More about Taxis on Grafton Bridge

Last week I highlighted some of the interesting points from the last AT board meeting. One of those garnered quite a bit of discussion and also raised a number of questions in my head. Here are the answers from Auckland Transport to some of those questions.

How AT will monitor them and how will it deal with taxi services like Uber?

We are still working through the details of this proposal. As for monitoring, we plan to use a video camera operated on site by an enforcement officer, who will cross reference registration numbers against the NZTA database of authorised taxis.

The intention is to allow only taxis authorised by NZTA to use the bridge and not private hire vehicles like Uber.

Is it only taxis that have passengers or can empty ones use it too?

Empty ones will be able to use it as well.

Are there any changes to signage that will happen?

Some minor changes are planned, but we are still working through the detailed design.

Have the views of bus companies and cyclists been taken into account given the narrowness of the route?

As previously mentioned this proposal is still under development, but we have been working with our Public Transport Operations team on this. We will consult with bus operators and we will monitor any impacts to bus journey times using bus GPS data. We will also consult with cyclists on the proposal.

As part of the trial we also plan to conduct user surveys to understand the impacts on buses and cyclists. We are planning to conduct video surveys to identify any potential safety risks. We are planning 3 monthly review periods with the trial concluding after 12 months. If at any time we feel that it is not operating satisfactorily then we are prepared to terminate the trial.

Where did the idea come from?

We originally received a request from the taxi industry to permit taxis in all bus lanes in Auckland. We undertook an assessment of the likely impacts and we decided not to agree to this request. However, we did conclude that we could look at this specific location because it would provide significant benefits to taxi passengers on a route that links high demand destinations (i.e. the hospital and the city centre).

Has NZTA been consulted as they funded the strengthening works on the basis of it being bus only during the day?

We are still developing the proposal and once that is done we will be consulting NZTA.

As I said last week, this seems like it could have quite a bad outcome, especially for cyclists who are more likely to feel more pressured on the narrow road. It could also be quite bad for bus users if a lot of taxi’s start using the route as a bunch of taxi’s at lights might mean buses start missing a phase slowing buses down. Add to that the confusion between just what is a taxi and the sheep like nature of many drivers who might drive over the bridge from seeing other cars do it and it seems like a recipe for confusion and frustration. Leave it as it is and if the key is to link the city centre to the Hospital then Wellesley St seems like a much better option from most locations anyway.

 

Airport taxis expensive

In a completely unsurprising revelation, it’s really expensive to get a taxi from the airport.

Catching a cab downtown from Auckland Airport has been labelled one of the most expensive taxi fares in the world by an international travel company.

According to a CheapFlights comparison of prices in 24 cities, New Zealand has the third most expensive per-kilometre taxi fares.

And a Herald investigation has found some Auckland taxi companies quoting price tags up to $86 for a trip — more than the price of some domestic flights — that other companies can deliver for just $35.

The report, released last month but based on data from March 2013, found the average price of travelling the 21.4km route from Auckland Airport to the city’s CBD was $77.41 — or $3.50/km.

The New Zealand price was surpassed only by fares in Berlin that were $4.06/km, and San Jose in Costa Rica that were $3.59/km.

Auckland cabs were 10 times more expensive than in the cheapest city, Buenos Aires, and twice the $1.75/km people using Australian taxis were paying.

Consumer NZ chief executive Suzanne Chetwin said the survey results confirmed anecdotes about the ever-increasing cost of Auckland’s airport journey. “[The survey] just confirms that it is very expensive to get to or from Auckland Airport and it just seems to have got dramatically more expensive over the last few years.”

The herald then goes on to do its own brief survey finding prices varying from between $35 to $86 followed by quotes from the companies involved each trying to throw dirt at each other.

The Herald did check out the cost of the Airbus though which compares extremely well at $16 compared to the taxis. What isn’t mentioned (but that’s important) is that in peak times those buses also get to use the bus lanes where  they exist which has the potential to make the journey not just cheaper but faster too.

