days and can also provide feedback at our consultation webpage www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/newnetwork, or by filling out our freepost feedback form”.
I must say, this is probably the best press release I think that AT have done. I love how they have talked about how transformational this will be and how all of the key PT projects, integrated ticketing, electrification and the new bus network tie in together. But the good news doesn’t stop there. The video they have produced is superb and easily the best they have done to explain any project. It excellently explains why we need the new network, the logic behind it and even some of the finer details about the proposal.
On the page AT have set up for the new network, they also have a new and very pretty version of the frequent network map that we have seen before.
All up I am very happy, not just with the new network but with how AT have started to communicate it. If they carry on in this same vein for both the network and other projects like the CRL then it will really help in getting the public to understand why these projects are needed.
Good work AT, give yourselves a pat on the back.
We all know that public transport in Auckland leaves a lot be be desired. The majority of existing and forecast trips happen on the bus and train network. Yet we have a bus network whose routes resemble spaghetti that has been thrown against a map and a train system being run using clapped out, 50 year old, noisy and smelly diesel trains. To top it all off we have a mix of ticketing systems that don’t work with each other making it difficult for casual users to make spontaneous trips.
The positive side however is that we are actually doing something to address it. The proposed new bus network seems to have received a lot of support from the general public, even through the submission stage and is set to roll out over the next few years. Electrification of the rail network is well under way and the first of our new electric trains are under construction and should start arriving from August onwards. Lastly while it appears to be going extremely slowly, integrated ticketing has started rolling out and integrated fares are a key part in making the new PT network work.
Assuming everything sticks to plan, within three years the PT system we have won’t resemble anything that we have today. There is probably not a city in the world that is undergoing so much transformational change to so much of its PT systems all at once. This has led Patrick to call the process we going through, “The Great Upgrade”.
But as with any major change, it invariably causes disruptions to everyday users. The rail network is a prime example where increasingly levels of disruptions, from both electrification and our outdated rolling stock are putting passengers off using services. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that Auckland Transport faces right now, not just addressing falling public transport patronage, but working out how to bring customers “along for the ride” while so much change happens.
I suspect that one of the keys areas that they will need to address is how to clearly articulate the changes. Explaining not just that change is happening but why it is happening, how it will happen and most importantly what it will mean for users.
A great example of the kind of level of detail that AT really need to be putting out comes from Melbourne with their rail development plan. The video that accompanies the plan is clear, even giving what the future routing options will be something AT won’t even talk about with the CRL and a much smaller rail network.
While the video is talking primarily about Melbourne’s rail network, something similar for Auckland, to cover all of the changes planned across all modes is desperately needed. I suspect that only by really bringing the general public “along for the ride”, showing that the changes will lead to a much better PT system, will AT manage to retain patronage through this difficult period.
We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.
And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.
It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….
Above is a chart from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].
Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].
Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.
Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.
And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.
There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!
There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.
Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.
Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.
We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand
So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.
Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.
Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.
Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].
Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.
But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?
-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe
-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this
-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.
-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.
I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.
But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.
My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.
And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.
So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.
* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.
Are you passionate about cities? Want to know more about public transport?
If so then you might be interested in an upcoming event being held at the University of Auckland: “Get Connected – Futures in Public Transport” (NB: The link takes you to the Facebook page for the event, where you can RSVP). On the night (19 March) you will get the opportunity to hear from the following speakers:
- Jarrett Walker - who has 20 years experience working on public transport projects across the Asia-Pacific, especially the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. FYI Jarrett was the lead consultant on the recent re-design of Auckland’s PT network. Jarrett currently resides in Portland but – as mentioned in this earlier post - he has a soft-spot for Auckland, which he describes as:
“… New Zealand’s largest city, the focal point of an agrarian nation’s ambivalence about urban life. If you’re a young North American who wonders what Seattle was like 40 years ago when I was a tyke — before Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks — Auckland’s your answer. To a visitor accustomed to North American or European levels of civic vanity, it often seems that Auckland still doesn’t know how beautiful it is. That’s always an attractive feature, in cities as in people, even though (or perhaps because) it can’t possibly last.”
