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.
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.
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.
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:
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
The changeover of NZ Bus buses to HOP has long been expected to be an issue – primarily due to the confusion of having two different cards both called HOP – and it hasn’t taken long for issues to start to emerge.
Central Auckland bus passengers are having to carry two smartcards – both confusingly called Hop – to guarantee cash-free travel for the next few weeks.
Auckland Transport says that passengers travelling on central routes should keep carrying the purple Snapper Hop card introduced in 2011 by NZ Bus, as well as its own new dark-blue AT Hop card, during a transition between separate ticketing systems.
That is because some North Star buses, which are operated by NZ Bus from North Shore and were switched from Snapper to Auckland Transport’s new $100 million AT Hop system last week, are also being used at odd hours to make up numbers on central city runs – causing confusion and inconvenience to passengers not armed with both cards.
Westmere resident Richard Dale is unhappy at being kicked off a bus after heading to the city on a Snapper Hop card but being asked to produce an AT Hop for a return trip three hours later on the same 020 route via Richmond Rd.
“The driver refused to let me on with my Snapper card and, because I didn’t have any cash, kicked me off,” he said.
From memory we had exactly the same problem when the current Snapper system was rolled out and only gets more confusing as the system is rolled out to locations where there are some buses on some routes with the old system and some on the new system. This is primarily on routes where some of the buses are of one brand (e.g. waka pacific) that need to travel through an area that is served by other buses (e.g. metrolink buses.)
The good news is that at the AT Board meeting the other day it was mentioned that AT had come to an agreement with NZ Bus to minimise the use of buses branded from one area on routes usually run with different brands i.e. running a Northstar bus on an isthmus route.
The next NZ Bus brands to change will be Link and Metrolink buses. AT have just announced the dates those buses will change being the 10th and 24th of November. However this time far from reducing it, AT are taking things to a whole other level of confusion as only some of the Metrolink buses will swap over in the next change with the rest happening two weeks later.
At least at the moment if you are standing on the side of the road and you can see a Northstar bus you are able to tell if you need a Snapper HOP or an AT HOP card. However in the two weeks in between the swap-overs for Metrolink there will be little to highlight just what you will need until the bus doors open. As such AT is now saying that people should hold on to their old snapper cards until the changeover has been completed. That means potentially needing to have two separate cards each with money stored on them just in case the bus that turns up doesn’t have the right system. It makes you wonder if anyone at any point in time sat down and thought what customers would think of such a process. I also wonder if they have thought through what happens at the other end of the process from telling everyone they now need to keep two cards topped up because they also say this:
So let me get this clear, because AT aren’t swapping all of the Metrolink buses over at the same time they tell now need to tell people that they should keep their old Snapper HOP card topped up just in case the bus that turns up doesn’t have the right equipment. After the changeover, if you have extra money on the old snapper card – because AT told you to do so – it can’t be refunded and can instead you have to go to one of the few retailers scattered around the region that can transfer the balance. I can see a lot of complaints coming from this process in about a month.
It is also a bit odd that Metrolink has been split up as back in 2011 when the link and Metrolink fleets were rolled on to snapper they were done over a single weekend. Another point worth noting is that NZ Bus/Snapper managed to get the current system rolled out to all buses en the NZ Bus fleet over roughly a one month period. They rolled out to Northstar in late May, two weeks later they converted the Go West and Waka Pacific fleets and then two weeks after that the Link and Metrolink buses. I understand AT want to get the Go West and Waka Pacific fleets changed before Christmas so by comparison it is probably taking about two months for AT to do the same thing. Based on what we have seen so far it would seem that despite the other issues we had with the company around the whole HOP debacle, that Snapper at least managed get some their system rolled out to buses with fairly minimal overall hassle.
Still at least we’re finally getting the system rolled out to some more buses, even if it is months late. I so can’t wait for the project to be finished and we have all buses on a single system.
Ferry users may have noticed that HOP gates have started going in at the Downtown Ferry terminal and once in place will be used instead of the the HOP tag posts. My understanding is the plan was always was to install HOP gates as part of the rollout so this isn’t anything new or surprising. What I did find interesting though was that the gates are a different style to those found at Britomart and Newmarket with the gates swinging out of the way other than folding up.
Before anyone asks about what is happening with other stations. My understanding is that gates are also planned for Manukau once the MIT campus has been completed and that AT are already investigating what other stations they might be needed at with New Lynn probably the next station on the list. I’m not sure when we will find out any more detail although AT have been saying in past board reports that it might not be too far away.
