The news recently that Auckland had surpassed Wellington for rail patronage as well as passed the 12 million trips mark was good however  as we and many others have noted, on a per capita basis Wellington is still well ahead. The per capita result got me thinking about  how we measure it and whether the population figure used is ideal. It’s generally measured by dividing the number of trips taken by the population of the region

  • Auckland – 12 million trips with 1.53 million people = 8 trips per person
  • Wellington – 11.9 million trips with 0.49 million people = 24 trips per person

As you can see based on this Wellingtonians use trains 3 times more than Aucklanders do and for Auckland to have the same per capita rate patronage with it’s current population it would need to have around 37 million trips, something not likely possible without the City Rail Link (the modelling I’ve seen suggests Auckland won’t get patronage above ~25 million trips without the CRL).

While the residents of the capital definitely use trains more, the calculation is a very broad one as it uses the regional population. Both regions have large areas with a lot of residents that don’t live anywhere near a rail line that are extremely unlikely to use a train, for example the North Shore in Auckland or much of Wellington City except the parts near the Johnsonville Line.

For Auckland you can see this in the map below from the census Journey to Work data where train use is unsurprisingly concentrated around the rail network.

2013 - Auckland Journey to Work by Train

So it got me thinking about what the per capita results would look like if we based it just on the population that lives near a rail line. Reader Steve D helped me out and looked at the population numbers within all meshblocks that have some point within either 1km or 2km of a rail line.

This is only a close shot of Auckland to give an idea

Auckland Rail Population

And here’s Wellington

Wellington Rail Population

Based on the looking at meshblocks 1 or 2km from a train station the results are below.

Akl vs WLG 1-2km

So based on this Aucklanders still use the train less than residents of Wellington but the it’s not quite as bad as it appears when just looking at the regional level data.

Perhaps once Auckland gets the new network rolled out with integrated fares we might start to see per capita rail use in Auckland approach that of Wellington.

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35 comments

    1. I believe the answer is “yes”, since they’ve left room for it alongside the Waterview motorway extension as far as Dominion Road. But where will the funding, political will, or trains to run on it come from?

  1. Wow, very impressive analysis. I don’t think a per capita comparison is useful when, as you say, a greater proportion of Aucklanders without rail access will not use it. The total train trips measure is a better gauge of demand and as it has surpassed Wellington’s needs to be discussed with the government for greater investment in a public good, like roads are.

    1. Wonder what it would happen if the existing rail system was extended to the Hospital, Newtown and Kilbirnie, not a separate (light rail) system which will require an enforced interchange for everyone, or else some yet to be worked-out arrangement for co-sharing existing tracks (Tram-train). I strongly believe an extension of what we have has great merit, but consideration of it has been completely stifled by a single-focus on light rail. Cost is normally cited as the reason for this, but no serious attempts at investigating and costing innovative heavy-rail options has ever been done. Likewise no proper investigation or costing has ever been done regarding tram-train operation on existing lines. For several reasons this might not be a goer, but without it, light rail would at-best only re-create part of the former Wellington tram system.

      Meanwhile the Wellington region is set to receive motorway funding at a level which would handsomely achieve a major extension of heavy rail! Aaaargh!

  2. Wellington’s commuter trains barely touches the city itself, just the valleys up to Johnsonville. Most of it is fast long distance commuter travel to Palmerston North and Masterton at the extreme ends of the services. The city suburban buses give good service and having them travel along the main shopping streets is great with no confusion as to where to catch your bus. The electric bus stop destination indicator signs are fabulous as compared to Auckland’s rubbish ones.
    I get the feeling there is a need for a train station/city bus shuttle as morning & evening thousands & thousands of workers hoof it to the trains along the back streets of the city. The obvious answer is to track the trains to the airport. Yeah right!

    1. There are enough buses passing through the bus station / end of Lambton Quay already. What really needed is integrated ticketing which is always “3 years away”. Then you can transfer on to a bus for the last leg of the journey at no additional cost (if you only stay in Zone 1). Saying that, I suspect some people like the option of a walk across town.

