With patronage on the rise and the first electric trains starting to carry fare paying passengers in just 18 days it once again starts to raise the question of when annual rail patronage in Auckland will pass that in Wellington. It’s a question we’ve asked before after we got very close to doing so a few years ago but after the RWC hangover wore off, patronage fell away again.

The graph below shows the history of patronage on the Auckland and Wellington rail networks since 2002.

14 - Feb Auckland vs Wellington Patronage

To me there are a couple of key things that stand out from the graph.

  • Wellington patronage peaked just shy of 12 million trips in the middle of 2009 (although I understand it reached about 16 million in the 1980’s). After that patronage declined to about 11 million about 18 months later. Now that the fleet of Matangi electric trains have been fully rolled out and with reliability improving as a result, patronage is slowly growing again and is sitting at 11.47 million as of February.
  • With the exception of the time during the RWC and over Christmas, since 2011 monthly patronage in Auckland has been very similar to that of Wellington, normally just a few thousand trips per month behind.
  • There have only been a handful of times when patronage in Auckland has exceeded that in Wellington however those times can usually be explained by an event of some sort e.g. the storm damage last year or the NRL nines/Eminem concert this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Auckland can repeat it in March however it isĀ something that will happen more frequently in coming months.
  • The most noticeable difference between the two is the patronage over the Christmas/New Year period. In Auckland the lengthy shut downs for upgrades have clearly had major impacts on patronage. They’ve been a necessary evil while we get the network upgraded and hopefully with Electrification due to be completed this year, they’ll be a thing of the past (at least until the CRL really starts). If the shut downs stop then it suggests that alone may deliver about 300,000 more trips a year. Another good reason why the council shouldn’t let AT get away with lowering their SOI targets.

Before anyone raises it, yes on a per capita basis Auckland will be behind Wellington for some time yet.

Based on just how busy the trains feel this at the moment, my guess is we could pass Wellington by June this year but that do you think? Vote in our poll when you think Auckland patronage will pass Wellington’s

When will Auckland rail patronage pass Wellington

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39 comments

  1. You cannot compare the two cities commuter traffic. Wellington’s fast almost express trains bring in long distance commuters into a busy central metropolis. There is also an excellent inner city bus service for local commuters.
    In Auckland the trains almost fill the roll of suburban trams but as Auckland has its retail & business centres spread around the city and no commercial hub, the trains, along with the buses all seem to be at odds with each other.
    I have gone back to using the buses as I find them faster, going to where I want to go and in many cases, with often more direct routes.

    1. ‘No commercial hub’ this is a peculiar fantasy about Auckland and is simply not true. Yes Auckland has multiple centres but all of them are completely dwarfed by the one big city centre.

      But still it is true that currently the rail network only arrives at one edge of this centre so even accessing that is hard using rail alone. But then who says you should? Buses, ferries, walking, cycling, driving can all be used in conjunction with the trains. I certainly use them all.

      1. > But still it is true that currently the rail network only arrives at one edge of this centre so even accessing that is hard using rail alone.

        Which is equally true of Wellington, since the rail network ends at the very northern extreme of the traditional “CBD”, and needs a (non-integrated fares) bus transfer or a long walk to get anywhere near the secondary commercial “fringe” of Te Aro, or to either of the universities, or the hospital.

        Auckland’s rail network does a similarly poor job of covering the CBD proper, but at least it serves other central areas like Grafton, Eden Terrace and Newmarket along the way. Soon to include Parnell, as well.

    2. No commercial hub? 70,000 people work in the core of the Auckland CBD each day, it stretches to about 110,000 if you include the likes of Newmarket and Grafton. That’s about the same as the number of jobs in all of Wellington, let alone their CBD. Including shoppers, students and others on an average weekday 270,000 people visit the CBD.

      And when you are comparing the two systems, note that Lower Hutt is only as far from Wellington Station as Otahuhu is from Britomart, and both have the same travel time at 30 minutes. Wellington isn’t any faster.

          1. So how much *faster* will the new trains be..

            How about a poll on that?

            Otahuhu to Britomart. 29 mins today.. 6 stops via the Southern Line or Eastern Line. What will it be when the old trains have retired?