- Anthony Cross – who is employed by Auckland Transport in the enviable position of “Public Transport Network Planning Manager” (aka “PTNPM”). Anthony was raised in Auckland but spent much of his early professional career working in Wellington. After helping the Capital’s public transport network become one of the most efficient and effective in Australasia, he was kidnapped by our oompa loompas and brought to Auckland. We managed to convince him to stay after promising him a job title that sounded important but was difficult to say.
- Joshua Arbury – since founding the Auckland Transport Blog (I can hear the cries of gleeful appreciation resonate across Auckland) Josh has upped sticks and moved onto greener – in the money sense – transport pastures at the Auckland Council, where he now occupies the position of Principal Transport Planner. My oompa loopma spies at Council inform me Josh can speak knowledgeably and with ease on any transport and land use topic, particularly the transport sections of the Auckland Plan. And that he loves his daughters.
- Pippa Mitchell – last but certainly not least we have Pippa. In her career Pippa has worked on a range of complex and fascinating projects, such as the roll-out of real-time information at bus stops. She has also worked on some not so interesting projects (haven’t we all!), such as bus stop re-locations. I would expect Pippa to inject some level-headed reality into the evening’s discourse, because we don’t want anyone to finish the evening having listened to Jarrett, Anthony, and Josh and come away thinking that it’s all drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll in this industry.
That’s not all. In between these distinguished and knowledgeable speakers you will also get to hear from our very own Patrick Reynolds; a man who is known for his enthusiasm, beautiful photos, and occasional words of random wisdom.
You know that if you give enough monkeys enough time banging away on a keyboard then chances are they will eventually churn out a word-for-word version of Hamlet? Well the same goes for Patrick when he’s talking about transport – eventually, and after much gnashing of teeth, he will say things that are both intelligent and witty. If for nothing else, you should come along to the evening and listen to Patrick (NB: Patrick I do love you).
Here’s the event flyer if you’re interested (kudos to Kent); please remember to RSVP through the Facebook event page for catering purposes. Important notes:
- For those not in Auckland we will try to video the event so it can subsequently be uploaded on onto the blog; and
- The point of the event is to get people (especially students) thinking about PT careers. It is not to debate the PT situation in Auckland.
P.P.s You will note that some of the people in the photo below are illuminated. This represents current peak hour bus mode share, i.e. a little less than half of people travelling into the city in peak periods arrive by bus.
Several recent posts have extolled the merits of “better buses” for Auckland. These posts have generally focused on the following issues:
- Corridor infrastructure - as discussed in this post, there are strong arguments in favour of expanding Auckland’s bus lane network so as to improve bus speeds/reliability.
- Network structure – as discussed in this post, Auckland Transport’s draft RPTP has proposed a network of frequent bus lines which are designed to support the rail and busway networks.
- Vehicle technology - as discussed in this post, bus operators in Auckland are just about to trial double-decker buses, while this earlier post discussed rapid developments in hybrid/electric bus technologies.
Improved corridor infrastructure, a better network, and newer/larger vehicles should all drive bus patronage higher. Complementing these bus improvements will be a vastly improved rail network – sporting fast, new trains that operate at high frequencies – and integrated ticketing/fares – enabling people to travel seamlessly across the network irrespective of mode or operator.
The “take-away message”, as they say, is that many more people are likely to be using Auckland’s buses in 10 years time compared to now. And we’ll also be using buses in subtly different ways: Rather than staying on the bus for long trips, more people will be catching the bus for a short distance and then connecting to a faster rail or busway service. On the surface this all sounds like good news.
But hold on a second – all this seems to be overlooking something. More specifically, if we have more people using buses and they are using them for shorter trips, then does this not mean that the rate of passenger movements per bus-kilometre traveled will increase by a disproportionate amount? This in turn means, holding other factors constant, the time buses spend dwelling at stops will also increase. The irony here is that all of the aforementioned initiatives, which are designed to improve the attractiveness of the bus system, will – if they are successful at attracting passengers – tend to place inexorable downward pressure on bus operating speeds.
