Some you may recall that a month or so ago my colleague Jarrett Walker came to Auckland to talk about public transport. In this presentation, Jarrett discussed some of his work on Auckland’s new network. The general thrust of his talk was that improvements to Auckland’s bus network will play a crucial role in Auckland’s future public transport network. Highlight of the talk for me personally was Jarrett’s suggestion that we need to start thinking of buses as ”pedestrian fountains“. That’s a point to keep in mind the next time you look at pictures of Auckland’s city centre filled with people enjoying themselves; many of those people will have arrived by bus.
Jarrett also emphasised the often overlooked fact that even post-CRL, significant numbers of people will still be arriving in Auckland’s city centre by bus, especially from those areas which are not well-served by rail. For example, buses will still be required on Manukau Rd, Mt Eden Road, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, and Jervois Rd, which are some of the densest parts of the region. The CRL does not make buses go away, even if it allows their role to change in some parts of the region, and that buses will continue to be an important part of Auckland’s public transport system for the foreseeable future.
For this reason Jarrett suggested that we start thinking about how buses can be integrated into the city in a way that enables them to move efficiently, without clogging up the roads and detracting from urban amenity. And that means – in my opinion – that we need better bus infrastructure, like what you find in more enlightened cities overseas. Indeed, even Vienna – which is a city known for its relatively dense metro and tram network – has a bus system that carries 120 million passengers per year. That’s more than twice the passengers currently using Auckland’s bus network. Basically, there is no conceivable (realistic) future for public transport in Auckland that does not involve making better use of our buses.
Jarrett really lays down an intellectual challenge to people that “hate buses”.
In his talk Jarrett also emphasised that the best bus routes almost always make the best tram routes. So if you are a person who want trams to be part of Auckland’s transport future (and I would count myself as one of these people), then the best thing you can do is support the development of a high-quality bus network supported by appropriately future-proofed infrastructure.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the presentation, albeit without audio/video (technical difficulties on the day meant this is unavailable). In my next post I’ll upload a copy of Jarrett’s talk at the public transport careers evening that was held at the University of Auckland (again apologies for the delay with getting this uploaded; I know some of you have been asking for it).
And for those of you who missed hearing Jarrett on his last visit, rest assured that we’re already working to bring him back to Auckland later this year.
Some comments the other day raised the question about what led to patronage dropping so much in the late 1950′s. Was it the removal of the tram network or was it the opening of the Harbour bridge, the motorways and the introduction of cheaper cars. In a way it is kind of a chicken or egg debate. It was sparked by this graph from Auckland Transport and thankfully they had previously provided me with the data behind it allowing us to look at the info in more detail.
So let’s have a look at things in more detail. I think that there are four distinct periods in the history of PT patronage in Auckland and with the exception of the one we are in now, they conveniently each lasted about 25 years. I characterise these four periods as:
- The Rise – 1920 to 1945
- The Fall – 1946 to 1970
- The Bounce – 1971 to 1995
- The Revival – 1996 to Now
By 1920 electric trams had been plying Auckland for almost two decades (having replaced Horse drawn trams) and they had enabled the city to spread out across large portions of the central isthmus. Effectively where the trams went, development followed and the suburbs were designed to make trams easy to use. This is most noticeable in the western side of the isthmus where most houses were within 400m walking distance of a tram route. Further looking at aerial images from 1940 on the councils GIS viewer, it doesn’t appear that there were very many houses outside of the areas covered in the map below
400m catchment from the former tram lines. (thanks to Kent)
Patronage during this time was clearly affected by the great depression however rebounded afterwards then surged during the war thanks to the rationing of fuel and rubber as well as the increase participation in the workforce to support the war. The graph below shows patronage by mode up for this period. As you can see the trams carried the vast majority of passengers with over 80% of all trips occurring on them. Auckland’s population during this time went from around 150,000 to just under 300,000 however even at the lowest point, there were an average of over 240 trips per person per year. During the war patronage peaked at over 420 trips per person per year.
As you would expect, after the war patronage decreased however it didn’t fall back to pre-war levels and instead stayed above 100 million trips per year. All up by 1950 patronage had only decreased by ~11% from its wartime peak. While the total number of cars in NZ had definitely increased over time, annual new car registrations were still below levels seen during the depression, so much so that between 1945 and 1950 the total vehicle fleet in NZ had only increased by 12%. Per capita usage in 1950 was around 330 trips per person.
A tram in Queen St 1949 – Queen Street, Auckland city. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-06. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23214342
Unfortunately our city leaders fell hook line and sinker for the utopian dream spreading out from the US that cars and buses powered by petrol and diesel were the future. It was decreed that buses were to replace the trams and in typical Auckland fashion, we not only proceeded to do this but extremely rapidly – and likely very expensively – pulled out the entire tram network over roughly a 6 year period. What was likely an initial optimism about the future of Public Transport seemed to be wiped away once people actually tried the new bus services and by the time the last tram was removed from the city in 1956, patronage had plummeted from over 105.5 million in 1950 to around 66.5 million in 1957.