      Much as I like the idea of heavy rail, there is no suitable corridor (unless you underground it) so maybe light rail? If you converted the J’ville line to tram, then you could increase capacity through the Wellington yard for the other services, send the tram down the Hutt road instead and then thread it across to the Hospital and the airport. You could even have trams up to say Churton Park or Newlands too.

      1. “If you converted the J’ville line to tram”

        Something very similar to this was done in Manchester in the early 1990s. Two conventional heavy rail commuter lines from the city to Bury, 18km north, and Altrincham, 14km south, were linked through the city centre with on-street light rail and the whole route became a tram line. In spite of all the usual misguided doom-mongering and complaints about the cost it was an outstanding success. So much so that before long the network was expanded with new lines running east and west from Manchester CBD.

        Even now another new line is being constructed partially along the abandoned track bed of the old Great Central Railway to the south-east and the airport. A tramline from Johnsonville to the airport makes perfect sense and Manchester provides an ideal example of how this can be achieved.

    2. “Wellington’s commuter trains barely touches the city itself, just the valleys up to Johnsonville. Most of it is fast long distance commuter travel to Palmerston North and Masterton at the extreme ends of the services.” – complete nonsense, I’m afraid. While the railway barely penetrates Wellington’s CBD, over a third of the stations on the electrified network are within the city boundaries; out of the hundreds of trains each day only a handful go to Masterton, and just one to Palmerston North.

      Now, back to the facts…

  3. Cross-fertilising this with the conversation on the Western Network proposals…

    It is noticeable how the proportion of train usage falls off rapidly on the north side of the western line, compared to the south side. While there will be a number of independent factors in this (self-selection of the location of car-preferring residents, and the innate dead-end that is the Waitaks for example), one cannot help but observe that the directness of the NW motorway corridor plays a significant role in drawing users away from the relatively indirect rail corridor…

    What would be interesting would be to see the same map for bus to test whether that Northern side prefers bus rather than rail, compared to the southern.

  4. The logical route for modern tram (light rail) is from the Johnsonville line along the Golden Mile to Cambridge Tce, through Newtown and then via a new tunnel at the Zoo directly onto Coutts St, Kilbirnie, hence through existing (enlarged) tunnel under the airport. A cheaper route would use the old tram route over Constable Street.

    The Spine Study completed last year chose an illogical route moving from Cambridge Tce to the existing Mt Victoria tunnel and hence to a proposed 6 to 8 lane Ruahine St, with no pickups or transit orientated development possible in that section, and decided it should be BRT rather than modern tram. BRT needs passing lanes to work efficiently (see Brisbane or Bogata) which is not available in Wellington city. However, trams would work well, as they do in most western European cities, and could result in transit orientated development in the Adelaide Road WCC designated growth corridor, in Kilbirnie and in the Straphmore areas.

    1. A J’ville-Airport tram route would be great for J’ville and fun for Wellington City but it would be of little use for the rest of the region. Currently some 12,000-15,000 people arrive by train in Wellington every working day. And contrary to the Spine Study’s assertions, many existing and newly-attracted users would wish to travel further if it were possible. A Johnsonville-Airport tram line would therefore need to be capable of handling far more patronage south of the present Wellington Station than north of it. Given the extreme ‘peakiness’ of Wellington’s rail patronage, plus the patronage-increase with an extension, the demand at peak times is likely to be more than tram route along the Golden Mile can handle. Therefore demand from the major patronage-generating areas of the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Kapti is likely to be suppressed and rail users from these areas will not find the tram very relevant. An extension southwards of the main lines is the only way to make a real difference to the region. Or tram-train if it can be successfully implemented, but beware of glossing over the hard realities of achieving this in practice.