That’s the vicious cycle on which I think we should focus our collective attention.
In the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of residing in a number of cities. Two of these stand-out for the way they have treated their buses with dignity, namely Brisbane (pop ~2 million) and Edinburgh (pop ~600,000). Both of these cities have bus networks that carry over 110 million trips per year, i.e. twice as many bus passengers as Auckland. And for this reason both Brisbane and Edinburgh have had to grapple with gnarly issues that Auckland may need to confront in the future.
In Brisbane they’ve gone for what could charitably be described as “infrastructure intensive” solutions. This has seen them spend not considerable sums of money on extremely high quality grade-separated bus infrastructure in the city centre. One of the most recent shining (if spending money is to be applauded) examples of this infrastructure is King George Square Station, which is illustrated below. This underground bus station connects via a tunnel to Roma Street and Queen Street Stations to the north and south respectively. KGS apparently has a design capacity of about 300 buses per hour, or 20,000 passengers per hour, however achieving this through-put would require modifications to the approaches and platforms.
Edinburgh, for their part, have opted for slightly less infrastructure. Their main trick has been to develop a network of on-street bus lanes on major arterial roads leading into the city, which converge on Princes Street. The latter then becomes a bus/taxi only mall at peak periods, as illustrated below. Edinburgh has in turn developed a network structure that enables them to “through-route” almost all services (NB: It’s worth mentioning that this kind of network structure, which results in relatively long routes, is aided and abetted by Edinburgh’s relatively compact and symmetric urban form and not necessarily something that can be replicated in cities like Brisbane and Auckland).
In terms of what’s best for Auckland, my gut feeling is that our bus sweet spot lies somewhere between Brisbane and Edinburgh. That is, as a relatively large and rapidly growing city we will need some high-quality, possibly even underground, bus infrastructure in our city centre. It’s notable that the two major bus corridor initiatives implemented in Auckland in the last decade, namely the Northern Busway and the Central Connector have piked out completely as they approach the City Centre. Right where you need the priority treatment the most is where we have waved the white flag.
And unfortunately the consequence of failing to provide adequate bus infrastructure has not been pretty: It has exacerbated bus congestion in the core central city area which in turn further detracts from urban amenity. Ironically, the congestion arising from inadequate bus infrastructure in Auckland has prompted some people to (naively) call for banishing buses from the city centre altogether. While our historical reluctance to provide appropriate facilities for buses says a lot about our collective unwillingness to recognise the contribution buses make to the city centre, it now creates an opportunity for us to develop something better – something that can support our existing bus corridors while accommodating those that we expect to develop in the future, as per the new bus network.
But enough about infrastructure! The primary point of this post was actually to identify a range of “softer” initiatives that have been implemented in cities overseas, which Auckland could adopt to maintain bus speeds as patronage grows, namely:
- Wider stop spacing - Brisbane’s high-frequency routes tend to follow a limited stopping pattern, which sees them stopping every 800m or so. Stop spacing is even longer on the the City Glider services, which provide an inner-city cross-town function. This typically means that you sometimes have to be prepared to walk a bit further, but when you do you have access to services that are frequent and fast. Moreover, these services are complemented by all-stop services operating underneath, which typically focus on providing local access and coverage. By way of comparison, light rail lines often tend to have stop spacings approaching 1km.
- Managing cash payment - Many services in Brisbane are “pre-pay only”, which simply means you have to have a smart card in order to board. Edinburgh has taken a slightly different approach: Passengers can still pay with cash on all services, but if you do then you don’t get any change. Instead, passengers paying by cash simply have to throw the money in an automatic cash counter, which then automatically tells the bus driver whether they have paid enough for the fare that they have requested. Again, this drastically reduces dwell times (customers paying by cash board almost as fast as those using a smart card) and also increases revenues.