During this time period the first motorways also started to be completed and by 1957 sections on the Northwestern were open between Lincoln Rd and Pt Chev while the Southern motorway was open between Ellerslie -Panmure Highway and Redoubt Rd. It’s interesting to question how much impact they would have had on PT patronage initially as both ended outside of furthermost extent of the former tram network. Car ownership throughout NZ also increased during this time which I suspect is partly due to more being available and partly people not happy with the bus options being provided.
After the sharp fall caused by the removal of the tram network, patronage then went into a steady decline as the car culture became further entrenched and more and more motorway extensions were opened. Despite what one person has suggested, the only noticeable impact of the harbour bridge opening seems to have to the ferries which is understandable.
By 1972 public transport patronage had reached a low of just 42 million trips per year and then the oil crisis hit. Almost instant it seems as though patronage bounced back with it increasing by over 10 million trips in a year. From there it bounced around between 50 and 60 million trips a year for around 15 years. I don’t know the history behind it but it also seems odd that just as oil prices spike, we obviously started pulling out the trolley buses and replaced them with diesel ones. Both trains and ferries had little to no impact on patronage during this time period.
I have also called it the bounce because the increases experienced didn’t last. By the late 80s petrol prices started to decline once again in real terms. Around the same time (or early 90′s) reforms made it much easier and therefore cheaper to import cars which saw PT patronage fall away again to new lows. In 1994 we reached the lowest point ever with just over 33 million trips in the year.
Bus patronage started to see a revival in the late 90′s spurred on primarily on buses. I’m not entirely sure what started it so perhaps some readers can fill me in. In 2003 Britomart opened which was really the turning point for the rail network, it initially saw some impact to bus patronage however both have grown and it has seen patronage climb back above 70 million trips. Incidentally the last time it was that high was the year the last of the tram lines were pulled out.
So did greater availability of cars turn people off PT or were people put off PT by the removal of the tram network and pushed into using cars? I think it is a bit of both. Had the trams not been removed I suspect that patronage would still have dropped as car use became more prevalent however I doubt it would have fallen by as much as it did. Of course we can’t know for sure but I think we can say with certainty that Auckland would be quite a different city if we still had those tracks in place today.
For a total comparison, here is the total change experienced by mode since 1920.
And here you can see the impacts that at a per capita level. A rapidly increasing population has meant that despite recent gains in patronage are still not using PT anywhere as much as even a few decades ago.
Patronage stats for March are out and as usual, are interesting reading. Once again only ferry patronage was up on March last year however AT have finally taken on board a suggestion I have made in the past and reported what is happening with weekday patronage (more on this later in the post). The biggest impact for March is that there were two less business days than March 2013, one of which was thanks to Easter. Here are the Highlights:
Auckland public transport patronage totalled 69,157,661 passenger trips for the 12-months to Mar-2013 a decrease of -1,581,228 trips or -2.2% on the same period to Mar-2012.
Rail patronage totalled 9,951,686 passengers for the 12-months to Mar-2013. Patronage for Mar-2013 was 1,002,967 a decrease of -44,380 boardings or -4.2% on Mar-2012, with two less business days in Mar-2013 (approximately -7% impact). Average daily weekday scheduled service patronage (excluding special event services) increased by +4.5% with increases also in weekend and total average daily figures. Mar-2013 patronage impacts include reduced special event services (negative), continued transition of legacy ticket counts at time of sale to AT HOP at time of travel (positive) and increased network shutdowns (negative).
The Northern Express bus service carried 2,235,202 passenger trips for the 12-months to Mar-2013. Mar-2013 patronage was 231,108, a decrease of -13,877 boardings or -5.7% on Mar-2012, with two less business days in Mar-2013 (approximately -7% impact). Average daily weekday scheduled service patronage (excluding special event services) increased by +2.6%. Patronage impacts include increased utilisation of enhanced alternative Northern Busway services in particular the 881 service (negative), re-branding and launch of the double decker vehicle (positive). AT HOP on bus in 2013 will permit all service boardings and alightings on the Northern Busway to be counted.
Other bus services carried 51,490,203 passenger trips for the 12-months to Mar-2013. Mar-2013 patronage was 5,005,881, a decrease of -346,308 boardings or -6.5% on Mar-2012, with two less business days in Mar-2013 (approximately -7% impact). Average daily weekday scheduled service patronage (excluding special event services) decreased by -1.2%. Patronage impacts include improved capacity on some routes (positive), reliability improvements on some routes (positive) and service changes in February.
Ferry services carried 5,480,570 passenger trips for the 12-months to Mar-2013. Ferry services patronage for March was 555,143, an increase of 45,546 boardings or +8.9% on Mar-2012. Patronage impacts include the launch of new ferry services at Hobsonville and Beach Haven (positive) and additional service trips at Pine Harbour (positive).
Overall patronage was down 5% on March 2012.
As mentioned earlier, for the first time AT have included information around weekday usage. This is something I had raised with them both on the blog and directly so it’s good to see. One of the reasons I have been keen to see this is that every time I catch the train, it doesn’t feel like things are getting quieter. In fact the opposite seems true when the trains are full, especially during the morning peak. Effectively what AT have done is look at the patronage from weekdays and weekends that didn’t have a special event on and compared the averages from March 2012 to March 2013.
