Easter and the school holidays typically represents the end of March Madness, the period of time where travel demand across all modes is at it’s highest. It’s also been a quite while since we’ve really covered what’s happening with ridership so it’s time to look at it again

This year has been particularly challenging for public transport as we emerge from COVID with different travel patters, with a significant bus driver shortage, a ferry crew shortage and rail lines shut due to Kiwirail’s network rebuild programme. The end of January and early February were also impacted by the flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle. In light of all that, public transport could perhaps be considered to be doing surprisingly well.

The most recent data AT have published is till just over a week ago, Sunday 2 April. It shows that for the first time since the pandemic started in 2020, average weekday ridership has exceeded 300,000 trips – we got really close in August 2020 then the second lockdown hit. For late February and throughout March, that put weekday ridership at 75-80% of what it was in 2019.

We can also break this down by mode. As has been the case since the pandemic started, ferry use has recovered the fastest and is now at or around its pre-covid levels despite a shortage of around 18% of the needed ferry crew resulting in hundreds of cancellations. Bus numbers are just over 80% and not surprisingly, train recovery is the lowest at only around 60%, hampered by the significant network shutdowns.

Note, I’ve removed the weeks of the floods and cyclone, as well as some Christmas results from this graph to improve readability.

Things are even more interesting if we look at weekend data. Historically, weekends don’t tend to get the big monthly fluctuations that we see in weekday numbers throughout the year. Weekends have also suffered from fewer cancellations as the driver shortage issue typically tends to hit at peak periods when the demand for more services, which require additional drivers and buses is at its highest.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen weekend ridership numbers tend to closer to pre-covid levels but the last month or so has seen results almost match those in 2019 by achieving as high as 99%

We’re still waiting on the official results for March, such as including special events trips etc, but even the numbers we have show that ridership in March was over 8 million trips. That puts us at about 80% of the March-2019 record of 10.19 million trips. I wonder what we could have achieved if we didn’t have thousands of services cancelled every day?

If we can hold that level of performance we’d be on track to achieve around 80 million trips annually. However, AT’s new CEO, Dean Kimpton, has said he wants ridership back to pre-covid levels by the end of the year.

“The first step for us over the balance of this calendar year is to get from the 80 million to over 100 million trips, to get that, we’ve got to get drivers, we’ve got to get them trained, get the services back on and get it funded,” he said.

If he could reach 100 million trips this year it would be quite an achievement for him and the organisation.

Internationally we’re also starting to see ridership return in many other cities too. For the cities I track, Barcelona and Madrid have been the highest with their ridership in the 90-95% range but other cities are catching up with Perth and Wellington the closest as of the end of February.

There are certainly some encouraging signs here and let’s hope they continue.

On a related note, some good news for Western Line passengers with the rebuilt line through Maungawhau now completed, though it’s still a few months till we’ll see both lines in use. It’s also nice to finally see a figure on just how much faster services will be as a result.

The City Rail Link (CRL) project has taken a significant next step towards completing a new Western Line that will connect Maungawhau with the city centre.

As of today, commuters travelling between Newmarket Station and West Auckland will be travelling along a new piece of track which has been rebuilt to make room for the new City Rail Link lines that will eventually take passengers down into the tunnels towards Waitemata Station (Britomart).


Auckland Transport’s Darek Koper, Group Manager Metro Services seconded the sentiment. “Today’s milestone means that Aucklanders will soon return to dual line running through the Maungawhau Station in the middle of the year.

“Single line running will remain in place for a few months longer while the new tracks are integrated into the network, including timetables and staffing, and to allow for a small amount of construction work in the area, but we’re looking forward to reintroducing quicker trips of up to 3 minutes to commuters when this work is completed by the middle of this year.

“We know that single line running has caused some disruption for those travelling on the Western Line and we appreciate the public’s patience while this work has been completed.

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  1. I will never support Auckland’s buses. Their drivers have a long history of shitty driving and intimidating cyclists. Autonomous buses will arrive before we get decent humans driving buses. Until then I’ll keep riding my bike and reporting them to Police.

    1. Sorry to hear you had bad experiences, I have come across some of those too.

      Reading views here, I’ve been convinced that buses are innately more inclusive than biking, as there is no skill or personal investment required beyond a fare.

      Still, both should be prioritized over private cars.

