The Great Auckland Transit Revival: Theory and Practice

Einstein

2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.

The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.

Here’s the uptake overview:

Comparator cities

So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.

So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?

It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.

And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:

Fares and ticketting Benchmark Study

The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].

Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:

Service qual. Benchmark Study

Oh dear.

Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:

Rapid Transit benchmark study

Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.

In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.

Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:

CFN 2015

Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?

Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:

August 2014 Ridership

SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.

So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.

And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.

But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.

Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.

Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?

Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

 

 

Public Transport revenues for April

The Auckland Transport board met last week and while most of the board report didn’t seem overly interesting one part on HOP usage caught my attention. It broke down the patronage by HOP vs paper tickets not just for trips but for revenue (page 31). As far as I’m aware this is the first time PT revenue has been shown publicly – unless it’s been buried somewhere in the financial reports.

HOP Usage and Revenue April

As someone who catches both trains and buses the difference between HOP usage is noticeable although that might also be because  non HOP payers hold up buses due to slower boarding whereas they don’t impact on the journey times for trains. AT say that considering HOP only finished rolling out to buses earlier this year that the result isn’t too bad however they can’t use that excuse on trains which have been using the system for about 18 months now.

Looking at the revenues and trips per mode allows for an interesting comparison of average costs. As you can see in the table below the average fares for trains are about 37% higher for rail than they are for bus which reflects that on average train users take longer journeys than bus users. This could also be partly seen in station boarding data I wrote about a month ago which showed that stations outside the old Auckland City Council boundaries having generally higher patronage than those closer to the city. The average fares for paper tickets on both bus and rail are 3% and 4% higher than the HOP fares which considering HOP fares are at least 10% less it suggests that on average cash payers travel slightly shorter distances.

HOP Usage average fares April

 

Interestingly the average fare of ~$2.20 isn’t all that different to what is seen in the Australian and Canadian cities I’ve looked at. That suggests our fares aren’t completely out of line with what is seen elsewhere in similar cities although

  1. they generally provide better services so you get greater value for your fare
  2. there might be greater differences on individual fare products which affects the averages.

They’ve also provided this graph showing usage although it’s a bit hard to track the history. February showed a big jump across both measures and I suspect that was primarily due to schools being back as NZBus which is the largest operator went live in the last months of 2013.

HOP Usage history April

In addition to above they have broken down the revenues and sales by channel which again provides useful information into how the system is operating.

HOP Sales April

The average top up amount for stored value is similar across all three channels averaging $30 for face to face, $26 for ticket machines and $29 for online sales. In terms of where the sales happen 39% are face to face, 34% at ticket machines and 27% are online.

It’s great that AT have published this level of data and in the interests of transparency I hope they continue to do so. In addition it would also be great to see monthly information on how far people have travelled (should be easy for HOP cards at least) and how much the operating costs were. I also think that they probably need to do a push to get more bus users in particular on HOP.

Rail Station HOP usage

Last week I looked at station boarding data which had been provided to me by Auckland Transport. The way it was provided showed the number of people that tagged on with HOP as well as the number that brought paper tickets. This allows us to work out how many people are using HOP both across the entire rail network as well as at an individual station level. The results paint a very different picture of the rail network than what the boarding data did.

The table below sets out the percentage of trips that used HOP and just to recap from last time, the data excludes fare evasion along with travel made on legacy tickets & passes, special events, group travel, incomplete HOP transactions or transfers. I’ve ranked the data by the top performing station.