Comparing the results this way helps to weed out changes in the number of working day as well as special event services. It shows that weekday patronage in March actually increased over March 2012 although some of the previous months did see drops. Interestingly weekend patronage has been up on the year before for the last few months. Perhaps more importantly it shows just how much greater patronage is during weekdays than on weekends. You may also remember that former transport minister Steven Joyce used to claim that the existing Puhoi to Wellsford route carried more people per day than the Auckland rail network. At ~18,000 vehicles per day on average, even if every single vehicle had two people in it, the road doesn’t even come close.
We are still waiting on the cycling numbers and will post them when they become available.
I also keep an eye on state highway traffic numbers, in particular the Harbour bridge for which the NZTA has the most information. It has continued to see traffic growth however is still down on its peak from 2006.
I imagine that there are a few staff not looking forward to the AT board meeting today when it comes time to discuss patronage as the results for Feb certainly aren’t pretty. The highlights, if you can call them that, are:
Auckland public transport patronage totalled 69,516,680 passengers for the 12-months to Feb-2013 a decrease of -1,147,482 boardings or -1.6%. February monthly patronage was 5,639,960 a decrease of -360,732 boardings or -6.0% on Feb-2012.
Rail patronage totalled 9,996,066 passengers for the 12-months to Feb-2013, a decrease of -929,032 boardings or -8.5%. Rail monthly patronage for February was 789,077 a decrease of -72,004 boardings or -8.4% on Feb-2012.
Northern Express bus service carried 2,249,079 passenger trips for the 12-months to Feb-2013 a decrease of -49,126 or -2.1%. Northern Express bus service patronage for February was 170,554, a decrease of -13,505 boardings or -7.3% on Feb-2012.
Other bus services carried 51,836,511 passenger trips for the 12-months to Feb-2103, a decrease of -359,936 boardings or -0.7%. Other bus monthly patronage for February was 4,132,765 a decrease of -313,630 or -7.1% on Feb-2012.
Ferry services carried 5,435,024 passenger trips for the 12-months to Feb-2103, an increase of +190,612 boardings or +3.6%. Ferry monthly patronage for February was 547,564 an increase of +38,407 or +7.5% on Feb-2012.
There was one fewer business day in February this year than the same month last year and no major special events during the month. One fewer business day accounts for approximately -4% in patronage on Feb-2012.
Rail patronage has also been affected by the pre-purchase of tertiary ten-trip tickets at the end of Feb-2012 and the allocation of patronage counts at the time of sale compared to the purchase of AT Hop tertiary stored value in 2013 and the count of patronage made at time of travel. This would account for approximately -7.5% patronage reduction for rail in Feb-2013.
So with the exception of the ferries, PT was down across the board. Now to be fair, there was an extra day in the month last year but even so that should only make 4-5% difference. Lets have a look at the graphs:
The most high profile of the patronage stats these days is the rail network and once again things don’t look good with February even below the same month in 2011. Once again a lot of the blame seems to be targeted at the change in how stats are counted. Previously when you brought a 10 trip the trips on it were counted in the month of purchase where as now trips only get counted when you actually take a trip. The biggest problem with this comes when either fares rise, prompting a lot of people to stock up on 10 trip or monthly passes, or at the start of the year when Uni students start buying their 10 trips. With HOP neither of these happen and AT suggest that this accounts for 7.5% of the drop in rail patronage.
There is also likely to have been an increase in fare evasion as students in particular test out the new system. AT say that they are finding fare evasion as high as 6-10% and anyone who catches the train regularly enough will know that it is definitely still a problem with the high school students being the most common culprits.
Last month at the board meeting, AT staff got grilled about if they actually knew who their customers were and where the biggest opportunities lay. In the other board report on patronage (why do we need two) is some information on customer segmentation and to try and address the questions that came up last month.
Yet despite all of the talk, I still continue to get the feeling that AT are waiting for the next thing just around the corner to help solve the problem. The EMUs will fix reliability but they won’t start running till next year, the new bus network will make PT in general much more attractive again that won’t start rolling out till next year. Integrated fares are still some point in the distant future, as is even just integrated ticketing rolled out to buses and we are told that the real time system is going to be updated but that won’t start happening till later this year. Yet I’m still disappointed that nothing seems to be being done to address some of the long standing problems that are within ATs control right now e.g. we still have only hourly frequencies on the Western line and no services past Henderson on a Sunday.
The only real highlights of the reports are that Ferry patronage and cycling numbers continue to increase although currently both only really play a minor role in the overall picture.
Transport infrastructure is just one of small group of vital core systems that the entire edifice of the city depends upon. This group; the water, wastewater, electricity, telecommunications, and transport structures of a city are critical to its wellbeing and success. These allow all the other social systems of a city; commerce, education, health, social and living processes to function at all. Such is the success of the city model that we have become able to expect these services to be operating all the time and without interruption more or less invisibly: To always be able to drink the water, to have electricity at the flick of a switch, to be able to physically access all of the city efficiently.
Cities are so dependent on these networks that they may even face existential crisis if one or more of them fail for any length of time. But of course they all require expensive physical infrastructure and ongoing organisation to maintain them. And because of the enormous economies of scale in the whole city solving these practical problems together some sort of central planning structure and mechanism for funding their construction and operation is also need. There are always debates around the need or otherwise for investment in these systems. In particular there always seem to be those who never want to invest in anything at all, or at least resist changing the current way of doing things.
