Auckland Transport have published the ridership results for November and there’s a few interesting points to note.

For the first time since April 2013, for the monthly results, growth on buses was stronger than rail. For November, bus use grew by 7.6% compared to November 2016 while rail was up 4.6%. It’s positive we’re seeing some decent growth on buses again and some of that is the result of the New Network rolling out. With East Auckland having just rolled out and the Isthmus and North Shore still to come, we should continue to see some strong bus growth in the years ahead. Rail still grew stronger on a 12 month rolling basis (14% vs 6.3%) but the rate of growth is slowing.

Last month I commented on how rail growth was lower and put that mostly down to school holidays. With Novembers growth lower too then perhaps this is a trend starting to form. This isn’t unexpected and many predicted it would happen a lot sooner than it has. As I pointed out with October’s data, it does highlight the need for Auckland Transport to sort out rail service, especially the abysmal off-peak and weekend frequencies.

On a related note, over the week a traffic engineer from Seattle posted a series of tweets about how Seattle had grown since 2001 but that traffic hadn’t. His tweet included this graph about bus use in the US by city. Streetsblog also followed up with this article. As you can see, Seattle is an outlier compared to other cities in the US.

That got me thinking about how Auckland and Wellington would look on that graph. And so here is a version for the two cities. As you can see, Auckland’s bus usage has grown significantly over that time frame. In of March-16 when the graph above appears to stop, Auckland bus usage was at 130% of Dec-04, so similar to Seattle. As of now, buses in Auckland are at 140% and the results for trains and ferries are even more impressive. Train use over the same time is at 600% while ferry use is at 148%. For all Auckland public transport, use since Dec-04 is at 172%.

Down in Wellington, buses were at 111% in Mar-16, 113% now. Rail usage in the capital is at 130% and ferry at 147% (although coming off a very low base).

The point of all this is that it helps to highlight that Auckland is doing well compared to many cities.

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  1. Key here is really getting past the hunt for the great white commuter thinking that plagues current transport planning.

    So much room for rail growth if service span was longer and more frequent off peak.

    1. It would also help with the argument that the third main is needed now. It is very hard for AT to argue this when the Western line also has 20 min off-peak and weekend off-peak is 30 mins across the network.

  2. and if it didn’t stop so early in the evening. It isn’t that it would be heavily used, but when you need it, you need it, say taking people to dinner in town or working late. Without this, the late shift have no choice but to use SOVs…

    1. not just late shift workers, but anyone who might conceivably at short notice want or need to work late or who might get invited out to dinner or drinks.

      It’s like range anxiety for EV users. Sure most of the time i might only drive 10km / work until 5pm, but what if one day i need to go further / stay later.

  3. Also how many big disruptions were there in November? IIRC there were 2 lines shut due to deaths/crossing collisions and I think 2 other big disruptions due to faults/weather?
    Would help explain why buses are up so much too.
    The big thing for rail in Auckland is to improve the network resilience (especially post CRL). Things like unnecessary strikes don’t help matters either.

    1. As urbanists we must surely realise that having a reliable and attractive public transport system is more important than some century-old partisan notion that we should always support strikes. Your point is also completely irrelevant as the strike was not about wages, it was about the so-called ‘safety issue’ of allowing drivers to operate the doors. Anyone with even a basic understanding of how our rail system works knows that the alleged safety issues are completely fabricated and that the whole ordeal is one of the main reasons we continue to have excessive dwell times at stations. I’m a big supporter of workers’ rights (and would support the strikes if they were even remotely justified) but sometimes you have to look at the big picture and realise that unecessary strikes do nothing but inconvenience people and damage the public’s perception of public transport.

      1. I’m with you: I support workers’ rights, and I firmly believe there is an important role for Unions to balance the power of employers. But I don’t support strikes being called simply to resist logical / efficient changes to technology and processes.

