There have been a few bits of bus news recently
The first and most interesting is last week NZ Bus announced that that they hadn’t been short-listed for any of the routes as part of the new South Auckland bus network due to roll out in October.
NZ Bus advises that it has been informed by Auckland Transport that it has not been selected as a preferred tenderer for any of its South Auckland public transport services which were tendered for in late 2015. The NZ Bus services currently comprise 153 vehicles out of the total NZ Bus fleet of 1,070 buses.
NZ Bus Chief Executive Zane Fulljames said “Not being selected as a preferred tenderer in one of our incumbent locations is a disappointing outcome, particularly for our staff who work hard every day to deliver a high quality service and are part of the South Auckland community. However, as an incumbent we understand clearly the costs of operating in the South Auckland market and submitted a strong, high quality tender to reflect this.”
The tender outcome will have implications for NZ Bus staff operating in South Auckland. There is a 9 month transition period to the implementation of the new South Auckland contracts, and NZ Bus will be taking this time to work through options for minimising the impact on staff.
Mr Fulljames said it is important to keep this outcome in perspective. “While a number of contracts are being tendered across Auckland, other contracts are being renewed with incumbent bus operators through a direct negotiation process. NZ Bus has rights to negotiate a number of these contracts, representing in scale around 50 percent of its existing business in Auckland.”
A map of the south Auckland routes being tendered is below. They are split up into eight groups – called units – that were tendered for.
That NZ Bus didn’t make it to being one of the preferred tenderers from any of the eight is fascinating given they are the incumbent for the area. I’m told that AT are still negotiating with operators so there has been no decision yet on just who will run services so all we know for sure is that it isn’t NZ Bus.
There are a few thoughts I had upon hearing the news.
- I think this is good news as it suggests there’s competition for services occurring and likely suggests we’ll be getting better value for tax/ratepayers out of the new PTOM contracts. This is some ways is expected because as I understand it, AT have been rolling over existing contracts for some time meaning bus companies are likely amortising their costs over a short time frame. As the PTOM contracts are longer term it will allow fixed costs to be spread out more easily.
- It likely signals that companies will have to be more competitive for future tenders, NZ Bus have stated in the past that they want to about retain their overall market share so they’ll have to up their game to do so. Again this is good as it likely means we’ll get better value for money meaning either costs reduce or we can get more service for what we pay.
- NZ Bus seemed to use their most clapped out buses for use in South Auckland. A new operator should mean newer buses – especially as we know AT had some fairly detailed requirements for bus quality under the new network. This will be good for people using buses in South Auckland.
- It was interesting timing for NZ Bus to come out and say now that they hadn’t won the tender. I suspect part of that might be related to being owned by a publicly traded company while also them wanting to be able to tell their staff before they hear the news through other channels.
Stuff reports the Union claiming that Ritchies and Hamilton based Go Bus have won and that Howick & Eastern have also lost some routes but we’ll have to wait to see if that is actually the case.
The other piece of news is that Ritchies are now rolling out an additional 15 new Double Deckers to the Northern Express, adding around 15% more capacity – they may even be on the road already and join the 3 existing double deckers in service.
Other bus companies are getting in on the double decker act too. By the end of the year NZ Bus will have 23 of them and Howick & Eastern 15 of them.
Update: Auckland Transport have advised that due to a union meeting, there will be no NZ Bus services operating between 9 and 2:30 – although disruption will linger for longer than that (based on the last one there were still delays in the afternoon peak)
… are a pet hate of mine.
Why? Well, it’s rather straight-forward really: Heavily tinted windows make the outside world appear dark all the time. I find this to be rather gloomy, especially at night.
Indeed, the Airbus Express from the Airport to the City provides a very convenient ghost tour every time I return to Auckland from my new abode in Brisbane (image source).
Let’s get one thing straight: The look/feel of buses should be designed, first and foremost, to meet the needs of people who are actually riding the buses.
Not people outside the buses.
Logic suggests bus passengers who are sensitive to light will carry sunglasses. Why? Well, these passengers will tend to walk to and from the bus stop. In the sunlight. Hmm.
I happen to be one of these blue-eyed, fair-skinned, scottish-distilled, light-sensitive, bus-riding people. And I hate heavily tinted bus windows (I can tolerate light tinting).
There’s also a passive surveillance safety issue to consider. So much so that heavily tinted bus windows have actually been banned in some jurisdictions.
