Follow us on Twitter

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

Finance

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

Operations

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.

HOP use grows

Almost all of the major bus operators are now on HOP with only the Waiheke Bus Company (4th March) and Airporter (unannounced) left to go. I have also heard that the Airbus will change over but there is no timeframe for that yet.

With that in mind a few days ago I casually asked Auckland Transport how many people were now using HOP. Today they announced

Aucklanders are now travelling on more than 200,000 AT HOP cards.

AT HOP is a smart-card which can be used for travel on trains and ferries and it is now rolling out to buses across the region.

Auckland Transport has been progressively introducing the system across different transport modes and a multitude of operators.

AT’s chief operations officer Greg Edmonds says the 200,000 card milestone comes with 95 per cent of the roll-out – due for the end of March – completed.

Mr Edmonds says that under the second phase of the integrated ticketing programme, a new Fares Policy will be developed. This will involve a review of fare structures (e.g. stage-based, zonal, distance-based), investigation of different fare products and passes, and pricing levels.

The system was introduced on Howick and Eastern Bus services last weekend (February 16), and will be followed by services on Waiheke.

For more information call Auckland Transport on 09-3664467 or go to: www.ATHOP.co.nz

Fast facts:

  • On an average weekday some 236,000 trips are taken on public transport in the region.
  • More than 3 million trips each month are made using the AT HOP card.
  • On an average weekday buses in Auckland travel some 164,000 km – the equivalent of flying from Auckland to London nine times.

It’s good to hear that so many cards are now out there in the wild and knowing that all PT services are using a single card is something that will hopefully lead to quite a few more people picking one up however it does account for less than 15% of the overall Auckland population so there’s still quite some way to go yet before it’s seen as a mainstream thing. As pointed out in the comments on the post yesterday about the HOP scam warning, there are probably a heap of people out there who probably want one and AT need to make it as easy as possible to be able to get cards.

In my view AT really need to be aiming to get the card in the hands of at least four times that number of people (or more). I suspect that people seeing the card in their wallet might be something that will remind them of the PT options that are available (assuming they are decent). One area I would love AT to progress on this front is to roll out HOP to carparks around the city. It would save people having to line up at ticket machines to pay and help get the card into more people’s hands.

Of course a big thing that does need to be sorted next is to get proper integrated fares sorted out.  I understand AT are working on it so hopefully it’s something we will hear more about soon.

HOP rolling out to more buses tomorrow

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

Hop Card

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

Ritchies and NEX ticketing changes

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

H&E ticketing changes

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

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

2013: A year in review – Part 1

Over the next few days I’ll be doing a series of posts recapping the year before beginning the new year by looking at what we can expect in the year ahead. For me when it comes to transport, 2013 was always going to be a bit of an “in progress” year. By that I mean that a heap of projects (both PT and road) would be advanced throughout the year however there would be nothing major completed that would fundamentally change transport in Auckland – that will change in 2014. For this post, I’m just going to be recapping public transport.

Electrification

Infrastructure

Wires are now a familiar sight across much of the rail network with primarily just the Eastern Line and the inner parts of the Western Line still to be completed however this was originally meant to have been completed by September. Back in May we revealed that the project was running late and is unlikely to be fully completed till March/April with Kiwirail saying it will be all done by the time the first electric trains are running in April. Britomart and the Eastern line are the focus over the Christmas shutdown and as I was in town yesterday I popped into Britomart which was a hive of activity and flashing lights with crews and vehicles working on each track.

Wires about to go up at Britomart

While the case for extending electrification to Pukekohe came out in 2012, the new development that is now expected to occur along the rail corridor thanks to the Unitary Plan is likely to help bring forward the need and justification for it. At the other extreme of the network Auckland Transport announced this year that the Waitakere station would close due to a combination of stubbornly low patronage and high costs to run a diesel shuttle service. The outcomes of two more stations – Westfield and Te Mahia – are still under review after it was suggested they would be closed too.

At Wiri the new state of the art depot to maintain our new electric trains was completed in time for the arrival of the first train.

