When it comes to tracking public transport ridership in Auckland, finding out the results for March is one of my favourite times of the year. March is usually the busiest month of the year thanks to a number of factors, such as:

  • Universities starting up again with students keen and eager to learn – before some start dropping away
  • Workers taking fewer days of leave with man having often just taken it over summer
  • Fewer instances of people being sick as the cold and flu season has yet to kick in
  • As traffic and the ensuing congestion increases, more people deciding to give PT a go – before some get frustrated at seeing multiple full buses travel past their stop.

This year was notable in that were the same number of working days as last year. It is also the first March we’ve had since the new network was fully rolled out across the urban area. It was also the first full month since Auckland Transport increased fares but most of all, I was particularly looking forward to this years result as based on the way things had been tracking, it was likely we would pass a major milestone – and we did.

For the first time in modern history, Auckland had more than 10 million boardings in a calendar month. As you can see from the graph below, it represents a significant increase over the last decade and back then we’d just passed the 6 million milestone for the first time.

Delving into the numbers, the total growth boardings for March was 10.19 million, an increase of 6.7%. Within that:

  • The busway continues to shine with boardings up just under 40% to 787k, although that is in some part due to a change in how AT count it. Still, that number is higher than we’ve seen for any of the individual rail lines (we haven’t seen March’s results yet though).
  • Other buses are also continuing to do well seeing a 6.1% increase. This has continued to buck expectations as a drop in usage was expected following the new network rollouts.
  • Trains were busier this year too with usage up 3.3% on last year and helped see a small milestone with annual boardings passing 21 million for the first time. To put that in perspective, following electrification we would see the 12-month rolling total pass another million milestone every 4-5 months. To get from 20 million to 21 million it took 19 months. It is also still not the highest single month we’ve seen for trains with that remaining March-2017 when there were two extra working days.
  • The one disappointment with the results was ferries which despite a relatively warm and dry March, saw a 4.7% decrease in usage compared to last year.

Last month there was an article about Wellington’s PT woes and the fines the Greater Wellington Regional Council had imposed on NZ Bus, one of its operators.

The bus operator company was contracted by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to deliver 150,000 trips during this time.

NZ Bus received 3207 penalties for cancellations, 8451 for late services and 6005 for using the wrong sized buses.

This got me wondering what happens in Auckland, so I asked AT and here is their response.

Auckland Transport bus contracts have provisions for deductions and there is a bonus scheme. Net deductions (offset by bonuses if applicable) are deducted from monthly contract payments.

AT contracts contain clauses and schedules that specify performance management standards. Operators are required to meet a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Performance Indicators (PIs). These requirements are detailed in the relevant agreement.

KPIs include: punctuality at first stop (lateness); punctuality remaining trips (lateness); reliability (lateness; includes missed trips/cancellations); real time registration; customer satisfaction.

The operator’s performance in relation to the KPIs, but not the PIs, may result in a performance bonus or performance deduction, eg service trips not run – any service trip that does not appear on the reports will be deemed to have been identified by Auckland Transport as not having operated and will be subject to a performance deduction.

Currently there is no KPI or PI for using the correct or incorrect bus size. Work is underway to develop a report to capture this information so the operators can be advised. Currently this is monitored and followed up through customer feedback.

Deductions are processed monthly and a chart is attached but we will not be naming the bus companies. All deductions are subject to an operator requested exemptions (ORE) process. This enables operators to apply for exemptions if they are able to prove that is warranted. Each request for exemption is assessed against the evidence provided and either accepted or rejected in accordance with the ORE Guidelines for Rules, Reasons and Verification document.

If I’m reading this right, it appears we’ve actually paid bonuses more than we’ve charged fines.

While on the topic of Wellington, I also keep an eye on ridership down there and especially since the launch last year. The numbers are only till December but suggests that overall usage hasn’t fallen but is flat.

