Change is afoot for Auckland Transport’s HOP card with them increasing the price of it but also looking to expand the use of the card.
On the first point, they will increase the cost of buying a card from $5 back to $10 on December 17. This seems like a backwards step given AT need to be encouraging as many people to use HOP as possible. While the vast majority of current PT users are already using HOP a large number of people are still using cash and on buses in particular that can really slow trips down. Figures from AT’s board report show that around 74% of all trips use HOP. There is a bit of variation in HOP use by mode, it is used for around 80% of rail trips, 76% of bus trips but only 27% of ferry trips. There is also likely some variation in use of HOP between weekdays and on weekends and AT have said HOP use on weekdays is more than 80%.
AT also say they think that at $10 the card represents “excellent value” and that a regular customer will pay off the $10 cost in just over a week. This is based on research they’ve done suggesting most customers take about 6 trips per week and travels just two stages per trip. In such a scenario they would save $9 per week and more frequent users or those travelling further would obviously save more.
They also say they think $10 is about right based on the cost of similar cars overseas. As examples they point to Snapper card in Wellington which costs $10, Octopus in Hong Kong at ~NZ$10 (deposit). Outside of transport they cite the example a lost EFTPOS card being around $15, lost credit card around $10.
Another and reason for the change in price is the cost of making the cards. AT say every single card costs them $8.54 to produce and that they have been making up the difference for some time. All up 20,000 new cards are sold each month and in total they’ve sold 680,000. They say the cost of the card covers
- the card cost and distribution of the cards
- the cost of sales, including retail agents commission, and the cost of ticketing offices selling the cards
- back office costs
In response to a few other questions of mine they said:
- They are investigating the idea of having the purchase price loaded on the card if you register it
- It is not legally possible under the conditions of carriage to give a HOP card as change for cash payers i.e. if someone hands a driver a $20 note that he gives them a HOP car with $10 loaded and tells them to tag on.
- They are still investigating the idea of having an NFC option for HOP cards so people can use their phones. This is a shame as they first said they were trialling it over 3 years ago.
The other HOP news is that AT are thinking about extending the use of HOP to access other council services such as the libraries, swimming pools and the zoo. We’ve also known for some time they want to extend it to enable people to pay for parking and I’m aware the NZTA would like to link it in to the toll system – both of which need to happen.
Auckland Transport is considering extending the reach of its $100 million Hop ticketing system to council services such as libraries and swimming pools.
It is also sounding out Aucklanders over whether they would be prepared for information the system collects about them to be shared among council organisations.
Those ideas have been raised with a research panel of Auckland residents, offering them chances to be in the draw for Christmas gift cards for participating in a survey.
A panel member told the Herald the questionnaire had asked “if we’d be happy to use our Hop card to access other Auckland Council services like pools, libraries, rec centres.”
She said panellists were also asked if they would agree to their data being shared across council organisations.
“As a person who refuses to register my Hop card because I hate sharing data, I wasn’t wildly positive about this,” she said.
An Auckland Transport spokesman said the survey, which was supposed to be confidential, was part of “a very high-level, early investigation into the possible use of the Hop card for other council services”.
“This is just at a conceptual level at the moment and may not go anywhere,” he said.
He promised if the proposal were to go further, a full investigation would cover matters including the privacy of Hop card holders, and “opt out” provisions for those not wanting to use it other than for public transport trips.
The spokesman said it was no secret that Auckland Transport was also considering extending Hop card coverage to parking services, although no decisions had been made about that.
I personally think it would be great if AT decided to go ahead with these ideas as it would turn the HOP card from just being a PT card into a ticket to the city. Other than just the convenience of having easier access to places, it would also encourage a lot more people to get HOP cards and thereby reduce one of the barriers to entry for PT.
Of course I’m not holding my breath for any major changes like those suggested to happen soon. Especially given how long it’s taking AT to get integrated fares sorted. Still at least they’re thinking of these options.
The Public Transport offer in Auckland has a long way to go, but on some routes, especially in the inner city, it can be not only the quicker but also more pleasant option than driving, particularly once the hassle and costs of parking are considered. We look forward to this advantage being spread out to more areas and for more people as the Electric Trains, the New Bus Network, Proper Buslanes, and Integrated Fares roll out over the next couple of years.
