Tomorrow the Auckland Transport board have their first public meeting of the year before and as I usually do, I’ve gone through the reports looking for what interesting information exists. The first thing that I noticed was even before getting into the reports and that was just how much was on the closed agenda vs what was on the open one. Other than the standard reports on there every meeting, the open agenda contains just a few additional papers. However on the closed session agenda there is a whole list of interesting looking topics. The items for approval/decision is
i) Half Year Report
ii) Update on draft 2014/15 AT Opex Budget
iii) Fleet purchase and funding roll forward
iv) Albany Highway
v) Mill Road
vi) Tamaki Ngapipi Intersection
viii) East West Link
ix) Northern Maintenance Contract Award
Strategy & Planning
x) Draft Parking Strategy Consultation
xi) CCTV Convergence Project
Probably the most interesting one would be the Mill Rd item which is something quite controversial to many of the locals and the last we heard of it, the design was looking like a mini motorway. In the open session business report it’s said the project is needed due to over 3,800 houses within special housing areas being along the corridor and I can only assume they are upcoming SHA’s as there hasn’t been any on that corridor so far.
On to the items that caught my attention in the business report.
Based on the report, the EMUs should now have finished the testing to ensure they will actually work on our network which is great news.
Official track testing is now well advanced and scheduled to conclude mid-February 2014. The testing of the on-board signalling system has been completed with the passenger information systems (PA announcements, and passenger information displays) remaining to conclude testing.
Four trains are now capable of mainline running and fleet kilometres during testing are in excess of 15,000. The trains continue to perform well under tests on the electrified main lines which now extend from Wiri to Newmarket and also on the Onehunga Branch Line.
Trains five, six and seven are at Wiri undergoing reassembly and tests. Trains eight and nine have left Spain and are due in New Zealand in early March.
Now we just need to wait for more to arrive and be put through their paces so that services can start on the Onehunga line. Later on the report also mentions that from Friday testing will be able to commence on the line between Newmarket and Britomart and I can’t wait to see these trains parked up in the station. It also confirms when we will see these trains on each of the lines across the network.
- Apr 2014: Onehunga Line services
- Sep 2014: Manukau via Eastern Line services
- Mar 2015: Southern Line services
- Jul 2015: Western Line services
And lastly on the date in April has been confirmed as the 28th and along with that AT will be giving many of the operations a bit of a refresh to improve the customer experience. There will also be an open day near the time of the first services starting so that the public can get a look at the trains.
As part of the improved customer experience with the new EMU services, enhanced station works will be started on the Onehunga Line stations from February 2014 in the lead-up to launch of the Onehunga EMU services on 28 April 2014. This includes improved pedestrian shelter between modes at Onehunga and Ellerslie Stations, improved customer information on station platforms, station rebranding and in line with the recommendations from the Customer Experience research undertaken in the latter half of 2013, improved wayfinding signage. Platform edge warning lighting will also be trialled. New Transdev staff uniforms are being selected for initial implementation prior to the launch of the new Onehunga Line EMU services.
City Centre Integration Group (CCIG)
There had previously been a cross council group that was intended to work together on projects along the waterfront containing Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Limited. It appears that the various organisations have now agreed to expand the reach of that across the entire city centre. This should hopefully mean we get some more coherent development of projects happening rather than each organisation working in silos. Of interest:
Transport feasibility studies are due for completion in early 2014 for the Ferry Basin Masterplan, Fanshawe/Customs St Corridor, and Wynyard Bus Interchange
Integrated Ticketing and Fares
With integrated ticketing almost complete the focus is now going to really shift to integrated fares. In December the board agreed to investigate further two different options. They were a 5 concentric ring zonal model and 4 concentric ring zonal model + short trip fare. These are likely to be variations of these options. Analysis including pricing options and a business case are currently underway but it seems we won’t see anything implemented until the 2nd quarter of 2015, probably when the new network rolls out. I had been hoping we might see it rolled out by the end of this year. AT do say they are in the process of testing out a daily pass which will be rolled out in March based on geographic zones (most likely the same ones used for the monthly passes). The big question will end up being how they price the passes and I fear they will be priced so high that very few people would benefit from them.
The graph below shows the percentage of customers using HOP for bus journeys (up until early this month so won’t include Howick & Eastern. It appears the Birkenhead customers are increasingly using HOP however its Bayes buses that get the most HOP card usage with over 70% of people using a HOP card. I’m surprised that NZ Bus and Urban Express don’t seem to be seeing any real change.
Tamaki Dr/Ngapipi Rd intersection
Late last year AT went out to consultation on this intersection which is the worst for cycle crashes in Auckland. AT wanted to put traffic lights in however the local board were pushing for a roundabout. The exact details about the intersection are in the closed session however it’s noted in the board report that they have chosen to implement the traffic light option (which was also supported by Cycle Action Auckland).
Lastly a couple of the additional papers for this board meeting. One is about the establishment of a board committee dedicated to focusing on the customer experience.
An increasing number of customer interface initiatives are being developed and implemented. Following the model of the Capital Review Committee, the establishment of the CFC will give the opportunity for Board members to have greater visibility, input and governance oversight of these initiatives.
This seems like a good idea and I’m sure the committee will have a lot to do.
The other paper gives is the forward programme for the board showing what is coming up for them to discuss/decide on. Naturally the next few meetings are more fleshed out than those 4-5 months out. Some projects that I picked up were.
