Finally Auckland Transport have officially released patronage data, showing that PT use is now at its highest level in the city since the 1950s. Here’s the press release:

Auckland Public Transport Figures Highest in 60 Years

Almost five million extra journeys were made on public transport during the last calendar year, with big increases in passengers pushing numbers to the highs of the 1950s.

Auckland Transport released a patronage report today that shows total passenger numbers reached 64.07 million in the 12 months to the end of February, an increase of 8.3 per cent on last year.

Highlights include:

Northern Express bus passenger numbers for February increased 20.7 per cent on February 2010. Total Northern Express for the past 12 months reached 1.97 million passengers

Total bus patronage exceeded 50 million. An increase of 3.36 million boardings or 7.5 per cent growth

Rail patronage reached 9.2 million for the past 12 months with passenger numbers for the month of February up 17.9 per cent on February 2010. For the first time one million journeys were reached on rail in one month.

Rail patronage on the Western Line for the month of February increased 25.6 per cent on February 2010 to reach 305,208.

Ferry patronage totalled 4.6 million for the 12 months to February, with passenger numbers for the month up 12.6 per cent on February 2010

Of the 30,002 attending the Super Rugby Blues vs. Crusaders at Eden Park on 19 February 31.9 per cent took special event public transport services.

Wow, so we must have cracked 1 million rail trips in February? That’s something I wasn’t expecting until March.

Auckland Transport Chief Executive David Warburton says the increase in patronage shows investment by both central government and the Auckland region, in better public transport services and infrastructure is paying dividends.

“Greater use of public transport frees up our roads for more efficient use by carriers of freight and commercial vehicles.

“The last year has seen a number of improvements, particularly for rail. For example seven new or upgraded stations have opened and the Onehunga Line reopened after 37 years. There has also been a 25 per cent increase in services and some trains have been extended from four to six carriages.

“Public transport use has seen significant increases during the last five years. Passenger numbers have increased from around 50 million to 64 million during that time.

“Continuing investment in public transport will deliver further increases in passenger numbers, with the electrification of the rail network, the arrival of electric trains and further upgrades of stations.

“Auckland Transport will also be rolling out improvements to buses to offer services that work better for more people. For example, the proposed improvements aimed at making buses in the CBD and surrounding suburbs more frequent and easier to use”.

As I noted the other day, PT use has gone up by over 20% in the last three years alone. That’s even more impressive.

The Mayor, Len Brown, said, “Public transport usage in Auckland is now back at the levels of the early 1950s before they started ripping up tramlines and replacing them with motorways. These figures are proof that what is already being done to improve public transport is working.

“Imagine what it will be like when integrated ticketing and rail electrification is in place, never mind projects like the Auckland Rail Tunnel, the Airport Link and Rail to the Shore.

“Auckland deserves a decent public transport system and I have already made it one of my priorities to double PT usage within 20 years. But if we are to stop the gridlock we have to press ahead with those public transport projects that are so necessary for the future of the new Auckland and New Zealand.”

I thought he wanted 150 million trips by 2021? While that’s a very optimistic target, when you break it down it’s only an 8% growth rate a year over each of the next 10 years – something that we actually achieved last year. I hope Len keeps to his initial target – it is possible.

Overall this is, of course, excellent news. It is absolutely clear that PT patronage is booming – due to a combination of higher petrol prices and a slowly improving public transport system. As Len Brown notes, imagine what projects like electrification and integrated ticketing will achieve – let alone future large rail projects?

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    1. Weird though that it says “for the first time, one million rail journeys were reached on rail in one month”. I did a calculation taking last year’s data and adding the 18% growth, and came to around 850,000 trips too.

      If March is 20% up on last year then we will easily crack the magic million number.

  1. This is good to see that this is going up.
    I really hate to be a spoiler, but Per capita patronage is really the proper yardstick. Auckland was a much much smaller city in the 1950s with far fewer people… but keep going, things are looking up!

    1. “Auckland was a much much smaller city in the 1950s”

      Sure was… Population of 320,000 in 1950, about a quarter of what it is now. The “failed thinking” transport projects of the 1960s facilitated massive growth and transformed an international backwater in to a pleasant medium sized regional center.

      1. I’m not sure how much credit those projects should get. Vancouver didn’t build many motorways (in fact, almost none within the urban area) yet it’s hardly a backwater.

        1. Vancouver have three road bridges just south of the CBD: Cambie St, Granville St, and Burrard St. Each is a different design, all are high level, there is only a kilometer separating all three, and collectively they have 19 vehicle lanes. They all have large free(ish) flowing junctions on both their northern and southern ends. And, miraculously, Vancouver isn’t destroyed by either the differing bridge designs or the sheer quantity of vehicle lanes that puts Auckland to shame.

          Auckland’s motorway system is required because of topography and the irregular layout of the original streets. Vancouver has a regular grid of fairly substantial streets. I suspect it works much like Milton Keynes’ grid, with traffic taking distributed paths across the city rather than having to navigate around volcanos and harbour inlets.

      2. so motorways encourage people to have babies? or more people to immigrate from the Pacific Islands?
        I agree Auckland did need a motorway system, the issue was it was built too early (which in-beds car dependence) and wasn’t matched with any transit investment, in fact was matched with transit destruction.

      3. Which argument conveniently leaves out the question of what a more balanced approach would have done. How about a city with motorways AND a extensive rail system? We could be even larger and more liveable, and not have a constantly grid-locked transport system.

        You are arguing by implication that the motorways were the only option we had to get such growth. And go even further and imply that the motorways are responsible for a PLEASANT medium sized regional center.

