It’s easy to criticise Auckland’s public transport system, or wishfully think up additional projects that don’t really have much hope of happening any time particularly soon – but sometimes it’s more difficult to actually celebrate our successes. And we have actually seen some great successes in the past few years. Let’s take a look at public transport patronage totals for each year since 2002: Perhaps most helpfully, let’s compare the 2002-2007 period with the 2007-2011 period: The contrast is, shall we say, significant. After quite a long period of stagnation during the middle of last decade we’ve grown patronage by almost a third over the past four years. That is very very impressive. So where has the growth happened? You get some idea from looking at each individual mode: Once again, if we split at 2007 we get more interesting results: 
There are some very useful conclusions we can make from this data:

  1. If we want to meaningfully grow public transport patronage generally we need to be growing all modes, but especially bus patronage.
  2. From 2002-2007 most rail patronage increases seems to have been ‘cannibalised’ bus patronage.
  3. Since 2007 bus patronage has grown massively, being the prime contributor to significant general patronage growth over that time [2/3 of the numbers]. While rail patronage continued its strong growth. So clearly PT patronage growth since 2007 has come from people who previously drove- 17 million trips, that’s a lot of cars off the road. This is the period that we ‘grew the pie’, instead of just slicing it differently.

Imagine if patronage grew by another third in the next four years? It looks clear that the desire to use PT is there, so will we have the capacity and the quality of service that this growth requires?

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  1. Wow those are pretty impressive numbers since 2007. Looking at the history of Auckland’s PT patronage it seems that World War II was the only previous time patronage went up this quickly.

    Rising petrol prices must have played a key role in this upswing. Plus we have finally and tentatively started to improve the bus network and got some pretty spectacular results.

    1. Yes Peter, it is clear that ‘push’ factors; all the costs and responsibilities of car ownership and use, including the cost and availability of parking, make people keen on alternatives.
      But still, real effective services have to be there for people to keep using them. So clearly all the efforts in improving the quality of the available services has also made a good difference too. The new bus services like the Links, the bLine, much better bus priority, better bus and train stations, higher frequencies, better speed, faster boarding [HOP] all go a long way.
      So if we can keep improving all of these things, especially the redesign and coordination of the whole network and real fare integration I can see 100 million trips well within reach… in four years though?

      Maybe end 2016, will have all the new EMUs by then, but a new bus network and integrated fares?, new ferry services?

  2. As an aside I hate the term ‘cannibalised’. Is people shifting wholesale for from a slow and awkward long haul bus to a faster direct service such a problem? Do we talk about the busway cannibalizing the 879 on East Coast Rd? If anything it frees up those resources to better service the local market. Perhaps that’s part of the reason bus growth shot up a bit later: we got more efficient and specialized with our services.

    I can’t wait until we hear about the Waterview motorway cannibalizing traffic from Great North Rd, or the ‘middle rung’ cannibalizing trucks from Nielson St. Funny how the primary goal with motorways is some sign of failure on rapid transit.

    Ok, rant over 🙂

    1. Fair call Nick. Eating people is wrong. I did mention ‘pie’ later on though…..
      And from a network utilisation approach transferring more people onto the grade separate rail network should be a goal. As either this opens up capacity on the stretched bus network as you say or allows us to free up some valuable road and kerbside space for other users. Of course in such a growing PT market it means any space made on a bus by someone shifting to trains is likely to be used not retired.

      One important benefit of the City Rail Link is that is should relieve some of the crush of buses in the city by moving thousands more people from more of the wider city by train. And this space will almost certainly be taken up by the demand for more buses from the North Shore.

      And all good for general traffic users, more PT use; better functioning roads.

    2. Perhaps it should say people ‘upgraded’ to rail?…. hmmm I think that will be really true when the EMUs are running, perhaps it’s even a fair call now as the train is not subject to getting stuck in traffic…?

    3. I agree. It’s funny how the government report on the CRL indicated that all it would do was cannibalise bus patronage and yet made no mention that this would enable those resources to be utilised in a more effective way.

      1. This shows how networks really function, it is the effectiveness of the whole system, off-peak, ferries, trains, and buses, where-ever, whenever, however, that enables the whole thing to grow. We’ve really got to get those night time and weekend services going so people have more flexibility about when they might take their return journey. Then that pie will really be cooking.

        And of course already that MoT opinion is clearly nonsense, and it is just their opinion or more accurately prejudice: In the last four years we saw 5.5 million new train and ferry journeys AND we also saw over twice that number added to the bus system.

        To add another metaphor: This is a rising tide and it is lifting all boats.

        1. Agree completely, there is no single solution for transport in general. I know it is off topic, but just with power generation you need: solar, wind, hydro, gas, etc. to make sure you can meet the demand at various times.

  3. Another thing to consider is that 2005 was the year when Stagecoach buses went on rolling strikes through much of April (at one point for almost an entire week), this may account for some of the huge drop in bus patronage in that year (Not just the strikes themselves mind you but bus patrons who switched to other modes during the strikes deciding not to return to using the bus post-strike). Thankfully though we did not see a repeat of this drop in patronage when NZ Bus workers went on strike a few years back (2009??)

  4. The Ferry numbers are really impressive too – up 40% in that 10yr period. I wonder what the potential there is for expansion – or is frequency the answer?

    I’ve never done it, but there is something unique, and cool, about travelling to and from work on the water. I’d love to do it.

