Auckland Transport released patronage results for November yesterday and once again there were some great numbers – helped a little by there being one extra business day and one less weekend day. Even so it was another spectacular month for rail – which wasn’t particularly surprising given the strong growth we’ve been seeing and that near the end of November it was announced that Auckland had passed 15 million rail trips within a 12 month period.

For rail November was the third busiest month we’ve ever had, up 23.9% compared to the same month last year (adjusted to 21% when adjusting for the extra day) which itself was a 21% increase on November 2013. The growth increased the 12 month rolling total to 15.1 million – up 22.6% on a year earlier. One big contributor that I mentioned a few days ago is likely to be the improvements in reliability of services which reached a new monthly record in November of over 95%.

2015-11 - Rail Patronage

Given that some of the rail network remains open over the Christmas/New Year period – for the first time in probably more than a decade – and the shutdown that does occur in places is only for a week, I’m expecting patronage in both December and January to be very strong compared to what we’ve seen before.

Another aspect to remember is that based on current trends Auckland is on track to be about three years ahead of the government’s target for the CRL. On that topic yesterday Mayor Len Brown said “discussions with the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Transport were going well”. My guess is the government will make an announcement on their share of funding for the project within the first half of new year.

At a more detailed level there are some interesting results for the individual lines.

  • Growth on the Western Line has kicked up a gear again and was up 20% for the month – I suspect growth will be even stronger once Auckland Transport finally move to 10 minute frequencies next year.
  • The Eastern Line is still growing strong like it has all year. It is up 33.8% for the month and up a massive 40.5% for the year showing the value of frequent, fast electric trains on the line.
  • There is remarkably good growth on the Pukekohe shuttle with usage up 53% on the same month last year although I suspect some of this is from the Pukekohe V8s that were in November.

Of course there’s more than just rail and the other modes saw increases too – just not quite as extreme. Bus patronage was up 4.1% for the month and 4.8% for the year although there is a noticeable difference with the results of the busway which was up a massive 28.4% compared to the same time a year earlier.

Ferry patronage did grow but only just with it increasing by just 1.7% for the month and 10.5% for the year. As I’ve highlighted before one aspect I’m keeping an eye on is the difference in between the commercially operated ferries (Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke) and the ones contracted out by AT covering all the other routes. Interestingly the commercial ferries actually had a slight fall in patronage but that was covered by and a little more by the growth in contracted services that’s been occurring

2015-11 - Patronage Table

One of the features you can see from the growth of all modes is that rail patronage is definitely making up an increasingly large share of the patronage pie. Now almost 19% of all PT trips are made on a train.

2015-10 - Total Patronage

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    1. Yeah I just skimmed through that. Seems like the bulk of it was written about 2008. Quite out of date now! There’s a weekend’s work for someone!

  1. Great result. There’s a surprising consistency in that rail patronage growth rate … someone should tell the MoT!

    Yes, rail is up to 19% of all PT trips and an even larger proportion of PT passenger-kms (probably ~35%). It’s doing the hard yards, as it should. We need that number up to 20 million and beyond … sustained high rates of growth is what we want.

    But I don’t think this is a story about modes: It’s a story about high quality (frequent, fast, reliable) PT versus low quality PT. As you note we also saw really high growth on the busway, which carries almost as many journeys per month as the Eastern line.

    All this bodes rather well for AT’s planned investments in bus lanes and the New Network.

  2. The big jump in the busway patronage possibly has something to do with the new network up on the Coast – virtually everyone who used to catch a bus south from Silverdale is now on the NEX, plus people seem to have realised that more direct local connecting buses = faster trips – and a lot to do with AT pushing the busway hard in their traffic tweets ?

    1. People on the 895 were counted as bus way users before. The slight frequency increase in the evenings will have helped but they are full again! Time to add more again AT!

  3. Congratulations Auckland! This also has to be good for fare-box recovery rates on rail.

    We’re going to run out of capacity in our trains soon. Time to order some more and institute off-peak pricing to smooth demand.

    The stagnant increase in non-busway bus patronage is to be expected. There have been no major changes in the environment or the level of service. Auckland Transport have hardly put in a single metre of bus-lane in years. If they were to build a Western Busway it would rapidly become a huge success, and the infrastructure is already mostly there.

    AT’s light-rail plans for the already well-served central suburbs seem to be distracting them. If they did the simple things like putting in 16 hour buslanes the length of their major routes (6am-10pm, Dominion, Mt Eden & Manukau Rd etc.), they could forestall that need for a few years and put the cash into the busway.

