We frequently look at what is happening with transport trends and have looked in the past at measures around vehicle kilometres travelled and vehicle ownership. However we haven’t really looked at what is happening as much at a regional level and so that is what this post is about.

First up let’s look at car ownership. The Auckland vehicle fleet has grown by 32% since 2000 which is fairly significant, in fact the only region in the country that has had a greater level of growth is the West coast. Unsurprisingly cars make up the vast majority of the vehicle fleet at ~86%. The biggest areas of growth have been in motorcycles and buses however both are off a very low base so don’t really register on this graph but can be clearly seen on the following one which indexes vehicle numbers back to 2000.

Auckland Vehicle Fleet

Auckland Vehicle Fleet index

So we have had some pretty big growth in vehicle numbers in Auckland. Does that mean we must love our cars? Well interestingly no, not really. While we have seen the vehicle fleet grow, on a per capita basis the Auckland region has the third lowest ownership rate in the country with only Wellington and Gisborne ahead. It is possible some of this is related to the fact that Auckland has a younger population and therefore simply are not able to buy a car.

Vehicle Ownership per Capita table

Below is a graph just showing Auckland compared to the NZ total.

Vehicle Ownership per Capita AKL vs NZ

Auckland has lots of cars but by far not the most on a per capita basis.

We consistently hear from some quarters that Aucklanders love to drive however once again that doesn’t seem to be the case. In the 2012 year, despite the population increasing and over 20,000 vehicles being added to the Auckland fleet, there was in total fewer kilometres driven than the previous year. The changes are even more dramatic when you compare the results against the city’s population. On a per capita basis we are at the lowest level of driving since at least 2000, possibly even further back. Once again Auckland actually has one of the lowest per capita results with only Wellington below us (and by a significant amount at ~7000km per capita). Way out as the most driving region is Canterbury with the average person driving almost twice as far as Aucklanders do each year.

VKT per Capita

VKT per Capita Indexed 1

So what can we learn from all of this, well while the vehicle fleet is growing,  Aucklanders simply aren’t buy as many cars as the used to on per capita basis. Further and perhaps key, even those that do have a car are generally not driving them as much. The amount of distance people travelled appears to have peaked in 2006 and has continued to fall. Just imagine what would happen to both of these figures if we have a fully operating Congestion Free Network giving people some real choice in how they get around.

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54 comments

  1. Aside from generational issues this reflects the extent of Auckland’s urbanisation. More Urbanised: less need for and utility in, driving.

    Interesting that the Minister of Transport is a Cantabrian born and bred. Canterbury is, although home to our second biggest city, the capital of provincial NZ. Being mostly on a flat plain Christchurch always was the natural home for the dispersed habitation model of development. And this has been extended by the earthquake as its urban Victorian core has literally been smashed.

    Urban and provincial NZ have different forms and require different transport solutions.

    These trends will continue.

    1. The regions that drive the most per capita and all are more than 10k per year are Canterbury (15.9k), Waikato (12.6k), Southland (12k), Northland (10.8k), Otago (10.4k) and Manawatu-Wanganui (10.3k)

      1. Can’t figure out how you’re getting your figure for Canterbury! The VKT figure on the website is 5,382 million km. When you divide that by Canterbury’s population (approx 550,000) it works out just below 10,000 km per capita, per year – which is around the NZ average.

  2. Sounds good, but can we infer reducing kms travelled per capita reflects a trend away from car use? Is it possible to know the number of trips per capita rather than km travelled? This would be useful data. How do we know that a reducing km travelled per capita reflects not that our love of driving everywhere is diminishing but simply that we that don’t travel as far each time we do drive (a result of increasing development intensity?). If so, the question would then be why do we regularly choose a car over an alternative mode when the distances travelled are getting shorter over time.

      1. Thanks Matt but it doesn’t really answer my (vaguely put) question. Do we know whether Aucklanders are making fewer trips, making the same number of trips but travelling less distance each time, making the same number of trips but being more efficient with their car usage (say by combing a trip to the shop with a trip some where else to save on gas), or making the same number of trips but not always using a private car, or something else?

