Last week in our Weekly Roundup post I highlighted an interview with Councillor Richard Hills who is the chair of the Auckland Council’s Environment and Climate Change committee. One of the quotes that stood out to me is this about public transport usage.
“Theoretically we need to increase our public patronage by about 300 per cent in the next ten years, which is not small,” he said.
The roll-out of electric buses, and maybe even electric ferries were just part of that mix, along with boosting cycling and walking, he said.
I’ve been thinking more about it and in particular, just what does that look like and is it even achievable.
To start with, a few assumptions:
- By “in the next ten years” I’m going to take it from the beginning of the year and so say this needs to be achieved by the end of December 2029.
- As of the end of December, we’d had just over 103 million annual public transport trips. However, things tidy, I’m going to say we need to achieve 300 million trips
That 103 million annual trips in December has come on the back the most substantial period of public transport growth in Auckland since the trams were pulled out in the 1950’s with usage growing from less than 59 million trips a decade ago. That’s a compounding annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8% which is also well above the rate of population growth. Much of that growth has occurred in just the last five years too – for which we’ve had a CAGR of 6.3%.
For some that rate of growth might not sound like much but it’s worth noting that it’s one of the highest rates out of the more than 50 cities around the world I’m tracking. Part of the reason that rate is high is that we’re coming off a low base compared to many comparator cities but it’s also happened because we’ve made a lot of positive improvements over the last decade or so, such as:
- Double tracking the western line and improved rail frequencies
- Electrification of the rail network
- The Northern Busway which opened just outside that 10 year window.
- Integrated ticketing and later integrated fares
- The new bus network
Yet to reach 300 million trips by the end of the decade we’re going to have to step that rate of growth up substantially. In fact we basically need to double it as we’d need to be seeing a whopping 11.3% growth every year going forward. This graph shows our average 5-year annual growth rate over the last decade with what it would need to be over the next decade to hit 300 million.
Getting 11.3% growth annually for a decade seems a very tall ask even though there’s quite a few good projects coming through in the next few years, such as:
- The City Rail Link
- The Northern Busway extension
- The Eastern Busway from Panmure to Pakuranga
- Electrification to Pukekohe
- The Airport to Manukau busway including the interchange with rail at Puhinui. Within the decade may be extended to Botany.
- At least some early works to deliver a busway on the Northwestern
- Maybe something with light rail or light metro
That’s quite a lot and is all definitely needed but I doubt it is enough to move the growth rate dial much above what it is, let’s say a CAGR of about 6.5%. That would get us to about 194 million trips in 2029, nothing to sneeze at given where we’ve come from but clearly not enough to reach what is needed. It’s also worth noting that the prediction in ATAP was for 170 million trips by 2028.
It’s at this point it’s worth asking if 300 million trips even possible for a city like Auckland. Currently our 103 million trips equates to about 62 trips per person. At 194 million that puts us at about 96 trips per person and at 300 million it’s 149 trips per person. As a comparison Vancouver is now doing over 170 trips per person while sibling cities of Calgary and Edmonton are both smaller than Auckland and both do just about 113 and 102 trips per person respectively. Closer to home Sydney does about 150 trips per person and Melbourne 128.
If we’re going to achieve 300 million trips, and it’s a good stretch target, we’re going to need to do a lot more than is currently planned. It’s also going to require us to be smarter about how we get there. Put another way we’re just not going to be able to brute force it. For example much of the focus over the last decade or two has been about getting more people to use public transport to get to the city at peak times. That’s been successful and now about as many enter the city each morning by public transport as do so by car. Projects like the City Rail Link will help further that, but we just don’t have the space on the streets in the city centre to add three times the number of buses. That means we’re going to need to get better utilisation of public transport at other times of the day and week as well as to other locations, such as Albany, Takapuna, Newmarket, Manukau and many others.
It also means Auckland Transport are really going to need to start addressing the many, often minor, issues that lead to people getting frustrated and giving up or not even trying to use PT. I’ve already got quite a list of these and will be starting to publish a handful at a time over the coming weeks but let me know the things that frustrate you the most and I’ll add it to the list if I haven’t got it already.