Auckland’s public transport patronage has been on a tear as of late and patronage is not only at its highest point in over 50 years but is currently up 7% on the same time last year. Included in that figure is the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) – which comprised of the rail network and the Northern Express – is up a massive 17%. The fact that patronage is growing so strongly got me thinking about how it compared to the targets that have been set. This is also important as the council will today be debating PT targets as part of their long term plan discussions.

Targets for public transport come from a number of places and don’t always line up with each other. We have:

  • The Auckland Plan (AP) agreed to in 2012 set an aspirational target of doubling patronage to 140 million by 2022.
  • The Long Term Plan (LTP) which sets targets over a 10 year period (updated 3-yearly). The current LTP was set in 2012 and the council will soon be consulting on the 2015 LTP
  • The Annual Plan set targets for a single year based factors such as recent performance and funding available (which is often different to what was originally predicted in the LTP).
  • Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent (SOI) which is an annual document outlining the councils expectations of AT and lists three year’s worth of targets.

The SOI targets are arguably the most important as the SOI “sets out Auckland Transport’s strategic approach and priorities for the next three-years and how they contribute to the longer-term outcomes Auckland Council seeks to achieve“. In other words the SOI targets the ones that AT care about achieving (although generally they will match the council’s targets anyway although oddly not for this financial year). The targets are initially suggested by AT based on that they think is achievable based on current trends, projects and funding that is available. Council have a chance to change them before signing them off but generally what is suggested is what goes ahead.

Earlier this year we were quite critical of AT for suggesting, and at the Councillors for signing off the targets in this year’s SOI. The reason for this is AT wanted to reduce their PT targets compared to what had been set for this financial year in the 2013 SOI. The justification for doing so seemed to be that AT didn’t think it would meet its 2013/14 targets and extrapolated that forward to this financial year. This was despite the fact that patronage results had already started turning positive again and there are major changes that were about to flow through the PT system that would drive patronage such as electrification.

One example is rail patronage which had flat lined in 2012/13 (it looks like a decline due to impacts of the RWC and the HOP rollout) had it’s target for this year slashed from 13 million to 12.1 million despite the imminent arrival of electric trains. The predictions which fed those lowered targets had been created a few months prior to year end when it appeared we would miss the 2013/14 target by a wide margin however the surge in patronage meant AT was just 5,000 (0.04%) trips short. The fact that rail targets had been dropped the year before was also used by the Ministry of Transport as part of their justification for delaying the start of the CRL till 2020, suggesting that if AT don’t think rail use will grow as strongly as previously predicted then the CRL isn’t needed as soon either.

Fast forward to now and we’ve seen both bus and train numbers rising rapidly so how do they compare with the targets that have been set. With the exception of ferries all of the patronage targets for this financial year have already been met and are even on track to meet the 2013 SOI targets. On top of this every few months AT update their predictions for where patronage will end up for the year. The last predictions were in September so that doesn’t take into account Octobers strong growth and I’ll highlight those predictions below too.


Total patronage has already passed this year’s target thanks to the patronage growth that we’re experiencing. I’ve also included the draft 2015 LTP targets as from now on they only apply to the total patronage. More on the LTP targets at the end of the post.

Oct - 14 - Total Patronage vs target


Has continued to increase strongly. The current SOI target of 12.1 million trips was passed in October with patronage reaching 12.124 million. The last projection suggested that by the end of June patronage would reach over 12.9 million trips however it will now potentially be over 13 million which happened to be the figure from the 2013 SOI.

Oct - 14 - Rail Patronage vs target

Busway (Northern Express)

Based on its performance against its target the NEX is doing the best having not only already beaten the 2014/15 target of but is only 8,000 trips off passing the 2013/14 target too. Further at it’s current rate it will hit the 2012 target as well and it has even surpassed it’ end of year forecast made just last month.

Oct - 14 - NEX Patronage vs target

Other Bus

Like the busway, the rest of the bus services have showing decent growth with patronage likely to hit (or get very close to hitting) the target set for 2012

Oct - 14 - Other Bus Patronage vs target


While buses and trains are doing well, as mentioned Ferries aren’t. Here’s the ferry graph.

Oct - 14 - Ferry Patronage vs target

So overall we’ve met almost all of the patronage targets already and for some modes it looks like they may hit the 2013 or even 2012 versions of their targets which is fantastic news. However it also highlights that the council need to do a better job of setting targets rather than being dictated to on them by AT.

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  1. Seems utterly critical for the Council to set PT targets that are a stretch if they want significant change in this area. If AT hadn’t failed it’s PT targets so badly in 2012/13 I doubt we’d have seen things like their recently announced push for more bus lanes.

