Yesterday Auckland reached a milestone that seemed nearly unthinkable just a few decades ago, 100 million trips on public transport within a 12-month period. It’s an achievement that ended up happening much sooner in the year than I had initially expected (I guessed September). What’s more, to celebrate it there’s going to be a free day of public transport on 23 June (excluding Skybus and Waiheke buses and ferries).
The last time Auckland saw more than 100 million trips in a year was 1951, right before we started ripping the trams out. Of course back then Auckland was much smaller with only around 350,000 people – I’ll come back to this point later in the post.
Auckland was an enthusiastic follower of some of the most pro-car and anti-public transport policies during the second half of the 20th century and became a case study in what not to do. This was reflected in the numbers which saw public transport usage fall from a peak of just over 118 million at the end of World War 2 to their lowest point in 1994 when just 33 million trips were made.
Since that time, multiple improvements, each often made in the face of strong opposition, have combined to create a PT system that is more useful and attractive and has let to reaching this milestone. As such, Auckland is now becoming a case study of what to do to turn PT around.
Patrick wrote in more detail the other day but some of the big contributors to the phenomenal growth we’ve seen in recent times include, but are not limited too:
- Britomart, the upgrade and then electrification of the rail network
- The Northern Busway
- Integrated Ticketing and Fares
- Improved bus priority and double deckers
- The new bus network and delivering better and more frequent services.
What’s also notable is that these and other improvements have performed better than expected. For example back in 2013 analysis by Deloitte suggested that even if AT did everything right, including having the CRL open in 2021, the maximum we would achieve is 101 million boardings in 2022. The way things are going we could be seeing 120 million boardings by then.
Here are some quick facts about PT trips in Auckland.
- The average length of a trip in Auckland, as of 2018 was 8.55km but this can vary considerably by mode:
- Bus trips average 6.93km,
- Train trips average 12.36km
- Ferry trips average 13.53km
- Just under 90% of trips are made using HOP cards with the highest use of them on buses.
- On an average weekday there are about 74,000 train trips and 246,000 bus trips.
Below are a few additional details that AT have supplied about our PT
- Each day, there are over 13,000 bus services operated by 1,300 buses
- We have 57 trains, with 15 more on the way
- Our ferry services have travelled 1.5 million kilometres in the last year
- Trains have travelled 6.4 million kilometres
- Buses have travelled 60.2 million kilometres
Of course, reaching 100 million doesn’t mean AT now get to rest on their laurels and many more improvements will be needed if PT is going to make the contribution it needs to. One thing I think we have learnt over the last few decades is that Aucklanders aren’t any different to people in any other city, if you provide frequent, reliable, safe and time competitive PT options, people will flock to use them.
Thinking about the future, with so much underway we should expect strong growth to continue. Auckland Transport planning documents suggest that by 2028 the PT network could be carrying around 150 million people, and that’s before the impact of light rail is added in. ATAP suggested the growth over the next decade could see usage reach even higher to 170 million. Given the rate at which we’ve grown over the last decade and that every new improvement has a multiplier effect, that figure doesn’t seem unrealistic.
As mentioned at the start of the post, the last time Auckland had 100 million trips in a year, the city was a much smaller place and this meant each person used it a lot more. At the time, ridership per capita was over 300 trips per person annually, a figure that would stack up strongly compared to even some of the best PT cities today. But per capita usage today just a fraction of that at about 62 trips per person. That’s up from a low of just 35 but a long way behind where comparative cities like those in Canada are. If we were to achieve the 150 million trips by 2028, even with population growth it would increase the per capita figure to about 92 per person so definitely heading back in the right direction.
Mayor Phil Goff, Minister of Transport Phil Twyford and AT Chair Lester Levy were celebrating the milestone yesterday morning.
Earlier today we celebrated 100 million trips in the past year by announcing free travel on Sunday, 23 June. Hear from Mayor @phil_goff, Minister of Transport @PhilTwyford and our Chairman Lester Levy about this milestone. https://t.co/p6xfDStPkv pic.twitter.com/RL4rHxFb84
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) June 6, 2019
Here is their combined press release.
Aucklanders have made 100 million public transport trips in the past year, making this the biggest year for buses, trains and ferries in the city since 1951.
Mayor Phil Goff says, “To mark the occasion, Auckland Transport has announced that on Sunday 23 June the public can travel free on buses, trains and most ferry services. It’s a gesture by AT to say thank you to Aucklanders and to encourage new commuters to try out public transport.”
The Mayor says the switch to public transport is happening faster than was estimated, with the 100 million target being achieved months ahead of time.
“We haven’t seen this much use of public transport since 1951 when trams were in their prime.
“We need more and more people on public transport to ease congestion caused by the yearly growth of population by more than 40,000 in Auckland. Every person on a bus, train or ferry is one less car clogging up the roads and adding carbon emissions to our atmosphere,” he says.
“Public transport has improved immeasurably. We now have more busways, double decker buses, electric trains and upgraded bus and train stations and services. Service hours have been extended and the HOP card and integrated fares have reduced costs and made public transport easier and more efficient. Public satisfaction with bus and rail exceeds 90 per cent.
“There’s much more we need to do, and those changes are coming. We are extending the Northern Busway, construction of the Eastern Busway has started, and the Puhinui Bus-Rail Interchange and rapid transit to the Airport and precinct gets under way in October.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford says more people using public transport frees up the roads for those who have to drive.
“Everyday 270,000 trips are taken on public transport in Auckland which reduces congestion and carbon emissions.
“Our Government is investing nearly $2.2 billion on public transport in Auckland over this three-year period and the growing trip numbers are evidence that if you invest in more and better public transport, people will use it.”
Auckland Transport Board chairman Dr Lester Levy says the speed of change has been impressive. “When I became chairman of Auckland Transport in 2012 annual public transport patronage was under 70 million, so this is a very proud day for me.
“I’d like to thank Aucklanders and the operators of our buses, trains and ferries for helping AT make this growth possible.
“Together we’ve taken Auckland from a city totally tied to the car to one which is embracing the use of public transport as well as walking and bike riding. Many of us are now thinking twice before jumping into our car and looking at the various options now available in Auckland.”
The last time public transport numbers were this high, trams were still running, trolley buses were very popular and ferry numbers were high and the Harbour Bridge was still eight years away.
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 eight million trips a year.
The numbers using public transport in Auckland bottomed out at 28 million and stayed low until 2002.
Britomart train station opened in July 2003 and that was the kick-off point for the change.
As for the free PT day, I hope AT consider running a weekday schedule. The last thing we would want to see people not able to catch a bus or train because they’re too busy