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Spectacular March PT patronage

Auckland Transport has finally got around to publishing their public transport report for March 2011, and the patronage results confirm a post of mine last week – they are spectacular. Here’s a summary: If we break down the summary to look at the numbers – there are some really healthy trends. Patronage on the Onehunga Line is really high (around 2,500 trips a day compared to the estimated 500), the Western Line had a massive 30% growth in patronage and general bus patronage was up by nearly 5%. It’s interesting to see that out of the 500,000 trip increase in patronage over March 2010, 200,000 of those (40% ) were on the rail network. Looking at the increases in patronage on the Western Line I wonder whether it might be necessary to get those 10 minute peak frequencies as soon as possible.

You can see the big spike in patronage last month in the graph below – what I look forward to is seeing whether months like May and August can also get close to 7 million overall and 1 million on the rail network. October might be a big month later this year – with the Rugby World Cup bringing a lot more people to Auckland than normal: Looking at the rail patronage statistics, I find the graph below quite helpful. One extraordinary thing that it highlights is that not only is rail patronage increasing, but that it’s also increasing at an increasing rate. We could well see 2010/2011 rail patronage being around 20% higher than the year before if the current trends continue – quite an achievement when you’re going off a higher base than ever before. Turning to the Northern Express, patronage increased by 10.7% on March 2010 – a slower rate of increase than in recent years. One suspects that this is largely due to capacity issues – both at the park and ride stations and also on the buses themselves. The recently announced service improvements will hopefully allow the NEX to break through the magic 2 million trips mark for the 12 month rolling total: Looking at general bus patronage, which is a very important component because it’s the largest, the report usefully breaks down into sectors where patronage is and is not growing: The figures are still somewhat skewed by the October 2009 bus lockout, with massive increases around October and November 2010 compared to the year before. If we compare the sectors, yet again the main growth is is the north and south – reflecting a general trend towards longer PT trips (perhaps those trips are the ones that higher petrol prices really hurt?) and a response to where service improvements have been made in the last few years.

Even ferry patronage, which for so long has barely increased at all – went up by a substantial 10.2% in March.As a final point of comparison – the graph below from NZTA shows the March 2011 state highway traffic volumes and how they compare to March 2010: It looks pretty obvious where the government should cut the $60 million in lost fuel tax revenue from – the “build more state highways” budget.

37 comments to Spectacular March PT patronage

  • Matt L

    We are seeing some really stunning patronage increases on the rail network and are getting close to capacity yet it is important to remember we still have a lot of distruptions, breakdowns and late trains. Imagine what it will be with electric trains that run faster and on time on a network that pretty much brand new. It wouldn’t surprise me if we hit capacity, especially at peak times within a year of getting our new trains and with no hope of relief because the government refuses to support the CBD tunnel.

  • James B

    Canterbury and West Coast sector is probably only up due to people leaving Christchurch and the relief effort.

  • Patrick R

    Very clear that Joyce is building for the past not the future, surely the definition of bad planing. Someone at the MoT must be facing forwards….?

  • Geoff

    The Onehunga line doesn’t have 2,500 passenger a day, but rather that’s the number of people per day using Onehunga trains at Ellerslie, where the passenger counts are made. They are just attributing a percentage of Southern Line passengers to Onehunga Line patronage figures.

    The actual number of people using the Onehunga Line is a few hundred per day, maybe 1,000 on a good day.

    • Penrose is the only station after Ellerslie before it braches off to Onehunga so it would be surprising if two-thirds of people on the Onehunga Line trains were using Ellerslie & Penrose.

      • Matt L

        I guess we will probably have to wait for integrated ticketing to give us a clearer picture of how many people are using each station (providing AT release the info that is).

  • Cam

    @Geoff how do you know what the numbers per day using Onehunga are? Are you counting them yourself?

  • Cam

    All in all this is awesome news. It’s a pity the government only counts patronage up to 2006.

  • Stu Donovan

    Hey Josh – not sure I agree with your suggestion that “rail patronage is increasing at an increasing rate.” Aside from the fact that it has grown at about 10-20% per year since 2006, I can’t really see a clear trend myself. The growth patterns seems fairly well-aligned with rising petrol prices and, perhaps more importantly, new rail infrastructure (especially upgraded stations) and services. This time last year construction at Grafton, Newmarket, and New Lynn were all about to finish, which in turn created capacity to run more services. In saying that, the results are spectacular and will hopefully give us some momentum until electrification and integrated ticketing are ready to fly …

    P.s. It would be interesting to split the SH traffic growth data by motorway (i.e. SH1 north, south, and west) and then regress the change from month to month against the change in PT patronage by month, just to see if there is any strong link between increased PT patronage and SH traffic volumes. If you can send me the data I’ll do it for you …

    • Matt L

      Stu, Yes we have since had new stations complteted as well as double tracking in the last year however out west at least there hasn’t been any new services added since that happened, we have had a couple lengthened to 6 cars but are still only running trains every 15 minutes. Also rail use continued to increase even when petrol decreased in 2008/2009.

