NZ Bus is New Zealand’s largest public transport operator with bus services in the Auckland and Wellington regions.
The Company has over 1000 buses, 7 depots and employs approximately 2000 people. It provides approximately 55-60 million trips a year.
In November 2005 Infratil acquired the New Zealand public transport interests of Stagecoach plc for $252 million.
The attraction to Infratil was NZ Bus’s positioning in a sector likely to grow due to social and political pressure for more and better public transport and less use of the private car.
The transition from the “poor cousin” form of urban mobility to the preferred mode will require a comprehensive change in all aspects of the service, its regulation and its relationship with users.
Under the previous owners, NZ Bus was very efficient and low cost. While it is apparent that efficiency is a necessary feature of a successful bus service, to be successful it must also be popular with users. For public transport tobe the preferred mode of urban transport, it isn’t enough to be cheap, it must also be liked.
For NZ Bus that means getting its entire team focussed on the customer, on the person catching the bus.
A Better Way To Urban Mobility
The attraction of buses as a source of urban mobility include:
- Roads encourage cars which cause congestion. It has become apparent that the solution to enhanced urban mobility is not more road and vehicles but more people per vehicle which will mean that less road space will be required to move the same number of people.
- As fuel prices rise it becomes more cost efficient to replace single occupant cars with multiple occupant buses.
- Studies indicate that a trip taken on a bus results in less than 10% of the CO2 emissions of the same trip taken by car.
- Buses are a low cost and flexible means of increasing public transport. Trains, trams and light rail are significantly more expensive and tend to be less fuel efficient (the vehicles weigh a lot more than a bus).
Better Quality Bus Public TransportOver the last century cars came to represent individual freedom and self expression. Now, growing awareness of the social, economic and environmental negatives of unrestrained car use is resulting in a pre-prioritisation of public transport. This change of focus will not see buses immediately supplant cars, but ultimately the disadvantages of private car use will result in a shift of urban mobility to public transport, with the speed of this transition greatly influenced by the quality of public transport.
Better bus public transport is the goal, and after two years of ownership, Infratil anticipates that NZ Bus will deliver some palpably better service in 2008. In part due to its own efforts to enhance the quality of its operations, in part because its partners amongst the Auckland and Wellington regional and city councils are also working on enhancments.
- New and better buses. In 2007 NZ Bus refurbished its largest service, Auckland’s central city Link. 20 new, latest-technology low emission buses were purchased. They were especially designed and set up for the service and drivers received special training. While this initiative took over a year to complete and cost almost $8 million, it has appreciably enhanced the service quality for its users, who take 2.5 million trips per annum. The success of this improvement has encouraged NZ Bus to place orders for a substantial number of additional buses. Over 60 have been placed on firm order and well over twice that number are optioned.
- In addition to new low-emission diesels, NZ Bus is also renewing its Wellington fleet of 62 electric trolley buses.
- Improved driver training, monitoring and management. Drivers are being helped to ensure that users enjoy their trip and monitoring and incentives are being introduced to ensure this is effective.
- Better systems. Such as GPS tracking of bus location and computerized optimization of timetables.
- Real time information. Rather than just a cardboard timetable, information will be available as to when a bus will actually be at a particular stop and how long the journey will take.
- Roads and intersections which prioritize buses over cars. Lanes that can only be used by buses. Intersection lights which give buses right of way.
The Regional Authority then determines what additional services the region requires. These additional services are offered to operators on the basis that the operator will be contracted to provide the service on specific terms and will receive a subsidy.The overriding goal of these changes is a better bus service; one that is more reliable, quicker, more frequent, more comfortable and generally in accord with user needs.
The changes will start to have an appreciable impact in 2008 but it will take time to make them comprehensive.
The Operating & Regulatory Environment.
At present anyone who wishes to undertake an urban bus service may do so by registering it with the relevant Regional Council or Transport Authority who will ensure that minimum quality and safety standards are met. The Authority also has some limited rights to withhold the registration on other grounds, which is seldom exercised.
This contracting in of services is done via competitive tenders. This model has worked to provide very efficient urban public transport. However, with both central and local government wanting to substantially improve the quality of bus services, changes to the regulatory environment are occurring.
At present the final form of these changes are not certain. The objectives of better public transport, value for money, better information, and better integration of services are all desirable. However, some of the proposed means to these laudable ends are unfortunately reminiscent of centrally planned economies and like all such models will inevitably become bureaucratic, cumbersome and inefficient.
The final form of the rules have yet to be decided and will depend on the final form of a Bill which is now before Parliament.
Recent Lessons, Wellington
Wellington city residents are the leading users of buses in New Zealand and Australia. On average each Wellingtonian takes 101 bus trips a year. A lot of these trips are discretionary, people like the services, it isn’t just because it is cheap or they don’t own a car. Over the last decade buses share of urban trips has increased, ie. has grown faster than has car use.
This state of affairs reflects a relatively high level of investment in services by the regional council over a long period of time, the popularity of electric buses over diesels, low fares, generally good quality services, and the tendency of public transport use to become a habit.
In late 2006 this benign situation suffered a jolt. In August 2006 NZ Bus provided over 2 million rides in Wellington, the first time this level had been achieved and about 150,000 more rides than the same month in 2005. Unfortunately between 2005 and 2006 there had been few improvements to either the quality or quantity of the services. Those extra people on the buses meant they ran slower (more people getting on and off), frequently could not pick people up (they were over full), and were crowded and uncomfortable. In September 2006 the regional council allowed the first fare increase in 6 years, the price of petrol fell, and a lot of disgruntled passengers got off the bus and have stayed off.
The message is clear. To be able to grow patronage, the bus service must have spare capacity available and the overall quality of the service must meet users’ expectations. Both the quality and quantity of Wellington’s bus services will be increasing in 2008. NZ Bus, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Wellington City Council are committed to working towards enhancements.