For getting to the CBD what the Herald didn’t mention is that there’s an even cheaper option than this though. The CBD can be reached through a combination of the 380 Airporter bus and a train from Papatoetoe for a total of $7.60 if HOP is used – $3.06 for the 380 to Papatoetoe followed by $5.04 for the trip to town on the train along minus a 50c transfer discount. Oddly this option while advertised on this page, doesn’t show up as an option on AT’s journey planner (which is probably why they didn’t look at it). The big problem with the 380 Airporter service though is its frequency which is a lousy 30 minutes at peak times and hourly off peak or on weekends.

In the next few years the bus and train option is likely to become more attractive with the new network delivering higher bus frequencies between the Airport and Papatoetoe along with electric trains providing and faster and better quality trains from Papatoetoe to the CBD. Integrated fares *should* also bring down the price by removing the penalty for taking multiple trips.

Of course longer term the ultimate goal is to have rail directly to the airport which would give a quick one seat ride all the way from the heart of the CBD (via the CRL) to the airport. Once that’s in place the trip will faster than a taxi at any time of the day and considerably cheaper too (assuming it’s priced the same as normal PT and not with added terminal fees on top). Add in features like WiFi and I think even business travellers would consider using it over taxis. It would require the Airport to stop pretending it likes the idea of a rail connection though.

CFN Airport connection

Hailo – The Killer App for the Taxi Industry?

Here on Transport Blog we don’t tend to cover too many taxi related stories, but a tweet from Richard Branson has alerted me to Hailo, a mobile app designed to make hailing a cab easier.   Originated by three cabbies in London, Hailo is rolling out to a number of cities, including Dublin, Toronto, New York and San Francisco.

devices-london-787909879

 

The Hailo app (iPhone or Android) features a map that displays all Hailo enabled cabs within your current location. A cab can be ordered with just two taps of the app and the driver’s approach can be seen in real-time. Hailo drivers accept cards or cash and there’s no surcharge for doing so. There’s no charge simply for having the cab show up and, as a bonus to Hailo users, cabs will wait for up to five minutes at no charge. Customers only pay the metered amount. If passengers register a card, they don’t even need to carry cash. Hailo have prepared a 30 second clip of how it works:

Cab drivers have their own app that they use to accept fares:

hailo-driver

As well as the features you would expect such as accepting a job, and taking payment, the app has some other pretty cool features, like a chat / event feature that drivers can use to alert other drivers of traffic issues or “bursts” of business.

To me this has great potential to grow well beyond the “hailing” functionality.  The app could well become a replacement for the taxi dispatcher console and the taxi meter itself.   The whole concept of a taxi company dispatcher could be eliminated, which could, in theory, lead to lower overheads for taxi drivers and lower costs for users.

Elements of this are already starting to be utilitised. In their latest blog posting, Hailo have announced that on Friday and Saturday nights, there will be a minimum fare of £10, to incentivise drivers to pick-up Hailo jobs.  They are also trialling a fixed-price guaranteed fare to the airport.

Hailo’s business model is to take 10% commission, but the competition is hotting up, with other apps such as London cab:app, Taxi App and Taxi Square in the market.

So what do you think – is this the killer app the taxi industry in Auckland needs?  Hailo are claiming over 10,000 London cabbies are already Hailo enabled.  Hailo only offer the service via registered black cab drivers, but could the concept be extended to ridesharing?   This is something that ridesharing websites such as Jayride should be looking at very closely.

 

Letting taxis in bus lanes

An article in the herald today has open up an interesting can of worms, should we let Taxis in to bus lanes.

Taxis may be let loose in some of Auckland’s bus lanes in a plan to ease congestion on roads in the Super City.

Auckland Transport has told the taxi industry it will apply to the Government’s Transport Agency to run a trial of cabs in “selected” bus lanes such as along Mt Eden Rd or Sandringham Rd.