“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” — Sir Arthur C. Clark
For a city of its size and wealth Auckland has a relatively poor record in a number these areas recently. It seems we are in the habit of skimping on vital spending in some areas, building a bare minimum and just hoping for the best. We got badly found out with our electricity supply systems in 1998 with a major outage caused by the failure of equipment for which we had no backup or alternative route.
And until recently almost every summer we ran into water supply problems as we gambled with the weather to cooperate with the growing demands of an expanding city. But not this year, despite a record lack of rain and a record population. And there’s a good reason why as outlined in this article from Fairfax:
The Waikato pipeline has saved Auckland from a full-blown water shortage, mayor Len Brown says.
The pipeline, developed in the mid-1990s, now provides 20 per cent of the city’s water supply.
“The lakes are presently sitting at 70 per cent. That’s really only because we’re able to tap into the Waikato supply,” Mr Brown says.
“We’ve had basically drought conditions for the last six weeks.”
A $48 million upgrade completed last year increased the amount of water the pipeline is able to be supply from 75 million litres to 125 million litres .
“Aucklanders’ reliance on other supplies is being hugely tested.
“But those people in urban Auckland wouldn’t know that at all. It’s an endless beautiful summer and they’re lapping it up.”
Mr Brown describes the pipeline as a “massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission.
A further pipeline upgrade would be possible in the future as demand increases with population growth.
Sixty per cent of Auckland’s water comes from dams in the Hunua Ranges, 17 per cent from dams in the Waitakere Ranges, 20 per cent from the pipeline and 3 per cent from a freshwater spring in Onehunga.
So Auckland is only able to still function because of this ‘“massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission’. And it is expandable for future ‘demand increases with population growth.’
It is worth noting that the pipeline achieves this by only supplying 20% of our water needs. So it has been able to stabilise our existing water demand by meeting one fifth of the need. It has smoothed the peaks in the demand across the year.
But of course like all really successful infrastructure investments we tend to forget about it now it is working smoothly and just expect it to be there doing its job. What a great luxury. It’s only when things break down or show that they are becoming inadequate that we start to get really interested in them. In Auckland now there is really only one of these vital functions that is attracting that much interest: our transport systems. That the city comes to a total halt when there are problems on the motorway network shows that we are overly reliant on this one system, as we were when we only had local dams suppling our water.
Margritte, This is not a Pipe
It is not hard to see a metaphor here. It is very odd that some still claim that the best way to improve the quality of our transport systems in Auckland is to keep putting more eggs into one basket: To keep building more motorways. Yet as we had the wisdom to diversify our water supply it is clearly time to do the same in the transport sector. To be successful this diversification does not at all mean abandoning or downgrading our current assets, it is just a question of adding the option of a much more viable alternative to compliment them. And in the City Rail Link and associated work on the rail and bus networks we have a project that is analogous to the Waikato pipeline: it is the project to keep our current dominant asset running better.
And this is a matter of some urgency because of the time it will take construct this new high capacity ‘pipeline’ it is unwise to delay unless we are prepared to put up with increasingly frequent gridlock events. Not that any alternative to driving will ‘solve’ congestion or prevent accidents or all delays but a really high quality complimentary network will certainly provide that critical core percentage of movement that will remain untroubled by events elsewhere. And the CRL is the very core of the new bus/rail RTN backbone of that complimentary system.
But this is a new idea for Auckland [see Arthur C Clark above], and most people here have become used to the idea that you have to drive to get anywhere, so can it work, will people use it?
Well at every turn this century as we have improved the RTN network; Rail and the Northern Busway, these investments have been met with higher than projected patronage. And as the CRL and associated works will allow a frequency, capacity, and convenience that will make the entire network so much more attractive for so many people on so many occasions there is no reason to believe that this trend won’t just continue but accelerate. To contend otherwise cannot be supported by evidence. Or at least I have never seen any argument more advanced than simply the stating of an opinion as to why we shouldn’t confidently expect rapid growth in ridership after these investments.
We can also reasonably also look to the single most relevant example for a guide. Below is the Perth patronage data. Perth began a series of improvements to its rail network when its system was carrying around the same number as ours is now. The improvements are remarkably similar, electrification, an underground inner city connecting line, bus integration. Perth has a similar culture and population to Auckland, it is in fact a more spread out city, with fewer geographic constraints and a higher average income than Auckland. These facts make it an almost ideal, if conservative, model for Auckland’s plans.
Electrification with its every 10 minutes turn-up-and-go frequencies will certainly address our current capacity problems. But then once you add the more attractive and reliable trains, extension of services through the day and into weekends, coordination with the new bus network through fare integration as well as station and stop linking, it will also clearly grow demand beyond the constraints of the network. And, it is important to note, all of that at a considerably lower cost per service and per user.
So it is clear that well before the end of this decade the all-terminating-at-Britomart system is going to be groaning at the seams and a sorry waste of the potential carrying capacity of the wider network. While the coming improvements will wring more use out of what is the biggest waste of existing capacity in Auckland it will still be only lifting a fraction of the load it could be. What it could be with the CRL.
