AT COO Interviewed – On Auckland’s Transport

Chief Operating Officer Talks About Auckland’s Transport – Yet Still Misses the Basics?

 

On Friday; Auckland Transport posted up on its website an interview with their Number Three – Chief Operation Officer Greg Edmonds with TV9’s Asia Focus.

From Auckland Transport:

Transport in 2013: Greg Edmonds interview

Last reviewed: 11/01/2013 2:46 p.m.

​Watch this interview on AsiaFocus by TV9 with Greg Edmonds, Chief Operating Officer of Auckland Transport.

Mr Edmonds answers questions about integrated ticketing (HOP), its benefits and the rollout to buses that will begin in April.

He also speaks about measures Auckland Transport is taking to continue to grow public transport patronage. These include integrated ticketing, electrification of the rail network and electric trains and the redesign of bus networks to better integrate them with the rail network.

Watch the recording of the interview on TV9.co.nz. Length: 20:25

 

And so I watched the interview and took some notes on the following aspects (with some help of other keen eyes and ears):

Noted from Interview with AT-CCO Greg Edmonds

 

1.52min
“Looking for a population of 2-2.5 million people in 10yrs”

Where are the people coming? 2030 was when Auckland was due to hit the 2-million mark so is there something statisticians not telling us?

2.39min
“Current Dual HOP card system”

Why couldn’t AT get it right in the first place? It’s not that Auckland is the first place ever to use such a system. However I have covered this since my alternative to Snapper in February Last Year)

4.55min
“Rail patronage dropping since RWC – How to fix public transport patronage:

  1. Integrated train/bus/ferry timetables
  2. $600million electrification
  3. 10min a train will turn up (all day every day, 7 days a week)
  4. 15min a bus will turn up (all day every day, 7 days a week)
  5. City Rail Link post 2022 (or rather 2025)”

My Reply: From observations and experiences: trains/buses running around just about/or empty all the time outside peak hrs. However will another million people in the city in 10yrs and an aging population use their free travel passes their might be a bit more usage. But doubling usage by another 70 million in 10 years is somewhat overly optimistic given the current situation. I have also touched on AT not getting the basics rights with Customer Service in the FIRST STEP IN IMPROVING AUCKLAND’S PUBLIC TRANSPORT post which basically states all the investment in infrastructure means squat if the customer service experience is least to be currently desired. More on this again later)

7.21min
“Greg Edmonds stating passenger numbers not dropping”

Someone asked me: “I wish someone would confirm whether they dropping or rising and all officials/bureaucrats stick to the same story line.” The answer to that lies in the patronage stats from Auckland Transport which is currently stating there is overall growth in public transport patronage, but declines in Northern Busway patronage and a rather disturbing 14-15% drop in rail patronage which shows no sign of currently slowing down.

8.00min
Greg Edmonds not concerned about overall public transport use trends.”

Someone said this to me (so not my own words): “Naturally he’s not… he’s selling the fear factor of 2-2.5 million people being in Auckland and the place turning into chaos.” In saying that, however I might go an explore Edmonds comment around that remark. His role clearly dictates that he must be concerned around overall public transport trends for if they either:  fall through the floor in patronage, or the Customer Service situation does not improve – then his head might be on Councillor Mike Lee’s PLATE!)

9.25min
“Real time information system not accurate…”

I cannot comment on the Passenger Real Time Information Display System (RAPID) currently due to previous employment however a reader did ask this: (Question) “Why couldn’t AT implement a system that would work right in the first place? It’s not as though Auckland has the first system in the world. How much did this mistake cost ratepayers and who has been held accountable for it?”

10.51min
“We have patronage “Targets” – by 2020 achieve 140 million based on investments being made”

Observation: It means an extra 70 million rides in seven years, that’s an increase of 10 million per year which with the current problems AT are facing with public transport – it could be a case of “barrow” and “uphill”.  The slide in rail patronage which is becoming entrenched and systemic needs to be reversed. The question is: “how is Auckland Transport going to honestly reverse that slide?”

A remark from a reader: “Looking forward to reading what the honest and true figures are this time next year while hoping all AT staff are made to ride the buses for a year to see first-hand what really goes on in our public transport network”

 

15.18min
(This was noted by me and from feedback by readers as well): “No plans for the North Shore Rail Line despite apparently according to Greg Edmonds: NZTA starting the second harbour crossing around the 2015-2016 mark. Now last I looked NZTA were in the building of that tunnel crossing, going to include I believe a heavy rail line that can be joined to the City Rail Link on the CBD side while extending along the Northern Busway – replacing it.”

