That's the good news. Not so good news is the concerns being raised that Te Huia may be in "jeopardy".
Stuffed reports, "The Hamilton to Auckland passenger train will be in 'jeopardy' if passenger numbers don’t improve…Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimmington admitted traveller numbers are 'a shocker'."
Russ Rimmington is quoted as saying, "We’ve got to get our heads around it…If there’s a change of Government, and we don’t improve patronage, this service will be in jeopardy”.
Seems Russ thinks it will continue if Labour remains in office - even if it's not viable - and he is probably right about that. But it is disturbing that the Chairman of the Waikato Regional Council is still trying to get his head around the problem with Te Huia.
Russ, here's the problem. No one wants to ride on the bloody train…because it's too slow, the tickets cost too much, the departure times are too inconvenient, it does not get them to where they want to go, and the service is not customer friendly. It really is no more complicated than that.
Actually, it's not quite right to say no one wants to ride on the train. Some are and judging by the numbers they are most likely Super Gold cardholders getting a free ride on the Saturday service. That would explain why Saturday is the busiest day and will be busier once Gold Card holders have figured out how to load the Gold Card onto something called a Bee Card, so the Gold Card becomes a Bee Card so the Bee Card becomes a free pass card, but only on a Saturday.
As to being customer-friendly, here are some extracts from the FAQs page of the Te Huia website.
Are there separate fares for children? No. In July 2021, the Waikato Regional Council [which Russ chairs] removed child fares in favour of a single Bee Card or cash fare to simplify the system.
Is there a loyalty/rewards programme? No.
Can I get a discounted fare if I am a regular user? No.
Is there a discount if I buy a return ticket? No.
Can I buy my cash ticket online? No. Cash fares are only available to purchase onboard the train.
Can I book a seat in advance? No. Te Huia is a public transport service operating on a first-in, first-served basis for general seating.
So let’s get this straight. Is there a loyalty programme? No. Discount for good customers? No. A concession rate for kids? No. Or a family pass perhaps? No. Can I reserve a window seat? No. Any other response than no? No. Well, that's not quite right either. There were some "Yes" responses, like: "If I am going further than Papakura on weekdays, will I have to pay two fares? Yes if you are travelling on a weekday you will need to buy another ticket from the Auckland Metro Network on another train or bus to get from Papakura to downtown Auckland".
So how would "No" work for a business that actually understands their viability relies on customers? Not well I would suggest; which is probably why most businesses would respond like this to the above questions: "Yes, off course we do and we do appreciate your business. Is there anything else I can do for you? Have a nice day and I look forward to seeing you again".
In business, little things matter - like understanding the needs of your customer, and tailoring a product or service that meets those needs, so those customers come back time and time again and say good things about you to others so they become your customers too.
Coming from the political world, Russ and the Transport Minister Michael Wood may not be quite onboard with the notion of customer service. Customer satisfaction may not be a dynamic within their world view and may not frame what they do every day, but it may be useful to understand why Te Huia passenger numbers are a "shocker".
According to the National Party, Te Huia has an average daily revenue of $1,559 (which is probably less than the takings of your average corner dairy) and daily costs of $25,932 (about $9.5m a year). Realistically, there is no way the figures can work, even if passenger numbers rise because it was such a poorly thought out proposal.
According to Newshub, the Government has put more than $80 million into Te Huia, and local authorities another $12.2 million, "to run it for five years at least".
The $80m from central government has been wasted, and the $12.2m earmarked by local authorities will, at best, last two years not five. At the current rate, each ticket on the Te Huia express costs Waikato ratepayers about $245.
Te Huia is doomed to be yet another spectacular fail from this government, but they have too much political capital at risk to admit it. Let's hope Russ Rimmington gets his head around the problem soon because it's costing his ratepayers a lot of money while he is thinking about it.
Frank Newman, a political commentator and investment analyst, is a former local body councillor.