Good news for commuters in East Auckland with construction starting yesterday on the new ferry pier at Half Moon Bay.
Construction has begun today on the new Half Moon Bay ferry pier, which when complete will provide a new, modern and safer ferry experience for its users.
It will be an important part of the new public transport network for east Auckland, due to be in place in late 2017.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown and Howick Local Board Chair David Collings marked the start of construction by turning the first sods at the end of Ara-Tai in Half Moon Bay. It is due to open by late 2016.
The $5.9 million project is funded by the Government through the NZ Transport Agency, the Howick Local Board through its Transport Capital Fund and Auckland Council.
During the last five years, patronage of the Half Moon Bay ferry has increased by over 50 percent to reach 372,141 total passengers in the 12 months to April 2016.
Patronage at Half Moon Bay growing by 50% over 5 years is decent and about twice the rate of overall ferry patronage growth over that time period. Yet even with that growth, it still only makes up a small portion of overall ferry use (6.5%). That kind of highlights the massive role Devonport and Waiheke play in passenger numbers.
AT list the features and benefits of the project as
- Safer and accessible for everyone and designed to provide a greater level of shelter against the elements for passengers using the pier
- Design will reflect the history of the local area
- It will be located at the end of Ara-Tai, separated from leisure boat users
- A sheltered cycle storage facility which has been recently built near the dinghy lockers will be relocated to within the new pier area
Of the total cost, $2.5 million is coming from the local board with Auckland Transport and the NZTA paying for the rest.
I’m sure ferry users out east will look forward to using it
Some sad news late yesterday with Explore ferries announcing that they will be stopping their service to Waiheke, once again leaving Fullers with a monopoly on the route.
A Waiheke Island ferry service has been axed after two years because it was not getting enough passengers.
Explore Group announced on Tuesday it would cease its ferry to Auckland’s Waiheke Island after a thorough review of the service.
The decision was being rued by Waiheke islanders, who had enjoyed the competition against Fullers Ferries, main operators on the route.
Infrastructure problems that prevented a comfortable experience for passengers – especially throughout winter months – was one of a number of contributing factors, Explore Managing director William Goodfellow said.
The decision was not easy to make, he said, because of the support the company received from passengers and the “considerable investment” made.
“We’ve thrown everything we could at the Waiheke service and we greatly appreciate the support of Waiheke and Auckland travellers, however the initial strong support from commuters was not sustained and ultimately the numbers did not stack up,” he said.
“We entered into the service with the specific aim of providing ferry commuters with a superior level of service and on-board travel experience. We achieved this and as a result we believe the ferry services to Waiheke are in better shape, both in terms of the standard on offer and the frequency of service, than it was two years ago.”
I think it needs to be remembered that the services to Waiheke are operated fully commercially and will continue to be well into the future as they were ensrined in leglislation (which I believe AT objected to).
Explore’s service had some things were working against it from day one such as not being eligible for any SuperGold funding until recently, not being able to accept HOP, issues with access to wharves, timetable issues for connections to Waiheke buses etc.
Most indications had pointed to Fullers lifting their game since the introduction of Explore and they’re even having new boats built to provide better service. It will be interesting to see if any improvements slip away once Fullers are plying the waters by themselves again.
March was definitely mad for many bus and train users with the annual surge in usage resulting in many reporting full services – which in the case of buses often resulting in having to wait for a number to go past before one with enough space to squeeze on came along. Infact it was so mad AT even roped in other operators like Party Bus to help provide extra capacity. However, a number of factors – such as having Easter in March – meant that for buses at least, the month won’t go down in the record books. There were however still some good results on the city’s trains and ferries.
In total patronage was down slightly by 2.8% however taking Easter and special events like the Cricket World Cup last year in to account it would have been up 1.6%. What isn’t mentioned anywhere in the AT reports is any impact the fare changes at the end of February may have had.
The fall in patronage was led by buses which in March were down 5.8% compared to March last year, a fairly substantial change. When AT normalise the usage to take into account the unique factors they say it would still have been down 2.2%. But in addition to the normal factors, they say changes to bus stops late last year as part of the first stage of City Rail Link changes also had an impact on usage and had they not occurred, patronage would have been slightly up. They also say they expect to see some recovery in these figures in April. I certainly hope that happens as March is the third consecutive month that patronage has fallen compared to the same time last year.
