It’s been a year for milestones on public transport and Auckland Transport are celebrating another one. We’ve now passed 90 million trips within a 12-month period. That follows us hitting 20 million trips on rail and 5 million trips on the Northern Busway in August. It’s also a far cry from just over 20 years ago when in 1994, at Auckland’s lowest point, just over 33 million trips were made. In addition to the ridership numbers, customer satisfaction with PT has now passed 90%.

This graph is for the year to June when total ridership was 88.4 million

Here’s AT’s press release:

Public transport numbers the best in more than 60 years

Auckland’s public transport users have clocked up 90 million trips on buses, trains and ferries over the past year, the last time Auckland saw that many trips was way back in 1956.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Transport Services Officer Mark Lambert says, “Auckland in 1956 was a totally different city. It was the last year the trams were running, trolley buses were very popular and ferry numbers were high because the Harbour Bridge was still three years away.”

In 1956 Auckland was a much smaller city, with a population of around 400,000, but car ownership was still not the norm.

Mr Lambert says “This was the beginning of the era of the car in Auckland, the Northwestern and Southern Motorways had just partially opened, so people were buying cars and public transport usage was dropping by around 8 million trips a year.”

The numbers using public transport in Auckland bottomed out at 28 million and stayed low until 2002.

Since then public transport usage has grown steadily with train patronage rising from 3 million trips a year to 20 million.

The 90 million mark is an increase of 6 million on the previous year, a growth of 6.7 percent.

Auckland Council Planning Committee Chair Chris Darby says he is excited about the future of transport for Auckland, “We’re in the midst of a public transport revolution, with record levels of patronage across public transport. Aucklanders have a growing appetite for bus, ferry and rail travel, and making this reliable and easy to use is a key priority.”

Customer satisfaction also continues to rise, reaching 90.5 percent for bus customers, 93.7 percent for train and 91 percent for ferry.

“I use the ferry daily and I’m really happy to see the satisfaction levels on the rise.

“We’ve come a long way, but we can still do better. There’s even more services to be rolled out next year – hopefully this will see our patronage pass 100 million, and our customer satisfaction reach 100 percent.”

The result is actually a little better than they realise. I was provided the historical data from AT a long time ago and recently I was looking at some old yearbooks on Statistics NZ’s website and found some of the figures from the 50’s were wrong. Correcting that not only fixed an odd spike in the graph linked to ATs press release but also pushed back “last time” date to 1953.

Of course AT are correct when they point out that Auckland was very different back then with a lot smaller population. Back then Aucklanders made around 250 trips per person a year on public transport compared to around 54 now.

The per capita result is improving but still has a long way to go to match our comparator cities. A good next goal would be for us to reach around 75 trips per person which would put us at a similar level to where Wellington is today and slightly ahead of roughly similar cities in the US. At current rates of improvement, we may reach that within a decade. Alternatively, based on our current population we’d need around 124 million trips to reach that level. A longer term goal is to reach levels similar to those seen in Canadian cities and for that we’d need around 130 trips per capita annually or over 200 million trips annually.

Coming back to how today, what’s important to note is not just that ridership has increased but what’s driven that growth. Looking back over the last decade, the number of trips taken on PT has risen by an impressive 37.2 million. Just over half of that (18.7 million) has come from growth on Rapid Transit, the rail network and Northern Busway alone.

There are are lot of improvements to public transport coming over the next year or so with the new bus network rolling out (East Auckland is next in December) and that is expected to help drive ridership. However, what the growth in rapid transit highlights is that for Auckland to see significant change we really need to significantly expand our rapid transit network. Some of this is already underway but a lot more is needed and that’s one of the reasons why we’ll keep pushing the Congestion Free Network.

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  1. It’s great to see these numbers growing. AT should use this as an argument to get more things done. Install bus lanes, increase frequencies of services. There are large areas of our city where PT is not even close to be a real alternative.

  2. “”what’s important to note is not just that ridership has increased but what’s driven that growth””.

    Obviously one answer is the improved service with the introduction of the HOP card, the related improvements in pricing, new trains, the busway and buslanes. The main reason would be the congestion and specifically the random nature of congestion.