Auckland needs that new pipe!
Ceci n’est pas un Autoportrait!
Something to reflect on.
[thanks to Veronica]
At Auckland Transport’s February board meeting there was a paper about the ongoing flattening of public transport patronage growth and ways in which Auckland Transport can look to grow patronage. Most of the paper consists of fairly boring excuses for the drop in patronage in recent months but towards the end of it there’s actually a bit of actual information on what Auckland Transport is trying to do about this drop.
These are some of the shorter term initiatives for rail:It’s interesting that all the initiatives seem to be focused on marketing campaigns rather than trying to find ways of actually improving the system. I quite like the focus on off-peak, shoulder-peak and weekend patronage as these are times where we have the rolling stock and infrastructure to cope with increased usage. The problem is that on many routes the service offered at these off-peak times is completely rubbish. For example we still have only hourly trains (and often just two car ADL sets) on the Western Line at weekends, with trains only running as far as Henderson on Sundays. Same goes for the Onehunga Line, even though there’s probably plenty of potential for off-peak trips on that line as people visit Onehunga for shopping or people from Onehunga travel to places like Newmarket or the city centre.
I do quite like the marketing approach though (which makes it even more depressing that the service offered will be so rubbish):Turning to bus, the focus here at least includes a number of actual improvements along with marketing. While of course the complete revision of the bus network is still sitting in the background as something to be rolled out over the next three years, at least there are a number of “minor” improvements that were recently implemented:My general feeling is that these have been good changes – especially by improving access to the University and AUT from the North Shore. Other initiatives, particularly focusing on improving the reliability of services, have been rolled out in recent times or will be in the future:While these are all good initiatives, they do seem like the kind of thing Auckland Transport should be doing as business as usual, rather than as any particular initiative to turn around the stagnation of patronage growth.
I do think that rollout of the AT Hop card across buses and trains (whenever that’s finally completed) should be a significant boost to both rail and bus patronage, largely as it should make it easier for people to take spontaneous journeys and easier to transfer between services. The new bus network, once it starts to rollout from the middle of next year, is also likely to make a big improvement, but I think that needs to be complemented by other matters. Nothing breathtakingly unusual but a proper commitment to rolling out more bus lanes, undertaking a detailed examination of delay points across all routes on the bus network and targeting small-scale infrastructure improvements to fix those issues (like where intersection signalisation is necessary to enable buses to avoid traffic jams from cars trying to pull out onto the main roads) and other small things like proper traffic light pre-emption by buses. In other words, a whole myriad of little things to make the buses go quicker.
Oh, and Auckland Transport should be the strongest advocates for getting rid of minimum parking requirements – though the benefits of that change will really only pay off in the longer term as the biggest subsidy for driving is slowly wound back.
It’s now almost two and a half years since Auckland Transport came into existence: joining together the transport functions of ARTA and all the old Councils into one organisation. There was a lot of angst around Auckland Transport’s creation – why should something as political and as debated as transport be pushed away into a separate organisation from the Council? Would Auckland Transport follow the direction of the Council or that of Central Government? What benefits of having an operationally focused organisation that’s independent from the day to day politics of Council really bring?
While it hasn’t been an easy first couple of years (the mess of Rugby World Cup opening night being the absolute low-point for the organisation in my opinion) it seems that most people are reasonably happy with how Auckland Transport has gone over this time. However, with the next local government elections happening later this year and public transport patronage seeming to be in a fairly lengthy stalling phase, I think the next few months will really become a true test for the whole concept of having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation to the Council.
It’s clear that the patronage issue is starting to filter through to Auckland Transport, with the new Chair Lester Levy laying down the law pretty harshly at the December board meeting:
The Chairman noted this is not a new problem and simply restating the problem will not solve it. In his view, the rail patronage had not effectively grown since October 2011 and overall public transport patronage has not really increased since January 2012. More understanding about the root causes of this is needed and must be addressed in management’s comprehensive plan due to be present to the Board in February next year. The paper needs to address not only what will be done but most importantly how actions will be undertaken and why it is believed they will work. He re-emphasised that AT needs to be a customer led organisation which will require a mindset change within the organisation. Increasing public transport patronage needs to be elevated to the number one issue for AT.
Rail patronage not growing since October 2011. Gee I wonder what might have put people off.
The response to these comments, going to the Board today, sounds a bit like 25 pages of excuses and most of the ideas around improving patronage seem to be related to marketing (not that I’m opposed to marketing) instead of actually trying to make the system better. Some quick wins like better weekend rail frequencies still seem to be ignored yet again – for example, need I remind Auckland Transport that Saturday rail frequencies on the Western Line remain unchanged from 1994?
I’m genuinely hopeful that things will improved under the new Chair, who seems to have an extremely low tolerance of the normal excuses dished out by Auckland Transport management and who seems much more interested in telling a “genuine” story about how things are, rather than the typical Auckland Transport PR strategy of pretending everything’s hunky-dory no matter how bad they’re going. I guess I’m impatient for change though.
