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:
- PT Patronage statistics from this excel worksheet supplied by Auckland Transport.
- Monthly state highway traffic volumes data from NZTA.
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.