    Years ago my daughter travelled to her work in Newmarket from North Shore; she had a car and she had parking and the journey by car was usually faster but she used the bus despite suffering from travel sickness in buses simply because they were the most reliable way of getting to work on time and as a middle manager she had a responsibility to be punctual.

    Conclusion: public transport in Auckland is stimulated by congestion and parking difficulties not a love of communal travel.

    1. Bob PT is entirely conceived as an ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’. The policy (largely unexamined, US derived) is only to provide PT as a relief once the private vehicle system trips into failure. It is not designed to be the first choice, only a few parts of it, and at some periods, even approach that standard (some ferries, the train at times, the Busway, mostly).

      We could and should change this. Rail post CRL, and particularly Light Rail, and improved ferry services could certainly get there if standards (quality, frequency, etc) keep improving.

      But we’re a long way from Vienna or Zurich, even in intent, let alone delivery… we get the city we build.

      1. If you mean we should be investing in PT and anticipating the future I agree. Imagine going back say 70 years and creating a transport plan for Auckland – you would have spent a little more (double track railways, more lanes on the bridge, removing level crossings, land reserved for future transport use, rail to the airport, etc) but in the medium and long term saved taxpayers a fortune and produced a PT system that was cheaper and way more efficient. All this plus more efficient commercial deliveries and keeping car drivers far happier. If it is so obvious looking backwards why not try it looking forwards?

      2. Most definitely!

        We Kiwis are good at saying how great foreign cities are, then failing to learn from them. We need to be bold and aspirational – Keep pushing services forward, keep improving the quality/reliability of the service.

        1. Will keep growing – As long as we can afford to live here. Sadly, not a joke.

          I was more thinking along the lines of how as a people, we tend to look at ideas that work overseas, then make some negative comment like “it’d never work here”. It’s that same attitude that resulted in the government trying so hard to restrict spending on PT in Auckland (you’ll never get Aucklanders out of their cars).

          Of course that attitude is changing, however it does still exist. It also stops us from making changes, concerned that we’d be copycats or admitting a fault. An example of this poisonous attitude – One criticism that I heard of Auckland years ago, was that it was trying to be like NYC or Sydney. I asked why that person said that, asked why Akl couldn’t be simply trying to be itself. Never got a coherent answer. Call it tall poppy syndrome, call it ego (embarrassed to admit fault), I don’t know…

          Also, I recognise that most people here don’t think like the example above, but comments here can be like preaching to the choir. The fact is that we’re the choir, and there’s a lot of unconverted out there… If you need proof, look no further than the comments section on Stuff 😉

        2. Our politicians, councillors and, most importantly, the holders of the Capex purse strings have also experienced other countries but appear not to have learned all that much.

          Unfortunately, too many of them are still wedded to the myth that Auckland is primarily a city of car drivers. Each of our advances in modern PT still have to be hard fought and that really shouldn’t be the case in 2017.

  3. I think Auckland will catch welly a lot sooner than expected.

    Personally after riding the trains in Wellington from Paraparaumu to the WLG CBD a couple of weeks back I believe the Auckland PT is better, the HOP Card and integrated fares just make so much sense.

    Compared to Welly, where there was a lady who was selling fares on the train (felt weird, this is 2017 not 1995) plus every station had a person selling tickets too, the train broke down and we had to bus for a portion of the trip, the bus also had 3 people to collect tickets and sell them (why the driver couldn’t do this astounded me). The whole system felt bloated and hard to scale. It’s probably a reflection of the either the Unions or the large budgets that these people still have jobs. Auckland is already running pretty lean comparative to Wellington.

    The HOP card is awesome, and Auckland’s scan on scan off system across the network makes for a better and cheaper experience.

    Ultimately I think Auckland is ready for continued rapid adoption in Public Transport (despite the Governments continual push for more roads)

    1. For JamesLopez – Greater Wellington Regional Council is working on an integrated ‘Tap & Travel’ for all train, bus and ferry (excluding interisland ferries) services in the region probably using Snapper. The problem with integrating train services to HOP/Snapper based system, greater Wellington region has a more spartan type population compared to Auckland hence using the ticket based system.

