I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been pretty disappointed with patronage results over the last year or so (longer for rail). After about 7 years of almost constant growth we saw patronage decline and then flat line with it only just starting to show signs of turning around. If there is perhaps one silver lining from all of this it’s that it has hopefully shaken Auckland Transport up and made them realise they can’t just sit back and expect patronage growth will always occur.

There are a heap of big projects happening at the moment which will dramatically improve public transport over the coming years, in particular electrification, the new bus network, integrated ticketing and eventually integrated fares. However these are all big, multi-year projects that we won’t see the full benefit from for a while and I suspect that AT may have been resting on their laurels waiting for those projects to be completed. The patronage problems forced AT to start thinking about PT more and we’re now starting to see some of the early outcomes of this with them starting to improve their marketing – and there is likely to be other improvements to come.

The patronage results were even more concerning as in the Auckland Plan the council set AT a target of doubling patronage over a 10 year period to 2022 with a longer term goal of reaching a PT usage of 100 trips per person per year by 2041 (currently at about 45). A big question has become whether the organisation can actually meet the targets that they have been set and to help answer that Deloitte have been analysing what is planned to estimate just what kind of patronage we can expect. They presented their findings to the AT board last week and the report itself has now been made public. The results are both incredibly interesting and concerning.

All of the various initiatives currently on the list have been summarised into the following groups and there are no surprises from this. What it does help to show is just how much will be happening over the next couple of years.

Deloitte Report - Initiatives

Deloitte say that even if we manage to fund every PT project currently on the list – including the CRL – and we do it well and on time (i.e. not like HOP so far) then the best we can achieve by 2022 is 101 million PT boardings. That’s a ~31 million increase on what we have now but is 39 million short of AT’s target.

Deloitte Report - Predicted Patronage

They have also estimated patronage by each mode and say that capacity issues on the bus network could start hurting patronage from 2015 onwards and if not addressed then by 2022 it would mean bus patronage affected by up to 15% (roughly 9 million boardings)

Deloitte Report - Predicted Patronage by mode

Further they say that if the various projects were to get similar results as seen in other cities that have completed similar projects, then patronage could be as low as ~83 million boardings depending on which comparisons are used. The other cities compared were Wellington, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, London, Toronto and Vancouver and they say none of them managed to double patronage in 10 years with it typically taking twice as long as that with the best being Vancouver at about 16 years. They say that the cities that have seen significant patronage growth have also seen sustained network investment and service improvement.

The one thing perhaps in Auckland’s favour is all of these cities did start from a high base and with a more mature PT network which probably makes it harder to double patronage on. However if Deloitte are right then don’t have a hope in hell of reaching the target that has been set.

So what does all this mean for Auckland Transport? Deloitte say there are two primary options to pursue

Deloitte Report - Gap Options

In my mind cutting the targets should not even be considered to be an option and I would hope our elected officials would feel the same way. That leaves only option 2 which will mean AT will have to rethink what they are doing and helpfully Deloitte have even suggested a few potential options.

1. Operational, network and service initiatives — for example:

  • Fare reduction and restructuring
  • Increase frequency, coverage, or additional service kms
  • Focus on operational improvements including punctuality and reliability

2. Modification of existing planned projects — for example:

  • Rescheduling capital projects (i.e. bring forward CRL and potentially other projects)

3. New capital investments — for example:

  • Additional investment in busways
  • Bring forward the harbour crossing

4. Incentive management initiatives — for example

  • Creating a competitive process for operators

5. Structural reform — for example:

  • Congestion/road user charges

Basically if AT want to meet the targets then they will have to really invest in improving the PT network. The really big one is 3. where at the meeting Deloitte said we would need one or two additional busways on top of what is currently planned for a capital cost of ~$355 million. Also I must say I have no idea how pulling forward the AWHC does anything to help patronage, if anything it will do the opposite. In addition improving fares, frequencies and/or network coverage as well as other areas of the PT system will be critical and Deloitte estimate that could cost up to an extra $1.5 billion in operational funding (~$150m per year). In addition to the carrots of better services and infrastructure the authors say we also need to consider some stick type approaches by way of road pricing and increasing parking charges.

By in large I couldn’t agree more and of course the need for AT to change their current investment patterns by re-prioritising spending is something we have suggested quite strongly with the Congestion Free Network. We’ve even suggested a number of busways they couple pursue.

