I'm having a commuting crisis due to rubbish Auckland trains, the very trains I once so loved. Here's why
Dear Auckland Transport, Veolia and all those others who make up the mish-mash of operators and overseers of Auckland trains.
I like trains. I really do. I've been commuting to and from work on them for the past four years. I talk to people about them in social occasions. Just yesterday I took an American visitor on the Eastern Line and as we chugged across the estuary with water on either side of the tracks, I waxed lyrical about what must be one of the most attractive commuter rides in the world.
But your service and perpetual lateness is driving me off the rails. When I was just riding the Eastern Line for nine minutes, I could deal with the reliable unreliability; being a couple of minutes late even suited my own, sometimes fluid, sense of time.
There were those few conference calls I was late for and the like, but they were few and far between and I got good at running between work and/or the car and the station when necessary.
But I've got a new job and I have to change lines. Frankly, connecting train lines in Auckland these days is harder than connecting flights at LAX (and anyone who's tried that knows it's an exquisitely awful form of torture). Most days I'm losing 20 minutes of working time due to late trains.
Let me tell you a few stories about this year... Like the time we got removed from the train at Newmarket due to a fire drill or emergency (it was never clear) and how we were told the train would wait, only to see it chug off after 10 minutes. After 15 minutes the fire doors closed (great sense of urgency there) and your security and station staff stood around not saying a word to the 30-odd people waiting beside them. It was 40 minutes before we got shunted onto buses and into taxis. And even then I only got a ride because I kept asking questions.
But the more daily frustration is your lateness. See, you've got this cute way of measuring performance. You say that scheduling success is to be on time "or within five minutes of schedule".
Even then Veolia's latest figures, from December, have the train company hitting the mark only 83 percent of the time across all its lines, below the target of 85%. Again. On the Western Line, which I connect to each morning, it's down at 75 percent. Auckland Transport, what's the penalty for this? What about a free day of transport for passengers every month they miss that target?
I mean, most companies if they repeatedly fail to meet targets and let down customers suffer some financial pain as a result. I always feel something of a fool as I tag on each day knowing that I've just paid for something, but have no idea whether it will be delivered on time, or even at all. Like Herald columnist Peter Lyons, I frequently stand on the train thinking, "I shouldn't have to pay for this". Unlike him I've never simply refused to pay. Having read that column, I reckon he's a bit of a hero, really. The commuter's Braveheart who dared stand against the mighty foe.
Oh, I've pointed out Veolia's failings to train staff - who for all I know work for MAXX or someone else - but what good is that? I pay to get from A to B at a certain time; if I'm not getting that, why should I pay full fare?
Given the new card technology, what about Veolia having to put a quarter or half of every far back into our accounts if we travellers are on a train that's more than five minutes late? If it only takes a second to swipe away a few dollars, it's surely possible to create software that returns part of the fee just as quickly.
This morning my first train was eight minutes late. When I got to Britomart my next train was running three minutes behind schedule. I could see it on another platform and started to run. I got to its platform just in time to see it pull away.
That happens quite a lot. It's happened twice this week already. Which tells me you're not even thinking about people connecting between lines. Surely if one train has arrived and another is due to go, it's worth waiting a few seconds for those who want to switch from one to another?
I've also sat in late trains outside the Britomart tunnel watching and waiting while the train I was meant to connect to is allowed to leave first.
So you see, five minutes matters quite a lot when you're going from one train to another; especially when it's 18 minutes until the next train. And yes, I've tried going a train earlier, but several times that train hasn't even shown up.
I don't want to get back in my car. But having got a ride with a colleague I know that I can get into work in about half an hour in the car. The train commute should be about 45 minutes. But it's taking me an hour at the moment.
I pay $8.20 for my trains each day, but there's this cheap carpark on offer round the corner for $7 a day. So tell me, please, why I should stick with you?
Yes, the inner city link would be great. I wouldn't have to connect, but could just keep going through Britomart and out the other side. So I'm looking forward to that. When there's a change of government. Because, let's be honest, you've been unable to budge this lot. I imagine it'll arrive about the same time as my next train.