2014 – A Year in Review Part 1 – PT

With the year fast coming to a close this is the first in a series of posts wrapping up what happened this year. In this post I’m just going to look at the changes we’ve seen with Public Transport.

While 2013 was very much a lull year while many projects ticked on in the background, 2014 has arguably been one of the biggest years for PT in Auckland for some time. This has largely been thanks to two major projects seeing significant milestones.


The first trains arrived in 2013 but this year saw them carrying paying passengers for the first time starting with the Onehunga line at the end of April. Electric trains then started running to Manukau in August before a full timetable upgrade earlier this month that saw improved frequencies – especially off peak. We don’t yet know the impact the most recent change have made however the earlier changes have shown the sparks effect in action in Auckland with those two lines seeing massive growth compared to last year – in the case of Manukau patronage is up 50% on the same time last year.

The fantastic news about the electrification story is that the biggest impact is yet to come which will happen the Southern and Western lines go electric by the middle of next year.


Integrated Ticketing

After years of delays and issues, integrated ticketing was finally rolled out to all PT services meaning you can now use a single card to pay for any trip across Auckland, regardless of who operates it. That is especially useful for anyone who has multiple options for which service they catch or those who catch transfer between services. It’s hard to say for sure but integrated ticketing is likely to behind some of the spectacular growth we’ve seen this year as from memory, internationally it’s been credited with patronage increases of around 7%.

As with electrification the best is yet to come and in 2015 we will hear more about the real game changer of Integrated Fares. That should simplify the fare structure significantly and mean you pay a single fare for your trip regardless of how many services you catch to get to your destination. It makes transferring much much easier and is needed for the New Network to work. From what I understand Integrated Fares requires some significant changes the HOP system and as such is not likely to roll out till around this time next year so it won’t really start having an impact till 2016. In the meantime Auckland Transport have already started making some positive changes including increasing the HOP discount in July that meant if you were using a HOP card then for most trips (except ferries) fares actually got cheaper.

Hop Card


Other than the two key projects above there’s been a lot of improvement in the PT space. Here are some of the other things we’ve seen this year.


Patronage has grown very strongly this year and has been one of the best years we’ve seen. We’re obviously still waiting for the results for December however for the 12 months to the end of November patronage has increased by 5.685 million (8.2%) to be over 75 million trips. Within that the star performers have been the Rapid Transit Network which is made up of the rail network and the Northern Express which combined have grown by 17% (2.166 million) compared to the same time last year. 2.166 million trips. On the rail network Auckland achieved two milestones at the same time with patronage surpassing Wellington for the first time and also passing the 12 million trips mark. That occurred only occurred in September however growth has been so strong it’s possible we will pass 12.5 million in December. However the regular bus network hasn’t been standing still either with that seeing a 7% increase (3.485 million). By mode the changes are:

  • Bus – 3.817 million (7.1%)
  • Train – 1.835 million (17.8%)
  • Ferry – 32,900 (0.6%)

AK Total Patronage Nov 14

Down in Wellington patronage has had a spurt of growth for the first time in a while with the total number of trips rising above 36 million for the first time.

WG Total Patronage Nov 14 Bus Lanes

This year for the first time in Auckland Transport’s four year history we saw them implement a new bus lane. It occurred on Fanshawe St after a great post from Luke highlighting why it was needed and while small has made a big difference to buses leaving the city towards the North Shore.

In November we learned of a lot more bus lanes that Auckland is planning over the next three years which should really help improve the customer experience for bus users and improve operational efficiency.

City Rail Link

It feels like news has been relatively quiet on the CRL this year although the project has definitely moved forward. Earlier this year the project received approval from the independent commissioners which means for the first time in the projects 90+ year history there is a designation in place. Some groups are challenging that aspects consent and they should be heard by the environment court in the first half of 2015 however that is unlikely to stop the whole project.