  • Stu Donovan

    Hi Matt, Yes I’m not disputing the fact that rail patronage continues to grow, just that the growth is not occurring at an “increasing rate,” at least as far as I can see. I.e. the growth rate has consistently been between 10-20% for the last 5 years or so. While growth this year is a little higher than last year, this is very likely to reflect a combination of higher fuel prices and improved infrastructure (even if services have, as you suggest, remained the same). Given the high levels of investment in rail over the last 10 years (surely it must be close to $1 billion?), you would certainly expect rapid patronage growth for a number of years – the only question is how much to expect.

    • Stu that’s right, ‘build it and they will come’ Auckland has had low rates of public transport use because the service either hasn’t been there or has been poor quality; infrequent, unreliable, and slow. Not because of vague emotions like: ‘we love our cars’. Even the hard won but not yet high standard improvements are being rewarded by continuous growth.

      The other interesting point you make is that if uptake is a measure of value of investment then haven’t we wasted billions of dollars on the state highway network in the last five years or so? Use of this network has been flat since 2005. Hmmm? 20% versus 0%, what is a better return on investment?

      So what is our government working furiously on? Another 11 billion on state highways, no extension of the booming AK rail network, decline in maintenance of local and arterial roads, decline in high return on investment safety work on everything but state highways. Closure of regional rail lines to desperately get more [dangerous and damaging] bulk freight onto our roads.

      What to conclude? This isn’t a fact based programme, but one driven either by capture by a vested interest sector or a personal mania by the Minister, or both?

      • Stu Donovan

        Yes uptake is a fairly good measure of the effectiveness of an investment, although given the cost of transport investments you normally need to sustain high rates of growth (5%+) for at least 10 years to get a reasonable “return”. Completely agree with your observation on the highway network – recent investment has by and large been ineffective. I think it’s both – the Minister genuinely wants to get things done, but he’s just picked the wrong projects. Political ego prevents him from backing away now, so we’re stuck in the transport twilight zone building highway projects that simply are not justified, at least not now and probably never.

  • I thought Auckland Transport were supposed to be doing accurate pax counts at Onehunga?

    Can’t wait until we get passenger km data, which I think will show the greater decongestion benefits that rail offers due to the longer trips made.

    Also I’ve never been a fan of those cumulative charts. They will always trend upwards even if patronage has decreased for the month. And is the NEX making money for Auckland Transport yet?

    Finally rather than “Train delay minutes increased by 26.1% in March to 17,710 minutes” it would be more relevant to calculate “passenger delay minutes” by multiplying the delay by the number of pax. While we are at it, some kind of loading report to show services with the highest loadings, and also the lowest. Hopefully all of this information will become available once the Thales card is introduced on rail services – I hope cash sales are included in the Thales back end also for reporting purposes.

  • Forgot to say this is bloody good though!

  • Luke

    are 10 minute peak frequencies still planned for pre-electrification? Seems to have gone quiet about that. Maybe the diesels are causing too much trouble.

    • Matt L

      Yes they are still planned but my understanding is that they are constrained by funding which is limited effectively to 2009 levels. The latest is that they now might be next year after be promised for last year.

  • George D

    What do we bet that instead of trying to increase patronage and leverage economies of scale (as almost every other competent PT regime in the world does) those in charge will slap on more fare increases?

    • Stu Donovan

      I think you’re too critical here – some fare increases are justified on the grounds of the large investment that has been made. Surely users should cover some costs? But I do agree that more targeted fare discounts would be good, especially for off-peak travel. Hopefully these discounts are incorporated into the new HOP card.

      • I don’t disagree with that, but what I would like to know is where in the convoluted AK rail management structure does the extra revenue end up. 200,000 more fare paying rides than last March, no new services, who gets the new income? AT? Veolia?

        In other words does this growth help fund better services or go to a private operator’s bottom line?

        • Matt L

          Its a gross contracted service so AT collects all of the fare income

          • Excellent, so how many more services can we expect from this increase in income, is the kit and the manpower up to it?

