Wellington Update: Transdev and Diesel Buses and cycleways

They’ve been a few interesting pieces of news from Wellington over the last last week.

Transdev to run Wellington’s trains

Transdev – who run the trains in Auckland – has been picked as the preferred operator for the trains in Wellington. This is an interesting result as for one it means trains in both Auckland and Wellington will have the same operator. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will have to remain to be seen. The Dominion Post reported the company was surveying people earlier in the year asking about ideas such as quiet cars, indicators to say where seats were available and WiFi. All of which begs the question of if they’ve thought of it, why they aren’t doing it in Auckland already. Presumably their holding some improvements back while they wait for Auckland Transport to go out to tender again or restart the current tender process*.

Just whether changes will lead to growth is something we’ll follow closely. In recent year’s patronage in the capital has increased but not by much.

2015-10 - WLG - Rail Patronage

*Auckland was also running a tender for rail services with the short-list also being Transdev, Kiwirail and Serco however AT postponed it in September citing uncertainty over the outcome of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. As such they extended Transdev’s contract.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has selected Transdev Australasia in association with Hyundai Rotem as its preferred future operator for Wellington’s metro rail service.

The Regional Council will now begin negotiations with Transdev to finalise the terms of the 15 year contract. Subject to those negotiations being successful, a new contract is intended to commence on 1 July 2016.

The jobs of 400 TranzMetro staff who currently deliver Wellington’s metro rail service and maintain the new Matangi trains will be preserved. GWRC’s contract will require Transdev and Hyundai Rotem to offer employment to those staff on the same or more favourable conditions.

GWRC Chair Chris Laidlaw says the selection of a preferred operator is a significant milestone towards a new era for public transport in the Wellington region. “The rail contract is the first of all new, performance-based contracts for our train, bus and harbour ferry services. The new contracts will mean better services for customers and provide strong incentives for operators to grow patronage by making public transport easier and smarter.”

Mr Laidlaw also acknowledged the very competitive tenders submitted by the two other tenderers. Those tenderers were Keolis Downer in partnership with KiwiRail, and the UK based rail operator Serco.

Transdev currently operates the Auckland passenger rail service under contract to Auckland Transport and operates rail, tram and bus services in 19 countries across 5 continents.

Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of the region’s Matangi electric train fleet.

Commenting on its selection by GWRC, Transdev Australasia’s Acting CEO, Mr Peter Lodge said “We are very excited by the news today and look forward to the next stage of the process and concluding the contract with GWRC in the New Year.”

GWRC will not be making further comment until negotiations with Transdev are completed and a decision has been made to award the contract. This is likely to occur in March 2016.

 

Diesel buses set to replace trolley buses

As part of a new bus network the regional council will phase out the use of the electric trolley buses in 2017 in favour of diesel buses that they can eventually replace with battery powered buses. It is part of their change to a new bus network but does sound like an odd way of going about things. As an example it raises the question of why not just skip straight to battery buses which as a technology are advancing quickly. It also seems a bit odd that they think they’ll get a whole heap of new diesel buses now and that bus companies will replace them again in just a few year’s time. That sounds like a recipe for bus companies charging a lot more to run services as they amortise the cost of the buses over a shorter time frame.

Wellington New Network

Wellington’s new bus network

The Wellington region now has a clear path to an all-electric bus fleet after the Regional Council made some decisions today on how best to get there.

Chris Laidlaw, Chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council, says an exciting future is in store for bus travel in the region.  “We are determined to be the first region in the country with an all-electric bus fleet when the technology is more mature and affordable.  We expect to progressively introduce electric buses to the region within the next five years, starting with an electric bus demonstration in the first half of 2016.

“In the interim, however, we need to begin upgrading the Wellington City bus fleet.  High capacity buses are a vital part of the new, simpler and more convenient network which will be rolled out in early 2018. The new network will give 75% of residents, compared to 45% at present, access within 1km to a high frequency bus route.  Services will run through the CBD instead of stopping or starting at Wellington Station or Courtenay Place as many do currently.  This, coupled with the use of high capacity buses, will speed up travel times for everyone.