      1. Sorry, but that is a bizarre example of small-town thinking, Dave. It is very tempting to look at the crowds at Wellington Railway Station and think that the rail patronage must be really huge and only big trains can handle it. In fact it is due to the stub-terminal nature of the system stopping at the edge of of the CBD that creates that impression. It also halves the potential ridership of the rail system. Wellington is the only city where that dysfunctional situation is now regarded as normal and permanent. Everywhere else rail transit is configured to travel through the CBD and generally out the other side into other suburbs. In Auckland the City Rail Link is regarded as top priority in order to achieve exactly that paradigm.

        The reality is that the patronage of the ENTIRE Wellington rail system – around 40,000/day or 11M/year – is less than the patronage of ONE tram route in cities like Melbourne. For example, the 96 route in the latter city carried 16M in 2010-11 and the 86 about the same. Both those routes traverse Bourke St, including its pedestrian mall. Tram routes in other cities are claimed to handle 100,000/day or more. Most of the many new light rail systems around the world carry more than Wellington’s railway.

        1. Sorry but Dave is clearly quite correct when he says that if the J-ville line is the only one through-routed then it will be asymmetrical: ie there will be much more demand on the city side of the line than on the existing suburban part. However this need not really be a problem in that some proportion of service could obviously terminate at the existing station. Then of course those services wouldn’t really be through routed so you’re kind of back at thinking about a new separate service, by what ever mode, from the station and through the city.

          Ideally through routing existing grade separate high capacity electric rail is the ideal, but, like in Auckland that comes with a high capital cost and is extremely hard to get funding in the current mode biased climate. Hard enough in Auckland where there is a much higher population, much faster growth, and worse congestion…. I feel your pain. Terminii are are dead end, literally.

          I know Dave has a plan for cut and cover rail route and I get that would be great but probably the more realistic strategy is to focus on the quality of a surface route and its right of way. Start it as buses, upgrade it to Light Rail [modern trams, streetcars] when possible, especially when it’s busting. Take that route through high demand centres, and defend its right of way furiously…. Through-routing, tram trains etc are sadly at best a second order of business.

          1. Yes, a rail extension would indeed be a great luxury for Wellington, but one cannot help contrast it with what the powers-that-be are planning to spend on luxury motorways. Already $124 million has been sunk into that utterly superfluous 300m Arras tunnel. Billions more are destined for duplicate Mt Vic and Terrace tunnels, Ruahine St widening, Basin whatever-they-eventually-decide-on, Transmission Gully, Grenada-Petone, Kapiti Expressway etc. With this sort of profligacy being set as an example, why shouldn’t we be demanding a proper solution to Wellington’s stunted regional rail spine?

          2. And all the tin plated roads are rusting already so will need lots of expensive repairs, even further draining the coffers of money for quite some time to come…

        2. True, the DAILY ridership of Melbourne’s 96 tram route is more than the whole of Tranz Metro Wellington, but only because consistent patronage and high service-frequency is maintained over an 18-hour period. In Wellington, patronage falls off dramatically outside of the peaks, thus its daily ridership-numbers are mostly generated during the peaks. However the peak numbers that Melbourne’s 86+96 actually handle in terms of passengers-per-hour-per-direction over the busy Bourke Street section are only about half of what Wellington’s heavy rail system currently handles. This is as-of today, without any patronage-growth that an extenstion would bring.

          The issue is not about daily ridership but peak ridership 7-9am, 4-6pm. Neither is the issue about how busy Wellington Station looks, but about numbers of people travelling within those 2-hour time-slots. For the small town that it is, Wellington has an exceptionally high peak rail ridership, as Matt L’s artcle points out.

          Brent, you and I have discussed this many times before. Why do you so consistently to try to hide this reality by comparing daily ridership in Melbourne with peak ridership in Wellington?

      1. Just as the crow flies unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to get fancy like that.

        For a more ambitious version, one could do that, and there’s a few more possible tricks:

        * Do it at a parcel level, allocating population proportionally within each meshblock.
        * Take a proportional amount the population of meshblocks that are partly within and partly outside the threshold.
        * Manually exclude areas that are obviously not going to be served by the rail network: e.g. Stanley Point (which is within 2km of Britomart as the crow flies).

