All hail the taxi: quick fix or solution?
For a public transport organisation, Auckland Transport has a complicated relationship with private transportation methods. The spending of almost $20,000 on taxis to Harry Styles’ concert when the bus service was overloaded is no exception. In the past year, headlines have read “AT advises locals to drive to event,” or “Ferries out of action: replaced by taxis,” and even “Auckland Transport pays $100K for cars between offices.” Compounded by a letter from our mayor dearest asking AT to put private interests first, it is easy to see why they do this. But is it just bandages on a deeper wound?
Everyone in Auckland knows the story: the system is broken. It is expensive, overloaded, and unreliable. Only about a third of buses in the area show up on time—but it’s okay, if it arrives within a fifteen-minute window around the scheduled time, then AT considers it reliable. The average speed of a public bus during peak times is about 24kmph, and the scheduling calculator is not well equipped to adjust to increased traffic volumes. That is not even accounting for access: urban bus routes are allowed to space their stops anywhere up to 3km apart, creating areas where car usage becomes a necessity for modern life. With railway upgrades closing much of the network this year, trains are not much better.
The question becomes, if you know there is going to be a big event, and weeks in advance you announce that you will be unprepared, is it right to drop a quick fix with taxi cabs? About 1000 people needed transportation to Mount Smart Stadium for Harry Styles. That is only 22 buses or just ten double-decker services. A 2012 Transportation Group report found that buses cost just under $30 an hour to operate. We can adjust, for the 28% inflation since then, to $38.50. Putting all the maths together, my 22 regular buses would have to be ferrying people for a full 24 hours before the concert before they lost more money than the taxis. None of this is to mention the extra congestion caused by all those taxis on the road. My 22 buses would take up roughly the space of 66 cars instead of clogging the roads with hundreds.
But it is not that simple: there’s a supply problem. There are only 1700 bus drivers in Auckland for a network designed for 2200 drivers. A recent pay rise to $26.87 has been unable to attract people to the highly stressful job, in which abuse has become increasingly common since the pandemic began. And thus, the Auckland Transport executives were given a choice: successfully draw more money out of a downsizing council, or cut down. Unsurprisingly, socialism lost, and the system is in cost-saving mode.
The problem is how we view Public Transport. Its impacts are remote to its activities. It seems only to get a person from here to there and get a small concession out of them when they hop off. But the truth is, of course, that what that person does moves the world. It brings money to businesses, students of all ages home, and the elderly to wherever they fancy for the day. There is no reason why each business, organisation, or parent should not provide extra funds to ensure that this can continue. Or perhaps, each concert organiser and goer, willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket, could just pay a two-dollar bus ticket too. The AT budget shortfall would be fixed with just $25 from each person in Auckland. That’s the cost of one 6km taxi each.
Instead of increasing a reliance on comparatively more expensive private vehicle fleets as the budget gaps become more pronounced, it appears that it is time to step up and take a deeper look into transport.