Monday, January 07, 2013

The Trains, The Trains!

Oh dear, not even two weeks into 2013 and I'm having a second rant already... doesn't bode well...

OK, so today was my first day back at work, admittedly somewhat electively (wanted to get some things done during the day that would normally need out-of-hours outages. And I want to get along to the girls school camps later in the year.) and I knew the trains were going to be fun...

In case you hadn't heard, many of the Auckland stations are currently being upgraded (putting up awnings/roofs that actually might be waterproof... somewhat essential in Auckland) and they're also in the middle of finally electrifying the Auckland rail network (is it just me, or is it about time they linked all the electrified bits of the main trunk line?), so there's construction all over the place and busses replacing trains between Newmarket and Britomart.

So I get to my station early (Greenlane), just in time to watch a train pull out, doh! But another one arrives in about 5 minutes, ahead of what I was expecting (I thought it was supposed to be a Sunday timetable still), so I was stoked at the prospect of getting into work early.

The train pulls up at Newmarket and everyone's off, most looking find the busses into Britomart. Of course, getting out of Britomart requires swiping your AT (travel) card at the barriers, so you've only been charged for the trip to Newmarket, but then, they're inconveniencing us with busses, so that's fair. We sardine onto the bus, with most people left behind for the next bus. There's no ticket inspection, though I did proffer my AT card.

OK, so far so good, I'm easily on time and we're moving.
Then we hit Kyber Pass Road, and stop, and move forward a bus length, then stop. 35 minutes later!, we get to the Grafton Station (on the road past the hospital), where a) the bus driver asks if anyone wants to get off (no-one does) and b) we see two empty busses waiting to take people from the Grafton Station to Britomart. Turns out there's roadworks all over Kyber Pass and basically no-one is using Grafton Station (I guess most of it's customers would be from the Hospital and perhaps Uni), so that was a good choice of route, given that Uni is off for summer and I'd like to think it's relatively quiet at the moment.

Finally we get to Britomart, the bus dropping us off next to where we should catch it back home again, all-in-all a 45 minute trip and I'm late for work. BTW the train would take about 5 minutes...

OK, so then, later in the day, it's home time. I head off to catch the bus/train home, from the same place I'd been dropped off at, in the morning.
There's a huge queue of people and three busses, turns out they're using an normal bus stop and most of the people there are waiting for the normal bus, because a quick query to one of the half-dozen Auckland Transport staff reveals that the front bus is heading to Britomart, so I jump on, flashing my AT card (it was more than enough in the morning, so I figured it was the protocol for going home too) and take a seat (yup, not quite sardines this time).

As we head off to Newmarket (again via Grafton, where again no-one gets on or off) a ticket conductor springs out of no-where and starts working his way up from the back of the bus. Now you can't buy tickets on trains anymore (you have to have an AT card [which most people seem to have], or buy a paper printed ticket on the platform - or the manned booths at some of the bigger stations) and yet, this guy is wandering through the bus trying to get people to buy paper tickets, with cash. Every second person protests and tries to explain that all they have is an AT card (with either stored cash, or a monthly pre-pay), they're getting grumpy and so is he. Turns out, if you're using a cashed AT card, they expect you to go to Britomart, go down two escalators and swipe, but not go through, a gate, then come all the way back out of Britomart and off to the bus, where you say "yes sir, I have swiped my AT card at Britomart), otherwise you get a scowl and two attempts to extract cash before he moves along (monthly users only get asked for cash once).
The trips not too long, about 15 minutes, which is probably about what it should be for this time of year.

Then it's into Britomart, past the dozen or so AT Transport staff, sitting around the square, mostly smoking, swipe through the gates and down to the platform, where two trains await (both covering my stop) with the first to leave in a couple of minutes, the second about 5 minutes later. I get on the former and take a seat. About five minutes later, we haven't left and there's an announcement that the crew hasn't arrived for the train.
So I jump off and climb onto the other train, the doors close a moment later, to an announcement that the other train has been cancelled due to "operational difficulties". I guess the crews in the square didn't make it back from smoke-o in time...

I get off at my stop and swipe off the platform and get home about 25 minutes later than if I'd only had to catch the train, not too bad all things considered.

So where's this going? After all that's a lot of drivel I've put you through so far!
Today was the first day back at work for a lot of people, but next Monday will be way worse as most offices in the CBD will be properly open, if not fully staffed, but the busses will still be replacing trains. So unless Auckland Transport get their act together, there's going to be a lot of annoyed commuters.

And it's not like Auckland Transport have a good rep, with frequent delays and multiple outages of the entire rail network (caused by system failures in Wellington apparently) and we wont even talk about what happened during the Rugby World Cup....

But what can they do?
Set expectations?
Set up swipe posts at the bus stops (or better yet, get them on the busses, you're going to have to do it anyway when the systems finally merge) or give your conductors mobile units, don't expect people to have to revert to a system you've just spent months telling people is gone.
Use your stats to tell you where people are likely to be going, so you don't run your busses via overly long tedious routes.
Don't expect people to pay more for a worse experience.
If you're still expecting a single swipe-on and off for a multiple hop/vehicle journey, then you've got to provide a way to get from one mode of transport to the next. And that's just not happing currently.

Oh well, back to work again tomorrow...

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