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:
- 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.
- This will benefit up to 325,000 tertiary students, as well as approximately 28,000 people training under the New Zealand Apprenticeship scheme.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
It seems like there is still some way to go before this can be a product easily used by many people
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.
For a number of months earlier this year the Auckland Transport Board Reports included the following lines.
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
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
However going through the responses Nigel found more detailed information on the issues AT were having. These include:
- Machines having taking up to 10 seconds to read the cards.
- 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.
- Inconsistent treatment of how the passes are sold depending on the channel
- 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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.