Auckland was once considered a case study of what not to do with transport. Our singular focus on motorway building with almost no attention towards improving public transport saw PT usage rates in the region plummet before starting to recover in the mid-90’s. The improvement in PT has been particularly remarkably over the last decade, increasing from around 53 million to nearly 93 million trips. The prospects for the next decade look even more promising. The recently agreed and funded Auckland Transport Alignment Project commits to substantial investment in public transport, including rolling out large parts of a rapid transit network. Projects like light rail and busways tend to grab the headlines but a PT network is more than just a few routes and the scale of change we’re going to see is highlighted in this small section near the end of the document under the headline “Improving travel choice”
Fast, frequent and reliable public transport will be extended into many parts of the city and significant progress be made towards creating a connected and safe cycling network.
These improvements are expected to support a substantial increase to the share of travel by public and active transport modes, from around a quarter of all morning peak trips at the moment to approximately a third of trips by 2028. Public transport ridership is expected to grow substantially, increasing from 93 million annual boardings to around 170 million by 2028.
Going from 93 to 170 million boardings in a decade is a significant jump, an 83% increase, or about 6.2% of compounding annual growth. Even accounting for population growth, the number is significant as it would represent about 85 trips per person. That’s up from 55 per capita now and would put us ahead of many other comparator cities.
To help put it in perspective, this graph shows the results of the last two decades and the prediction above for 2028. The ATAP report doesn’t break down the 170 million boardings so I made some assumptions on them, which I’ll break down. The process of making those assumptions really highlighted to me just how much things are going to have to change in this city.
Let’s break those modes down. I thought it best to work backwards from the 170 million.
We’ve seen some pretty spectacular growth in rail over the last five years following electrification of the network, with ridership doubling from 10 to 20 million in between 2013 and 2017. Over the last 8 months growth has slowed down though and it’s likely we’ll end the year at about 20.5 million trips. We don’t expect to see explosive growth again until the City Rail Link opens in mid-2024 but we do still expect some growth in the coming years. Improvements such as buses feeding more people to trains (especially with the Eastern Busway), improved weekend and hopefully off-peak frequencies along with more trains to ease capacity constraints should all help encourage more people to jump on a train. As such I’ve assumed a lower rate of growth until 2024 before a few years of rapid increases.
These changes would see rail us increase to just under 24 million before the CRL opens before jumping to about 38 million in 2028. That suggests about an 85% increase in the coming decade.
Like trains, ferries appear to be entering into a period of low growth. We do expect the coming decade to bring improvements that will increase trips but not by a substantial level. That would see growth remain on about the same trajectory it has been for the last 20 years. This assumption would see ferry trips will grow from about 6.2 million in 2018 to 8 million in 2028. This is a 29% increase in the coming decade.
Light rail is the hardest of the modes to make assumptions for as we don’t really have anything to compare it to. For this analysis, I’ve assumed the first section, from Mt Roskill to city, will open in around 2024 with an extension to Onehunga in 2026 and Airport by 2028. The first stages of the Northwest route may also be in place. One thing we do know is light rail will replace both Dominion Rd buses and the City Link services, they currently carry about 5 million trips annually (3m for Dominion Rd and 2m for City Link). Based on that, I assume that light rail will rise from 5 million to 8 million by 2028.
Buses are the workhorse of our PT network, carrying around 66 million trips, or 71% of all PT trips. After subtracting the modes above from the 170 million trips ATAP suggest, that leaves us with 116 million trips that will be on buses, about a 75% increase on today’s numbers. That means buses will still be carrying over 2/3rds of all PT trips. There are some big projects which will help drive surge in bus usage, including
- The roll out of the last two big parts of the new bus network, the Isthmus (July 8) and North Shore (September 30).
- The Extension to the Northern Busway to Albany – due to open 2021/22. Also bus shoulder lanes to Silverdale over the decade too.
- The Eastern Busway – to Pakuanga in 2021-22 and Botany by 2026
- Airport to Puhinui and Manukau busway – the first bits of bus priority should be in place by 2020/21.
What these bus numbers really highlight is that we’re really going to need to lift our game across the board if we’re to achieve anywhere near 116 million trips by 2028. Here are some things we’re going to need to do.
- Buses will need to become a lot more useful. The new network helps the network structure but we’re going to need more frequent routes and all frequent routes are going to need to be more frequent i.e. a minimum of every 10 minutes instead of every 15. A lot greater percentage of trips will need to come from counter-peak, off-peak and weekend journeys.
- To run more frequent services we’re going to need a lot more buses. In 2017 Auckland had just over 1,300 buses on the roads. This kind of growth suggests we could need 1,100 more. That’s an awful lot of additional buses that will be roaming around. As we’ve already seen though, one way to make buses more efficient is to have larger buses, such as double deckers. The counter to this is that cities like Vancouver are able to move more than twice the number of predicted bus numbers using just a few hundred more buses than we have.
- More buses mean we’re going to need a lot more bus lanes, least those they grind to halt. As a result, it’s likely that almost every arterial would need them. But not all arterials will be able to cope with more buses, Symonds St for instance is already struggling under the weight of bus numbers in the morning – which is one of the key reasons for looking at light rail.
Auckland Transport has a lot of work to do to pull this off but in doing so, not only will there be huge benefits for Auckland, we’ll likely become a case study in how to turn a city around.