        There’s lots of things that are pleasant about Auckland, but the motorways have little to do with it.

        1. “You are arguing by implication that the motorways were the only option we had to get such growth”

          I wasn’t arguing that at all. BrisUrbane queried per capita public transport use. I noted that it was still only a quarter of what it was in 1950. But this hadn’t stopped Auckland from becoming NZ’s most successful city in terms of it being the one that vastly more people choose to live in than any other in the country. That success might possibly have been achieved by alternative transport plans, but we do know that the actual transport plans that were implemented worked.

          However, looking at possible alternative plans that could have been implemented in the 1950s… I find it hard to imagine the North Shore developing like it did without the Harbour Bridge and accompanying roads. Regardless of how good a rail system was, there had to be a viable road link to the rest of the city and country that didn’t involve driving in a loop around West Auckland suburbs. Similarly, my Mum remembers visiting relatives in Auckland when she was a girl in the 1940s and says that even then, with a city population less than 300,000, the drive in to town via suburban South Auckland streets took forever. Could Auckland have quadrupled in population (and even more in size of economy) without the northern and southern motorways? I don’t think so.

        2. Melbourne had a population of 2.3 million in 1970 when it opened it’s first significant stretch of motorway.
          It grew by a million people (almost double)in the twenty years between the time Auckland started building motorways and it started building freeways.
          If Melbourne could grow by a million people during the same decades without any freeways then Auckland could have also.

        3. No ones arguing against the harbour bridge, just it lacking any Public Transport.
          Visiting relatives in other parts of Auckland will still regularly take as long as it did in the 1940’s. On evenings, nights and weekends will be much quicker but during the day may not be much better.
          I am arguing that the Southern, North Western and CBD parts of the motorway were built about 5 or 10 years too early, and rail loop and electrification should have been done first.

          Also if the money spent of the 1950’s on motorways was put into the tram network things would be much better as well. The motorways didn’t serve any of the traditional tram-line suburbs, where most Aucklanders lived in the 50s, so tram investment would have benefited more people.

        4. Nick… Melbourne is mostly flat and so is well served by a well connected network of suburban roads. There just aren’t the chokepoints that require grade-separated lanes. It’s like Vancouver. Selecting two arbitrary north south roads about 3km apart: Main St and Boundary Rd. There must be 60 long straight east west roads connecting them. So maybe 120 lanes of traffic in a topology that allows vehicles to bypass minor holdups or other sources of congestion like local shops. It just isn’t possible to connect any two points in Auckland with 120 straight lanes of free flowing traffic, so we settle for 4 or 6 lanes of motorway instead.

          Still, Melbourne has been on a freeway building blitz ever since that doesn’t show any signs of slowing. So maybe Auckland was a leader?

        5. Oops… Not clear. “Selecting two arbitrary north south roads about 3km apart: Main St and Boundary Rd.” refers to roads in Vancouver, not Melbourne.

        6. Thats hardly true about Melbourne Obi, it sits on a river floodplain with six major rivers crossing the city and breaking it up and creating choke points. Plus a regular even grid of city streets isn’t helpful for traffic, it’s terrible for it. In Melbourne it means you have eight intersections to the mile whichever direction you take.

          And is it really the choke points that ‘need’ motorways? Each of Auckland’s motorway choke point were already bridge by a local highway before the motorway was built, excepting the harbour bridge which itself was designed as a local connection and not a motorway.

          The fact is Auckland’s public transport patronage started to dive once the motorways were built, so did Melbourne’s, only 20 years later. Melbourne continued to grow on the back of it’s public transport system and so could have Auckland if they hadn’t focussed on deconstructing it in favour of rapid motorway expansion.

  2. This is great news. Even without the substantial improvements that electric trains and integrated ticketing will bring people are getting out of their cars and catching PT. It would be great to see this news treated as a real change of Aucklander’s approach to getting around and that maybe endless roading projects aren’t the answer people are looking for anymore.

    1. Two pieces on it from Campbell Live tonight and are probably about as positive as you will get from them (they usually pretty much just laugh at the idea of rail improvements). One piece follows Len Brown on a train one morning and gets a comment from Campbell of “the trains packed”. The other piece they have 4 reporters get from Mt Eden to New Lynn by cycle, car, train and bus. The train was comfortable and air conditioned but “standing room only”

      1. I liked the idea of the competition and was hanging on to see who won. It was the sort of thing Top Gear do. With the destination being a railway station I thought it was a scenario designed to show rail winning and was surprised to see rail being beaten by both bicycle and rush hour motor vehicle.

        1. The western line is horribly slow due to all of the curves and hills and close stops (I know I use it daily). I also have heard that loco’s can’t handle the line as well as others but EMU’s should be able to do much better. I would be much more interested to see the results in a few years time, the calculation I did earlier this year (which was quite conservative) shows that Mt Eden to New Lynn should be able to be done in about 13 minutes compared to the 17 it is scheduled to take now (they said the train was running a few minutes late at the start).

    1. At least they’re acknowledging that public transport use is increasing dramatically, and that included rail.
      And it’s not like trains are going past stations without stopping because they have no more space. Buses are. Buses make a better story, because they’re not meeting the needs of the public – which is, after all, the Herald’s entire position on public transport.

      Sometimes, when a dog pees on your leg, it’s just being a dog. It’s not always doing it just to make you angry.

  3. Thanks for this. The graph starts at 1955, before this it is likely that rail patronage might have been higher than in 1955.
    There was a large fall in PT patronage in the 1950s with the closure of the tram system.

    Good to see it’s going up again.

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