For trains, Boardings have been slowly increasing and at current rates, will reach 14 million boardings later this year. For buses, as part of the change the Airport flyer bus stopped being counted and so GWRC have also published a year’s history using the new metric. I’ve reflected that in this graph showing the new numbers in red. Overall, the number of boardings in Wellington have increased over the last decade but not but a lot.

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  1. The train results are likely a reflection on the fact that many services are running at capacity during peak times so the growth is often around off-peak or counter-peak flows. If we had more peak services running 6 car EMU (or even 7) then I think we’d see a large increase in patronage again.

    1. Well we shall see soon enough, the trains are on order.

      I don’t think it will be a huge jump tho, for that we’ll have to wait for the CRL when we get new stations, better frequency and faster trips at the same time.

    2. I think a real test will come at Panmure when Eastern Busway stage 1 opens (build starting next week). We may then see passengers left on the platform there, depending on how full they are when they arrive.

      But at least we will have new sets by then, so will all be 6-car. After that frequency increases will be the only way to handle it if the growth is as expected…

      1. I think Panmure will be fine, the problem will more likely come at stations such as GI, Meadowbank and Orakei as trains will be more full than they have previously.

  2. Are trains really often at capacity? By that I mean, is it common for people to be left standing on platforms.

    I’ve been on some busy trains but can’t think of many occasions when they’re at full capacity

    1. It does get full though and that might be enough to encourage some people not to take it, regardless of if there are people left on the platform or not. Who likes stand squashed with someone breathing down your neck?

    2. Agree with Alan, some people may take a train once or twice, and if at that time it’s been packed to the brim then they may switch times or switch modes.
      I’ve seen a few times when there’s a 3 car train on the southern line (especially around school ending time) where people are left on the platform.

    3. At comfortable capacity, not crush capacity. If trains are at comfortable capacity then some people will choose not to use them.

    4. I think it’s really only peak of peak times unless there has been an incident. Heard the southern line pretty maxed out in mornings at around Ellerslie compared to the Eastern same position.

      1. In my example it could be because if you get in at Sylvia Park it doesn’t really load up until Panmure, so I would have a seat easier one stop before. Same as before Ellerslie. Also the 6 lengths are more empty at the back I suspect, most board in the 3 car zone and front ends.

    5. The Western can get quite bad, but people really only get left behind if a 6-car service arrives as a 3, or if a previous service gets cancelled.

  3. I am curious about Auckland bus bonus scheme esp the “punctuality remaining trips (lateness)”. I wonder if this is the real reason why the bus driver goes through the red lights?

      1. I don’t think “customer satisfaction” really captures the important aspects of safety here. In fact, the mechanisms for “moving responsibility upwards” are well-known, and AT has chosen not to implement them. Why?

        There should be a huge disincentive to run red lights, to drive too fast close to parked cars, to leave passengers standing at bus stops, to weave aggressively in and out of the traffic, to buzz cyclists.

        Bus mounted cameras could help with this.

        1. If buses didn’t do those things then they would be even slower than they currently are (meaning less appealing to passengers and more cost to operate services with less frequencies) – getting caught in a backlog at lights, being trapped in bus stops rather than pushing their way out. Driving close to parked cars? Maybe the cars shouldn’t be parked so far out into the road or the lane needs to be marked wider to allow space for buses.
          Agree about buzzing cyclists though.

        2. Yeah that one is pretty baffling.

          You can get pretty bad delay at bus stops like that. If 10 cars just pass by, that’s half a minute right there.

          And with cyclists, what else could possibly happen? If a bus gets stuck behind cyclists, then that is almost a minute of delay just in the 500m between two stops.

          As a cyclist, leapfrogging buses is a really stupid idea, but behind buses you’re sitting right in the exhaust gases. Maybe we could just not expect cyclists to ride in bus lanes.

        3. Bikes need their own *space within the* corridor.

          Buses run on main roads with points of interest, it has to be safe to cycle on them.

        4. Yep for sure, part of vision zero, they have to make themselves safe especially.

          There could be specific trip-linked survey/feedback opportunities prompted randomly and automatically in AT mobile and MyHop
          (seeing as they wanna be Uber)

          Better customer connection and identification of route/driver issues.