            A 28-29 mins
            B 25-27 mins
            C 22-24 mins
            D 21 mins or less

            Gotta be at least 5 mins quicker.. So C, right??

  2. Wellington has not added any new services esp in the off peak area for ages. In fact the 7+pm frequencies (or lack of) are a barrier to encourage use to those travelling after the evening peak

  3. If all the plans come to fruition then it I reckon Auckland can easily pass Wellington on a per capita basis as well in the next 10 years. Auckland would need roughly 30m trips to do this, even without CRL Auckland could easily bypass 20m by offering a more comprehensive system than the mess that exists now.
    As for total numbers, surely Auckland is already beating Wellington?

  4. We are running neck and neck month on month, so the only reason that Wellington is ahead is due to the Christmas shutdown which kills Rail usage in Auckland each summer.
    Now that we are over that last Xmas shutdown hump, our 12 month rolling total is surging ahead again.
    I confidently predict we’ll beat Wellingtons 12 month average by no later than the end of May 2014.

  5. Looks like Wellington has reached ‘Peak Rail’ and using the same logic applied to some road projects – not a cent more should be spent on rail projects in the capital šŸ˜€

      1. Their roads aren’t growing? Am I missing some sarcasm here? We are set to get the Levin-Airport RoNS unnecessarily imposed on us, unless a change of government can somehow stop it. Or did you mean “Their traffic isn’t growing”. That would be true.

      2. “on a per capita basis Auckland will be behind Wellington for some time yet.”

        The per-capita argument is not very meaningful if it includes areas remote from rail. The fact that Auckland has a much larger population than Wellington is irrelevant if large rafts of it are not rail-connected. Much better to focus on corridors and catchments which are served by rail, and if you really must make a comparison then compare those. I imagine that Wellington’s rail-served catchments are just as populous as Auckland’s.

        The goal for both cities should be to extend rail in order to spread its considerable benefits to as much of the city as possible. We just have to get rid of the present government first, as their vision for rail is to do as little as possible, as late as possible.

  6. It seams to be a race to be better than Wellington. It doesn’t matter what patronage figures are between cities as both are different. The reality is Auckland is still way behind, it has 3-4 times greater population. Either way Auckland is heading in the right direction after many misspent years

  7. The Wellington patronage figures do generally seem to reflect the prevailing Government’s attitudes to the size of the Wellington bureaucracy. But it could equally be that central city apartments are stealing rail’s potential customers.

    Alan’s conclusion may be premature or it may be prescient, but it is certainly valid to argue that if mature rail is experiencing the same stagnation as has been noted for car travel, and for the same Gen-C reasons, then yep, maybe commuter rail is going to become another victim of UFB, the question is when will the same effect hit Auckland – before or after Auckland achieves a mature commuter rail system?

  8. If ā€˜No commercial hub’ were true, then the opening of Britomart would have not made a difference in Auckland’s rail patronage. But here we are, about to exceed Wellington’s off a pre-Britomart starting point of one quarter their annual patronage.

  9. Wellington’s rail patronage has flat-lined or is only growing slowly, not because its system is “mature”, but because innovation and investment have ground to a halt. There is no vision to take things further, except for a possbile timetable re-vamp some time before 2021. The flurry of spending that has occurred in recent years largely constitutes renewal of worn-out assets and has actually done little to move things beyond where they should have been anyway, had the years of neglect not occurred. The only new station and new travel opportunity created in all of this time is Waikanae. In fact we are seeing things slip backwards with the recent closure of Kaiwharawhara station.

    Meanwhile Wellingtonians are set to get a $3 billion-and-rising encouragement to leave the train and take the car instead. That is, if this govt’s roading plans come to fruition. All the talk is now Roads Roads Roads. Nothing new is happening on rail, nothing new is being announced, to compare with the RoNS. This is why growth is stagnating.

    As has often been stated in this blog, you get what you build for. And most of Wellington’s transport planning for the forseeable future is to build for cars..

    1. That, and they keep putting ticket prices up. People don’t pay more for less.

      Theirs is a mixture of legacy of the last several councils, regional dis-integration (I’m amazed at how fractured decision making is in the region), and the strong hand of central government directing resources towards cars and away from rail.

