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Lower the Patronage Targets – are you crazy?

On Thursday the Council will make some final key decisions on the Annual Plan for the 2014/15 year. Quickly skimming through the documentation (27MB) it doesn’t seem like there’s likely to be huge changes from the Draft Plan in terms of what the money gets spent on (hopefully the somewhat strange numbers in that draft have been fixed up). Perhaps the one exception is a brief mention of Auckland Transport deferring around $50 million of capital expenditure – which appears to be CRL property acquisition but it’s hard to tell for sure. This might be as a result of them no longer needing to buy the Downtown Shopping Centre site but once again it’s difficult to tell for sure.

What the Annual Plan report does highlight is a bizarre request from Auckland Transport to lower their patronage targets over the next three years – particularly the rail patronage target. The current targets which were already lowered last year and the proposed targets are shown in the table below:

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 6.26.29 PMI touched on the proposed change in patronage figures in a post a while back on the AT Statement of Intent, which we haven’t heard much of since then. Presumably the targets all need to match up so whatever ends up in the Annual Plan will end up being the SOI targets.

Rail patronage isn’t the only target that Auckland Transport are trying to get reduced. Page 221 of the Budget Committee’s agenda highlights a few other patronage targets that a change is suggested to. These include reducing the overall target from 78 million boardings down to 74 million, bus (excluding Northern Express) from 56 million down to 53 million (the biggest suggested reduction) as well as a smaller decrease for the Northern Express and a small increase for ferries.

But of course the focus is on the rail patronage numbers because the government has set a requirement that these number track towards 20 million before they consider bringing forward their support of beginning construction of the CRL before 2020. Signalling a 2.7 million trip reduction for the 2016/17 year seems to suggest that Auckland Transport have little confidence in the ability of electrification, integrated ticketing and the new bus network (which will focus much more on feeding people into the rail network rather than competing against it) to deliver a catalytic change in the level of rail use in Auckland. This is particularly strange when Lester Levy is talking about how historic electrification is, and the Mayor is highlighting that electrification is a key step towards reaching the patronage goals.

What’s even weirder though is that rail patronage is tracking really well in recent months. March was a record month for rail (if you exclude the Rugby World Cup) while February also performed way above last year’s totals and I’d heard April was tracking well. In fact, Auckland Transport look like they might actually reach their 2013/14 rail patronage target of 11.4 million boardings – when it seems the main justification provided for lowering the future targets is that a lower baseline is expected. If the current target is met then it would leave Auckland Transport only needing to increase patronage by around 700k yet by the end of June next year all but the Western line should be plied by electric trains (running at better speeds).

You can see the blue line tracking back up towards hitting the red line of the current targets:

Lowering the targets is a sure fire way of the councillors telling the government that the city isn’t really serious about the CRL or about improving PT Patronage in general. We also know this is a message that the Ministry of Transport will pick up on. The recent performance and the impact of all the improvements proposed to the rail network over the next few years means that the current targets are highly achievable and quite possibly on the low side.

Hopefully the Councillors on Thursday tell Auckland Transport to bugger off with this attempt to lower the patronage targets.

There’s another side effect to all of this. Less projected patronage also means Auckland Transport have projected they will get less fare income and that has contributed to $15.6 million funding shortfall. The other big culprit in the shortfall is lower than expected parking revenue. Partially mitigating this, Auckland Transport have come up with $10.5 million in savings/revenue from

  • the deferral of capital expenditure mentioned earlier
  • improved contracting
  • changing the way they fund asset replacement for the electric trains
  • and most interestingly increasing parking charges in the CBD which will raise about $5.5m more.

Increased parking charges in the CBD for both on-street and off-street parking. This will bring the charges for council owned parking buildings more into line with prices currently charged by private operators.

Pricing carparking more in line with what the private operators charge is a very good thing as AT have essentially be holding the market down for some time. Parking costs can also have a big impact on patronage with higher prices encouraging more PT use. I wonder if that impact was factored into AT’s lower projected patronage.

In addition Auckland Transport received a paper on the annual fare review at their last closed board meeting, I wonder if the outcome of that is related?

23 comments to Lower the Patronage Targets – are you crazy?

  • Fred

    So over the next year Auckland Transport is rolling out a whole new electric trains fleet yet only expects patronage growth of 700,000 trips.

