Next week marks the start of annual madness season – the time of the year where use of public transport ramps up over February and culminates in what we call March Madness.
The spike in patronage seems to be the result of a combination of factors. Schools and universities kick back in to gear for the year (the school term officially starts again on Monday) which also more parents back to work. Those naturally make public transport busier and of course roads busier too. It also seems that a lot more people are willing to give public transport a go, perhaps a result of wanting an alternative after suddenly being exposed to the full mind numbing horror of driving on congested roads once again – especially after the easier driving over the summer period.
You can see the impact of March Madness in the chart below showing patronage in each month with March in Red. February is obviously lower due to fewer working days and PT use ramping up over the course of the month. Unsurprisingly the years where March wasn’t the busiest month of the year or where other months were very close (2008 and 2013) Easter was either partially or fully in month. Of course we have Easter falling fully within March this year – although due to the way the weekends fall it only represents one less working day than last year.
By the end of February the March Madness conditions will be in full effect so it’s important that Auckland Transport have the PT network working well to ensure that people can actually use it and encourage those new adopters to keep using it well into the future.
In the past they haven’t done well on this front. Both buses and trains are often packed to the point of turning people away. Last year I heard stories of some people on routes such as Mt Eden Rd waiting and watching as up to 12 buses went past too full to allow them to get on.
The numbers tend to die down after March due to a combination of factors such as school holidays and people giving up on the overcrowded PT services and going back to their car.
This all begs the question of whether AT are prepared for this year’s madness. In my view they aren’t.
Since this time last year the electric trains have been rolled out to the Southern and Western lines providing a little bit more capacity however even in January – normally a quitter time – trains have been very busy thanks to all of the patronage growth that’s occurred. The Western line is still stuck with trains at peak times only every 15 minutes despite AT and its predecessors promising 10 minute services would happen from as far back as 2010. Indications are we’ll finally see that increase happen this year but not till April/May, after the rush.
On the bus network it’s a similar story, not much capacity has been added but some is on the way. We learned last year that the various operators were buying 56 double decker buses to be used in Auckland. Some are already in use on the Northern Express and one is used by Howick & Eastern for trips between the city and Botany but it appears the bulk of these might be too late March. The expected roll out of them is below.
- 18 buses on the NEX Northern Express (Albany to Britomart via the Northern busway) by April 2016, with the first ones on the road now
- 15 buses on the 500 route (Mission Heights to Downtown via Botany Town Centre, Pakuranga, Panmure, Ellerslie and Newmarket) by September 2016, with the first ones on the road now
- 15 buses on the 274 (Three Kings to Downtown via Mt Eden Rd) and 277 routes (Waikowhai to Downtown via Three Kings and Mt Eden Rd) in May & June 2016
- 8 buses on the 881 route (Albany to Newmarket along the Northern busway) in June 2016
What we have seen though is that AT have been advertising their arrival.
I think AT have actually done a good job on the advertising, both in the design and placement of the ads but I do wonder if they’re a bit premature. The majority of them won’t on the road till after May so will provide no relief for busy routes like Mt Eden Rd so advertising them now might be giving a bit of false hope.
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the system copes.