With COVID-19 impacting things, February represents the current high-point for public transport use in Auckland. In the 12-months to the end of Feb, 103.6 million boardings took place on the network and almost three quarters of those, 75.3 million, took place on buses.
A few months ago Auckland Transport published a fascinating dataset, called the AT Metro Bus Performance Report, breaking down bus the performance of every public bus route. The report is from the beginning of January 2019 till the end of February 2020 and for year to the end of Feb, covers 70.5 million trips, the rest being from school buses and special events as well as the privately run Skybus services. For each of the routes it has:
- Boardings per service hour
The first two metrics are the most interesting and what I’ll focus on in this post – also because the punctuality and reliability metrics are effectively pointless given they only look at if a bus departed the first bus and do so on time, not whether buses arrive at their destination on time.
For each route, the report has the number of boardings for every day, providing a number of fascinating ways to break it down. This is just a couple of them.
The biggest problem with it is that ‘for each route’ means for every variation, so for example, instead of just being 25 that runs on Dominion Rd, it has both the 25B and 25L separately, as well as the peak only 252 and 253. In total there are 207 routes in the report – although some of these routes have since been cut or changed and so no longer run.
To get a better idea as to our busiest corridors, I’ve grouped the routes together where possible. As a general rule, I’ve grouped any services with the same base number or that share the same corridor for more than 50% of their length. There are a few exceptions to this to this though. In total there are still 150 PT corridors and the graph below shows the results for the top 60 of them, but those 60 represent 89% of all trips so there’s a long tail of lowly used buses. The colours and descriptions are how AT describes them in the report, and from the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).
Here are some of what I think are the most interesting things from this:
- The impact of the busway is immense. As you can see, the NX1 alone is busier than any other service and the NX2 by itself is only just behind all the Dominion Rd buses combined and so would otherwise be 4th on this list.
- The 70 (Botany to Britomart) is a surprise standout for usage, although if you think about the route perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. Effectively it’s serving a few different types of trip, such as a feeder to Panmure and Ellerslie Stations for a faster trip to parts of the city, trips to the University, it serves trips along the Gt South Rd corridor and also shopping trips to Pakuranga and Botany. The route will also be the prime service using the Eastern Busway once it is completed.
- The central isthmus buses all perform fairly well which is unsurprising given they’re all largely following the same tram routes that established those roads.
- I’ve combined all the Northwest services as most trips on them would likely be to/from the city and in future they’re instead likely to feed into a NW rapid transit route. This shows there is already a good ‘core’ usage to kick things off that RTN and we could expect usage to grow quickly if implemented. It is possible some of the usage here might be from Gt North Rd between Pt Chev and the City though.
- The 72 group of routes (Howick to Panmure) are the highest for a route that doesn’t go to the city centre (assuming most 72X users are also going to Panmure). This is a great example that people are prepared to transfer.
- Likewise, the 83 (Takapuna to Albany via Browns Bay), does well and it too doesn’t touch the city. I suspect most of the usage is flowing to/from the busway stations. I was surprised it even outperformed the 82 from (Milford and Takapuna to the city).
- I’ve grouped all the Waiheke routes together although it’s worth noting that most of the ones included here don’t exist anymore as were changed when the New Network went live in October.
- The 120 (Henderson to Constellation Station via Westgate) should probably be made a frequent route given it already outperforms a number of existing frequent routes and is meant to be a future Upper Harbour rapid transit route.
- The 20 is the poorest performer of the frequent routes, although it is probably one of the shortest too. It’s a route that is perhaps undervalued a bit and I suspect many people don’t realise how useful it is in linking the Western Line to Ponsonby Rd and Wynyard. It could certainly do with a bit of marketing from AT.
- Finally it’s worth noting that the figures for the year include the impacts from the NZ Bus industrial action in December. Based on other routes, a rough estimate is that this cut ridership by about half in the month. This is unlikely to have any major impact on the order.
Another interesting aspect to look at is the busiest day of the week. Over the period, Thursdays average out as the busiest weekday, only slightly ahead of Wednesdays. There is a significant difference between weekends and weekdays.
Looking at individual routes, one of the more interesting observations is that while the NX1 is by far the busiest route overall, on Weekends the 70 is actually busier highlighting its diverse trip types.
Boardings per service hour
Looking at pure boardings is important but it’s also useful to compare that to how much resource is being thrown at the route. For example, the Outer Link carries more people than the Inner Link but it also has a much longer route. So AT have included this metric to give an indication of that. The service hours for each route is the scheduled ‘in service’ time of all services on weekdays i.e. if you have a bus that takes 30 minutes to run and it it is run four times a day, that’s two service hours.
When designing a PT network, some routes will be needed for carrying lots of people, such as the busway services, while others are just there to provide coverage in case someone needs them – these are usually the ones that run at low frequency and wiggle through suburban streets. As part of the RPTP, AT set out what kind of performance they expect each route to achieve. At the low end, a few routes are only expected to achieve 2-4 boardings for every hour they run, while the busiest routes are expected to see 37-47 boardings per service hour.
The figures are reported on monthly for each individual route and of the 197 routes that ran in February
- 77 (42%) were above the target range
- 89 (48%) were within the target range
- 24 (13%) were below the target range
That seems a pretty decent strike rate to me.
The best performer here is once again the NX1. It is expected to achieve 37-47 boardings per service hour but in February achieved 80.8. However, in percentage terms, the best is the 126 which was introduced as result of funding from a targeted rate by the Rodney Local board and runs from Westgate to Albany via Rivershead and Coatesville. It was only expected to achieve 2-4 boardings per service hour and as of February it was doing 13.6, 245% above the upper end of the range. In fact, all three of the Rodney services that were introduced as a result of the targeted rate are performing better than expected.
Though not too far away from the 126 is the worst performer (not including the night buses), the 114 which runs from Westgate to Hobsonville Point via Whenuapai and Herald Island. It is expected to achieve 7-17 boardings per service hour and instead it is achieving just 3.5 boardings per service hour, and that’s in a good month.
While not universal, one group of services that seem to be frequently underperforming are peak only services. Of the 24 routes below their target range, 11 are in this category and include the 125X, 171X, 221X, 223X, 22A, 243X, 248X, 24W, 333X, 504, 72X. Given these services are often some of the most expensive to operate and with AT potentially needing to cut back some routes, these are surely some of the prime candidates.
Coming back to the busiest routes, in the graph below I’ve worked out the annual boardings per service hour for the 60 busiest routes. Because many are made up of individual routes each of which can have different target ranges I haven’t added a target but it does at least give an idea of the relative performance of each route.
Like the NX1, both the NX2 and the 886 are performing above expectations, although not quite as high as the NX1. The busway remains the best performing route. Likewise, despite having a long journey, the 70 is performing well under this metric.
The 380 is the lowest performer here at just under 14 boardings per service hour and is closely followed by the 670 at just over it. I suspect most of the usage is on the Airport to Manukau section which will be split off next year to become the Airport Link.
As I mentioned at the start, there’s plenty more that could be potentially be done with this data. I know there was an intention to release updates to it fairly regularly but that would understandably not be a priority with the disruption caused by COVID. However, if as a result of the Council’s emergency budget they need to look at cutting services, AT should use and highlight this data to help explain their rational.
Finally, if there’s any specific analysis from this data that readers really want to see, let me know and I might add it depending on how much work is involved.