AT Buying Buses May Ease Congestion


Auckland Transport has been asked to consider buying buses themselves and leasing them out to the bus operators to help cope with the present overcrowding on buses, caused by the growing popularity of public transport.
Or to withdraw buses from less patronized routes and redirect them to the congested Northern Express service.
These are two suggestions Auckland Council transport committee chair Mike Lee has made in a letter to Auckland Transport chair Mark Ford.
Mike Lee says in his letter that the issue of public transport overcrowding is more widespread than the Northern Express buses – and Auckland Transport should also address the growing issue of train overcrowding.
But the committee views the North Shore busway services are the most seriously affected and should be given priority.

“Clearly a shortage of suitable buses is a major contributing cause to the present overcrowding. We ask that Auckland Transport give serious consideration to withdrawing buses from less patronized routes and redirect them to the Northern Express service. If that is not feasible, given that the operator is reportedly reluctant to make further capital commitments, we ask that Auckland Transport itself consider buying a minimum number (6) of buses which would be owned by Auckland Transport in a similar way to rail rolling stock.”

Incentivising off-peak travel is put forward another option to ease the problem.
“Incentivising of peak travel should be given careful study and we understand Auckland Transport is already promoting alternative services. Improving ‘shoulder-peak’ frequencies especially in the 6pm to 8pm evening timeslot would give passengers alternatives to peak time trips, while also easing overcrowding on those evening services.
” I understand a number of cities around the world create price differentials between peak and off-peak travel. This should be investigated by Auckland Transport though ideally through lowering off-peak fares rather than raising peak fares.
“Less peaked patronage should improve the efficiency of the public transport network, enabling better use of our assets.”

Long & growing queues for a Northern Express

Re-configuring and de-cluttering the Downtown Bus terminal was needed, according to Mr Lee in his letter. He is referring to the number of small bus shelters and toilet building located under the large all-weather canopy by D2.
“Given the queues of commuters, the smaller suburban-service style bus shelters serve no purpose given that there is an all-weather canopy over the top of them. They do impede queuing and boarding.
“The area needs to be de-cluttered and visually promoted as the rapid transit terminal for the North Shore busway, instead as it appears at present one of the many suburban bus stops.”
He says a major inefficiency is how long the buses take to load and this could be improved by creating a “fare paid” zone kerbside at stop D2 where tickets are validated at entry points to the zone.
Once buses arrive, they could very quickly load at both doors – in a matter of seconds, like a train and be on their way quickly.
Mr Lee also asked AT to address localised congestion and delays in Fanshawe St –Victoria Park. The peak hour congestion in Fanshawe St area can disrupt the flow of the whole busway system and totally compromise the rapid transport aspects of it.
“Prioritisation including a buslane is required to address this problem.”
The committee was also anxious for an emergency expansion of the Albany Park and Ride. It has exceeded capacity almost from its opening. “Councillors familiar with the site believe there is vacant lane which could be brought into service on an emergency/ temporary basis without major construction work.
The Council’s transport committee acknowledges that bus overcrowding is a problem of success rather than failure. “However, in terms of customer experience and comfort, the over-crowding problem needs to be tackled urgently. We acknowledge that Auckland Transport is aware of the problem and is trying to address it. However we feel the wider range of options we are recommending need to be seriously considered.”

The overcrowding is an issue that can not be ignored for long and is clearly adding to the frustration of commuters who are turning to public transport - but will turn away if the issues are not eased.
Good on Mike Lee and his Council committee for pushing forward some constructive answers.




  1. Matt L says:

    How is expanding the Albany Park n Ride going to help bus congestion? All that will do is allow for more people to use the station and therefore making congestion worse.

  2. James B says:

    Publicly owned buses? I can see Steven Joyce et al choking on their coffee over this one.

  3. Owen Thompson says:

    Back to the future! Sounds like the ARA to me.

  4. Doloras says:

    Wait, isn’t it actually against the law for local authorities to directly own buses (thank you market-obsessed government of the early 90′s)? Or wouldn’t that apply to a CCO like AT?

