Yesterday I posted about the Infernal Combustion Engine, a piece discussing some of the issues we face of being so auto dependant. As part of that I also looked at some details about what has happened with vehicle ownership over the last 90 odd years and I also briefly talked about some trends in vehicle engine size. However following on from the post I have been thinking a lot more, particularly about the graph showing car ownership as I think it has some really interesting stories to tell. So for this post I’m going to look at car ownership in more detail.
First up the graph I showed yesterday.
As mentioned there are some really interesting stories to tell which fall into the following three time-frames
- 1930 to 1960
- 1960 to the mid 1980’s
- 1988 to now
So let’s look at them in more detail
1930 to 1960
The reason I find this period interesting is it represents the time in history when we started to see massive changes to society which had massive impacts on the entire transport system. Earlier increases in the number of licensed vehicles had been increasing before this time however as you can see the great depression dealt a blow to that reducing both the total number of vehicles licensed and the number per capita. However by the late 1930’s that had swung around and both figures were increasing until 1940. From that point on the effects of WW2 started to be felt and both numbers started dropping once again. The war along with the rationing of fuel were the main causes of the drop in numbers which was the result of vehicle licences and registration lapsing.
As life started returning to normal after the war there was an increase in the number of cars being registered and I would guess a large number of them were the re-registration of vehicles that had lapsed as the yearbooks note they were then counted as a new registration. It wasn’t until 1949 that the total vehicle fleet surpassed what existed in 1940 while on a per capita basis the figure wasn’t passed until 1952.
What I also found interesting about the figures is that while they are for the entire country, we can probably expect that roughly the same trends would have occurred in Auckland. To me there has always been a bit of a chicken or egg type debate about what killed PT patronage, was it the rise of the car that killed PT demand or was did the removal of the trams and associated PT priority see people turn to cars as more rational choice. The chart below shows both Auckland PT patronage (of which trams dominated the figures) and NZ vehicle ownership while the period during which the trams were removed (1949-195) is shown as the shaded area.
To me this suggests that while vehicle ownership was on the increase, it probably wasn’t to the point that it was really impacting patronage. In fact patronage actually increased at first which was probably the result of people trying something new which probably hastened the demise of the rest of the network. However as people really started to experience the new reality that buses were getting stuck in the same traffic as cars then that quickly turned around and patronage started a fairly long slide downhill. In the end the move away from PT was probably a combination of both increased attractiveness of cars and the deteriorated quality of PT services.
Note: most, if not all western world cities saw PT use decline in the decades following 1950’s but most not as dramatically as what happened in Auckland.
1960 to the mid 1980’s
As mentioned above there started to be some fairly big changes happening in the 50’s with level of car ownership trending upwards. What surprises me so much is that from 1960 onwards is just how constant the increase is in both the number of vehicles and the number per capita. This is more so because during the 1970’s and early 80’s there were the various oil shocks which saw the price of petrol dramatically increase and yet it seems to have had no impact at all on vehicle increases. I guess though it may not be that surprising as during this time the baby boomers were really starting to be able to afford cars and as we know that particular age group have really associated driving with freedom. By comparison younger people often now tend to associate technology like smartphones with freedom and the car can be seen as a distraction from that.
1988 to now
In 1987 the stock market crashed and sent the economy into turmoil for a substantial period of time. What I find interesting is that despite this, the increase in the number of cars remained fairly constant. Part of this is likely to be the result of it being made easier to import second hand cars from overseas (more on that shortly) which would have seen the price of cars lowered substantially. There was certainly a big flow on effect to PT which saw patronage drop away its lowest point ever in 1994 with just over 33 million trips being taken. While the total number of cars registered did continue to increase, there was a slowing in the per capita numbers. Following on from here car numbers continued to increase all the way up until ~2007 which was when NZ started to get the economic wobbles once again.
However the thing is that for the first time since the 40’s we are actually seeing a change in the growth of the car fleet. Yes there have been slight ups and downs here or there but what we are seeing appears to be a sustained change. Car fleet growth has continued but at a much lower pace which is quite visible in the graph below and the first one where the fleet numbers have flattened out considerably. This is even more so on a per capita basis for which there has been a consistent decline for the last ~5 years. Combined these help to show that there’s a real discontinuity occurring and we can’t and shouldn’t rely past trends to predict the future.
All of the above isn’t the only data I collected about vehicle licencing. The graph below shows how much second hand imports have impacted the number of new vehicle registrations with them sometimes accounting for up to 69% of all new registrations.
And finally I also found the numbers on motorcycles and mopeds quite interesting as the trend is quite different to what we see with cars. Motorcycles sky-rocketed in popularity in the 70’s with total registrations reaching just over 144,000. Since then numbers have fallen away with a slight bump recently with the subsequent decline most likely the result of the changes to ACC charges a few years ago. Mopeds however continued gaining in popularity until the mid-70’s where I’m guessing some legislation changes prevented their use however that has started to turn around again recently.
All up some very interesting trends that have occurred.