Of course my guess is that they will try for option 1 first using the excuse that they can’t afford to invest more in PT without the council giving them more money as to some within the organisation, the thought of cutting the roading budget seems like a concept from a different planet.

At the board meeting the only real question that arose was whether the goal of 140 million boardings was actually worth it and what would it do to mode share. In other words what sort of difference would that extra 39 million boardings make to metrics like congestion, emissions or how the city works. That wasn’t able to be answered at the time so presumably it is a piece of work that will now be happening.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on what unfolds as a result of this report.

Share this


  1. If we build the needed missing mode harbour crossing, ie an RTN route only, in our view ideally a rail system in tunnels, that would certainly lift patronage. But build it as planned and it’s simply a $5billion bid to get people off busses and back into their cars. Having said that it is clear that there is plenty of capacity in the busway yet and for the near and medium terms that money would be much better spent elsewhere on the networks, including extending and improving that busway.

    Perhaps Deloitte took the face-value but unconvincing view that the ‘future proofing’ for rail that current plans Harbour Crossing plans contain actually mean building a North Shore Rail system at the same time as expensively adding six more lanes across the harbour?

  2. 140m trips by 2022 means around 70 trips per capita depending on population. That’s still way below other similar cities in Australia, Canada & the USA.

    It is said often but is worth repeating: if AT really wanted to reach this target we might have seen more than zero metres of bus lane since 2010.

  3. It was unreliability and cost compared to driving that got my friend back into her car recently. It will be cost that gets me back on my bike next week (not that that’s a bad thing).

    1. Having just spent $2,195 on our car’s 100k service (including four new tyres), I have to ask – by cost compared to driving, are you comparing to the true cost of running a car?

      I just recently discovered that if you put your own plate number into CarJam (carjam.co.nz), about two thirds down the page it calculates your car’s fixed and variable costs based on normal maintenance costs and your car’s mileage, breaking it down into cost per year, per month, per day, and per 100km. Makes for interesting comparison to, say, the cost of bus/train fares or the new HOP monthly passes.

      But if you’re comparing it to your bike, the bike will win 🙂

  4. Cutting long-distance fares would be the simplest win, and could go hand-in-hand with the integration project. I know that people will whine about short-run pax subsidising long-run pax, but in this era, only the well-off can afford to live close to town or to their jobs, so I call that progressive taxation.

    1. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking public transport is only about suburban commuters travelling to work in the centre. People make short trips in their local suburb for various reasons, school, shopping, doctors visits, social calls etc. Ramp up the cross subsidy too much and you’ll get a situation where people in the middle and outer suburbs only ever use PT to commute to city jobs, and are priced into high levels of car ownership and dependency for all other trips.

      Having said that I think there is some value in charging more for City Centre trips where there is high value and high willingness to pay, but that is quite different for charging more for short trips relative to long ones.

      I think that is best done with fare zones. A relatively small zone around the central city would make a city commute a two or three zone trip for everyone who doesn’t live right in town themselves. That would allow all the other zones to be quite broad and thick, effectively giving everyone a big area of local access on the cheapest single zone ticket.

    2. Plus inner city residents have access to much better and denser public transport so I think they should pay more per km. The option is there for inner city residents to be a one or no car family – that is much less of an option for outer suburb residents.

      Along with your salary point (though of course that is not universally true), I agree it seems more equitable.

    3. I don’t think it’s accurate to talk about “subsidies” between different passengers on the same route. Everyone on the bus contributes something and lowers the amount needed from everyone else. You can’t really say that short-distance travellers “cost less” than long-distance travellers, since the bus and the driver have to drive the full route no matter who’s on board and how far they go.

      The real reason I see to charge short-distance travellers less is because PT competes with a bunch of modes that do all depend on distance for their cost (or opportunity cost). That’s a willingness/ability-to-pay argument, and so, same conclusion as Nick – we should make peak-time trips into and out of the city cost more, and cut the price elsewhere.

  5. Some interesting figures on the capital and operating cost to attract an extra PT boarding
    – Intergrated ticketing: $12 CAPEX & $1.04 OPEX
    – Ferry Services: $43 CAPEX & $1.40 OPEX
    – Bus Services (inc AMETI but excl Northern Busway): $131 CAPEX & $2.62 OPEX
    – Park & Ride: $419 CAPEX 7 $12.53 OPEX
    – General Rail Services: CAPEX $277 & OPEX $5.63
    – Electric Multiple Units: CAPEX $5.01 & OPEX $35.12
    – City Rail Link: CAPEX $897 & OPEX $25.97

    This report seems to make it clear that to increase PT patronage investing in Integrated ticketing is a no brainer and that both bus and ferry are far more effective than rail investments . . . especially the CRL.

