Patronage results for September are out and once again there are some spectacular results, especially on the rail network which continues to be the star performer when it comes to growth. Total patronage for September was up 5.6% on the same month last year however included in that figures is a massive 21.7% increase in rail patronage. That has raised the rolling annual total to 14.6 million trips, over 700,000 more than there were just three months ago which is the data the Ministry of Transport used in their analysis of the City Rail Link. As you can see in the table below all modes are growing which is great to see.

2015-09 - Total Annual Patronage

2015-09 - Patronage Table

In a few ways I was a little shocked the rail growth is as large as it has been and that’s because September last year was one of the high months at that time and was up 21% on September 2013. Combine those results and you can see that rail patronage in the month of September was up 47% on the same time two years ago – a very impressive increase.

2015-09 - Rail Patronage - AT

One aspect bound to be having an impact on patronage is the rapidly improving punctuality. In September AT say that 94.9% of all trains arrived at their destination within 5 minutes of their scheduled time which I think is a record for Auckland. Perhaps it’s time to tighten up that five minute window to three minutes like many other cities.

2015-09 - Rail punctuality

A good news story from the business report is that the strong growth is likely to continue over the upcoming December and January months with the smallest rail shutdown we’ve seen for a long time with the western line remaining open all the way through.

Christmas 2015 rail closure has been confirmed for maintenance and upgrade works. Closures in 2015 are limited to between 27th December and 4th January Eastern Line Sylvia Park to Manukau, Onehunga Line and Southern Line with services operating Eastern Line Britomart to Sylvia Park and Western Line. Rail services will operate on Christmas Day for the first time and Boxing Day across the full network for the first time in many years. Closure permits NZTA works at Ellerslie and Takanini, KiwiRail maintenance and AT works for the new Otahuhu Station

The other fast growing mode right now happens to be the ferries. Annually they are up over 10% with the non-exempt services increasing the fastest. Both the exempt and the contracted services (contracted services are Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke) are bound to see some growth after the announcements recently about new ferries for the harbour.

2015-09 - Ferry Patronage

A good news story across all modes is the continued improvement in farebox recovery and therefore lower subsides per passenger km. If the current trend continues Auckland will be over 50% soon which is unprecedented for the city – at least any time recently.

2015-09 - Statement of Intent result

On the subject of rail ridership growth variability reader and occasional poster Greg N has sent us the follow chart highlighting the trend since 2005, including the RWC/HOP blip [green]:

AT Rail Patronage with Trend

He writes:

As you can see with the RWC 2 month blip shown in green, the “major dip” in patronage Post-RWC is revealed for what is was – back to normality for a few months and then the upward trend continued as per usual.

Its been pretty much a linear trend since 2005 of upwards month by month (allowing for the seasonal variations of patronage).
And we surpassed the RWC blip in patronage over a year ago. So where is this “patronage variability” crap MoT talk about coming from.

Oh and to make it Crystal clear what is going on at Christmas with patronage, I marked up the annual Xmas shutdown in the chart so you can see their impact too.
And given that post RWC we had endless, ongoing nightly shutdown on the rail network past 8pm with rail buses for Monday-Thu and Weekend network shutdowns almost every weekend, it amazing that the 2012/13 patronage is as strong as it was.

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49 comments

    1. people with strong statistics backgrounds don’t usually get to write party political statements, oh I mean MoT monitoring reports.

      I also heard a rumour that the expression “lies, damned lies and statistics” was originally coined as “lies, damned lies and *politically motivated interpretations of public transport* statistics.” But that’s hearsay, so it’s reliability is somewhat “volatile”.

      More seriously, the trend in rail patronage is very predictable, and actually has been so since 2003: Consistent growth of circa 10-20% p.a. If anything growth has been accelerating of late, although I wouldn’t read too much into that and wouldn’t necessarily expect it to continue.

      And as mentioned in an earlier post, the discontinuities introduced by RWC and HOP were “one-off” predictable events. Hence they don’t mean the underlying trend is more volatile, simply more complex than what you’d predict based on a simple linear trend alone.