        I think Patrick’s comment above captures what I was thinking about when he compares regions: “…this reflects the extent of Auckland’s urbanisation. More Urbanised: less need for and utility in, driving.”

        1. It would also be interesting to know how much of that drop in VKT is travel around town, and how much is rural or intercity travel. Are people flying rather than driving, for example?

  3. I would question your suggestion that young people “are not able” to buy cars. Road-legal cars can be had second-hand for a thousand dollars, or less. Registration and third-party insurance total less than $500/year, even for someone under 20. The running costs are not prohibitive. But transport competes for a fixed disposable dollar and the evidence is quite strong that as an average young people don’t have the same status relationship with automobiles as did their parents.

    1. By young I mean people under 16. We know Auckland has a very young population compared to other places which is one of the reasons we are expected to grow so much in the future (they grow up and have babies of their own)

    2. I’m not quite sure owning a car is actually cheap. I’ve been a PT user for over 7 years and every time I’ve looked at the total cost of owning a car it’s consistently been more expensive than the amount I would spent per annum on monthly passes. People forget to take into account things like the cost of a decent working car (as opposed to the el cheapo cars that Matt Clouds refers to which often cost more than it’s worth to run), petrol (especially taking into account that costs will increase over the life of the car making cars a poor investment especially the el cheapo cars), parking costs (which are ‘free’ for PT users), service costs, tire replacements, repair costs (I remember one time a friend telling me of a relatively minor repair, which cost more than twice my annual expenditure on PT — certaintly scared me off buying a car), full insurance costs (third party doesn’t cut it for me — if my car is written off I may not have the cash to buy another one straight away), breakdown cover, etc. I’m car free to this day and even though I would like to have a car, finanically it does not make sense for me to own one.

          1. AA uses $.77/km for a 3-year old car. Just for fuel and tires it’s about $.40/km. Not sure where the inevitable break down fits in, but I think a reasonable metric is $.55/km based on our crappy fleet. $.55 * 8000km/year = $4,400. at .77/km (closer to what companies pay) it would be $6,160. The 8,000+km per year figure stands out as being low. Perhaps being per capita includes people that don’t drive as opposed to per driver which seems more appropriate??

          2. where does 8000km/year come from? All the govt energy saver sites claim 14,000/year is ‘average’ e.g. fuelsaver.govt.nz which shows me spending $1600 on fuel during the year to travel that 14000

        1. This figure still seems very high; I doubt I ever spent as much as $4,000 a year on a car. With fuel at $2.20 a litre and getting 10 km per litre, that’s a fuel cost of 22c/km (this would be the average across the entire NZ fleet). Tires aren’t that expensive, especially if you were like me and bought them second hand.
          Anyway I better just do a post about it sometime 🙂

      1. Plenty of people cut corners, though. Insurance, breakdown cover and panel-beating are entirely optional, while larger repairs and servicing can be put off at the expense of the car’s lifespan – which in turn increases the number of cars sold! If you’re really hard up for cash, you can take your chances by not getting a warrant or rego, either, and plenty of people do that. Most people also face no direct costs for parking.

      2. Why does it need to be “a decent working car”? Buy something reliable like a Toyota or a Nissan, rather than a glorified piece of European trash, and the maintenance costs are pretty low (the difference between my 1996 Nissan and my partner’s 2002 Volvo is staggering, both in cost of maintenance and frequency of need for maintenance). If you’re really hard-up you either learn how to do your own basic maintenance, or you go to one of the multitude of cheap garages to get things like oil and spark plugs changed.
        Part of the reason there are so many old Japanese cars on our roads is that not only are they cheap to purchase, they’re also reliable as hell and quite cheap to maintain. Parts are plentiful, because there are so many of them, and catastrophic failures are rare. Tyres can be had quite cheaply too, even new ones.

        As for depreciation, it’s not operating cash so it’s invisible. People here keep on harking back to depreciation over and over, but individuals aren’t businesses. Depreciation can be, and is, ignored quite happily. There’s no tax benefit to it for private individuals, so who keeps track? I sure don’t. I’ve owned my car for 10 years. Why should I give a toss about depreciation? Yes I would weigh up significant repair costs against the cost of a replacement, but I wouldn’t weigh them up against the car’s nominal value. When someone buys a car for $1,000, depreciation is even less of an issue. It just doesn’t exist. Depreciation might matter to people who are paying ten, twenty, thirty thousand dollars for a car, but when you’re paying effectively zero it’s just a distraction.

