Today’s bus strike is expected to have a significant impact on the city. It will also likely have a significant impact on patronage with some estimates suggesting that more than 130,000 trips will be impacted. To put that in context last February there were just under 6.7 million PT trips in February so this could impact patronage in the month by as much as 2%.

While we’ll likely have to wait till next month to find out just how much impact the strike caused, the reports to AT’s first board meeting of the year along with the data they now publish give us information on the results from January. It’s fair to say there are certainly a mixed bag of results.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the patronage results is that overall compared to January last year patronage was down by 0.7%. It’s still up 6.6% on a 12m rolling basis but this is the first time we’ve seen a drop in a monthly result since August 2013. The drop was driven by reduced patronage on both buses and ferries. Train patronage is still growing strongly at over 19% compared to last January but given the growth in recent months and that we saw the least disruptive summer shut down in probably over a decade I had expected it to be much higher.

2016-01 - Total Patronage

AT believe the primary reason for the fall in patronage was due to the timing of the Christmas/New Year break this year which likely saw more people push holidays into early January than in the past – I know I certainly did. They note that this also ties in with stronger patronage at the end of December. They also highlight that some routes have been much more affected than others. I’ll come back to those later in the post.

December increases occurred primarily towards the end of the month. The January 2016 decrease in bus and ferry occurred primarily in the first half of the month as illustrated in the patronage chart below compared to January 2015 and corresponds with the lower rate of growth for rail. Underlying trends are likely to be a result of holiday alignment between Christmas 2014 (main two week of holidays falling between 19 December to 5 January) and Christmas 2015 (December 24 to January 11); however, there are specific areas of decrease in January year-on-year for bus and ferry above the underlying trend on Great North Road (-50,000), Manukau Road (-12,000) and Waiheke Bus (-12,000). A major decrease has been seen on the CityLINK (-73,000 or -33%), which is considered to be a result of removal of free travel from March 2015.

2016-01 - Daily Patronage comparison to prev year

The biggest impact was on the buses which carry the bulk of patronage and were down 4.7% on January last year. As noted above it’s interesting that the Gt North Rd buses are down so much. While the information suggest other factors were at play I also wonder if the bus changes in the City Centre to accommodate the CRL works have had an impact. I know it’s certainly made it more difficult for people like me to transfer between bus and train to get to the North Shore.

Ferries use was also down with them 4.3% lower than Jan last year bucking a trend of strong growth. AT reference the downturn on other modes and also note that the reduced use of ferries to Waiheke aligned with reduced Waiheke bus use.

Despite being less than I had expected train growth remained very strong up 19.1% on January last year. That saw patronage for the month surpass 1 million trips meaning that for the first time every month in the previous 12 has been over the 1 million mark. The first ever time we surpassed 1 million trips within a calendar month was in March 2011 and back then there were just over 460k trips in January. Overall rail patronage is now over 15.5 million over the last 12 months which is another solid increase representing a 21.6% growth compared to the same time last year.

2016-01 - Rail Patronage

One last interesting bit on PT patronage, within the business report AT have commented on the impact of the changes they made to Titirangi/Green Bay services in late 2014. Those changes effectively saw the new network implemented in this area with 24 infrequent routes replaced by 9 simpler services with a “more consistent service pattern operating at higher frequencies”. One full year on AT say that patronage from this area is up 35% which is very impressive. Perhaps they need to try and push harder to get the entire new network rolled out sooner.

It wasn’t only PT that saw usage down on last year. Bike numbers across many of the counters also showed a decline in January although a few counters showed some good growth. Perhaps the most interesting is that there was a large spike in usage of Grafton Gully (+29.9%) and Beach Rd (+23.5%). Looking at some daily data it’s not from any one day so it appears to be a general increase that’s occurred. Monthly data suggests that while numbers had been improving, growth rates really picked up from December and that coincides with the opening of Lightpath. Perhaps we need more data to confirm but it suggests that more connected routes are helping drive usage (who would have thought). Also telling is that the only other route to grow is also connected – the NW Cycleway at Kingsland.