    If two new busways are needed if Auckland is to have a hope of reaching its PT patronage goals perhaps they could join them together with a tunnel through the CBD 🙂

    1. Which will do nothing for the existing rail network and leave the existing capacity issues. But then you already know that and refuse to acknowledge it.

    2. For some bizarre reason, these figures are based on $ per new boarding at 2022. “7. The full patronage uplift from CRL may not be realised by 2022.”

      The value of the CRL will be realised over the next hundred years, not a few years after completion. These figures are pretty much meaningless.

      1. ie lines and tunnels built in other cities 100+ years ago still going strong and carrying massive numbers of people without having to be continually widened like any motorway.

        1. I recently rode a train that used a tunnel under the Thames that was opened in 1843. Do Deloitte’s figures represent any kind of realistic amortisation of the the costs over the likely life of a project like the CRL? Yes the train was new but do economic analyses of motorway projects ever include the cost of running and replacing the vehicles that will use them? I’ve yet to see that.


    3. Of course Tony none of those figures are separable. Integrated ticking can only deliver ridership if there are services for people to use, good and attractive services. The core of the new integrated transit system in Auckland [you’ll have to come and have a look when it’s operating] will be the RTN network, consisting of the Northern [and hopefully other] Busway, and the Rail network. A network that is having to be re-built from the ground up after 60 years of neglect. This will deliver by far the most direct and reliable and attractive [as in able to attract users] core of the whole network. And those opex figures will dive as patronage grows.

      So the cost accountant’s approach, as ever, fails to grasp the interdependent whole of system issue. Useful but hardly the most useful way to understand what is needed in Auckland. The scalpel is the physicians tool of last resort: Try a little synthesis with your analysis.

    4. BUt the Central City Future Access Study looked at the bus tunnel option and concluded it was unworkable. Or are we just ignoring reports that dont favour our own position now? Is that where the transport debate is at in NZ?

      1. No, not “unworkable”, the CCFAS concluded that, although a short bus tunnel under Wellesley Street had a similar cost to the CRL, its performance was not as good (i.e. the benefits were worse). However, there are some very strange aspects to the SKM’s CCFAS Report including:
        * Why did SKM identify a totally difference bus tunnel route from the one Aecom used in the CRL Business Case ?
        * Why did it identify a short bus tunnel under Wellesley Street would have the same patronage performance as a bus tunnel connecting the Northern Busway to Eden Terrace ?
        * Why did the SKM bus tunnel not get a majority of peak buses from the Northern Busway actually into the congestion free Wellesley Street bus tunnel and why would most buses still have travel along a congested Wellesley Street itself even though there is a bus tunnel literally underneath it ?
        * Why is the assumed bus on street performance in the spreadsheet modelling is twice that reported in the actual report ?

  6. Over the last year or so, the number of bus trips I make has reduced from 20 a week to around 3 or 4 a week (I now drive). The reasons? Completely unreliable service and cost – the latter being reinforced recently over the Hop card shambles where I am consistently being overcharged by 99c on each trip and no one at AT will tell me when I’ll be getting my money back.

  7. The whole HOP card integrated system has been the biggest disincentive & deterrent for using, or continuing to use, PT I gave seen.

  8. Expanding road capacity, failing to invest in any form of cycling and terrible and unreliable buses mean PT will stagnate and AT will simply opt for option 1. Why bother to choose a solution that would require cuts to more roads to allow more people to drive rather than catch PT?

  9. Y’know, there are quite a lot of contenders for the title of “Auckland’s most soul destroying street”. Maybe we should run a contest?

    1. There’s a bunch of horrible streets around Titirangi and the closest foothills of the Waitakeres (not really familiar with all the names). They were once narrow rural lanes, but as development has crept up the hills they’ve grown into fairly busy suburban streets – yet with no footpaths or pathetic footpaths, and narrow travel lanes, but somehow get posted with 50, 60 or 70 limits. People blast around the corners well outdriving their visibility. Anyone on foot, bicycle, or horse, or not driving the speed limit would basically die instantly. There’s nice bush around, but the roads aren’t designed with their width and use in mind, and definitely nothing to try to keep people driving to a sane speed.

