Well we knew that this was coming. Auckland Transport have released the patronage stats for September and they look pretty grim as the glow from the RWC wears off. Overall patronage was down 13.4% on 2011 however AT have also pointed out that this year has been affected by the fact there were two less working days which they estimate has had a -7% to -8% impact. Without these factors, they suggest we would have had an underlying growth of 4.3%. The highlights section has a very defensive feel to it:

  • Annual Auckland public transport patronage for the 12-month period to end-September 2012 was 70,681,947 boardings and continued to show underlying growth of +4.3% (+2,927,191 boardings) compared to the previous 12-months to end-September 2011.
  • All modes contributed to this growth: rail at +1.9%, the Northern Express bus at +4.7%, all other bus at +4.2% and ferry at +10.8%.
  • Financial year-to-date (FYD) for three months of July to September 2012 and monthly September 2012 patronage compared to the same periods in 2011 has reduced. Table 1 provides actual patronage results +4.3% annual, -2.5% three month FYD and -13.5% monthly.
  • It is important to present the context of these results within known patronage impacts to assess underlying performance trends. The greatest impact on these results is the patronage spikes during September and October 2011 of the Rugby World Cup 2011 (RWC2011) tournament (9 September and 23 October 2011), in particular from one-off special event public transport services to and from matches and also across scheduled services. This is consistent across all modes as illustrated in Figures 5, 8 to 10 and 13 to 15. Table 1.1 provides estimated patronage normalised for RWC2011 of +5.2% annual, +3.5% three month FYD and -3.2% monthly.
  • A second significant impact on actual results for September 2012 was two less business days in September 2012 compared to September 2011 (resulting in a -7% to -8% monthly impact). Estimated patronage normalised for RWC2011 and business days is +4.5% monthly.
  • Estimated real patronage results normalising business days and not adjusting for RWC2011 are approximately +4.3% annual, +0% three month FYD and -5.5% monthly.
  • Patronage was further impacted during September as a result of cancelled bus services due to NZ Bus industrial relations activity and weekend rail network closures to facilitate electrification infrastructure works.

And the usual table

Going just of the pure numbers, rail was the hardest hit with patronage down 30% on 2011 and is actually lower than what was achieved in September 2010 (893,048). Along with the already mentioned RWC drop and having less weekdays, AT also says that rail patronage was further impacted by having weekends affected by shutdowns for electrification works. We have seen both the weekend and shutdown reasons for stalling patronage in quite a number of the reports this year however they don’t tend to make these comments when the opposite is true i.e. in September next year there will be an extra business day and there is less likely to be any network shutdowns so will it be mentioned that there those things affected this years patronage when comparing the two? I assume that AT has the patronage data at a daily level (or at least they will shortly with HOP), I wonder if it is time for AT to perhaps start also releasing perhaps the average weekday and weekend patronage on a monthly basis to give a clearer picture of what is happening and that would take away some of these issues.

On a more positive note, the cycling trend continues based on the number of people recorded cycling at the set automatic monitoring sites with September up 8% on the same month last year.

I have noticed though that they have been calculating the percentage increase on their table wrong for the last few months, I have recreated their table with the correct figures.

As mentioned at the start, we have been expecting a result like this for some time but still it is not nice to see. There is clearly a bit more thought going into what is impacting the numbers and I hope that AT can start releasing a bit more of it. We still have another painful month to go in October as we finally get the RWC results out of the system but I also wonder if it will be mentioned that there are two extra weekdays compared to 2011?

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    1. You’re guilty of blasphemy on two counts: a) traffic volumes always grow and b) people will always want to travel more.

  1. Those cycle statistics are impressive – that would make cycling the fastest growing transport mode in Auckland right now, albeit starting from a very low base. It would also suggest that Auckland Transport and NZTA should get their funding heads together to find a few more dollars for cycle improvements, irrespective of what the Brownlee dinosaur says.

  2. Yes you are right NZTA can always find some growth.

    Waikato Regional Council – Annual Regional Transport Monitoring Report 2011/12. page 17

    “Further discussion with the NZ Transport Agency has identified that traffic volumes
    over the entire State highway network may be starting to increase after a number of
    years of volumes being relatively constant. For example, in August 2012, compared
    with August 2011, the monthly average daily traffic (MADT) for all vehicles increased
    by 2 per cent and the MADT for heavy vehicles increased by 1.9 per cent.”