While this is thankfully not a major issue in Auckland, I would tend to eschew features that reduced public transport users’ perceived if not actual levels of safety.
What do others think? Are heavily tinted windows the bane of your existence? Or am I just an overly sensitive button?
Crowding on peak public transport is a well known occurrence in Auckland. This is a rather complex issue to fix due to bus congestion in the city, and high cost of adding extra buses and drivers to run one service a day. Working on bus lanes to improve efficiency and addition of double deckers is the best way to fix this issue.
However we are now seeing regular reports come in of crowding on off-peak services, notably on evenings and weekends. Even on popular inner isthmus routes, evening and weekend services are still stuck in a bygone era, not recognising that the city centre is now far from an 8am to 5pm destination. Weekend services also haven’t been updated to reflect the popularity of the CBD on the weekends and the regular special events that draw people in, especially over summer. Sunday services are usually a lower frequency than Saturday services, which may have been fine when the shops were all closed on Sundays, however it is not appropriate in 2014.
Services at off-peak times should also be able to be added relatively cheaply, as they just involve using existing buses and drivers more often, rather than pushing the need for extra buses and drivers. In some cases the issues may be able to be helped by running larger buses, instead of leaving these sitting in the depot at weekends.
They key services than seem to suffer the most from overcrowding issues are Dominion Road, Mount Eden Road, Tamaki Drive and the Northern Express.
Mount Eden Road
The issues on Mount Eden Road seem to largely come from the sparse evening services. Services drop from 15 minute frequency to 30 minutes after 9pm, which is much too early.
Mt Eden Road weekday evening timetable
This tweet from last Monday night shows the high demand for evening Mt Eden Road buses.
And from Julie Anne Genter last month, this time on a Tuesday night.
A few extra 274 services to give at 15 minute frequency until 11pm or so would probably sort the issues. An extra service at 12.10am would probably be popular as well.
The issues on Dominion Road come from both evening and weekend day time services. Buses are often so full that they are leaving people behind, which is unacceptable.
On Saturdays buses run the 258 and 267 run at a 20 minute frequency, giving a 10 minute frequency along Dominion Road from Mount Roskill. However this doesn’t seem to be enough to meet demand.
However on Sunday the timetable is totally archaic, and belongs in the 1970’s. The 258 and 267 both run every 40 minutes, only giving a 20 minute service all day.
This is certainly not nearly enough to meet demand. This tweet from last Sunday shows this results in packed buses leaving people behind.
This tweet from a couple of weekends ago shows this is a regular occurrence.
Evening services are also an issue. I heard that Dominion Road buses were leaving people behind at the Symonds Street bridge last Friday night, and am told this is common.
Some of the issues seem to arise from the use by NZ Bus of small ADL Enviro 200 buses, which have much lower seating capacity than the bigger buses available. This is very poor customer service from NZ Bus, as they are sure to have plenty of empty large buses sitting at the depot on weekends, however choose to run small buses to save on operating costs. This is unacceptable.
On nice days in summer the 15 mintue frequency and small ADL buses used on the service cannot handle the demand for trips to Mission Bay. Last Sunday afternoon I saw a bus packed full of people leaving town, and this meant it could not stop at the first stop on Quay Street near Countdown to pick up more beachgoers. I have heard this is a common occurrence on summer weekends.
Again NZ Bus is causing issues by running small ADL 200 buses on these services when larger buses are available.
Northern Express services running on weekends and evenings are often seen to be at capacity. The timetable for weekends and evenings has not been updated since May 2011, despite major patronage growth since this time. Buses leave Britomart every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight, however demand seems to outstrip this. The NEX needs to run at 10 minute frequency for another hour or 2 to cope with the patronage.
As an example this was the queue for the NEX at 7.40pm last Thursday, nearly 50 people long.
And this is the bus leaving at 7.45pm. These 10 people were left behind as the bus was full of standing passengers.
Weekend frequency is also an issue. All day weekend frequency is every 15 minutes. However I have regularly seen buses leaving the city full of standing passengers. At a 15 minute frequency the Northern Express cannot handle special events. This is a scene from the Auckland marathon just over a 2 weeks ago where a surge in patronage left the NEX unable to cope.
This suggests the Northern Express needs its frequency upgraded to 10 minutes on weekends, at least for the busiest parts of the day.