Despite the factors that negatively impacted on patronage, the solid growth in train use in the past few years has continued – although those factors tempered it a bit. For the month train trips were up 4.7% but AT say taking the other factors into account would have seen it up 13.8%. The underlying growth has remained solid with the average number of trips each business day rising by around 10,000 per day or 17.3%. Given the pattern seen last year with weekday usage, this suggests we should continue to see strong rail growth this year too. As we already know, we passed 16 million trips in early April.
One thing that will definitely be helping rail usage is the significant improvement in performance since going all electric in July last year. In March 98.9% arrived at their final destination and of those 95.1% did so within 5 minutes of the timetable.
Ferries are also doing well with the number of trips up 9.2% compared to last March and it would have been up 11.2% without the likes of Easter.
In addition to the overall patronage, there are some other interesting metrics in the monthly stats report.
- The latest quarterly satisfaction results are available and show a mixed bag with trains up, buses flat and ferries down compared when last measured in December. Buses and ferries are also down compared to March last year.
- There is a two-month lag on the financial metrics but they show PT and especially rail continuing to improve. Farebox recovery which is mandated by the NZTA to reach 50% by June 2018 reached 49.6% and that is primarily being driven by a relatively rapid improvement in rail performance. As this month’s result won’t be seen till we get the April figures, it will be interesting to see what impact the falling bus patronage and change in fares at the end of February has had.
- HOP usage also improved in March hitting 80% for the first time on trains and buses not far behind on 78%
There are a number of things that will boost patronage in coming months.
- According to AT’s journey planner, the Western Line will go to 10 minute peak and 20 minute inter-peak frequencies – matching the southern and eastern line – on May 9
- At the end of July AT will introduce integrated fares which along with making multiple trips using PT easier, is also likely reduce the cost for many people. AT staff are seeking board approval for the prices in the closed session of the board meeting later this week.
- HOP usage should continue to improve as all SuperGold card trips will have to be made by HOP card from July onwards (via a concession)
- AT are also planning to improve the frequency of the Northern Express from Silverdale in late June, shifting from 15 to 10 minute peak frequencies which they say is in response to high patronage growth and insufficient capacity.
- The new bus network for South Auckland along with the Otahuhu bus/train interchange is still on track to go live in October.
Auckland Transport started a unique park & ride and shuttle today in East Auckland. It’s something we first learned about in the board report last month. Auckland Transport will use the parking in Lloyd Elsmore Park for commuter parking with a shuttle to the Half Moon Bay ferry terminal for users to connect to ferries.
In a first for Auckland, a local park is being used as a park and ride to service public transport in the eastern suburbs.
The free park and ride at Lloyd Elsmore Park in Pakuranga will have a shuttle bus running to and from Half Moon Bay Marina on weekdays. The six month trial begins on Monday (21 March), providing a safe and convenient place for people to park for the day.
AT is providing the service at the request of the Howick Local Board in an attempt to mitigate a lack of parking at the marina.
There will be two trips in the morning and three trips in the afternoon to meet the 8:15am and 10:15am departing ferries and the 5:45pm, 6:20pm and 7:05pm arriving ferries.
Howick Local Board Chairman David Collings says it will provides people living in Pakuranga, Howick and surrounding suburbs with a great option for getting into the city.
“This initiative provides additional parking for ferry users, but simply at a different location. Ideally long term I’d like to see commuters consider walking, cycling or even car-pooling to the ferry.”
“Driving into the city centre from this part of Auckland is time-consuming and costly by the time you take into account car parking. Catching a ferry is a great way to travel and with AT providing this park and ride, it makes it even easier,” he says.
The park and ride is a point-to-point service with no stops along the way and is dedicated which means it will wait for ferries if required. It is free of charge until Zonal Fares are introduced in late July. Trip durations are expected to be 10-20 minutes depending on traffic conditions.
Mark Lambert, General Manager at AT Metro, says the service adds to the numerous successful park and ride services around the city.
“The park and rides at bus, train and ferry interchanges have proved incredibly popular especially the Northern Express. This trial is a slightly novel approach in that we are providing a shuttle service to a ferry terminal.”