In the meantime Auckland Transport have been moving forward with the project and the first section – the enabling works which will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to Wyndham St – should kick off by the end of 2015. AT have already put out a tender for the works and that should be awarded in the next few months. Positively, while the council and government still debate over when to provide funding, it seems everyone is in agreement that the enabling works should kick off now as they are needed for Precinct Properties to build their redevelopment of the Downtown Mall site.

Perhaps the biggest news about the CRL was that AT have dropped the Newton station in favour of an upgraded Mt Eden station.

AT Metro

Just a few weeks ago AT launched a new brand for PT called AT Metro and to accompany it all buses will eventually have a unified livery rather than each operator having their own brand.

Double Decker

New Network

Three more consultations for the New Network occurred in 2014 following the South Auckland network in 2013. This year there were Hibiscus Coast/Warkworth, Pukekohe and Waiuku and West Auckland. One major issue that has emerged with the new network though is the lack of progress on interchanges with the West Auckland network suffering the most from this.

West Auckland With and Without Interchanges


The first stage of AMETI which will eventually see a busway from Panmure all the way to Pakuranga and then Botany was completed at the beginning of the year with the opening of the new Panmure station and interchange. It is already having a significant impact with patronage at the station up as much as 100% in some months compared to 2013 and that is only likely to continue as more improvements are made.

Panmure Station 1

MIT/Manukau Station

The Manukau station opened back in 2012 however since then it has been a bit hidden away thanks to the construction of the MIT campus that sits above it – which was subject to delays thanks to the collapse of the construction company building it. Those issues are now over and in June the MIT campus opened providing a spectacular entrance to the station.

MIT dyptych


So what did I miss?

Guest Post: Dear AT HOP

This is a guest post by reader Frith Stalker

Dear AT Hop

I have used Auckland buses for 30 years

I am very smart, very pedantic, very polite and very Rule Abiding

I am your perfect customer.

I always thank the driver.

In days of old – I always had the correct change, now I always have my card.

I am always ready when my stop arrives, and I get off quickly and efficiently.

I give up my seat for the old, the very young, pregnant women and those with disabilities.

I ‘be the bad guy’ when no one will move down the bus, so we can all get on with the journey.

I pick up rubbish and I teach my kids bus etiquette.

I report the dangerous bus drivers, but yes I also commend the good ones.

I study your crazy maps, persist with your: series of bus cards, totally random electronic “real time” (ha ha) boards, user-unfriendly-websites – and log in repeatedly to your user accounts until I get to where I need to go, one way or another.

I have no choice.

I have no car.

Lately I got a Smart Phone. I got your App. I use it – every day – despite the times it monumentally lets me down.

But, you know, when a bus is finally in front of me, and I can’t get on it – despite my monthly pass – that’s when I finally say: ENOUGH.

You want to know why buses have a bad rap? You want to know why lower income users don’t use your AT Hop cards?

I’ve estimated my usage. A monthly pass is worth my while, just, as I spend near that (gulp) but importantly it allows me: jump-on-jump-off without calculating every single fare.

I’ve budgeted. I talked to the hotline to check my facts. I’ve loaded up $140 monthly pass on my card.

It was scary shelling out for that. It’s scary spending that anywhere. (I don’t spend that in one go on groceries for my family of four) It was not easy to put that money aside and spend it in one hit. I waited weeks to have it ready. Now I am off: Unlimited trips within Zone A for 30 days. Right?

  • Day One: Today seems okay. I Tag On/Tag Off and it’s working. It’s a good feeling.
  • Day Two: The morning is fine. The afternoon… I get on an Inner Link and Tag On (Ponsonby Rd). All good. At K’Rd, as I Tag Off, I catch something other than the green light out of the corner of my eye. But it’s too late to read the message – I heard the beep and now I am off the bus. Shrug. Run for the next bus.
  • Next bus, out of breath, I jump on (I am racing to take over childcare). I try to Tag On, but it reads “insufficient funds, please pay the driver”. WTF? $140.00 and now I can’t get on a bus. [In fact I refuse to get off. A lovely (or resigned) man offers to tag me on. The driver gives up, declines his offer and drives off. I’m humiliated. Angry. But at least I am on the way home.]
  • I phone the AT Hop number, they tell me my card has to be in credit (cash credit, over and above my $140 monthly pass) for my pass to function. I am disbelieving. I am also indignant: I did have credit. A few dollars. Otherwise how did my card work on Day One. Right? How can I fix it? Go to Britomart (ok, using my bus card? With my 2 year old? Shall I take time off work to go somewhere not on my way to fix a problem I didn’t create?)