I am keen to hear more reports from readers about issues with public transport overcrowding, including stories that both confirm the above reports, as well as issues on other services that they have come across.
Fixing these issues would help raise public confidence in the bus system, and ensure people catching a bus have a good experience. It would also provide a great boost to public transport patronage.
If you catch a bus tomorrow morning you may get a poetry performance for your trip as part of an NZ Bus campaign to improve bus etiquette.
National Poetry Day is being celebrated this year with poets in residence onboard some of Auckland and Wellington’s main bus routes this Friday.
In Auckland, leading national poets have been invited by NZ Bus to perform onboard services travelling on: New North Road, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road and Great South Road between 7am and 10am on Friday morning.
The day coincides with the launch of NZ Bus’ etiquette campaign #busbetter with the Bugbears www.busbetter.co.nz so the theme for the poets is public transport etiquette.
At NZ Bus we want to encourage everyone to be more aware and considerate of each other when travelling by bus around the city. And we thought who better to do the talking than the people who live here, our local poets. We call it ‘poetiquette’.
“Getting on buses to perform to commuters is a great way to show every day Kiwis how accessible poetry can be. There’s no need for a stage or microphone, we just need an audience every now and then. Poetry can be performed anywhere for anyone,” says New Zealand Slam Poet 2012 Champion Ali Jacs.
Teaming up with poets is not new to NZ Bus having previously supported Poetry in Motion in the late ‘90s.
“Public Transport etiquette is just one way of saying that passengers on our buses should expect to have a comfortable and safe trip every time”, says NZ Bus CEO Zane Fulljames.
“We thought having cartoon characters, the Bus Bugbears, and their messages through the medium of poetry would be a fun way to get that message out there – that there are conditions of carriage we expect people to adhere to on our buses to respect the other passengers, our drivers and the actual buses,” Mr Fulljames said.
We have kick started the poetiquette campaign with Block the Way Ray.
There aren’t too many performances but overall it seems like a neat idea by NZ Bus so they should be congratulated for it. The campaign is also one that is similar to ones seen in other cities like this one from Queensland.
I guess my only concern is that this campaign is only on NZ Bus buses and it would probably be worthwhile being expanded to all operators and modes.
A nice little video NZBus put together for a recent transport conference of CEO Zane Fulljames comparing getting between their Onehunga depot and the Wynyard Quarter by car and by alternative modes.
I imagine Zane could have saved even more time if he took his bike on the train and rode from Britomart.
This does raise one question though, why don’t the PT operators do more to push the use of PT. Is it that Auckland Transport are controlling the comms? It would surely be in the interests of all the bus companies to pushing for PT use as all would benefit in a case of, “a rising tide floating all boats”.
Since 2011, NZ Bus (who run the Link buses, Metrolink, North Star, Waka Pacific and GoWest) have purchased over 350 ADL Enviro200 buses for use – most of these in Auckland. These are the ones:
NZ Bus seem pretty proud of these buses – noting the following on their website:
Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) is the UK’s leading bus and coach manufacturer, employing around 2,000 people at facilities in the UK, continental Asia and North America.
The fastest growing bus and coach builder in Western Europe, ADL encompasses three famous and successful marques – Alexander, Dennis and Plaxton. ADL produces a wide range of innovative and fuel efficient, low floor single and double deck buses, plus a full portfolio of coaches, welfare and mini vehicles.
ADL products offer real operator, passenger and environment benefits, all backed by an unswerving commitment to world class customer support.
In January 2011 NZ Bus announced a $50 million investment in new fleet and after an intensive search, we chose Alexander Dennis as our preferred supplier of fleet. Since then, NZ Bus has purchased 354 new Enviro200 buses at a total cost of approximately $140 million. These buses are of the highest quality, reliable, safe and with a Euro 5+ emissions standard, are environmentally friendly.
While the buses may have good fuel economy and less emissions than earlier types of buses, in a large number of ways they’re not ideal for the tasks we ask of them on many routes in Auckland – particularly when running City Link, Inner Link or Outer Link services.
Here’s a bunch of flaws these buses have:
- The doorways are too narrow for someone who is paying with a HOP card to easily slip past someone who is paying with cash. This massively slows down waiting times leading to enormous operating inefficiencies, reduced reliability (due to slow boarding time) and longer trips (slower boarding times again is the culprit). For the lack of a slightly wider entrance to the bus the efficiency of the entire bus system is quite significantly undermined. This could be partially addressed by allowing people to buy tickets offline and/or having a policy of issuing no change, things that should probably be done anyway.
