Experts called in to fix rail slump

By Mathew Dearnaley


Auckland Transport is resorting to professional help for a strategy on how to stop losing patronage from trains and buses.


Chief operations officer Greg Edmonds has promised to provide his board with a plan early next year on how to staunch bleeding which saw a 17.2 per cent decline in train boardings last month compared with the previous November.


That followed concern raised by Auckland Council transport leader Mike Lee, which was acknowledged by new board chairman Lester Levy, about a need to lift service performance.


Mr Lee said patronage, which was boosted last year by the Rugby World Cup, started "flat-lining" in March and the organisation was starting to see a distinctive downward trajectory.


"I don't think this is sustainable without Auckland Transport intervening in a decisive way," he said.


"One of the measures of quality is punctuality or train performance and, while the price of our services is high, quality tends to be poor consistently."


Mr Lee said the board, on which he is a council appointee, had been assured a new timetable would improve rail performance and that the rollout of the new Hop transport card on trains would combat fare evasion.


But the board heard that train punctuality deteriorated last month to 84.1 per cent of services running to schedule, compared with 87.1 per cent in October, and he said rail staff were having difficulties stopping free-riding passengers.


He had been told of fare evasion as some people were presenting their Hop cards to train staff to avoid paying their way. This did not apply to Britomart or Newmarket, which have become gated stations.


"Busy, harassed train managers trying to collect fares are shown a Hop card and they move on," he said.


"The person may have paid $5 [in a since-expired half-price opening deal] for a card and, according to rail staff, they are using it to evade fares.


"There are electronic checkers but they are slow and cumbersome and there's not enough of them."


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.


"From the board's point of view, this won't go away - it's the number one issue," he said.


Mr Edmonds acknowledged that rail punctuality needed to be well over 90 per cent, and the council body was employing professional advisers for a report to the board's first meeting of next year on how to improve performance.


Auckland Transport was also recruiting service managers for each of its three public transport modes - trains, buses and ferries - who would be directly responsible for boosting patronage, although the looming transition to electric trains would present new challenges.


Board member Mike Williams said the Northern Busway was also suffering patronage losses.

- The Aucklander

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