To me this is a rather flippant attitude of Greg Edmonds in regards to the North Shore Line and could be very well contradicting both the Mayor’s and NZTA’s plans for the eventual North Shore Line. Auckland Transport should be very well making plans for the Busway to be replaced by the North Shore Line (Heavy Rail) as was “planned” when the busway was built. Heavy Rail (The North Shore Line) can carry upwards of 900% more passengers at full capacity than the busway ever could at full capacity, while allowing a seamless train trip from the North Shore to either: the CBD, New Lynn, Sylvia Park, Newmarket, Manukau, Onehunga, THE AIRPORT, Papakura, Botany, or even Pukekohe. The North Shore Line would connect a relatively isolated part of Auckland back to the main isthmus and allow for growth on the Shore that would be better catered for.
I shall let readers making their own call on the Greg Edmonds interview but those were my thoughts (as well as some others who gave feedback).

 

For the benefit of Auckland Transport’s Chief Operating Officer – Greg Edmonds, I shall re-stick the Customer Service post here below for him to go and read – as I don’t quite think he has quite joined the dots to our dismal public transport performance (including that of the CCO as well):

FIRST STEP IN IMPROVING AUCKLAND’S PUBLIC TRANSPORT

 

Posted by BR:AKL_Admin01 on January 10, 2013 · 

 

Treat Humans as Humans

 

Not as numbers, not as dollar signs, not as a total pain in the ass that should be treated begrudgingly.

 

While I have been running commentary on things like Rail Efficiency Programs and operational models post City Rail Link to boost patronage via infrastructure and operations, another blogger raised a very fine point on something that is very well hammering our public transport patronage statistics – our customer service.

 

Before I highlight the said post from the other blogger, a quick reminder: Auckland Transport asked for submissions to its Regional Public Transport Program (RPTP) of which the hearings are next month (and that I am attending). One of the main focuses Auckland Transport was looking for in submissions to the RPTP was the “Customer Service Portal” – in other words the quality and level of customer service in our public transport system from front line staff right through to AT bureaucrats in Henderson.

This post is by virtue of an extension to my submission on the RPTP as well as replicating a point made at another blog.

 

So lets take a look at Customer Service on Auckland’s Public Transport System

This is from Auckland Transport Blog:

 

By Guest Post, on January 7th, 2013

This is a guest post by John P

The Ministry of Transport, bless ‘em, actually have a lot of interesting information on their website if you know where to look. One of the things they do is carry out a Household Travel Survey, which surveys 4,600 households in various parts of New Zealand each year. There’s plenty to look at, and you can check out various results at their transport survey, but for today I’ll look at a summary they put together on public transport use – taken from here.

The thing that stands out to me is a table showing the percentage of people who use public transport in NZ’s major cities. From this, 53% of Aucklanders surveyed hadn’t used PT at all in the last year. This put us on par with Christchurch and Dunedin, both of which are significantly smaller, neither of which have rail, and neither of which are particularly PT-oriented cities. We’re well behind Wellington, where only 27% of people hadn’t hopped on a train or bus at least once. Remember that (greater) Wellington is around the same size as Christchurch, and both cities are less than a third the size of Auckland.

Wow, that’s not a good start. How about people who haven’t used PT in the last month, but have in the last year? 17% of Aucklanders fell into this camp, in line with the other cities except for Wellington.

So, by this point, we can see that only 30% of Aucklanders had used public transport in the month before they were surveyed. We were in between Dunedin (26%) and Christchurch (34%), and well
behind Wellington where 46% of the people had used it at least once.

The last few lines of the table below are asking people how many days in the last month they had used public transport. I won’t dwell on it except to point out that half the Aucklanders who used PT in the last month hadn’t used it very often. Only 14% used it on 5 days or more, ahead of Dunedin (11%) but behind Christchurch (16%) and Wellington (27%).

Wellington is leaps and bounds ahead of Auckland, but I think we all knew that. I think these results are a pretty telling scorecard, and, to put it mildly, Auckland doesn’t look too flash. The majority of Aucklanders never use public transport at all, and most of those who do don’t use it very often. Two basic questions come out of this:

  1. Why don’t Aucklanders use PT very often?
  2. How do we improve PT usage in Auckland?

Questions that are answered in a number of different posts in this blog! A redesign of the network, and rail electrification, should help boost patronage over the next few years. But the thing is, we should really be aiming to get to where Wellington is now in the short to medium term. Anything less is short-changing ourselves in my opinion.