“The Council has decided that an upgraded fleet should include new low emission double decker buses, ten of which will be hybrids. These will replace the older diesel buses in the fleet and the trolley buses, which are being phased out in 2017 because of their unreliability, the high cost of upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure and incompatibility with the new routes. The upgrade will mean that by 2018 the average age of the fleet will be five years compared to 13 at present and overall tailpipe emissions levels of the fleet will be about 33% lower than they are now.

“The biggest gain we can make in contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, and this is why the bus fleet strategy that we’ve endorsed this week is so important. By removing the trolley buses and the old diesels we can deliver services that are fast, reliable, comfortable, easy to use and that go where people want to go. And the only way to achieve these big changes by 2018 is by replacing those vehicles with the best technology available, which is a mix of hybrid buses and new low emission diesels.”

Mr Laidlaw says the Regional Council will be going to tender around April next year for new bus service contracts and will be working with operators to bring their ideas and innovations on how to provide a low emission bus fleet for the region.

“We also plan to hold a symposium around the middle of next year on electric vehicles, bringing everyone together to ensure we make the most of the exciting opportunities on the horizon.  Electric vehicles are coming and the challenge is to prepare the way for these by agreeing on the infrastructural needs. Wellington region is poised to lead the country to a cleaner, smarter transport future and we’re determined to make this happen.”

Island Bay Cycleway

While the work to build the Island Bay parking protected cycleway continues, some parts are already open and it looks fantastic. Unfortunately, the people who have long opposed any change to the street – claiming that the road was already safe (because only the hardy used it) and that people would be doored by passengers on the left have continued to fight the project.

A new cycleway through the heart of Wellington’s southern suburbs is threatening to tear the community apart, as thousands vent their anger at its “confusing” design.

Critics of the Island Bay cycleway have labelled it “a death trap” and say it has made one of the city’s main arterial roads too narrow for buses, reduced visibility for motorists on adjoining streets, and even made it “impossible” for some residents to pull out of their driveways.

But many also say the cycleway looks fantastic and will make life easier and safer for people on bikes.

There is a very good post on the project responding to many of the claims from supporters of the project and where the image below is from showing there is plenty of space for doors to open and not hit people on bikes.

Another claim levelled at the project is that the road isn’t wide enough for a protected cycleway. This image from Stuff highlights the width well. You can see the cycleway on each side (with some cars parked in it), the parking and the road lanes. It looks like plenty of space to me.

ATs rail tender postponed

Auckland Transport have announced that they’ve postponed their tender for running train services in Auckland. Back in April they said they shortlisted Kiwirail, Serco and Transdev to run services from the middle of next year. I had assumed they must have been getting close to picking a winner.

Coming to the western line soon

Here’s what they’ve said as to why it is now being postponed

The procurement of a new contract for Auckland’s commuter rail operations is being placed on hold.

In April, Auckland Transport short-listed three companies, Transdev Auckland, KiwiRail and Serco NZ, to tender to operate rail passenger services from July 2016.

General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says the decision to postpone the release of the request for tender is being made due to a number of contributing factors.

“Since the decision to tender for a new contract, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) between Auckland Council and the Government has commenced that will consider strategic transport opportunities, which is likely to include rail services and infrastructure. The significant City Rail Link (CRL) infrastructure project will also commence enabling works in the next few months bringing the delivery of this project closer. With these key strategic considerations in mind it would be prudent to wait for any outputs that may impact the scope of future rail service delivery before we go to tender”.

Another key factor relates to the recent transition to full electric train operations (other than between Papakura and Pukekohe) from 20 July and achieving a stable period of high rail punctuality and reliability performance prior to release of the request for tender.

Thinking about these and starting with the last one, as we know train performance has improved considerably since moving to a fully electric fleet so obviously AT don’t feel there as urgent a need to replace Transdev. Given their contract was due to expire in June next year I assume they’ve now extended that again – after they had a three year extension in 2013 to keep some stability while rolling out the electric trains.

