Auckland Transport Early October Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is on Thursday and below are sections from the various reports that caught my attention.

The first thing I noticed was the huge number of items on the closed agenda with 18 specific items for decision/approval or for noting. The topics include a number of items that I imagine a lot of people would be interested in these include (but are not limited to).

  • Papakura Pukekohe Electrification
  • Auckland Rail Development Implementation Pathway
  • Rail Procurement Strategy – Presumably around the re-contracting of rail services
  • PT Network Name & Bus Livery – there is some more on this later in this post
  • Wayfinding – there is some more on this later in this post
  • CRL Update
  • Mill Road
  • Rail Fleet Disposal Update – What’s going to happen to our old diesel trains post electrification
  • EMU Implementation/Timetable update – there is some more on this later in this post.
  • Bus Development Initiative
  • EW Connections – The infamous East West Link
  • CCFAS2 – This is the first I’ve heard of a second City Centre Future Access Study. Hopefully his is just fixing up the modelling issues in the first version.
  • Newmarket Crossing – The grade separation of the Sarawia St level crossing. AT’s plan was to build a bridge to Cowie St but residents there are challenging the decision in the environment court.

The trend of lots of closed session items continues for the months ahead too according to this document

End of October November December
CCFAS2 Ferry Services Strategy HOP Extension and Loyalty Programme
Integrated Fares Business Case Parking Strategy Digital and Social Media Strategy
PT Security & Fare Evasion Transport Funding Agreement
Bus Service Commercial & Sth Auck Tender Dominion Road
EMU Costings AMETI
Draft RLTP CCFAS2
Customer First Strategy

On to the information that is available and from the business report we have

On specific projects:

  • AT are only just now getting around to talking with locals affected by the alternative cycle route being built as part of the Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade. From memory the alternative cycling route was originally meant to have been completed as one of the first stages of the project but we now have the road finished but the cycling portion yet to start.
  • The new AMETI Link Rd – which has been named Te Horeta Road is almost complete and will open on 1 November. This is the road I highlighted the other day for its unprotected cycleways on what is almost a motorway.
Te Horeta Rd - AT Report

Te Horeta Rd looking South – Looks like there’s already a car in the cycle lane ;-)

  • For the East West Link Connections, AT say an indicative business case has now been completed. In addition to the plans for the Onehunga-Penrose area they say they have also identified some improvements needed to planned bus route between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park. Presumably that will mean more bus lanes/priority being added.
  • A separate paper says AT will replace 40,000 of Auckland’s 108,000 street lights with LEDs and a management system for them which allows control over each individual light. It will take place over a 5 year period for a cost of $22 million and over the next 20 years is expected to bring savings of at least $36 million.

Historically AT have travel planning for schools (Travelwise) and for some businesses but never really focused on individuals.

The Birkenhead Personalised Journey Plan ran from April to August 2014. The project recruited 438 commuter car drivers and provided advice on alternative travel options – public transport, carpooling and active modes (including to public transport). Although 76% were aware of the AT HOP card around 30% of recruits had never used public transport for commuting. There were strong perceptions that public transport offered a lesser quality of service and experience than their private car.

The programme was effective in getting participants to try an alternative to driving for their commute, with 61% trying an alternative during the trial period. This was particularly focused for the city bound trips with 86% of completing participants (111 completed full evaluation) trying another travel choice.

The project achieved a 49% reduction in morning peak single occupant trips and 42% reduction in vehicle kilometres in the morning peak. This included an extra 282kms of walking, to destinations or public transport, equating to 5km every week on average per participant and an extra 17,640 public transport trips annually.

The programme achieved a high level of satisfaction with 85% stating they were satisfied or very satisfied with the customer service they received and 60% agreed that the programme had helped them think about their travel options.

A Personalised Journey Planning project is now in development for Titirangi and Green Bay to support the new bus network implementation (which sees higher frequencies and more direct routes).

Getting people to try other ways of getting around is the hardest part so I hope this is something that can eventually be rolled out to a much larger audience.