      1. Cycling is ‘innately’ more empowering than buses as it provides travel times that are reliable, physical activity for good health, and the lack of a fare means children don’t have to rely on parents’ economic situation but can prioritise the value of the trip they are considering themselves – as well as generally making the household budget easier.

        I really love buses. I really love biking. Bus drivers’ poor attitudes should have been stamped out by Vision Zero leadership from AT, but wasn’t.

        1. The problem is bus driving is a skilled job. But government and AT commercial practices have combined pay unskilled wages. Those agencies thought they were very clever but they forgot about the outcomes they were supposed to achieve.

        2. Apparently at the end of the 1980s bus drivers were earning 66% more than the minimum wage! Seems crazy to think about now. Thank goodness for the free market and the regulatory capture of Immigration New Zealand* by neoliberal groupthink. /s

          * Sorry, naughty me, that should be “Te Ratonga Manene”.

        3. Heidi, I bike by preference as a man who can buy and fix his own bike for a couple of hundred dollars.

          Many kids are better served by a cheaper, simpler, maintainence-free scooter they can take on the bus; many mobility challenged people of all ages are better served by accessible buses.

          They still benefit by good bike-infra, though!

        4. Yes scooters seem to score best in the surveys of kids’s preferences (at some ages), too. Important to remember that they need safe infra for independent mobility just to explore and hang out – not just for getting to places or activities that adults register as ‘important’. They need dense local networks for this, not just linear paths to school or the bus, etc. This independence is critical for normal development.

          Many mobility-challenged people are also served by safe bike lanes – whether they bike or scoot on standard or modified devices, use wheelchairs or mobility scooters, or are pedaled around by others in trishaws or some sort of cargo bike.

  2. I have seen AT at Sylvia Park Mall recently.
    They need to help make the first step for reluctant users.
    Find out where they live, show them how to use the journey planner, find the best route for them, give them a free AT hop card.
    Actually give all AT staff and community groups 10 or 20 free hop cards for to give to anybody slightly interested.
    This would give good results better than advertising.

    1. AT should also take down all their negative signs about burglars, penalties and instructions such as the many keep left signs on escalators.
      Replace them with welcome, enjoy, we are here to help…

      1. Why would you want to get rid of the keep left signs? Regular PT users appreciate not having to run the gauntlet past inconsiderate people standing wherever TF they like.

    2. Oh yes I remember AT coming to my workplace in 2018 or 2019 to encourage our staff to cycle to work… the whole exercise was ridiculous as people kept asking when there would be safe cycling infrastructure in place for the route they would need to take.

      1. Yeah that’s the crazy thing. Too much effort on activation when there isn’t even a barebones network of safe cycling for the vast majority of trips.

        There’s so many ways they could do this basically overnight but things like parking of cars and non-existent “flow” are higher on their priority list. Contradicting council direction…

    3. “Actually give all AT staff and community groups 10 or 20 free hop cards for to give to anybody slightly interested.”

      The AT Hop team is reluctant to give away free Hop cards. Their excuse is that a free Hop card will just be given to an existing bus user, thereby reducing actual revenue and having no effect on the on-boarding of new PT users. AT prefers to spend money on internal feel good promotions, ( example Matariki ) and other projects that do not increase patronage.

  3. Queenstown Airport’s passenger numbers were at 106% of pre-Covid levels in January so there’s that.

    PS This is a bad thing.

      1. Have you seen hw old the ferry is down there?! Positively Victorian !! it’s practically powered by steam !

    1. When I was there a month ago and it was full of Americans and British touriats, was nice to see all the smaller businesses, cafes etc full..now if only they could house their workers.

  4. In that video, there’s an old gent measuring the distance from the train to the platform. Seems like a pretty large gap still remaining to me (Mind the Gap!!). What’s the max it is meant to be?

    1. Looking at the big step there, there is still a capping layer to go on the platform which can overhang the current edge slightly.

      The design gap between the train and the facing wall will be known so I assume that’s what’s being checked.

      1. ahhhh that makes sense. I thought a brand new platform on a gently sweeping section of track should not have such a large gap.

