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:
- Brisbane and South East Queensland – I included SEQ as the data available is for the area rather than for just Brisbane.
- United States
- Salt Lake City
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?