      Jeepers if the MoT were worried about volatility, then they might want to have a look at the NZTA’s traffic count data for state highways. It’s all over the shop like a mad honey badger. Strong growth, decline, sporadic growth … maybe we should not build any highways until the volatility settles down a bit huh?

  1. Desperate, and desperately funny, evidence-free whaleoil post [no I won’t provide a link] claiming no one using trains in AKL, or rather ‘some’ are but only because Council is ‘forcing’ everyone off buses and onto trains [at gun point?].

    Not sure how he explains that both bus and train use is up, and transfers from bus are not the strongest area of growth. Oh and rail is growing faster than traffic ever did even at the heights of driving/sprawl boom years.

    The poor dear would frothing at the mouth to have growth rates like this in any of his ideologically acceptable industries…. Funny, if rail is so hopeless why doth he protestest so much?

      1. If previous form is anything to go by, (Dirty Politics), he probably didn’t write it, rather it was penned by some crony lobbyist linked to the government trying to push their preferred agenda.

    1. That being said, whaleoil is the most popular blog in NZ, by a large margin, and I see two possibilities as of why these articles appear on that blog:

      (1) That’s the opinion of the people writing this blog.

      (2) The business model of whaleoil is writing things that as many people as possible agree with. That’s how they get to be the biggest (and have the most income from their advertisers). That would mean that these articles are a good barometer of what the general public is thinking.

      And (2) would help explain the reluctance of our government to fund the CRL.

      1. If that is general public thinking then it is factually wrong, end of story so whoever wrote it is trying very hard to mislead! And PT, I have found is far from a leader in conversation topics and not a polarising controversial subject anyway.

        1. It would be interesting to see how transportblog compares in terms of views. It’s not listed on the open parachute count of nz blogs. Does it need a stat counter or something similar?

          1. It was at number 5 but it looks like there may be a problem with the service used to track its readership. It doesn’t appear at all in September report.

          2. We did have one and were regularly 4th or 5th but I took the counter off a few months ago as it was doing some weird behavior that was sometimes picked up as a virus by some workplaces. Everything counts slightly differently and based on Google analytics we normally get around 90k+ visits and over 180k page views per month

          3. Were you using a SiteMeter or StatCounter? The former has ended up being completely flakey and not recommended at all now. But I’ve had no problems using a StatCounter on my site.

        1. Oh I don’t believe his claimed stats for a minute; also we know that most of the commenters are the blubbery one himself or his handful of cronies… is a joke site run by a particular and particularly sad individual.

    1. How high could March next year go if AT provided sufficient capacity? For rail that would at least mean finally getting 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line. Could rail hit 2 mil for the first time ever in a calendar mont? A stretch, but not impossible.

      Bus numbers will have to be significantly up too though, those population growth figures are ahead of the high-growth scenario. Waitemata Board area 9.7% alone.

      1. I used the Eastern line several times this week at the AM peak and also after PM peak, the 3 car EMUs they were running were invariably full as by the last stop before Britomart in the morning and pretty full leaving Britomart in the evening.
        Indeed the one I got in on Tuesday morning was seriously packed after GI, obviously AT are keeping the 6 Car EMUs for Southern and Western lines (I hope).
        But with the Eastern line growing at 26+% month on month, 3 Car EMUs as peak there won’t work for much longer, even with 6 TPH. And with Southern going at 30%, even 6 car EMUs will struggle to cope soonish too.

        Couple of things to look out for this year.

        1. December and January patronage this Xmas should each exceed 1 million trips, Due to a shorter shutdown this year, and all lines being fully electric.
        These two months annual low patronage numbers are becoming conspicuous & are holding back the annual patronage figures quite severely each year – costing up to 400K trips each.
        Back in 2005-2007 the Xmas/Jan period was nearly as busy as every other month, in recent years they’ve been real dogs thanks to those extended 3-4 week shutdowns every year for the last 5+ years.

