You probably wouldn’t notice, at first glance, how the world of transport in Auckland has changed so dramatically over the past three years. Perhaps you might, if you caught a train and noticed that it was jam-packed instead of half-full; or a bus down the northern busway and struggled to get on it instead of having it to yourself. If you looked really close you might have also noticed the roads don’t seem quite so congested as they were a few years ago. But the world has changed, and if you look at Auckland’s changing transport trends close enough you can see some pretty huge things happening.

A couple of days ago I talked a little bit about one half of this change: the significant growth in public transport patronage – particularly throughout 2010. A few days before that I touched on the other half – that assuming traffic will always grow is turning out to be a false assumption. I’ve taken a bit of time to have a good dig through two main sources and tried to put this all together – with some very interesting results I think.

First – the data sources:

In terms of the traffic volume data, unfortunately there’s no easily accessible data on volumes for just Auckland, but NZTA do break down their trends into sub-regions: including what’s known as “Northland and Auckland”. I have used this data:

We can use similar traffic volume data to track back right to early 2008 (when I’ve started this analysis) on a month by month basis to see changes in traffic volumes on state highways in Auckland and Northland. While I certainly accept we’re not talking about the exact same two things here (Auckland PT patronage vs Auckland and Northland state highway volumes) it certainly gives us an idea about changing traffic trends in and around Auckland. I would imagine that a significant majority of state highway traffic volumes in this area would be on Auckland’s motorway system.

If we look at public transport patronage first, it really has been over the past three years that we’ve seen things take off. Starting in 2008 with the very high petrol prices (which have been repeated over the last few months), plus the effort that has gone into improving aspects of our public transport system – like the Northern Busway and the railway system – we have seen a huge increase in patronage. Overall, the numbers have increased by 21% over this period: from 52.4 million trips in 2007 to 63.5 million trips last year. This is shown below: Interesting that the biggest growth months have been April, June and September. January’s growth has obviously been hampered by closures to the rail network.

If we look at growth rates for traffic volumes on state highways over the past three years, we see a quite different story: We can see that the big petrol price spike in 2008 had a massive impact on traffic volumes over the period when petrol was well above $2 a litre: from around May to September that year as far as I can remember. While the volumes somewhat recovered in 2009 as petrol prices fell, over 2010 we once again saw a lot of months with negative growth – particularly in the second half of the year. This trend has continued into 2011 with January (shown earlier in this post) being well down on the year before, while February also has marginally lower volumes compared to the same month last year. Overall, traffic volumes has been pretty flat for the whole three year period.

Putting the two together provides an interesting picture of what’s happened to state highway traffic volumes and PT patronage over the past three years in and around Auckland: There does seem to be a fairly clear link between the two: when PT patronage growth is highest we see the biggest declines in traffic numbers. The only time when traffic growth outpaced PT patronage growth was in winter 2009: and we must remember that the traffic numbers were coming off an extremely low base the year before. (Ignore the October 2009 & 2010 figures as the bus lockout has thrown them out a bit).

Finally, if we take a comparison between 2007 and 2010, for both PT patronage and state highway traffic volumes – for each month – the results really are quite telling: For every single month of the year there has been massive PT growth over the past three years. Similarly, for every single month we have seen hardly any increase in traffic volumes on state highways in the region. In fact, for quite a few months we have seen state highway traffic volumes in 2010 being lower than they were three years earlier.

In short, this pretty much just confirms what most of us knew: public transport is booming in popularity and people are giving up on driving – because they finally have a decent alternative or because petrol’s getting too expensive or because they’re just fed up with Auckland’s roads. The numbers present a compelling argument for shifting funding away from building more roads (after all, why would we need more roads if there are fewer cars out there?) and into increasing public transport capacity.

Yet both the government and the council continue to plow the vast majority of transport funding into more roads. What is wrong with them? The world has changed in the past three years, it’s time they caught up.

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  1. Really interesting summary, I really always wonder why the opposition’s staff are doing the same research as you and using this against the government? Instead they (along with the media) just seem to accept whatever numbers Joyce comes back with, and never seem to have hard facts to counter his lies (I don’t think he really believes everything he says).

    I will be really I interested to see how 2011 is looking cf 2010 – does AT need another OIA request?

    1. AT have finally started being responsive, it seems. One of their staff members posted in here the other day saying that the stats will be released to their website the same (following?) day that they’re released to the monthly Board meeting.

      I think the OIA requests can be given a rest for a little while, to see how far the new détente reaches. We might be surprised. Alternatively, in two or three months we’ll see that nothing’s really changed and we can go back to the hostile stand-off that’s been in place so far.