        1. Snapper’s just an interim solution, NZTA’s supposed national ticketing won’t be ready for mid next year when transfer based bus network for Wellington City is implemented.
          IMO, Snapper likely have a stack of only slightly used fare computers & card readers so could do it at a good price (+ already on NZ Bus & cablecar).

  4. There is a lot of scope for service improvements, especially with the trains. When is AT going to honour their pledge to have the RT network as a frequent service 7pm to 7pm , 7 days a week? The weekend and evening train service frequencies need to be improved immediately. It is a joke that the improved bus services are often more frequent than the trains they are supposed to connect with. Also after the debacle last summer with congestion on the airport roads AT said they would improve the frequency of the 380 service. Still nothing confirmed about an improved timetable which will benefit airport environs workers as well as travellers. When will this eventuate?

    1. They have said the 380 will become 38 same day Eastern NN goes live in December. Trains are going to 20min weekends next timetable change.

        1. I think driver numbers isn’t a variable outside AT’s control, like wind speed. If it is, the bus system should never have been privatised.

        2. If only there were some way to increase the incentive to become a driveway? Maybe some form of periodic financial compensation that could be paid to people who drive trains?

        3. Funny typo. 🙂 Nothing would be a good enough incentive for me to become a driveway.

          I was still thinking about the 380 when I said bus drivers but realise now of course you’re talking about train drivers. Are bus driver numbers a problem too?

        4. Typo did make me laugh, but it was too late to change it by thee time I noticed 🙂

          Bus driver numbers are well within AT’s control. They can request applications for tender that require a certain number of bus routes and contractors can decide how to procure drivers. It’s a bullshit excuse that there are no drivers. There are too few engineers at the moment, so we are paying them more to attract them from overseas and paying cadets to train them. Train drivers can also move from overseas or be trained. We just need to pay people enough to make it worthwhile.

  5. I’d like a better understanding of how relevant “trips per person” is as a measure in our changing city. I’ve given a simple proposition below that would help me.

    Lets consider the proposition that comparing our trips per person to other cities is a blunt tool, as it fails to consider the physical lay of the land and the distribution of work/leisure centres. With this in mind the question becomes two:
    1) What is a realistic target if we were to consider the rapidly increasing CBD residential population and the (slow) growth of satellite business centres?
    2) Does the above question have any more than a minor impact on passenger trips, now or near term?

    To answer the first question should be simple, we’d need some measure of how many jobs/students are in the CBD vs how many commute into the CBD. Let’s ignore shopping/leisure, too complicated to include. I think this blog has published these figures recently.

    The second question should be addressed through the answers from the first I’d have thought.

    Anybody care to have a go?

  6. Despite all the back slapping going on at AT, I am sure when you consider we’re only back to 1990’s levels of usage of PT per capita, performance on this front is quite damming of central and local government policy over the past two decades. So good to see that reversing but as you say, we’re (too) slowly correcting decades of past mistakes. To my mind pricing for congestion (and tax carparking) is the main solution to getting the cars off the roads and people to use a now passable PT system.

        1. I’m looking forward to the announcement of the letting of the main construction tenders.

          Once CRLL get the project rolling past milestones, we can start talking about the future of transit to the centre of queen street and the ability of more people to live without cars, which will allow those who need them to move around better.

  7. Plenty of quick and easy measures to boost patronage & should be done asap.

    Decrease off peak / weekend fares
    Increase off peak / weekend frequencies
    Increase the number of bus lanes & hours of operation of bus lanes on arterial routes

    These can be done so easily, whilst the larger more complex projects will take sometime and its easy to understand why with limited funding, political debates etc.

    1. Reasonable Fare Caps!! – Ref. Melbourne, including their cheap weekend fare caps which equated to the equivalent of a single fare for all day travel!

  8. It would be nice to have the figures to play with – are they available? I note that busway is included in the same column as trains, but many peak hour buses on the northern busway start way off the busway.

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