- Vehicle configuration - This has multiple dimensions, but generally involves vehicle designs that enable much quicker loading and unloading. Key features include double-door entry/exit, so that passengers paying by cash do not block other passengers that are paying by smartcard. Similarly, double-door exit at the back enables quicker unloading of passengers, which is especially crucial when operating a tag-off system – as Auckland is doing. Another common aspect of buses in both Brisbane and Edinburgh is wider aisles, especially towards the front, which enables speedies loading – particularly for people with wheelchairs and prams.
Given that buses have a lifetime of 12-15 years Auckland Transport and the bus operators would ideally be thinking about these issues now, so that they can be incorporated into vehicle procurement and contracting policies from at an early stage. Some of this is happening already – as per the double-decker bus trial noted above. But on the other hand I do wonder if Auckland Transport should develop some form of operational plan (i.e. non-infrastructure) that analyses our current bus system, identifies where time is being lost, and identifies/prioritises some the issues that will need to be tackled to accommodate up to 120 million bus trips per year. Of course, there may be things that Auckland can implement now in anticipation of higher patronage.
As an aside, Auckland really needs to take a leaf out of Brisbane and Edinburgh’s bus book. As these cities have shown, appropriately sized and designed bus infrastructure will reduce the impact of buses on the city centre. Sure, some negative impacts remain, but that’s more the result of the eternal tension that exists in urban environments between mobility and accessibility, between movement and exchange, than something that is intrinsic to buses per se.
Be interested to hear what other initiatives people think could be used to make Auckland’s buses better …
There’s a lot I agree with in Stu’s post yesterday about being careful how we look to grow the public transport market and focusing on low-hanging fruit before trying to convince rich people to give up the BMW’s by building super-expensive light-rail lines everywhere. However, there’s an interesting area where I’m not sure I do agree with Stu – and that is in relation to what emphasis we should place on making public transport faster. Here’s what Stu says:
Before wrapping this up, I think it’s also worth mentioning that some aspects of this discussion are related to an earlier post on generational differences. That is, because most of our transport decision makers (including myself) fall into the 19-65 age-group there is a natural tendency for us to propose solutions that address our needs, rather than the needs of our users. This can result, for example, in a undue focus on high-speed services. For their part, PT users seem to not value speed – or more accurately “travel-time” – as much as other attributes, such as frequency, reliability, simplicity, and affordability.
There are some really important discussions and debates which fall out of this issue and come down to the fundamental reasons why people choose either one mode of transport or another. Should we focus on improving speed of service if it comes at the cost of reduced convenience of stops (such as spacing bus stops further apart)? How important are fast services compared to simplicity – like the debate over whether there should be express bus services or not? How important is increasing speed, if it comes at quite a high cost and therefore might require an increase in fares to reflect that investment (or an increase in rates or petrol taxes or foregone investment elsewhere)?
Stu’s arguments are very similar to those made by Jarrett Walker in the book Human Transit.In Human Transit Jarrett critiques much of the focus on speed on the ground that it’s generally people who mainly drive (and therefore understand the concept of improving speed) thinking that public transport works exactly the same way. Of course public transport is more complex in the sense that other issues like reliability and frequency matter a lot as well. Along with other, more difficult to quantify matters such as simplicity and ease of understanding of a PT network, quality of waiting facilities and so forth.
Perhaps what’s really key here is to focus on improving public transport speed as actually meaning improving the time it takes to get from your door to where you’re going, including wait times, including transfer times, including how long it takes you to walk to the stop and so on. In this sense, the actual speed your vehicle goes is going to have a fairly tiny influence on the speed of your entire trip (i.e. how long it takes to get from A to B). What’s going to matter a lot more are things like:
- How frequently does the service come? (i.e. if I turn up randomly how long am I likely to have to wait)
- How long does it take for people to board the service? (this matters a lot for buses when they’re stopping to pick up passengers all the time)
- Does the service get stuck in traffic congestion or does it have a dedicated lane?
- Does the service have to wait at traffic lights all the time or is there a clever pre-emptive phasing system?
- Does the service take a straight line from A to B or does it go all over the place down every back street imaginable?