Another Board Paper reminded me of an issue that I think cuts to the heart of testing whether it’s worth having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation or not – the issue of bus lanes. Seeing a paper on bus and transit lanes going to the Board I was excited that there might be some discussion around future additional bus lanes – what are useful trigger points for them being necessary, which routes would benefit from bus lanes, what’s the timetable for the widespread expansion of Auckland’s bus lane system over the next few years and so forth. Instead, the paper discusses just about every other possible element of bus lanes except for the most important issue – where the next ones will be.
As well as bus lanes being something of a pet issue for me, I think they’re a good test of Auckland Transport’s usefulness for a number of reasons:
- They make a lot of logical sense and provide significant benefit for low cost – but can be unpopular. Separating operation of the transport network from day to day politics through having a CCO is designed to enable sensible but potentially unpopular projects to occur where they contribute to the strategic direction the Council wants to go (i.e. improving public transport).
- They assist other parts of Auckland Transport’s responsibility – most obviously in managing the public transport network. Before amalgamation it was ARTA who benefitted from the bus lanes but the city councils that needed to put them in, so there was little incentive to see bus lanes go in and probably a lot of arguing was necessary. I would have thought having a single organisation would increase the likelihood of bus lanes for this reason – but seemingly not.
There’s a lot that the public gives up in having Auckland Transport as a CCO – less direct oversight through elected members, probably less democracy in decision-making, certainly less information made publicly available. For that loss to be worth it, Auckland Transport needs to start delivering – delivering public transport patronage growth and delivering necessary but politically challenging improvements, like bus lanes. Otherwise we might as well just fold them back into the Council so at least we know what they’re doing.
Several recent posts have extolled the merits of “better buses” for Auckland. These posts have generally focused on the following issues:
- Corridor infrastructure - as discussed in this post, there are strong arguments in favour of expanding Auckland’s bus lane network so as to improve bus speeds/reliability.
- Network structure – as discussed in this post, Auckland Transport’s draft RPTP has proposed a network of frequent bus lines which are designed to support the rail and busway networks.
- Vehicle technology - as discussed in this post, bus operators in Auckland are just about to trial double-decker buses, while this earlier post discussed rapid developments in hybrid/electric bus technologies.
Improved corridor infrastructure, a better network, and newer/larger vehicles should all drive bus patronage higher. Complementing these bus improvements will be a vastly improved rail network – sporting fast, new trains that operate at high frequencies – and integrated ticketing/fares – enabling people to travel seamlessly across the network irrespective of mode or operator.
The “take-away message”, as they say, is that many more people are likely to be using Auckland’s buses in 10 years time compared to now. And we’ll also be using buses in subtly different ways: Rather than staying on the bus for long trips, more people will be catching the bus for a short distance and then connecting to a faster rail or busway service. On the surface this all sounds like good news.
But hold on a second – all this seems to be overlooking something. More specifically, if we have more people using buses and they are using them for shorter trips, then does this not mean that the rate of passenger movements per bus-kilometre traveled will increase by a disproportionate amount? This in turn means, holding other factors constant, the time buses spend dwelling at stops will also increase. The irony here is that all of the aforementioned initiatives, which are designed to improve the attractiveness of the bus system, will – if they are successful at attracting passengers – tend to place inexorable downward pressure on bus operating speeds.
That’s the vicious cycle on which I think we should focus our collective attention.
In the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of residing in a number of cities. Two of these stand-out for the way they have treated their buses with dignity, namely Brisbane (pop ~2 million) and Edinburgh (pop ~600,000). Both of these cities have bus networks that carry over 110 million trips per year, i.e. twice as many bus passengers as Auckland. And for this reason both Brisbane and Edinburgh have had to grapple with gnarly issues that Auckland may need to confront in the future.
In Brisbane they’ve gone for what could charitably be described as “infrastructure intensive” solutions. This has seen them spend not considerable sums of money on extremely high quality grade-separated bus infrastructure in the city centre. One of the most recent shining (if spending money is to be applauded) examples of this infrastructure is King George Square Station, which is illustrated below. This underground bus station connects via a tunnel to Roma Street and Queen Street Stations to the north and south respectively. KGS apparently has a design capacity of about 300 buses per hour, or 20,000 passengers per hour, however achieving this through-put would require modifications to the approaches and platforms.
Edinburgh, for their part, have opted for slightly less infrastructure. Their main trick has been to develop a network of on-street bus lanes on major arterial roads leading into the city, which converge on Princes Street. The latter then becomes a bus/taxi only mall at peak periods, as illustrated below. Edinburgh has in turn developed a network structure that enables them to “through-route” almost all services (NB: It’s worth mentioning that this kind of network structure, which results in relatively long routes, is aided and abetted by Edinburgh’s relatively compact and symmetric urban form and not necessarily something that can be replicated in cities like Brisbane and Auckland).
In terms of what’s best for Auckland, my gut feeling is that our bus sweet spot lies somewhere between Brisbane and Edinburgh. That is, as a relatively large and rapidly growing city we will need some high-quality, possibly even underground, bus infrastructure in our city centre. It’s notable that the two major bus corridor initiatives implemented in Auckland in the last decade, namely the Northern Busway and the Central Connector have piked out completely as they approach the City Centre. Right where you need the priority treatment the most is where we have waved the white flag.
