Public transport in Auckland has come a long way over the last 10-15 years on the back of numerous improvements to the network. From the upgrading of the rail network to the building of the northern busway to improved local buses, all have played a part in the immense improvement in the PT network that we’ve witnesses. And it’s clear it’s not only us who have realised this with the numbers speaking for themselves and ridership booming.

The total number of trips taken on our PT network on an annual basis hovered just over 50 million for many years until mid-2007. In January this year we passed 85 million trips with 10 million of that coming in just the last two years. The growth has been especially noticeable on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN – Rail and Northern Busway), as can be seen in this graph which we’ve explained before here.

Of course, over that same time we’ve seen a lot of population growth so how do the results compare and also, how do we compare with other, similar cities. That’s what I want to look at in this post.

Since the beginning of 2003, which is as far back as I have monthly record for ridership in Auckland, Auckland’s population has increased from 1.277 million people to an estimated 1.636 million as of January this year, a 28% increase over 14 years. As mentioned, over the same time ridership has gone from 52.1 million trips to 85.1 million trips a whopping 63% increase. That has seen the number of trips rise from 40.8 per person per year to 52 as of the most recent results – during that time it at one point reached a low of 36.4 and in the 90’s reached a low of 32 trips per person.

Given we’re in the same country and working under the same overarching rules, PT in Auckland is understandably most regularly compared with that in Wellington. The capital city is also considered the PT capital of NZ thanks to consistently having a higher per capita use of PT. As of January, Wellington had 37.6 million trips on it’s PT network annually to give it a total of 73.8 trips per person per year, up from 68.3 at the beginning of 2003.

The difference between the two cities is shown below. Auckland has definitely been improving, and the gap is narrowing, but there remains a significant difference between the two cities.

Next I wanted to see how Auckland compared to other, similar cities. There is little point in comparing Auckland to mega cities like London or Tokyo, or even to cities closer to home but in the 4-5 million range like Melbourne and Sydney. So for this I’ve tried to choose cities similar in size to where Auckland is now, or will be in a few decades. In addition, I wanted cities that have a similar history, culture, housing mix, economy and who are making an interesting effort when it comes to improving PT. And of course I needed to be able to find data for them – which unfortunately often rules out cities from non-English speaking countries. If there are other cites which you think should be included and/or you have data for, let me know in the comments.

The cities I included for my comparison other than Auckland and Wellington are:

  • Australia
    • Adelaide
    • Brisbane and South East Queensland – I included SEQ as the data available is for the area rather than for just Brisbane.
    • Perth
  • Canada
    • Calgary
    • Edmonton
    • Ottawa
    • Vancouver
  • United States
    • Denver
    • Honolulu
    • Portland
    • Salt Lake City
    • Seattle

Unlike Auckland which, in my opinion, is lucky to have a single transport agency, many of the cities above have multiple transit agencies so one of the challenges with collating data for cities getting all of the details. As well as specific transport agencies, data for the information above has come from sources such as the American Public Transportation Association which publish some excellent data. For the Canadian and US cities, the data comes from their 2015 financial years.

The first thing to look at was boardings per capita. The thing that stands out the most here is the Canadian cities perform much better than all of the other cities by a significant margin. In my view, Auckland should be ultimately aiming to mirror what is being achieved in these Canadian cities but that will be no easy or quick task. Putting them aside, it appears to me that a good first target for Auckland would be to achieve about 75 trips per person per year. To do that with our current population would require us to be achieving around 121 million trips annually while to achieve Vancouver’s result would require almost double that.

Arguably it would be better to measure linked journeys but only the Canadian cities report on that – and even then they still outperform all of the other cities.

But the number of trips wasn’t the only data I collated. I was also interested in other metrics like farebox recovery. This is important as the government, through the NZTA require us to achieve a 50% farebox recovery. We’ve been tracking how we’re performing on this on a regular basis, and it had risen to a high of above 51% in May last year but has since fallen back to about 46% with changes like the introduction of Simplified Fares. The results below for Auckland are to the end of the last financial year. They show compared to other the other cities, Auckland (and Wellington) perform relatively well and at a similar level to the Canadian cities.

Given we perform well, I thought it would be interesting to see how those figures break down. To do this I compared the costs and fare revenues for each system to the number of passenger kilometres travelled and the results were interesting.

  • When looking at operational costs, Auckland is about average and within the same range as the Canadian and US cities. The Australian cities are notable for being much higher than cities in other countries.
  • For revenue, Aucklanders pay more per km travelled than all other systems I’ve compared to. Some of this will have changed with Simplified Fares which generally lowered fares for longer distance travel so it will be interesting to see what the results in the coming years are. I’m sure some would argue that we should try to reduce fares but given that ridership continues to grow, it seems like a better opportunity is to use that extra revenue to provide more services.

