COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a massive impact on our transport networks and the lastest data shows just how significant that has been. Although in most cases the raw numbers themselves don’t tell the full picture.

Roads

Waka Kotahi have been publishing weekly data on traffic volumes. In Auckland that’s just for one section of motorway but it gives a good indication as to what’s happening. As you can see below, just prior to lockdown traffic volumes started falling, presumably as companies started anticipating a change. This is something that can be seen in some of the other data too. As lockdown came in, volumes fell through the floor and has increased again when we moved to level 3 and then for the first few days of level 2. Some reports yesterday suggested traffic in level 3 is still about 30% down on the same time last year.

Heavy traffic appears to be following a similar trend but is closer to being back to where it was prior to lockdown.

One thing you may have noticed, particularly with the light vehicle graph, is the shark teeth like movements prior to lockdown and also last year. Looking at the raw data which is also on the page linked above, you can see that this is just the weekday data with the weekends excluded. It shows that traffic volumes at this location pick up steadily throughout the week with Friday’s much busier than Mondays.

Public Transport

Auckland Transport have published the April ridership data and while a big drop was expected, it’s still shocking to see. In total there were just 515k trips on PT during April compared with over 8 million in April last year – that’s nearly 94% down but again, not unexpected. For trains, more people caught one a on a workday prior to lockdown than did so for the entire month of April

I have monthly data back to the beginning of 2002 and even back then, when Auckland’s PT network and levels of usage was much poorer than they are today, it was never even close to being that low – the lowest month since the beginning of 2002 was in January 2006 when we had only just over 3 million boardings.

February now looks to be the high-tide mark for this cycle of PT growth. When combined with the results we saw for March, it shows that COVID-19 has already wiped about 11 million PT trips off our annual totals.

The indications I’ve seen suggests that PT followed a similar trajectory to what the road graphs above show. It seems that usage on Monday was only about a third of what it was the same time last year.

https://twitter.com/johnage/status/1262603012767268864

It has been noted by some that at 33%, PT is much lower compared to last year than roads are at 70%. Some of this may be related to fear but it won’t be the only reason. For example, typically the largest users of PT are (in no particular order) tend to be city centre workers, university students and school students. Yet we know that many city offices are still fully or partially closed, universities are not back in the classroom till next semester and some parents seem to be holding off sending their kids to school. We likely won’t get a better picture as to what the real long-term impacts are until we see level 1.

Cycling

AT have also published the April cycling data it does need some explanation. Overall they count a 4% decrease in bike movements during April which obviously isn’t anywhere near as severe as roads or PT but it also doesn’t likely reflect that many roads were so quiet during lockdown they were easy to ride on and so I suspect many just used the roads instead of the likes of the NW cycleway, which was also full of a lot of walkers.

One of the results in the chart above is a big increase in cycling on Tamaki Dr, which is where AT put one of their temporary cycleways before removing some of it to appease the truck drivers. The numbers show it was very much needed with daily cycleway usage along the route regularly soaring and setting a new record for Auckland’s counters.

As a comparison, here’s the NW cycleway at Kingsland which was much lower after having a stellar February and beginning of March.

Walking

Heart of the City’s network of pedestrian counters give us some fascinating insights into what’s happening with walking. Generally it follows the same trends we discussed earlier in which numbers dropped off in the week before lockdown then plummeted in lockdown. Numbers came back slightly in level 3 and again now in level 2 but are still well below the previous normal. The graph below shows the six counters on Queen St from the beginning of the year.


For all modes it remains a case of wait and see what happens. I doubt anyone can predict what the long-term impacts are on demand.

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27 comments

  1. The reduced traffic volumes have made driving quicker and more pleasant for those who do need to drive. Gives an idea of what a city with congestion charging and good alternatives to driving might feel like.

      1. It did make a change, now the reduction in private vehicles have been replaced by commercial & delivery vehicles. Next stage is to restrict those and private hire vehicles, or just start closing roads as they are

  2. Regarding Cycling there was, of course largely anecdotal, data showing big numbers of families riding bicycles around their own neighbourhoods -areas unlikely to feature on the counters. Bike Auckland instigated a Backyard Bike Count that showed that walking and cycling was often the main mode in residential areas- highlighting people will ride locally when they feel it is a safe option.

  3. PT returning to anything near normal will require the abandoning of the social distance requirements,
    There is no way they can close at 18-20 per bus (39 for a DD) and no standees, – I’m guessing rail is around 20-30 per carriage too?

    The low patronage is also gonna start to burn a huge hole in AT’s budget if capacity cannot be restored by the end of June, when the agreement with NZTA over COVID funding ends

    1. People have now long abandoned the social distance requirements when out walking. I’m finding it very hard to walk with my elderly father (with health issues) and keep the distance he needs. In Western Springs Park in the weekend, people would pass us (going single file) in their groups of three abreast, almost brushing our arms.

      We need the distance, until we don’t. What will be really frustrating is if the public show no interest in protecting people with distance, but also don’t adopt sustainable travel patterns. Lose lose.

      I wish the epidemiologists would get on top of the transport challenges. There’s been a lack of understanding from MoH on the issues, as if they don’t think Covid’s possible public health implications of people using SOV’s more is something that concerns them!

    2. There is a way, all though not an especially likely one. If people started to travel by PT in the counter peak, off peak and evening periods much more they numbers could climb up.