- The aisles are too narrow. Perhaps due to the greater than normal separation between the two seats on either side of the bus, the aisle down the middle definitely feels significantly narrower than most buses. This makes manoeuvring around the bus really difficult when it’s full and once again slows down trip times hugely as people take ages to exit and enter buses when they’re busy. I imagine it would be even more difficult if someone in a wheelchair needs to board, as shown in this Campbell Live piece (from 11:20 but it is different kind of bus)
- The seat layout at the front of the bus is completely unsuited to use on services where people are getting on and off all the time – like the City Link. The buses previously used for Inner Link services realised that it was worth sacrificing a bit of seating capacity for much greater circulation and standing area for bus services where people wouldn’t be on it for that long – but where loads may be really high. The ADL buses basically use a seating layout for an inter-city coach and then apply it to very busy inner city services – hopeless!
- The buses are too small. While smaller buses are needed in some situations, I don’t know what possessed NZ Bus to invest in fairly small buses at a time when public transport patronage is growing and then to put them on popular routes. Very frequently people are unable to board packed Link services in particular – simply because the buses are too small and also because the silly seat layout referred to above means there’s hardly any standing room.
- Low Ceiling height at the back of the bus. Because you can’t stand at the back of the ADL buses (ceiling is too low and there’s a sign on the steps banning it) once again the buses get so overcrowded that people are often left behind at stops. This doesn’t happen with other types of buses.
- Really dark window tinting. The tinting on the window is really dark and while that is useful for helping reduce the impact of sun which in turn means the air-con doesn’t have to work as hard, it makes it harder to see in and out of the buses. Being able to see in and though buses was one of the key points made by Jarrett Walker the other day.
Overall, it feels like the ADL buses aren’t necessarily bad buses – they’re just being used for the wrong services or need a major internal redesign in order for them to work better. Key changes should be to shift to side-facing seats on Link Services (especially City Link) or preferably to use other buses in the fleet that are larger for these busy routes. That in itself raises another point, whatever happened to NZ Bus’s plan to buy some double deckers for busy routes? Another critically necessary change is to somehow make the front entrance wider – or perhaps allow rear door boarding with AT Hop cards to get around the narrow front door issue and make the buses faster, more reliable and more efficient.
I also hope that NZ Bus thinks harder about their next purchases to ensure that these same mistakes aren’t repeated. With the new bus network proposing many frequent services that will result in increased patronage over time, it’s important that we don’t get stuck with too small buses with too narrow aisles and entrances again.
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.
Whenever a debate appears on here around the benefits of one particular mode or another, inevitably someone will complain about the way buses can be driven. Having customers feel comfortable on a bus is incredibly important so it was pleasing to see that steps are being taken to improve that. The Herald reports:
Operator hopes feedback system will improve passengers’ safety and comfort.
Auckland’s largest bus operator is promising passengers smoother rides from “black boxes” to monitor drivers’ performance.
NZ Bus says the equipment being rolled out initially on its North Shore fleet is primarily for drivers to keep an eye on their own performance.
It will allow them to correct their driving if any of five lights on a vertical console to the right of their steering wheels turns from green to amber or – in extreme cases such as emergency braking or lurching too fast around corners – to red.
The five factors measured by the lights are rider comfort in terms of cornering, engine idling, braking, acceleration and speeding.
But the company can also download data for driver training and fuel efficiency purposes from the telematic machines it expects to install on most of its 1000 or so buses in Auckland, Whangarei and Wellington by the end of the year.
This sounds like a wonderful idea as a way to improve the passenger comfort levels as it allows drivers to actively change their behaviour as they drive. As I started reading the article though my first thought was a concern that drivers union might oppose the idea but I was pleasantly surprised to see them getting right in behind this initiative too.
Although black box cockpit voice recorders in aircraft became controversial among pilots in the 1990s after their use in court action, bus union leaders are giving the project qualified approval, after being assured the company will have a “conversation” with any staff needing to mend their ways before it resorts to any disciplinary action.
Auckland Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt believes most drivers will welcome the innovation, which the company says will complement its “Pathways to Safer Driving” programme – in which it is in the midst of providing 18 hours of refresher training across four modules including customer service, and driving and personal safety.