The more interesting factor is the comment about ATAP likely looking at strategic opportunities including rail services and infrastructure. I haven’t heard anything to back this up but my guess to the thinking is that they will tie the running of trains into a PPP along with the construction of the CRL (and perhaps other infrastructure). In other words a company or consortium of companies would build and operate CRL plus all the trains through it. That would see the cost of the project shift from CAPEX to OPEX so rail services cost more but include the cost of building new infrastructure. Given this is the approach being taken for some of the big RoNS projects it’s a setup that might also be more appealing for the government.

My understanding is that the CRL is explicitly outside the terms of reference for ATAP, given this does it perhaps suggest we’ll hear more about the project soon?

What’s being done to fix rail reliability and speed

Last week I wrote about the issue of dwell times on the new electric trains and how they combined with other factors mean the EMUs that are meant to be much faster are have instead actually ended up being slower. Rail users will also be acutely aware that the performance of trains has been appalling in recent months – on that it’s been reported that while the withdrawal of the old diesel trains will remove one of the causes of unreliability, the new trains are having teething problems and will need 6-12 months of bedding in.

That very same afternoon as my dwell time post the AT board papers were published online and an attachment at the end of the business report deals directly with the issue of train/rail performance by showing what is planned to improve it over the next year. The initiatives are broken down by month and in to four key categories – Operations, ETCS (the signalling system), Rail Infrastructure and EMU Reliability Plan.

All the initiatives are shown in the images below – although they can be hard to read so click to enlarge or open the AT report (1.03MB) and scroll to the last three pages – however here are the things that most stood out to me.

  • A range of fixes for the new trains over the next few months which should improve their reliability.
  • Improvements to signalling could provide significant savings including
    • potentially 30 seconds per train from addressing how the signalling system deals with level crossings (from August)
    • faster line speeds on the Onehunga line saving 15 seconds (September)
    • faster line speeds on Southern Line to Penrose saving 20-25 seconds (September)
    • faster speeds around the curves behind Vector Arena saving up to 30 seconds per train (October)
    • faster speeds on the curves on the rest of the network, this most affects the western line where savings could be 15-30 seconds (November)
    • additional balise to speed up dwell times at some stations and improve timekeeping between Britomart and Newmarket
  • Reviewing door opening and closing procedures to reduce dwell times (September), prior to that they are considering having doors opened and closed automatically at peak times.
  • Changes to rules for drivers which could save 20 seconds per train (October)
  • Hiring platform supervisors for Newmarket to improve punctuality (November) and extra drivers to reduce the need for some drivers to change ends on Western Line trains saving up to 2 minutes (December)
  • Closing Westfield Station saving 2 minutes per train
  • A new timetable in May next year that will provide a minimum of 15 minute frequencies between 7am and 7pm, 7 days per week. This will be to tie in with the roll out of the new bus network in South Auckland.
  • New platforms at Henderson and Otahuhu to be able to turn back trains running late – this may be good for train operations but not necessarily good for passengers if you’re travelling to a station past Henderson or Otahuhu.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 2 - Oct - Jan

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 3 - Feb - Jun

It’s nice to finally see laid out just what is planned to be done to improve services for customers both in terms of reliability and journey times as many of the issues listed are ones that have been raised numerous times already. It seems that for the Western line in particular the combined time savings could stack up to be a decent amount

While I understand many of the specifics won’t be known until the initiatives are rolled out, perhaps AT could try and pre-empt customer any frustration from slower trains by publishing some of the key points from the document above in a general public focused way on their website and at stations around the network.

Why is Auckland’s rail system so expensive to operate?

On Monday the NZ Herald ran an article about the cost comparisons between operating Auckland and Wellington’s rail services. Based on the numbers in the article, it doesn’t tell a particularly pretty story:

Aucklanders facing a new transport rate are paying far too much to subsidise the city’s trains, says councillor Mike Lee, a long-time champion of rail.