  2. Great work admin, but as they will counter that buses use roads it could be really useful to directly compare rail to highways…. even though one is all within the city and the other not. However seen it is Joyce himself who insists on comparing Puford to the CBDRL it could be a good way to use those NZTA figures especially as they lump Northland and Auckland together.

    He accuses the CBDRL of being a luxury that we can’t afford where clearly the growth in rail patronage shows it is to meet a real need, where as Puford is the luxury, an extremely expensive and overspecified amenity for which there is no new demand. It will be a road to a place that for which we already have two existing routes we can take, so how can it be expected to offer any economic transformation? How will it make new business? Some, and in fact a declining amount of travel will be able to be made a few minutes quicker, for 2 billion dollars? As opposed to investment in a system that has grown at 277% since 2002, as is about to hit capacity on the route in question, and which will enable over a million new and more productive journeys each month.

  3. Looking at the traffic growth by month it seems its only Dec, Jan, Feb, and March that see any increase…. so all the growth looks like being holiday makers. How exactly does time savings of a few minutes for people heading to the bach materially improve the economy? How does it justify anything like a 2 billion dollar spend?

    I’m all for escaping work a little quicker but that isn’t what joyce and key say they are building this road to achieve. It is 2 billion to make Northland an economic power house… Tui Billboard.

  4. If they truly cared about improving Northland’s economy, they’d throw a billion dollars at the rail line. That’d have a stellar BCR, especially compared to Puford, and it could happen quite quickly. Would get trucks off the road, so safety would increase, and it would open up some new industries as well as helping Fonterra with their commitment to using rail where it’s available.

    But that wouldn’t help the moneyed classes get to Omaha faster.

    1. There is justification for improved roading to the north given how dangerous the current road is. However this doesn’t need to be a separate highway and the improvements could be started on now (therefore decreasing travel times and saving lives now and not 20 years in the future).

      There seems to be a case of ‘build and hope they come’ approach to new roads when clearly they are not coming anymore. Instead they are moving to PT which has been accused by many of having the same attitude along with a commentary on how everyone wants to travel by car so let’s let them.

      Imagine the patronage increase if we had electric trains operating efficiently (as the CBD link will allow), tightly integrated North Shore feeder buses and integrated ticketing.

      1. have looked at NZTA’s plans from 4 or 5 years ago, and they were going to spend about $80 million each on Schedewys Hill and Dome Valley, and these works would be underway right now. Instead nothing is happening for a decade south of Warkworth, an and 20 years north of Warkworth.

        1. Where do I go to find these plans? It would help greatly in a presentation I am preparing.

  5. Luke write a letter to Nana Herald pointing out that Joyce is killing people on this road now…. I would but best if they get it from lots of people not just a few….

    1. You know, that would be a real heavy-hitting letter – Putting an alternative price (no. of deaths) by going ahead with Joyce’s options, rather than a more immediate solution……

    2. I’ve done it several times. They have printed two. Admin when he presented the Operation Lifesaver paper to ARC transport committee claimed that it would save 40/50 lives. Now that the date for completion to Wellsford is 2032, the number of lives to be lost will be closer to 100. I don’t understand why Labour are not making the fuss this deserves.

    3. From memory there were 41 deaths between Puhoi and Wellsford from 2000 to 2009. 25 in Dome Valley and 16 between Puhoi and Warkworth. The “50” figure was derived from assuming a 2019 completion for Puhoi-Warkworth and a 2022 completion for Warkworth to Wellsford and a continuation of the 2000-2009 annual fatality rates.

  6. Does anyone do figures on how many people are cycling or walking to work and school? I know in Melbourne VicRoads did a survey and found numbers of people cycling into the Melbourne CBD for work had tripled over a five year period. The numbers are in the order of thousands (10-11K daily from memory).

    I have noticed a lot more people riding about this summer, I’d be surprised if the cycling figures were not significant. This will increase as transportation costs increase.

    Give AT are in charge of transport it would be very neglectful of them not to devote considerable resources to the needs of cyclists who pay rates as much as anybody else.

    Des anybody know if any figures are kept?

    1. The best you could get is the 2006 census journey to work data. Other than that they would have to undertake quite a large observation study to collect the data for just one day, let alone regularly. I’m pretty sure it isn’t done in Auckland.

      A word of warning with the Melbourne figures, they do that general survey one day each year (although I think some better ones have been done on specific routes, especially before and after they introduced the Swanson St Copenhagen lanes). The problem with that is on the one day each year it might be raining, then sunny the next and you have huge apparent increase in the number of cyclists when you’re really just seeing the effects of bad weather on one day. Also their methodology is a little flawed as they conduct spot counts at several sites. Depending upon a cyclists particular route they could easily be counted three or four times.

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