HOP usage by train station

Some of the things that stand out for me in this data are:

  • The numbers bounce around a little which I suspect is due to differences in the make up of each month e.g. I suspect that commuters are probably stronger users of HOP than those who take one off weekend trips. If that’s the case then months with a higher number of weekend days would impact on the numbers.
  • There’s probably not enough data yet to be sure but there does seem to be a slight increase in the percentage of people using HOP. That’s the trend I would expect to see as the system becomes more mature and accepted amongst customers.
  • Grafton is way out at the top of the list and been there constantly. This really surprised me but then I wonder if this is the result of a lot of school kids simply not tagging on or buying a ticket at all. That might help explain why the number of people using Grafton seemed quite low compared to the numbers of people that seem to use it every day.
  • Related to the point about Grafton. December saw the percentage of people using HOP spike upwards for most stations. I wonder if there is any relation to fewer school kids using the trains then.
  • Most of the bottom 5 stations for HOP card use are all stations that had less than 10,000 boardings per month, the exception being Henderson (which had 28k in March). In many ways Henderson isn’t a surprise as it’s not uncommon to see queues of people lining up for a ticket machine.

All up the numbers show some positive signs of increases but the question is, what can be done to really get those currently without hop on to it.

Winston Peters show’s he doesn’t get HOP

Winston Peters shows that he clearly doesn’t understand HOP – although I guess that shouldn’t be surprising

New Zealand First is urging SuperGold Cardholders who travel for free on Auckland public transport not to waste their money buying a prepaid card.

New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters says seniors are being pressured to spend $15 on an Auckland Transport prepaid HOP card and advises those who have done so to demand their money back.

“SuperGold Cardholders should demand their money back if they paid $5 for the card and the minimum $10 prepaid credit because the HOP card is simply an attack on the elderly.

“Auckland Transport’s HOP-card campaign has already signed up 11,129 SuperGold Cardholders.

“That means Auckland Transport has fleeced more than $166,000 from seniors who gain no advantage from buying the tag-on, tag-off card,” says Mr Peters, who introduced the SuperGold Card in 2007. “It is a grand confidence trick.”

“All they need for travel on the bus or for a train or ferry ticket is their SuperGold Card. They can travel free in Auckland from 9am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

“A SuperGold Cardholder told us she would never use the $10 she was forced to load on the card and quite rightly asked, what is Auckland Transport doing with all the money,” says Mr Peters.

There are in fact many good reasons for SuperGold cardholders to get a HOP card.

  • While most card holders will likely be travelling off peak, many still travel at peak and a HOP card allows them to pay for their fare (and get the HOP discounts).
  • Perhaps more importantly is a SuperGold concession can be loaded onto a HOP card that means it automatically gives free travel after 9am.

If you wish to travel using an AT HOP card, you can have a SuperGold Concession loaded onto your card. This will save you having to get a free SuperGold ticket before you travel on trains and ferries. You may only hold one AT HOP card with a SuperGold profile on it. Travel commencing after 9am weekdays and all day on weekends and on public holidays will still be free and you will be able to tag on and tag off with your AT HOP card.

Travel commencing before 9am will be charged at adult fares to your HOP Money balance on your AT HOP card with at least 10% discount off single trip paper tickets (excludes NiteRider and Airbus Express bus services). https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/at-hop/at-hop-concessions/supergold-concession/

  • Using a HOP card to tag on/off at a train station is also easier than having to go to a ticket machine – something some older citizens seem to struggle with.
  • On buses the HOP card speeds up boarding making for quicker trips, not just for those with SuperGold cards but for everyone else and as we’ve discussed before that can have potentially big benefits for operational costs.

The reason I highlight this, is not so much for this specific example but that I wonder if this type of lack of understanding is perhaps a symptom of just how poor our PT has been for such a long time. Many people simply don’t understand why developments like HOP are so vitally needed. It’s also something that we need to be especially mindful of with an election coming up. In this specific case Peters would be better advocating for a HOP card that looks like a SuperGold card so that those eligible only need a single card in their wallet.

Getting HOP in the Hands of more people

Brian Rudman’s column on Friday about the completion of the roll-out of HOP had some good points, although also a few mistakes.

More than a year late, and about $13 million over the original $87 million budget, Auckland Transport’s pre-pay, Hop travel card has finally achieved 100 per cent coverage of the city’s train, ferry and bus network.

My understanding is the project was actually on budget with the reason for the difference being that the original plan didn’t include Auckland Transport paying for the installation of the system on to buses. It was initially planned to leave the bus operators to source their own HOP compliant readers. The issues that ended up occurring with Snapper (among other things) ended up seeing AT change the scope of the project to include buses too and so the project budget had to be increased accordingly.