- In March the closed session will see papers on AMETI, Mill Rd, Dominion Rd, integrated fares, replacing parking ticket machines, selling the diesel trains. At the capital review committee a few weeks before three is also a paper on AT’s rail strategy.
- In April there will be closed session discussion on the seawall in the city centre, SMART (rail to the airport), Mill Rd (again), AT’s rail strategy, Papakura – Pukekohe electrification,
I’ll post about the patronage results separately.
Last month I highlighted the desperate need for Auckland Transport to develop a comprehensive public transport fares policy. One which looks at all the tricky trade-offs and compromises associated with setting public transport fares, highlights the need to balance competing interests and competing objectives (i.e. fairness vs simplicity, affordability for user’s vs affordability for ratepayers and taxpayers etc.) An online survey about fares shortly afterwards suggested that Auckland Transport is at least getting some public input into these tricky issues.
However, such a policy cannot come soon enough – as this past week has revealed what at first glance appears to be some counter-intuitive and pretty harsh fare changes:
Alex van der Sande fears abolishing weekly bus passes between North Shore and Central Auckland will squeeze student budgets for textbooks and other basic needs.
The first-year University of Auckland engineering student and former Long Bay College head boy has drawn more than 650 followers to a Facebook campaign opposing plans to axe the Northern Pass as the $100 million electronic Hop card is added to bus fleets.
That will raise his weekly bus bill from $33 to at least $44.20 for five-day travel between his Torbay home and the university, or more if he needs to visit the city at weekends.
“That’s quite a bit – at the end of the year that’s all our text books, really,” he said, while preparing to step up his campaign at a presentation to Auckland Council’s transport committee tomorrow.
The Northern Pass is a fantastic fare product, actually providing an integrated ticket and integrated fare allowing the same ticket to be used on multiple operators as well as providing for free transfers. It’s everything we need the rest of our fare system to emulate. The online description of the Northern Pass outlines its usefulness very well:
Northern Pass tickets make bus travel easy! The Northern Pass can be used for multiple rides, which is valid on all North Shore bus services as far as Albany in the North and Greenhithe in the West. Additionally, you can use it on buses to and from Auckland City, as well as on train services between Britomart and Glen Innes, Britomart and Ellerslie or Britomart and Kingsland.
With a Northern Pass, you only have to buy one ticket to make any number of trips around the North Shore – as well as to and from Auckland City – for as long as your ticket is valid. The Northern Pass is not a ticket for a specific journey. You pay once and keep the ticket to use again and again.
This means you can get on a bus in your neighbourhood, get off where you like and catch another bus or selected train service, as many times as you wish within your selected area and time frame. You don’t have to buy a new ticket when you board a different bus, even if the vehicle belongs to a different bus company.
Amazingly we’ve had the Northern Pass for about five years now and it was brought in at the same time as the Northern Busway was opened with my understanding being that it was a precursor to region wide integrated fares. The various agencies involved in the Busway wanted the investment to be a success and combined with the fact that a lot of routes needed to be added or changed, it presented what was at the time a unique opportunity to start integrating PT fares.
But while we are seeing a lot of noise and bad news around the roll out of HOP, I wanted to find out just how much impact the changes are having so I asked Auckland Transport. They have done some modelling based on existing ticket sales and believe that the changes being made to fare products have the following impacts.
- 85.1% existing PT trips no price change
- 11.5% will get a price benefit
- 3.3% will see a price increase transitioning from current products with the majority seeing less than a 10% increase.
The first and third points made sense but I was keen to know about who was benefiting from the changes so after some more questions to AT and I was told the 11.5% was made up of:
- 9% from getting AT HOP discounts – this comes in two forms
- Many people have operator specific tickets but either transfer (e.g. to a train) or catch the first bus that comes even if it is a different operator and so pay cash. They will now get the HOP discounted fares for all their trips.
- AT’s experience so far has seen the percentage of people paying with cash drop e.g. on Birkenhead the percentage of people paying the cash fare dropped from just over 50% to about 40%. In other words roughly 10% more trips are now getting discounted travel on Birkenhead services than they were before the change. AT expect this trend to continue, although the impact will be less for the bus companies that already have stored value cards.
- 1% from getting the 50c transfer discount – currently only those who do transfer between services on NZ Bus services get a discount of 45c. There are some people who transfer from between services and modes and they will all get the AT HOP transfer discount (until integrated fares comes in and removes the penalty for transferring).
- 1.5% from cheaper pass options – Some of the operator specific passes are more expensive than equivalent HOP passes e.g. to travel from the North, West or South to the CBD using the NZ Bus monthly pass (All Zones) costs $215 however a HOP zone A and B monthly pass costs $190. There are similar examples from other operators too.
What all of this means is that those experiencing increases in fares or pass prices tend to be where there are very specific pass options currently available rather than it being that large numbers of people are being disadvantaged.
So I wanted to look further into the issue of the Northern Pass in particular. Here is a map of the northern pass zones.
AT have said the biggest impact has been to tertiary students buying the weekly pass of which they estimate that there are around ~1650 users. In fact they say that of all Northern Passes sold, tertiary passes make up the vast majority. The reason why this would be happening becomes clear when you look at look at how many trips you could make for the same price under the HOP pricing compared to the pass option.
For Adults, children and one very small part of the lower zone, the price of the weekly pass is actually slightly cheaper to use HOP (or the current fare system with multi trip tickets) than it is to buy a weekly pass. The only people the pass becomes a good option for are those who use buses for more than just commuting to and from work or school each day, something that doesn’t happen that often due to crappy weekend and off peak frequencies. For those more than four stages from the CBD (north of Albany/Browns Bay there are some increases in prices but the biggest changes across all zones and areas is for tertiary students.