Not really related to transport other than the impact on the road corridor but about the rollout of Ultra-Fast Broadband AT say

In an effort to reduce the costs of deployment, Chorus are now trialing a new build approach of single sided core network deployment with road crossings being installed to every second house boundary. While this approach is not favored it does provide an upside to AT through less customer and asset disruption. If these road crossings cannot be installed with trenchless technology then deployment is required on both sides of the road.

For PT:

HOP usage increased to 71% of all trips in August, up from 67% in July. I suspect a large part of this was the fare changes in early July which for buses and trains increased cash fares but reduced HOP fares by increasing the HOP discount. They say over 38,000 cards have been sold over the last 90 days. As noted earlier a paper to the board at the next meeting will about the installation of additional gates across the rail system (including potentially security gates). That is the same meeting another report will go to the board with the business case for Integrated Fares.

They say “concept development for 1/3/7 day and customized HOP cards for visitor / tourist PT and tourist attraction discounted access is nearing completion“. I hope this development includes multi day pass options for regular users too. In addition they have come up with “a NRL Nines AT HOP card with discounted tourist attraction passes is targeted for January 2015. This is a collaboration exercise with ATEED and pivots off Auckland visitor research.

A new rail timetable has been approved by all parties which will be implemented in early December and see some substantial changes for the Southern Lines.

The new timetable will provide for full 7-day EMU Manukau via Eastern Line services with increased frequency to 6 trains per hour peak, and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends at 2 trains per hour. Diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. Papakura / Pukekohe diesel services will all operate via the Southern Line (via Newmarket) rather than operating an alternating via Southern Line and via Eastern Line. This will improve the customer legibility of the Eastern Line (Manukau) and Southern Line (Papakura / Pukekohe) service patterns and improve resilience and robustness of the timetable.

So effectively will see this service pattern implemented although the off peak/weekend services will need to be increased at or before the new network is launched next year. Disappointingly there is no mention of any service improvements for the Western Line which has seen basically no change for a number of years now.

service-pattern-post-electrification

On the new network, AT say they received over 900 feedback forms for the Hibiscus Coast consultation and nearly 400 on Warkworth. This is in addition to over 1200 people spoken to at consultation events. AT are now working through these. They also say the consultation for all of West Auckland is due to launch on 21 October and is something I’ll be keep a very close eye on seeing as I live in the west.

AT say work is continuing on a series of bus priority measures, which involve both quick wins as well as longer term programmes. There are 16 quick wins and 10 corridors for investigation. Hopefully this means lots more bus lanes around the region soon helping to make buses more efficient, reliable and therefore attractive to the public.

AT are currently testing displaying comparative bus travel times for the Northern Busway and motorway on the motorway signs. This sounds like a fantastic idea and another way to encourage people to give PT a go. The only problem I foresee is that it will lead to even more calls for big and really expensive park n ride facilities.

Also on the real-time front AT will be displaying real-time train departures on ANZ Bank digital displays in both the Customs/Queen and Victoria/Queen branches from early next month. This idea is one that will hopefully be increasingly rolled out to locations near the rail network.

Details about closures to the rail network over Christmas are included in the report. They mention the works needed to build the new Otahuhu Interchange but there’s no mention of why the Western Line will be shut for 2.5 weeks. The network will be shut for the following times

  • Sunday 23 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
  • Saturday 29 November: diesel trains required to operate on the Manukau via Eastern Line all day replacing EMUs.
  • Saturday 6 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
  • Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 December: bus replacements south of Penrose and Sylvia Park replacing trains.
  • Thursday 25 December to Sunday 4 January: full network shutdown with bus replacements on all lines.
  • Monday 5 to Sunday 11 January: Western Line only closed between Waitakere and Newmarket with bus replacements. All other lines open.

And saving perhaps the most interesting part till last. AT say they have completed a redesign of bus livery that will be rolled out as part of new contracts with operators. They say they’ve used the EMU livery as the starting point for their designs and the intention is to deliver a consistent look across the modes. This is something we’ve needed for a long time so it’s great that it will be finally happening and will really help in highlighting that we have single integrated PT system rather than the multi coloured mess we have now. On the designs themselves they do feel like evolutions of what we have now on some services which is probably a good thing. I like that they’ve cut back from the massive AT sign that currently exists on the NEX to one that doesn’t obscure the view out the rear windows. It also appears they are planning some large wayfinding signs on the side of the buses which should hopefully help customers.