        A search for used cars under $2,000 in Auckland on Trademe returns about 1,000 results. Most are drive-away legal.

        1. Depreciation is real – ignore it at your peril. There is a difference between the price that you pay for a car and what you get when you sell or scrap it. That money has to come from somewhere and while you can ignore it once you have a car you can’t ignore it when it comes time for another. I wouldn’t buy a car for $1000 but those that do should budget for another $1000 in a year or two, As for tyres – I am writing this as I wait for 2 new tyres to be fitted. $480. Life’s too valuable for cheap tyres. Agree with you re Japanese cars. I’ve had Volvo, VW, Renault, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot etc (in Europe) but these days in NZ it’s all Japanese for overall cost of ownership reasons. Motoring is our second largest household expense after education.

          1. I agree that life’s too valuable for cheap tyres, but even good ones don’t have to be ridiculous. Hell, I put 215/45R17 Goodyear Eagle F1’s on my car and it can be done for < $200/corner by reputable outlets. Tyres don't get much better until you're buying custom tyres for Italian cars, but you can get good tyres for half that. Not fabulous, certainly not Goodyear or Pirelli, but not re-treads and not low-quality crap. And when you're buying for bog-standard wheels for Japanese cars the tyres really can be had cheaply because they're produced en masse due to the large number of vehicles in the dimensions profile.

            As for depreciation, you lot seriously overestimate a) the attention that Joe Public pays to it, and b) the real impact on people who own cars until they fall apart – which is a lot of us, as evidenced by our ancient-and-aging vehicle fleet. Why should you budget $1k in a couple of years for a car which cost you that much? If I sold my car I'd be expecting that kind of money (it's got a bit of panel damage), but with a modicum of maintenance it should be good for several more years. Remember, it's not Euro trash, it's quality Japanese engineering with abundant spare parts available. I get the impression from discussions like this that the average commenter on this blog is very divorced from Joseph and Joanne Public from Struggle Street. The high-minded concepts of depreciation, "expensive" (like, more than about $5k) cars, whole-of-life costs, etc, just don't register to most people. They just don't. You can bandy about depreciation until the cows come home, but if it's not coming out of their pocket people ignore it.

  4. The problem is also a psychological, called selection bias. if you believe something is better you deny all contradicting information and value confirming one more. So many people usually just take pure variable operating costs in account, what makes it in their mind cheap.

  5. The big issues with financing cars is that the cost is lumpy. Need to come up with thousands at once to buy the car. If you can’t do that need very expensive loan that may effectively double the price of the car. Also the cheaper the car, the more likely its is to suffer expensive failure. My brother bought a $9000 car 2 years ago, and a month ago the engined failed, so had to come up with another $3000 asap. For those on low incomes they just can’t find that sort of money.
    In comparison looks like it will be $190 a month or $2380 a year for unlimited travel around the entire urban area of Auckland under AT HOP monthlys.

    1. In comparison looks like it will be $190 a month or $2380 a year for unlimited travel around the entire urban area of Auckland under AT HOP monthlys.

      With the associated reliance on service frequencies and timetables, neither of which is any use if you want to be out late, up early, or live in many of our car-centric suburbs. Our public transport has a very, very long way to go before it’s actually functionally useful for most people for most journeys. Which means that, at a minimum, it doesn’t take three-or-more times as long on public transport. Back to an example I’ve used before of theatre rehearsals in Mairangi Bay while living in Ellerslie. Drive home: 20-25 minutes (drive there is the tail of rush-hour, so quite variable but generally 30-35 minutes). Public transport home, at absolute best: nearly an hour. And the margin of error between that and well over an hour was wafer thin. Neither of those suburbs is the boonies, by any stretch of the imagination, and they are convenient to transport hubs, but the connectivity is lousy.

        1. Driving off peak, yes. But if we had electric trains to the airport, ferry then train would be faster at any time, including peak. So it is all about infrastructure. There is nothing inherent about Auckland that makes driving a better option, just priority in our infrastructure spend over the last 60 years.