At risk of falling into the trap that Stu outlines above, it is the excruciatingly long time that public transport takes for most non-commuting trips which puts me off using it for pretty much anything other than getting to work. Even for getting to work, catching the bus is far slower than driving would be (probably at least twice the time), but as I don’t want to shell out for parking each day I catch the bus.
By contrast, in cities where public transport seems to be used for a wide variety of trips every little piece of the system seems dedicated to making your trip time as short as possible. Frequencies are high, dedicated infrastructure is provided to separate the service from congestion (whether that be bus lanes or rail infrastructure), routes are straight, traffic lights turn green when the bus/tram approach them and – yes – the services are fast. In a successful PT system the weighting given to all these competing factors (frequency vs speed, simplicity vs speed etc.) varies by the area being looked at. In inner suburbs frequency and simplicity are perhaps more important than sheer physical speed because a greater proportion of the trip is likely to be waiting for the bus/train to turn up. For longer trips speed becomes more important because you’re on the service for much longer.
I’m guessing that perhaps Stu’s position is not as different to mine as you might think – because it comes down to defining what is actually meant by “speed”. In my mind we do need to make public transport a lot faster. However the most important ways to do that in the vast majority of cases won’t be through making the vehicles travel quicker when they’re at top speed – instead it’ll be things like better frequencies, straighter bus routes, faster boarding times and the most important of all…
…A WHOLE HEAP MORE BUS LANES!
The term PTOM has started to be bandied about quite a bit as one of the major changes associated with PT that is happening over the next few years. However many people might not know what it s or why it is important, so with this post I wanted to look a little closer at it. In short it is a new way of planning and contracting out public transport services. The history of how we have got to this point can be a bit long so here is the short version.
In the early 90′s changes in regulation saw most of the public bus companies privatised. The network was split up into commercial and contracted services and a lot of the responsibility for planning was turned over to the various bus companies. Commercial services existed where the bus companies could provide a run commercially however where the local authorities wanted to run services that were not under a commercial agreement, they had to provide subsidies to do so. That might sound logical but it quickly became a problem as explained by this cabinet paper on PTOM from October 2011.
At the moment, public transport services are delivered through a mixture of commercial and contracted services. It is up to operators to identify what services they wish to provide on a commercial basis (ie without public subsidy). A commercial service can be a single timetabled service running from one point to another (for example the 10.48 am from Smithville to the city). Regional councils then determine what other services are necessary to the urban public transport network. These services are then ‘contracted around’ the commercial services to fill service gaps.
The practice of registering single timetabled services as commercial has hampered regional councils’ ability to provide an integrated public transport network and achieve network efficiencies, as these services are not under contract with the regional council and do not have to conform to service standards or fare standards. The presence of commercial registrations has also arguably contributed to poor tender outcomes (on average just over one bid per tender in Auckland and Wellington) and higher prices than in regions where competition is more robust. This has led to increased tensions between regional councils and operators.
Bus operators being able to cherry pick the best routes and times for commercial services while leave the rest to be subsidised was a recipe for disaster. It resulted in far more subsidies being paid than would have been needed otherwise and there have even be suggestions that some companies deliberately gamed the system for their own financial benefit. The 2008 PTMA legalisation sought to change this by giving the regional councils more control. However many of the operators complained about it and as a result the government reviewed the legislation before it came into effect. The result is PTOM which stands for the Public Transport Operating Model and it was developed between central and local government officials as well as representatives from various PT operators. But what does PTOM do.
Well firstly it recognises that to get the best out of our PT networks, they need to be planned centrally, in the case of Auckland that role falls to Auckland Transport. Perhaps the key part of it though is what are termed ‘units’ which can be one or more routes that are operated under a single contract. An operator can still choose to run services commercially but crucially they can only do so across an entire unit which is required to include a full timetable of all services that AT want to run. This prevents operators from cherry picking only the very best services while leaving the rest to be subsidised.