    Its amazing to think that Ferries do almost half as many passenger trips as the rail network.

    1. This from an article in today’s Herald:

      “And some good news for ferry passengers, the trial of extra weekend services between Downtown and Half Moon Bay, Bayswater, Birkenhead and Northcote Point has been extended to mid-April due to demand. Design work for Stanley Bay wharf improvements has been completed and agreed with ferry operator Fullers.”

  5. The last two years growth in particular is very stellar at nearly 10% year on year growth.

    To put that another way, we’ve had more growth in PT numbers in the last 2 years (2010 and 2011) than in the previous 8 years combined.

    So, it does prove to those who say otherwise “that if you build it, they will come” (and use it) – in droves.

    The earlier figures do spark some question in my mind over why 2005, 2007 and 2009 growth (from the first table), showed markedly lower (or negative) growth compared to adjacent/subsequent years. Are these low figures due to changes in the way the numbers were measured or other factors?

    e.g. were they the result of poor PT decisions (Stagecoach/NZBus cutting services, frequent strikes, massive fair hikes) and/or lower petrol prices?

    For the latter, an interesting chart would be compare the $ value change in petrol prices (a litre) for each year with patronage changes for that year.

    My bet is that when petrol prices drop (like they did in 2009 if I recall due to the “GFC” causing oil prices to drop in $NZ terms) and also mid 2000’s that those who used PT switched back to cars, and when petrol rises again, they switch back to PT (assuming its still there for them of course).

    My fear is if you can’t determine some of the positive and/or negative growth factors for PT growth/decreases then you can fall victim to the future naysayers saying that the growth achieved recently is all simply due to the fact of more people living in the Auckland area so of course they use PT as thats what they’re used to doing. Rather than a result of lots of connected changes and improvements over all modes of transport.

    And if you follow that line of argument you then can fall victim to repeating the bad mistakes of the past (such as those that gave rise to zero effective growth in PT use in the first 7 or so years of the last decade – I fear that the wrangling over the CRL between Auckland Council and the Govt is exactly this kind of trap what the planners are falling into right now.

    And a very big question – if the drop offs in use were caused by petrol price hikes, then what happens when the next petrol price spike arrives and all the PT available is at capacity already? – we’re near the record high price for both petrol and PT use now, and both will only go up from now, not down.

    Also if you consider the PT mode share the mode share numbers over those years its looking like:
    Bus: 88% (2002) down to 78% (2011)
    Rail: 5% up to just under 15%
    Ferry: 7% up to 7.4%

    The mode share of the growth from the last 2 years has been about 67% bus, 28% train, 6% Ferry, so rail is picking up mode share over buses.

    So over the last 10 or so years rail’s mode share has gone up by 10%, while buses share has dropped by 10% and Ferries more or less stayed the same.

    Which is probably good that more people are using rail for all or some of their journeys as you don’t want a system which relies totally on buses simply due to the risk oil prices bring when you have all your PT eggs in one or two (oil powered) baskets.

    But I wouldn’t expect rail to continue to show these kinds of mode share increases in PT numbers this year or next for two reasons (not until the EMUs come on stream anyway):

    1. The rail figures are from a low base, so the %age increases achieved look large just by sheer number over this period and most of the big changes (“low hanging fruit”) on the rail network (like double tracking, signal improvements, adding SD units) have mostly been done (not all but most).

    2. With Britomart reaching peak capacity about now for train movements per hour, the only way to fit more people on trains is to not have trains go via Britomart (e.g. by perhaps encouraging users to transfer modes/rail lines at Newmarket which Integrated ticketing allows) or lengthen the trains so you get more people per train, or stretching the AM/PM peaks over a longer time period.

    It all brings to mind that they say that generals are always ready to fight the last war not the next one.
    – the same could be said of PT planners – they’re always ready with solutions for the “last” PT crisis, not the one thats coming.

    Those figures sure do point to a looming crisis in PT sooner than later if even more improvements (like the CRL) don’t come sooner than later.

    1. Yes capacity limits not passenger demand look like the coming cause of any drop off in growth for the rest of this decade. Especially as the end of this period is the earliest we can expect to have the CRL working. The ‘killer app’ for increasing capacity on both buses and trains.

  6. It’s worth asking how much of the growth is due to the population increase and how much is actual “conversion” (i.e private transport users shifting to public transport). Separating those two effects will make it easier to know if a genuine change is going on, or whether the numbers are more of a reflection of the higher population. One approach would be to run a difference-in-differences regression – there’s a good example here:

    An interesting question would also be the background of new migrants into Auckland. If they’re mainly lower-income (e.g. students), then it’s more likely that they’ll use public transport vs. private transport. As the move up the income ladder, they may shift to owning a car.

      1. I was not saying “PT users are all young, poor, and foreign”. I was asking how much of the growth was due to population growth and migration, because that wasn’t mentioned in the post and I wasn’t sure of the magnitude of these changes compared to PT growth. Matt L’s numbers below help with this.

    1. Auckland’s population grows by about 1.6% per year, PT use is currently growing by over 9%. To put it another way, in the last year the population of the region has increased by about 26,000 while the number of PT trips has increased by almost 6.2m. For all of the growth to have occurred from these new residents then they each would have had to made about 235 trips on PT each year which is possible by very unlikely.

      1. Especially as most of the population growth are little babies and I’m not sure if they’re counted in patronage statistics.

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