  5. Matt says:

    Doloras, the way Christchurch gets around it is to have a council-owned company that owns the buses. Not sure if that’s at ECan or CCC level, but that’s definitely how their bus ownership is structured to get around the prohibition.

    And yes, yay for free-market ideologues. Look at how wonderfully the market served our transport needs before those meddling politicians stuck their fingers back into the pie.

  6. greenwelly says:

    @Matt, but in Christchurch ECAN provides the funding for PT, and Christchurch city council ( via Red bus) are the services provider.

    In the past one of the Auckland Councils could have established a bus company and tendered for ARC funding, but now they are all rolled up in the Supercity it would be very difficult to argue that the funder/provider split existed. ( Unless you went down the option used in rail of having a private operator with the council just owning them)

  7. Matt says:

    greenwelly, that’s exactly what is proposed. AT buys the buses and leases them to NZB/H&E/Ritchies/whoever. AT wouldn’t be a bus operator.

    There’s nothing to stop Auckland Council from forming a new CCO that does nothing but operate bus services using buses it owns, and tendering for routes as AT requires. Provided there was no commonality between the Boards and the tenders were on a commercial basis, that would probably achieve the required level of separation to be legal.

    Really, though, it’s just freaking stupid that these sorts of machinations are necessary. It’s perfectly clear that the private bus operator model isn’t meeting Auckland’s needs.

  8. Luke says:

    I think the transport committee have found their solutions reading this blog and others!
    They should be able to lease buses from Chch.
    Maybe Chch’s red-bus should tender for some routes in Auckland, if we’re stuck with the market model some more competition would be great.
    The market model totally fails with only a couple of operators, however this is what the market naturally tends to.

  9. mark says:

    To be fair, it’s not the market model that has failed us - it’s (forced by legislation, thank you, you “free” marketers) the combination of:

    - lack of public oversight over council / government funds & subsidies (with Council and government, as a non-market organisation, having less incentive to make sure the money is well spent)

    - lack of incentives for operators to ensure they perform well

    - lack of ways to compel and enforce good performance when the operators fail to do so

    - large & long-term contracts that essentially give the operator a monopoly, and then, due to him already having sunk the cost into a bus fleet, giving him a massive leg up when the time comes to re-tender for the area/route

    - arrangements that allow operators to cherry-pick some routes

    In short, the market model is anything BUT competition (well, I guess when the tender comes out, the knives are drawn, words get whispered in influential ears, money may change hands) but the 99% of the rest of the time, it’s a fixed arrangement with the operators having a lot of the power, and the common PT user having no choice but to not use PT if he’s unhappy.

    Real competition would mean different operators allowed to use the same routes. Not saying things like allocating bus stop space etc… would be easy, but the current arrangements are a joke.

  10. Doloras says:

    “Real competition would mean different operators allowed to use the same routes.”

    Part of the problem is that we have that with the duplication of train routes by bus routes. And the Herald loves that because it’s “competition”.

  11. rtc says:

    “Real competition would mean different operators allowed to use the same routes. Not saying things like allocating bus stop space etc… would be easy, but the current arrangements are a joke.”

    You already do have different bus companies running pretty much the same routes and stopping at the same bus stops. This is a complete failure as holders of a NZ Bus pass can’t for instance get onto the Urban express bus that drives by. If that’s competition then I don’t want it.

  12. Jacky says:

    I think u know what….

    Well the thing itself now is to get the Hop Card running, then if it happen to the case that 2 bus operator run the Northern Express then nobody need to worry about which card they use…

    2. Start to be using Double Decker for the major and high demand route

    3. To speed things up, offer the passenger prepay only between the heavy load hours, so that they need to pay in advance rather than holding up everybody if that person has a $50 notes


  13. Matt says:

    Mark, yes, the real problem with our market model is that it it’s the height of “The market will solve all problems” dogma. The provisions for regulation are minimal, the provisions for termination of contracts for under-performance are minimal, and it’s generally difficult, if not impossible, to penalise operators who don’t fulfil their end of the bargain.

    The new PTMA has a lot of promise, but not when making full use of its provisions is contingent on the support of a minister whose general antipathy towards anything that’s not private transport is worn on his sleeve in flashing neon lights.


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