We need a better PT to go with the cheapest rates

Half-price public transport fares came into force on Friday as part of the government’s ‘cost of living relief package’, which has already seen petrol tax reduced by 25c per litre. The discounted price includes daily and monthly passes as well as existing concession rates. AT’s implementation of the package also includes ferry journeys to/from Devonport, as AT says including the service in the integrated fare scheme would have made it too expensive and ‘technically difficult’ to exclude it – even if the government does not cover the cost of these due to Devonport ferries being commercial services not under the control of AT. Waiheke services are not included in the package.

The Minister has refused to cover the costs of these services, with Stuff reporting a letter from Transport Minister Michael Wood to AT and Fullers saying

“I am extremely frustrated on behalf of the residents of the affected communities that this (exemption) issue has not been resolved,” Wood replied to Horne, in letters obtained by Thing from Wood’s office.

“AT and Fullers can’t have it both ways,” the minister wrote.

“I am deeply hacked that this issue has not been resolved and I believe that the parties involved need to learn a lesson here and fix the issue – and cannot, in my view, now reasonably expect a government subsidy for the public transport.”

If the Minister is to settle this issue once and for all, he should use his powers under Section 150(1)(b) of the Land Transport Management Act to revoke Fullers’ exempt service status for Devonport and Waiheke ferries, which are clearly ‘integral’ to the public transport network.

Those minor issues aside, the overall lower cost of the PT is great and will definitely help make it more appealing to use. I can’t wait to see what impact this has on the use of the PT. AT estimates it could increase usage by 10-15%, but that’s coming from a much lower base with PT usage at around 35-45% of pre-COVID.

For its part, AT advertises this as a great opportunity to explore Auckland. Maybe they should dig into this story even more and suggest some great PT trips people could take, especially ones that could help support the business areas in the area.

As I noted at the time, one thing that struck me about the announcement of this package was indications from Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson that this rate cut , or something like that, could be extended in this year’s budget as part of the government’s response to its emissions reduction plan.

While I am certainly in favor of cheaper public transport, for many the price is often not the biggest barrier to using it. Instead, the quality of service such as route, frequency and reliability of service is what is essential. In other words, cheap (or even free) crappy service will always be crappy service.

It got me thinking about some other things the government could do in the short to medium term to increase the use of public transport.

Funding to further improve services

The council has just completed the consultation period for its annual budget, the centerpiece of which is a Climate Action Target Rate (CATR). CATR has invested over $600 million to improve services above the level they currently are and will combine with other planned improvements to further improve PT in Auckland.

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The government could go further with additional funding to accelerate the implementation of changes and/or make other service improvements. For example, it would be great if we could get all frequent bus routes down to a minimum of every 10 minutes during the day instead of only every 15.

Better bus infrastructure

The media debate and outrage over on-street parking has grown over the past week or so after Auckland Transport sought permission to consult on its updated parking strategy. Much of the focus has been on the impact removing street parking could have on local businesses, often ignoring the potential benefits. As Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore said during Council’s debate on the matter “A car is a buyer, a bus full of buyers is a business.”

With Auckland Transport saying it will consult whenever they seek to remove parking from a thoroughfare, it will be a long time before we see any meaningful changes. AT themselves acknowledge this by noting that currently only about 20% of arteries are proposed to see changes over the next 10 years.

The government has already shown its willingness to break council bureaucracy in other areas, such as changes to housing rules. Maybe they could do something similar for on-street parking by making it easier or even requiring it to be removed from certain roads.

More bus lanes will help speed up buses, but we should also speed up buses by streamlining bus stops. In some parts of Auckland, there are bus stops within 150m of each other. This may be useful for some, but it can result in much slower journeys. In addition to making it easier to remove parking, the government could require bus stops to be streamlined.

In addition, the government could provide funds to improve bus stops in other ways. A big area to focus on is how people get to bus stops. This would include things like adding crosswalks at bus stops.

Better trains

The City Rail Link will make a huge difference once it opens, but there are many other things that could be done in the short term to improve the trains that are needed. I’ve covered this in more detail in the past, but like buses, we need to improve the speed of our trains, especially dwell times, and improve access to them. Improved access could include pedestrian crossings as well as new connections to stations to open catchments.

A package of projects to improve public transport by removing weak spots, combined with cheaper fares, would have a lasting impact and benefit new and existing users.

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