 Jan countJan ADT% change from previous year
Beach Rd974131423.5%
Carlton Gore Rd5402174NA
Curran St9041292NA
East Coast Rd4384141-5.7%
Grafton Bridge14078454-1.8%
Grafton Gully1068034529.9%
Grafton Rd196964NA
G Sth Road272588-10.1%
Hopetoun St4046131NA
K Rd14328462-7.1%
Lagoon Dr4970160-13.5%
Lake Road8497274-5.8%
Mangere Bridge15750508-3.6%
Nelson St cycleway10711346NA
Nelson St Lightpath24693797NA
NW Cycleway (Kingsland)181125848.8%
NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)12501403-8.7%
Quay St345011113NA
SH20 Dom Rd3639117-4.0%
Symonds St10295332-5.6%
Tamaki Dr415981342-4.5%
Te Wero Bridge18382593NA
Twin Streams4967160-19.2%
Upper Harbour5674183-11.4%
Upper Queen St3952127NA
Victoria St West3097100NA

One other potential factor is that January was considerably wetter than last year and the historical average. This may have affected PT use too.


What is very helpful is that a few days ago AT publicly released the cycleway data for each automated counter allowing us to see back to November 2010 for some of them. This is far more useful that reporting on just nine counters across the region – Thanks AT. I’ll look at the results from the counters more in a future post but for the meantime here is the 12 month rolling number of bikes recorded as going past the NW cycleway counter at Kingsland.

2016-01 - Bikes - Kingsland

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      1. Southern line information. Just curious how the southern line is performing. From riding it it seemed busy compared to last year (might be my memory playing tricks). Also I am kinda curious how having the eastern line open over Christmas. Did many people use the train to go shopping

    1. +1 almost certainly Brutus. A lot of people who are occasional (I would say bus users) PT user are using the cheaper fuel prices to drive more often. It is certainly noticeable with large increases in traffic congestion in Feb compared to last Feb. Hopefully some drivers get fed up with the traffic and switch to PT.
      of particular note the NEX extension to Albany can’t come soon enough.

    2. I got to say I’m guilty of this.
      Traffic during most of January was bearable that driving to and from work was much more convenient and WAY cheaper than public transport.
      I still think AT is missing the point. If its cheaper and faster to drive… people will drive!!!
      So if the train or bus is slow cause of signal faults or traffic cause of lack of bus lane + the public transport fare is much much more expensive than driving (plus now AT is increasing fare once again) = people preferring to drive.

    3. If that was the case we’d have seen this in Nov / Dec as prices tracked down. we haven’t.

      Also the layout of the weeks is means fewer days should have been lost this year. finishing up on Xmas eve and back to work 2nd week in Jan used up 11 working days this year, last year it was 12.

      1. I wouldn’t expect the demand response to changes in transport prices to happen immediately. I’d allow at least 3 and up to 12 months for lower prices to filter through into demand fully.

        I’m not sure how important fuel prices are to demand for PT. Fuel is a fairly small component of overall driving costs, especially to the city centre where congestion and parking costs are dominant. And when you survey public transport users themselves they normally nominate cost of parking as being a more significant determinant of their decision to use PT than the cost of driving …

      2. Alan, it takes a while for people to change habits which is why you didn’t see it much at the end of the year. Also by then schools, universities etc are on break so it isn’t until late Jan/early Feb that things get back into full swing and in the past couple of weeks we have seen (at least on the North Shore) large increases in driving. Part of this would be down to the large increases in population but regardless traffic is a lot worse this year than last. The government should be bringing forward the upgrade between SH18 and 1 and more importantly get on with the NEX extension to Albany. It is almost at the point where they need to start the next portion from there over Oteha Valley Rd so that buses can avoid the tail. They also need to upgrade the sides of the motorway to allow buses to use them as bus lanes during peak times.

  1. Traffic this morning was unbelievably good. One of the clearest runs I’ve had all year long.

    Will be interesting to see what it’s like on the way home tonight.