It seems to me that while Auckland still has a considerable way to go before we could say it is performing at a satisfactory level, by in large, Auckland is heading in the right direction. Ridership is growing both in total and per capita and compared to the Australian and US cities we, we do well on farebox recovery – although whether we should aim 50% is an entirely different debate. If we want to match the benchmarks set by those Canadian cities we need to keep doing what we’re doing but do a lot more of it. Improvements like those planned for the new bus network are an important element in helping grow ridership while keeping costs under control. But it’s also clear that the best opportunity for significant improvement to PT use is building of the Rapid Transit Network.

What do you make of these results?

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  1. The other absolutely booming metric in Auckland are the Active modes. Cycling is being counted, but walking is less well measured, yet it is profoundly changed, especially in the inner city. Footpaths and crossings are regularly bursting with people, and in ways that simply are not reflected in either the space afforded to pedestrians, or priority at signals.

    These numbers reflect both the PT boom (every PT rider, and most drivers also walk to destinations), but also the huge rise in inner city living; there are now more people living in the inner city than drive there in the more peak. And these people either walk to the their work or study, or take a counter-peak trip out. Either way they are taking pressure off that problem of the peak journey to the city.

    This is a sign of how quickly the city is changing. In the mid 90s around 80% of people heading to the city centre drove, that figure is now below 50% and falling; and city employment and education has grown strongly, and the urban economy has leapt forward. So much so that the city centre economy has decoupled from relying on private vehicle access. Or at the very least is deeply in the process of this decoupling.

    It isn’t clear to me that AT, NZTA, or even AC understand just profoundly massive this change has been, and the social and economic drivers that make it certain to continue… if they did, they’d be more proactive in changing the streets to support it….

    1. You could argue you can barely drive around the CBD anymore or find convenient parking which may have had quite an effect on car use. But I think give people decent quick PT they will jump at the opportunity to use it rather than sit in gridlock any day of the week.

      1. Of course; and these are always the ‘push factors’ that occur in thriving cities, and simply reflect that contested city space is much more valuable when used for either actual exchange (business), or social value (place quality), or more spatially efficient movement systems (walking, cycling, PT, delivery etc…). It is easy to predict that this process is not done, and can only be held back if we fail to keep repurposing city streets to better and higher value uses. Evidence that this is the line of least resistance? Every Shared Space, a success, every bike lane, booms, and especially; the CRL works being largely met with a huge shrug, and reduced driving through the city. Especially given the multiple billions spent to ram cars into the city and the habits of multiple decades this is a profound change really.

        Auckland is a city now, it works to city logic. Before when we drove around it and parked outside any destination it wasn’t; just big provincial town, still running on the farm-to-general-store movement model.

      2. Wait, that’s Auckland you’re talking about, right? It is still surprisingly convenient to drive around in the CBD, despite the CRL works. Or did that magically all gel up during the past half year? Or does that 50% only refer to commuting trips only?

        In the weekend it’s a breeze, as long as you’re willing to pay a couple of dollars for parking and you don’t do stupid things like trying to find parking around Queen Street.

        I definitely agree though that more convenient PT to the CBD would be good, and not just during the rush hour.

        1. Well rule out the lower halves of Albert St and Wyndham St, the mid section of Victoria St, bottom end of Kingston St, critical areas of Customs St, Swanson St, lower Queen St and the bus lanes that now take up parts of the CBD network combine to make it a lot more difficult to traverse as a whole for a all modes at the moment.

        2. Well yes. Don’t drive there. If you’re not going to the CBD, use the spaghetti junction. If you’re going to the CBD, you can’t park there anyway. Coming from the Shore it’s very easy to drive to the downtown and Civic carparks. Taking the bus however is highly dependent on where you’re starting.

          During peak times, if you’re commuting to the CBD then yes you’d better have a PT option. That’s why I suspect that this ‘50% and falling’ only applies to commuting.

    2. An example of changed attitudes and how PT is starting to work. This is one of my daughters schedules. Bus from Westgate to Constellation Dr, transfer to NEX to City. Walk to Uni for the morning classes. Walk to Britomart at midday. Train to New Market for part time job. After work, inner link to K RD, transfer to bus to go back to Westgate.

  2. Joyce’s pigs arse “farebox recovery” percentage is an unscientific arbitrarily set figure forced on us by his government and one I would argue at a level to do just enough to discourage public transport use.

    Of course if you wanted to encourage PT use you would simply lower the percentage recovered to lessen fares. And then the extra patronage would slowly recover more funds by having PT patronage higher at all times.

    But again, it depends on the end result Joyce wanted and why that was!

    1. Whilst I agree whole heatedly, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve a higher recovery. The issue we have is that New Zealand is a country that is roughly divided into several mindsets: a) Public Transport is for losers; b) Public Transport is _they_ way to do it; c) Somewhere in between (ie; if it’s cost effective and convenient).

