Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post was originally published in December 2011.

This blog post has some excellent comparisons of public transport patronage across New Zealand and Australian cities. While all the cities looked at are of vastly different sizes (and therefore have vastly different patronage numbers), through comparing growth rates and per capita patronage, we can really have quite a good look at how Auckland stacks up against these other places. This is particularly of note when we think about the recent comparator city study, which showed how poorly Auckland does perform when compared to other relatively similar cities. While we know that, what’s perhaps most interesting is to see whether we’re improving, whether we’re improving at a rate faster or slower than these other cities and in what parts of the system are we doing well (or not so well).

Looking at overall patronage growth, you can see that Southeast Queensland (SEQ), Perth and Melbourne have had the biggest increases, when compared to their 2001/2002 levels. This is particularly impressive for Melbourne, which is a very large city and has a slower growing population (in percentage terms) compared to Perth and SEQ.

Auckland comes out of this pretty well, having increased public transport patronage by close to 50% over the past 10 years. Christchurch was also doing pretty well, up until the earthquake hit.

Comparing rail patronage growth of the different cities has the complication of Auckland coming off an extremely low base 10 years ago, which means that we pretty much head “off the chart” in percentage terms: Perth has done well here, but perhaps the standout performer is Melbourne, which has added nearly 80% patronage over the past decade. This is extremely impressive because it was not coming off a low base, with well over 200 million trips a year being carried on their rail network.

Southeast Queensland is the standout performer for increasing bus patronage over the past decade. I’m guessing that Brisbane’s busway has a significant role in this statistic, but it would be interesting to know a bit more about why they’ve out-performed everyone else to such a great extent: Auckland has done fairly ‘middling’ on this count, although given the big 20% increase in the very first year, it’s disappointing that over the next 8 years we only managed another 10% increase in bus patronage. I must say overall I’m surprised as how poorly most of the cities have done with increasing bus patronage.

While total patronage levels are important to a degree, increases can just reflect population growth, which means that a certain proportion of the increases is just “standing still”, and is unlikely to provide the benefits that we might hope from increasing the number of people using public transport. This is why per capita data is so important, and it’s interesting to see how the various cities have performed on a per capita basis over the past decade:

Auckland’s figures are a bit hidden amongst those for Christchurch and Canberra, but show a slow but steady increase from just under 40 trips per person in 2000/2001 to what looks like nearly 50 trips per person in 2010/2011. Trips per capita is also twisted a bit by how you define the population of the area you’re talking about (should we really use the whole of the Auckland region’s population when much of it isn’t really served by PT at all?) But it seems that a consistent measure has been used over time, so the trends rather than the actual numbers can be thought of as the important aspects.

Yet again Melbourne stands out as being particularly impressive, especially as it already had pretty high figures. Perth’s numbers took a big jump two or three years ago when the Mandurah Line opened.

Finally a couple of interesting historic graphs show how all Australasian cities patronage levels, and per capita levels, have followed fairly similar patterns over the past century: Auckland’s historic figures are pretty similar to these.

Overall, I think we can take a little bit of heart from the figures, which show that Auckland has enjoyed patronage trends over the past decade that are generally in line with increases in other Australasian cities – aside from the very high rail growth in percentage terms (due to the extremely low base). That said, I think there are hopefully some things we can learn from Melbourne, which has managed to significantly boost its per capita patronage, and from Brisbane which has had a big bus patronage increase.

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  1. Although this information is interesting, I suspect it is of little practical use. It hits the nail on the head when referring to the fact that many areas of Auckland were very poorly served by PT , and this still applies in some areas. Although I am a keen supporter of PT, after living in Auckland for over 50 years I had never been on a bus or train there until comparatively recently. Nowadays, it is most weeks. Progress has been impressively good, although some way to go to justify the claims made by some supporters.

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