The real reason of the piece was to highlight one of the real ongoing challenges and opportunities HOP has for Auckland Transport

 Meanwhile, earlier in the day, we commuters on the usually reliable 005 bus to town also had reason to celebrate. The wondrous new Hop reader on our bus had gone feral and we got a free ride. With a smile and a shrug, the driver just waved us on board, saying not to bother swiping our card, or opening our purses.

A couple of stops further on, the free rides suddenly ended. Presumably the system had clicked back to life.

I bring this up not to knock Hop – glitches happen. But what the brief period of free entry highlighted was the time saved when passenger interaction with the driver while boarding the bus is minimised. This is what a smart card system like Hop is supposed to achieve – a quick procession of customers, swiping their smart cards as they enter the bus, with hardly a pause.

Yet despite the now 100 per cent coverage of the public transport network, we’re a long way from this ideal. This was highlighted by Tuesday’s little technical hiccup. Once the driver started taking fares, the bus stop delays returned.

To me, the celebrations are premature.

What’s the good of a $100 million smart card system if more than a third of your passengers continue to insist on paying cash. On Tuesday, while the worthies celebrated, 98,000 journeys – 36 per cent of all trips – were paid for in cash. Over the previous 30 days, 40 per cent of travellers used cash.

Because of the narrow entranceway on most buses, it takes only one cash fare to stall the boarding process. One of life’s mysteries is why a disproportionately large number of cash fare payers seem to wait until they’re standing alongside the driver before remembering they have to give him some money. They then delve into their bags to find a purse, which they then scrabble around in for loose change.

Then there are the blokes who proffer large notes, then fume irritably when the driver punishes them with a cupful of small change.

Meanwhile, Hop card holders debate whether or not there’s room to squeeze past.

It’s extremely noticeable the impact that cash payers have on boarding times. I’ve seen 20 people board a bus in almost as many seconds only for everyone to be held up by a single person paying cash. On one of the buses I caught last week, one guy held up a bus full of passengers for 3-5 minutes while he checked his wallet and pockets multiple times trying to find the exact change before finally handing over a note to pay. He then did the same thing the next day.

HOP has the potential to save huge amounts time if more people were using it. That means faster buses which not only makes them a more convenient and attractive option but has some potentially important operational benefits. If buses can be sped up enough it can mean either the same number of buses can perform more runs each day for no extra cost or less buses are needed to provide the same level of service. Getting any of those benefits is a good outcome for everyone.

So why are people, like the guy described earlier not getting a HOP card and what’s more what are. Auckland transport doing about it?

AT has started a campaign to sign up more cardholders, but the miserable 10 per cent saving over the cash fare that is the main drawcard has hardly been a great success.

Nor has the minuscule and unpromoted 50c (no, not per cent) discount offered to those transferring from one bus or train to another using a Hop card.

Perhaps the answer lies in London, where the similar Oyster card is used for more than 85 per cent of all bus and rail travel.

There, the penalty for paying cash – or if you prefer, the discount for using the smart Oyster card – is so substantial it becomes a no-brainer.

I think fares and the levels of discounts are just one thing that AT need to be thinking about. I’ve talked before about the need to make HOP useful for more people by getting it used for other services like parking – which is something I know AT are looking at. But what I want to know is what other ideas readers have for getting HOP into the hands of more people (other than those discussed in the article).

Combating Fare evasion

Rail patronage has been growing well in recent months but something that a lot of people have also noticed is that fare evasion also appears to be on the rise. This seems to be the result of more and more people realising the chance of getting caught without a ticket is low and even if they do get caught, the ticket inspectors are powerless to do anything. This is especially the case for school kids who can’t be kicked off a train as if they were, they or their parents quickly go to the media accusing AT/Transdev of endangering them by making them get off at an unfamiliar station.