[Image removed temporarily]

 

It is also the first time I’ve heard about NEX2 and all I can assume is it’s another service pattern on the Busway. Also with AT going for a multi-modal look I wonder if they’ll do anything about the look of the ferries.

Lastly linked to the bus livery AT is looking at improving wayfinding signs. Below is an example of this.

[Image removed temporarily]

 

They say improving wayfinding is an AT led all of council project which presumably means the same types of design will also pop up in other places such as parks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free off-peak PT for students?

Yesterday the Green Party announced a policy of providing tertiary students and those undertaking apprenticeships with free public transport during off-peak periods. The details of the policy are:

  1. All tertiary students and apprentices will get free off-peak travel on buses, trains, and ferries with a Student Green Card. All students attending universities, wānanga, polytechnics and Private Training Establishments, as well as those training through New Zealand Apprenticeships, will be eligible for the Green Card.
  2. This will benefit up to 325,000 tertiary students, as well as approximately 28,000 people training under the New Zealand Apprenticeship scheme.
  3. Off-peak travel will be free between the hours of 9am and 3pm, and from 6.30pm until the end of service on weekdays. It also covers all weekends and public holidays.
  4. The Student Green Card will cost between $20 million-30 million per year. The costings are based on an increase in trips of 30 percent in response to the free travel on the Green Card, and would cost the Crown between $1.70-$2.20 per passenger trip. This will be funded by re-prioritised spending from the National Land Transport Fund.

All up this sounds like a university student version of a Super Gold card.

We’ve been skeptical of free public transport in the past because of its impact on costs, bus overcrowding and whether making PT free is the most effective way of increasing patronage (compared to, for example, spending that money on improving the system for everyone).

Like the Super Gold card the Greens policy reduces some of these problems by only applying in the off-peak period, when (theoretically at least, may not apply to some routes in Auckland) there is available spare capacity. Another advantage of the policy is that it’s to be funded out of the National Land Transport Fund rather than from general taxation, which means it’s money that most likely would have gone to building motorways that we don’t need.

However, it’s still an important question to ask whether this is the best way to spend $20-30 million a year to achieve the outcomes the Greens seem to be after: reducing the cost burden of transport on low income people and boosting public transport use. I tend to find myself agreeing with this tweet from Stephen Davis:

From a transport perspective, making particular trips free is unlikely to be the best way of boosting the use of a system. As Jarrett Walker notes, what we’re actually talking about is a trade-off between a fare cut (which some people benefit from) and a boost in service (which all people would benefit from):

If you want transit to be mainly for low-income people who have a low value of time, cut fares, as this is an improvement  targeted to benefit only the cost-sensitive.  By not improving service, this choice may also lead to an increased “stigma” around transit as it is perceived, with increasing accuracy, as a low-quality experience that is of no relevance to people who have choices.

If you want transit to be useful to a broad spectrum of the population, increase service.

From a cost burden perspective, it’s not that clear this is the best targeted policy either. We know from census data and other analysis (like John’s excellent post yesterday or Peter’s from a few weeks ago) that if we’re looking at reducing the financial burden of transport we should be trying to make public transport more attractive and affordable for people living in the south and west – probably people travelling to low-paid jobs rather than students who have pretty good transport options a lot of the time (especially if they’re studying in the city centre).

There are also a few slightly weird quirks in the policy:

  • Why should High School students have to pay to catch the bus on weekends but not university students?
  • Will there be huge pressure on exact 9am services or services just before 3pm in the afternoon?
  • What will the policy to do attendance levels for 9am lectures?
  • How do we stop operators ripping off the system, like it seems they sometimes have with the Super Gold Card in the past?

Overall, the policy is not terrible. There are good advantages of getting people used to catching PT at a time in their lives when they’re looking at moving out of home, potentially purchasing vehicles and making other key decisions that set in life-time travel patterns. However, on balance I just think there are probably better ways of achieving the goals the policy is aiming for. How about $20 million a year in scholarships for poorer students to attend University? How about a few million on bus lanes? How about making off-peak fares a bit cheaper (but not free) for everyone?

