Major PT Report To NZTA


NZTA has been told in a commissioned report that this country’s public transport systems have the potential to achieve the sort of high levels of patronage enjoyed throughout Europe.

The key recommendations are:

  • Directing competing private sector transport operators to produce best value tenders for the delivery of part, or all, of a publicly planned system.
  • Provide a simple and stable network of lines throughout the day rather than tailor-made services to cope with rush hours.
  • Aim for travel times that are comparable to - or faster than - those could be achieved by car.

One of their biggest complaints is how in Auckland obvious opportunities to coordinate rail and bus timetables are overlooked. (hear, hear!)
Other observations about Auckland  - none of which is new but great to see articulated by experts in an official document - include: (their timetables seem to be from 2008):
  • The train system provided the skeleton of trunk service in the southern and western corridors that, even with current diesel operations, offered competitive travel times when compared with buses.
  • Buses operated in direct competition with the trains. Services were chiefly oriented around city-bound commuter markets, with low frequencies during off-peak periods and in counter-peak travel directions.
  • Many bus services competed directly with trains for travel into the city centre despite trains holding a significant competitive travel-time advantage
  • Outside the Northern Busway, bus services were designed to avoid transfers: a multiplicity of indirect lines were used to link likely origins and destinations. At some locations, timetables referred to transfers and interchanges, but connections with trains were seldom well designed or encouraged
  • Most bus services followed very indirect routes, which had a negative impact on patronage levels.
  • Where the bus services followed more direct routes, such as the lines operating along Dominion Road in central Auckland, which largely followed the routes of the old tram services, patronage was significantly higher – more than could be attributed to the minimal differences in adjacent land use.
  • Around Britomart, and along Queen St from the waterfront to the Town Hall, the complex layout of stops for different lines created confusion for passengers. There seemed to be little focus in bus route designs to facilitate the distribution of passengers from stations at Mt Eden and Boston Road to destinations in the southern end of the CBD.
  • The LinkBus line around the CBD followed an indirect route and had a relatively slow speed because of competition with cars for road space, the midblock location of stops, and an absence of priority at traffic signals.
  • There was a bewildering array of tickets available for travel on public transport in Auckland
  • Customers wishing to combine a ferry trip with other public transport services  experience problems of timetable coordination.

The paper is from academics from Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the University of Melbourne, and the Institute of Transport Economics in Oslo, Sweden and Massey University’s School of Environment and Planning,’s Dr Imran Muhammad.

They advocate a network approach to the design of public transport services to increase patronage and reduce the need for taxpayer subsidies.

“Network planning maximises the network’s flexibility for travellers, by making it quick and easy for them to transfer between different services and modes,” Dr Muhammad says “As a result, the services are more attractive and better patronised, and the subsidy required from the government reduces.

“Traditional public transport planning has treated transfers [between different modes of transport] as an inconvenience to be avoided at all costs, but the network approach makes them the building blocks of a multi-destinational system.”

To better understand what it was about network planning that made it so important, and how this could be applied in a local context, the research compared New Zealand’s three main cities - Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - with three cities with three cities with similar characteristics in terms of urban form, demographics and public transport infrastructure - Vancouver, Zurich and Schaffhaussen.

“The comparisons revealed that New Zealand’s three largest urban regions have considerable potential to build on the increases in public transport patronage and mode share that have been achieved during the last decade,” Dr Muhammad says. “Encouragingly, the greatest potential for improvement seemed to lie with non-traditional trip types, which could be accommodated without imposing commensurate increases in capital and operating costs.”

In Auckland and Wellington this had been undermined by private operators under the guise of commercial services, which had hampered efforts at coordinating services and allowed competition between different transport modes to continue.

New Lynn's new transport hub tries to marry bus with rail timetables

Practical experience in the international comparator cities and elsewhere suggests key areas of change that would improve public transport service planning in New Zealand cities:

  • Appropriate institutions and public processes
  • Establish a public agency to plan the network across the whole urban region.
  • Redirect private-sector competition into producing best-value tenders for the delivery of part,or all, of a publicly planned system.
  • Use well-designed public education and consultation programmes to manage changes.
  • Provide a simple fare system that avoids the imposition of penalties for transfers.
They suggest:
Network structure:
  • Provide a simple and stable network of lines throughout the day.
  • Base mode choice for different lines in the network on required capacity, comfort and speed.
  • Consider locations for suburban interchanges on the basis of predicted travel patterns and efficient vehicle operations.
Network operations
  • Simplicity and directness:
- Organise the network on the principle of ‘one section – one line’.
- Avoid deviations in the physical routes chosen for bus services.
  • Provide pendulum lines through key activity centres and interchanges.