This saga dragged on and my card was useless to me for the next two days. Something had gone wrong on that second tag off – and it wasn’t me. Credit had been removed from my card, and my monthly pass was non-functional until I could top up with more cash. There are two major problems with this, and a third catch:

  • I was not informed, upon purchase of my pass – nor on the Hotline when researching the pass – that a cash balance would be required on top of my $140 top up. Surely this constitutes a breach of good faith between customers and AT Hop?
  • There was cash on my card – entirely coincidentally. It was removed due to an error with AT Hop which they refuse to acknowledge.
  • I’m not due to go past a Top Up point until the day after next – no car, childcare drop off en-route to work. I have to plan my top ups with care…

So how to remedy it overall? Surely, AT Hop say ‘sorry! We messed up’ ‘please accept this credit on your card for the costs when you couldn’t use your card.’ Right?

Wrong. Email exchange with AT Hop: they refuse to refund my fares.  No cash fares refunds – not even with receipts. I suggest they credit me one extra day on my monthly pass. No. What if I spend $16 on my card (once my pass is expired) and they can refund that? No.

Can they explain what happened? No response. How can I be sure it won’t happen again? No response.

The final insult to injury is when the journey becomes visible (or not) on my online account. The story does not add up. At All. My trip from Ponsonby to K’Rd doesn’t even show. There’s one totally bizarre entry for that afternoon: a Tag Off on Customs St (missing Tag On). Now - I was nowhere near Customs St that day – and my email records prove that I was still at work over an hour later. 

My Tag On the Inner Link (around 5.00pm) was just fine – but it wasn’t even on the record. A more paranoid person might think At Hop had altered my record (I had told them in no uncertain terms how far I was willing to go to ensure the issue was not simply brushed under the carpet. It makes you wonder…)

AT Hop Monthly pass fail 700pix

So, I think this sort of issue is a fairly stern deterrent: I fork out 25% of my Gross Weekly earnings for a monthly pass, and five days later I cannot board a bus? Not good enough.

The existence of failures of this sort (technical) are not ideal, but I can understand and accept that they happen. Given they do happen, however, there must be something in place to protect the customer (I suggested pass holders present the receipt for their pass – with valid dates – to the driver for travel if their pass failed… No answer).

If issues like this continue to be swept under the carpet you will not get a culture of faith in the everyday workings of our transport network. When you don’t have a car – and therefore have no other means of transport – this is not just an inconvenience it’s a massive stressor and potentially a barrier to reliably participating in the workforce. Not good enough.

What’s happening with the HOP daily passes

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

March Meeting

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

April Meeting

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

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

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

Daily Pass delay

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

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

Some potential mitigation options for the issues were listed as

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

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

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

Public Transport revenues for April

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

HOP Usage and Revenue April

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

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

HOP Usage average fares April


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

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

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

HOP Usage history April

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

HOP Sales April

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

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

Rail Station HOP usage

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

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

HOP usage by train station

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

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

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

Winston Peters show’s he doesn’t get HOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting HOP in the Hands of more people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To me, the celebrations are premature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better or cheaper public transport?

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

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

HOP costs to Takapuna

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

Concentric Zone structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebration time, HOP Rollout Complete

A very important milestone was achieved last week, the Airbus Express buses went live on AT HOP. That means that every public bus, train or ferry service in Auckland can now be boarded and paid for using the same smart card. It’s a milestone that’s been dreamed about for decades and one that has a lot of false starts along the way. While the current implementation has certainly had some issues along the way since. Examples include fare evasion on trains, the removal of passes, money collected from penalty fares and of course the numerous issues with snapper but it does seem like the worst of the issues are now behind us.

