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The BulletinApril 26, 2023

Is Auckland Transport holding itself properly accountable?


As the city’s public transport woes continue, there are calls for AT to do more to show it grasps the huge scale of the problem, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

User satisfaction with Auckland transport hits a low

Heading back to work after a day off is always tough – it’s even tougher when you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders who rely on public transport to get to work. According to RNZ’s live counter, embedded here, a total of 1040 Auckland buses were cancelled on Monday, and the number has been roughly the same for months. No wonder user satisfaction is at an all-time low. As Toby Manhire reports this morning on The Spinoff, in one week in March, just 19% of respondents to a survey of Hop card customers said they were satisfied with public transport services in Auckland, the worst result in the survey’s history. In an internal note accompanying the figures, an Auckland Transport (AT) specialist wrote that “customers are losing confidence in our ability to provide an acceptable service, with some commenting that it is no longer worth it to use public transport”. AT’s Mark Lambert tells Manhire he understands users’ frustration. “I’m a regular public transport user too and I appreciate that it is tough at the moment with the state of the network,” he says. But with driver recruitment improving and efforts to improve rail alternatives underway, “there is a light at the end of the tunnel”.

Where’s the accountability?

The RNZ data viz linked to above has been reporting bus cancellations for three weeks now – a valuable service, but one that AT should be publishing themselves, writes Matt Lowrie of the transport blog Greater Auckland, “in order to show that they understand the issue, as well as the things they’re doing to try and make the situation better”. Writing in the Herald, Simon Wilson (paywalled) agrees that AT needs to exercise a lot more self accountability. His off-the-wall suggestion, inspired by a recent Harry Styles transport disaster: AT should promise to pay for an Uber if your bus doesn’t come. “What a financial and logistical nightmare that would be, day after day, writ large across the city,” Wilson admits. “But hear me out. A promise to pay for Ubers will force AT to do whatever it takes to fix the bus services.” Wilson doesn’t agree with Mayor Wayne Brown on a lot, but he does back Brown’s view that AT has focused on expensive infrastructure while ignoring easy wins. “Brown argues that compared to building new projects, squeezing all the potential out of what’s already there has been badly neglected. He is right.”

Cyclists put at risk by public transport failures

Poor public transport encourages more cars onto the road, which risks putting more cyclists in harm’s way. That risk was highlighted this week with the revelation that the actual rate of cyclist injuries in Auckland could be seven times higher than official figures. According to a report requested by AT’s board, “it is clear that there is a big issue with under-reporting in the system”. The news comes as bike lanes fall victim to the council’s cost-cutting drive, including the proposed cycle path between Point Chevalier and Grey Lynn, shelved as part of the re-scoping of the wide-ranging Inner West Projects. Writes Hayden Donnell, a cycle path supporter, there’s some truth to the criticism that too much council money is being spent on “gold-standard infrastructure” for wealthy inner-city suburbs like Westmere and Grey Lynn, and not enough on places like Papakura and Henderson. “It’s time to defund Ponsonby and give it to the suburbs doing their bit,” he argues.

Bus cancellations in Wellington not as bad as originally thought

It’s not just Auckland buses that RNZ data journalist Farah Hancock has been investigating. Her ongoing series has looked at Wellington bus cancellations too, finding that Wellington experienced an average of 448 cancellations each weekday during February. But Metlink, Wellington’s transport operator, tells Hancock the problems “are not as severe as Metlink’s own data had initially suggested”. A tech issue had caused the number of cancellations to be overstated, and there were also “some errors in RNZ’s analysis”. “Our updated analysis produced different results for Wellington. It shows an average of 296 daily cancellations in Wellington on a typical weekday,” Hancock writes.

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