Mr Lee, the council’s infrastructure chairman, has calculated that Auckland trains are costing ratepayers and the Government four times more to run than those in Wellington for each kilometre travelled by passengers.

He has worked out from figures published for each rail operation that the subsidy paid for every “passenger kilometre” travelled on Auckland trains last financial year was 65c, compared with just 16c in the capital…

…He said subsidies covered $107.2 million of Auckland’s total rail operating costs of $139.3 million last year, when 11.4 million passenger trips were made on trains.

That compared with just $42.7 million of subsidies towards the $85.09 million cost of providing 11.6 million passenger trips in Wellington.

Although the Government covered $63.92 million of Auckland’s bill, ratepayers forked out $43.3 million.

Auckland rail passengers also paid more for each kilometre they travelled, 18.5c against 16c in Wellington.

An Auckland Transport spokesman queried Mr Lee’s finding that fares covered only 22 per cent of rail operating costs, and sent the Herald a report prepared for the council by the organisation’s chief financial officer, Richard Morris.

But the report, despite pointing to difficulties in comparing the Auckland and Wellington rail operations, did not directly challenge Mr Lee’s figures.

A year ago Auckland Transport staff wrote a report breaking down the costs for each system which is the one referenced above. It split out the costs for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 years for each system. I haven’t seen 2013/14 figures and we are still in the 2014/15 year.

Overall it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact differences and while not definitive AT have identified some of reasons why they think Auckland’s system is more expensive to operate. This includes:

  • Auckland is running a mixed fleet with expensive to fuel and maintain diesel trains. The locomotives that haul the SA sets are also leased from Kiwirail. I’ve been told in the past that fuel and maintenance costs will roughly halve once all services are electric.
  • The mixed fleet reduces driver roster flexibility (more overtime to cover issues) and increases training costs. This should improve once all fleet electric
  • Auckland’s trains are slower for a variety of reasons. This increases the time it takes for each trip and therefore staffing costs for similar length journeys. We’re yet to see if electrification will improve this.
  • Auckland costs include all of Transdev’s wages and salary’s while in Wellington it’s believed some of Kiwirail’s overheads are likely shared or covered by the fact those roles exist for the rest of the business – both Auckland and Wellington are currently tendering for rail services as they moving to the same contract model this should hopefully see costs move closer together.
  • Auckland has a number of stations which are more expensive to run – e.g. it appears that Britomart alone costs more to operate than all the Wellington stations combined. Auckland also supposedly has more security monitoring. Auckland’s costs will remain higher in this area.
  • I believe that overall Auckland now runs more services than Wellington does – and this will have increased even further since December.

AKL vs WLG rail costs

Since the data that report patronage has gone crazy and is up about 3.5 million trips. We’ve also started to see electric trains on parts of the network and the remaining lines are due to go electric soon. We’ll have to wait to find the final costs for this year however this chart from AT’s monthly indicators in March shows the subsidy per passenger km and it does appear that things are starting to head in the right direction.

AKL Subsidy per PAX km

The minutes for last week’s Budget Committee meeting aren’t yet online, but it seems like the Committee passed a resolution to request an investigation into the issue and report back on options for cost savings in the next round of annual planning. This seems like a pretty sensible approach as we wouldn’t want savings to be achieved by cutting (or not increasing) service levels, but rather through a better rail contract and continued patronage (and therefore revenue) growth.

Auckland Train Ops Shortlist

Auckland Transport have announced the short list of companies to run Auckland’s trains from July next year onwards and none particularly fill me with confidence.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Auckland Transport has short-listed three companies that will be invited to tender to operate passenger rail services from 1 July 2016.

They are Serco NZ, Transdev Auckland and KiwiRail.

Mark Lambert, general manager AT Metro, says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies soon and the new rail contract will take effect from next year, when the existing contract expires.

Mr Lambert says there was a high level of interest internationally when Auckland Transport sought Expressions of Interest and the three shortlisted companies were selected after careful evaluation.