Yet there is still the issue of people’s mindset. I understand this well as it wasn’t until I returned from living in Europe that I just didn’t unthinkingly reach for my car keys to undertake even the shortest or most ill-suited of journeys in Auckland. But also over that time PT services have improved from almost completely useless to on many occasions pretty handy. The Rapid Transit system is at last reaching utility as can be clearly seen by consistent rise in uptake, but there are also bus services like the Inner Link that I now use regularly because, once armed with a HOP card, it is often the best option for many journeys. Frequent enough, and a great place to check my messages between commitments, or just stare out into the city sailing by, perhaps even thoughtfully. It can also be pretty social:
Ride Social: On the Inner Link
My partner and I have recently had two instances that are deeply illustrative of how far many Aucklanders have to go with their car addiction. An addiction born of the environment; as for so long only one means of movement was well supported.
Both times we were happily bussing it, only to be dragged off into relatively unpleasant and time wasting car experiences by people determined to do us a favour and generously save us from perfectly efficient and enjoyable Transit trips.
The first, after a dinner out we were dragged, past our bus stop, into the limitless helllhole that is the SkyCity car dungeon, our hosts struggling to find their car on the bizarre sloping and labyrinthine parking floors, paying an absolute fortune to release it once found, seriously taking way longer and much less pleasantly than hanging on Albert St on a clear evening, even for the relatively roundabout 020.
It was very kind of our friends but I really really would have rather had the bus trip home. The conversation, thereafter, became all about how vile SkyCity is as an experience and how expensive the parking was; which was an order of magnitude higher than our combined busfares.
The second, Maria was on Ponsonby Rd buying flowers en route to the hospital (Bhana Bros; what will we do without you?), only to bump into a mutual friend who insisted on driving her to Grafton. What ensued was a longwinded driving/parking hopeless nightmare. Compared to taking the Link, as she’d intended [directly point to point; unlike the drive], or riding, as I usually do to get to the hosp. and there’s been a lot of that over last few years, what a stupid way to cover that route! Yet this person wouldn’t have a bar of it, absolutely full of how she’d saved Maria from some kind of malady and done her a great favour…. But it actually made her late for her next appointment and robbed her of a contemplative moment on the bus.
I had a similar experience not too long ago. Drinking near Britomart late at night, group decides to go to a bar in Ponsonby. They start the inevitable horse trading of who is driving what and where and whose car I have to go in the boot of. I say bugger that and announce I’m catching a bus, the rest look at me like I’m insane. Basically begging me to cram into their car which is parked in some building like they are saving me from some huge hardship. Me and one other get the Link up no worries, and are well onto our second drink before the rest arrive complaining about nowhere to park etc. All absolutely flabbergasted we got there faster on a bus. One person didn’t believe us and said we must have run straight to a taxi. Anyway, who wants to be driving when bar-hopping?
I get this totally because if you don’t use PT at all you sort of don’t see it, except as that thing blocking your way when driving, also you don’t know how it works, where to catch a service or how long it might take, or what the hell a HOP card is. And it also means you pretty much always have your car with you piling up parking charges or nagging you about the wisdom of having that drink. I really do feel much freer in the city without my car, free to change plans, free to socialise. In the city the car is a burden.
And continued improvements to services are baked into the pie, especially now the the Transport Levy is in place. Although it is extension to the Rapid Transit Network that would be truly transformative. Here is the coming spread of the Frequent Network:
Those that still only ever think of driving are clearly the majority in Auckland but there is a considerable upside to this observation because as the kinds of improvements that are available in only some places become more widespread it means that there are many more Aucklanders who will discover this advantage and add using these services to their options for movement. When and where it makes sense to.
The data supports the idea that this is already happening as the transit trips per capita figure keeps steadily advancing despite the rising poulation. It is now at 50.5 PT trips per capita from 44 in 2011, still very low compared to similar cities
, and reason enough to expect ridership to keep climbing. As long as Auckland Transport keep improving services measurable.
But also thinks of new ways of getting HOP cards into more new hands. Events where PT journeys are part of the ticket price are currently the main way that AT are doing this. But with Fare Integration I think its time they started approaching major employers near good services to include HOP cards in renumeration packages. And for the government to revisit Fringe Benefit Tax rules for both PT and car parks.