    2. This all started at 9pm and for some unknown reason the Train was on time , as earlier in the day when I was there filming it there were people walking the track to make sure it was O.K and asked what time the Test train was coming through as I wanted to film it . So at 9pm I got this footage . It then when West after around 40mins ;-

  5. Remarkable results, really, given all that’s going on.

    However we’ll soon have the same problems we had before. AT needs to get ahead of the curve and start rolling out the buslanes

  6. With ferries the issue is not just crews, but also really outworn vessels themselves. This now is almost an every day occasion of rides cancelled due to mechanical issues. Every second day one of the Hobsonville/Beach Heaven ferries is getting broken after the lunch time. Yesterday the old and slow Osprey was serving that route alone.
    Waiting for those promised new hybrid vessels impatiently.

  7. Reading the list of disruptions it really is great to see that patronage levels are back that high.

    AT needs to push on with as many bus lane improvement projects that they can, cheap n cheerful green paint on frequent routes.
    This may help the bus driver shortage in the following ways:
    1. Shorter journey times, potentially less drivers needed as buses can do more journeys in the same amount of time as a shift would be.
    2. Driver conditions – drivers may not get as fatigued / stressed as sitting in traffic, having nicer passengers on board who aren’t as frustrated that their bus is late / stuck in traffic etc.

    1. *bus priority projects, yes.

      Are these bus lane projects? Not as often as people think. Generally we have space for safe active modes and one traffic lane in each direction – apart from in short lengths near already-widened intersections – and on the wider-than-normal corridors. Bus priority needs to be provided in the many other ways available to us – and we need to swiftly reduce traffic volumes to prevent congestion holding buses up.

    2. Yes agree with KLK @10:43am and below, and more so Heidi re other bus priority measures. Give way to buses pulling out (from stops mainly) law change anyone?

    3. > cheap n cheerful green paint on frequent routes

      But what about the two carparks outside the dairy? Don’t forget AT needs to spend 5 years “consulting” on the removal of these critical pieces of infrastructure.

      In the meantime tens of thousands of people will waste hundreds of hours each year stuck in traffic, in case Bob wants to park his ute up outside the dairy to get a bottle of coke.

        1. Read quickly/listening to this. Yes I think it’s time to remove the fuel tax cut. The fuel tax cut distribution favours highest earners.

      1. If the mayor’s preferences are so important as to override official policy established through the combined efforts of public, bureaucrats, experts and elected representatives, Len Brown and Phil Goff could have really made progress quickly.

  8. Trains are awesome, but buses are large vehicles, more difficult to drive than a truck. We must respect bus drivers for the tough work they do, yes some are grumpy but you would be too driving a monster at peak hour in Makaurau!

  9. Where’s Maungawhau? Everyone calls the large suburb Mt Eden. No one runs around calling it Maungawhau. Even the village is called……

    1. Don’t mix up Mt Eden Primary School and Maungawhau Primary School. They’re different schools on different sites at opposite ends of the suburb.

      Confusingly they are both “Te Whare Akoranga o Maungawhau” in Maori, not sure how they’re going to sort that out.

    2. It is a weird one. Maungawhau was the hill, it is right there in the name. Then colonials called both the hill and suburb Mt Eden . So later the name of the suburb was translated back to Maungawhau. The Station is barely in the suburb and on the edge of Eden Terrace so Eden Station would have made sense. But that might confuse people with Eden Park which was actually in the City of Mt Albert.

      1. You can see the maunga from the station, reasonably walk to it from there. But the village, the Mt Eden shops, are much further away and not visible.

        To me it makes sense to call the station after the maunga, and bus stops in the village, Mt Eden. Or Mt Eden village.

        1. The station has short access to Mt Eden Road, the direct route to Mt Eden village. Calling it Maungawhau is an unnecessary change and confusing nonsense, unhelpful to potential passengers. Definitely not user friendly.

        2. You can see Maungawhau from the old toll stations north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge so I don’t think the ability to see it is all that special. Eden was also the name of the electorate that included Eden Terrace (I think). Unless there is a Te Reo name for that grotty little gully the station is in then name is always going to be a problem. If there is a Te Reo name for that place then it might have lifted the area. Naming it for the next thing over doesn’t seem very good.

        3. Love it how the trolls come out quickly to complain about any sort of Maori name being used saying it is not user friendly. The whole network isn’t particularly user friendly (how about massive roads that you need to cross to get to stations, etc) and you’re worried about a name.