        2. 38 minutes is still a massive stretch even in off-peak. If you include the Airbus the journey can be done in an hour without a car if the timings right.

      1. I think you are still falling into the trap of assuming the end game is to produce a city where most people use public transport most of the time. Obviously we need to increase PT (and cycling) use but even in Copenhagen and Amsterdam roughly 1/3 of trips are made by car . If we were to get to a 60/30/10 split in our modal share that would be a great accomplishment and would put us on a par with cities like Toronto and Chicago – a great place to be.

        More people will use PT/active modes all the time, more will get rid of one car and depend on PT/active modes to replace that car. But some people (just like in Copenhagen or Amsterdam) will still regard PT or cycling as not relevant for them and will continue to drive 1km to the shops for a paper, that is human nature. But they will be a minority.

        Giving an example of one journey you make for theatre rehearsals between two very diverse suburbs, a trip only a tiny proportion of the population will ever make, is not really relevant to the majority of the population’s travel needs. How many journeys you make ARE able to be replaced by PT or cycling? How many journeys you make are less than 5kms? Perfect distance for cycling.

        To paraphrase Lincoln “You can have some of the people driving all the time and all of the people dricing some of the time, but you cant have all the people driving all (or 87% of) the time.”

        1. Just to nitpick (having watched the wonderful Human Scale documentary that the Council kindly viewed for free the other day)
          The 1/3 figure for commuters in Copenhagen is for cyclists. 1/4 of trips are by car.

          1. Nice datasource. Very surprised to see the difference between london and paris at 34% vs 9% for private vehicle commuters.

            That shows cycling in copenhagen at 26% which is quite a bit lower than the human scale video said. Sources for courses

        2. Getting a 60/30/10 split means that trips like my example, between two suburbs that aren’t the boonies and are fairly convenient to transport hubs, need to be possible in durations that aren’t outrageously longer than in a car. They also need to be possible without paying a small fortune. Neither is the case at present.

          1. Why? What percentage of people make that trip? Maybe that trip will never be faster or cheaper by PT and it will certainly never be by cycling. Does that matter?

            However, the vast MAJORITY (not all, just a majority) of trips made by people in Auckland are to a very small number of destinations or are less than 5kms.

            PT is good for accessibility not mobility – two very different things. With good PT it will be easier to access popular destinations (CBD, locations close to a train or busway station) and destinations that people travel to regularly (office, shops, family). Destinations that are good for PT will also become more popular. Cycling infrastructure will make it easier to make short local trips to the shops or to the local PT station.

            PT is not that great for delivering hyper mobility, the ability to just pick up and spontaneously transport yourself to a random destination. I doubt anyone is ever going to go surfing by PT. Cycling is good for mobility but obviously weather, terrain, physical ability and distance are factors.

            I am not disputing your point that the system needs to improve and that Auckland needs to invest heavily in it from now on. I just think your criteria for assessing a good PT system is not really realistic. Cars will always deliver hypermobility and are used for that even in really good PT or cycling cities – even Dutch and Danish people drive sometimes.

          2. Just one other point – “fairly convenient to transport hubs”

            Mairangi Bay is 3.3 kms from the Constellation busway station. A pretty easy cycle ride but “convenient”?

          3. You have got confused about being able to make a specific journey and being able to easily and conveniently make connected rides that turn into a journey. You know, a network. Like a real city with a real transport system.

          4. No I really havent. I know you dont just mean between those suburbs specifically, you are talking quite generally. It could be Meadowbank and Mt Roskill or Henderson and Howick. I think the point on mobility vs access is still good.

            I know exactly what you mean and yes, in other cities I have lived in, especially in Europe, those connections can be made. My point is that if you are judging improvements to Auckland’s PT system on whether you can travel just as quickly from two disparate suburbs as quickly as by car, I think you will never be satisfied. Right now double the time by PT is actually pretty reasonable unless it is between two very PT friendly points.

            Again, I am not really disagreeing with your general point. The system needs to improve and we need to stop investing only in travel by private motor vehicle, not even a debate. I think you are just being too ambitious as to what Auckland can achieve in the next 20 years.