Electric trains

The first of our new electric trains arrived at the end of August and staff have been busy testing it. Since then it has been joined by three others with more due to arrive soon. The trains are arriving at a rate of two every month till December when they increase to four per month. From my personal experiences of riding on them, I think they’re fantastic and people will be surprised when they first get to try the out next year.

SECOND EMU_7047

City Rail Link

The City Rail Link perhaps provided the biggest surprise of the year when in June the government suddenly turned around and agreed that it was needed and said they would help fund half of it. This was quite a change from the position they had previously taken, especially their earlier responses including to the City Centre Future Access Study which even Ministry of Transport officials had been a part of. It is believed a large part of the reason the government had such a change of heart was that their polling was showing a lot of unhappiness amongst Aucklanders about the lack of support towards the regions preferred transport and housing solutions.

While the announcement saw the government finally support the project it doesn’t mean they agree with everything about it as the government don’t want to start the project till 2020, roughly the time the council want it finished. They have set some aggressive but potentially achievable targets for starting early. Regardless some parts of the project will actually start next year (or in 2015) following an agreement between the council and Precinct Properties (who now own the Downtown Mall) for part of the tunnel to be built when they redevelop their site. That removed potentially one of the biggest issues from the consenting process which has been proceeding fairly quietly in the background. We should hear the results of that in the new year.

We here at the blog had been getting pretty frustrated with the way the project was being sold by AT (and others). Finally in November we saw a decent effort by AT with this video.

Integrated Ticketing and Fares

Integrated ticketing has one of those projects where if something can go wrong it will, frequently stumbling from one issue to the next with deadlines frequently missed as a result. The project had already been delayed multiple times in the lead up to 2013 and this year showed no sign of that changing with more deadlines missed. This year we were told the roll-out of AT HOP to buses would be completed by the end of the year however issues with the change overs pushed that back again. Birkenhead, Urban express and NZ Bus buses have now all been converted to AT HOP and fingers crossed the rest will be complete within the first few months of 2014. It will mean that for the first time people will be able to get around the city on PT with a single ticket (which is different to a single fare).

While getting integrated ticketing is a good step, integrating fares will be one of the keys to unlocking the system and making it more usable. While it has always been mentioned that integrated fares would come sometime after integrated ticketing, many at AT had previously given off the impression that it was more of a nice to have and there had been no real push. From what I have heard there has be finally been a shift and realisation within AT that integrated fares are desperately needed, especially to support the new bus network and as such work has been going on behind the scenes on this so it should become a reality.

New Bus Network

Early in the year we saw that there was a hugely positive response to the Regional Public Transport Plan of which one of the key features was the new bus network. This enabled AT to go out to the first detailed consultation which was in South Auckland. Once again there was a overwhelmingly positive response to the proposed changes. Auckland Transport deserve a lot of credit for this result as wasn’t just that the new network was good but that AT took their time to explain the reasoning behind it. Despite consultation now being complete in the South, we won’t actually see the changes made till 2015 as AT still need to work though significant issues like contracting with the bus companies. The video below is one AT put together to help accompany the consultation and explained excellently much of what is happening.

Patronage

Patronage growth was fairly stubborn throughout 2013 after a poor few years partially exaggerated by the Rugby World Cup. However there have finally been signs of improvement in the last few months, especially on the rail network. I suspect we will start to see some decent growth occurring once again in 2014.

Dec 13 Total Patronage

Other

Along with some of the big projects mentioned above, below are some of the other important things that have happened over the year:

Anything major PT wise I’ve missed? Upcoming posts will look at and recap what’s happened with road network, walking/cycling, development/planning and finally the blog itself.

The last days of SNOP

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

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

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

Hold onto your purple HOP Card.

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

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

Hop Card

Time for AT to stop digging

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

Or listen here.

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

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

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

Link and Metrolink Brochure page 1

Link and Metrolink Brochure page 2

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

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

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

Yesterday we also had this piece from the Herald on Sunday

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who would dare hop on an Auckland bus?

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