He says that the new contract will be performance-based and reflect the huge changes in the Auckland passenger rail system since the current contract was put in place in 2003.

Auckland’s Metro rail service has been electrified and modern electric trains will soon be operating on all lines, stations have been upgraded, new stations built and the Western Line double-tracked. The number of services has significantly increased from 40,000 to 140,000 per annum since 2003. Passenger boardings have passed a record 13 million a year and are climbing at record rates, with growth of 33% in March 2015 compared to the same month last year. Annual growth for the March year was 21%.

Shortlisted companies:

  • Serco NZ is the New Zealand arm of the British Serco PLC, an international service company working in a variety of sectors including transport, health and corrections. Internationally, Serco’s rail operations include the MerseyRail and Northern Rail operations in the UK and the Dubai Metro in the United Arab Emirates. Serco delivers services to central and local governments in New Zealand and Australia with over 9,000 staff across the region and 600 based in Auckland.
  • Transdev Auckland is part of the Transdev Group, one of the world’s largest private passenger transport companies. The Group, whose head office is based in France, operate light and heavy rail services in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. Transdev has been operating the Auckland Metro rail services since 2003.
  • New Zealand Government-owned KiwiRail owns and manages the national railway network. It operates freight and passenger rail services throughout New Zealand, including the Tranz Metro commuter rail operation in Wellington, which provides 2,200 services each week.

With Transdev and its predecessors we’ve have more than a decade of poor performance – not all of which has been their fault. Perhaps most annoying to regular customers has been the frequent poor communication when things go wrong.

Serco also operates the Mt Eden prison and if they were to win the contract I’d certainly hope they ran the rail network better they were the prison a few years ago where the failed to meet half of their performance targets.

Lastly Kiwirail who own the tracks and currently run the trains in Wellington. In reality they are a freight company and to date have shown little regard for PT or its users in Auckland.

What’s also noticeable about this announcement is that the three companies shortlisted are the same as those shortlisted for the Wellington contract with one exception. In Wellington Kiwirail have bid in joint venture with Keolis Downer.

All the companies shortlisted will almost certainly be hoping to win both the Auckland and Wellington contracts which would allow them to leverage some economies of scale across both operations. That has the potential to be good if it means services can be delivered cheaper but might have negative consequences if it limits how easy it is for other companies to compete for future tenders.

Why are trains failing so much?

With March Madness in full swing it seems that Auckland Transport and Transdev have taken a new approach to dealing with the high demand, driving customers away through rubbish performance.

Train users from across the region – but it seems particularly West Auckland – have been suffering after what feels like daily issues that are putting even more pressure on already stretched services. People can accept one or two issues but when they become an almost daily occurrence the only result will be less people using trains.

Here are a just couple of examples from the last week or so of what we’ve seen happening from AT’s text message service. It is by no means an exhaustive list of issues that have occurred and is only on the western line. There have also been issues on other lines too (the am times are based on services at my local station – Sturges Rd, pm times based on Britomart).

13 March

7:43am train running at reduced seating capacity – a later text states it was full from Avondale

5:36pm train running at reduced capacity

16 March

4:36pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:06 train delayed 20 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:36 train delayed 15 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:50 train delayed 25 minutes due to an earlier train fault

17 March

4:36pm train cancelled from Kingsland due to a train fault

4:50pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

19 March

6:59am train cancelled due to vandalism

5:20pm train running at reduced seating capacity

20 March

7:43am train delayed 10 minutes due to a train crew matter

5:50pm train delayed by 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

23 March

7:43am train cancelled due to an earlier train fault

The reason these are so bad particularly on the western line is any cancelled train means the next train is at least 15 minutes away. Depending on what station you use that might be only the delay as trains that have been so full thanks to the surge in patronage mean that following services simply can’t cope. As such people from inner stations have been unable to even get on some trains meaning potentially they could be experiencing a 45 minute or longer wait. Even if you’re lucky enough to get on a train in these situations it is going to be a cramped affair.