          5. Right now, if it’s double you’re lucky. My example could be triple or worse. Some journeys can be more than five times longer using public transport (coming off Te Atatu Peninsula to just about anywhere, for example).

            I know it’ll never be possible to be time-equivalent with a car, because of the point-to-point nature of a car vs public transport. That’s fine. Hell, I’d be happy if it was double more often than not. But it just ain’t.

          6. With the CFN, Constellation to Elleslie Stations would be faster than driving, but, as you say Matt, it depends on how close your actual destinations are to those points that would add the time and hassle.

            The coming changes to the networks will make many more cross town journeys like these actually possible to make on PT, but, again as you say, not as fast as driving point to point. Hey but possible is a damn good start, speed is always the only deciding factor.

        3. What is your 60/30/10 target? PT/active/driving?

          I have friends and family that live in suburbs other than the one i live in. Surely i am not the only one.

          Should PT really only focus on City Centre workers?

  6. The key points I would take from this post are:
    1) Auckland vehicles per capita peaked in 2005-2007 and have fallen marginally since then, although it’s not major.
    2) Aucklanders have fewer vehicles per capita, and drive less than the NZ average.
    3) Travel per capita peaked in 2006 and has fallen a bit since then.
    4) Given our continued population growth, total vehicle use (i.e. distance travelled) may still be increasing – can you do a graph for that, Matt? – but is likely to be fairly muted. As Matt says, bring on the CFN!

  7. What I got from this ; I am not the only going back to using a motorcycle after a few years of PT and car. 🙂

    The big increases in ACC levies in the registration fees over the last few years have put a damper on the growth, but LAMS changes, cheap scooters and increases in fuel prices all seem to have driving more bikes on the road. One personal datapoint; the carpark at work used to have 2-3 bikes a couple of years ago when I started, now it has 6-7 with 3 of the riders being new to motorcycling. Still small numbers, but will be interesting to see if electric bikes/scooters have a impact over the next couple of years ; the running cost of a 2-4KW electric scooter must be next to nothing.

    Motorbikes/scooters are not for everybody, but a reasonable option for urban trips as they can be cheaper than PT by my calculations (no parking costs, reduced fuel and depreciation vs higher registration/insurance etc costs).

    1. > Motorbikes/scooters are not for everybody

      What is so different about Asians that in china and south east asia etc scooters really are for everyone. In Kashgar about 90% of commuters travel by electric scooter.

      1. it’s probably income levels and affordability, China is the fastest growing market for cars, with India becoming a world force in car manufacturing also, I imagine that many of those scooter riders aspire to the apparent status of car ownership

  8. I think it is strange that you compare Copenhagen to Auckland. People in Copenhagen use bikes because they can not afford to own a car. It is 180% tax on vehicles in Denmark. Who wants to live in a country that penalises its population so much? Even in Amsterdam the tax on cars is very high. When you consider both Amsterdam and Copenhagen are the backwaters of Europe I dont think anything they do is transferable to Auckland. It would be like looking at Thames and Tokoroa for solutions to Aucklands transport problems.

    1. “Who wants to live in a country that penalises its population so much?”

      Exactly the feeling I get as a pedestrian or when riding my bike. Penalised in favour of motor vehicles. You may view these cities as backwaters but their commitment to providing more than a singular transport mode would be very welcome to this Auckland local.

    2. @stephen jones’ comment reveals both his ignorance and his unsupported bias. Having lived in Copenhagen/North Zealand for some years (and, frankly, wish I was still there), I can assure you that most Danish households own both cars and bikes, if they want to; they can also take commuter and inter city trains, buses and the metro and, of course, walk in a pleasant environment without having their safety and convenience compromised by a street design that defers to motor vehicles. That’s the nice thing about living in a relatively equitable society: your choices aren’t determined by having to rely on a single mode of transport; private motor vehicles (not commercial motor vehicles) are highly taxed because that’s an accurate reflection of their cost to the community.

    3. Clearly, that must be why London etc are trying to implement similar cycle concepts….

      The cities you mention are in countries that have some of the highest incomes per capita in Europe and an excellent quality of life in general. What is your definition of a backwater?

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