What you can also notice is that the tertiary pass is the same price as the child pass which is quite unusual as everywhere else in Auckland tertiary students don’t get as large discounts off fares as children do. That raises an interesting question of if North Shore students are getting penalised by the move to HOP or if they have been getting a better deal for a long time and this process is just evening out that inconsistency. In my mind it’s probably more of the latter and I believe that there may have been a technical reason for the prices being the same rather than a policy one.
To me there are two separate issues related to the removal of the Northern Pass that are being woven together.
Removal of the Northern Pass – As mentioned the Northern Pass itself is a great idea and a good example of what we should be aiming for with integrated fares. It works across all bus operators, allows free transfers and rewards people who want to do more than just commute to the city each day. AT currently have monthly passes and I believe daily passes are planned but the weekly pass option might be a nice balance for many. It is a pass that perhaps should be given some more consideration
Price of the Northern Pass – For most adults and children the price of a Northern Pass is roughly equivalent to 10 trips worth of travel so is only really useful for those that make more than 10 trips a week. My gut suggests that the number of people doing that will likely remain low until the new network is rolled out and AT have said a new integrated fare structure will be in place before that happens. For tertiary students it appears they have been getting a much better deal than what other students from the rest of the city can get. It would be great to be able to roll out cheaper prices to those on the isthmus as well the east, west and south but I guess the biggest issue of doing that is the cost. It would mean that AT receive less revenue and as such would need greater subsidies to continue to operate the services we have and that is something that seems very difficult in the current political environment. Given the choice of giving all students a greater discount and potentially cutting services vs. removing the current major price benefit for a select group of users I think the latter option is the better one.
At the end of the day, much of these problems come down to the years where local authorities had much less say over the operation of PT services. That we have the situation where every operator has different fare products and prices is a good example of why we need to reform the system. But inevitably any change is going to disadvantage some and that is what we are seeing happen. If there is one positive to come out of all of this it is that we will finally have a system that becomes a bit more understandable and hopefully more people are advantaged than those who are disadvantaged. One of the single worst things we could do is try to make the system more complex just to please a few small groups but only time will tell just how much difference these changes will make.
While the roll-out of HOP seems to be taking forever with hiccups at every stage, it seems that Auckland Transport at least getting on with the next stage of looking at how they might do the next and arguably the most important stage, integrated fares. You may remember that when the draft Regional Public Transport Plan came out, it proposed moving to a zonal based system however the feedback on the plan showed that people weren’t happy with the specifics of it and so AT ended up removing the proposed map and agreeing to look at the issue in more detail.
It appears that we are starting to see some of the thinking that has gone on with a survey many readers may have received asking about potential options. Note: you haven’t signed up to be a part of AT’s survey group then you can do so here.
The survey started by asking questions on the importance of a number of aspects or value judgements important in setting fares i.e. is it more important to have fares that are equal for everyone, that are more affordable for longer journeys or more affordable for shorter journeys. It then went on to show the proposal that was in the RPTP and asked respondents to rank a few specific areas as well as get their views on what the advantages and disadvantages of this option were. We covered those here.
The second map obviously represents some of the work done since the RPTP consultation was completed. The big difference is instead of using the geographical boundaries of the old councils as the basis for the fare zones, the zones are based on concentric ring zones out from the city centre. One thing you really notice with this map is how many of the natural features in the city are 10km-20km from the city centre. The same rankings and questions were then asked before respondents needed to give my preferred option out of the two.
I think this zone structure gives greater and much needed granularity and balance for trips to the city centre which is good. The additional zones should also help to keep the fares for travelling in each zone down which helps to encourage trips within them. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my concerns with it though. My first and key one is just the sheer size of the Northwest zone. I personally think there is an opportunity for the zone to be split in two with a west zone and a north zone created. This would have no impact on people travelling to the city centre but would mean trips from the West to the Shore aren’t insanely cheap by being a single zone fare.
My other major concern is the size of the areas where two different zones overlap. Both maps show potentially very small and localised areas where a passenger could board a bus or train and travel through either of the neighbouring zones for a single fare. This is good and helps address one of the major problems with having fixed boundaries. To me the issue though is that the overlaps are too small and there aren’t enough of them and so there are still odd inconsistencies in fares. For example a worker on the Te Atatu Peninsula would have to pay a two zone fare just to travel a few kilometres by a bus. As such I would like to see more and much larger overlap zones to avoid this issue. Another way around it might be to introduce a short trip fare. In that situation every journey less than a set distance (say 3km) gets a single zone fare even if they cross a zone boundary.
Moving on the survey asked about ferries and in particular whether they should be included in the integrated fares structure of if they should be kept separate like they are now. I thought it odd that they asked a question suggesting that keeping ferries out would help make things simple. Simpler for staff perhaps but I suspect that most people would expect all modes to be treated the same when it came to zonal fares.
Lastly the questions asked related to monthly passes and different pricing options like off peak travel.
It’s good to see some progress happening on this although I would also like to see the options for distance based fares being considered. I suspect that we will still be a long way off actually having a fare policy confirmed and even longer before it is implemented.
There have been a lot of articles in the media recently bemoaning changes to public transport fares as the AT Hop card is progressively introduced. The latest relates to hikes in ferry fares which are coming in the near future:
Big fare hikes for ferry users could hit within weeks.
The North Shore Times has learned of the changes from an industry insider who says Auckland Transport has undertaken a “campaign of non-disclosure increases”.
