It has been a long time since we have seen any PT patronage numbers but with the AT board meeting next week, they have finally been released. December saw a continuation of the same trends from late last year with total patronage down 7% compared to December 2011 (bus -8%, rail -7% and ferry -4%). January finally saw patronage start to bounce back, increasing by 4.6% over Jan 2012 (bus +5%, rail +2% and ferry +6%). Hopefully this is the start to some more positive results. Here are the overall results:
AT have made a big change to the way they report on patronage which has unfortunately meant we don’t get anywhere near the same level of information as we used to. No longer do we get a breakdown of rail patronage by line, no longer do we get a breakdown of bus patronage by region, no longer do we get any information on the reliability of either rail or bus services and no longer are we getting any information on cycling numbers.
We do get a bit more info into what is affecting patronage numbers and the author says that the report will now present initiatives to improve patronage for the rest of the financial year. Starting with rail they have an image showing what is impacting both positively and negatively on patronage.
Looking at some of the more detailed commentary on what is affecting rail patronage, perhaps the most interesting one is about the change in methodology.
The introduction of the AT HOP ticketing system on rail from October 2012 has seen a change in the way in which patronage is recorded. Under AT HOP, patronage is recorded at the time the trip is made. This is a significant change to the traditional recording method used on rail. Under the legacy paper ticket system, passenger journeys could not accurately be counted as a trip at the time it was made for multi journey tickets. The historic method of accounting for passenger trips was based on calculating the equivalent number of trips for the ticket type and accounting for these at the date of purchase. This has now ceased. As a consequence, for the months October 2012 to December 2012 there were trips made on the rail system using legacy 10-trip and monthly tickets which would have previously been recorded during the month these tickets were originally sold. This will have an artificial negative impact on the reported patronage during the transition phase, with the greatest impact being recorded in November.
The report also talks about the experience in Perth, a city we compare ourselves with regularly, and from whom we brought some of our existing trains. During their transition to electrification they also saw a drop off in patronage due to shutdowns and poor infrastructure reliability however once that finished, patronage took off and more than doubled within just a few years.
Looking forward there is talk of a few campaigns which AT might undertake to help build rail patronage in the short term. Looking at that last one in particular, I wonder if they will introduce higher frequency off peak and weekend trains as well as group discounts to actually give it a chance of working.
Moving on to buses, AT are thankfully still separating out the patronage of the Northern Express services. For the first time we get some acknowledgement that busway patronage is actually much higher than what is reported as there are 20 other routes that currently use the busway for parts of their journey. While the NEX itself accounts for around 2.4 million trips per year, the busway as a whole is estimated to account for 5.8 million trips. Like rail we have some information on upcoming activities. One of those is that AT plan to open customer service centres at Northern Busway stations in the middle of this year.
Another addition to the report is a look at other measures which are likely to be affecting patronage including changes to employment levels, new car sales and petrol prices. One thing the report didn’t include is traffic volumes. Data from the , NZTA data shows that vehicle trips over the harbour bridge continue to increase, a trend that has been occurring for some months now, although it should be pointed out that it is still some way off its peak in 2006.