The Auckland Transport board meet today and other than the outstanding patronage results, here are the other items on the on the agenda or in the public reports of note. Firstly the closed session which once again contains quite a few interesting topics including:
- Newmarket Crossing – This is the Sarawia St level crossing issue.
- Penlink Designation – AT have been looking to make changes to the existing designation to Penlink although hopefully this doesn’t mean it is moving any closer to actually being built.
- CCFAS2 – AT are being very secretive about just what the second CCFAS is looking at.
- Integrated Fares Business Case
- Amendments to Statement of Intent 2014-17 – perhaps they’re correcting for the really low rail patronage targets.
- Parking Consultation Analysis – the feedback from the draft parking strategy consultation a few months ago.
- CBD/West Transport – I’m not sure what this is about but I was told it is confidential as involves property acquisitions (or the potential for them).
On to the items that are in the public session. From the board report:
AT are responsible for developing a region wide wayfinding system. Some of it has started to appear and they say the next stage will see precinct specific signage go through user testing and stakeholder feedback in January and February next year.
Construction of the Wolverton to Maioro cycle route will happen over the year end school holidays
AT say after reviewing feedback to the consultation on cycling routes through Wynyard they are now looking at alternative options. You may recall these are the cycling routes that many of the local marine businesses complained about claiming the loss of parking would destroy their businesses despite them having off street parking and the on-street parks being empty a large amount of the time.
AT are still working on the new Otahuhu Bus-Train interchange however they seem to be getting more vague about when it will be completed. This is important as the roll out of new network for South Auckland is reliant on the completion of this interchange and when announced at the end of last year was planned for mid-2015. In August they said the bus portion was targeted for completion in July 2015 with the rail upgrade completed by the December 2015. In September they said the target for completion was by the end September 2015 although this wasn’t specific to modes like August was. Now they are saying the interchange is scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2015 and aligned to the new network. This suggests a delay both for the interchange and for the bus network rollout.
There are now 29 of a total 57 EMU’s now in Auckland with 24 unit’s with provisional acceptance (up from 20 in the September report). They say two more are due to arrive in November and another seven in December. Regular train users will have seen the EMUs start to be stabled at the old Auckland Railway station as Wiri only has the capacity to store 28 trains.
Strand Stabling Yard now in use, photo by Jonty
There is more detail about the upcoming timetable change which will be the first major one for a number of years. It will come in on the 8th December and as we found out last month all services from Pukekohe or Papakura will go via Newmarket and all services from Manukau will be via Glen Innes. The services on the Manukau line will increase to 10 minute frequencies and should also hopefully include some longer trains. Now AT are also stating that weekend trains to Onehunga will also see improvement moving to a 30 minute frequency (it would be good if they did 30 minute frequencies on weekdays too). Early testing of electric trains on the Western line has also commenced after Kiwirail finally finished in September, over a year late.
The first stage of AMETI is now effectively complete. The new road parallel to the rail line and which includes a 220m tunnel next to the station, named Te Horeta Rd, opens to traffic this Sunday 2nd November and there’s a public open day on Saturday 1st from 11am to 3pm. A separate paper to the board shows some before and after photos. AT say there is still expected to be some minor works on the project till early next year and that the final cost for this stage is expected to be $212 million compared to the project budget of $239 million. Here is a video from AT of the road.
HOP use as a percentage of all trips remained at 71% after jumping strongly in July and August following the change in fares from early July despite AT selling 15,000 new ones in September. AT say that now almost 420,000 have been sold with around 56% of them registered. The exact figures aren’t clear but it appears that HOP use for rail and bus is approximately 79% and 69% respectively. We’re now almost two years since HOP first started rolling out so this got me thinking about how the uptake of HOP compares to similar situations overseas. Back in May 2013 AT received this report from Deloitte doing just that. In the absence of the actual data behind the graphs, I’ve manually added approximately where HOP is and as you can see the result looks pretty good. I would suggest to AT staff that they might want to highlight this fact.
In a good move AT now have an agreement in place with Budgetary Agencies which allows them to give out a free HOP card as part of the assistance they give to clients.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
- they generally provide better services so you get greater value for your fare
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
In two weeks (16th Feb) we’ll also see it roll out to the Howick and Eastern buses.
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.