When asked for a response to the claims, Auckland Transport directed the Times to its website.
The council-controlled group did not confirm or deny the increases were happening, whether tertiary discounts are again being cut or when the new fares will be implemented.
“Auckland Transport has an annual fare review process which is communicated to the media [as it was earlier this year] and to customers through our customer channels.”
But the industry source says changes are a result of the AT Hop card roll-out, taking place across Auckland’s public transport network.
A big increase in fares for some Green Bay bus users occurred recently. Plus it seems like the Discovery Day pass and the Northern Pass – the two existing integrated fare products in Auckland – are going to be phased out shortly. While the AT Hop card’s simplification of the current suite of fare products is a step in the right direction – it seems like there are going to be some really dumb changes to fares in the near future because of two key reasons:
- Auckland Transport not coming up with a much simpler zone based fare system ahead of implementing integrated ticketing.
- Auckland Transport not having a fare policy.
Unfortunately we also have the situation where Auckland Transport are aligning fares at the same time as rolling out the HOP card. This may be the technically easiest solution but it is only serving to give a lot of people a negative impression of the card itself. Had they done number 1 first, the roll-out of HOP would be much much easier.
We’ve discussed the importance of integrated fares and zone based fares many times before, so in this post I’m going to talk more about the need for Auckland Transport to have a proper fares policy.
Setting public transport fares is clearly a very complex balance between being low enough to attract people to use the service but also high enough to minimise subsidy requirements. The latter issue is also affected by NZTA’s completely arbitrary Farebox Recovery Policy – which requires fares to cover 50% of operating costs (Auckland currently manages about 44% recovery). In addition to this complex balance there are a number of other detailed considerations that need to be taken into account in the setting of fares. The list below is by no means complete but takes into account matters that need to be considered:
- The extent to which fares rise with the length of the trip. At one end of the scale there are flat fares where you pay the same amount no matter how far you go – at the other end is something like a pure per kilometre charge. Longer PT trips generate more external benefits (e.g. congestion relief) so there’s a logic for having something in between a flat fare and a purely distance based fare.
- The level of complexity or simplicity in the fare system. In pursuit of ‘optimal’ outcomes it’s very easy to create a fare system that’s mind-bogglingly complex and impossible to understand. Yet overly simple systems can lead to inequitable, illogical or inefficient outcomes: should a trip down the road cost the same as one from Pukekohe to the city centre, should children have to pay the same as adults, should someone travelling off-peak and not adding to peak capacity problems have to pay the same as someone at peak times? Once again a careful balance needs to be found.
- Building on the above, the extent of concessionary fares is something that can be really complicated. Should a super-wealthy retired person really get free PT while a struggling working family have to pay full fares? Should university students get a discount when they’re pretty likely to catch PT already?
- A further consideration is the extent to which the fare system should favour or encourage certain types of users. Should monthly pass holders get a particularly good deal because they’re the ‘best customers’? To what extent should smart-card users get a discount compared to people who pay with cash? And as above, is there value in providing a discount for off-peak travel? Or – dare I say it – should there be family/group passes?
As you can tell from the above, I have posed far more questions than I have answered – because this is a complex issue which involves significant value judgements and decisions to sit behind it. It needs some clear objectives, things like: maximising patronage, recognising the importance of a simple and easy to understand system, providing value for money (both for passengers and for public agencies picking up the subsidy), catering for those with fewer transport choices, encouraging people to use the HOP Card, encouraging people to make transfers where that’s an efficient outcome etc. It needs to be clear about the tradeoffs between different objectives – like how maximising patronage may conflict with maximising farebox returns.
In relatively recent times we have seen the mess which occurs when you don’t have a fare policy. The most recent fare rises saw the gap between HOP fares and cash fares narrow (contrary to efforts to get more people using HOP), saw monthly pass prices increase while single fare cash prices stayed the same (contrary to rewarding best customers and encouraging more people to use monthly passes) and saw fares for longer trips that generate the most external benefits increase while fares for short trips generally stayed the same. Plus the huge backlash against the fare zones proposed in the draft RPTP and the recent angst over fare changes as the AT Hop card is implemented.
The solution to this mess seems incredibly obvious to me: Auckland Transport needs to prepare a cohesive fares policy, which gets into much more detail about the mechanics and trade-offs of the different fare options than the draft RPTP did. Auckland Transport then needs to consult with the general public and key stakeholders about the policy, get general buy-in, and then use that policy to guide what it does in the future about fares.
Seriously. Not that hard and it would save them a lot of angst.
On a slightly related note, the stupidity of the way our PT contracting works where Fullers are allowed to do whatever they want on the Devonport and Waiheke routes due to them being fully commercial has thrown up classic example of how dysfunctional things are. Recently Fullers decided to replace their ticketing system due to their old one getting a bit long in the tooth but rather than just hook fully into the HOP system, they have launched a separate system allowing them to offer ferry tickets not available to HOP users. With crap like this, it’s no surprise that the HOP usage on Ferries has been abysmal with less than 5% of all ferry trips being paid for using HOP according to the most recent stats produced by Auckland Transport.
As Auckland Transport explain in their video on Auckland’s New Public Transport Network , the goal of integrated ticketing is that you pay one fare, no matter how many transfers you make.
Indeed, it is going to be absolutely critical to have this in place before the new bus networks are rolled out, starting with South Auckland in early 2015. This is because the new network places more reliance on people transferring between services than we do now, with the trade-off that more frequent services are able to run. Having to pay an additional bus, rail or ferry fare every time you transfer is a sure fire way to make public transport patronage plummet.