Of course this wouldn’t be quite so bad if frequency was every 10 minutes like first promised for the western line in 2010 but AT have managed to find a constant stream of excuses as to why it can’t happen.

So what’s causing these delays and cancellations? My understanding – although I’m happy to be corrected by AT and/or Transdev is that it’s a combination of few things. Maintenance is understandably being reduced on the aging diesel trains ahead of the roll out of the electrics that is leading to more of them failing. They also are extremely stretched with their staff numbers and don’t really have enough drivers to run the timetable properly.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are for the delays, what’s clear is that all those involved need to get this issue addressed extremely quickly otherwise the great patronage gains that we’ve seen in the last 1½ years will plateau again or even fall away. This is because the two most important aspects of any PT service regardless of mode or what city it is in are always frequency and reliability

Will we see new train operators in Auckland and Wellington?

As many readers will know from the monthly board meeting updates we see, Auckland Transport are in the process of putting out a new tender to run all rail services in Auckland from Mid 2016 onwards. Wellington has also going through this same process and ATs reports say they’ve been working with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) on some aspects. The outcome of the tender process will be fascinating as in Wellington Kiwirail (and predecessors) have always run the regions trains. In Auckland they were contracted out over a decade ago – a time when very few people caught trains – to Connex which became Veolia and now Transdev. A few years ago the contract was extended to mid-2016 so AT weren’t changing operators in the middle of the roll out of electric trains. Since that time Transdev’s performance has improved significantly which is good – although it’s still not perfect.

One of the aspects that spurred the contracting situation a decade ago was that the existing operator didn’t want to run the services anymore. The growth in train use that Auckland has seen and will continue to see over the coming years has made operating the trains a much more attractive proposition. As such a number of companies are likely to be very interested in winning the tender and the Wellington tender gives us an idea of who some of the main contenders will be. Just before Christmas the GWRC announced the short list of companies who will be sent tender documents for the running and maintaining of trains.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has finalised a short-list for the tendering of its new rail contract.

Greg Campbell, the Regional Council’s Chief Executive, says that after careful evaluation of Expressions of Interest the following companies have been short-listed. They are:

  • Transdev Australasia Pty Ltd in a joint venture with South Korean-based company Hyundai Rotem. Transdev operates Auckland’s train service, Sydney’s light rail, ferries in Sydney and Brisbane, and bus services in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin. Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of Wellington’s electric Matangi trains and has extensive experience maintaining rolling stock around the world.
  • Keolis Downer in a joint venture with KiwiRail. Keolis Downer operates the Gold Coast light rail network in Queensland, Australia and Keolis operates Melbourne’s Yarra tram services. KiwiRail currently operates Wellington’s train services and maintains the region’s train fleet.
  • Serco – an international service company that currently operates a range of rail services in the UK, the Middle East and Australia.

Greg Campbell says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies early next year. “We plan to select a preferred tenderer around the middle of next year and have a contract signed by the end of 2015. The new rail contract will take effect from 1 July 2016.”

The Regional Council is developing and procuring new performance-based, partnering contracts for all public transport services in Wellington. “The new contracts will have a much greater emphasis on providing high quality, affordable services that encourage more people to take the train, bus or harbour ferry.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that two of the bidders are joint ventures, one of which includes Kiwirail which means that regardless of who wins the current situation in Wellington will definitely change. My understanding is in the Keolis/Kiwirail bid Keolis will actually run the trains on a day to day basis with Kiwirail doing the maintenance – that in itself is a big change for Kiwirail. I assume it will be the same thing on the Transdev/Hyundai Rotem bid, Transdev running the trains with Hyundai Rotem maintaining the trains.

Presumably all of these bidders are also hoping to pick up the Auckland contract too as there would be some improved economies of scale from doing so. The big difference in Auckland is the train manufacturer CAF already has a 10 year contract to maintain the trains.