    1. Agreed, has anyone worked out the numbers relating to train capacity over peak times compared to actual patronage?
      The thing with extra EMUs is that they wouldn’t be for extra services, just joined onto existing 3-car EMU services to add capacity without adding much cost (still 1 driver, 1 TM). I would hazard a guess and say that we will be at capacity during peak times on most services within 1 year if the current growth continues. They can still go above this (so called crush capacity) but that isn’t pleasant for anyone. Most of the growth from that point will be in off-peak services. If on the other hand we ordered another dozen or so 3-car EMU’s then we could go well over 20 million pax before CRL is built.

      Agree with the clearway thing too. Clearways need to be in both directions rather than just the peak direction and allocated as bus/T2/T3 lanes.
      Constellation Drive is a classic example. It is more commonly referred to as Constipation Drive due to traffic not moving. They have T2 lanes in both directions but only 1 in use at a time while the other is used for parking. There isn’t a shortage of parking around there as most of the businesses have decent carparks. Also it is well served by buses so get rid of the parking on that road 24/7 and make it a permanent T2 lane in each direction.

    2. Definitely agree on the all-day bus lanes… those are rapidly becoming an absolute necessity on many parts of the network. The move to more 24-hour bus lanes in and around the city centre (as part of CRL works) has been a good one but it really needs to be matched with changes elsewhere.

      Fare premiums in the peak could also play a role, as they do in a lot of other cities, but it’s necessary to be a bit cautious about this. People don’t seem to be willing to re-time their trips *that* much – perhaps 30 minutes? – which blunts the impact on peak loadings. In addition, there’s a risk of diverting some journeys back onto the roads…

      1. Rather than fare premiums at peaks I think fare discounts off peak would be more likely to be effective. AKL already has high fares by international standards, but also there is a good chance that by attracting more off peak riders lower fares then could be at least revenue neutral, and there is spare capacity then too. The only caveat is that it may be the poor frequencies and span off peak that contributes to the considerably lower off uptake; improving those does require continued investment.

        1. Lower fares which reduce your need for peak capacity can actually save you money, if that person travelling at 10am instead of 8 means that you no longer need an extra driver and extra bus. That could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars of prevented investment.

          It would also be good for drivers. The peaky nature of commuter transport means that many drivers are on split shifts, unable to do anything much with their days but only being paid for the hours they work (unless things have changed in recent years).

  4. “Another aspect to remember is that based on current trends Auckland is on track to be about three years ahead of the government’s target for the CRL. On that topic yesterday Mayor Len Brown said “discussions with the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Transport were going well”. My guess is the government will make an announcement on their share of funding for the project within the first half of new year.”
    Bill English did just announce an extra $1B of government spending for next year and even more for the following year. Some of that could be for CRL (remember it doesn’t all have to be paid in 1 year… it will be paid in chunks over the space of 3 or so years).

  5. An increase in the number of people taking public transport doesn’t tell us anything about the actual benefits or quality of that service any more than an increase in the number of people driving to work tells us anything about the benefits of more roads. It might be due to greater fuel costs, road congestion, or any of a million causes that have nothing to do with the quality of the PT

    If I said “We’re going to run out of capacity in our roads soon. Time to order some more and institute off-peak pricing to smooth demand.” I’d be rightfully pilloried (because it’s an absurd comment).

    What we need to know is whether or not our trains, buses, and ferries are getting people to where they need to be, on time. and how much carbon has been saved by diverting people from cars.

    And, of course: how many buses are now running before 6am… (which is my favourite measure…)

    1. Actually, road pricing to manage demand has been talked about very seriously on this site.

      And you only need to look at the major motorway works in Auckland to see that “ordering some more” is considered a solution by those with the budgets.

    2. Are you talking about measuring those services between midnight and 6am or 10pm and 6am, the classic night bus period.

      To be a truly international city a frequency of night bus that made moving around the city overnight will be required, I’m not sure we’re ready to talk about night trains yet, but I’m pretty certain that it will become a talking point once the crush level that will soon be experienced is mitigated (moar trains).

      1. I’m talking about a transport system that isn’t incredibly discriminatory in favouring “9-to-5ers” and leaving those of us who want to get to the CBD by 6am literally out in the cold.

        Public policy should incentivise good behaviour, and earlybirds are things we should be favouring.

        1. You use the word “discriminate” rather regularly. Do you have evidence of this?

          From what i can tell AT and operators simply try and tailor services to demand given available budgets. I dont think theres any conscious decision to have less service in the morning than at, say, other times when there is also weak demand.

    3. The reality is, very very few people travel before 6am on public transport. I have used public transport at this time in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne (not as a regular thing) and all these services are almost empty (maybe 5-10 people per carriage). That’s even in Sydney, where the station I was traveling from had 10min frequencies even at 5.30am. No point in using valuable transport funds to increase services at this time if the demand isn’t there.