PT fares change today

Public transport fares have changed today and despite cash fares increasing, for the majority of users the cost of using PT has dropped thanks to an increase in the HOP discount. As I said back when the change was announced.

Overall I think this is a very good move by AT. By raising the cash fares but also increasing the HOP discount it does two things.

  1. It increases the differential between cash and HOP fares which will help make HOP more attractive. More people using HOP is good, particularly for buses as it speeds up boarding time.
  2. Over 60% of all trips now take place using HOP, that means for the majority of PT users these changes will actually represent a decrease in fares.

As of the end of May 64% of bus and train users were already using HOP cards and I suspect it has grown further during June. Since the change was announced I’ve also heard of people who have brought a HOP card simply because of the changes which are clearly designed to encourage greater use of HOP.

The adult bus and train fares changes are below.

July 2014 Fare changes

No everyone has benefited though with most ferry fares increasing.

I think it will be a fascinating to see what happens with patronage which has been growing strongly in recent months and I hope will continue to do so.

In addition to the fare changes, last week AT quietly introduced daily passes on HOP. The daily passes work in the same way and with the same zones as the monthly passes yet oddly despite there being an inner zone there isn’t an inner zone daily pass. There also aren’t any child pricing options. The costs are:

  • Zones A & B – $16
  • Zones A, B & C – $22

The map below shows the zones.

Daily Pass Zone

It seems like there is still some way to go before this can be a product easily used by many people

Duncan Garner on using Public Transport

Radio Live host Duncan Garner decided to have a car-free day on Sunday and take his family from Avondale to Devonport using public transport. He has written about his experience here and it highlights many of the things wrong with our current system. He starts:

So, we decided to have a car-free day on Sunday. We had four kids and the wife and I decided to take them to Devonport to climb North Head, explore the tunnels and have some lunch. We arrived at Avondale station, close to where we live to take the train. First mistake: the Mrs read an expired timetable at home and we arrived as a train was just about to leave. Did they see us? Yes. Did it stop and let us on? No. No worries! Our mistake. So the wife pulled out her ‘Hop Card’ and tried to buy us a family pass to Britomart. Did it happen? No. Is a family pass an option? No. Hopeless. So we bought four kids tickets and two adults. Total cost – $19.40.

After going on to describe his day in more detail he ends with a summary of his impressions

So what are my impressions of going car-less? 1. It’s actually harder and you have to plan meticulously. 2. It’s not cheap – the return train cost us $36.20 – that’s a lot of petrol in my car. 3. It takes longer to get places because it’s not point to point. 4. Why couldn’t I buy return tickets at Avondale train station? 5. Why couldn’t I buy a family pass or off peak pass? 6. Why do they offer cheaper prices at Britomart but not at outer suburban stations? 7. As a first time user my wife’s hop card did not work for the train and therefore we flagged it for the ferry. We paid cash. It’s not user-friendly for families. 8. Why were there four ticket inspectors on my train on Sunday afternoon? Almost one per passenger. 9. It involves a lot of walking and we were all stuffed by 7pm Sunday evening. All up, it cost me $68.20 to get to Devonport with my family – that was return. I could get almost ¾ of a tank of gas for that. And I could have driven point to point. I want to use public transport, but it needs to be cheaper and it needs to go to more places, more often – but that won’t happen unless we get the incentives right. Let’s get this right. Let’s make it cheaper. Let’s get people on the trains and buses. There is still plenty of work to be done.

A couple of the points he makes I think are a little bit wide of the mark, for example the ticket inspectors need to be seen on a variety of services to be effective and surely a degree of walking was always going to be needed however his comments about the cost of tickets and how easy (or not) it is to buy them are what AT need to take on board.

Auckland Transport seem to primarily focus their attention and pricing on competing for solo trips to and from town and there has been almost no consideration of people who might want to travel in a group. That can mean even just travelling as a couple can be more expensive than a car and parking. Family passes are one solution to trips like the ones Duncan made however as he found out, they are only available at a handful of stations making them useless to most people.