As the rollout of the AT Hop card progresses, it has become evident that the existing passes that enable this connectivity are being phased out and replaced with the AT Hop Monthly pass option.
Take the Northern Pass, for instance. AT have announced in the flyer for Birkenhead bus customers that the Northern Pass won’t be accepted for travel on buses after the 17th August. This hasn’t been widely publicised and may come as a surprise to students currently on holiday.
The Northern Pass has many of the attributes that encourage PT usage. It can be used on North Shore buses and on the rail network as far as Kingsland, Ellerslie and Glenn Innes.
It is available as a 2 hour pass, a day pass, an off-peak pass and a 7 day pass and it doesn’t penalise users that transfer between services at the busway or railway stations by making them pay twice.
You can see from the pricing that this there is also a considerable concession for students.
For AT Hop card users, it is becoming evident that the only “integrated” pass available will be the Monthly Pass. It will be great to simplify all of the passes currently in use, but so far the communication from Auckland Transport on this has been fairly poor, in particular if you are looking for it on the Maxx or AT Hop websites.
Originally AT Hop Monthly Pass only applied to the rail network. A lot of the AT information on Monthly Passes still only refers to the rail network, such as here and on the AT Hop site where you purchase monthly passes (don’t get me started on this page – what a mess! ), but if you look hard enough , you will see that all of the North Shore is now included as Zone B for the AT Hop Monthly Pass.
For many, pricing for the AT Hop Monthly Pass will be more expensive than the Northern Pass.
Current Lower Zone Northern Pass users pay roughly $173 for a month’s worth of travel, but now the same user must purchase an A and B Zone AT Hop pass for $190 a month. Of course they are now able to travel throughout all of the North Shore and on the rail network as far as New Lynn and Otahuhu, but many may not want this option.
On the other hand, Upper Zone users currently paying about $218 will be better off with the AT Hop A and B Monthly Pass for $190, again with the benefit of an extended rail zone.
However, students are going to feel ripped off – from what I can tell there aren’t any concessions for AT Hop Monthly passes.
Of course as the AT Hop card rolls out, one can simply use “Hop money” to pay as you go, but you have to pay the full fare every time you transfer – there doesn’t seem to be any mention of a discount for transfers between services from what I could find, so paying by Hop money can hardly be considered integrated.
All in all a very confusing state of affairs for hard-core users of the public transport network – one that I hope Auckland Transport can get on to pronto to clarify.
The topic of free public transport is one that comes up every now and again and it has recently been raised by Mayoral Hopeful John Minto.
How about another hour at home with your family – every workday?
Heaven knows Aucklanders deserve a break from gridlock traffic.
I’ve lived in this city for 36 years and for the last 20 the quality of life has slowly ebbed away through traffic conditions no citizen should have to put up with. Despite the building of more motorways, express roads, adding lanes to existing roads, putting feeder lights on the motorways and all manner of expensive add-ons, the problem gets worse. With future growth we are looking at existing traffic congestion turning into hell on earth.
And there’s no end in sight. Prime Minister John Key says the Government will put $10 billion into funding for Auckland transport initiatives over the next decade but it’s really just more of the same – roads, roads and more roads with a smaller chunk for public transport in seven years’ time.
It also means we will be lumbered with wasteful spending on new roading projects which will NOT reduce traffic gridlock. Every Aucklander knows that when a new road is built it just gets you to the traffic jam faster.
The cost of just accepting it is too high. A report to the Government in March this year pointed to $1.25 billion in lost productivity every year from traffic congestion. And now Mayor Len Brown is telling us that we must find an extra $12 billion over the next 30 years to mainly fund more roading projects. His “consensus building group” is proposing petrol and diesel tax increases, congestion charges, network charges, rates increases and increased fares on buses and trains and we’ll almost certainly be lumbered with toll charges for both the second harbour crossing and the existing harbour bridge. And remember that none of this will end traffic gridlock. It doesn’t get much more stupid than that.
Isn’t it time we broke out of the dull mediocrity of policies designed for the middle of last century and looked at ending traffic gridlock in less than a year with free and frequent public transport?
Can we get an extra hour at home with our families every workday? Yes, we can, and at less than half the cost of John Key’s roads which would go on the backburner until the impact of this policy means we could plan with more certainty.
Imagine comfortable, modern, low-emission trains and buses, fitted with free wi-fi, providing free and frequent travel to all parts of the Auckland urban area.
That would get Auckland moving like never before. People will abandon their cars and enjoy faster travel to and from work. No cash, no cards – just jump on and go as far as you need to – checking your emails and the news on the internet as you go.
Everyone would benefit with the choice of either free public transport or travelling in their car on a gridlock-free roading network. Two great choices!
Sound too good to be true? It shouldn’t because it could be up and running within 12 months.
Based on present public transport usage the cost would be approximately $280 million annually (70 million public transport trips in 2012) although this would rise as Aucklanders flock to buses and trains. It would need an initial investment to increase the number of buses – approximately $400 million over three years to double bus numbers. Additional trains would come later as the inner-city link is completed and the rail system can more than double its capacity.
It would be funded from money already allocated for road building which would not be needed in the medium term – in other words no rates increases, no extra petrol or diesel taxes, no congestion charges, no fare increases, no toll roads and every Aucklander gets another hour at home with their family every workday.