      What’s the worst? I haven’t been to all of them, but I think Pakuranga Road has got to be up there.

  10. Personally I think these estimates are well under and Deloitte have missed the trick, we only need implement the plans we have properly to more than double patronage.

    To be frank we are near rock bottom in every regard, we have the worst pateonage per capita in the new world and a transit system that is dis functional on every indicator, by and large. However we have plans to fix each aspect. Deloitte identified this, a network redesign here compared to some other city, integrated ticketing there compared to others, an electrified train network with new vehicles like some other… Each adding some percent patro.nage to a fairly mature set of transit markets.

    But Auckland isn’t tweaking a functi staonal network at the marginslike London or wherever, it’s starting from a very low base building and implementing all the necessary components of a good transit system at the same time..we are going from worlds worst suburban train system, for example, to worlds best practice trains and operations running intrinsically integrated with a new frequent bus network, all facilitated with world standard fare and ticketing system. The whole will be much greater than the sum of its parts, we are going from nothing to a well designed and efficient integrated system. In one step..

    1. another issue is the trap of modelling that we criticise road projects for, i.e. “because it has been this way in the past, so will it be in the future” so historic growth patterns are useful guides, but no more than that. We are seeing fewer people driving, traffic counts go down and relatively flat economic performance, coupled with disruptive work on PT infrastructure.

      Driving pattern changes are a fundamental societal change and will be compounded by growing fuel and environmental costs IMHO. Electrification and ticketing implementation are short term issues, but we’ll probably see some disruption and disatisfaction with existing bus travel as the new network is rolled out.

      So I suspect we’ll see the plateau to continue for the next 3-5 years and then some real growth based on a sound PT system start to happen.

      1. Unless of course if AT pulled finger and prioritised bus lanes on important corridors. It is time they accepted that bus priority has to come at the expense of low value car storage on public streets. We cannot afford nor do not need the absurd over widening of corridors like they plan on Lincoln Rd. Get the transit working properly and watch those corridors shift ever more people and freight.

        1. agreed Patrick, however planning and design of bus lanes doesn’t happen over night, but get working now AT and we could have the bus lane network extended in 2014!

          what would make a difference is a study of the areas where buses are being delayed, it may be that a few targeted small projects could pay off big time, for example converting a roundabout with a single movement dominating the others to signals would stack up even in our skewed funding environment. I’m thinking of Lake Rd/Northcote Rd/Ocean View Rd on the Shore, where I’ve spent up to 20 minutes queued Hillcrest Ave on the 920 because of Lake Road’s dominance of traffic flow

          there must be many other examples, the CFN is a great example of what interested citizens can come up with, maybe we can compile a set of “Smart Bus Enhancements” to put forward to AT

  11. Just get the currently scheduled services to turn up (not on time – f’in at all would be a start) and patronage as well as support will increase.

  12. Whenever an article is posted discussing flagging rail patronage I always have to post my little bugbears on train travel. Personally I think the experience has declined over the last year. The frequency of ticket inspections has declined recently which I appreciate. I hated getting my ticket checked just about every trip as seemed to be happening. It seems to aggravate me personally for some reason.

    Yesterday it irked a bit when others were saying they didn’t have a ticket because the ticket machine was out of action. (This I know to be true on the britomart line at Avondale for about a week). One guy who asked me for money wasn’t checked because he had his head down. Maybe it’s just the honest people getting checked and maybe some of them are getting sick of the experience and are heading back to their cars.

    Also yesterday the western line 15:31 to britomart was cancelled because of an earlier train fault but the service ten minutes earlier wasn’t. What was that about?

    Lastly, the cost of train travel seems to be about the same as gas (other, large, vehicle related costs aside) so that may be having an effect. Thank you very much National party!

    1. It probably means that the train that was scheduled to form the 15:31 was out of service and never made it to Britomart, but the one ten minutes earlier wasn’t affected and could run as normal.

    2. After a year of commuting by bus and then a year by train, the train is a cut above our bus networks. It wasn’t strange for me to wait 30-40 min on New North Road (towards the city) even though there was supposed to be a bus every 15 min. If you are going from the city to the eastern bays on the weekends it’s normal for a scheduled service to not appear. 30 min wait time is standard.

      Trains show up well in the comparison. only one train was cancelled on me (the southern line recently) and when they are late, it’s tolerable … 5-10 min max.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *