This blog post has some excellent comparisons of public transport patronage across New Zealand and Australian cities. While all the cities looked at are of vastly different sizes (and therefore have vastly different patronage numbers), through comparing growth rates and per capita patronage, we can really have quite a good look at how Auckland stacks up against these other places. This is particularly of note when we think about the recent comparator city study, which showed how poorly Auckland does perform when compared to other relatively similar cities. While we know that, what’s perhaps most interesting is to see whether we’re improving, whether we’re improving at a rate faster or slower than these other cities and in what parts of the system are we doing well (or not so well).

Looking at overall patronage growth, you can see that Southeast Queensland (SEQ), Perth and Melbourne have had the biggest increases, when compared to their 2001/2002 levels. This is particularly impressive for Melbourne, which is a very large city and has a slower growing population (in percentage terms) compared to Perth and SEQ.

Auckland comes out of this pretty well, having increased public transport patronage by close to 50% over the past 10 years. Christchurch was also doing pretty well, up until the earthquake hit.

Comparing rail patronage growth of the different cities has the complication of Auckland coming off an extremely low base 10 years ago, which means that we pretty much head “off the chart” in percentage terms: Perth has done well here, but perhaps the standout performer is Melbourne, which has added nearly 80% patronage over the past decade. This is extremely impressive because it was not coming off a low base, with well over 200 million trips a year being carried on their rail network.

Southeast Queensland is the standout performer for increasing bus patronage over the past decade. I’m guessing that Brisbane’s busway has a significant role in this statistic, but it would be interesting to know a bit more about why they’ve out-performed everyone else to such a great extent: Auckland has done fairly ‘middling’ on this count, although given the big 20% increase in the very first year, it’s disappointing that over the next 8 years we only managed another 10% increase in bus patronage. I must say overall I’m surprised as how poorly most of the cities have done with increasing bus patronage.

While total patronage levels are important to a degree, increases can just reflect population growth, which means that a certain proportion of the increases is just “standing still”, and is unlikely to provide the benefits that we might hope from increasing the number of people using public transport. This is why per capita data is so important, and it’s interesting to see how the various cities have performed on a per capita basis over the past decade:

Auckland’s figures are a bit hidden amongst those for Christchurch and Canberra, but show a slow but steady increase from just under 40 trips per person in 2000/2001 to what looks like nearly 50 trips per person in 2010/2011. Trips per capita is also twisted a bit by how you define the population of the area you’re talking about (should we really use the whole of the Auckland region’s population when much of it isn’t really served by PT at all?) But it seems that a consistent measure has been used over time, so the trends rather than the actual numbers can be thought of as the important aspects.

Yet again Melbourne stands out as being particularly impressive, especially as it already had pretty high figures. Perth’s numbers took a big jump two or three years ago when the Mandurah Line opened.

Finally a couple of interesting historic graphs show how all Australasian cities patronage levels, and per capita levels, have followed fairly similar patterns over the past century: Auckland’s historic figures are pretty similar to these.

Overall, I think we can take a little bit of heart from the figures, which show that Auckland has enjoyed patronage trends over the past decade that are generally in line with increases in other Australasian cities – aside from the very high rail growth in percentage terms (due to the extremely low base). That said, I think there are hopefully some things we can learn from Melbourne, which has managed to significantly boost its per capita patronage, and from Brisbane which has had a big bus patronage increase.

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  1. In the future please try to use the same colour for each city across all graphs. This was an enjoyable post so I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I do think that doing so would have improved legibility some what.

    1. Chris – admin didn’t create the graphs, the person who runs the blog linked to at the start of the post did.

      Also its worth pointing out that with exception of the last few, the rest are a % change since 2001/2002

  2. Stuart sighs.

    Measuring patronage with boardings does not tell you much. You could for example take a bus route, chop it in half, and almost double your boardings because you’ve forced everyone to transfer to reach their destination. You may think that’s a frivolous example, but it makes a big difference when comparing say Perth (bus feeders to rail = two boardings for one trip) with Brisbane (single seat bus trip most of the way = 1 boarding).

    Plus, patronage does not help you distinguish between a trip on the City Circuit versus a trip from Henderson to the city. That is, it provides you no indication of how far you are enabling people to travel. We should stop focussing on boardings and instead think in terms of passenger kilometres. And if we were really interested in “efficiency” then we need an input/output ratio, i.e. passenger kilometres divided by $ subsidy.

    But I digress somewhat and I realise that data on boardings is more readily available than data on passenger kilometres. I’m just not sure trends in boardings tell you much about the output, let alone the efficiency, of a PT system.

  3. True but unfortunately passenger-km data is a lot harder to come by.

    Information on boardings can be useful, particularly looking and longitudinal trends in the same city over time. Although obviously if a city had a drastic change in service model from point to point to transfer-based there could be a large shift in boardings but no net change in journeys.

    Still helpful though, in Auckland for example it illustrates the huge gains experienced by saving rail from extinction with relatively modest improvements. And in Melbourne it shows how much value their previously underutilised rail network has been in ‘soaking up’ a great increase in peak commuters and adapting to a shift away from private vehicles, with virtually no investment in the system.

    1. Yes I acknowledge (above) that data on pax-km is harder to come by. But I’m not convinced it is useful longitudinally – especially as PT systems grow in size/complexity and transfers become more common. Basically, relative growth in boardings will only be a good indicator if the average user = marginal user across all cities – which I’m fairly sure it’s not given the huge variety in the starting point of the systems in the cities that are compared.

      On a side issue: Do you really think that Auckland’s investment in rail is only “modest”? Last time I looked the core network upgrade (DART packages), plus station upgrades, plus Onehunga, plus operating subsidies in the last 10 years would be getting up to $2 billion (NPV), so $200 million per year.

      By way of comparison, that’s approximately 5 times the total cost of the Northern Busway (which incidentally must now be running at fairly close to cost recovery). If anything is modest about Auckland’s investment PT system, then I’d suggest it’s the investment we have made in buses, rather than rail.

      Although maybe you were commenting on investment in rail relative to highway? In that case it’s a fair description.

        1. No, the boardings for the NEX does not equal boardings for the Northern Busway. The latter is much higher – think of all the North Shore buses (other than the NEX) that travel to town via the Northern Busway.

        2. I’m not sure this argument is useful; aren’t they both investments in the RTN network? Perhaps what you are saying is that there could be more bang for buck investing in the QTN as opposed to the RTN network? All of course in the context of the wild imbalance with the figures both apparent and hidden, invested in the private car industry.

        3. Agree with Patrick that playing off busway vs railway return on investment isn’t hugely helpful. I don’t think there are any future projects (aside from harbour crossing?) where there’s much of an argument over whether busway or railway is the better option. Generally the existing infrastructure will make that decision for you.

        4. No, I think the discussion is important.

          Nic R described Auckland’s investment in rail as “modest.” I simply suggested that in the context of the investment in buses rail had done relatively well. Bryce’s figures (unintentionally) confirmed my suggestion, by showing that the NB has enabled a disproportionately high number of PT trips, given the level of investment.

          And last time I looked there were certain politicians and commentators on this blog wanting to replace the NB with a rail line, put light rail up Queen Street, and throw heavy rail lines all over Auckland. If that was to happen then Auckland would have to kiss goodbye to many (worthwhile) bus improvements for the next 40 years.

          So the issue is not quite as sanitised/clear-cut as you two make-out.

        5. Come on Stu, one second you rubbish all the above figures because they’re not the most ideal measure of pax-km, then start off on sweeping generalisations lauding your particular favourite mode based on the same data?!

          As for modest capital investment, that was in relation to the total transport infrastructure budget, ‘modest’ goes for all of the rapid transit network as much as the part run on rails. It’s pretty disingenuous to try and prove the current (or future) rail upgrades are wasteful because the busway was fairly cheap to build, although maybe you need to put some perspective on those costs (the busway is but one route of 12km length, the DART upgrades etc covered about 75km over four routes).

  4. When I say “not convinced it is useful” in the first line I meant to say “not convinced boardings are useful.” I am convinced pax-km are useful.

  5. AT do have pax-km figures but they just don’t regularly release them. They do release on a quarterly basis the subsidy per pax-km figure which is currently around 26c

    1. I suspect as much – would be great to see them. Why are they not in the monthly board reports? If I was a board member that’s the sort of statistics that I would want to see.

      1. Don’t know why they aren’t reported monthly, ideally the total pax-km and fare collection details would be in each monthly report but they aren’t for some reason known only to AT.

        The quarterly number is reported to the Accountability and Performance Committee along with all of the other metrics they are measured on from their SOI (all of the other CCO’s reports are in there as well)

  6. [quote]Southeast Queensland is the standout performer for increasing bus patronage over the past decade. I’m guessing that Brisbane’s busway has a significant role in this statistic, but it would be interesting to know a bit more about why they’ve out-performed everyone else to such a great extent:[/quote]

    Greetings from Brisbane.
    Yes the busway has been great but the true story is a bit more complicated.

    * We got a busway which sped things up, so the time savings from that caused some growth

    * The HUGELY successful BUZ network was created (featured on this blog a few months ago).

    This is where we have ‘no compromise’ timetabling of a bus every 15 minutes, from 6am – 11.30 pm
    at night, even on Saturday and Sunday. This is so popular that more and more routes down arterial roads have been added and the network effect
    from that now makes it very easy to travel in almost any direction- north, south, east or west via a single interchange at Cultural Centre Busway
    stop. The most massive growth has been in the evenings and on the weekends- off peak.

    * We got integrated ticketing and got a single organising agency, TransLink. This makes transferring a breeze.
    And the fares are uniform across all modes.

    * We got GoCard which speeds up boarding and we got rid of the old buses that had high floors and no aircon
    and replaced them with state of the art buses that are amazing inside. New trains as well and the old trains

    * We built strategic interconnections with rail- hardly used rail platforms at Roma Street got converted to busway
    which allows very quick rail-to-bus transfer. Same at Boggo Road/Park Road, very easy transfer between rail and bus.

    So it has been a whole host of things, not just having a busway. Adelaide has a busway too- OBahn and you can see
    that their patronage is rubbish.

    1. Adelaide’s bus patronage is not rubbish. The O’bahn was opened in about 1989, the graph here is showing growth since 2000. The graph showing patronage per capita has Adelaide equal with SE Queensland, so despite massive underinvestment of Adelaide public transport compared to SE Queensland, and us still being equal in patronage, I suggest you are rubbish.

      For the past 3 years we have had atleast 1 complete closure of one of our train lines for atleast 6 months, due to complete resleepering of the tracks ready for electrification. This has obviously caused a massive dip in rail patronage for past 3 years. But after electrication, and extension of our main southern line to Seaford, there will be major growth

  7. Do you think the buses have been eating up the train passengers? – would explains why brisbane is one of the few places to see a drop in train usage.

  8. Rtc,

    No I don’t think so. The busway and train systems are designed such that the busway serves areas that aren’t served by trains.

    Brisbane’s train system is very handicapped by single track sections, flat junctions and freight movements. For example, we can’t run a train every 15 minutes to Beenleigh station in both directions at the same time.

    Fares have been going up by 15% per year and will continue to do so to fund new improvements. But most of these improvements are on bus (due tor rail being handicapped capacity wise) and therefore what a rail user experiences is a higher cost but not higher service. In contrast a bus user experiences a higher cost but also an improved bus network.

    This is what I think is driving train patronage down. The frequency on trains is also terrible – two trains in an hour. That’s pretty useless when you consider that Perth has trains every 15 minutes.

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