The PTOM contracts can be issued either by a tender process or directly negotiated with the operator and a mix of the two methods will be used in Auckland. Interestingly the length of the contract will vary depending on how the contract is issued with those issued via the tender process lasting for 9 years while directly negotiated contracts only for 6 years. Units registered as fully commercial will also have a contract length of 9 years. One aspect that will be interesting to see is that the contracts are likely to include revenue sharing between AT and the operator. The intention is to design the contracts so in such a way as to encourage and reward better performance of from the operators.
Monitoring of performance is a key aspect being introduced as part of PTOM. The regional council (AT) will monitor patronage growth, subsidy levels, customer satisfaction and a range of other criteria for each PTOM unit. From there a performance score will be determined and all units will be ranked in an annual league table that will make it easy to see which units are performing the best. Over time the league tables will serve another function in helping to determine which units can be renegotiated directly or which units need to be put out to tender. It is not clear whether the league tables will released publicly but if they aren’t, we will be doing our best to get hold of them.
There are a couple of areas that might cause some concern however. The first is in an area known as exempt services. These are services not considered as part of the core PT network and as such don’t come under the various PTOM requirements such as having their fares regulated. In Auckland this includes the Airbus and many of the ferry services. The second is that as we transition to PTOM there will be some units that will be subject to a special transition contract term of 12 years to compensate operators for giving up their existing commercial routes. Not all units will have this but it serves as a reminder that this transition will take some time to fully complete.
Here is a summary of the various aspects of PTOM
And here is a high level look at all of the proposed PTOM units in Auckland, a full list of each route and what unit it belongs to is included in the RPTP. The plan is to roll out the new PTOM contracts as the new network is rolled out.
Lastly here are the registered exempt services.
- Waiheke ferry
- Devonport ferry
- Stanley Bay ferry
- Great Barrier Island ferry
- Kawau Island ferry
- Airbus Express
All up PTOM represents quite a big change in how we plan and manage our PT network. I know some people would like to see all services under a gross contract or even operated internally but given where we have come from, I think that this is a fairly decent compromise. Perhaps the most positive aspect is it should help to give us much better confidence that we are getting value for money out of our PT services.
Is it just me or has the bus real time information system got a whole heap worse since its supposed ‘upgrade’ over the past few months?
The bus real time system has always promised more than it has delivered. When it has worked, it is incredibly useful as you don’t have to always keep an eye out for the bus coming along, you have some sense of comfort that the bus really is actually coming and – if the bus is far enough away and there’s something nearby – you can pop into a dairy or a bookshop or wherever in the meanwhile.
Certainly the system has had problems for many years – this is what Brian Rudman wrote in 2009 as an example:
It was a bleak and stormy night when I reached the bus stop buried into the side of the TVNZ headquarters in Victoria St just after 7pm. The timetable on the pole said the next – and last bus for the night – to Herne Bay was at 7.10, so by my watch, and the electronic timetable clock it seemed I was in luck. Down at the other end of the cave-like stop were half a dozen raucous itinerants, one of whom was dicing with death, dashing out into the busy road trying to wash windscreens. A little comic relief.
By 7.15pm I should have suspected all was not well. The electronic timetable had made no mention of an 005, just listing a fleet of Link buses, the next due in 10 minutes.
Then a glimmer of hope lit up the sky: 005 Westmere DLY. DLY is short for delayed.
Perhaps I hadn’t missed it after all. It was just late. Nothing unusual about the Metrolink service there. The Link duly arrived. Did I jump on board, then walk from Ponsonby Rd in the rain, or did I wait? I blame the couple of drinks I’d had beforehand for my stupid decision to let the Link go.
The electronic helper kept reassuring me 005 was DLY until just before 7.30 when it just disappeared. The next Link was now 28 minutes away – so much for the 15-minute gap – and the rain had taken a break, so I started walking, muttering like a crazy man about lying real-time indicator boards. My head swivelled hopefully every time I thought I heard a bus approaching. But not one did in the half-hour walk up College Hill and down to Herne Bay. Nor could I persuade a taxi to stop.