        4. Warren – Panmure station is on the Ellerslie Panmure Highway, which has direct access to Ellerslie town centre. Thankfully they didn’t decide to call it Ellerslie.

          The fact a station is on the same road as another town centre is completely irrelevant in it’s naming. If it were a station directly adjacent to Mt Eden village you might have a valid argument.

        5. Hmm………….Jezza. Yes the Panmure Station is quite close to the Panmure shops and a long way from Ellerslie so that is the correct call. Maybe the station would be best user friendly and definitive if it was called ‘Mt Eden Road’ because that’s where it is. c.f. Baldwin Avenue.

  10. The effect of half priced fares. If PT is price competitive, people will use it even if large parts of the network are out of action

    1. There’s no spike in that graph after half price fares were introduced. If anything there’s a slow growth throughout last year that has really picked up this year as students come back and offices appear to be busier.

      1. There is no point making garbage “half-priced”. You have to stop selling garbage if you want people to purchase. People who think zero fares would be some kind of panacea have to understand this – people will overwhelmingly continue to use their cars even with zero fares, if the buses continue to be garbage.

      2. Did you ever think there were other things happening at time which kept people off PT? Now those factors are gone we are seeing the real effect despite a huge chunk of the network being closed or degraded.

        1. There’s simply no evidence in these graphs that suggests that lower fares have or have not had a significant impact on patronage.

        2. Because people were WFH, isolating, reacting to infection scare stories, unable to travel etc etc. The graph is meaningless until normal conditions are reestablished which is now. Even then you have to subtract the closed bits to get a fair comparison with 2019 and before.

        3. Completely agree. Yet for some reason you’re claiming that ridership reaching 80 % is as a result of half price fares, there’s simply no evidence of that.

          The only way we will know is if there’s a sharp drop when fares return to normal in June (if they do).

      3. Yes I think we will never really know. This is due to the really bad cancellations going on back then, rail shutdowns and general just a bad hang over from COVID including working from home uptake, less international students etc.

        1. Of course. And now those factors are reversed/gone there is a major bounce in ridership due to the low cost of it currently.

      4. Research shows that lower fares do not produce long term increases in PT usage. Low price fares are more of a feel good political message: ie : see, we are doing something to reduce single occupancy car congestion;

        However, expense is not the only factor impacting mode choice. Those switching from active modes weren’t as influenced by cost and there is evidence that, before HPF and increases in fuel prices, private vehicles were being chosen in cases where they were more expensive in practice.

        For those still not trialling PT services, price hasn’t been the main barrier since 2019.

        Non-users think of PT services as unrealistic alternatives for travel, since they are not available in their area, aren’t realistic for the distance that they need to travel or are going to take too long to travel the distance.

        With these barriers unresolved, half price fares won’t be sufficient to make them trial services, limiting the impact HPFs can have.

        see: https://www.odt.co.nz/star-news/star-christchurch/half-price-fares-not-enough-lure-more-public-transport-users

        1. Any report that states Auckland train patronage has not reached pre-covid levels without mentioning the rail foundation rebuild can be safely ignored. They briefly discuss the hangover from Covid but then dismiss it and claim price has no effect.

  11. I agree Zippo, cheaper, flexible and time-differentiated fares can reduce congestion and make public transport more attractive. Another trend is that higher fuel prices will encourage more people to use & try public transport. Higher demand of these services will force AT & Government to improve them.

  12. Hi Daphne, yes, the garbage analogy is spot on.
    Auckland Transport must change this perception & reality by:
    1. Public Transport Road Priority: Having more bus lanes, bus priority signals at traffic lights & traffic giving to buses the right of way on all roads. Clear & big signage on the rear of buses to remind motorists of this.
    2. Improving Customer Satisfaction & Safety.
    3. Enhancing Connectivity, Convenience & value for money.
    4. Promote public transport

    1. 80% plus of buses running is not garbage whatever the whingers on here might think. I doubt if the moaners would last 5 seconds driving a bus before trying to strangle one of the passengers.

    2. ” Auckland Transport must change this perception & reality by:
      1. Public Transport Road Priority: Having more bus lanes,”

      Someone needs to convince the mayor, that a bus lane is more important than a car parking spot outside his local wine shop.

      1. Is that why Great North Road and New North Road projects are being delayed?
        Sorry, but I don’t buy it … The mayor can oppose what AT is doing, but AT can get on and do it.

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