It should also be seen as an economic stimulus package. Not only would it release the $1.25 billion in lost productivity each year but the extra money saved by those using public transport would be spent to give a substantial economic boost to the real Auckland economy.
The environment benefits as well. At present 56 per cent of Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cars and trucks. Public transport is far cleaner and greener and would significantly reduce Auckland’s carbon footprint. In fact this policy is probably the most important green policy New Zealand could undertake to reduce environmental harm.
I hope Aucklanders will give this proposal close scrutiny – question it carefully and support it enthusiastically when they see it stacks up. The alternative is too horrible to think about.
Would our PT system be able to cope, even with double deckers everywhere?
Now there are some potential advantages to having free public transport, some are operational benefits while others less direct benefits. Let’s look at the operational benefits first
No cash handling
Handling cash can be a big issue for both bus companies and drivers. Companies obviously have to have processes and staff to reconcile all of the money and ensure that there is the right amount in the drivers cash boxes for the next day. Too little in them and staff might not have enough cash to be able to pay change – and we have seen some recent articles complaining about this. To much cash and the drivers can become a target for thieves looking to score some quick cash.
Being cash free removes these issues and means the drivers can hopefully focus on driving while the bus companies can hopefully focus on running their buses as efficiently as possible.
Many readers would have the experience of lining up to get on a bus but having to wait while someone in the queue ahead of you to fumbles around for loose change to pay their fare. This can not only be frustrating but on busy bus routes it can lead to delays as the bus gets slowed down. Not having to pay fares means that passengers can load on to a bus extremely quickly. This speeds buses up meaning that they can be more efficient and potentially allowing the same bus to complete more trips per day.
Some of the less direct benefits generally come from the fact that there is less cars on the road and can include:
- Drastic decrease in emission of exhaust gases
- Less noise
- Less traffic jams
- Better traffic safety
- Enormous savings in energy and raw materials
- Creation of new jobs
- Efficient economical development
- Considerably lower public and personal expenses
- Empowering of social justice
- Higher cultural dialogue
- Creation of friendlier urban environment
However the key thing is that these benefits can be obtained simply by getting more people to use PT regardless as to whether it is free or not and as such should really be put to the side in the argument.
But of course there are also disadvantages to having free PT.
Basic economics tells us that the cheaper the price of something, the more that people will use it. Removing fares from PT is likely to lead to much heavier use and while that can be a good thing, it can also have negative consequences. The primary one is that many buses/routes would simply be to crowded for many people to get on. Even putting more buses on is not likely to solve this issue leaving us with the issue of simply having shifted the congestion from our existing roads to the PT network. I suspect people are going to be much less keen to put up with consistently crowded PT services than they do with congested roads. Further because there is unlikely to be any form of ticketing system agencies like Auckland Transport will find it difficult to actually know where the capacity problems are making them difficult to address.
Leading on from the overcrowding issue, people would quickly start demanding much greater services to ease the pressure. Now that in itself isn’t a bad thing but it doesn’t come cheap. John does mention that more money would be needed to help address this but the amount suggested is simply not enough. We are likely to be talking about needing to triple – or more – our peak bus fleet and that alone would eat up the funds he suggests and that is before even talking about actually running them. To keep the number of buses moving we would also need a vastly more substantial bus priority network, just to keep the buses flowing and again that wouldn’t be cheap.
Like we found with the City Centre Future Access Study, another major issue would be bus congestion. Already this is forecast to at very high levels in and around the city centre and adding huge amounts of new buses isn’t going to help things. In fact it is much more likely to push forward the need for ever more expensive projects to increase PT capacity, much like we are seeing with roading proposals right now. While the PT advocate in me sees some positives in this, it also becomes very hypocritical.
I guess overall I think that there are some merits but that those are outweighed by the costs. There are cities that have rolled out similar schemes however as far as I’m aware almost all are much smaller in size and complexity than Auckland is. Most already have fairly well established PT systems that are much more easily able to manage the loads. Our network would need substantial investment to get to that kind of level and in the interim I suspect we would be looking at some very grumpy passengers.
Much of the benefits, including patronage increases, can come from simply getting more people to use PT and use it with HOP – which addresses most of the cash handling and faster boarding issues. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t address fares though and use them to target additional patronage. Addressing wider social issues – like how accessible the network is to poorer people – then that is something that could be dealt with through special fares or concessions. Similarly off peak patronage could be improved price differentials and/or group passes.
I guess I simply don’t think that now is the right time to even consider such a proposal, we need to wait until at least our PT system has matured a little and we have fixed the current problems that exist with it. But I’m keen to hear your thoughts. I’m sure there are both benefits and issues that I have missed. I’m sure you economists out there will definitely have something to say.
Auckland Transport have just announced a the results of their annual fare review.
2013 Annual Public Transport Fare Review
Auckland Transport (AT) has completed its annual review of bus, ferry and train fares.
An annual review of Auckland public transport fare prices is undertaken by AT in accordance with its service contract obligations with transport operators.
This year, there are no across the board increases in fares, but there are targeted fare changes. The fare changes are designed to align bus and rail fares and, for ferries, to align fares on 10-trip paper tickets and AT HOP cards in preparation for the final rollout of the AT HOP card across AT services during the rest of 2013.
Bus and Rail
Single trip cash fares will remain unchanged across all bus and rail as will adult and child* NZ Bus fares and child AT HOP and child 10-trip fares. Increases to some adult AT HOP and adult bus 10-trip tickets are needed. These will be between 2c and 22c per trip.