    1. I know of many many people who got permission to work from home, took the day off or did something different to get to work. Funny how a bit of catastrophism can cause short term behaviour change to get out of the car. I wonder if it can lead to longer term shifts like London has experienced after tube shut downs and the Olympics.

    1. I think people need to stop worrying so much about sweat and BO. I have been sweating it up all Summer and the only person to complain has been my wife. I have taken this to mean that my colleagues don’t mind at all.

      1. Your colleagues are too polite. I presume you don’t deal with the public or clients? Fortunately I start work early, so it’s not too hot when I walk to work, an it doesn’t matter so much if I work up a sweat walking home. lol

        1. lol re BO etc…but seriously: Too hot on black roads particularly = less cycling except on proper cycleways that are not black- or joined to them well (I don’t know the cycleways that well but seems to be related in table data)? also too hot muggy = more went on holiday to the beach = less in Auckland commuters. too hot & muggy = more barrier to new people taking up cycling

    2. Too hot?! God kiwis make me laugh. It barely goes above 30 in Auckland ever. That’s not hot at all, and if anything it’s perfect weather for cycling.

      1. I think we Aucklanders often mean humid not hot, it’s up and down so quick I don’t think we adjust. I mean there sure is more humid places than Auckland but it’s perhaps always humid when in season. Anyway, yes it’s more a barrier to think, lets go cycling, when really it’s actually nice once you have the wind on ya, esp with a sea breeze somewhere. I had this experience myself, kids sitting around home baking in humidity and heat while wife & I out cycling in the holidays….recreational cycling though that was.

        1. Yes, it’s humid, not hot – I hear people say hot when they mean humid also (possibly because when it’s humid, it feels hot, even if it’s not really hot).

  2. Interesting that the cycle traffic on Light path is over twice that of Nelson St cycleway. You’d think they’d be evenly matched to a point.

    So are a lot of people simply cycling along the light path (i.e. doing a there and back trip) from the Canada St entrance – and not going down (or up) Nelson St to get to Lightpath?

    Or are the Light path users coming from/going in other directions – other than the Nelson St cycleway that is, to get to/from the Nelson St end of the lightpath?

    Anyone who uses either or both regularly got a comment as what is going on there?

    And with Quay St finally getting some cycleway love from AT shortly, courtesy of the CRL build out, this will hopefully put even more pressure on ATs cycling and walking team to deliver an even better solution than Quay St will be, for Tamaki Drive.
    At least as far as the Quay St to Ngapipi Road section, because those numbers show that it and Quay St are head and shoulders above the rest of the cycle routes with regards cycling numbers.
    The facilities provided along Tamaki Drive from Ngapipi towards Quay are pretty basic at best. And very little changed in over 35 or more years.
    Except that the off-road paths have got even more bumpy and crowded with signage, tree roots, joggers and pedestrians all jostling for space.

    And this is right at the very location where the GI to Tamaki Cycle route will “exit” or “start”, so it will become the “CMJ” of the cycling network along there in short order.

    1. Greg, the light path numbers are obvious. People went there to cycle back and forth and have a look, not to use the whole cycle way. I did and I saw plenty of others who did as well. I expect later counts to be lower once the novelty wears off.

      Tamaki drive is just in a too hard basket. Too many conflicting needs/demands. You have to spend a crapload to widen the two bottleneck bridges otherwise you shouldn’t be bothered doing anything else. You can’t cut down a bajillion natives along there and parking is sacred. The parking on Tamaki drive is pretty important to access the beaches for people that live further away. I think the parking currently provides more benefit to more people in Auckland. A cycleway along the waterfront would really only benefit locals. I live in south auckland and I often drive to Mission Bay to enjoy the beach. Granted I am only one person, but if I have to pay for parking or if my rates money are being spent to reduce my own amenity (access to the beach), I’ll be pissed off. The fact is, people’s opinions matter and people in danger of losing parking are often louder than the tiny minority who want a cycle way. Sad, but true.

      1. No need to widen the bridges, just install additional cycle and pedestrian bridges, which are much cheaper as they don’t have to take the weight of vehicles.