      I’d hazard a guess that the number of people in group A is both dwindling and also largely irrelevant (due to their being in small towns and cities, where driving has practically no disincentives) and that group C is the biggest issue to tackle. For the sake of argument, Mr Joyce is group A now and always – A lost cause 🙁

      To tackle group C, we need fares to be seen as reasonable in addition to continual improvement in services. If we wish to increase farebox recovery (and I think we definitely should have this as a ridership non-impacting target), we need to be a little more innovative. By a little more innovative, what I mean is do what other large cities have done for decades and allow small retail inside the station infrastructure/properties – Cafes, newsagents, dairies and the like.

      We’ll probably never have the density to have underground stations as large as HK (Mong Kok being the most densely populated place on the planet, for example) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from their strategy. Having thousands of people per hour (in the case of Auckland) being funneled past your store makes that piece of land pretty valuable. Britomart was a wasted opportunity to some extent. The focus was (rightly so) on moving people as fast as possible, however the design was at the expense of retail tenants in the building – They’re all out of the way, or involve crossing people streams. The choice of tenants and how people flows are directed should be revisited as part of the construction now underway. AT needs to help the retailers be more profitable, so that in turn they can charge more for the tenancies.

      1. You are right, the food court thing that was in Britomart was kind of odd. But I think flat out encouragement of the advantages of PT such as fast inexpensive travel especially at peak at less of a price (parking, fuel, maintenance etc) will draw the users in and the more people paying a fare the less burden eventually on ratepayers there is and traffic volumes drop. I am also guessing in the ideal world a big take up in PT would at some point reach an equilibrium where roads would unclog and encourage private mode transport again.

      2. You’re quite optimistic about group A. It may be true in the central suburbs, but pretty sure it’s not the case on the north shore. PT over there only really serves one function — getting you to the CBD, or to a lesser extent, to Takapuna.

        Since I’m not commuting to Britomart you can count me as group (D), “it’s there, but not of any use to me”. If you look at the new network on the Shore, AT has little ambition to change that.

        1. Really? My old neighbourhood in the east coast bays goes from having shit all buses, to frequent, seven day a week links to Albany, Northcross, Browns Bay, Constellation, Sunynook/Wairau, Smales Farm and Takapuna.

          That covers off all Metro centres and practically all shopping and employment in one line. It’s awesome!

        2. Yes, there’s improvement on that side of the motorway. Your old neighbourhood is fortunate to have that “N6” line nearby. It will be very handy if you commute to Takapuna. On the other side, the only improvement is frequencies in the weekend. Not much other changes, it’s an almost exact copy of the current network, including silly contraptions like the 922 line. If you look at the old and proposed maps, you can match them up, most of them 1-to-1.

        3. Yes, definitely some parts of the North Shore get a huge improvement, others get status quo. A big improvement overall, if not in certain neighbourhoods.

    2. Farebox recovery discourages doing anything to provide PT from the beginning to new areas, too – can’t run frequent buses out to Burbville Heights because there’s not enough people to take them, then by the time there’s enough people, everyone’s used to driving. So there’s no hope of the German pattern of building transit-focused developments around new PT links. And I have to think it’s a factor in the reluctance to improve off-peak timetables. Basically, it’s a perfect tool for stifling PT investment, though I’m not sure whether it’s through stupidity or malice.

      1. Agreed. I doubt Wellington’s successful Hutt valley rail deviation in the 1950’s would be able to happen today, because it pre-empted the residential development that subsequently occurred there. It wasn’t built as a “response” to the growth in patronage, it was built to lead it.

    3. Yes the farebox recovery thing does really seem to screw growth apart from where there is obvious overflowing demand like Mt Eden buses and the NEX etc. Seems the whole system is still too much just trying to reduce peak congestion (so everything else moves-people can get somewhere) and provide a backup service for those that really need to use it (the poor, elderly, students, mobility challenged).

  3. Slightly off topic, but the editorial in today’s Herald re the ballooning cost of the Warkworth to Wellsford RoNS is worth a read and would appear to be a welcome change of attitude from that newspaper.

  4. What is “PT” performance? I don’t think raw quantity stats are indicative of performance in any way – what matters is that the bus/train gets people to work/play on time, and that the experience wasn’t too miserable. It’s like saying that if MSD gives out more benefits it’s performing better.

    What I think would focus AT’s minds wonderfully would be for them to be assessed on just a few key performance measures:
    1. On-time performance (a PROPER one)
    2. Average commute times (because this forces them to expand their offerings)
    3. Passenger satisfaction (via random surveys – maybe a little swipe when you get off)

  5. One piece of low hanging fruit (as has been mentioned by several posters here) would be to reduce off-peak fares.
    Multiple benefits:
    1) reduces some of the load off the peak services
    2) increases numbers using off-peak services (making them more viable and a better use of resources as well as potentially safer for passengers)
    3) since off-peak would be more viable and potentially more frequent as a result of extra patronage it makes the whole system a more viable option for new passengers (since they would know that at any time they wouldn’t have to wait forever for a service and that it wouldn’t be expensive).