    What the heck indeed!

  • nonsense

    Maybe they are going to increase fares in line with parking so they know patronage will fall.

  • Sanctuary

    From what I am hear AT has been in utter chaos for ages now with on-going re-structuring. My guess is they can barely maintain day-to-day operations and want the targets lowered to give the restructured organisation time to start working properly again.

  • SDRidley

    Does anyone know if AT management get bonuses if they exceed these targets? Or even if they get penalties if they don’t?

    • Molly Woppy

      My first thought was that probably there was at risk pay tied to meeting those targets. I hope I am wrong to be that cynical

  • Less energy into why things can’t be done and more into getting on with it would encouraging from certain levels of AT.

    • Greg N

      I’d like to see a more of a “suck it and see” approach from AT on some changes – make the bloody change, monitor it for reasonable time e.g. a few months, then decide what to do. And if its a disaster, change it and regroup.

      e.g. trial bus lanes at the top of Symonds Street, see how they go and make the decision on how to go – leave them there or revert.

      This is exactly what they did with the “Bus shelters” type process – get something out there, show/tell people about it, and then ask them for feedback. Yank it if you make a bad call.

      If you are a NCIS fan, you’ll know this already as rule #18.

      ‘It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission.’

      That should be AT’s mantra from now on.

  • Stu Donovan

    Two predictions (dangerous I know):
    1. Actual patronage will track between purple and red lines for the next few years; and
    2. Patronage will hit 16 million by 2016 – as predicted in ARTA’s original Rail Development Plan, which was released way back when.

    I don’t see what the value is in targets that shift every year based on the latest whimsy. Targets are meant to ensure AT focuses their mind on actually making ongoing tactical changes over a sustained period of time. We’ve just seen an example of where bus lanes have been added to a stretch of street where they *always* should have been.

    And there’s many more opportunities like that all around the central city, e.g. Upper Symonds Street? That is where the Dom Rd, Mt Eden Rd, and New North/Sandringham bus services merge. One would expect peak passenger volumes approaching 5,000 people per hour (i.e. as much as all the cars put together plus some). And yet there’s no bus lanes!!!

    HOLY MOTHER OF COD IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.

  • mfwic

    Perhaps if AT dropped the early bird parking subsidy they could increase revenue and increase rail patronage and reduce morning peak traffic in one go!

    • Greg N

      AT’s early bird now pricing only applies up to 8:30am and has for some time.
      They can leave Early bird in place, but move the “cut off” time to 7:30 instead.
      This will encourage PT uptake to some extent, to offset the loss of parking revenue and even better help reduce peak traffic in the AM.
      Of course some won’t do that and will instead go elsewhere e.g. Wilsons or Tournament, which doesn’t help the peak.
      But you gotta start the signals somewhere.

  • George D

    Auckland Transport should stop making excuses.

    Unaccountability is a terrible thing.

  • Greg N

    If todays traffic is anything to go by we’re having May Madness month right now – I reckon all AT Patronage predictions/forecasts for May should look to March for guidance.

  • Neil

    it seems logical. If the new trains are run slower than the old, less people will travel by train.

    • Greg N

      Not necessarily,

      After all, many of the current trains (and buses) are usually full to the gunwales by the time they get close to Britomart
      (Eastern Line in particular as per the tweet today https://twitter.com/decanker/statuses/463405159922425857 ) And Western is similar.

      So given the choice of a slower train, that can carry more people right now, or a faster (existing) train with less capacity – all else being equal – most folks would prefer the former.

      And for all its faults the Onehunga line trains were pretty full, on the weekend last, so more capacity is the key thing right now.

      What we do need is more trains on the Eastern Line, and I think AT may have to bring the EMUs on to the Eastern Line sooner than planned to cope with the crowds.
      Even it means mixed running currently as right now thats still the reality for the Onehunga trains and they haven’t had any problems yet.

      And the speed issues will be sorted I am sure. But why it took live operations to “find out” these issues, when thousands of km of test running didn’t smacks to me of poor planning and execution.

    • Stu Donovan

      I agree Neil, a healthy dose of tongue in cheek never hurt any thread ;)

    • nonsense

      makes sense

  • […] handy graph from Transport Blog’s Lower the Patronage Targets – are you crazy? outlines where we are with the SOI target and actual patronage […]

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