    1. Good question. Apart from running red lights and speeding, I find it hard to imagine how operators have any control over punctuality.

      I can often see buses sitting in congestion in the morning on Glenfield Road. Or buses getting stuck because they can’t pull back out into traffic. What do we want them to do?

      1. My guess is the bus companies advise AT that the timetable is impossible to reliably meet and then AT change the timetable to suit. Then on less busy days the buses sit around at stops or drive slowly between stops.

        1. Yes and in places like Te Atatu Peninsula the buses wait and in doing so; block the bike lane and cover the already unsafe crossing point on Te Atatu Rd meaning those on foot have to stand in traffic lanes to peer past the bus to see if it is safe to cross

        1. Certainly, from the bonuses being larger than the fines for bus operators, you’d think they could pull back from any pressure on drivers, anyway.

    2. The unintended consequence is the timetable become very conservative and heavy padded, so in non-congested hours, bus slows down to met them.

      There should be a new calculation for high frequency bus.
      The bonud/penality should be calculated base on gap between buses.

      For example if the agreed frequency is 5min per bus, then if the first and second bus has a difference less than 5min, it should have a bonus. However if the difference is more than 5min, it should be a penalty.

      That means bus operator can put MORE bus than their agreed frequency, improving the service.

      This also reduces the incentive to slow down the bus to met the timetable. The end result would be faster journey time during non-congested hours, improving the attractiveness of PT.

      1. There are not a lot of off-peak buses which are that frequent. “Frequent” usually is 15 minutes headway, that is still long enough to need a schedule.

      2. That’s not how the system works. Each trip has a specified time that the driver has to manually select on their ticketing system. You can’t just put extra buses on a route without a specified trip otherwise you can’t tag on or off or pay for fares. That is no benefit to either AT or the operator because AT gets no revenue nor will the operator get paid for using the bus, even if it is to improve their Kpi.

      3. Detailed reading of timetables reveals that the scheduled journey times do change at different times of day. Usually only by a minute or two.

    3. I noticed multiple NEX drivers pre-empting red lights turning green this morning. Clearly punctuality pressure!

  4. It would be interesting to see the Auckland trips growth indexed against population. Yes usage has grown but population has hugely as well.

    1. Was documented in posts here earlier this year.

      We used to be at about 48 rides per capita annually, I think we’re now about 58 per capita annually.

      In the heyday of Trams just after WWII it was more like 100 per capita annually.

      But we’re going up, slower than we should, but we’re getting back to somewhere near Wellington.
      [not that that’s much of a comparison these days].

      Anyway, you can do the math yourself.

    2. It would be even more interesting to see how the number of vehicle trips are tracking. Is the PT ridership increase having any impact on restraining this growth? If the answer is no then its a huge fail for AT/NZTA and its time to do something different.

      1. John, shall I tell you about the number of trips in Pt Chevalier, which I looked at tonight? We have excellent buses. North of Meola Rd, for example, there is the 66, which goes all the way to Sylvia Park every 15 minutes, crossing many other frequent bus routes.

        Since Waterview, vehicle trips along the ratruns have increased, as expected. I’ve been tracking that for a while, as you know.

        What I picked up today was that vehicle trips in the parts of Pt Chev that are not ratruns have increased massively since Waterview. For example, on Pt Chev Rd north of Meola Rd, vehicle trips have increased by 18% in 2 years; those on Walford Rd have increased by 10% in 1 year.

        There’s your answer. By connecting SH20 to SH16, and widening SH16, they have accelerated modeshift. THE WRONG WAY.

        Trying to design a cycleway into this increasing traffic is pushing shit uphill.

        1. Heidi, your figures don’t surprise me. Despite all the rhetoric AT has achieved little real change in mode share, and starting from such a high base they have a tremendous space in which to work. (It is much easier to go from around 90% Auckland wide to say around 83% than say Vienna where they are looking to move from 27% to 20% by 2025. In Auckland that 7% change would most likely be met by individuals eliminating just one car trip per week.)