    1. Agreed,
      But sometimes you have to try and fail or you won’t get half as far as you’d get otherwise.

      But if AT aims too high and consistently misses the targets it sets, then naysayers will argue “Can’t trust AT’s forecasts, they’re too optimistic and they always fail to meet them”.

      And if AT sets them too low, the naysayers will then argue “Can’t trust AT they don’t even believe in their own PT system enough to be able to forecast the demand accurately”, or “There goes AT again with its hand out for yet more trains and buses and bus lanes that they woefully failed to predict they would need”.

      Those rules don’t apply to roads, if the targets too high and traffic doesn’t turn up, the proponents will says “well thats future proofing the road for the demand”. If the road traffic target is too low, and the traffic jams don’t subside or get worse, its “We underestimated demand, can we have some more money for some more lanes please?”.

      For AT, their only option is to aim high, but high enough that you can actually reach the targets, and ensure you will meet or exceed your targets at least 40% of the time.

      Not ideal, particularly as we don’t expect roads to meet such targets – but this is until they get their targets right and PT usage is on the up and up.
      Then its only an argument about how much and how soon, not if the targets will be met.

      1. then naysayers will argue “Can’t trust AT’s forecasts, they’re too optimistic and they always fail to meet them” – I am sure you are right Greg. Funny noone ever says that to NZTA about traffic projections.

        Could there be a double standard? Surely not!

    1. I know there have been a lot of technical issues with breakdowns (like the Kea) and a lot of sailings have been cancelled recently. Plus adverse weather closing Northcote and some other stations.

      The price is certainly an issue but I can tell you the ferries are no less full and the number of cycles just keeps climbing. Even on the 6.30am Devonport sailing, you are lucky to get your bike in the rack on the Kea.

      I counted 15 cycles on the 5.40pm sailing to Bayswater last night. Stacked on top of each other all the ay down the back.

      The SkyPath is sorely needed. But good news is should be notified next week for resource consent.

  2. Who globally does this sort of estimation well and what can we learn/borrow from them?

    Greg’s point about the different ways things are perceived won’t go away, so improvement seems to me to be the best course.

    1. What “huge” dip? There was a 2.0% drop YTD between 09/2012 (70.6m) and 09/2013 (69.2m). However, AT’s correction for RWC 2011 gave a normalised 70.1m for 09/2012, so only a 1.2% drop. AT’s figures show YTD September : 2010 61.6m, 2011 67.6m, 2012, 70.1m, 2013, 69.2, 2014 73.9m. That shows patronage grew by 20% (12.3m) from 2010-2014, an annual growth rate of 5%. Based on that one-off dip, AT’s forecasting has been commendably accurate, especially compared to NZTA’s traffic forecasts over the same period.

      1. That RWC “dip”/flatline caused PT growth to stall for 2 years, so your growth of 20% over 4 years (or 5% average per annum) is actually, 10% of growth over 1 year, with 2 years of no/flat growth and 1 year of 10%+ growth.

        We are only 1 year out of the RWC shadow and look what we’ve achieved.

  3. Without knowing a great deal of the background, these look pretty bad results to me. AT is only meeting the 2014 SOI targets because they have been substantially reduced compared to previous SOIs. If the 2012 SOI was the right goal to aspire to back then, why isn’t it now? You can’t criticise AT for reducing SOIs in one paragraph, then say isn’t it great we’ve met the new SOI in another! To extrapolate that we could break 2012/2013 SOI targets next year seems like a huge stretch based on the data.

    And ferry use is declining!

  4. It is important to remember that all these numbers and targets take place in a very particular context. A considerable part of the dip is that prior to HOP we had a very unreliable set of numbers. In other words it looks like the pre-HOP numbers were somewhat inflated. Add to that the RWC temporary jump and this explains the curious course of the growth. To get a clearer sense of what really happened it’s better to smooth both the late 2011 peak and following dip out.

    Which you could argue the later targets do. Growth on the Rapid Transit Network is currently impressive no matter what the predictions are.

  5. Did the optimistic 2012 rail SOI assume that the new electric trains would be up and running earlier than things have turned out? Could this at least in-part account for the difference between 2012 projected and what has actually transpired?

    1. I think the 2012 SOI number setters “believed their own hype”.

      If you look back prior to RWC you will see a solid ramp up on the total PT usage in 2010/2011, which exceeded the SOI then and if extrapolated out over the remaining term of the SOI forecast years, would have got meant that patronage got there.

      But reality got in the way and the big post-RWC dip pulled it back to earth, from which it has resumed its upward climb recently.
      Really the Post-RWC drop off has seen a 2 year delay in the usage ramp up, yes electrification was delayed by the Government delaying the deal once they got in but that was some time ago, and CAF did deliver EMUs sooner and in more Quantity than was scheduled in the original contract.
      And yes the KW overhead electrification has taken a lot more summers to complete than it should have/was planned to.
      The Eastern line was livened up earlier this year, from having been supposed to be ready a year or more sooner than that. And the southern and Western lines completed not that long ago. The original electrification program assumed a 3 year program and its start was delayed b ythe Government fiddling with the EMU contract as KR wouldn’t start the electrification until the EMUs were ordered.