Some bus and rail, return pass, daily pass, monthly pass and multi-operator fares will also change in preparation for the transition to integrated bus and rail monthly and daily passes.
There is no general fare increase. Some ferry fares have reduced; targeted fare changes are proposed to achieve alignment of fares for 10-trip paper tickets and AT HOP cards and improved alignment of historic differences in fares for similar distance services.
For example, short distance inner harbour services such as Devonport, Bayswater and Birkenhead 10-trip paper tickets will increase up to 20c per trip but with reductions in AT HOP fares.
Beach Haven, Hobsonville and West Harbour ferry service fares will remain unchanged or be reduced.
Across bus, rail and ferry the discount offered to tertiary students will reduce from a minimum of 38% to a minimum of 35% off the adult single trip cash fare, resulting in individual fare increases of between 7c and 40c per trip.
“Auckland Transport is working hard with its operators to provide greater connectivity and efficiency between public transport modes as well as better integrated pricing structure and price parity”, says Auckland Transport’s manager of Public Transport Operations Mark Lambert.
“We all know that Auckland’s roads are under enormous pressure and increased use of public transport across all modes has to be part of the solution to that problem”.
“Making public transport services customer friendly, and with a fare structure that makes them an attractive choice for people is a priority for Auckland Transport and its operators. Our New Network programme which is starting to be consulted on in June, forms part of that approach”, says Mr Lambert.
The new fares come into effect on 3 June.
For further information: www.AT.co.nz
*Children aged from 5 to 15 years inclusive and full-time secondary school students aged between 16 to 19 years inclusive (provided they are able to show a current Auckland Transport approved secondary school student ID, or are wearing a recognised school uniform. Please note that there will be no exceptions to this policy – proof of school attendance must be provided at all times).
I must say, I find it very odd that cash fares are being left but that HOP fares are being are being increased. Surely a better option would have been to at least increase cash fares by a greater level so to increase the effective discount being provided.
The actual fares aren’t online yet so we will have to wait to see exactly what the changes are.
For most of the last year we have found ourselves somewhat puzzled by the stalling and even declines experienced by rail patronage in particular – but more recently general public transport patronage. This can be seen in the dip in 12 month rolling patronage totals up to November last year:
Auckland Transport have provided a multitude of excuses for the patronage dip over the past few months – some more plausible than others (they blamed the World Cup for some of the declines in August and November, even though the World Cup was only in September & October 2011). Some of the decline may be due to higher rail fare evasion than we think (anecdotal evidence on this is pretty strong) but I wonder whether public transport fares are really starting to hurt some people and put them off catching the bus, train or ferry. With inflation at near-zero, wage growth stagnant seemingly forever and petrol prices still below the peaks of a few years back the fare increases for rail in particular over the past few years may be starting to bite.
A benchmarking study of public transport in Auckland and a number of comparator cities prepared a couple of years ago highlighted that Auckland’s PT fares – on a per kilometre basis – were higher than all other cities analysed:Yes, the graph does show that Auckland’s fares are on average around twice those of the Australian cities and much higher than Wellington’s. This is despite (or perhaps a cause of) Auckland generally having one of the poorest and least used systems when compared to these other cities.
There are lots of ways that we can improve our fare system, like the introduction of free transfers, zone-based fares, greater incentives for people to use the Hop Card, pricing differentials between peak and off-peak, better deals for monthly pass holders and so forth. Those are all great, but I wonder whether they miss the fundamental point of still assuming the same general level of contribution by users to the cost of public transport provision. Certainly Auckland’s farebox recovery rate (which has increased to about 43% from what’s shown below which was in the benchmarking study referred to above) is certainly higher than a lot of Australian cities:Fortunately a lot of work has gone into creating a more efficient PT network over the last while, with the new bus network likely to generate a lot more patronage without extra service requirements. Hopefully the PTOM contracting system will also generate cost efficiencies. This work should hopefully mean that the public money spent on public transport is being utilised far more efficiently than in the past – effectively we are getting more bang for our buck.
But the next question is around how to use those savings – to reinvest in extra service, to bank the savings or perhaps to lower some fares? I’ve wondered for a while whether the strategic lowering of certain fares would generate a big patronage gain and the benefits which arise from more patronage would easily outweigh the revenue foregone in the lower fares. There are a number of ways this could happen:
- The lower fares could end up with more passengers paying and theoretically this could mean more revenue overall. Generally patronage is seen to be relatively inelastic to price (though this varies hugely for different trips) so ending up with more overall revenue is relatively unlikely.
- The patronage gain could generate significant external benefits, such as in the form of decongestion benefits – which for rail are particularly significant at around $17 per peak time passenger.
- Lower fares could mean that some people end up ditching their family’s second car and shifting to the bus or train as it’s now clear that catching PT makes financial sense to them. As many of the costs of car ownership are relatively hidden (e.g. depreciation) they may end up in a much better financial position in the longer run.
There are lots of messy details to work through around the most effective way to target fares to maximise benefits created and that’s not really the intention of my post. I guess I’m just interested in understanding whether we’d be better off if PT fares were a bit lower generally – certainly a lot of other cities seem to think so.
The November patronage statistics highlight that the dip in rail use continues. Like September and October, when the Rugby World Cup last year made comparisons a bit silly, in November there’s a reasonable explanation for the dip: the transition to use of the AT Hop card means that trips are no longer counted at the time of purchase (for 10 ride tickets) but instead at the time the trip is actually made. According to Auckland Transport this change accounts for most, but not all, of the decline in patronage compared to November 2011.