The next morning I checked the bus timetable at Victoria St to ensure I hadn’t misread it in the rain and gloom. But there it was, departure time 7.10pm. It was only then I spotted at the bottom of the page, about the level where a dog would pee, the small print saying all times were “approximate”. Investigating further, I found the official bus timetable says the bus leaves the downtown terminus at 7.05, but that was only an “approximate” time as well.
What really annoys me is having let myself be suckered by the electronic timetable yet again. From 2003, Auckland City Council spent $7 million on setting up and trying to make this flawed system work and failed.
Three years ago, the city flicked the lemon on to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority for a token $1. I wrote at the time that it was a dollar too much.
ARTA claimed it could fix it and expand it out across the region over four years at an added cost of $17.4 million. At the time, ACC officials claimed they had managed to cut the initial error rate of up to 30 per cent down to 3-4 per cent. But a letter to the Herald earlier this year suggests that nothing much has changed.
The boffins blame the bus drivers. The multimillion-dollar system uses an on-board global positioning system, bouncing messages off satellites in space, to predict the timing of more than 730 buses in the Auckland network. The fatal flaw is, it depends on the driver to log on to the system at the beginning of each trip. If he/she doesn’t, then 10 minutes after the scheduled start of the service, the real-time board announces it’s been DLY. Which is a lie, particularly if you’re standing at the first stop after the starting point. It should read, SUCKER, LEFT 10 MINUTES AGO, START WALKING.
An ARTA spokeswoman says the driver on Wednesday started “on time” and they’re investigating why the bus didn’t show up on the system. As cold comfort, she added that “we are in the midst of planning a new, better, real-time system, the current one obviously has its limitations”.
Unfortunately we’ve been hearing that since 2003.
Over the past few months there has supposedly been a major upgrade to this system, with new (presumably quite expensive) equipment and even a different (although more confusing in my opinion with stars and the inclusion of both scheduled and “real” times) layout on the signs.
And there have been the stupidly impossible to read new signs which force you to stand about 3mm away from them in order to find out when the next bus is coming (completely eliminating one of the purposes of the signs in the first place, which lets you check when the bus is coming while still sitting down and reading a book/checking emails).
But it’s the unreliability of the new signs that has really driven me around the bend in recent times. A couple of examples:
- One day waiting for the Link bus after seeing that I’d just missed one, the sign said the next bus was 15 minutes away. So I settled down and dug through my bag for a book, just noticing a second later when another bus ploughed past without stopping.
- Another day I showed up at my regular stop to see that no bus was due for another 16 minutes, then two minutes later one randomly turned up.
A problem with the “old system” was the bus drivers tended to forget to “log in”, which meant that the bus was tracked according to its scheduled time rather than a real time, or wasn’t tracked at all. This is what led to the “DLY” showing on the sign – apparently that meant it was more than 10 minutes since the bus was scheduled to go past the stop and the system had no clue whether it had done so or not.
I’m not sure whether this has been resolved in the new system, but it seems not – pretty strange since I’m sure buses need to log in at the start of all their runs for ticketing purposes. Perhaps it’s something deliberate so the bus reliability stats can continue to put tin pot dictators to shame?
The upshot of all this is the absolutely insane situation where a supposed upgrade to the real time system has actually made things worse. I simply cannot comprehend why it’s so difficult to get this right – every bus has GPS tracking for one reason or another as far as I know (the buses I catch regularly and aren’t picked up by the system are still able to tell me the next stop all the time). So I guess the answer must be sheer incompetence somewhere in the system of making this happen, or the fact that it’s becoming increasingly clear that Auckland Transport doesn’t care much about its PT customers.
Auckland’s geography has helped to define how the city has developed, both at a regional level but also at a local level. As the city has grown we have worked around the natural barriers often taking the path of least resistance/cost but that has left us with some places that can be extremely circuitous to get around. In this post I want to look at a few places where actually adding in a road would be extremely beneficial, not just for cars but also for buses, walkers and cyclists.