We mentioned this briefly the other day but Auckland Transport has finally announced that the roll out of AT HOP to buses will begin again this Sunday. The disappointing news is that the roll out to all buses now won’t be completed until March next year.
Auckland Transport said today that the roll-out of AT HOP onto bus services will recommence on 13 October with North Star. The roll-out was briefly delayed due to an intermittent technical issue on tag off devices found on Birkenhead Transport buses and issues with Wi-Fi connections in the Birkenhead area.
Auckland Transport’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Edmonds says the organisation’s technology provider, Thales, has identified the problem and tested the solution. “We are now ready to recommence the roll-out”.
The North Star roll-out is planned to be followed by Metrolink, the LINK services, Go West and Waka Pacific from October through until December. The rollout post-Christmas is targeted at Bayes Coachlines early in the New Year followed by Ritchies, Northern Express, Waiheke buses, AT Airporter and Howick & Eastern buses over February and March. Auckland Transport will confirm timings to customers nearer the time for each bus operator.
“The phased approach Auckland Transport has chosen for the roll-out of AT HOP is international best practice in terms of the technological magnitude and scale of integrated ticketing projects. Phasing at this last stage of implementation of the project is a prudent approach and ensures no changes for customers over the busy Christmas period,” says Mr Edmonds.
Mr Edmonds also says that following discussions with customers and key stakeholders on the North Shore, the Northern Pass (including the Northern Pass tertiary products) and the Bayswater/Devonport Pass will be retained until the last bus operator on the North Shore goes live with AT HOP. On bus North Star sales of the Northern Pass will cease on 13 October. Passes can be purchased at retail outlets and at Northern Busway stations.
“This provides a longer transition period to AT HOP for customers of these products, particularly tertiary students. This means the transition period for tertiary students on the North Shore is now beyond this academic year. We are targeting these passes to be phased out in February 2014”, says Mr Edmonds.
The strategic and customer focus for AT HOP provides for simpler fare payment for public transport through the one card across all public transport services. It is one card for all travel across bus, rail and ferry services. As part of the AT HOP rollout, Auckland Transport is looking to align fare prices and discounts across all users across the region, removing historic price anomalies creating one price for all and achieving equity of fare prices for everyone.
Mr Edmonds says, “Currently the region has more than 100 existing fare types and prices, the majority of which can only be used on one operator. Some ticket types that are exclusive to individual operators or geographic locality will be replaced with AT HOP. AT HOP will offer all users at least ten per cent discount off single trip cash fares. AT HOP also offers consistent further discounts for child, student, tertiary, accessible and Super Gold users. AT HOP lays the technology platform across all operators for regional improvements to the public transport fare and ticketing system in Auckland”.
How many delays and slippages is the tally up to now? It is certainly up there. The original contract with Thales was signed back in December 2009 and at one stage I remember reading that the project was due to be “substantially completed” by the time of the Rugby World Cup which was two years ago.
Somehow I have a feeling that this won’t be the last problem we encounter with HOP but I sure hope I’m wrong.
Auckland Transport has released the patronage figures for August and the great news is that positive signs of patronage growth are continuing. Compared to August 2012 there was one less business day in August which generally accounts for a roughly 4% difference in patronage and on top of that there were less special events and more rail network shutdowns. Taking all of these situations into account it is estimated that patronage increased by 2.5% compared to August 2012 while rail patronage increased by ~8.8%. The ferry network has also remained strong, most likely helped along by the much more settled weather we experienced this year. I think we still have a way to go to get back to the great growth we saw a few years ago but as mentioned, signs are positive we are back on the right track.
Auckland public transport patronage totalled 69,170,011 passengers for the 12-months to Aug-2013 a decrease of -0.4% on the 12-months to Jul-2013. August monthly patronage was 6,535,601 a decrease of -34,831 boardings or -0.5% on Aug-2012, normalised to ~+2.5% accounting for one less business day in Aug-2013 compared to Aug-2012.
Rail patronage totalled 10,115,650 passengers for the 12-months to Aug-2013, an increase of +0.2% on the 12-months to Jul-2013. Patronage for Aug-2013 was 1,004,630 an increase of +17,104 boardings or +1.7% on Aug-2012, normalised to ~+8.8%.
The Northern Express bus service carried 2,277,980 passenger trips for the 12-months to Aug-2013, a decrease of -8,761 boardings or -0.4% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Northern Express bus service patronage for Aug-2013 was 214,172, a decrease of -8,185 boardings or -3.7% on Aug-2012, normalised to ~+0.3% accounting for one less business day in Aug-2013.