Perhaps a disappointment from the list above is that all operators seem to be only about operating the service. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be an operator like MTR from Hong Kong who might also be interested in not just running the services but investing in developments around rail stations in a bid to improve patronage. I imagine others will also raise the question of why the operations aren’t being brought in-house by both AT and GWRC – even if operated by an independent entity – rather than the profits going overseas.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens in both cities but there’s certainly a possibility that both cities will see some major changes in the running of trains going forward and that has the potential to be quite disruptive for some time. There’s definitely some interesting times ahead.

Default to Chaos

One of the factors behind the stunning 18% increase in rail patronage over the last year is bound to be the improved reliability that we’ve been seeing. With greater reliability people can trust services more and are much more likely to use them. That improved reliability resulted in a record 92% of all trains in November being on time.  What’s significant about the results is it isn’t simply the result of new electric train being more reliable but that we’ve seen improvements from the old diesel trains too. The graph below from Auckland Transport’s latest statistics report highlights the network performance for the current and previous financial year. As a comparison I remember a few years ago where it wasn’t uncommon to see a result in the 70’s.

Rail Network Reliability

Kudos has to go to all involved for getting the reliability up, some of it is due to better infrastructure such as the new signalling system and the rail network no longer being a constant worksite while other improvements are likely due to better maintenance and management of the trains themselves.

Unfortunately it seems that when something does go wrong the response still leaves a lot to be desired and that has been highlighted a few times in the last few days.

On Thursday a train breakdown outside Britomart caused chaos.

After the week’s second transport debacle, in which about 3000 commuters had their trips to the city disrupted by a broken train outside the Britomart tunnel on Thursday, the mayor blamed “decades of neglect” of the city’s infrastructure.

“We risk repeats of this morning’s delays until the day the [$2.4 billion] City Rail Link is built and Britomart stops being a dead end,” Mr Brown said in a brief statement, issued by his office in the absence of his availability for an interview.

Auckland Transport says 15 trains were disrupted, many of which unloaded passengers at Newmarket Station so they could transfer to buses, after an emergency brake on a new electric train was erroneously triggered outside Britomart.

It took about 45 minutes to shunt the train into Britomart, and about another hour for services to return to normal.

My understanding is this was caused by an error in the signalling system that Kiwirail have known about for weeks but failed to act on. Also despite Len’s suggestions it’s something the CRL wouldn’t have fixed. I was luckily not affected by this particular incident as my train was just ahead of the one that had the issue but many other readers did. Unfortunately it sounds like issues are responded to still leaves a lot to be desired with poor or non-existent communication to passengers the order of the day.

In the piece above AT say passengers were unloaded so they could catch buses, the only problem being that most buses at that time probably couldn’t handle the extra demand and it would take some time to get spare ones in.

Another incident appears to have occurred last night following Christmas in the Park with services cancelled with no apologies or explanation given to customers as to why. Due to the extra number of people out potentially thousands were affected.

It seems like this is something that crops up every few months but Auckland Transport and Transdev really need to get these issues and how they communicate to customers sorted rather than the default setting being chaos. This is especially important as the increasing use of trains means more and more people are affected when something goes wrong.

Can Cameras reduce fare evasion?

Transdev have announced they are going to trial body mounted cameras in a bid to further lower fare evasion.

Fare evasion is an ongoing issue for public transport throughout the world – and Auckland is no different. Transdev has a team of around 50 Ticket Inspectors checking train customers at stations and on trains to ensure they are travelling with the correct ticket and, as part of their revenue protection efforts, Transdev is committed to a programme of ongoing improvement.

With fare evasion currently between 4 and 5 per cent and revenue lost to fare evasion estimated at almost $1.5 million dollars per year, additional measures are required to make travel costs fairer for everyone.

As a result, Transdev is equipping a small group of Ticket Inspectors with body worn CCTV cameras to use in a three-month operational trial. These Ticket Inspectors will also have ‘Network Bans’ to issue to non-compliant people travelling or attempting to travel on the train.