        Changes that will ultimately benefit PT users, by making the system cheaper and therefore more widely available (more frequency, longer span etc). The main reason Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Copenhagen’s metro can afford to be run every 5-10 mins 24hrs per day is because they are *driverless*. In public transport, efficiency == abundance.

        Not only is Vancouver’s SkyTrain abundantly available, but it also runs at an operating profit, hence generating revenues that can be re-invested in other parts of the transit system (possibly even creating more jobs as bus drivers, for example!).

        The days of train managers are numbered, and have been for a long time. All these jobs will go, as will all the drivers’ (at least in a couple of decades). And the public transport system will be more efficient and more abundant as a result. It’s obvious and logical.

        I’d suggest the Union stops fighting technological progress, which will always win in some way of another. Instead the real battle is the fight for companies/government to pay for re-training those people who will inevitably lose their jobs because of technological progress.

        In saying that, we must try to understand the Union’s dilemma: They are incentivized to maintain membership numbers, rather than necessarily look after their members’ long-term interests. How you resolve that problem I don’t know …

        1. Yeah I think the union shot themselves in the foot by focusing on safety issues of driver only operated trains. It’s pretty easy to highlight many places overseas where this works fine, and as soon as NZTA provide safety approval for the process their whole argument is gone.

          Instead they should focus on improving pay and conditions for workers. Rail plays a critical role in making Auckland work and our trains drivers should be paid well. Other train workers should also have clear career paths developed for them that offer more value than opening a door.

        2. For all the “I support workers rights, but bash Unions” irony brigade, there was plenty of good reason for the strike in the post about the strike.

          But for the uninitiated our metro lines frequently interact with freight trains that are not scheduled months in advance, or even days at times, that are driven by humans with all the issues that go with that. That is also not to mention a minimalist maintenance schedule which means track conditions can vary daily and frequently during the day. So the dream of so casually eliminating another occupation so my life is a tad more satisfying may take a while longer yet.

          A driver in our current environment can only suffer about three incidents before their job is gone, more or less. Incidents are anything that compromises safety in short.

          As painstakingly stated in the previous blog poor CCTV quality plus distraction from the additional duties of monitoring passengers boarding and departing plus idiots on platforms (your everyday commuter) and what lies ahead, i.e. red signals, means the odds of an incident all the greater and the consequences far worse..

          And having just been in a city where the driver is responsible for everything and watching late passengers on the platform grope at doors as the train departs is an “accident” waiting to happen!

          I fully understand the drivers concerns.

    2. I support unions and the right to strike in general.
      This strike had nothing to do with workers rights etc and everything to do with trying to keep the cushy status quo rather than getting with the times (or the international standard).
      Public transportation strikes do need to be held to a different standard in that they should only occur if absolutely necessary as the disruption and costs they cause to the general public are unacceptable. The latest one between I think 11am and 1pm is suitable as it minimises the disruption (particularly during peak times).
      Even as annoying (and greedy) as the London tube drivers strikes were at least it was usually only a few lines at a time (out of a dozen) so there were plenty of alternatives (plus an extensive bus network).

    1. Well done. I just had fun writing out some warnings for you about everything that could go wrong next but thought you’ve probably read about them already, or alternatively would enjoy the journey of experiencing them yourself… 🙂

    2. I had to laugh the other day: AT have set the default top-up to $1. Yes that’s right. Hence my credit card statement now runs to 613 pages. Thankfully delivered electronically.

      Seriously though: I would like to know which Einstein thought it was a good idea to set a default top-up amount of $1. And how many people have got caught by it.