The range and pricing for group travel leaves a lot to be desired which is a great shame as particularly on weekends they represent a great opportunity for people to try out the system as part of a family outing.

What’s happening with the HOP daily passes

For a number of months earlier this year the Auckland Transport Board Reports included the following lines.

March Meeting

Testing of a new AT HOP Day Pass is underway for targeted introduction by April 2014 across bus, rail and ferry. The pass will offer greater flexibility through three separate geographic zones compared with the existing and to be withdrawn paper Discovery Day Pass

April Meeting

Testing of a new AT HOP Day Pass is underway for targeted introduction by May 2014 across bus, rail and ferry. The pass will offer greater flexibility through three separate geographic zones compared with the existing and to be withdrawn paper Discovery Day Pass. Existing Discovery Day Pass will remain in market until at least 31st May, to ensure customers still have access to multi-modal travel product

April and May came and went with no sign of a daily pass and in the May meeting the references to it disappeared completely. Reader Nigel Jones decided to try and find out what had happened with the day pass so lodged an LGOIMA request with AT to find out. He’s now had the results back and has written about it here. This post will be largely based on his post.

As part of their response to Nigel, Auckland Transport have confirmed the primary issue has been related to technical issues

Daily Pass delay

However going through the responses Nigel found more detailed information on the issues AT were having. These include:

  1. Machines having taking up to 10 seconds to read the cards.
  2. Issues with apportioning revenue to operators – a great example of why we need to get the new PTOM contracts rolled out so AT don’t have to worry about this stuff.
  3. Inconsistent treatment of how the passes are sold depending on the channel
  4. Trouble with purchasing different zone products on the same card- i.e. if you have a monthly pass for one zone but want a daily pass for travel to another zone it won’t work on the same card

Some potential mitigation options for the issues were listed as

  • Delay the daily pass implementation – something that had had already been done twice
  • Reduce the number of pass options from 6 originally proposed.
  • Setting up different processes to account for the apportionment issue.
  • Accept the limitations and try to explain them in the comms process.

All up it seems like a pretty messy affair although one not all uncommon with technology development. However I can’t help but think the whole thing is something that they should have been on to much much sooner. I’m also concerned that are implementing a daily pass option which is something you have to know you want to purchase at the start of the day rather than developing a more customer friendly daily cap which effectively allows for free travel after you’ve spent a certain amount.

AT’s most recent board report states that the pass will be available in July/August and I understand the official roll out date will be 1st July with RadioNZ reporting passes will cost between $16 and $22

Most HOP fares to drop

Auckland Transport have announced the results of the latest public transport fare review and its good. What’s more they appear to be addressing or working towards addressing many of the issues we have raised in the past.

Auckland Transport has completed its Annual Fare Review which sees ticket prices on buses, trains and ferries change from July 6. From that date adults who use the AT HOP card for their travel will receive a 20% discount off the single trip adult cash fare (excluding NiteRider, Airbus Express and Waiheke ferry services). Child and tertiary AT HOP users will also continue to receive discounts on most services, when compared to the equivalent cash fares. In contrast most cash fares for bus and train and some cash fares for ferry will increase (some AT HOP fares for ferries will also increase).

Auckland Transport Chief Executive David Warburton says the annual review takes into account operator cost increases (e.g. fuel and wages), revenue and patronage movements. He adds that Auckland Transport is also undertaking a strategic review of all public transport costs and pricing, due to be completed towards the end of the year. “Public transport must be seen as a viable alternative to the car if Auckland is to even begin to resolve its transport problems”, he says. “By making travel even more attractive on the AT HOP card we are hoping more people will switch to public transport.”

In March there was a jump in the number of people using public transport in Auckland with 7.3 million trips, an increase of 3.9% on March last year. The financial year to March also saw strong growth overall with just over 71 million trips.

In addition to an increased discount on AT HOP Auckland Transport will remove the 25 cent top-up fee and reduce the minimum top-up amount on the card from $10 to $5, both from July 6. The card itself will also remain at $5 until at least 31 January 2015.