 

You can read the full article over at the Transport Blog site.

However the two questions in red are the points being raised and I answered over there. My answer was:

John (P) while a great post I think (from experience) the obvious is missing to give our flagging P/T patronage especially our rail patronage good kick until the infrastructure comes on cue over the next 10-30 years.

I take note here:

  1. Why don’t Aucklanders use PT very often?
  2. How do we improve PT usage in Auckland?

Questions that are answered in a number of different posts in this blog! A redesign of the network, and rail electrification, should help boost patronage over the next few years. But the thing is, we should really be aiming to get to where Wellington is now in the short to medium term. Anything less is short-changing ourselves in my opinion.”

Those are the two questions we are all seeking to actually answer and the reason why (to my personal disagreement as well as Councillor Mike Lee not being amused either) AT are about to embark on spending our money on “professional experts” ( http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10855436 ) in finding “fixes” to our rail slump,

 

However again Councillor Mike Lee has hit the nail on the head right here with this comment from another article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10857062

“Mayor Len Brown says the arrival of the trains will be “a huge step on the path towards the kind of integrated transport system an international city like Auckland needs”.

He believes the electric units – which will have greater acceleration and braking power than the existing diesel fleet – will make rail patronage “rocket” and create even more pressure for a 3.5km underground rail extension from Britomart to Mt Eden.

But council transport chairman and veteran electrification campaigner Mike Lee believes the new trains will not be enough to boost flagging patronage unless they are supported by general service improvements, notably far better punctuality and extended weekend timetables, without prohibitive fare rises.

“I would not bank on electric trains in themselves fixing chronic underlying human management problems,” he said.”

 

Basically cutting it short why don’t Aucklanders use P/T much and how do we improve our P/T usage in Auckland? Well the infrastructure part of the answer is being dealt with so to me it is rather irrelevant in this point in time. The actual answer came from Dr Lester Levy – Chair of AT:

Dr Levy said he agreed there was a need for “critical measures” to be adopted and Auckland Transport needed to be far more customer-led in creating a demand for its services.

And there is the answer right there and there – he said it himself: ” Auckland Transport needed to be far more customer-led in creating a demand for its services”

THAT TO ME IS (and excuse the caps) PRIORITY NUMBER ONE above else at the moment.

2013 is going to be long and interesting year getting the patronage back round again. However (and in my opinion (what ever that is worth these days)) we (by we I mean AT, Council, the p/t user, you guys here at the blog, myself, and others who give a damn about our city) can do this – slowly but surely. :D

 

Now I am going to extend the “situation” from another Transport Blog commenter emphasising the point:

George D

But council transport chairman and veteran electrification campaigner Mike Lee believes the new trains will not be enough to boost flagging patronage unless they are supported by general service improvements, notably far better punctuality and extended weekend timetables, without prohibitive fare rises.

He’s right. It doesn’t matter how fast and shiny the trains are if they’re still late and unreliable, and riding them costs more than ever. Every time fares rise, demand decreases – we’ve actually reached the point now where we’ve passed an equilibrium and ridership is decreasing towards a new equilibrium with those who are prepared to pay for a particular level of service.

 

Now since then a few more comments from Transport Blog have come up however I can’t specifically address those issues at the moment.

But as for my point and George D’s point, the writing for Auckland Transport is literally on the (virtual) wall. Improve customer service FIRST (and restore affordability to fares while at it) or all this multi-billion investment in our public transport system is going to be an utter waste if Auckland Transport can not get the basic human to human interaction right. People (both front line staff and passengers) just want to be treated like humans and be able to at least have a pleasant experience on our public transport network – even in times of disruptions. It can be done, it has been done and it is straight forward if the culture (and tools) are there.

 

There will be more said on this matter next month when I front up in front of members of the Auckland Transport Board next month for my RPTP hearing. However 5-minutes doesn’t quite seem long enough to hammer on about the “Customer Service Portal” at this current rate of dissatisfaction out there.

 

As I said: “There will be more said on this matter next month when I front up in front of members of the Auckland Transport Board next month for my RPTP hearing. However 5-minutes doesn’t quite seem long enough to hammer on about the “Customer Service Portal” at this current rate of dissatisfaction out there.”

 

Long way to go folks, long way to go.