    1. 11,000,000 boarings per year represents 15,068 return journeys every day, assuming all days are equal. In reality, weekdays will have more and weekends/holidays will have less. I understand rail carries something like 40% of all journeys along the Ngauranga – City corridor(i.e. from the rest of the region and beyond). Unfortunately it stops dead at the present railway station. The “official” understanding is that few passengers would wish to go further. The reality is that an extension of rail services would likely do for Wellington what the CRL will do for Auckland!

      1. so about 3/4 of the number of people using The Terrace Tunnel each day or 50% more than the vehicle count on Vivian Street and a bit less than Patterson St. I am surprised how low it is.

    2. I think it reflects the complexity of modern transport needs. Commuting in to the CBD isn’t as important as all the other journeys people make. But you’re right, the average Wellingtonian makes 12 return rail trips each year which is surprisingly low given the extensive nature of the rail system. That might be modest, but it still beats Auckland where the average is 3.5 return rail trips each year. I fly more than that, and I’m hardly a frequent flyer.

      1. Of course talking about “the average person” is a nonsense. In both Auckland and Wellington it is more like 30,000 people who use it regularly, another 30,000 who use it occasionally, and hundreds of thousands who never do.

        That belies the value of the rail system a little though, you could say the same thing for the harbour bridge, the southern motorway, or the airport, or whatever. A core group of daily users, another group of occasional users, and the vast majority who never use it.

        For Auckland, it represents 20,000 commuters who can reach the CBD during the weekday peak that aren’t driving to get to work. More importantly it represents perhaps 100,000 that could do so in the future, which itself represents the potential for the CBD to grow significantly in a way that could not be supported by traffic.

        1. You’ve just restated the issue in a different way. 20,000 Aucklanders use the train most days. The other 1.5 million don’t. The rail system is very important for a tiny number of people, but doesn’t really feature in overall Auckland transport patterns except as a footnote. Your figure of 120,000 users per day is a useful target and would definitely demonstrate relevance, but that’d be far higher use per capita than Wellington where the system is mature, rail use is well established as part of the culture, and where the topography suits rail. I can’t see Auckland ever getting close to 120,000.

          1. Yes different but possibly more useful to say the rail system is very useful to a small proportion of people as opposed to being negligibly relevant to every/anyone.

            The distinction is you could think of doubling rail patronage as making rail very useful for another 60,000 people, rather than doubling patronage having no discernible impact on 1.5 million people. Going from 3.5 to 7 trips per capita per year is meaningless. Going from 60,000 to 120,000 regular users frames the discussion better.

            By the way, Auckland topography is perfect for rail, it’s almost custom designed for it. The simple fact is that from everywhere but the harbour bridge and SH16 causeway you have to pass a rail station to move between neighbourhoods of the city. That’s due to the inlets and bridges. For example all movements of any kind between south Auckland and the rest of Auckland must pass within a few hundred metres of either Panmure, Silvia Park, Otahuhu or Onehunga stations. That makes feeding bus, car, cycle and walking trips into rail at these points incredibly efficient, you’re already forcing all travel of all kinds down to those pinch corridors.

          2. Obi you’ve fudged the stats.

            Nick said that 20,000 figure was peak users into Auckland’s CBD, not total users all day.

            To put that figure into perspective, peak Auckland Harbour Bridge users are only 25,000 (2010, source), so there’s 1.45 million Aucklanders who don’t use that resource (by your way of counting it) either.

          3. “Nick said that 20,000 figure was peak users into Aucklandā€™s CBD, not total users all day.”

            Nick might have said that. But 11 million annual trips divided by 365 is about 15k return trips every day. There will be some bias towards week day use. I suspect 20k return trips per week day sounds about right for the entire system all day every week day.

            By contrast, your source shows 150k vehicle movements on the bridge every day. That’s probably 200k people if those vehicles are all cars. I’ll leave someone else to figure out the number of people crossing the bridge in cars and buses on week days, but it’ll be at least ten times as many as take a train.

            Or, to put it another way, if the rail system carried the same number of people as the bridge, it certainly wouldn’t be a traffic planning footnote.