And unfortunately the consequence of failing to provide adequate bus infrastructure has not been pretty: It has exacerbated bus congestion in the core central city area which in turn further detracts from urban amenity. Ironically, the congestion arising from inadequate bus infrastructure in Auckland has prompted some people to (naively) call for banishing buses from the city centre altogether. While our historical reluctance to provide appropriate facilities for buses says a lot about our collective unwillingness to recognise the contribution buses make to the city centre, it now creates an opportunity for us to develop something better – something that can support our existing bus corridors while accommodating those that we expect to develop in the future, as per the new bus network.
But enough about infrastructure! The primary point of this post was actually to identify a range of “softer” initiatives that have been implemented in cities overseas, which Auckland could adopt to maintain bus speeds as patronage grows, namely:
- Wider stop spacing - Brisbane’s high-frequency routes tend to follow a limited stopping pattern, which sees them stopping every 800m or so. Stop spacing is even longer on the the City Glider services, which provide an inner-city cross-town function. This typically means that you sometimes have to be prepared to walk a bit further, but when you do you have access to services that are frequent and fast. Moreover, these services are complemented by all-stop services operating underneath, which typically focus on providing local access and coverage. By way of comparison, light rail lines often tend to have stop spacings approaching 1km.
- Managing cash payment - Many services in Brisbane are “pre-pay only”, which simply means you have to have a smart card in order to board. Edinburgh has taken a slightly different approach: Passengers can still pay with cash on all services, but if you do then you don’t get any change. Instead, passengers paying by cash simply have to throw the money in an automatic cash counter, which then automatically tells the bus driver whether they have paid enough for the fare that they have requested. Again, this drastically reduces dwell times (customers paying by cash board almost as fast as those using a smart card) and also increases revenues.
- Vehicle configuration - This has multiple dimensions, but generally involves vehicle designs that enable much quicker loading and unloading. Key features include double-door entry/exit, so that passengers paying by cash do not block other passengers that are paying by smartcard. Similarly, double-door exit at the back enables quicker unloading of passengers, which is especially crucial when operating a tag-off system – as Auckland is doing. Another common aspect of buses in both Brisbane and Edinburgh is wider aisles, especially towards the front, which enables speedies loading – particularly for people with wheelchairs and prams.
Given that buses have a lifetime of 12-15 years Auckland Transport and the bus operators would ideally be thinking about these issues now, so that they can be incorporated into vehicle procurement and contracting policies from at an early stage. Some of this is happening already – as per the double-decker bus trial noted above. But on the other hand I do wonder if Auckland Transport should develop some form of operational plan (i.e. non-infrastructure) that analyses our current bus system, identifies where time is being lost, and identifies/prioritises some the issues that will need to be tackled to accommodate up to 120 million bus trips per year. Of course, there may be things that Auckland can implement now in anticipation of higher patronage.
As an aside, Auckland really needs to take a leaf out of Brisbane and Edinburgh’s bus book. As these cities have shown, appropriately sized and designed bus infrastructure will reduce the impact of buses on the city centre. Sure, some negative impacts remain, but that’s more the result of the eternal tension that exists in urban environments between mobility and accessibility, between movement and exchange, than something that is intrinsic to buses per se.
Be interested to hear what other initiatives people think could be used to make Auckland’s buses better …
It has been a long time since we have seen any PT patronage numbers but with the AT board meeting next week, they have finally been released. December saw a continuation of the same trends from late last year with total patronage down 7% compared to December 2011 (bus -8%, rail -7% and ferry -4%). January finally saw patronage start to bounce back, increasing by 4.6% over Jan 2012 (bus +5%, rail +2% and ferry +6%). Hopefully this is the start to some more positive results. Here are the overall results:
AT have made a big change to the way they report on patronage which has unfortunately meant we don’t get anywhere near the same level of information as we used to. No longer do we get a breakdown of rail patronage by line, no longer do we get a breakdown of bus patronage by region, no longer do we get any information on the reliability of either rail or bus services and no longer are we getting any information on cycling numbers.
We do get a bit more info into what is affecting patronage numbers and the author says that the report will now present initiatives to improve patronage for the rest of the financial year. Starting with rail they have an image showing what is impacting both positively and negatively on patronage.
Looking at some of the more detailed commentary on what is affecting rail patronage, perhaps the most interesting one is about the change in methodology.
The introduction of the AT HOP ticketing system on rail from October 2012 has seen a change in the way in which patronage is recorded. Under AT HOP, patronage is recorded at the time the trip is made. This is a significant change to the traditional recording method used on rail. Under the legacy paper ticket system, passenger journeys could not accurately be counted as a trip at the time it was made for multi journey tickets. The historic method of accounting for passenger trips was based on calculating the equivalent number of trips for the ticket type and accounting for these at the date of purchase. This has now ceased. As a consequence, for the months October 2012 to December 2012 there were trips made on the rail system using legacy 10-trip and monthly tickets which would have previously been recorded during the month these tickets were originally sold. This will have an artificial negative impact on the reported patronage during the transition phase, with the greatest impact being recorded in November.