      1. Snort! Right, now I understand why we need online visa bills, to cope with the auto topup defaults. There’s always a good reason for technology. 🙂

        I’m a bit concerned because a few days ago I was browsing the transactions on one of my sons’ cards, and found a line that read something like “Transaction Pending”. The date given for it was months ago, and there was a period after that that he hadn’t used the card. I thought – “Oh bum that’ll be a swallowed visa payment that I’ve only just noticed. Must sort it out. When I get a round tuit.” Etc. And now it’s been bumped off the bottom of the transactions. Can I face the conversation… imagine how it would go… “I think I read something like…”

        I wasn’t snooping around to see what my son had been doing, by the way…

        1. “Transaction Pending” usually indicates a merchant/terminal has asked for an authorisation (i.e. the card is valid and funds available etc), but the resulting transaction itself hasn’t yet made its way to the bank.

          If you set up a credit card for recurring payments, you’ll often see a transaction pending for a small amount (e.g. $1) as the merchant verifies the card is genuine. The $1 is just a test rather than a real charge, so it eventually disappears from “pending” and never turns up as a true transaction. So your mystery transaction may be one of these.

        2. Thanks… not sure if this can explain it, given the timing – the card had been set up for visa payments for a long time before. I think I have to sit down with my visa statements and try to link each payment with a card balance top up – won’t be easy as I’m managing 5 cards, and the top up date depends on card use, not payment date… but I’ll give it a go.

  4. “unecessary (sic) strikes do nothing” -well there’s the thing you see. Your definition of unnecessary versus someone else’s.
    Unnecessary because the employer is acting unreasonably? That sort of unnecessary?

  5. The other positive statistic is that AT HOP seems to have stabilised at approximately 90% of total journeys. I guess that’s the mwfic sparks effect?

  6. I don’t think that we should be at all proud of current public transport ridership. Sure growth has been reasonable, but off a very low base. And comparisons to Seattle where only one in five trips to work are by public transport is not impressive compared to European cities.

    If we are serious about addressing climate change, congestion and the economic costs of more roads then public transport growth needs to return to double digits. Like Seattle it will take bold initiatives such as increasing registration costs on cars to fund increased operating subsidies for public transport.

    Greater off peak services will help but I suspect that decreasing the price for regular users of public transport will be the thing that really drives patronage. Will car users accept greater costs to pay for better public transport? As a city can we afford not to do this?

    1. I generally agree, but the comparison to Seattle is still powerful. Here, for example, the majority of people think the increase in traffic is because “we’re growing”. Say the increase is due to motorway and road expansion and car dependency, and they won’t believe you. Seattle’s figures are wonderful and very useful. An increase of 21.3% in population has occurred at the same time as a decrease in traffic, because of good planning. Similarly, Auckland’s increase in traffic is from bad planning, not from an increase in population.

      What’s exciting is how much opportunity we have for improvement. :/

    2. Generally agree although I think fuel tax is a fairer measure than vehicle registrations, as it gets much closer to taxing actual use. This is effectively happening with the introduction of the regional fuel tax, I also think we will see more of the NLTF going towards PT in Auckland in the future as we run out of large roading projects within the city.

      I’m not sure cost is putting that many people off as it is pretty expensive to run a car. I think the bigger issue is speed, coverage and frequency. I’d rather see prices stay where they are and the network expanded with any fuel tax revenue.

      1. Quote from last week: “Heidi, you’ll be pleased to know I decided to take the children for a trip on the bus. You know, show them what buses are like. Man! I couldn’t believe the cost! For the whole family to go on the bus it cost us so much money. It’s just not something I can consider doing. Even if I take the car somewhere where I have to pay for parking, it’s cheaper to take the car. Why do they think people will take the bus when it costs so much?”

        Of course this person probably wouldn’t want to pay a fuel tax and wouldn’t want to give up any on-street parking and wouldn’t know how much she’s paying for having and using a car, but the reality is also that there needs to be an easier transition into using the bus, not first experiences where the cost puts them off. The children’s fares are just too high – perhaps children’s cards should just max out at $1 per day? We need something like a really cheap day pass for a family.

        Aspire higher, Jezza, we need radical changes, not just what we can manage out of a bit more fuel tax.