Speed and reliability:

- Aim for travel speeds comparable to, or faster than, door-to-door travel times that can be achieved by car.

- Provide on-road signal and traffic-lane priority to allow buses to meet connections.

- Aim to have vehicles stopping only as required to pick up and drop off passengers.


- Establish ’forget-the-timetable’ headways (10 minutes or less) in key travel corridors.

- Set up integrated timetables outside high-frequency areas.

Location of stops and access to services:

- Carefully plan the location of stops to minimise the number of stops and ensure their optimal location in relation to major trip attractors, intersecting lines and pedestrian accessways.

- Locate stops in car-free precincts close to important destinations, to give public transport a significant competitive advantage.

- Change current access to ‘trunk’ services from ‘park-and-ride’ facilities to access by walking, bicycle, or feeder bus, in order to cater for long-term growth in patronage.

- Ensure that walking distances between services in interchanges are very short: preferably no more than 10 metres.

Marketing for first-time and occasional users:

- Create a simple line structure that makes the network easy to understand.

- Use maps, on-line information, vehicle livery and on-board displays to reinforce understanding of the line layout and transfer opportunities.

While Auckland and Vancouver were compared, the report noted that many transport analysts regard Zurich as the ‘benchmark’ city for public transport.

While Zurich has a substantial inner-city tram system and an extensive suburban rail network, this  infrastructure is not remarkable by European standards. Observers agree that the critical factor behind Zurich’s superior performance is the very comprehensive network planning covering the city and canton. Excellent services are provided not just for CBD commuters, but for offpeak, cross-city and inter-suburban travellers as well.

And, like most other relatively successful European and North American cities, the ‘offer’ to Zurich citizens of an attractive public transport network is supported by restrictive policies for such measures as parking and road space allocation for cars, which add to the comparative advantage of public transport over car travel for many trips.

In comparing our cities with overseas cities -such as Auckland with Vancouver, the report notes the degree of prominence given to public transport by regional and higher-level governments in the comparator cities. The upgrades to public transport in Vancouver, Zurich and Schaffhausen had come as the result of region-wide debates about transport policy that began in the 1970s.

Public transport was seen as the priority mode for urban travel, rather than just a supplement to the automobile. This focus on public transport being the preferred mode for urban travel generally reinforced the network approach, which was designed to provide convenient service for the full range of trip types.

The report says that until recently, public transport in New Zealand has been treated as a ‘back-up’ mode to the automobile, for the disadvantaged and city-centre commuters. There are signs of a shift in philosophy in the largest New Zealand cities, beginning in Christchurch and now extending to the North Island.

“However, we found that the public transport infrastructure and operating patterns in all three New Zealand cities still showed the impact of the long period of relative neglect.”




  1. joust says:

    Good stuff. Sounds like the study was pretty comprehensive. Interesting reading.

  2. Nick R says:

    Hmm, nothing new here for us in the blogosphere, but at least the powers that be have it down on paper. By the content and comparison cities this must be the work of Paul Mees right?
    I just had another lecture by him last week, such an entertaining speaker! If anyone gets the chance to hear one of his talks then they should.

  3. Chris R says:

    Joyce won’t like this!

  4. Simon says:

    @ChrisR He especially won`t like the part that plays up the importance of local authorities etc in treating public transport as an equal rather than a “back up to cars”. To me that`s the key part of the article above - and that`s what should be played up in the media because while it might not be news to people on here, so many Aucklanders, even those using PT, for all the good stuff happening in PT in Auckland, still regard it as a back up to the car. So for many Aucklanders to read what PT should be considered as, as laid out in this report would I think surprise them greatly. It shows I think that the great majority of Aucklanders as well as our central government, are still PT neanderthals despite the improvement. That`s always shown when average Aucklanders show amazement that they could go somewhere comfortably by train for instance. I always chuckle to myself and think people in other countries take such a thing for granted as they are so used to doing it day in day out!

  5. LucyJH says:

    Yeah, where is it Jon C? would love to have a look


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