The report also talks about the experience in Perth, a city we compare ourselves with regularly, and from whom we brought some of our existing trains. During their transition to electrification they also saw a drop off in patronage due to shutdowns and poor infrastructure reliability however once that finished, patronage took off and more than doubled within just a few years.
Looking forward there is talk of a few campaigns which AT might undertake to help build rail patronage in the short term. Looking at that last one in particular, I wonder if they will introduce higher frequency off peak and weekend trains as well as group discounts to actually give it a chance of working.
Moving on to buses, AT are thankfully still separating out the patronage of the Northern Express services. For the first time we get some acknowledgement that busway patronage is actually much higher than what is reported as there are 20 other routes that currently use the busway for parts of their journey. While the NEX itself accounts for around 2.4 million trips per year, the busway as a whole is estimated to account for 5.8 million trips. Like rail we have some information on upcoming activities. One of those is that AT plan to open customer service centres at Northern Busway stations in the middle of this year.
Another addition to the report is a look at other measures which are likely to be affecting patronage including changes to employment levels, new car sales and petrol prices. One thing the report didn’t include is traffic volumes. Data from the , NZTA data shows that vehicle trips over the harbour bridge continue to increase, a trend that has been occurring for some months now, although it should be pointed out that it is still some way off its peak in 2006.
There’s a lot I agree with in Stu’s post yesterday about being careful how we look to grow the public transport market and focusing on low-hanging fruit before trying to convince rich people to give up the BMW’s by building super-expensive light-rail lines everywhere. However, there’s an interesting area where I’m not sure I do agree with Stu – and that is in relation to what emphasis we should place on making public transport faster. Here’s what Stu says:
Before wrapping this up, I think it’s also worth mentioning that some aspects of this discussion are related to an earlier post on generational differences. That is, because most of our transport decision makers (including myself) fall into the 19-65 age-group there is a natural tendency for us to propose solutions that address our needs, rather than the needs of our users. This can result, for example, in a undue focus on high-speed services. For their part, PT users seem to not value speed – or more accurately “travel-time” – as much as other attributes, such as frequency, reliability, simplicity, and affordability.
There are some really important discussions and debates which fall out of this issue and come down to the fundamental reasons why people choose either one mode of transport or another. Should we focus on improving speed of service if it comes at the cost of reduced convenience of stops (such as spacing bus stops further apart)? How important are fast services compared to simplicity – like the debate over whether there should be express bus services or not? How important is increasing speed, if it comes at quite a high cost and therefore might require an increase in fares to reflect that investment (or an increase in rates or petrol taxes or foregone investment elsewhere)?
Stu’s arguments are very similar to those made by Jarrett Walker in the book Human Transit.In Human Transit Jarrett critiques much of the focus on speed on the ground that it’s generally people who mainly drive (and therefore understand the concept of improving speed) thinking that public transport works exactly the same way. Of course public transport is more complex in the sense that other issues like reliability and frequency matter a lot as well. Along with other, more difficult to quantify matters such as simplicity and ease of understanding of a PT network, quality of waiting facilities and so forth.
Perhaps what’s really key here is to focus on improving public transport speed as actually meaning improving the time it takes to get from your door to where you’re going, including wait times, including transfer times, including how long it takes you to walk to the stop and so on. In this sense, the actual speed your vehicle goes is going to have a fairly tiny influence on the speed of your entire trip (i.e. how long it takes to get from A to B). What’s going to matter a lot more are things like:
- How frequently does the service come? (i.e. if I turn up randomly how long am I likely to have to wait)
- How long does it take for people to board the service? (this matters a lot for buses when they’re stopping to pick up passengers all the time)
- Does the service get stuck in traffic congestion or does it have a dedicated lane?
- Does the service have to wait at traffic lights all the time or is there a clever pre-emptive phasing system?
- Does the service take a straight line from A to B or does it go all over the place down every back street imaginable?
At risk of falling into the trap that Stu outlines above, it is the excruciatingly long time that public transport takes for most non-commuting trips which puts me off using it for pretty much anything other than getting to work. Even for getting to work, catching the bus is far slower than driving would be (probably at least twice the time), but as I don’t want to shell out for parking each day I catch the bus.
By contrast, in cities where public transport seems to be used for a wide variety of trips every little piece of the system seems dedicated to making your trip time as short as possible. Frequencies are high, dedicated infrastructure is provided to separate the service from congestion (whether that be bus lanes or rail infrastructure), routes are straight, traffic lights turn green when the bus/tram approach them and – yes – the services are fast. In a successful PT system the weighting given to all these competing factors (frequency vs speed, simplicity vs speed etc.) varies by the area being looked at. In inner suburbs frequency and simplicity are perhaps more important than sheer physical speed because a greater proportion of the trip is likely to be waiting for the bus/train to turn up. For longer trips speed becomes more important because you’re on the service for much longer.
I’m guessing that perhaps Stu’s position is not as different to mine as you might think – because it comes down to defining what is actually meant by “speed”. In my mind we do need to make public transport a lot faster. However the most important ways to do that in the vast majority of cases won’t be through making the vehicles travel quicker when they’re at top speed – instead it’ll be things like better frequencies, straighter bus routes, faster boarding times and the most important of all…
…A WHOLE HEAP MORE BUS LANES!