          4. I don’t think it is valid to say that because Wellington’s rail system is “mature”, this somehow explains its patronage level. People quickly respond to what is on offer, and it just so happens that the northern areas of Wellington, (Johnsonville, Hutt, and Kapiti) have offered reasonable electrified rail services for many decades. The rest of the city of course has not.

            Auckland has also offered a rail service over the same time-period, servingonly part of the city, but because the quality was poor so was patronage. As we have seen and will continue to see, this can change almost overnight once a significant improvement takes effect! I question whether there is any “maturing” period involved. Typically, successful urban rail improvements see a big upswing in patronage from Day 1.

            Conversely, if quality declines, patronage can quickly decline with it. The fact that a system may be “mature” will give it no guarantee of sustained patronage in such a situation. People respond to what is on offer in the here-and-now. History or “maturity” is of little consequence.

            And the danger Wellington faces is the same as what has plagued Auckland for decades: Failure of the rail system to develop and keep-pace with the needs of the city! Wellington is about to receive $3bn worth of unnecessary motorway-investment, but it cannot see its way to extending its rail system to those same areas deemed so needful of a motorway. Already it is being acknowledged that rail will lose patronage under this strategy, and will therefore lose relevance. If nothing intervenes to change this, in a few years Auckland will have a far more “mature” rail system than Wellington.

          5. Obi you are hardly comparing like with like between daily rail journeys on Auckland’s still undeveloped, unelectrified rail system and Harbour Bridge traffic. Come back in a decade or two when the CRL, Airport rail, North Shore rail and whatever else have all eventuated, and look at the comparison then.
            If comparison is what you are after, a better one to make at this juncture is the proportion of travellers crossing the harbour bridge by private vehicle compared to those using public transport. You will find public transport users have become a sizeable proportion since a major improvement (Nth Shore busway) was rolled out.
            Wait until rail has also seen step-change improvements before you judge it.

          6. Obi you are deliberately downplaying rail and overemphasising harbour bridge traffic. You say 11million trips divides into 15,000 return journeys over 365 days. It is 30,000 individual journeys. Fair enough that you assume many will be return journeys (some may return via another mode of course). But then you say there are 200,000 people going over the bridge. The source says 150,000 vehicles. So by your return journey reduction logic, there are only 75,000 return vehicle trips… Don’t count road users twice and halve the rail….

  10. A factor in Wellington rail patronage is the RoNS: NZTA say that the effect of Transmission Gully alone will be to reduce Kapiti Line patronage by nearly 25% compared with what it would have been when TGM opens.

    Another factor in Wellington is poor penetration into city centres. Wellington itself has been noted, but Lower Hutt is remote from the railway – the nearest stations (Western Hutt and Melling) have an hourly off-peak service, Mon-Fri only, with poorly defined pedestrian links; fortress Porirua raises the barricades against pedestrians from every direction, including the railway station (though Porirua CC is doing something about this); Upper Hutt station is separated by a car park and main road from the CBD.

    Auckland hasn’t done just Britomart, it’s rebuilt most stations and reopened and relocated quite a few. Wellington has done nothing similar, having rebuilt three, relocated/reopened none and closed two in recent years.

    1. Good comments Mike. Having lived in both Auckland and Wellington I kind of take these sorts of comparisons with a grain of salt given that they are vastly different sorts of places.

      However, in truth I’m actually appalled by developments in Wellington. I can see the day coming when Auckland takes the high ground in per capita passenger numbers for PT. It already takes the moral/philosophical high ground in comparison to Wellington for PT and planning policy in general. Wellington seems to be going backward as quickly as Auckland is going forward.

      Which is a darned shame for Wellington which may in future be referred to “as a place that used to be a great walking and PT-centric city with charm and character”. Wellington politicians, councillors and planners really need to take a long hard look at themselves and the sort of legacy they want to leave for their city.

  11. The best chance for Wellington’s public transport is a change of Govt on Sept 20. The current malaise began when National took office after the last change of govt. Prior to that, Labour had initiated the rail upgrades which are now almost finished, and the possibility of further projects such as significant extensions to the network seemed alive. Along came National and switched the entire focus to building roads. Rail is of no interest at all to them.
    There is an urgent need to change to a Labour/Green government in order to get rid of National’s toxic brand. Unfortunately it does seem the Greens are the only ones with any ideas.

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