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.