Photos: Adorable Ella on her way to kindy & my neighbour Chris who has used AT Local over 600 times.
The day our third child finally starts primary school (in 67 days to be exact) my husband and I will be popping the bubbles. We have earned it.
Motherhood, in those early years, wasn’t something I was particularly adept at. I often envied those mums that made it look easy, knowing that I made it look like the most stressful job on the planet. I think my husband probably shed tears of relief when I conceded it was time to head back to work.
After my second child turned one I started to look through SEEK. I was after a part-time, flexible, engaging job (was I being too picky?). As the primary care giver (as women predominantly are) it would fall on me to be the one to drop off and pick up the children from their preschool, or rapidly drop what I was doing in response to a toddler-sized health crisis. This responsibility was something I willingly accepted because I still wanted to be as present as I could, meeting my children’s various needs.
Finding a job with such specific requirements was not easy. In a city as big as Auckland, where 800 additional cars are added to the roads every week, transport and access was soon included to that list of criteria. In my case, I did get that particular job and was lucky to do so, but it dawned on me that my return-to-work-checklist was probably the same for many mothers (or primary caregivers) wanting to re-enter the workforce. And therein lies the rub.
Where local jobs are few and far between working women are forced to widen their search and their ability to do that is dependent upon transport and access. How easy is it to get to work, and how easy is it to respond to a daycare drama or sick-bay situation? Typically coupled with a strong desire to make more environmentally sustainable choices, what women are seeking from their work commute is often different to their male counterparts.
With that challenge in mind, it stands to reason that I want to meet the brains behind Auckland Transport’s AT Local trial and give them the best kind of high five. The sort of high five where every digit connects in the space in-between and the ‘clap’ leaves a warm prickle in the palm of your hand. This is rare indeed, but it indicates how awesome I found AT Local to be; and I was not alone.
AT Local ran as a 2-year trial offering locals on the Devonport Peninsula an unparalleled public transport service - an on-demand electric rideshare vehicle that collected individuals from anywhere within a designated area and delivered them to the ferry terminal (or other destination). It was rapid, reliable, comfortable and made the most of clean energy. At times I made friends and often caught rides with neighbours. It was social and it was community building. It was all kinds of awesome. Importantly, for many local parents, it was the portal through which they could access every employment opportunity our country’s biggest city could offer in the CBD.
From its inception the Local Board should have championed the concept because if it proved successful (which it did), Devonport Peninsula may have been able to retain it, and better still, it could have been replicated in other areas where access is lacking. It was an innovative solution that offered the type of public transport ease working parents are so in need of.
When consultation went out on whether or not to retain the AT Local in some form, the majority of responses were in favour of doing so. Majority too were women (55% + some who preferred not to say) and for the first time ever we saw massive engagement from the under 65s (76% with majority sitting in the 35-54-year groups) Sadly, due to the ongoing cost, and inability for the service to grow as demand grows, it was decided that AT Local would cease in favour of a better designed bus service. This leaves a bunch of AT Local users having to rethink the way they get to work, as not all in the AT Local area can access the new bus network, and indeed 188 of the 704 responses said they’ll now have to start driving their own private vehicle. One mother emailed me with her quandary:
"For environmental, financial and access to transit reasons my family made the conscious decision to be a single vehicle family. Having the AT Local available to us, was a factor in that decision. I rely heavily on the AT Local service to get to and from work as well as to and from my daughter’s Kindy (which is not directly accessible by bus) anywhere from 2-4 days per week.
As of February 27th, in order to get her to Kindy, we are going to have to drop our oldest daughter at school, wait for the 814 Bus which will take us only to the corner of Robertson Ave and Lake Road. We will then have to walk 15-20 minutes to the Kindy. We will be late. After drop-off, I will have to reverse the process in order to get to work in the village. While I understand that this is doable, the whole process ends up taking approximately 90 minutes for what is effectively a 2.6km journey with a pre-schooler. This therefore does not allow me to start work until 10am. If I have to repeat the process for pick-up, I am forced to finish work at around 1:45pm (bus schedule dependent) and have to pull my youngest out of Kindy early so that we can be on-time to pick up my oldest."
This genuine predicament that we’ve forced one family in to is not an isolated one, it’s one of many and I received plenty of emails, calls and messages from working parents whose households are mourning the loss of this enabling public transport service.
As an app-based public transport offer, AT Local was not widely used by those over 65 (who are in fairness, big public transport users). Many found the service to be overly complex, requiring a degree of digital literacy that some did not possess. Given my own 10-year refuses to let me use the remote because I keep pressing the wrong buttons, I’m increasingly understanding this dilemma. Auckland Council and Auckland Transport take access incredibly seriously (and rightly so), but I’d like to set a challenge and ask that ALL barriers that ALL individuals have in accessing public transport, be they real or perceived, are addressed in our public transport network design. Public transport shouldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ model, because some barriers to transport impact not just an individual but at times whole families. Those barriers may be the difference between whether a parent works or not, or whether a child has a parent ready and waiting at school pick up. In my view, AT Local was a great success, and if it ever returns, I’ll have another reason to be popping the bubbles, and I'm sure many locals will want to join me.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.