        1. Fair point, I was thinking mainly the individual fares being reasonable, my kids are still young enough to ride for free.

          I agree we can do a lot better with family fares, especially off-peak. Am I right that kids pay a maximum of $1 on weekends now?

        2. Only with the HOP card. So say Pt Chev to town return for a family of two adults and three children:

          On a weekday, it costs $40 cash or $23.40 with hop.
          On a weekend, it costs $40 cash or $18.60 with hop.

          Yes you want to make a difference between Hop and no hop, but $40 is too much for a family trying out the bus. This needs to be fixed if we’re serious about making this an accessible city.

      2. Jezza, the answer to whether a fuel tax is fairer depends on what is what the objective is. If it is trying to decrease the number of vehicle trips it may be manifestly unfair because those travelling the furtherest may be the only ones compelled to change their habits simply because they can’t afford it.

        If Jim Salinger’s latest assessments of climate change are correct NZers, and more particularly Aucklanders may well be asking not how far we should be driving, but whether we should be driving at all. There may need to be disincentives to driving such as Seattle has utilised.

        Vienna has approached it another way, with enormous success, and has introduced a yearly pass for the equivalent of about $1.80 per day. People are abandoning their cars to the extent that there are now more yearly pass holders than registered cars.

        Yes cars are expensive but many don’t perceive them to be so. They forget that they have probably paid $60.000 for the garage, many thousands for the car, and all they see is the petrol costs. That is not nearly so visible as paying $40 for a day to take a family to the city as highlighted below.

        Yes I am for better public transport services but I believe the imperative is also to move people to that mode by drastically reducing prices. As a society we need to find that money.

        1. Taka – I wonder whether it’s more the quality of the service (speed, frequency, reliability etc.) that’s more important to most people than the cost of fares? Sure for family trips it can all add up, although Auckland Transport has taken some steps in recent times like 99c weekend kids tickets.

          Given all the money comes from the same pot, spending money on lower fares that could otherwise have been spent on improving service quality is unlikely to be a good trade-off. The formula is pretty simple:

          1) Improve frequencies.
          2) More bus lanes
          3 Expand the rapid transit network to more of Auckland

        2. How about:

          1/ Improve frequencies and lower fares, taking the money from both fuel tax and a pollution tax, because we have to do something about the climate!
          2/ Reallocate traffic lanes to bus lanes on arterials, reallocate much of the “more minor than arterial” road network to cycle lanes, allowing cars access but no priority.
          3/ Expand the rapid transit network to more of Auckland.

        3. Yes Lionel, the three aspects that you advocate for are all necessary, but I suspect often trips come down to price. As an example, if my wife and I are travelling to the city ($12.60 return on Hop), do we go this way, or travel by car using the $2 per hour Victoria St car park? Do a couple coming from the city to the beach for a swim on Sunday use the bus, or enjoy the acres of free parking around Takapuna? Anecdotal evidence is that almost everyone drives. All of these trips contribute to greenhouse emissions.

          I am advocating injecting hundreds of millions of dollars yearly into public transport to make a transformative difference. When the CRL is complete in say five years time, costing billions of dollars, it is predicted to only add initially 5 million trips per year, or about five percent growth. This increase is inconsequential in relation to solving congestion and emissions.

          I advocate limited price reduction strategies to really drive public transport growth.

        4. Registration charges just hit people who own cars even if they don’t use them much. A PT user like myself who also owns a car but doesn’t use it a lot would pay just as much as someone who uses their car all the time. That’s fine for me as I can afford it but there are probably people in similar circumstances who couldn’t.

          I would have thought if we wanted to reduce car use we would tax car use not car ownership.

        5. We want to reduce car use, and car ownership does contribute to car use.

          We also want to reduce carbon emissions and car manufacture and importation does involve carbon emissions.

