We know that there are some major ongoing trends in transport use not only in New Zealand but also in many of the countries we like to compare ourselves to, especially those closest to NZ in culture and history i.e. Australia, Canada and the US. We’re continuing to see the numbers of people driving (or the distance they are travelling) fall or at least flat line – something traffic projections are mostly still ignoring. We’re seeing more and more people choosing to live in areas closer to cities that enables them to walk or cycle which is also being aided in many places by vastly improved walking cycling facilities. And of course we’re seeing a lot more people choosing to use public transport.
On the issue of PT use, news came out a few days ago that in the US ridership across the entire county reached its highest point in 57 years.
In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.
“Last year people took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation. As the highest annual ridership number since 1956, Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said Peter Varga, APTA Chair and CEO of The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI. “Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”
Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide or on specific lines were located in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Espanola, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Pompano Beach, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Carlos, CA; Tampa, FL; Yuma, AZ; and New York, NY.
Since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 20.3 percent, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is up 22.7 percent.
“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.
Before the drop of in patronage last year, we also saw similar news from Auckland with patronage reaching highs not seen since the 1950’s so it got me thinking as to how relative history’s in patronage compare. Now I’m comparing the patronage history of a single city with the aggregated patronage of an entire nation so it’s a little bit of an apples and oranges type comparison however as the graph below shows the trends have been remarkably similar. Both lines peak at or just after WW2, before declining to a low point in 1972. the downward fall was ended by the 1973 oil crisis. Recovery in patronage then jumped around for a period of time until the early 90’s. Then since the mid 90’s there has been a general upward trend in patronage, albeit with a few bumps along the way.
I was also then interested in how other the other countries I mentioned have changed over time. The data I could find doesn’t go back as far as the US or Auckland data but does show some similar trends. Of note the Canadian data is total trips not boarding’s so is slightly different from Auckland, Australian and US data. I also don’t have the most recent data for these two countries.
Of all of these, Canada is perhaps the most interesting. Its post WW2 patronage drop had obviously mostly happened prior to 1955 and it is the only one of the four examples that has higher total patronage now than the mid 1950’s. This is not surprising, when looking at the cities similar to Auckland that tend to perform the best the Canadian cities almost always tend to come out on top regardless of the measure used for example they tend to have higher number of trips per capita and better farebox recoveries than cities from NZ, Australia or the US.
The next question is often why the Canadian cities do so much better, after all the people who live in those cities aren’t all that different from us. There’s probably a whole number of posts that could be written about why the Canadian cities do so well but in short there’s a couple of key things I’ve noticed when looking at them.
- Investment in proper high quality rapid transit systems like the Skytrain in Vancouver, light rail in Calgary and Edmonton, Busways in Ottawa or the Subways of Toronto and Montreal. This is something that Auckland is only now starting to really do with the Northern Busway and the rail upgrades. The Congestion Free Network we’ve proposed would put us on par or even ahead of many of those Canadian cities when thinking about Rapid Transit (but of course they aren’t standing still either).
- A focus on connected bus networks. When looking at the bus networks of the Canadian cities you don’t see the spaghetti mess of routes like we do currently in Auckland. Instead their networks tend to consist of frequent routes that create a grid across the city. This is of course the same style bus network that Auckland Transport is going to be rolling out here starting with South Auckland next year.
I guess the good news from that is we’re at least heading in the right direction.