        Ultimately I think it’s a bit unnecessary, though. The biggest way to change the number is picking what the magic distance is: 500m, 1km, 2km, etc. The effect of deciding how exactly the distance is calculated is going to be pretty minor in comparison. And after all, it’s just about coming up with a reasonably fair to compare two cities to each other. The numbers don’t mean anything in themselves.

  5. Auckland doesn’t have a single express service remaining. Every train stops everywhere and still more stations are being talked about. Auckland needs to get a few fast runs in place, especially in peak time.

    1. Auckland’s rail network is generally too small to warrant express trains. Pukekohe being the notable exception.

      The desire to skip stations at peak times hints at a more serious underlying problem: Auckland has too many small/cruddy stations that should be considered for closure. Te Mahia and Westfield being prime examples.

  6. I wonder if Auckland has overtaken my city – Adelaide’s train system patronage by now. No one knows what Adelaide’s system carries because our state govt releases zero information, which is possibly a sign that things are still not so great here. Its amazing how much statistics this site has on Aucklands public transport system, quite interesting

    1. Ah, the so-called “lucky country” – lucky to get any information from your own state government it seems?

      I would suggest that the silence on these stats is not good news on your patronage then.
      Didn’t you guys recently open a new line or extend one with new DMUs?
      So has that turned to custard too?

        1. hehe, you guys think that Auckland has too much CBD parking, take a look at us. We even have a candidate currently running for lord mayor that has a mandate of making the CBD more car friendly and building more carparks, just embarrassing

      1. Yes, the southern line was extended and electrified, but still using our DMU’s at night to protect the new EMU’s from being vandalised I am assuming. Any more electrification has been completely halted as our state has run out of money. We’re eagerly waiting if the southern line has had an increase in use, but no one knows. The return of Australian Rules football to the city (Adelaide Oval) has resulted in average crowds of over 45,000 each week, with a huge % taking trains because they are free for fans and close to oval, but again there has been no stats released. From what I noticed of Auckland when I visited, there is much more housing density around your railway lines. So many of our stations are surrounded by abandoned industrial sites, however a couple are starting to be redeveloped into a housing

    2. From what I can find there’s only annual info available in the annual report but yes rail patronage is well past Adelaide which it seems has been going in the wrong direction http://www.dpti.sa.gov.au/annual_report

      2002-03 – 8.42m
      2003-04 – 8.77m
      2004-05 – 8.90m
      2005-06 – 9.35m
      2006-07 – 9.29m
      2007-08 – 9.36m
      2008-09 – 9.55m
      2009-10 – 9.36m
      2010-11 – 8.78m
      2011-12 – 7.99m
      2012-13 – 7.97m

      I suspect some of the drop off was related to closing down some one of the lines fully while it was electrified and upgraded. Definitely be interesting to see what going on with patronage in Adelaide more frequently

      1. Thanks for that Matt L. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe those above stats are for initial boardings only (ie not transfers). Why the DTPI can’t just show total boardings at least, is beyond us. You guys even have data on individual stations which is great. All we know is that Gawler (northern) line is the busiest. By what and how much, who knows.
        I do believe that PT use in cities like Adelaide and Auckland which don’t have as many intermodal transfers, is rather understated compared with a place like Perth which has a huge amount of transfers which makes PT figures look better than it really is. Having said that, setups like in Perth and Vancouver are the way to go

        1. Josh the really value in facilitating transfers [intermodal or otherwise] is that they make the whole network much more useful and therefore will be used by more people. They also increase the efficiency of the whole network too. A system made up of isolated one seat rides will never deliver as much utility for the cost as an integrated all mode system. Places that privilege one seat rides tend to be dominated by car-centred thinking.

          One further observation, fight hard to get that data made and made public. What a city or organisation counts shows what they value. If your transport agency or city council isn’t counting PT use, cycling, pedestrians well, or at all, then it shows they really don’t give a damn.

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