With public transport fares set to increase this weekend, it’s useful to look at how public transport use has been growing and with December’s ridership numbers now out, we can do just that. We’ve also been waiting to see the outcome of Auckland Transport’s free afternoon on buses and trains on the Friday before Christmas and yesterday they finally provided that.
First, we’ve been seeing good growth on PT, particularly on buses over the last six months sine the new network rolled out on the Isthmus in July and on the North Shore at the end of September. Overall ridership in December was up 4.9% on December 2017 which is nice but not as good as we’ve seen in some other months. In saying that, December is always a more variable than most months due to when Christmas falls so that is likely to have played a part – in 2017 there were 16 days in the month before usual holiday period vs 15 days in 2018. But as you can see below, some of that outcome was negatively impacted by ferries which saw a 5% decrease in the month. The data suggests this was primarily driven by drops in usage on the fully commercial services (Devonport and Waiheke).
Overall we ended 2018 with just over 96 million boardings, up from 91.1 million at the end of 2017 and most of the growth occurred on the Rapid and Frequent transit network, much of the latter thanks to the roll out of the new network. This suggests our usage 56 trips per person annually, up 1.7 on the 2017 number. This is still low by international standards but much better than 10-15 years ago when it reached a low of just 36.
Looking at some of the results from above a little more closely, you can see the busway had another fantastic month and in December passed 6 million annual trips first time. If the current growth continues, it will quickly become our single busiest PT line – currently the Western Line with just over 7 million boardings annually.
The rail network definitely had a year of two halves, the first half saw usage decline slightly as the post electrification boom wore off. But the second half of the year turned that around ended the year slightly higher. In total there were 20.7 million rail boardings in 2018, up from 20.4 million in 2017.
As mentioned at the start, one of the things we’ve been looking forward to finding out is the impact of the free afternoon of buses and trains on December 21. AT introduced this following a request from the police as they say the Friday before Christmas is one of the worst days for drink-driving.
For the first time trying it, December 21 is was probably one of the better days as all normal services are running but without school/uni students and with many people already on leave, it left plenty of spare capacity that could be used. I left work just after mid-day on the 21st and so didn’t make use of the free travel but I did notice a lot more people than usual heading towards town. Most notably a lot of parents taking their young kids.
Yesterday, AT released the results:
Compared to the Friday before Christmas in 2017, the number of patrons after 4pm on the trains on Friday 21 Decembers jumped from 15,809 to 41,082.
We couldn’t accurately count the numbers on the buses but numbers were up by as much as 50 percent. A great response from commuters.
These are some very impressive numbers and help to highlight that there is a lot of demand for PT but that for some, price is a barrier. In saying that, I suspect some of the trips were perhaps for the novelty of it and might not normally happen if significantly cheaper or free PT was a regular occurrence. To put things in perspective, on the rail network we annually average just over 72,000 trips per day, although most months are in the 75-80k per day range with lower results in December and January. That means the Friday afternoon represented about half a normal day. Note: Buses average about 237k trips per day.
As for the police, given they were the reason AT ran this offer, they say
Police had 9 checkpoints around Auckland – 14 people are going before the courts on drink-drive charges and a further 16 infringement notices were issued.
Overall Police are pleased with the results and the behaviour of motorists. No serious crashes relating to alcohol were recorded on the night.
Overall the free PT sounds like it was a success which is great to hear. Hopefully this means AT can look at running others in the future and/or use pricing to make better use of the capacity that exists on the network at certain times of the day.
Below are some of the other PT related graphs we occasionally publish, these ones are particularity relevant to the fares discussion.
Farebox recovery ratios have continued to fall. This is primarily due to a decrease in the bus number and is a reflection of the bus network costing more to run due to the increase in service levels that came with the rollout of the new network.
This isn’t the full story though, particularly for rail which tends to have longer trips than buses do. So it’s useful to also look at the subsidy per passenger km. You can see that trains have come down considerably since the introduction of electric trains and now continue to be lower than buses.
Finally, AT have included a projection for January based on the results up till the 28th Jan. If this ended up being what happened it shows another good month on the cards.