        Also I do the same as you, drive to those beaches quite frequently for a swim in the summer, it wouldn’t bother me to park in a back street to allow the roadway to be used more efficiently.

      2. Well Ari it might be obvious to you as a user of Lightpath what is going on with the usage, it isn’t me as a non user, hence the question.

        As for your comment on Tamaki Drive – parking there is only sacred if we deem it to be so.

        The reality is that all those carparks benefit at most a few hundred users – that is the people in the cars that park there on any given day.

        Tamaki ADT numbers for cyclists show 4-5 times that number every day cycle along there, so if the proper focus is (as it should be) on moving the most people and accommodating all modes – then the parking should go, at the very least on one side anyway.
        [Probably the seaward side parks should go].

        If one of the lanes of parking was removed there would be ample room for a separated cycleway in each direction. and once the Tamaki Drive to GI cycleway opens,the numbers of cyclists along there will explode.

        1. Greg, your comments indicate you have no small children, no handicapped or otherwise impaired relatives or parents. One day those that think like you who want to remove as much parking as possible might be in a position where they actually start to think about others. Here’s hoping. The whole world is not full of single young lycra clad males. Comments like yours show a total lack of empathy for the different types and mobilities of citizens who make up Auckland.

      3. Jezza, everyone knows you have to park right next to the place you want to visit instead of walking a little while, otherwise it’s a huge travesty and your rights are being trampled on or something or rather lol.

        Greg, I only used it once. I don’t even own a bike, I just borrowed a friends to blend in with the other cycling fanatics.

        LOL@ Brutus.

    2. For cyclists heading to Lightpath from the CBD, the easiest route is actually via Hobson St (which runs along the ridge line). Using Nelson St would mean going downhill, then uphill again. In the reverse direction, the natural route is Lightpath -> Nelson St cycleway -> CBD. Thus Nelson gets only half as many counts as Lightpath itself.

      1. I think there’s lots of reasons, but a big chunk of why Lightpath is higher than Nelson Street IS recreational use, and what’s the problem with that? Nelson Street is seeing really good use for a path that is brand new, stops 60% down the way, and has zero proper side connections at this time!

    1. Yes I think people got used to the empty roads around holiday time = moved back to cars with aircon etc….and seems to show in traffic this month….so people shift to PT and hence another reason for March madness on PT particularly!?

    1. Not quite, you see, while it is true, that there are 21 working days this month, we did lose two of those to public holidays (Auckland anniversary day on the 1st and Waitangi Day holiday on the 8th).
      Meaning only 19 days of the 29 this February will be working ones.

      And by strange co-incidence, 19 also exactly matches the number of working days that occurred in February 2015.

  3. I wonder how many of the 50,000 trips along Gt Nth Rd were actually “ghost trips” by displaced rail commuters during the Xmas rail network shut down, because they found it faster to use a scheduled bus service than the replacement railbus, and therefore effectively led to an artificial inflation of the 2014/2015 tallies?

  4. I think a contributor to the near flat lining and now a decline in bus patronage is their inherent capacity restrictions. The fact is that many which seat around 40 passengers (or less like NZ Bus ADL buses) are full a short way into the journey and even if you manage to board you have to face being stuffed in like sardines! Unlike trains you can’t couple up another bus. At that point bus travel becomes unattractive and unreliable and you end up taking the car. Buses have severe limitations.

    1. trains have severe limitations too, insofar as they can only run on tracks 😉

      In terms of bus capacity constraints, AT and the operators are rolling out double-deckers, which have a capacity of around 100 passengers. So I’d expect that to make a big difference. One double-decker every minute carries 6,000 passengers per hour.

      I understand that’s more than the eastern line currently carries at peak.

      1. It”s a rather ridiculous argument. 1 double decker seating 86 people as per the current few DD’s we have, every minute from somewhere is not going to happen anytime in the near or distant future. And given the issues with attracting drivers where are all these additional drivers going to come from to run 60 second services and who such as NZ Bus is going to want to invest millions in a DD when you can easily lose the contract? Or where 1 bus per minute coing from wherever is going to terminate in the CBD and one had better hope they are perfect time keepers on our awful roads or they may all converge at once! Then what?

