This is a special “Flashback Saturday” as it was originally published in Passenger Transport Magazine, August/September 1992 issue
Public transport patronage into central Auckland continues to plummet, according to a survey of peak hour commuters by the Auckland Regional Council. Darren Davis investigates.
During April. bus, train and ferry commuters to central Auckland were counted at a variety of points. This revealed a 14.5 per cent drop in patronage compared with 1991.
The survey has been carried out annually since 1986, (except 1989 when there was an ARC bus strike).
In 1986, 24,430 people travelled into central Auckland by public transport, this figure remaining stable for the next two years, then plummeting abruptly from 1988. Between 1988 and 1990 patronage dropped by 22 per cent, a further 15.4 per cent between 1990 and 1991 and 14.5 per cent in the last year [to 1992]. The total decline between 1988 and 1992 is 42 per cent.
This year’s  survey took place in good weather, with normal traffic patterns with the university term well underway and daylight saving having finished. According to the past experience of the ARC, there can be up to a 9 per cent daily variation of patronage counts in any one corridor, mostly due to travel fluctuations, seasonal factors and survey error.
Reasons attributed by regional council staff for the precipitous drop in patronage include the hardy perennials of reduced city centre employment, increased unemployment generally, availability of cheap car parking and second-hand Japanese imports.
Buses carry 89.3 per cent of the passengers entering the Central Business District and bus patronage declined by 14 per cent. The slight slow-down in the rate of decline was treated as a hopeful omen by the eternal optimists at the ARC. Train patronage dropped by just under 10 per cont and carry 2.4 per cent of the passenger load into the Central Business District (at over 10 per cent of the total subsidy cost). Ferries carries 8.3 per cent of city-bound commuters and their patronage has remained stable.
Vehicle occupancy varies between an average of 165 for Seabus sailings from Devonport down to 10 for Ritchies/Greenhalgh buses from Waitakere. Cityrail trains only carry an average of 35 passengers each although their peak load point is outside central Auckland. Overall Cityrail patronage is rising: [Ed: In 1992, trains carried 1.019m passengers in the entire year]. Birkenhead Transport has the highest occupancy of any bus operator with 33 passengers per trip, down from 38 in 1991. Yellow Bus Company flyer buses coming off the Southern Motorway carry an average of 59 passengers and Cityline express buses [from Papakura] carry an average of 39 passengers. Yellow Bus Company services from the North Shore have their highest average occupancy with 37 passengers per bus. This should improve further with the development of the revised North Shore busway proposal.
Whenuapai buses are now only carrying an average of 26 passengers per bus and Whenuapai is now able to use minibuses to run its peak hour services. This is partly due to more Whenuapai passengers working and shopping in New Lynn, where no direct service is available.
Auckland City Council has been sufficiently disturbed by the sharp decline in patronage that it requested the Regional Council to add a goal to its Regional Passenger Transport Plan “to take urgent action to arrest the sharp decline in public transport patronage in recent years, and in the short term to stabilise peak period patronage at the level of April 1992.”
This is the same city council that surveys staff to see what would encourage them to drive to work and park in council car parks, and which demolishes heritage buildings to provide convenient staff parking.
Current Auckland isthmus contracts expire in 1996 and Auckland City is concerned that there mayn’t be many public transport passengers left by them. However, the Auckland Regional Council considers that “it is debatable whether the Council can take immediate action that will be effective in reversing patronage trends.” The Council has taken a stance that a comprehensive review process provides the best opportunity for the long-term survival of passenger transport in the region. This leaves operators scrapping over a declining market and leaves all the initiative for service improvements with the operators.
One bright note in this sorry saga is that the current Auckland City review of Central Business District routes and terminals may alleviate some of the anomalies where the terminals are located nowhere near where passengers want to go and buses take circuitous routes to leave the Central Business District.
However, more needs to be done about the patronage decline. Addressing the decline of downtown Auckland would be a good start.