With the country rapidly moving towards lockdown, thinking about how many people used public transport last month doesn’t seem like a high priority, but then nor does a lot of other things.

Over the last decade we’ve seen public transport use in Auckland grow like never before, rising by over 44 million trips to nearly 104 million and 60% of that was in just the last five years. The growth has been driven by regular significant improvements to the entire network but with no major changes/improvements since the core bus networks finished changing in late 2018 and future major improvements still 1-2 years away from completion, growth has been noticeably starting to slow.

In her speech yesterday, the Prime Minister said public transport will only be available for those working in essential services. The question now is now is not how much it will keep growing but how much it will fall. And not just from the immediate impact but also from the longer term impact to the economy. It’s hard to predict the impact but I think it’s almost certain that we’ll fall back below 100 million trips.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the February results.

Overall ridership increased by just 1.5% in February but then we also have to remember that this year was a leap year so there was an extra day in the month. That extra day fell on a weekend when usage is quite a bit lower than on weekdays but after normalising for that and for special events, usage would have been down 0.4% for the month.

Usage was primarily driven by the bus network which increased by 2% overall but higher on the busway. Rail on the other hand actually declined slightly, down 0.9% and ferries, which have been quite volatile of late, actually increased.

If you look longer term, what’s interesting is that you can see there seems to be a pattern forming with cycles of growth in ridership for about seven years. The just ending cycle ran from 2013 to 2020, the one before that from 2005 to 2012 and there was an eight to nine year one from 1994 to 2003. With significant new PT infrastructure due to start coming on-stream starting from next year then perhaps we’ll see the pattern repeat.

Unfortunately at the time of writing this AT still had not published the cycling data however they did tweet this summary earlier in the month.

But while on the topic of numbers that will decline, I took a look at the latest data from the Airport which is up to the end of Feb. Like PT, growth seems to have peaked and has hovered around 19.6 million trips for about 18 months.

This version shows the aircraft movements

How low will they go?

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  1. February will have most certainly been affected by Covid-19. Many people were already starting to take precautions, you had students from overseas unable to come to NZ etc as well. So taking that into account even being flat is pretty impressive.

  2. Just a note about public transport usage, it’s wider than you have mentioned: ”Public transport will only be available for those working in essential services, for medical reasons, and to get to the supermarket“

  3. While the current focus has to be on eliminating Covid-19 from New Zealand climate change cant be forgotten. Planes might be stopping flying but the graph of the growth of air travel through Auckland airport in this post shows part of the problem. At a time the community were becoming more and more aware of the challenges of climate change air travel was rising the fastest. A great graphic story of how such travel spread the virus can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/world/coronavirus-spread.html?referringSource=articleShare

  4. I am nearly in the flight pass there seemed to be quite a few planes coming in in the middle of the night last night. I saw something about 7000 passengers (returning Kiwis) per day for the last few days. Nothing like the almost 55,000 per day in normal times. I wonder how many New Zealand citizens losing there jobs in Aussie will end up coming back. Say 10 or 20 percent of 600,000 could have quite an impact in keeping the virus at bay.

      1. Not to mention the enormous labour supply issues during a time of major economic turmoil. But hey, we’re the suckers who stayed here, paid taxes and supported the state for them to return to any time they liked…

        1. Most Kiwis who return from Australia bring back the money they’ve saved in Australia, thus are taking that money directly from the Australian economy and injecting it into the NZ economy, and for the vast majority of the time; it’s a lot more money than they would have made had they stayed in NZ.

        2. Which is why we should have a system of 1/10 of a welfare entitlement for each of the previous 10 years you have lived here. First year back 0/10. Arrived 10 years ago 10/10.

        3. Miffy – Dont complain when the homeless/unsupported kiwi-strayans come home and steal your toilet paper cache. I think this 8s terrible from Aus but dont think it’s fair to cut off assistance either.

        4. I wouldn’t give these prodigal sons and daughters a single brass razoo. The buggered off from our country when times were hard here, leaving the loyal people to make the best fist of things we could. They complain when the country they are living in treats them as the foreigners that they are. They get deported here and cause us a crime wave and they show up when times are tough expecting us to give them welfare that was paid for by those of us who stayed and by enthusiastic new New Zealanders who came here and worked hard.