The use of the cameras and network bans will be evaluated at the end of the trial period, for example

  • What did the public think of the use of the cameras and network bans?
  • Were the cameras and network bans effective in reducing fare evasion rates?
  • Did the cameras influence the behaviour of fare evaders, either positively or negatively?
  • Did staff find the cameras a useful tool?

Additionally it is also anticipated that the cameras will also provide a strong deterrent to anyone considering abusing or assaulting a staff member or other customers in the vicinity.

The cameras will capture high quality audio and video of interactions, and will provide the opportunity to take a still photograph of a fare evader to support a network ban.

The use of the cameras (and footage) will be in full compliance of the Privacy Act 1993 and best practice guidelines set out by the Privacy Commission

From what I’ve noticed fare evasion seems to have been changing in recent months. School kids which were a huge source of evasion seem to be using HOP much more, at least in the mornings. That’s obviously a good thing however I also suspect there’s been an increase in evasion further out on the network. On the western line in particular it seems there are a lot of people making shorter trips e.g. from Henderson to Sturges or Ranui that are not buying tickets. Those people also seem to be becoming more cautious which is perhaps hiding some of the fare evasion. By that I mean they are checking the train before they get on for ticket inspectors and if they see them get on at a station along the way they will get off the train to avoid being checked.

Personally I can’t see cameras or network bans being that effective overall. As it is the chance of seeing a ticket inspector seems fairly small and I often find I will see them in clusters. I get times when it seems I get them on every trip but then I won’t seem them for another month or so. I also wonder what the chances of ticket inspectors remembering each person that’s been filmed without a ticket or banned. Those determined to fare evade will continue to do so.

Whenever the issue of evasion comes up we get a lot of comments about the need to gate stations. One thing to remember in this is the cost of doing so. At $1.5 million a year in fare evasion, gating all stations would cost more the evasion it stops and so there needs to be a balancing act. To me combination of gating key the destination stations along with the roving ticket inspectors dealing with other parts of the network seems to be the right balance. Back in March we revealed AT plan to install gates at another 8 stations over the next few years and that should help immensely. It’s also worth noting that even in systems that are fully gated fare evasion still happens so it isn’t something that will ever be able to be completely eliminated.

Rail Network Gating

Rail Punctuality improving

The herald today picked up on an important trend that’s been happening without trains in recent months, much improved on time performance.

Becoming ruthless with their whistles and no longer waiting for last-minute “runners” at railway stations has helped Auckland train crews to achieve record punctuality.

Although his trains still have some way to go to catch up with buses and ferries for time-keeping, Transdev managing director Terry Scott is delighted that 91.7 per cent of the rail company’s services hit their destinations within five minutes of scheduled arrival times in January.

That was the first time they exceeded 90 per cent, setting the stage for more improvements once electric trains start running between Britomart and Onehunga in two months, with far greater acceleration and braking power than the existing diesels.

Transdev’s client Auckland Transport is also relieved after struggling to see figures rising above 80 per cent in the long years of trying to keep the city’s elderly trains running to schedule during track upgrades.

“If we can do that with 60-year-old trains, imagine what we can do with the EMUs [electric trains],” says the council body’s chairman, Lester Levy, of the latest result.

It’s great to see that the clunky of diesel trains are more reliable and that’s something that the current management team can be rightly given credit for. Of course in the past there have been all sorts of excuses as to why it wasn’t being achieved so now that it’s been done it does beg the question of why it’s taken so long to get above 90%. As Lester says, if this is possible with our current trains then what can we expect with brand new electric trains.

One of the reasons likely behind the improved performance is that the quality of the rail network has improved. The major physical works have been completed and the new signalling system has now been in place for a few years so is bedded in. As an example, in the 12 months to March 2012 there were a massive 454 signal faults on the Auckland network, by comparison from January 2013 to October 2013 there were only 84

Here’s the last 18 months or so of performance history.

Rail network performance

I also have much greater confidence in the rail punctuality stats than I do the bus ones the herald notes which are based on when the bus starts it’s run and are self-reported by the operators.

Let’s hope the rail figures can continue above 90 for some many months to come.