From July 6 when the new fares are implemented, cash fares will be in 50 cent multiples which will reduce cash handling on buses in particular (with the exception of the City LINK child cash fare which will remain at 30 cents). Mr Warburton has also signalled that Auckland Transport hopes to move to implementing an exact fare/no change given policy in the future and will investigate the potential of removing cash fares altogether, as has recently been introduced in Sydney.

Here’s what’s happening with adult bus and train fares

July 2014 Fare changes

Overall I think this is a very good move by AT. By raising the cash fares but also increasing the HOP discount it does two things.

  1. It increases the differential between cash and HOP fares which will help make HOP more attractive. More people using HOP is good, particularly for buses as it speeds up boarding time.
  2. Over 60% of all trips now take place using HOP, that means for the majority of PT users these changes will actually represent a decrease in fares.

That second point is important as I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen an actual fare decrease before – although AT’s transport indicators show that fares had been reducing due to inflation for some time.

Change in the 1-5 stage bus cash fares in 2013 prices over time. The HOP fares (dotted line) show the equivalent HOP fares. The HOP stage 1 bus fare is equivalent to the 2004 stage 1 cash fare and for other stages is cheaper than the 2004 cash fares. (Nominal fares are adjusted based on CPI index to provide their relative cost in real terms)

Fares compared to inflation

The one mode that has bucked the trend has been ferry fares which mostly seem to be going up which is probably a symptom of the more commercial nature of ferries.

It will certainly be interesting to see what these change do to patronage. One thing I do wonder though is what the impact on revenue is from the change to HOP fares. Could the difference have been used to provide additional services and would those deliver more patronage growth than what this fare change will deliver?

The one issue I have seen people not as happy about is the ferry fares which mostly seem to be going up. I also like how the cash fares are being rounded to a multiple of 50c which should hopefully help speed up the issuing of change on buses. I’m also sure that people will like the removal of the top up fee, the reduction of the minimum top up amount and the reduce prices of HOP cards – although none of them actually bothered me.

I also like how AT have signalled future changes to further speed up buses by eventually implementing an exact change/no change given policy or potentially removing cash fares altogether. The exact/no change idea is something that I imagine could be fairly easy to implement providing the communications around it are clear. HOP only is probably a little more difficult but perhaps something that could be done on selected services. In my mind perhaps start with the Northern Express and eventually work towards at least the entire frequent network being HOP only.

All up some good changes from AT and ones that should encourage both greater use of HOP and hopefully more patronage too. This should probably be the last fare change before we get integrated ticketing some time next year.

Better or cheaper public transport?

With the great news that the Hop Card has finally been fully implemented, attention now turns to complementing integrated ticketing with integrated fares. Integrated fares is all about ensuring that you pay the same amount for a trip from A to B regardless of how you got there: a single bus, bus & train combination or whatever. The Regional Public Transport Plan indicates that Auckland Transport want to implement integrated fares through a zone based fare system – with latest board reports noting a couple of options still being analysed.

With my trying out of various options to get to and from Takapuna it has also highlighted just how important integrated fares are. With HOP to go via the 130 bus like I described yesterday it cost me $5.04. By comparison to catch a train to town and then get a bus to Takapuna – a journey that takes about the same length of time but doesn’t feel like it due to at least feeling like you are moving – costs $8.68. That’s a difference of $3.64 just to get to the same location. Even worse another bus I accidentally tried from town to Takapuna (which I will discuss in a separate post) cost a grand total of $9.67. That’s three completely different costs to go between the same two locations.

HOP costs to Takapuna

The fare zones originally proposed in the draft Regional Public Transport Plan looked at using geographic boundaries largely reminiscent of the old council areas however that didn’t receive a lot of support and sent AT back to the drawing board.  The latest board report suggests that AT are looking at two different concentric zone models like this one from a survey in August last year which I understand was much preferred over the geographic boundary option.

Concentric Zone structure

In Wednesday’s NZ Herald, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy discusses the potential for the integrated fares system to result in cheaper travel on public transport:

Aucklanders are being offered hope of cheaper public transport now introduction of the region’s $100 million electronic ticketing scheme is complete.

