Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the latest public transport fare review with some fares going up and some going down. It was probably not the best day to announce the review with the rail system going to crap (some people reporting journeys taking two hours instead of 35 minutes) and Auckland Transport not putting the nuke under Transdev (the operator) in handling the situation properly (ongoing since 2012).
The good people at Transport Blog posted a graphic of the fare movements which I have copied below:
City Link issue aside (consider part of the Alex Swney Saga rolling on) you will notice some “interesting” increases on cash fares on one and two stages for both adult and children. I have seen increases for some AT HOP fares across the board but they are not large enough (in comparison to cash fares) to be of concern (inflation). If you look at the longer trips (5-8 stages) the fares don’t move and if they do not by much.
Now to me this could create an equity issue for short journeys (often the bulk of journey’s outside of the twice a day commute) especially in South and West Auckland that are serviced by the Southern and Western Rail Lines. That said it can apply to buses all over Auckland as well. Why?
Accessibility to AT-HOP
Now I can see where Transport Blog is coming from in that the fare movements provide an incentive to get people onto AT HOP. Problem? It is the accessibility and penetration issue of how AT HOP is provided (something an education campaign could never fix).
Currently HOP Cards are only sold at Train/Transport Ticket Offices (Papakura, Manukau, Panmure, Newmarket, New Lynn and Britomart (also homes to major interchanges) and maybe a very select few retailers beyond that. HOP cards are not sold in very accessible places like all shopping malls and maybe larger retailers in bigger town centres like South Mall – Manurewa which also houses a transport interchange nearby. Furthermore Auckland Transport are a bit slow and should every year should be hitting the schools, churches and big events like Pasifika selling HOP Cards preloaded with credit and coupled with information brochure. Once the HOP cards are sold getting them topped up is easier (more accessible) owing to a wider and growing distribution of retailers that do top ups (apart from Ticket Machines, Ticket Offices or doing it online).
So with the initial purchase of the HOP card not being very accessible in the first place the issue of the public transport system being equitable comes into play.
Why are short trips (that often generate the most traffic especially outside the peaks) being more overtly penalised with cash fares compared to longer trips in a relative sense? As I said it is the shorter trips that will generate the congestion and we should be not penalising the needs for these short trips in any way. To give further weight on the equity issue most Metropolitan Centres (our second tier centres after the City Centre and for sake of argument Manukau City Centre) are within two stages , four if you are wanting to skip to the next one over (Papakura to Sylvia Park as an example).
As an example of accessibility and equity issues with AT-HOP I look at Pasifika that was held in the weekend. As noted above accessibility to HOP cards for those coming in from the South (Homai-Pukekohe) is scare (there is a ticket office at Papakura though) and thus occasional users will get paper tickets. The ticket office and ticket machine at Manukau on the Saturday were flat-out selling paper tickets owing to the accessibility issue with HOP (also Pasifika was an example of the need for the South Link). If the increase in cash fares had just happened I bet a few more people would have clogged the roads as public transport would have been deemed too expensive on cash fares. This would not be an issue if HOP was sold at South Mall and mobile sellers selling HOP loaded with credit at Pasifika.
In conclusion; did Auckland Transport hike the cash fares for public transport a bit too soon? I would argue yes they did especially with equity and accessibility issues with HOP in South and West Auckland.
It would have been wiser for Auckland Transport to deal with the equity and accessibility issue first before hiking the cash fares which in my mind will cause occasional users on short trips to take the car. A rather self-defeating situation and short-sightedness by Auckland Transport yet again.