Other bus services carried 51,224,477 passenger trips for the 12-months to Aug-2013, a decrease of -0.1% on the 12-months to Jul-2013 Other bus services patronage for Aug-2013 was 4,902,264, a decrease of -54,718 boardings or -1.1% on Aug-2012, normalised to ~+2.9%.
Ferry services carried 5,551,904 passenger trips for the 12-months to Aug-2013, an increase of +0.2% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Ferry services patronage for Aug-2013 was 414,535, an increase of 10,968 boardings or +2.7% on Aug-2012, normalised to +6.7%
On the rail network and now the bus network (excluding the Northern Express) we are now getting average weekday and weekend day patronage. What the two graphs below show is that average weekday and weekend day patronage in August 2013 was higher than August 2013. However with weekday patronage so much higher it illustrates why one less business day can have so much impact on overall patronage numbers.
One of the areas that has bound to have been helping rail patronage in recent months has been the vast improvement in on time performance with it once again being over 89%. At the AT board meetings Mike Lee often questions the total figure seeing as the three lines that have the most services (South, East and West) are all less than 89%. This month AT have included a table that the numbers are based off which should hopefully help answer that as Mike and others who might question it will be able to work it out for themselves. One key point to note is that punctuality is based on services that are completed so cancelled trains don’t count against the on time performance metric.
Of course the bus and ferry services are still self-reported and based of ensuring the bus left the start of the run on time rather than when it reached its destination meaning we still get silly figures saying some bus companies managed 99.98% punctuality.
On the cycling front there is more good news with cycling counts continuing to increase.
In the board report AT say that the issue that has been affecting the roll out HOP to other buses is due to intermittent technical problems with some of the ticket machines. I understand it might have been bad batch that has been causing the fault so hopefully we should start to see the roll-out restarted again soon. They have also provided this graph which I find really interesting showing HOP usage on the two bus companies currently using it. The percentage of people using HOP has been increasing on both buses but it is at a much greater level on Birkenhead. But perhaps the most fascinating part is just how much the percentage of HOP use drops off on the weekends.
Other interesting comments in the board report include these excellent pieces of news
Concept design options for the Fanshawe/Customs Corridor are underway, with priority for a bus rapid transit corridor to extend the Northern Busway into the city centre.
Site options are being evaluated for locations and circulation for new Downtown and Wynyard Quarter PT Interchanges, prior to engagement with affected landowners.
Procurement of design of roading and infrastructure for Wynyard Quarter South will commence in September, including the extension of the Daldy St Linear Park.
Hopefully the first point means buses from the north shore will no longer have to crawl along Sturdee St as I’ve heard stories that that section alone can double trip times.
Elsewhere AT say they focusing on initially getting the Dominion Rd parallel cycle routes designed first so that they can be built in advance of the more expensive road upgrade. Lastly at Mt Albert there is good news as the council have finally come to an agreement with the owner of the carpark close to the intersection of New North Rd and Mt Albert/Carrington Rd. That will enable the land to be turned into a public square with a new walkway connecting into the recently upgraded station.
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.
Seriously has anything gone right with this project? It seems that there has been issue after issue at every turn. If you didn’t get it, here is the email that people registered to receive HOP updates got today announcing the roll-out of AT HOP to both Northstar and Ricthies buses has been delayed (they had already been delayed once with Northstar meant to roll out earlier in August.
Auckland Transport wishes to advise that the launch of the AT HOP card on North Star, Ritchies and Northern Express has been temporarily delayed.
Unfortunately an intermittent technical issue has been identified, which we are working to resolve.
We apologise for this temporary delay in the roll-out of AT HOP onto your bus service.
Please continue to travel using existing cards, tickets and passes until further notice.
We will advise as soon as possible when the roll-out will recommence and apologise for any inconvenience caused.
Public transport patronage has been source of much concern for the last year and a half on the back of falling or flat numbers which followed about 6 years of almost constant growth. During that time the performance of the PT network has come under ever increasing scrutiny as public discussion and interest in transport has increased. For many of the PT figures there have actually been some fairly logical explanations as to why the numbers aren’t looking as good as they used to however unfortunately most people don’t look at the fine print and just look at the headline number.