          Having a car each is all part of the problem, Jezza. Having a car each means there’s always a car available so no creativity about making do without one occurs. Our car ownership rates have gone up, and many of those cars are parked on the road, making it hard for child pedestrians to cross, making it dangerous for cyclists, and taking up public space. Just having a car is a burden on the city. Why shouldn’t you pay?

          Sharing a car between several households is a logical next step, so what can we do to get to that point? Disincentives for car ownership would definitely help.

        6. If children travelling for free on the weekend is the answer, what possibly was the question? Car trips are caused solely by adults; they drive the cars and are the ones making the decisions to drive them.

          Congestion is largely caused by a huge number of single occupant trips. I think that a much better answer is to have everyone paying a small share to public transport. This will achieve many objectives: reducing single occupant car trips; reducing double occupant trips e.g. couples; certainly reducing family trips; maybe encouraging kids to walk or bike rather than bus trips; reducing week day as well as weekend trips; and maybe ensuring that all of the groups mentioned considering whether they need a car.

          Vienna has achieved phenomenal public transport usage because all sorts of people make so many trips to so many locations. Their target is less than 20% of all trips to be made by car by 2025 (current annual trips 950 million per year). Now that’s a serious attempt at emission reduction!

  7. Train system isn’t fit for purpose. Turned up at Britomart at 10:15 this evening to be told there are no more trains on the Eastern Line tonight. For a supposed 1st world city it’s a farce

  8. I wonder if the bus figures are being skewed by the new network turning what might have been a single trip into two trips. AT does have “journey” data as well as trip data, which do they use to record patronage ?

  9. I’ll be pleased when the NN is finally rolled out. As other parts of the city are completed, I suspect Central is getting the “bottom of the barrel” buses that don’t meet the new contracts.

    I’ve had two different brands of bendy buses on the short Dominion Road route (i.e. starting at Eden Valley) where we usually only get a max of 6 passengers and sometimes 1.

    Most of the Dom Road buses don’t have air con, and I’ve been on one twice now where none of the “stop beg buttons” worked on the left hand side of the bus. And one that didn’t have AT Hop terminals front or rear, and we all had to tag on/off at the driver’s console.

    1. +1, those bendy buses are awful. They always used to run the 881 when it went past my house (at the time) in Torbay. Full of diesel fumes in the back, rattly, no air conditioning. Definitely all of NZ buses old clunkers rattling around the isthmus atm.

  10. I have seen a number of calls on here for improved evening, off peak and weekend rail services, which I think everyone supports. However there are several challenges to achieving this. Before there can be a meaningful improvement in services on the Western Line there is a need to address the concerns around the numerous level crossings and the risk these are considered to pose. In addition more services require more drivers and many more services require manay more drivers (and Train Managers too under the current operating model). These staff need to be recruited and trained (which requires considerable resources in itself). This is without thinking about the resources required to operate the CRL too. As i say, very challenging to achieve….. but a challenge which has to be addressed.

    1. HB – I don’t understand why level crossings would be an issue holding back the implementation of more frequent offpeak and weekend train frequencies. We run 10 minute peak frequencies after all.

      Of course more drivers will be required. One would hope there’s a long-term recruitment process in place for this.

    2. It’s certainly something AT and Transdev seem to make challenging. However, recruiting train crew should be business as usual for a train operator, if not then they are possibly in the wrong business.

    3. “In addition more services require more drivers and many more services require manay more drivers (and Train Managers too under the current operating model). These staff need to be recruited and trained (which requires considerable resources in itself).”

      Yes, three years ago when the RPTP stated that there should be 10 minute frequencies all day, this stood in the way. However, AT have had three years to find drivers. If they can’t find drivers they should be sacked, it’s incompetence for a train operator to not be able to find train drivers.

  11. I’ve seen dft 7104 with new improve passenger cars look cool with the electric train on the back and it works and fast so the heavy rail has improve but take time for more tests to take the passenger cars are sa cars done up right and it’s first working locomotive and electric passenger train

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