On a positive note I’m also already hearing stories of how the change is benefiting people. For example people waiting along Gt North Rd have started realising that they no longer have to wait for a specific service or bus company to get to town but can get just the next one that comes along. Personally I’ve already found it much easier to catch different types of services including combining bus and train trips. After all these types of scenarios are really some of the key reasons for introducing integrated ticketing in the first place.

Hop Card

With the ticketing system in place it also means that Auckland Transport should now be able to focus some of their attention to the actual fare system and in their latest board report they say:

  • Testing of a new AT HOP Day Pass is underway for targeted introduction by April 2014 across bus, rail and ferry. The pass will offer greater flexibility through three separate geographic zones compared with the existing and to be withdrawn paper Discovery Day Pass.
  • Following direction from the December 2013 Board meeting, analysis and finalisation of the two preferred options for integrated fares is underway (5 concentric ring zonal model and 4 concentric ring zonal model + short trip fare), including product and pricing scenarios. The business case is targeted for presentation at the April 2014 Board meeting.

I don’t think either of these two developments can come fast enough (providing they are priced right). My understand is that integrated fares are planned to be introduced at roughly the same time as the new bus network next year however I would really like to see it much sooner and it would be great if it could happen later this year.

Following on from fares, to me the next stage also has to be a focus on getting HOP cards in the hands of more people. This will involve improving  the marketing, price points, availability of the cards along with levels of discount they provide. In addition AT really needs to look at getting the cards introduced to the parking system so people can pay both their on and off street parking with it. Taxi’s and bike hire schemes (if they can be bothered setting a city wide one up) are other avenues they should look in to. At the end of the day the goal should be to have as many people as possible with a HOP card in their hand as that will help to reduce some of the barriers for people to try PT.

For today though, congratulations to AT for finally getting integrated ticketing rolled out.

AT’s Feb board meeting

Tomorrow the Auckland Transport board have their first public meeting of the year before and as I usually do, I’ve gone through the reports looking for what interesting information exists. The first thing that I noticed was even before getting into the reports and that was just how much was on the closed agenda vs what was on the open one. Other than the standard reports on there every meeting, the open agenda contains just a few additional papers. However on the closed session agenda there is a whole list of interesting looking topics. The items for approval/decision is


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

Capital Development

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


ix) Northern Maintenance Contract Award

Strategy & Planning

x) Draft Parking Strategy Consultation

Business Technology

xi) CCTV Convergence Project

Probably the most interesting one would be the Mill Rd item which is something quite controversial to many of the locals and the last we heard of it, the design was looking like a mini motorway. In the open session business report it’s said the project is needed due to over 3,800 houses within special housing areas being along the corridor and I can only assume they are upcoming SHA’s as there hasn’t been any on that corridor so far.

On to the items that caught my attention in the business report.

EMU testing

Based on the report, the EMUs should now have finished the testing to ensure they will actually work on our network which is great news.

Official track testing is now well advanced and scheduled to conclude mid-February 2014. The testing of the on-board signalling system has been completed with the passenger information systems (PA announcements, and passenger information displays) remaining to conclude testing.

Four trains are now capable of mainline running and fleet kilometres during testing are in excess of 15,000. The trains continue to perform well under tests on the electrified main lines which now extend from Wiri to Newmarket and also on the Onehunga Branch Line.

Trains five, six and seven are at Wiri undergoing reassembly and tests. Trains eight and nine have left Spain and are due in New Zealand in early March.

Now we just need to wait for more to arrive and be put through their paces so that services can start on the Onehunga line. Later on the report also mentions that from Friday testing will be able to commence on the line between Newmarket and Britomart and I can’t wait to see these trains parked up in the station. It also confirms when we will see these trains on each of the lines across the network.

