The public transport results for March are always the most anticipated of the year because we’re eager to see just how much March Madness lived up to its reputation.
In past years we’ve anticipated big numbers because we’d seen the regular complaints about extremely busy services. However, this year was different. Auckland Transport added significant extra capacity prior to March resulting in only a handful of complaints about full buses and trains. In fact, everything seemed to be running so smoothly it reached the point I was concerned the lack of overflowing buses might indicate ridership had dropped. For me, this year the maddest thing I found about March was the level of media interest in it.
While we still need to wait for the full set of results to come out at the next board meeting however, I asked Auckland Transport if we could have March’s results. They kindly provided me with the high-level numbers, and they’re spectacular. We had expected them to be good for a few reasons:
- Ridership had continued to grow well over the past year
- Easter fell completely in April this year resulting in March having two extra working days.
- The three massive Adele concerts saw record numbers of people attend via public transport.
- Earlier this month AT had said we’d reached 19 million rail trips – indicating March must have been big.
However, even taking these factors into account the results were impressive.
Overall there were 9.41 million trips taken in March. That’s almost 1.3 million or 15.5% more than March last year, a huge result. Even taking into account the factors above, AT say the growth was a decent 7.6%. The result also means that for the 12-months to the end of March we had 86.99 million trips, up over 5 million on the same time last year.
Within that overall result there we have:
For the first time ever, more than two million trips were made in a month. All up there were 2.15 million trips on trains, this is up from 1.64 million trips in March last year. The rail numbers benefited more from the Adele concert than other modes but even taking that into account, I assume there still would have been more than 2 million trips.
As the graph below shows, March-17 was head and shoulders above what we’ve seen before. If previous trends follow we’re going to be in for a year of some big numbers.
This raises a few interesting questions to speculate over.
- We’ve been growing by a million trips about ever four months. Given we reached 19 million trips in early April, when will be hit 20 million trips?
- There are still significant potential drivers of usage in the next few years. This includes the new bus network roll-outs and improved off-peak frequencies. Just how high could ridership reach before 2023 when the CRL is opened?
- At what point do we order additional trains to provide extra capacity? We’ll need them long before the CRL opens.
For much of the past two years bus numbers on the whole have been disappointing. There were of course bright spots, such as the great growth on the Northern Express but overall bus numbers were flat or even declined a little. The great news is the growth appears to be back and the numbers are starting to look really good. Like with rail, there were more trips in March than there have been in any month in recent history. There were 6.68 million trips in March, up from 5.92 million the year before. There were 61.89m bus trips in the 12 months to the end of March.
Unfortunately, the numbers we have so far don’t split out the results for the Northern Busway numbers (or any other service)
Ferries were the mode disappoint this month and usage fell slightly compared to last year with 592k trips vs 598k in March-16. I wonder how much of this was tied to the weather events we had at the end of March and beginning of April. There remains just over 6.1 million trips on ferries annually.
AT gets it right
I think the important thing to re-emphasise with this, is that AT got it right. They put on additional capacity prior to March and, especially given the results, if felt like it paid off.
While March’s results are fantastic, looking forward to April’s, we shouldn’t our hopes up too much for a similar outcome. Working days drive most of the ridership and there are only 17 working days this April, down from 20 in April-16.