      I think AT also assumed that they could take the EMUs as they arrived from CAF, certify them and get them on the tracks in short order, running mixed EMU and DMU/SA runs. As it turned out the process and driver upskilling (plus ETS issues) changed their minds on that so they held back on the EMU rollout. No doubt partly because KR was so laggard on the electrification as well so the original plans to run the EMUs kept changing.

      And don’t forget we had delay after delay for the HOP rollout, as AT was forced to bend its timetables and rules to allow Snapper time to try and fit in )(how many lastchance “Deadlines” were Snapper told to meet before they got their marching orders?).
      We had the “Snapper in drag” aka “SNOP card” during the 2011 RWC, and HOP has really only been on main NZ Bus buses for the last year (and on some of the other bus operators buses only since earlier this year) – which is easily 2+ years longer than it was supposed to take.

      All that has delay and mucking about cost patronage growth. But those days are all behind us, we have 30 something EMUs in the country and now 4 a month arriving from now on, so we’ll have the full EMU set in about 5 or so months to give us the 57 we ordered.

      In some ways CAF is delivering too soon, as if we had more time before the order was completed we could easily add some more EMUs to the order as I think its becoming clearer by the day that we will need longer trains (more 6 car sets) than was assumed to let AT deal with the Britomart bottleneck thanks to CRL still being 7 years away.

      It won’t be too much longer before peak time crowded to the gunwhales EMUs are the order of the day instead of crowded to the gunwhales SA and DMU trains like we have out west now – even with 6 car EMU sets in use.

      And I’m sure lots of people will be fingering AT for not predicting that situation more accurately.

  6. Matt, great data thanks. Part of the reason for the incomprehension being expressed in these numbers are that the bars are monthly MAT totals whereas the lines are year end targets which only apply to one month in the year; June. So you get this weird picture of a ramp being compared to a staircase; they are two different things. Ask anyone in a wheelchair. To make the forecasts more accurate it would be great to see the detail making up each year’s step in the staircase. In this way forecasting is not hard provided you understand the drivers of change and it requires someone to put their hand up and say electrification of the Southern line will deliver growth on that line of x% in yr one, y% in yr two etc. And if the growth is over or under we can point to electrification being early or late or the growth estimates being wrong. Just saying AT can’t forecast is trite. Maybe they can, and it’s just that the electrification project is late… Remember, like death & taxes, the forecast being wrong is one of life’s certainties. The key is to understand why it is wrong and learn to do it better next time.

  7. Hi all. These are targets not forecasts. Different things. Targets should be aspirational. Forecasts best guess at a particular time. AT should not set it’s own targets. In sales, sales people don’t determine what bar the need to mert to get a bonus. That’s a recipe for low balling for personal gain. Council setting challenging targets for AT to meet is ghe best option IMO.

    1. I think you should assume the AT targets are “Budgets” not forecasts.

      i.e. how much can they afford to “make” (to sell), not how much do they need to “sell”.

      Yes, every business wants to sell a tonne of stuff, but its not always feasible or sensible to over-deliver at the expense of losing money in the longer term.

      If AC is the business owner and AT is the sales team, then AC wants to maximise its profits, and AT wants to maximise its bonues. Seldom do those two goals align fully – usually there is a bit of sleight of hand involved on both sides.

      Any sales person set a target will (rightly) respond by discounting the product if they need to, to ensure they reach their targets for the bonuses.

      AT has that option up its sleeve as once the new network starts the “trips” on PT will multiple quickly as people hop on and off trains and buses – so where 1 trip was taken before we may end up with 3 trips (bus, train, bus) in its place.

      So, once integrated fares are here, we may easily see that exact effect come to play and that AT patronage suddenly rockets by 2 or 3 times. from 704 million to 140 million in short order. Even if the actual amount of revenue is the same, you have just cut all the cake slices 3 times smaller to make it slook bigger. To some extent thats the sales equivalent of selling below cost to make sales numbers and is fudging the numbers.

      But AT has been told (by AC) that measuring trips not journeys is the order of the day so thats what they are doing and they are going out of their way to maximise the trips.

      1. Sure. And the multiplier is already happening, which is why I’ve been thinking for some time (to be fair, unposted personal musings) that patronage numbers are reasonably bollocks. If a bus to train to town is two trips, whereas without the transfer (maybe bus direct but looong to town) it previously would have been one, then the growth is purely bean counting. I mean I’m all happy with growth that’s real but if the targets are being met by split trips then it’s not real growth.

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