          I will be interested where the Mayoral candidates position themselves in the climate change space. Sensibly so far, given his record to date, the current Mayor has chosen to be largely silent.

        2. The Vienna U-bahn has 5 lines, how many lines does the Auckland Subway have? It’s pointless comparing Auckland with Vienna.

        3. Zippo, we’ve spent our money on traffic-inducing, carbon emission-inducing roads instead of on public transport. That’s the comparison that needs to be made.

          It’s literally killing us.

        4. Zippo
          Vienna has 5 lines because they spend hundreds of millions of euros on capex for PT every year. That along with affordable fares has seen phenomenal ridership growth in the last fifteen years. That increase in ridership drives revenue growth of course.

          Vienna is comparable with Auckland because it has a similar population and it represents what Auckland could have (Mayor Robinson), and still might become. Is Vienna a more compact city? Yes it is, because the planning for new housing is consistent with public transport development. Could coherent public transport and housing strategies intensify Auckland? Again yes, but current planning is constrained by seemingly little vision beyond the next three years.

    1. AT should penalise itself for not building bus lanes.

      Building? Surely I mean painting. A lot of roads just need paint jobs for bus lanes.

      I was on a very, very slow near (peak?) 321 earlier this year. The traffic was terrible. And it wasn’t much better when I switched to the 33 but then it became more a crowding thing since I only ever catch these if there’s something funky with the trains (honestly, I shouldn’t have caught the 321 but I suppose I traded off an extra hour or more’s travelling in order to guarantee a seat).

      1. Maybe AT should redirect the fines into their bus lane painting teams budget to encourage them to be daring and do more than the SOI says they should.

        Plus I think the bus operators would be more happy to pay such fines if they knew they’d eventually improve the situation.

    2. Kind of even more unfair to punish the passengers because AT won’t put bus lanes in isn’t it?

      Yet that’s part of the deal with AT buses.

  5. I feel like the trains have been fairly unreliable again or, possibly, I’m just having some bad luck lately (I catch consistent morning trains but the times I go home vary widely). I’m not the only one who feels this way since two passengers in my section of the train in yesterday were making the same point. One actually went so far as to say they’d start driving if it kept up.

    My point is… is this true?

  6. I get on at Sturges Road and a few times at peak, ie. the 7:38 train which gets into Britomart at around 8:30 and a handful of times its been 3 car trains that are jam packed by Glen Eden and leaving people behind at a few stations af

    Its a poor advertisement for AT and stops people jumping on the trains..

  7. Worth noting 6% annual growth == ~ 6million journeys p.a.

    Most of which is being driven by busway plus other bus.

    Reason I mention this is because:
    — one year at current growth rates is approximately equivalent to what a new LRT line adds
    — 3-4 years of current growth is approximately equivalent to what the CRL adds.

    That’s my way of saying that efforts to improve wider PT services, such as theNew Network, can yield as much patronage growth as major infrastructure projects.

    Which in turn suggests we may put too much emphasis on infrastructure and too little emphasis on services. Just a sense I have …

    1. Yes the new network is marvelous. But still a lot of near empty buses running around out here in the south. Could we have a cheaper zone fare compared to the center were apparently buses are pretty full. It seems a waste to be burning all that diesel unless patronage is going to be higher. Not that I am a fan of yield management. With computers different fares for different zones shouldn’t be a problem. Off peak fares as well. Off course “GO the Electric Buses”. The bus company should display that on their destination board. Nothing like a bit of self promotion.

      1. Empty buses the further you go from the centre or a centre are pretty common. Even the really popular routes like Onewa Rd, Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd will have mostly empty buses on the outer parts of their routes. Yield management would be pretty complex.

        I fully agree regarding off-peak though, this should already be in place.

        1. None of our buses go into the center though. Most just stay in the same zone so I can’t see why it would be a problem.