Getting patronage growing is considered to be one of the key goals of Auckland transport and a lot of the expectation for future growth is being is being placed on a handful of key projects. Many of these projects have been going on for a long time however it is only over the next few years that we will really start to see them come to fruition and make an impact. This paper going to the AT board on Wednesday looks at these key projects and provides a timeline for when we will start to see the next batch of major changes. The key projects are:
- HOP integrated ticketing followed by progressive implementation of the initiatives within a strategic pricing and fares review for public transport including integrated and fares
- Service regulatory and procurement reform through the PT Operating Model (PTOM) following enactment of enabling legislative reform of the Land Transport Management Amendment Act 2013 in June
- New service network rollout of high frequency bus services and integrated and connected support services with associated facility and infrastructure upgrades
- Rail service enhancements and transition to the new EMU fleet
- Ferry service and facility enhancements
- On-time service performance and customer information
- Customer experience enhancement across all customer touch points
These projects are often what we refer to as “The Great Upgrade”. They represent Auckland Transport finally addressing the key issues of our current public transport network and putting in place the foundations for future expansion. Without these projects being successfully completed there is no City Rail Link and there is definitely no Congestion Free Network. Sadly they are all projects that should have happened at least decades ago and they help to show just how far behind we are. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a city in the world that is about to go through as much fundamental change as we are – but that is because most other cities have all, or at least a decent proportion of these things in place already.
The paper then goes on to show the most interesting part which how these projects will fit in on a timeline for the individual modes.
The next major event for the rail network will be later this year where AT are saying that we will finally get improved weekend frequencies which should mean at least half hour frequencies and services to Swanson on Sundays. One of the interesting things is that with no other changes on the rail network due till at least April when the EMU’s start running, it should give hopefully give AT some excellent data to see the impacts of the changes separate from anything else that is going on. Moving on to the end of the year and we are finally getting a new journey planner. This is long overdue as the current one is absolute rubbish and I simply won’t use it (I keep a copy of the timetable on my phone).
We have always known that the introduction of the EMUs will be spread out over a couple of years and I think I have seen a similar timeline before so it isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise though is the suggestion that we won’t be seeing integrated fares until the end of 2014. Of note the bus timeline has integrated fares happening slightly earlier and at the same time as the new bus network rolls out in South Auckland. Lastly we can see that in 2016 the current Transdev contract expires after having been extended a few times to avoid any possibility of a change in operator in the middle of the EMU roll out (we don’t want a labtests/Medlab situation happening and holding up the delivery of trains). I believe that the contract will be put out to tender so it will be interesting to see what comes out of that.
On the bus side most of the timeline is similar to what we have seen previously in the likes of the Southern Network consultation documents. The next year and a half seems like it will be a particularly busy time in which most of the consultation, procurement will occur and where the first areas will go live.
There seems to be quite a bit less going on with ferries however I think the key thing will be the first light blue arrow below the timeline where there are meant to be on-going service improvements to existing routes. You can also note that there is no integrated fares note on the ferry timeline once again confirming that ferries will exist outside of the integrated fare structure.
Across the bottom of all of the images above there are a couple of very specific points. One relates to marketing PT and shows how AT are really going to be a bit limited to only targeting towards specific services or areas for some time however once the entire new bus network has been rolled out it will enable them to market the entire network as a single entity. The network concept is probably something that many Aucklanders haven’t thought about it in the past.. The other piece common across all modes is the Customer Experience Programme which is the one area we haven’t really heard much about. Below is an explanation from the report as to what is involved. It will certainly be interesting to see what a fresh pair of eyes and thoughts might come up with and we will be following it closely.
This is one of the seven strategic projects in the three-year programme. This is a five month project that began in July 2013. The aim of the project is to develop a set of design blueprints and standards for an enhanced experience that customers will receive on future bus, rail and ferry services and through multi-modal support services. One of the first implementation of a customer experience blueprint is targeted for the service revenue launch of the EMUs on the Onehunga Line in April 2014.
Thoughtful Design consultancy has been appointed to facilitate the work having recently completed similar blueprint and experience design remits for Auckland Council and Air New Zealand.
The first four weeks of the project has been an information gathering exercise across current and new public transport services and public transport traveller profiles have been developed, that visually articulate current travel journey scenarios across public transport modes identifying pleasure-points, pain-points and needs. The phase one report is being finalized.
For the next six weeks to mid-September, from the public transport traveller profiles created, a set of guiding service design blueprints will be developed – the basis for building public transport customer-oriented experiences and products across services, facilities, support services and staff-customer interactions.
The rest of the paper looks at how these projects then get modelled to estimate what patronage might be. I will look at that part of the paper in a separate post.
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.