        Although using this “logic” you could also add that one EMU every minute seating 230 as they do now or 460 with two coupled together with the same train crew would carry 13800.or 27600 passengers. But I don’t think that is going to happen either.

        1. It happens already. Right now. In Auckland.

          Major bus corridors leading into Auckland city centre are moving well in excess of a bus per minute. Symonds Street is closer to two buses per minute.

          Take those buses, run them as double-deckers and you’ve *almost* doubled the PT capacity of those corridors to between 6,000 – 12,000 passengers per hour. Not bad eh?

          And that’s just the start of the potential bus operational improvements we could implement to increase capacity. For relatively low cost too …

          1. Grant, if buses reach capacity in the city centre it will be because of policy choices, not because of a physical constraint. Its mainly about how we allocate road space. The first cartoon in todays Sunday reading is very apt re that issue.

          2. yes there do appear to be some limitations to the capacity of city centre bus stops, in particular. LRT also has an advantage in pedestrian intensive environs, such as Queen Street. So I’m very open to hearing about the potential for LRT.

            The point of my comment was simply to note that the bus network is nowhere near capacity.

            The key thing is that running double-deckers doesn’t require more buses. So you can almost take the number of buses we’re running now and replace them with double deckers. DDs do have longer dwell times, which reduces stop capacity, but there’s also potential ways to mitigate that issue too (e.g. by allowing all-door boarding, like on LRT).

            My hunch is that we could potentially double capacity on our bus network with a few tweaks to vehicles, boarding processes, and some targeted infrastructure. Sure, if patronage keeps growing then at some point we will hit capacity, and other transport technologies come into the picture.

          3. Yes agree with you both Matthew & Stuart, that buses have much more capacity in Auckland with some tweaks and decisions, just wanting to make sure anyone thinking buses can increase infinitum. Double deckers will/are great, but the slow boarding won’t help etc. Could of course setup tag on off at just like at stations in heavy areas (NEX) and ban cash altogether eventually.

        2. on the Northern Express, many of those double deckers have replaced single decks buses so no extra drivers needed, but a productivity gain per driver has occurred

  5. Yes, we did it with kids, weekend/holiday thing I’m sure others would of. Parking fairly cheap St Benedicts car park just of Alex Evans St

    1. ..if there is none of the off street parking (meters I think) right at the top entrance to it….I think first 30mins actually free.

    2. OK that’s weird, I replied directly from the email of someone’s post, obviously not there now….he was saying “Are you saying people would drive to the lightpath just to experience that cycle route and then drive home again?”

      1. That comment was from someone who has been banned for regularly breaching our user guidelines but often changes his name to try and post. He doesn’t even live in NZ

  6. The slowing bus patronage is worrying considering the delays on the new network and lack of bus lanes everywhere. Taking away the Northern Busway stats will be interesting to see in the coming months.

    One reason for the stagnation could be because buses and cars share the same roads while rail has its own corridor. Buses are cars are a bit more of a substitute than rail is. With petrol prices being at such a low and car ownership being so cheap (acc levy cuts for example), people are getting more into their cars.

    Perhaps AT would be more motivated to move forward without delays if petrol prices were over $2 and car ownership wasn’t so cheap. But at the moment but with more levy cuts on the way and cheaper petrol, perhaps it is unlikely we will see much growth in bus use outside the busway.

    1. Fact is nobody likes to ride a bus when it is full (as in standing passengers). If there was more capacity (from things like DD or more buses) then this would allow for further growth. A full bus is creaming it $$wise… remember the subsidy is effectively only for off-peak services. So switch more routes to DD and increase frequency/larger buses on other routes.
      If there are routes in Auckland that can’t take DD then perhaps we need to start getting a few new bendy-buses for those routes. They aren’t as effective as DD spatially but they have a similar effect (great productivity and capacity for little additional cost).

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