An official figure I’ve seen says that fare evasion is currently at 11% although anecdotal evidence suggests even that seems like it could be on the light side. That is extremely high and obviously needs to be addressed. I see there being two types of fare evader:

  • Those who are determined to evade their fares and probably wouldn’t ride the train if they had to pay.
  • Those who are happy to pay for their fare but don’t exactly go out of their way to do so and therefore often end up avoiding paying even if it wasn’t fully intended.

There is very little that can be done about the first group and even cities that fully gate their systems still have problems with them however there probably aren’t that many that fall into this category. The second group are opportunists, are far more common amongst those that fare evade and the group that can addressed. To me there are a few options AT/Transdev has for doing this.

  • Go back to having tickets checked on every train
  • Improve current enforcement measures including penalties
  • Make it harder to fare evade by gating more stations

So let’s work through these

Go back to having tickets checked on every train

This is an idea I’ve heard a few people say over the last year and a half of HOP being in existence. The thinking is that it would ensure everyone has a ticket checked on every train, thereby eliminating some of the opportunist evaders. The problem with this is approach is that in the months before HOP, fare evasion was also extremely high and that was happening simply because often the trains were simply too busy for all tickets to be checked so those on inner stations were often getting free rides anyway. It also doesn’t solve the problem of what happens when someone is found without a valid ticket and the last thing I would want to see is staff having to lug around cash to sell paper tickets. Lastly it’s a solution that simply doesn’t scale, post electrification we have been promised increased frequencies, especially off peak, and having additional staff on every train would cost a huge amount of money, probably more than the fare evasion it would solve.

In my opinion this simply won’t work

Improve current enforcement measures including penalties

To me the current system of having roaming groups of ticket inspectors and random station checks is a decent idea but I find them too sporadic. Of course even worse is that they are basically toothless. They are meant to issue a $20 penalty fare if someone is found without a valid ticket but there is no way for them to enforce that and very few people have every paid one. That may be able to be addressed by Statutes Amendment Bill (No 4) which includes this clause to change the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009. I’ve bolded the key part.

47 Section 46 amended (Functions and powers of Auckland Transport acting as local authority or other statutory body)

(1)Repeal section 46(1)(b).

(2)In section 46(1)(d), replace “sections 591, 591A, and 684” with “section 591”.

(3)Replace section 46(1)(f) with:

“(f)the functions and powers of an enforcement authority under the Land Transport Act 1998 in relation to prosecuting infringement offences under that Act that relate to—

“(i)the use of special vehicle lanes within Auckland:
“(ii)a failure to pay a public transport service fare:”.

(4)In section 46(3), replace “subsection (1)(f)” with “subsection (1)(f)(i)”.

Note: the current legislation already allows for the prosecution of special vehicle lanes so the PT fare is the addition. I’m not sure how long this will take or how it would actually be enforced.

Make it harder to fare evade by gating more stations

Currently something like 70% of trips begins or ends at Newmarket and the gates act to ensure most people have paid. The problem is that a decent number of trips, especially on the Western Line, begin and end somewhere other than those stations and the most common of these are Henderson, New Lynn and Grafton. To me the most effective way we will cut down on fare evading by opportunists will be to gate more stations.

Some people like to suggest we should gate every single station however that is likely to be practical from a cost perspective. A better approach is going to be to gate the key destination stations, the ones that lots of people are going to or from. The benefit of doing that would be that it costs less while probably picking up over 95% of all trips. This also appears to be the approach being taken Auckland Transport and I’ve obtained a list of when we can expect stations to be gated although it is subject to change. It will see 8 more stations gated over the next two years.

Rail Network Gating

With a combination of the enhanced enforcement and extra gating I suspect it should help to really reduce the amount of fare evading going on.

HOP rolling out to more buses tomorrow

From tomorrow we will finally move one step closer to the completion of integrated ticking with AT HOP going live on Ritchies buses and that includes the Northern Express.

Hop Card

That means finally the AT branded transport ticket can be used on the AT branded buses (you would have thought it would have been one of the first to change over). Here are the ticketing changes if you are a Ritchies bus user

Ritchies and NEX ticketing changes

In two weeks (16th Feb) we’ll also see it roll out to the Howick and Eastern buses.