        2. March patronage could touch 2 million, it has 2 more “working days” in it in 2016 over 2015, but then has Easter in it too.
        2 m trips will be a very tight squeeze for all and only if AT and KR pull out all the stops to make sure the Western line can have 6 TPH and that all are 6 car EMUs in the peaks, and other network disruptions are kept to a minimum

        With those things under control, then 2016 looks to be a lot like 2015 patronage wise, except each month will then have about 200,000-250,000+ more trips per month for each month in 2016 compared to the same month in 2015.

        And if the zonal fares come in mid 2016 as is suggested, then a lot more people will be able to switch trains and buses with ease and no fare penalties, so expect the second half of the year figures to rocket up for buses and trains.
        And all before the new network is in place in the Central/Isthmus section.

        All in all, AT should hit 17 or even 17.5 million trips by end of calendar year 2016.
        AT are forecasting 16m trips by end of their Financial Year which is June 2016, thats midway through 2016, so its feasible to add another 500k-1m trips in the remaining 6 months.

        Could even be able to touch 18m by end of 2016 if any Xmas shutdown is avoided in Dec 2016 and they run decent timetables over Xmas and New Year stat days then instead of cut down Sunday ones.

        All this puts the MoTs analysis into a dog box really. At this rate 20m trips by 2020 will be well behind us, well before 2020.

        Of course just agreeing to the funding of CRL by the central Government would be a logical next step, but even so we’d still be years away from any train using CRL, even if the Government pushed the button on CRL funding tomorrow.

        So we do however really need to start putting those extra EMUs on order ASAP to ensure we don’t grind to halt.
        57 EMUs is clearly not nearly enough to cater for the likely rate of growth we are seeing, and that lack of EMUs prevents using 6 car EMUs on all lines in the peaks.
        Which is the simplest way we have to deal with the pre-CRL limits of Britomart.

    2. We added 240,000 in September alone. Given the gap is 365,000 to target, we should hit that by the end of November if growth keeps on track.

  2. “Perhaps it’s time to tighten up that five minute window to three minutes like many other cities.”

    Exactly. To make the CRL work, they will have to run within a slot of around 90 seconds, so start practicing now.

  3. The writers at MoT are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Gone are the days when senior public servants can offer frank and fearless advice and still retain their positions. Instead, they have become “government servants” whose role is to keep the government of the day in power. Australian TV recently aired a comedy program called “Utopia” about the interaction between government and the public service over infrastructure projects. Some viewers (from a public service background) found it too hard to watch because it was too close to the truth. Viewers who had never worked in the public service thought “Is this for real ?”

  4. Overall good news particularly rail and ferry. Bus numbers are disappointing (especially considering growth in NEX and double-deckers etc), hopefully that is just a temporary drop from some people transferring to trains and that others will take their space on the buses.

    1. NEX (or busway as it is now reported) growth has been double digits but recently slowed down. Maybe some peak capacity issues? Or the feeder network isn’t working properly?

      1. Peak and off peak issues. I haven’t been on an NEX without people standing this year and I catch it on average 4 times a week.

      2. guys guys guys. 5-10% growth on rapid and frequent bus is a good result. Especially if the only recent improvements have been HOP and a couple of double-deckers. Plus AT are busy preparing to implement the NN, so there’s hopefully some growth in the pipeline, while the impact of the EMUs may start to dissipate.

        In general, our key objective (and this applies to rail as well) to sustain moderate to high levels of patronage growth over a long period. Hell if rail growth reduced to 10% p.a. but was sustained for the next 10 years or so we’d still be in a bloody good place in 2025. My other word of advice is don’t start expecting 10%+ growth because I don’t think it’s likely to be sustained. By any socio-economic metric, 5-10% is rather fast, and signals that we’re doing pretty well (in relative terms) compared to most cities that I know of.

        Of course I’m happy to be proven wrong on this front!