      Auckland runs just under 10,000 one-way public transport runs per day. If each of those buses supported 20 boardings and each train or ferry did 100, then you’d have about 100m trips per annum again. Obviously that means moderately high use in both directions at all times, which is fairly far fetched.

      But maybe not too much if traffic congestion and costs pick up again, or of there is some kind of pricing or tax, or if PT service got better. All of these could work together even. These travel shifts will likely suppress demand at peak, which means resources could be shifted to running across the day. Peak transit is very expensive to deliver. You can fund five or six extra runs across the day for the cost of adding on one extra peak run.

  4. I’ve taken the train into the city about 5 times now, and it’s been getting busier each day it seems. Will certainly be interesting over the coming few weeks as slowly more business in the city centre get back to somewhat of a normality.

    Traffic in our local neighbourhood unfortunately feels exactly like it was pre-lock down. Lots of aggressive style driving by Rangers etc

    1. Yes indeed. Even more aggressive from what I see. Human behaviour being what it is, could we really expect people to profoundly change their behaviours in a ‘post lockdown world.’

  5. 1. Since our government doesn’t recommend mask uses, it makes PT such as bus dangerous. Especially sometimes the ventilation inside the bus are not so great when the bus driver doesn’t open windows.

    2. Also the queen st feels empty, but with more homeless people due to more shops become vacant. Also the temporarily cones and temporarily lanes are not visually attractive to improve the place-making.
    It makes the queens feels a bit unappealing.

  6. I had to go to Greenlane Clinical centre on the last Thursday of level 3 , and the ferry from Waiheke had the seats mark were you could and not sit no cafe opened and then went to Mt Eden to view the works there and the train was 6 car and they AT had 2 drivers on board so there was no interactions witth the public at NewMarket . The carriage I was on there was me and the driver .

    The got the 321 from Grafton and I was the only passenger all the to the centre . And coming back there were around 6-8 people on the 321 some were apart and others were sitting next to each other .

    And this is what the ferry looked liked and at the end it shows how many roughly got on board the 3pm from town . ;-

    1. The 1st sailing I was on was the 9am . And I had to show the paper work for the appointment to go across and to come back I had to show the same to prove to Fullers that I was going back home . On the paper work they wanted Name , Address , Phone number and the reason why I was using the boat on that day .

      Once in the City and using PT there no-one asked for any details .

      1. And this was what Britomart looked liked at around 10am in the morning on the same day , few passengers and there were more AT staff and train drivers there . The second part shows how empty the place was ;-

    1. Important stuff, Bridget. The street environment is so deficient, with huge implications for disabled people. Do you have similar data for pre-Covid? Was there any improvement in access for disabled people during Covid due to the reduction in traffic volumes?

      1. No, I don’t have pre-covid data. Nobody collects data about ‘trips not made’, which is interesting to me in itself. I’d like to repeat the survey in a month or so as comparison. Disabled people I interviewed during lockdown – those who didn’t have physical impairments generally reported enjoying the quiet streets, but most of those whose mobility is restricted anyway found it even harder. Many were anxious to go out at all, and said that the minority of people who didn’t give way to them on the street put them off using footpaths.

        1. Thanks. Been mulling on your activity class for community transport idea… wish I’d heard that before I put in my GPS submission.

          With these people you interviewed, did the ones who found it harder to go out find it harder because the mobility pick up services weren’t in operation? (Whether informal or formal.)

        2. Mobility taxis were still in operation, and were largely free of charge. The people I interviewed who didn’t go out had their own vans, and family who could drive them. They didn’t go out because they had no valid reason to travel in a vehicle. And they avoided local footpaths because they were busier than usual and/or inaccessible. They were also concerned about catching the virus themselves. One even cancelled an important hospital appointment because of virus fears.

          I included the point about an activity class for Community Transport in my GPS submission. But I don’t think the Ministry (or many transport professionals for that matter) knows what I mean by Community Transport. That’s how far behind we are. In the UK it’s government-subsidised and there’s a national association with hundreds of member organisations.

        3. Not forgetting e-scooters, awful things for disabled and able bodied pedestrians alike!

        4. E-scooters have been great for me as a pedestrian. I often walk for trips and the E-scooters give me confidence that I can make unplanned longer trips while I am out without a vehicle. Of course, they would be even better if they could be legally used in cycle lanes (and the cycle lanes were better quality and more widespread.

  7. They need to re-normalise PT as soon as possible or risk embedding patterns in people’s behaviour. There is an exponential effect happening now as people don’t want to be left behind from a near empty bus or train.

    We have 40 active cases of Covid-19 in the country and our borders are closed. It is pointless to run buses with 10 people on them and it’s not “dangerous” to have more with our current statistics.

    Australia have been forced to back down on this, and now drivers have been instructed to not turn passengers away, even if doing so would breach notional capacity.

  8. Yesterday at 4:45 pm it took me 35 mins at least to drive along Great South Road from Takanini to Wattle Downs. “Be Kind” has finished. Multiple cars were driving along the cycle lane as though it was an additional traffic lane, even through intersections.

    A major part of the problem is that the road is wide enough for 4 traffic lanes but the brains at AT have only marked out one each way.

    We have several school buses drive past and I see one school is now using a smaller bus and forcing students to stand. Stupidity.

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