    Note: September Heavy vehicles down -6.2 nationally

    1. I can see two bipolar conversations in the NZTA tea room:

      August: “2% growth! Hooray! Back to business-as-usual, universe defying traffic growth of 2% p.a.”
      September: “All of last month’s growth was reversed, but don’t worry – next month will be better.”

      Hey, maybe traffic growth will resume at which point my transport planning credibility will be shot and I’ll have to go sell donuts in the Domain or something similar for a living. But at least if I’m wrong I don’t waste $10 billion on RoNS that we don’t need.

      But if NZTA’s wrong, well, I’m concerned that NZ will never recover. I may be wrong but I suspect that $10 billion is more than NZ has ever spent on anything apart from perhaps WWII?

      1. They still have figures in there in which everything is declining and the header is “Growth of XYZ”, even their directory structure is entitled growth. It’s basically an encapsulation of the government’s view that there exists nothing but growth in traffic volumes.

  3. Auckland Transport are really missing a huge patronage growth opportunity by not providing better off-peak and weekend rail services. Some examples:

    – Still no Pukekohe trains at all on weekends
    – Western Line trains still terminate at Henderson on Sundays
    – Western Line trains still run hourly on Saturdays, the same as 1998
    – Most trains still wind back to half-hourly interpeak during the week

    I think we can finally say that we’ve saturated the market for train travellers who fit the criteria of “live within walking distance of a train station and work within walking distance of Britomart”. Time to focus on other markets, through bus feeders, off-peak travellers, counter-peak, weekend users and so forth. Vancouver has 130 million rail trips a year from a system fairly similar in size to Auckland’s so we’re clearly nowhere near saturating total rail demand.

  4. Yes agree with comments. Just as important as reporting the patronage results is planning and implementing strategy to improve rail patronage. I would hope AT are not satisfied with a reported 1.4% overall increase. And waiting for electrification is not the approach because that is going to take another two years to have properly in place.

    AT are in a difficult position as they are competing for funds for rail and appear to be facing rising costs. A focus on customer service and marketing their product is required just as with selling any product.

    I really wish AT could provide their service and not have to shut down every second week and one month over Dec/January to develop the infrastructure. That’s not going to help patronage figures. What work is planned for the January period?
    Also, sorry, I was attempting to enter my posting yesterday when my thoughts were more assembled but had difficulty seeing the entry box while I typed. Fine today. Thought I would log this in case of bug. Probably just a broadband issue at my end.

  5. Are we sure that the rising fares don’t account for much of this impact? After all, Auckland has fares which make bus and rail travel uncompetitive with private transport across a range of routes and distances (not considering other attributes which might make one or the other more attractive).

    Stabilising fares and improving reliability across all services have to be among the two top priorities.

    1. I disagree actually. It is one stage from Manurewa to Papakura costing about $1.80. How far could I drive for that amount? IRD allows 0.77/ km for mileage so 1.80/ 0.77 = 2.3kms. So it is cheaper to catch the train than to drive. The problem is that people don’t factor in the real cost of driving and only include the petrol cost.

    2. It’s not that public transport is too expensive, it’s that driving is too cheap. Most car trips in Auckland don’t pay for parking – that’s why people do it. If we stopped giving away so much free parking then we’d be able to charge more for public transport, because people’s general willingness to pay for transport (for any mode) will have increased.

      And lower subsidies for transport overall has to be a good thing for the economy and the environment. Although we perhaps might need some more targeted discounts for social reasons, but that’s a technicality.

      1. Oh I agree Stu, but my point is that there is a very good chance of achieving higher fair box recovery by lowering prices. By stimulating a much higher ridership- but you know that….

    1. Since January this year, 5 of the 9 months have seen rail patronage drop compared to the same month last year. As mentioned we did expect things to drop off for both September and October as the RWC numbers roll though the system.

    2. Be interesting to run a comparison of month-on-month growth before the RWC against after the RWC, excluding September and October as the figures for those two months are impossible to compare.

      My feeling is that the catastrophic failures on opening night of RWC may have had a lasting impact with people who were keen to give the trains a go for the first time having a terrible experience and now being put off them.

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