First up in the West we have the another crossing of the Whau River. At the moment, particularly anyone around the Glen Eden area, has an extremely long route to travel to get to either the Avondale peninsula or to the motorway. This crossing actually had some work done on a few years ago and the preferred alignment is shown below was to link the roundabout on Rosebank Rd/Patiki Rd to Hepburn Rd and was costed in 2008 dollars at $73 million for a two lane bridge or $106 million for a four lane one. Such a route could have potentially dramatically reduced the amount of pressure that is placed on the Te Atatu and Gt North Rd interchanges and potentially been a useful bus route, especially if a busway was built alongside SH16.
While the Whau River crossing wouldn’t come cheap, there are others that wouldn’t cost nearly as much. This time lets jump across to the East to the area around Pakuragna. The waterways around here have created some huge barriers that require all traffic from further East to be forced onto a handful of roads in order to get west. It is also difficult to serve with public transport due to the way that the two key routes, Pakuranga Rd and Ti Rakau Dr, continue to separate like a wedge the further they get from Pakuranga where the only two crossings of the river north of the motorway exist. In this case a small bridge between Hope Farm Ave and La Trobe St would amongst other things, allow for a logical third main bus route from the east to pierce right through the middle of that wedge. I imagine it would also be hugely beneficial to those who may want to cycle in that area too.
In the North another potential, although probably quite difficult and expensive link we have discussed in the past is a bridge between Greenhithe and Beach Haven. Its something which could provide another useful North/South bus route along the shore and would dramatically cut down on travel times from upper harbour areas.
There are probably also countless other places where new links in the form of bridges or perhaps as a result of removing a few houses could make a massive difference to how people get around by walking or cycling, make a more logical bus network or even to help spread vehicle traffic out further by reducing bottlenecks. If you were to have a programme of work to make some of these new links, what ones would you like to see.
In the past few weeks either myself, or people I know well have had the following experiences with the Outer Link bus:
- Waiting 50 minutes for a bus between 5.05pm and 5.55pm from the city
- Turning up at the Outer Link bus stop and seeing the “real time” sign say the bus is 10 minutes away, ducking quickly into the nearby dairy for something and coming out two minutes later to see the bus driving past
- Persistent late buses and bunching of buses
- Getting kicked off one bus and onto another at Victoria Park when the bus you’re on is full
- Seeing regular driver changes being made in the middle of the evening peak period (once again at Victoria Park, one of the busiest sections of the route)
- Did I mention late buses? And the bunching of buses?
- Having buses turn up at the bus stop 10 minutes late only to say they’re actually a “special” service and won’t be picking up passengers, only to change their mind 5 minutes later after sitting there doing nothing.
Ultimately, I think the route is broken beyond repair. While in theory the idea of a huge loop is great and everyone can see how it’s a good idea, operationally it seems as though the Outer Link is an absolute nightmare. The buses bunch, there are rage-inducing waits at seemingly every second stop, you regularly get turfed off one bus and onto another, the buses are late, they’re unreliable, they’re often jam-packed. It’s just hopeless.
Fundamentally this all comes back to it being a loop route. With a loop route there are no “dead times” at each end of a bus service so no time to act as a buffer in case a service is running late. Instead we see the problems compound over and over and over and over again. But the worst thing is that measures to alleviate these problems are actually almost worse than the problems in the first place – you get giant waits at timed “hold points” so that the timetable can catch up to the bus. You get turfed off one bus and onto another regularly. In short, you get treated like absolute crap.
So there’s no easy fix to this – which means that fundamentally the Outer Link needs to go. Or at least it needs to go in an operational sense. So here’s my proposal:
- Effectively split the route into an inner and outer section and run them operationally independent of each other.
- Ensure that transfers between buses at key locations (say St Lukes and Newmarket) are co-ordinated so people just need to hop off one bus and onto the other – and they expect to have to change buses here.
- Ramp up the frequency a bit on the inner section due to its higher loadings.
- Find the areas where there are significant delays and put some bloody bus lanes in.
As noted above, I’d probably split the service at St Lukes and Newmarket – on the basis that relatively few people are likely to be travelling “through” these locations rather than “to” them. So something like this:
Oh and the route also needs some simplification, desperately.