A report that Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy expects will recommend lower fares to help meet ambitious patronage targets is due before his council body’s board in two months…

…Dr Levy told the Herald after yesterday’s meeting that the card was a stepping stone to a simpler fare structure, which he hoped would give passengers cheaper trips.

The prospect of cheaper public transport is obviously appealing in some respects – and perhaps for some people the cost of public transport is what stops them from using the system. For most people though, I think the bigger issue is simply the usefulness of the system. When the system is full of routes like the stupid 130 that I talked about yesterday and/or routes with such low frequency meaning you have to plan your life around a bus timetable then no amount of price reductions is going to get lots more people using services.

Furthermore in the past I’ve looked into a number of Canadian and Australian cities and interestingly despite different fare structures and prices, the average fare paid by passengers is actually very similar to that in Auckland. These cities have much higher patronage than Auckland and some of the key reasons are the more developed Rapid Transit services and the connective bus networks. In other words they have developed a higher quality PT network and people are prepared to pay to use that.

There has also been some interesting research into this area by the NZTA. For example this paper found that while fares did play an important part, service was the key driving factor for patronage while this one notes that initiatives like free transfers, ticket promotions, improvements to hours and better timetables may have had a profound impact on patronage.

In saying all of this, I do think it’s possible that cleverly lowering some fares might lead to patronage growth significant enough to more than make up for the loss of per passenger revenue – particularly during off-peak periods where spare capacity already exists on many services.

However, clearly any reduction in fares that leads to a requirement for more operating subsidy is potentially taking money away from where it could otherwise be used – particularly in two areas:

  • Improving service frequency. The flip-side of this is that any lowering of revenue from PT fares could necessitate cutting of services to fund the extra subsidy requirement – which would be a pretty crazy thing to do if patronage increases.
  • Investing the money in infrastructure improvements to make public transport more attractive by being faster, more reliable or with higher quality facilities.

Obviously there’s the potential for money to be redirected away from building unnecessary motorway projects and into lowering PT fares, but one suspects that would require a change of government to occur.

All of the above doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Auckland Transport to change the way it prices public transport to be more attractive and offer better value for money. A few suggestions for how fares should be improved while not necessarily breaking the bank are:

  • Fixing up fare irregularities like mentioned in my example to Takapuna
  • While average fares are similar, compared to overseas cities, fares for short trips in Auckland are unusually low while fares for longer trips are unusually high. This could be redressed – although perhaps not to the extent of Melbourne’s flat fare proposal – in a way that’s ‘revenue neutral’.
  • As already mentioned, fares for off-peak travel could be lowered to ‘smooth out’ peaks in demand that require very expensive peak services to be operated.
  • The price difference between cash fares and Hop Card fares could be substantially increased to encourage greater use of Hop (which means faster boarding times and a more efficient system).
  • Monthly passes could be made more price attractive, to encourage higher levels of PT use by existing users.

As Jarrett Walker often mentions, every public transport user benefits from better public transport and improved public transport makes it more likely for anyone to use the system. Cheaper fares, particularly if achieved in a way that comes at the cost of lower overall revenue, only help a much smaller section of society and therefore are less likely to boost public transport use than improving service through bumping up frequencies or building better infrastructure.

Ultimately I think we have an important choice to make, do we choose between better or cheaper public transport. Personally I would rather a better quality service but I realise not everyone will agree.

AT’s Feb board meeting

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

Finance

i) Half Year Report
ii) Update on draft 2014/15 AT Opex Budget
iii) Fleet purchase and funding roll forward

Capital Development

iv) Albany Highway
v) Mill Road
vi) Tamaki Ngapipi Intersection
vii) AMETI
viii) East West Link

Operations

ix) Northern Maintenance Contract Award

Strategy & Planning

x) Draft Parking Strategy Consultation

Business Technology

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.

EMU testing

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.

HOP ticketing usage Feb 2014

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).

Tamaki-Ngapipi intersection upgrade

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.

Another fares disaster?

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
    1. 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.
    2. 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.

Northern Pass Fares

 

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.