  • Apr 2014: Onehunga Line services
  • Sep 2014: Manukau via Eastern Line services
  • Mar 2015: Southern Line services
  • Jul 2015: Western Line services

And lastly on the date in April has been confirmed as the 28th and along with that AT will be giving many of the operations a bit of a refresh to improve the customer experience. There will also be an open day near the time of the first services starting so that the public can get a look at the trains.

As part of the improved customer experience with the new EMU services, enhanced station works will be started on the Onehunga Line stations from February 2014 in the lead-up to launch of the Onehunga EMU services on 28 April 2014. This includes improved pedestrian shelter between modes at Onehunga and Ellerslie Stations, improved customer information on station platforms, station rebranding and in line with the recommendations from the Customer Experience research undertaken in the latter half of 2013, improved wayfinding signage. Platform edge warning lighting will also be trialled. New Transdev staff uniforms are being selected for initial implementation prior to the launch of the new Onehunga Line EMU services.

City Centre Integration Group (CCIG)

There had previously been a cross council group that was intended to work together on projects along the waterfront containing Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Limited. It appears that the various organisations have now agreed to expand the reach of that across the entire city centre. This should hopefully mean we get some more coherent development of projects happening rather than each organisation working in silos. Of interest:

Transport feasibility studies are due for completion in early 2014 for the Ferry Basin Masterplan, Fanshawe/Customs St Corridor, and Wynyard Bus Interchange

Integrated Ticketing and Fares

With integrated ticketing almost complete the focus is now going to really shift to integrated fares. In December the board agreed to investigate further two different options. They were a 5 concentric ring zonal model and 4 concentric ring zonal model + short trip fare. These are likely to be variations of these options. Analysis including pricing options and a business case are currently underway but it seems we won’t see anything implemented until the 2nd quarter of 2015, probably when the new network rolls out. I had been hoping we might see it rolled out by the end of this year. AT do say they are in the process of testing out a daily pass which will be rolled out in March based on geographic zones (most likely the same ones used for the monthly passes). The big question will end up being how they price the passes and I fear they will be priced so high that very few people would benefit from them.

The graph below shows the percentage of customers using HOP for bus journeys (up until early this month so won’t include Howick & Eastern. It appears the Birkenhead customers are increasingly using HOP however its Bayes buses that get the most HOP card usage with over 70% of people using a HOP card. I’m surprised that NZ Bus and Urban Express don’t seem to be seeing any real change.

HOP ticketing usage Feb 2014

Tamaki Dr/Ngapipi Rd intersection

Late last year AT went out to consultation on this intersection which is the worst for cycle crashes in Auckland. AT wanted to put traffic lights in however the local board were pushing for a roundabout. The exact details about the intersection are in the closed session however it’s noted in the board report that they have chosen to implement the traffic light option (which was also supported by Cycle Action Auckland).

Tamaki-Ngapipi intersection upgrade

Lastly a couple of the additional papers for this board meeting. One is about the establishment of a board committee dedicated to focusing on the customer experience.

An increasing number of customer interface initiatives are being developed and implemented. Following the model of the Capital Review Committee, the establishment of the CFC will give the opportunity for Board members to have greater visibility, input and governance oversight of these initiatives.

This seems like a good idea and I’m sure the committee will have a lot to do.

The other paper gives is the forward programme for the board showing what is coming up for them to discuss/decide on. Naturally the next few meetings are more fleshed out than those 4-5 months out. Some projects that I picked up were.

  • In March the closed session will see papers on AMETI, Mill Rd, Dominion Rd, integrated fares, replacing parking ticket machines, selling the diesel trains. At the capital review committee a few weeks before three is also a paper on AT’s rail strategy.
  • In April there will be closed session discussion on the seawall in the city centre, SMART (rail to the airport), Mill Rd (again), AT’s rail strategy, Papakura – Pukekohe electrification,

I’ll post about the patronage results separately.