      2. Public transport serves dual purposes: patronage and coverage.

        Those purposes are sometimes in tension. That typically means we run more PT service in low density areas than is warranted by demand alone for reasons of coverage.

        The upshot is that all PT networks I’ve ever worked in have spare seats in peripheral areas. It’s a natural outcome from providing PT for reasons of coverage. It’s not necessarily an indication of poor PT network design.

        One reasonable way to use spare capacity is to charge more in peak periods. Even with such a charge you’ll still see more spare seats in outlying areas.

      3. Is a bus really empty though? I caught 380 today and was the only one on it getting to the airport. But a dozen workers had just got off between the mangere town centre and the airport.
        Buses pick up and drop off all along a route. Few people ride a full route.

        1. Yes, and if we can sustain 5-10% p.a. growth on the bus network for a few years then we won’t have many empty buses at all!

    2. Stu
      an excellent point. Takapuna has a new bus station planned at a cost of about $3 million. Would the locals prefer a turn up and go frequency, currently 30 minutes at off peak, or to sit around in a brand new, sparkly bus shelter?
      I am for better frequency every time.
      Often AT seem seduced by new infrastructure when more of the same services will move more people. Perhaps I am thinking of the 30 minute Devonport bus frequency and the electric shuttles.

      1. Hi John,

        I’m a tad more supportive investment in (1) quality interchanges and (2) frequent services ahead of most things. Reason being that the two together support connective networks, such as the New Network. Investment in interchanges at New Lynn, Panmure, and Otahuhu was critical to the viability of the new network. It’s hard asking passengers to transfer in poor-quality interchanges.

        Perhaps the thing I’d prioritise ahead of those two things is extensions to bus lanes, specifically hours of operations. I cannot fathom why AKL’s bus lanes are so limited in their duration. Auckland’s a real city now where road congestion can happen at most times of the day.

        Totally agree that we need higher bus and train frequencies, especially during the middle of the day. And that ultimately a good network won’t leave people waiting for long!

    3. I agree, Stu. There’s lots that can be done that doesn’t mean a huge big disruptive project. (As well as the huge big disruptive projects, probably.)

      1. yes, and the case for addressing seemingly small operational efficiencies (like long dwell-times, all-door bus boarding etc) grows with patronage.

  8. The rail seriously need to up its game.
    It is showing sign of decelerating growth.

    Train need to improve the off-peak frequencies as well as extending the peak hours.

    1. The biggest low cost improvement they could make is reducing dwell times. Still far too much time wasted sitting at stations with the doors closed. If they were running many express/LS services, then it might be OK, but when almost services are stopping at all stations, they need to move to the standard common in most commuter rail services and stopping for 45 seconds+ for a handful of passengers is not it.

        1. It just needs some leadership and will power.

          The train management just doesn’t want any change. If something is hard then they similar push back with all sort of reasons and excuses.

          If it is the way the CAF train programming works, then they just need to bite the bullet and spend some money to have it reprogrammed.
          If CAF refuses or says it is too hard, then they need give them pressure by switching to another supplier.

          A great leader is the one who is not afraid of the push back and get stuff done.

          Obviously such leader does not exist in the rail department.

  9. If we double the frequency presumably we are not going to double the patronage so will all services need to be 6 car trains. Would we get by with 3 car sets. Still I see above there are new trains coming a pity some of the are not battery hybrids. And off course we need the 3 rd main to increase the frequency. So electric buses, third main and battery hybrids trains sorry to sound like a cracked record. But what if the price of oil went through the roof again an all electric public transport would make the politicians and bureaucrat look like the know what they are doing.

  10. Wlg is #1 for NZ PT so interesting to compare. Different scales on those charts, but it looks like Akl increased by 40m rolling annual trips in a decade compared to 2m for Wlg. They’re still ahead per capita (67 vs 55) but the gap has closed a lot.

    1. “Wlg is #1 for NZ PT”, maybe 20 years ago but not now. Just compare the PT service at Wellington airport to the situation at Auckland airport.

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