We’ve talked quite a bit about how trends in New Zealand are changing and one that regularly talk about is Vehicle Kilometres Travelled which is the distance that vehicles in New Zealand drive. The results come collating the distance travelled from vehicle odometers which is something checked each time someone gets a Warrant of Fitness. The distance we travel on a per capita basis has been dropping for some time.

Last week at the transport debate Gerry Brownlee said new data would show the trend of declining VKT was reversing as the economy recovered. His suggestion being that just around the corner we’re going to need roads like Puhoi to Warkworth to deal with the extra driving that we’re all supposedly meant to be doing. But are we actually driving more? Well new data from the Ministry of Transport suggests that on a per capita in Auckland basis we each are still driving less than we did decade ago.

Auckland VKT - 2013

Other regions show an assortment of outcomes with some results up and others down.

NZ VKT per capita table 1

In Auckland we’re driving less but of course we also know for the last decade or so the big story in transport has been the resurgence of PT use which has been growing strongly. This is growth is off the back of investments like Britomart, the Northern Busway and the bus lanes on the isthmus  e.g. Dominion Rd.

14 - July AK Annual Patronage

So how does this growth in PT trips compare to the changes shown above for VKT? The graph below shows the two and there’s quite a difference as to where the growth is occurring.

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4

Of course the number of PT trips is coming off a low base however a 30% increase in use is nothing to sneeze at. At the end of June 14 each Aucklander took approximately 47 trips a year on PT. That’s fairly low by international standards or even compared to what’s achieved in Wellington however with all that’s going on with PT right now we could see the result rise considerably in the next few years.

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    1. Care to back that rather generic attack with even something so basic as saying what data above you claim is wrong? Or even, offering an alternative source or interpretation of the data with which to base discussion?

  1. Transport investment should be about what happens at the margins, as that’s what leads to a need to change the current infrastructure mix. Looking at the graph above suggests most investment should be in PT, not idiotic state highways.

  2. Is there data available to show the difference in PT usage vs private vehicle usage? Like VKT for PT or Private vehicle trip numbers? I mean there were 70M PT trips last year in auckland, but what about private vehicles? 1 billion trips?

    You have a nice graph showing growth in PT trips, but what about the absolute figures? How does capital investment in PT(next to none) compare with capital investment in subsidising the trucking industry?

    1. No, there are not. So if people started driving to the dairy twice as often, but stopped driving to Hamilton… we wouldn’t know.

      However, in the absence of any other information otherwise, and alongside a rapid increase in public transport trips per person, that’s not a well supported assumption. It’s highly unlikely.

      1. As Fred says above the important issue is not the gross mode share but the trend, the changes at the margin. It’s not like we have to build the whole city’s transport infra from scratch, but rather to decide what needs adding or changing to adapt to changing demand and to shape a better city.

  3. Is there data on KT by PT rather than just trips? Are the PT improvements facilitating longer trips, or more frequent short trips (or both)?

    1. Historically, there hasn’t been good data on this. With the new Hop system, there will be very good data. We eagerly await its release.

  4. So if people are driving less which I don’t believe then there will be more room on the roads, less congestion so no need to spend billions on trains and rail links. Thats what logic would tell you.

    1. Well yes. Except… part of that reduction in driving is people switching to public transport. And so public transport in Auckland is now terribly congested. So if we want to reduce congestion, we need more trains and buses. Now there’s some logic.

    2. Less congestion than at some other point in time =/= an acceptable level of congestion, or enough non-car-based transport options.

    3. Brian, if you choose not to believe the data staring you in the face, then that is your choice. Driving less per capita doesnt mean less driving or less congestion. It just means we have more people who arent using private vehicles as much. It also doesnt mean their isnt more congestion at peak times. We might still have more cars with more people driving, especially in growing areas like Auckland. But even if you might have a growing number of drivers and a growing number of cars, the data is showing we have an even greater growth in people not driving.

      As far as I know the distance travelled data comes from vehicle registration which would be pretty accurate. We also know how many people are in the country. So we can use both these values to see that per capita we are driving less than 2006 and the trend is continuing down. It’s not 100% accurate, but I am sure it would be statistically significant which means it matters. Logically we should adjust our actions to reflect the trends, not doggedly continue spending money on something that isnt needed. Our roads are basically unused for most of the day. That is a huge economic cost to maintain, let alone build new roads to cater for 1-2hrs of the day when everyone is in their cars.

      On the flipside, I wonder if there has been any studies into whether the decline is related to the retirement of the baby boomers who arent working any more.

    4. That’s VKT per capita, so with a growing population, it still means a growth in the total mileage. However, what it doesn’t show us is whether there is a change in the type of journeys made (such as fewer but longer journeys, or more shorter journeys), which would require more detailed data. Combining this with the vehicle fleet data would go part way, i.e. is the VKT per vehicle showing a similar trend?

    5. Individuals are driving less, but the population is still growing so total VKT is still increasing even if per capita VKT is stagnant. And people are, in part, driving less because they are making use of alternatives, as evidenced by the growth in PT use.
      Nice trolling, though.

      1. Especially when the costs of “reducing” some VKT (presumably by shortening the route distance of Penlink users) mean that we have no funds for projects that would actually have much stronger benefits in reducing VKT, such as spending the same sum on active modes and PT.

        If there was an infinite pot of money, AND every mode was already good enough to provide real choice, then yes, Penlink might create a (very local, small) drop in VKT. As it stands, it is a waste of much-needed money.

      1. Ah, you mean Never Never Land, and if I recall rightly from my “Big Book of Fairy Tales”, they all fly there anyway, so don’t actually need or use roads at all.

        1. Ebola doesn’t work that way – it only spreads through direct contact, and with a decent response it’s unlikely to kill vast numbers of people. The worst outbreaks in Africa have killed “only” a few hundred people – so not likely to have much effect on traffic congestion.

          Although there are definitely pathogens that could.

  5. I don’t see any relevance to per capita data. If a road has 10,000 vehicles per day in 2004 and 10,000 vehicles per day in 2014, despite population growth, then it needs to be budgeted and maintained at the same level, not reduced.

      1. A road used by 10,000 vehicles per day needs to be maintained for 10,000 vehicles per day. Per capita data is irrelevant.

        The suggestion that maintenance should be reduced despite no falling usage indicates a preference for transport infrastructure to fall into a state of disrepair. Does your anti-car stance go so far as to wish for a lowering of safety standards?

        1. Geoff, the only reference Matt made to road funding was the Puhoi-Warkworth motorway.

          The Nats and Greens have the same policy to maintain road maintenance expenditure at current levels. Where they differ is in funding future road expansion, which the Nats justify on the grounds of increasing VKTs. But total VKTs haven’t increased for nearly 10 years, despite an increasing population. So either the new residents don’t travel by car, or we’re all travelling less by car. I’m in the latter group (I used to drive to work, now I take the train).

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