The proposal, promoted by Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye after an approach by drivers from the city’s fleet of more than 3500 taxis, is vehemently opposed by council transport leader Mike Lee.

Now it is not surprising that the taxi drivers want to be able to drive in the lanes as there is a financial benefit to them doing so. It enables them to be more competitive against both buses/private cars and potentially complete more journeys in the same amount of time which means they can make more money. But before making a suggestion about whether this is a good idea or not, I think we need to look at a few other issues/points that float around in my head surrounding this discussion.

Are Taxis Public Transport?

Taxi companies like to tell us that because they carry the general public that they are another form of a public transport. Personally I think this is complete rubbish and in many ways they are actually worse than single occupant vehicle (SOV) due to the fact the taxi driver has to make additional trips to get to/from where they pick up or drop off their passengers. I would even say that taxis carrying only one passenger shouldn’t even be allowed in a T2 lane as it is technically still a single person making a journey along a route so no different to a SOV.

Do we need to make better use of Bus Lanes?

A reason often mentioned for having T2/3 lanes instead of buslanes is about making better use of the lane available and this seems to stem from a belief that unless a lane is full of vehicles it is not being used efficiently. While it may be the case that we could put a more vehicles in a lane, it is the very fact that it is ‘empty’ that allows the buses to complete their journeys faster than they otherwise would be able to which makes them more efficient. Every extra non planned vehicle added to lane increases the chances that a bus will be held up. If getting more value out of bus lanes is a key goal then we should also ask if taxis are the best way of providing that and where does it end? By this I mean why give access to taxis instead of say trucks or couriers or tradespeople which are more likely to be being productive and moving goods around. Now of course no one wants a truck hurtling past them while they are waiting for a bus to come along but allowing taxis will likely have these other road users asking why not them.

Even if we take taxis or any other vehicle out of the general traffic lanes and allow them to use the bus lanes will we actually see an improvement in congestion. I don’t think so as one of the big issues with having T2/3 vehicles in bus lanes is if they are travelling along behind a bus and the bus stops they normally force their way into the general traffic lane till they get around the bus. This was shown along Tamaki Dr after the bus lane there was converted to T2 and the only people who saw an improvement in journey times were those T2 vehicles. Taxis would cause the same issue and could be much worse if they stop to pick up/drop off passengers along a bus route.

Should Taxis have free access to Bus Lanes?

If these companies genuinely think they will benefit from having access to the lanes, which they must otherwise they wouldn’t be pushing for it, then they should be prepared to pay a fee for that access. Providing the fee was set at the right level then it would be an investment for them. Of course charging a fee also raises other issues like compliance and as with the previous point, other road users may be prepared to pay a fee for access. If a fee was charged for access then the money raised can go towards further improving PT services.

If taxis or other vehicles are allowed, should the lanes have extended time limits

One of the biggest issues with bus lanes right now is that most only tend to operate for four hours per day (7am-9am & 4pm-6pm). Even on Dominion Rd which is one of the busiest bus routes in the country and over 50% of peak users are on buses has its priority cut down to these hours. If are to start letting other vehicles use these lanes then perhaps AT need to start compensating for it by extending the operating hours, especially in light of the proposed PT network which will see buses operating far more frequently off peak.

How will usage be enforced?

We already seem to have problems in certain parts of the city with taxis ignoring rules and parking where they shouldn’t be and what will be done to ensure that taxis aren’t stopping to pick up/drop of passengers while holding up buses. We could put rules around it but witnessing the behaviour of many of the drivers it doesn’t give me much hope that they would abide by any bus lane rules.

There are probably a few other points that I have missed but at this stage I am not convinced that allowing taxis into bus lanes is the best solution. It mainly seems to be a way of allowing taxi drivers/companies to make more money while at the same time not really doing anything to help congestion, bus users or even users of general traffic lanes. Perhaps it is time that we as a city started to have a proper discussion about the role taxis should play in our transport system before just adjusting the status quo.