  6. The CRL will be announced after local body elections & before the 2017 General Election why?

    Key knew that not allowing AC to raise funding for Auckland Plan would make Brown raise rates. The rates rises would fuel anger resulting in an easy campaign to control the Council, Key is probs not happy Goeff decided to run as he now also can’t take Mayoralty.

    Key also knows he doesn’t have to commit until 2017 as all the prelim works have to done anyway so he doesn’t need to commit now allowing English to deliver surpluses in time before election a promise.

    Waiting pushes Labour & Greens to make transport as focus after announcing that plan goes out the window.

    That’s my theory anyway.

  7. If you want to grow ferry patronage to Devonport then either get another operator onto the route or prevent Fullers from charging like a wounded bull.

    1. and get rid of that old slow Kea and get modern fast boats for it. I think having 2 smaller fast ferries (like those running to Beach Haven) would make more sense – greater frequency and faster trip time.

      1. As someone who takes the ferry every day, I disagree. The Kea is by far the best ferry especially for families with children and also cyclists.

        Speed is not the issue, frequency and comfort are. Another Kea would allow 15 min frequencies at all times.

        Smaller boats would be less attractive. Noone wants a fast bumpy ride but a steady smooth ride.

        What we really need is another operator to start in competition but the lease of Pier 1 is the issue there, I understand.

    2. Ferry ridership is doing well to hold 7% mode share in the context of the improvement in land transport services, remember in Sydney, a city with a significant harbour but also a real train system, ferries provide 3% of PT mode share.

      As rail grows to take its rightful place at the heart of a revitalised PT system across all modes the pressure will be on the ferry system to maintain 7% even as it too grows. All signs of a maturing PT scene and Auckland morphing into a proper city pattern on the back of fantastic investment and work by all involved in PT services.

      Onward! What a year 2015 has been: A real watershed.

    1. Yes even more reason to get on with building a proper one along the Western and Upper Harbour Motorways (future-proofed for rail of course).

      1. 110% cost recovery? Then that technically means it would be making a profit for AT. I wonder if that’s the only service that does?

  8. “Growth on the Western Line has kicked up a gear again and was up 20% for the month – I suspect growth will be even stronger once Auckland Transport finally move to 10 minute frequencies next year.”

    Hopefully they improve inter-peak to 20 minutes too, like east/south. Dreadful waiting up to 30 minutes for a train in the middle of the day.

  9. I’m a little surprised at the apparent growth of bus patronage month on month, at peak anyway, because it is regular around my way that buses are at capacity even before the second stop from the city for example. And there is no room or spare capacity to solve this problem short of far bigger buses or doubling up of services, none of which is likely!

    1. there’s a lot of spare capacity at off-peak times, and off-peak patronage is a larger proportion of total patronage. So my hunch is much of this growth is driven at times when you’re not on the bus. There’s also a lot of counter-peak services, i.e. running opposite to peak direction, which can accommodate patronage growth.

      There’s also the fact that AT have in some areas been implementing incremental improvements, in the form of network changes (Green Bay and Hibiscus Coast), as well as capacity enhancements (additional frequency and higher capacity vehicles, such as double-deckers) in some areas, such as on the NEX and H&E routes.

      Plus HOP: Don’t forget the HOP factor. I’m sure we’re still benefiting from the upswing caused by having system-wide integrated ticketing, plus the faster boarding times that it enables.

  10. Are there any plans to increase frequency on the Onehunga Line? 30 minute waiting times are far too long, especially after missing a train. I regularly use this service & hope AT can improve it?

    1. The trouble with Onehunga is its single line with a short platform at Onehunga itself. A strategically placed passing loop at Te Papa (that is wired and long enough would work to allow more trains down the branch. Or a second platform at Onehunga that could allow a higher rotation of services at that end. For reasons only known to AT there is a loop near Te Papa that did not get any overhead wiring.

  11. I have mentioned the Melbourne experience of incentivising commuters to travel outside peak. It was free pre-7am.

    Sounds expensive? It saved needing to buy extra peak vehicles at huge cost. The whole project was revenue positive as there was a loss of ~$5m fare revenue, but more than $5m in peak vehicle savings. Shifting a small number of people also opened up capacity for further PT growth.

    This is the kind of approach we might need if we are not going to purchase more costly trains/buses to address peak capacity concerns. That would also keep our ‘Early Commuter’ happy!

    1. Agreed: Could we encourae AT to get those busways avaialabe 24/7 and the off peak discounts to encourage those moving onto the shoulder, it could also encourage other changes such as school hours and all the cost sensitive users to find ways to use the off peak services. I’m not a fan of the no charge options as the Swiss have found.

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