          • Matt L

            I would guess that not many, if any extra services would be put on as a result of this. I don’t have any recent figures but ARTA’s monthly business reports had a financials section which showed the rail revenue income and the costs of the rail contracts. The last one (September last year) showed revenue was around $20m per year while the contract was over $80m per year. To add to that, more services were put on all lines from the end of September with the opening on Onehunga, so costs would have increased quite a bit which was part of the reason for this years fare hike. I also noticed that due to all of the extra passengers many trains were to busy and not all fares were able to be collected so while patronage might be up revenue might not be. My guess is we are probably in roughly the same situation as before.

          • Stu Donovan

            Yes, and because rail users receive much higher subsidies than bus users then I’d suggest that some of the extra revenue was pocketed by AT rather than ploughed back into new services/infrastructure. In that way the fare recovery for rail would increase to a more reasonable level (that’s not to say that some subsidies are not warranted, just that current subsidy levels for rail in Auckland are disproportionately high).

          • I think rail’s farebox recovery is around 30%. That sounds bad (and it is), but I wonder how much of that is because of our 1950s ticketing system (which requires an enormous number of staff members) and our crusty old diesel trains.

            Surely with electric trains that are staffed by one person (like happens in most of the rest of the world) because of our smart-card ticketing system we could vastly improve the cost-effectiveness of the rail network and improve that farebox recovery rate.

          • Stu Donovan

            Yes you are absolutely right Josh – the roll out of electric trains and advanced ticketing will greatly reduce operating subsidies on the rail network. I’d suggest that a fare recovery target of 50-60% is reasonable, because that would place it on par with bus and car subsidies (where the latter’s come in the form of subsidies for congestion, parking, and environmental impacts).

  • George D

    Wow. 30% increase on the Western Line. Shows what affect double tracking and the New Lynn Station have had.

    • Matt L

      I think it is a combination of things.
      1. Completed infrastrucure has led to a nicer environment
      2. 6 car sets have provided additional capacity (my observations are that the additional capacity was pretty full at peak times)
      3. Less delays and faults making things more reliable

      As mentioned above there haven’t been any increases to peak frequencies so this additional patronage is on existing services.

      • Stu Donovan

        But has there been improvements in offpeak frequencies? If so then that may be driving some of the patronage growth. Last time I looked peak period trips were only about 30% of all rail trips on the rail network, but things may have changed since then.

        • The shoulder peak frequencies on the western have improved quite a bit. The span of 4tph service levels is now quite long on either side of the peaks.

          The Western Line has only about 50% of its trips starting or ending at Britomart, lower than the other lines. I suspect that means it probably has more off-peak trips too – connecting people will shopping hubs of New Lynn & Henderson as well as being used by a lot of school kids.

          • Stu Donovan

            OK, so Matt L is incorrect to suggest that the patronage increase is being accommodated on “existing services.” That did not sound right, because I know AT (and formerly ARTA) have been improving offpeak services a lot – including frequencies in the shoulder period but also on the weekends (which was handy for my Saturday trip to ‘Pak and Save’ Glen Innes).

          • Matt L

            My comment was intended to be that peak frequencies are still only one train every 15 minutes and my personal observations are that the line still gets most of its patronage at peak times which was definitely much heavier than it previously was. The western line does have the advantage that Admin points out in that there are more destinations to travel to off peak which do help it.

  • Stu Donovan

    Yes Matt L’s suggestion that the patronage increase is being accommodated solely on “existing services” did not sound right to me. AT (and formerly ARTA) have made major improvements to offpeak services, which I suspect has driven some of the recent patronage growth.

  • Ron WIlson

    Yippee! Something works. As from next week bus services on North Shore Busway will increase in frequency. Which is great for those traveling post 7:00am but the changes to before 7:00am are still pretty minimal. Butr I will wait till I use them next week and see how it goes.

    • Stu Donovan

      Yes do let us know how it goes – especially the difference in short/long term effects. I.e. I’d be interested to know whether the short term benefits of increased capacity are eventually soaked up by extra demand.

  • Stu Donovan

    I’d think about it this way: Total patronage on the western line is growing rapidly, peak hour trains are full. and train frequencies have not been increased (due to capacity constraints). So the high patronage growth that we are seeing must be coming from people travelling offpeak – possibly in the shoulders, as Josh suggested. This is not a bad thing because it is more efficient to service a smooth, long peak than a short, sharp one. I just wish AT would use the implementation of the HOP card to create a peak/offpeak differential, so that people had a direct financial incentive to travel outside of peak hours.

  • Ron WIlson

    Now all we need is a copy of the updated timetable. Current version on MAXX is 2009. Will be interested to see when the new timetables become available

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