        5. I should probably add; that Kiwis who return from a spell living in Australia often also bring back professional skills and experience that’s not as easy to obtain in New Zealand.

    1. “I wonder how many New Zealand citizens losing there jobs in Aussie will end up coming back”
      I don’t imagine it will be too many.
      This pandemic crisis is most likely to be over in a few months (a good chance of in two months). Packing up and leaving everything behind is a big call that costs a lot financially.
      Maybe people who’d only been there for 6 months or less.

      When the crisis is over; Australia is still far more likely to offer more employment and career opportunities and will probably bounce back a lot faster.

  5. Something worrying about this graph is the increasing number of domestic flights into Auckland airport.
    Surely; this is somehow being subsidised by the NZ taxpayer?

    1. I’ve certainly noticed quite a bit of growth on the main trunk routes in the last few years. They used to put on a 130 seat 737 every half hour at peak between Auckland and Wellington.

      Then they changed to 168 seat A320s and ran them every 40 mins, now they are back to every half hour again, and generally pretty full. I don’t think there are any subsidies on these routes though, expect for a significant number of public servants.

        1. Yes. Plus the subsidy in the form of carbon emissions. And subsidies to the airports themselves, including in skewing the decisions in urban planning to prioritise the needs of airports over other planning needs.

        2. Big subsidies to a lot of regional airports (the other end of many of the flights) and I’m pretty sure the rating value for airport land is absurdly low as a ‘hidden’ subsidy. Not to mention that any other business porposing massive expansion has to pay for the transport capacity improvements needed. NZTA will end up paying for both motorways going to the airport and probably both rapid tansit lines too.

        3. We should hope to have a bail out more often then considering Air NZ has been a major profit earner for the govt since the Ansett bail out. Then factor in the massive profits it made when selling down its equity stake. Air NZ has been good business for NZ Inc.

        4. @dm
          I don’t have a problem with NZ having a government-underwritten national carrier in principle.
          I just find it infuriating how it’s allowed to run inefficiently, along with all of these regional airports. It’s bad both from my perspectives of conservation and economics.

          Domestic flights shouldn’t be cheap.

        5. The aviation industry, including Air NZ, has constantly planned for growth. This is despite the industry’s agreement to reduce emissions, which – of course – they haven’t been able to achieve. The growth has been in tourist, not business trips. Thanks to the effective saturation advertising from the industry, the lifestyle of the wealthy in this country and elsewhere has become quite abnormal – with one or several overseas trips per year. At huge environmental cost.

          We all pay for those carbon emissions. In many, many different ways.

          Now we’re facing a pandemic which has had aviation as the major vector. Its economic cost must be subtracted from any perceived profit or business benefit from aviation.

          The benefits of a sustainable, circular economy are universal and equitable. The benefits of a linear, polluting, exploitative economy are a mirage, and fleeting.

          Let’s not waste this opportunity for reflection.

  6. Railpatronage down. No surprise, that was the month of the Newmarket signal box fire and numerous other holdups and disruptions.

  7. Yes NZ will definitely emerge from this virus with a severely weakened economy and that could that mean the end of senseless spending on motorways, when the existing capacity is likely to be more than adequate for demand; or will the priority be welfare payments to carry people through.
    Will our balance of payments be so bad that, as in the 1960’s NZ had to ration the importation of motor vehicles and fuel so that PT grows? Will the purchase of vehicles simply be beyond the reach of a much larger section of the community?
    I imagine that the scenarios that prevail will be determined by the width and depth of the coming depression.

  8. I don’t have a problem with NZ having a government-underwritten national carrier in principle.
    I just find it infuriating how it’s allowed to run inefficiently, along with all of these regional airports. It’s bad both from my perspectives of conservation and economics.

    Domestic flights shouldn’t be cheap.”

    Define inefficiently. It is one of the most efficiently run airlines in the known universe

      1. I wonder how much the govt made when they last sold down from around the 80% level to the current 50% holding?

      2. Every airline in the world needs a massive government bailout at the moment. This is nothing to do with the management of AirNZ.

  9. Probably one of the least of our problems but it will be sad to see the nice consistent ridership numbers all screwed up in the coming weeks or months.

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