  6. Rail in Auckland is great when there is no fault in the network. But recently faults have been common and AT handling of these faults are unimpressive. Communication is really bad.

    Regarding Buses. They still get stuck in traffic and its still faster to walk. If they want people to use Buses, they need to implement dedicated bus lanes where buses can easily zoom pass traffic.

    1. Which is why it should be a priority to install glass platform barriers to prevent people selfishly committing suicide by train (particularly around key locations where it can disrupt the entire rail network).

        1. There is still is a lingering attitude I think based on the days before someone took suburban rail seriously in Auckland that heavy track maintenance can only be done during Christmas breaks or in a dire emergency. You need look no further than all the “C” and “T” boards around the network to show where the many faults are that have been identified are but not fixed.

          If we are to have a truly Metro train system maintenance and proactive improvements needs to configured into early hours of each day 365 days of the year with plenty of first world track maintenance machinery or the track faults will continue.

  7. I’m disappointed with weekend (Saturday timetables) for a number of services. For me, 363 runs only once per hour in the weekend and it arrives 10 minutes after the train to Newmarket leaves 9a 30 minutes frequency service). So a trip to Newmarket which takes 35 minutes (door to door) each way takes 90 minutes via PT. It does not exactly encourage me to take the bus/train option. I understand the 363 does not have many users (partly because it is a sh*t service) but how hard was it to align the time-table so it arrives 5 minutes before the train leaves and have it aligned with the 33 or 361 for transfer to Manukau.

    I agree with Ben10 comments about handling faults – I’m no longer getting texts about issues and nothing was on the web this morning, but trains were cancelled and my southern line services was diverted to Britomart via Panmure (this information was told to us after the train left Otahuhu and the train manger told us to transfer at Westfield (which is not open anymore). From Manurewa station to Newmarket was over 90 minutes.

  8. Talking of performance. Seeing the new Parnell station in action today (admittedly early days & shoulder peak), I can see it will not get much patronage at all until at least the Nicholls Lane walkway is put in….was like in a ghost town, so far to walk and steep hills to get much anywhere (as the blog has been saying all along with it’s location), talking to ticket inspector there she said was pretty quiet all morning. Hopefully use will pickup when people discover it’s presence & it’s more finished off of course.

    1. I used Parnell today to get to uni.

      I’m not convinced it was a good idea but I had the definite advantage of already knowing the way through the Domain. The morning bush-walk was interesting and quirky. I even saw the clearing I mentioned once before which would have provided another more direct route from the platform into the Domain trails.

      But it’s not really practical. And I couldn’t tell if the path I took to Carlaw was official or just so frequently used by [whoever] (as opposed to one that doubles back; one could also head for Grafton Road but that would surely be longer). Although, I must say, we got to Parnell after about 55 minutes travel so it all probably worked out the same as a trip on that service’s last week version would’ve.

      Actually, in some ways, the least practical part of the journey was the traffic lights. Can’t cross directly to the uni side and they take forever on what is a very wide and very busy road.

      1. ‘Actually, in some ways, the least practical part of the journey was the traffic lights. Can’t cross directly to the uni side and they take forever on what is a very wide and very busy road.’

        Yup. Access to and from the station will be vast improved, especially to Nichols Lane, and, I hope an underpass that also enables a good route through for non-station people too. But Stanley St is a nightmare, one I suspect that is only be fixable with a bridge…

  9. Over the weekend the Liberals (and One Nation, yay!) got completely thumped in Western Australia. Interestingly Labor ran on a big Transit programme and Lib/Nats on a mainly roads one. Whether Labor can deliver is uncertain as the Lib/Nat Federal gov is refusing to fund the strong rail Labor policy but shelling out huge subsidies for the road one (so familiar). But it is interesting that before the election it was being described as the ‘congestion election’, so along with the usual politics there was certainly some Transit v Roads positioning:

    I certainly hoe the coalition was also being punished for its completely stupid and absurd energy policy too. Big mining area of course. No one was calling a 17% swing away form Turnbull and the coal/roads lobby, but that’s what they got….. interesting.

    Also if Labor’s plans do come to fruition thence can expect Perth to move further up the leaderboard above… it isn’t a static situation, it’s very dynamic right now.

      1. Hooray! At last! Transport becomes an important election issue and the result is convincingly, LESS ROADS!

        Now perhaps if Labour/Green/NZF can get their act together here, they will halt the bulldozers on Transmission Gully and alter the contract to build the Levin-Airport Railway of National Significance instead.

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