Another reason for the decline is likely to be an increase in rail fare evasion. Throughout this whole year there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that rail evasion has become absolutely rife. I know that I took a trip from New Lynn to Henderson a few months back and never saw a single staff member enter our carriage the whole time.
Introduction of the AT Hop card has improved matters in some respects, but also made things worse in other ways. For trips to or from Britomart and Newmarket, the installation of ticket gates is likely to have all but eliminated fare evasion – however elsewhere on the network the ability of people to skip either tagging on or tagging off at the posts seems pretty high. Especially as even if you’re caught, the worst thing that can happen is getting turfed off the train.
I think there are two kinds of fare evaders:
- Those who are determined to evade their fares and probably wouldn’t ride the train if they had to pay.
- Those who are happy to pay for their fare but don’t exactly go out of their way to do so and therefore often end up avoiding paying even if it wasn’t fully intended.
I’d say the second group are by far the most common.
Overseas cities have come up with some pretty clever tactics to minimise the likelihood of fare evasion. Firstly, there is the threat of fairly hefty fines for those caught without the correct fare – something I understand Auckland Transport is working with the Ministry of Transport to change a few laws so a similar system can be introduced here. The second is a bit more subtle but creates a sub-conscious mindset of needing to do the right thing by paying your fare – perhaps best illustrated by the establishment of clear “fare paid zones”. Here’s an example from Vancouver:To walk past this point without having paid your fare requires a pretty active and deliberate decision to be made. In London there are similar set-ups, but with the tag posts right at this point and often supported by CCTV to check that people really are tagging on or off with their Oyster Cards.
Any system will generally have some level of fare evasion and that’s probably OK because it costs more to go after that last 1-2% of riders compared to the fare revenue actually lost. However it seems that Auckland’s rail system suffers from fare evasion levels far far higher than this, which is not only impacting on the revenue raised (which is predominantly lost money for Auckland Transport rather than Veolia) but also meaning that our patronage statistics might in reality be a lot better than they’re looking.
A few simple changes to station entrances like what’s been done in Vancouver, plus hurrying up law changes required to enable fare evaders to be fined, seem like pretty simple ways to significantly reduce fare evasion and potentially boost patronage numbers quite substantially. Auckland Transport had better get on with it, because the way things are looking hey aren’t going to get near their Statement of Intent patronage targets.
One of the most discussed parts of the draft Regional Public Transport Plan seems to have turned out to be the proposed fare zone map. My fellow bloggers Mr Anderson and Stu Donovan discussed the zones in previous posts, while today’s NZ Herald also quotes Labour MP Phil Twyford’s criticism of the proposed boundaries.
A draft published by Auckland Transport for public discussion shows eight travel zones proposed for introduction between the middle of next year and the end of 2014.
Unless the plan is radically overhauled after submissions on the regional public transport plan close on November 5, passengers will be able to travel to central Auckland from as far north as Long Bay for a two-zone fare, at a price yet to be determined.
But it will cost a three-zone fare to travel from anywhere west of New Lynn or south of Onehunga or Otahuhu, despite New Lynn and Onehunga being 10km from the city centre, compared with 20km from Long Bay to downtown.
Mr Twyford, Labour’s transport spokesman, said that was blatantly unfair on low-income working families in his area and South Auckland who relied on public transport.
“It looks like the public transport map for Alabama, 1955.
“The parts of West Auckland I represent are probably the worst served by public transport of any area in Auckland City. I don’t believe they should be disadvantaged in this way.”
Mr Twyford’s analogy is a bit excessive, but looking at the zone map he does have a bit of a point about the North Shore doing unreasonably well out of the proposed boundaries:Long Bay, Kumeu, Whitford and Manukau all roughly fall about 20 kilometres from downtown. Yet the zones they fall within are very very different:
- A trip from Long Bay to the city would only be two zones
- A trip from Whitford or Kumeu to the city would be four zones
- A trip from Manukau to the city would be three zones
The other anomaly in the zone map is, I think, the huge southern zone. Does it really make sense for trips between Mangere and the city (barely 10km) to be charged the same as a trip from Drury to the city (over 30km)? I don’t really think so. While huge zones have a potential advantage in that you can take quite a long trip for the price of a single zone, they will inevitably mean a fairly high price per zone travelled through. With the large zones above I can’t see this system stacking up with prices of much lower than $2.50 for each zone you travel through – which would mean some pretty whopping costs for people outside the isthmus to the west and the south. Smaller zones seem likely to result in a lower charge “per zone” and therefore probably less change from the current fare levels.
For a start, let’s split that northern zone into an upper and a lower zone. For simplicity’s sake let’s just use the current boundary for the Northern Pass:
The logical place to split the southern boundary is at Manukau City, with a bit of a “grey boundary” across a band east and west of there to ensure short trips don’t fall into the cost of a two zone ticket.
That leaves us with something like this:
There would be some other implications for outer areas:
- The outer north would fall into the same zone as the outer west as both would be 4 zones from the city. This cleans up a fairly odd anomaly in the current maps.
- Whitford and Maraetai would probably fall into the “four zones from city” zone along with Manurewa, Papakura etc.
- Pukekohe would probably now be five zones from the city, which makes sense as it’s similar in distance from the city as Warkworth (which actually gets a bus service in the RPTP and also would sensibly be five zones from the city)
I think that altogether this would make for a fairer system and probably result in lower “per zone” fare charges and less change from current fare levels. The only other possible question is whether the isthmus should be split into an eastern zone and a western zone to further lower the cost of each zone’s travel.