  5. I wonder if perhaps the bus figures have perhaps not been so flash due to the fall in petrol prices (they have yo-yo’ed but have on average been about $0.30 less per litre over the last 9 months compared to last year). I’d imagine that Train and Ferry passengers wouldn’t be so affected by the temptation to drive since they have their own dedicated corridors, while most buses share the road with cars so are usually slower for most people.

  6. Patrick asked me earlier what the Trend Line value on the Red line on the last chart

    Its a linear trend line I added via Excel, but it is showing about a 13.3% “per annum” (or Year on Year) Growth. From mid 2005 to 2015, thats the average over 10 years of compounded growth.
    For comparison the current month and month and year on year growth on rail is 22%.

    And the good old RWC blip was indeed a blip, exacerbated by the immediate post RWC rail shutdowns over Xmas and in the evenings and weekends for the overhead electrification to start properly.

    No unexplained variability there, and no chance of a repeat of either RWC blip or regular shutdown on the rails. [Except this long weekend it seems].

    If we ever had motorway traffic growth like that, why you’d be planning on adding 1,2, even 3 more lanes to an existing road in short order – to future proof the network.

    No difference here MoT.

  7. With every new monthly report on exceptional rail growth, the situation gets more farcical.

    Any sensible government would not only be planning ahead to deal with the growth and the eventual constraints, but also plan to continue this growth to help with getting people off the roads and dealing with current and inevitable congestion. See Turnbull.

    The fact our mob have to be dragged kicking and screaming into funding the CRL is gross negligence. Who gives a toss what “CDB employment” numbers are – as per the arbitrary targets set by the Govt – when ridership levels continue to boom month on month, year on year?

    If the CMJ was nearing capacity they’d have a roading solution ready yesterday…

    1. especially when you consider the positive impact the growth is having on cost-recovery: Any fiscal conservative should be able to support changes that ultimately seek to reduce operating costs and thereby move the system to a more financially independent/sustainable footing. In general, cost recovery is positively correlated with system size, as you’d expect from a technology that has fixed costs and economies of density. I think this is a fact that is well-understood by Mr Turnbull, and I’m hoping he can positively influence Key on this front.

    1. The capacity limits are, like on the roads, are all about the peaks. At peak times trains are getting pretty full. We don’t currently have enough trains to run 10 min frequencies with double [6-car] sets on the 3 main lines. I think we need about 20 more 3-car sets to be able to do that [and more if battery versions are going to run to Pukekohe].

      Additionally I think we should be incentivising shoulder and off-peak travel with time differentiated fares. Given there is spare capacity off peak and enough trains to run later services there is opportunity to increase numbers substantially for a while within these limits but only for those willing to travel outside of the peaks. It would be interesting to see loading figures for different times of the day in order to try to quantify these various issues.

      Of course the peak time rail trips are the most valuable for relieving congestion on other networks, especially the road network, so there is a good argument for investing to fully exploit latent peak demand.

      The strong and consistent growth in ridership implies we do not yet know the limits of potential demand, especially as there is yet to be the full service on the Western line and higher off peak and weekend frequencies and longer service span [later trains]. Not to mention zone fares, and variable pricing could uncover even more demand….

      1. At the GI-Tamaki pathway sod turning, David Warburton, head of AT gave a very telling statistic.

        He said in the 5 years since AT came into being as a result of the Supercity legislation, Public Transport usage in Auckland has grown by an average of 10,000 more PT trips a day – thats right 10,000 more a day.

        Do the maths, you’ll see he’s right, there is about 1830 days from October 2010 to October 2015, and PT usage is about 18.5 million higher now than it was then, divide one by other = 10,000 a day.

        For rail alone, that figure of “daily growth” over that time is 3,200 a day.

        Think of that, that means nearly 10 more 3 car EMUs of trips a day added to the rail network, **each and every day** – over 5 years.

        If that isn’t “sustained growth” I don’t know what is.

        And of course, there is a lot more growth to come, but clearly the “we’ll deal with those problems when they arise” and the “well, that will be a nice problem to have” management techniques everyone has used up til now, are over when it comes to the future planning of all this.