H&E ticketing changes

That the Discovery Day pass will still be accepted until 1 March 2104 suggests we will see the two remaining bus companies – Waiheke Bus Company and the Airporter (different from the Airbus Express) – changed over before the end of the month.

It’s really is good that the integrated ticketing saga finally seems to be coming to an end as it seems to have been one of those projects where things have gone wrong at every turn (not all AT’s doing). After the remaining bus companies have switched over then AT can hopefully focus on getting integrated fares rolled out (hopefully this year). It would also be great if AT could then start looking at rolling out HOP to AT’s carparking buildings.

The last days of SNOP

By the end of this weekend we will finally be clear of one of the biggest frustrations – two different hop cards. On Saturday the Go West buses will be converted to AT HOP followed by Waka Pacific on Sunday.

Can I continue to use my purple HOP card on Go West buses?

Your purple HOP card will be replaced by the AT HOP card on 7 December 2013. You will not be able to use your purple HOP card on Go West buses from that date.

Hold onto your purple HOP Card.

As AT HOP is being progressively rolled out, some buses on your route may only accept the purple HOP card and some buses may only accept the AT HOP card for travel. For this reason, we recommend that you maintain a balance on both your purple HOP and AT HOP cards, and continue to carry them with you until Waka Pacific launches AT HOP on 8 December 2013.

The change-over of the NZ Bus buses to AT HOP was always going to be difficult but I think it was made even more so due the poor communications from Auckland Transport. With the Snapper Hop out of the picture and people no longer needing to carry two cards I think much of the confusion and frustration will be resolved.

Hop Card

Time for AT to stop digging

Usually when you get yourself into a hole the best thing to do is to stop digging, and that is how I often feel I think about the rollout of AT HOP which among plenty of other things has been plagued by poor communication. The latest comes in an interview with the Greg Edmonds who is the Chief Operating Officer of AT and was part of a Radio NZ piece that I also talked on.

Or listen here.

First up I do agree that from a technical level the rollout so far to Metrolink has probably been smooth in that the machines have worked. It’s the customer side of things that has been left wanting due to poor information including not even giving an indication as to while routes are most likely to be using which card. But it was the next part that caught my attention (and others). Here is the transcript about that part of the interview.

I think in anything with this level of complexity there will be some people that read the information thoroughly, there are others that glance over it and sometimes when they glance over it they may miss things and so the ambassadors are there reinforce and I think overall yep there’s been some genuine concerns about the information but overall we’ve done a pretty good job of it.

So the confusion is caused by people glancing over the information. Well it’s no surprise when it looks like this.

Link and Metrolink Brochure page 1

Link and Metrolink Brochure page 2

How many people are really going to read all of this?

At least it isn’t as bad as this comment from AT last week

Asked how long the freebies would continue, she said: “I can’t say, but it is very brief – that’s about to disappear, so get with the programme.”

Yesterday we also had this piece from the Herald on Sunday

Commuters who have less than $10 left on their cards will be unable to transfer the money to the new Auckland Transport Hop cards without jumping through complicated hoops – meaning Snapper will be able to quietly pocket their money.

And

The minimum transfer on to an AT Hop card is $10. So if the Snapper card balance is below $10, users must either top up the purple card to more than $10 and transfer that to the AT Hop card, spend the balance at one of the 150 Snapper-affiliated businesses in Auckland – or let Snapper keep their money.

Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai blamed the problem on Auckland Transport. “The $10 limit is AT policy, not Snapper.”

There was no time limit on when the Snapper Hop cardholders could use any leftover balance, Szikszai said. They would not be giving cardholders their money back.

When pressed on why not, he said: “We’re actually not able to, due to the Anti-Money Laundering Act.” He would not elaborate.

Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said the $10 policy was created by the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority, which was in charge of transport in Auckland before the Super City amalgamation.