“I don’t think the disciplinary process will be invoked at all – the drivers in most cases will listen to what they are being told,” Mr Froggatt said.
“It will improve the performance of the drivers and hopefully cut down on the amount of speeding tickets they are getting.”
He said monitoring lights coupled with beeps when buses are travelling too fast would help to make up for an absence of a 50km/h mark on speedometers in the company’s predominantly European-made fleet.
I really love the part slightly later in the article where it is mentioned that some drivers are now actively competing with each other to see how long they can keep the various lights green. There’s nothing like a good bit of healthy competition to make things better for passengers. All up it seems like a really positive step so well done NZ Bus and hopefully we will see other bus companies roll out the same, or similar technology to help improve the experience for passengers.
Yay some good news at last in the long running pay dispute between NZ Bus and their drivers. The two parties have finally come to an arrangement which means no more threats of strikes or industrial action.
NZ Bus making progress in culture change
NZ Bus has been in negotiations with representatives of the Auckland Tramways Union and First Union for the past 6 months to agree a new Collective Agreement (CA) for their members.
“NZ Bus continues to make great progress as it moves forward with its investment programme in Health and Safety, Training, new and upgraded facilities and new fleet” says Shane McMahon COO NZ Bus
NZ Bus is pleased to announce that at ratification meetings held last week, Tramways and First Union members voted to accept the new Collective Agreement.
“ A significant effort has been underway in this business over the last few years to reshape the Values and deliver on our commitment to “RELIABILITY” to our customers, staff, partners and shareholders and this will continue at speed with a new collective agreement in place in Auckland” Mr. McMahon concluded.
NZ bus is delighted that the offer to staff has been supported and would like to thank customers for their patience and understanding.
One thing that came out on the weekend was that the bus drivers once again rejected the latest offer from NZ Bus. Here is the recent press release issued today by the company.
Mediation Confirms Final Offer
NZ Bus has been involved in negotiations with Tramways and First Union since May this year to agree a new Collective Agreement.
At Mediation today the Company confirmed its final offer. It has now reached agreement with the unions twice on what terms of the new collective should be. Both those agreements have been accepted by the unions and recommended by them to the members. The CTU have also been involved and Helen Kelly has recommended acceptance.
The latest recommendation for a settlement was accepted by about half the unions’ members in a ballot last week. Unfortunately, because the unions require a 60% vote the deal was not ratified.
The unions and the company returned to mediation today to discuss how to get past the problem that the on two occasions now deals which have been struck at the table, and recommended and endorsed by the unions, have not been supported by enough of their members. There comes a point where we cannot continue to increase the offer because we become uncompetitive.
It appears that some drivers will simply not accept that a fair or final deal has been struck until they have tested the company by taking industrial action. This is frustrating for both the company and the unions.
At mediation today the company again re-affirmed that it has made its best offer. Unfortunately, it appears that industrial action may now follow.
NZ Bus appreciates the work that the unions, and the CTU have been doing. They have achieved a position for their members where they will be the highest paid in bus drivers in Auckland. The company has already said that if there is any other collective agreement offered by a major operator in Auckland, then the company would consider it instead. In fact, the company and the unions know that this is the best deal available for drivers.
“Unfortunately there is an element within the unions that sees strike action as a key element in any negotiation. They seem hell bent on following that formula again this time around, which is a real shame because it’s our customers that pay the price” says Shane McMahon, COO NZ Bus
“It is time for the members to support their unions and bring these negotiations to a conclusion without inconveniencing the public or the half of the union membership that voted to accept the deal” concluded Mr. McMahon.
Average Annual Income for bus drivers = $46,000
Average hours worked per driver = 43 per week
Drivers are paid overtime rates for hours worked above 40 hours per week
Almost all drivers employed in full time roles, and over half (525) work straight shifts
Under the agreement reached between company and unions drivers pay rate would rise to $20 per hour plus allowances – making them the highest paid drivers in Auckland
In addition to hourly rate, drivers also get allowances for broken shifts, meals and certain additional duties
Total wage bill for drivers per annum = $46million
At this stage we don’t know what industrial action is planned by the union but reports in the Herald the other day suggested that it could possibly include running services but not collecting fares. While that might boost patronage for those days, I just really want to see this issue resolved.