        Bold decisions need to be made by AT, AC and the Government, and even bolder actions are needed to implement them in time.

        1. Yes, it sure does feel that the government is saving up CRL as an election bribe. The good news is that this is 2 years earlier than they had planned. The bad news is that it should have been given the go ahead 2 years ago.
          In the meantime I don’t think it would cause any loss of face if we could order those 20 odd 3car EMU units so that we have all 6 car EMUs running.

  8. These trends just keep confirming month after month that our government are very poor managers of the taxpayers ‘transport expenditure dollar’ and their continuing failure to acknowledge this and alter course in mode share expenditure is almost criminal.

    Auckland is particularly disadvantaged by the ever widening motorway policies across the isthmus. I certainly want Auckland to be a more beautiful city unencumbered by excessive asphalt and this is achievable if we choose to expand alternative corridor capacity modes with the efficiency railways provide. Furthermore the growth demonstrates that people like metro travel, the new trains, and are using them big time.

    Wake up Ministry of Transport – you have been using delay tactics for too long!!!!

    1. agree Warren. But don’t be too hard on the MoT; it’s their job to say what the Minister wants. Instead, we need to change the Minister’s mind through 1) irrefutable evidence and 2) good ol’ fashioned democratic pressure. I think the Blog is helping on both those fronts :).

      1. Hi Stuart.
        Yes, I guess I get increasingly intolerant of the political policy making process in the light of the entrenched but failing “build your way out of congestion” regime currently in control. The party of pragmatism is indeed taking a long time to realize and apply the practical outcome of its policies for the benefit of Auckland.

        This is why I really appreciate the time involvement and sustained contribution of the very talented regular contributors to this Blog. The quality of the analysis on a voluntary basis is more than equal to that coming from official sources and I would like to see or at least believe evidence of officials standing up to the Minister on the basis of their own ‘irrefutable evidence’. Maybe a little wishful thinking!

        Anyway, I really do enjoy your contributions………………..all the way now from Amsterdam.

  9. Even worse, those statistics on which the Ministry of T’s six monthly report is based are now already 3 months out of date, Perhaps Minister Bridges should demand an updated report on his desk by next Tuesday and would the officials like to revise their conclusions at the same time.

  10. I travel counter direction during the peaks (Britomart-Manurewa am / Manurewa-Britomart pm) and I have noticed a significant increase in patronage on those trains as well so it isn’t just the conventional peak trains that are doing all the work.

      1. last year I flatted with one of my best mates on Elliot St, we worked in Wairau and Penrose and were both half an hour from work on PT plus we were always going against traffic. I honestly think that with the current services residential in town is likely to drive higher ridership than commercial as there simply is not enough space on the inbound trains.

        This development is of course great news for anyone who owns land/space near any of the inner stations as they will sonn have another 20,000 potential employees that they won’t have to provide parking for!!

        In conclusion high residential intensity in the city centre is better for the city as a whole, better for the suburbs, *and* better for the CBD.

        1. Agree. I live in the city and in the last year I’ve travelled counter-peak a few times on the trains (Southern, Eastern and Onehunga) and buses (NEX) and was pleasantly surprised how many people were also using those services.

  11. So the fare box recovery has hit the top of its target band. That’s hardly surprising with the huge surge in passenger numbers and costs coming out due to lower opex on the trains and elimination of less patronized bus routes. And it is a trend that is likely to continue. I have long suggested that this gives AT the ability to tinker with fares to achieve even better public transport usage while still operating in the target farebox recovery zone.
    For example, for the summer; run a single Sunday zone where every return trip is just $2.50. Here is a real encouragement for people to bus to the beach (no more queues at Long Bay?), or take a bus or train to the mall. And such a price may encourage families to forsake the car. It may even persuade people to walk more. Would it make malls a little more tolerable at Christmas time? Perhaps that is too ambitious a thought. I know it works overseas, but that is there and here is here.

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