“It was in the original terms and conditions of the purple Hop card.” She said it was easy to transfer the money.

Now I am aware that there were some bad decisions made about the HOP system from ARTA days that are still causing AT headaches today but to suggest that they can’t change the $10 minimum top-up policy seems absurd, especially considering that ARTA haven’t existed for three years.

In the end I think the real problem with all of the HOP change over comes down to a few key messages that often contradict each other. They are:

  • Run down your balance because there are no refunds (page 2 of the brochure)
  • But hold on to your card and keep it topped up as some buses will still use it – and we won’t tell you exactly which ones.
  • It’s easy to transfer the money off the card – but we won’t make it easy by telling you the best way to do that

If it is easy to transfer balances like AT claim then it would have been so much easier for everyone if AT had just said “We know it’s a challenging time so keep your old card topped up and once the changeover is complete you can easily transfer your balance by doing …..”

At the end of the day I think the Herald on Sunday editorial sums up the real loser in all of this which is the perception of public transport when they ask:

Who would dare hop on an Auckland bus?

My biggest fear is that this has the potential to set back the use of PT in a big way and if that happens, it will take a while for people to have confidence in the system once again. It’s time for AT to stop digging and start building that trust.

Painful AT HOP rollout continues

Without exception, everyone who I have spoken to about the rollout of the AT Hop card on buses over the past few months has said it has been managed disastrously. Perhaps most damning of all is the rollout onto Metrolink services which isn’t being done in one single go – but rather split messily into two stages: the first being today and the second being on November 24th in two weeks time.

From today it seems that all Link services (City Link, Inner Link and Outer Link) buses switch over to AT Hop. In addition to those services some other Metrolink buses will switch too. This is outlined below:

metrolink-hop-switchover

As Auckland Transport have made it nearly impossible to get refunds on balance from the current “Purple Hop” card, knowing when your service is going to switch over from one card to another is pretty important – hence our frustration over the past week that Auckland Transport has consistently refused to provide any further clarification around which Metrolink services will actually be switching over today and which won’t switch over until November 24th. For many people, keeping a balance on both cards and not knowing whether the money you keep on your Purple Card will be used or not (or whether it will effectively be gifted to Infratil who own Snapper whose technology sits behind the Purple Card) is a completely unacceptable situation.

To step into the gap and cover Auckland Transport’s complete uselessness on this issue, helpfully quite a few people seem to have done their own investigative work to provide a bit of further clarification about which Metrolink services do change today and which don’t change for another two weeks:

Routes changing over to ATHOP on November 10:
All LINK routes, 005 020 030 (Western Bays), 010 (Wynyard-Onehunga crosstown), 011 (St Lukes shopper), 283 (Hospitals), 703 (Hobson Bay), 767-769, 770-771 (*some* of the Tamaki Drive services, and St Heliers to Newmarket)

Routes remaining 100% Snapper-HOP between November 10 and November 24:
258-267 (Dominion Rd), 274-277 (Mt Eden Rd), 299 (Waikowhai), 233-249 (Sandringham Rd) (looks like Roskill Depot does no changeovers)

All other routes may operate with a mixture of Snapper-HOP and AT-HOP on a bus-by-bus basis.

It makes sense that many of the routes likely to be used by those who also use the Link services (e.g. 030 and 005 buses) will be switching over today.  It seems as though the changeover is being done on a “depot by depot” basis.

I still struggle to understand why it has been so difficult for Auckland Transport to provide this level of clarification over the past week. They could have even noted that it was just a rough guide and there may be random other buses – any further information would have been useful. Sadly their disdain for the customer throughout the whole HOP changeover and the messiness of the transition has probably been a significant contributor to the downturn in bus patronage over the past few months and is likely to continue to impact on patronage through till March next year – which sounds like the date when integrated ticketing will finally be completed.

I have also heard unofficially that the remaining bus migrations to HOP are:

Go West – 7th December

Waka Pacific – 8th December

Ritchies – 2nd February

Howick and Eastern – 16 February

Waiheke Buses – 2nd March