And here are the shuttle times – for some reason there is no shuttle to the earlier sailings or the midday ones.
Regular readers will likely be aware that we’re not a huge fan of park & ride as they can be very expensive and not deliver all that much patronage. But I think the idea of using infrastructure that may have otherwise been sitting idle is a good one – although that changes again when it requires a dedicated shuttle to operate. In many ways it’s good that AT are at least trying stuff.
In saying that the situation also highlights one absurdity with the East Auckland situation. Pakuranga Rd at this point is a 6 lane road plus median – there are no bus or bike lanes. As part of AMETI, Auckland Transport have suggested putting bus lanes on Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park. If they did that it would probably be faster to catch a bus to Panmure and then transfer to a train than it would to catch a bus to the ferry and then ferry to town.
Auckland Transport have released a new video with quite a neat visual style talking about many of the projects they’re working on to make public transport and active modes better.
One aspect I quite like is that they talk about the capacity limitations of the traffic lanes as a reason why we need to invest in alternatives that can carry more people. Yes you may want to drive but when everyone else does too it just doesn’t work.
Good work AT, this is definitely one of your better efforts.
Auckland Transport hold their monthly board meeting next week and the papers for it have now gone up.
February was quite unique when it comes to patronage. Being a leap year there was an extra day in the month however due to the way public holidays fell, the number of work days and weekend days actually remained the same. As PT public holidays often have less usage it means the impacts from the extra day aren’t all that great. In addition to all of this February was also impacted by a strike by NZ Bus and some Howick & Eastern drivers. This had the effect of removing most buses from the roads forcing people to change their travel or not make it at all. I’ll get to the impacts of that shortly.
For the positive news, once again the star of the patronage show is the rail network. For February patronage was up 21.2% on February last year although when you take into account factors like the extra public holiday, special events and the bus strike patronage was up 17.2%. For the 12 month rolling total, patronage was up to 15.8 million, 21.6% higher than the same point last year. What’s impressive is we’re seeing strong compounding growth at over 20% per annum. To highlight the growth that’s occurred, in Feb 2014 annual patronage was less than 10.9 million, two years later it’s 15.8 million, a 45% increase in just two years.
Each month I keep wondering if growth will start slowing down but it hasn’t yet and with frequencies due to increase on the Western Line in May we should keep seeing growth for some time yet.
One other interesting factor is we’ve also now passed the patronage projections that were made for electrification back in 2006. Those projections also expected electrification to occur sooner than it did so that makes the results even more impressive.
By the year 2016 it is envisaged that rail patronage should be around 15.7 million boardings per annum, and by the year 2030 it is envisaged that the rail system could be carrying some 30 million passengers p.a. (with the inclusion of the CBD loop tunnel), up from the current 5 million passengers p.a.
Given the growth we’ve seen will we hit 16 million in March or will the reduction in working days due to Easter throw a spanner in the works? due to fall of weekends it only results in one less weekday. Trains have certainly been busy
On the water, ferry patronage grew in Feb up 1.8% however after taking into account the various factors it was actually down 1.1%. On a 12 month rolling basis patronage is still up a decent 6.6% but that level has been falling in recent months having been over 10% not long ago. Has ferry use hit a new ceiling until more service improvements happen.
Bus numbers are interesting because as already mentioned the bus strike caused a significant impact on usage. It resulted in patronage being down 3.1% on February last year thanks to 150,000 fewer trips taken or 2.5% of all trips so if the strike hadn’t occurred. AT say that adjusting for special events and the leap year patronage would have been down 0.6%. The impact is shown well on the graph below from AT. Like ferries it feels like patronage may have hit a new ceiling until further improvements are made – although with the bus craziness we’ve seen in March so far, perhaps this month will look good.
Overall patronage has increased by 1.7% for the month while the 12 month rolling result is up to 81.7 million (+5.9%) but at this point the results are being driven almost exclusively by the surging rail use. March numbers will be interesting to see as not only will Easter be having an impact but the end of February also saw some fare changes.
AT Board Report
This month a lot of the information in the board report is not new or things that we’ve covered before. Here are a few aspects that caught my attention.
It seems May 8 is the date we can expect a new timetable for the Western Line which will finally see it having 6 trains per hour at peak times – something originally promised for 2010 when the New Lynn station opened.
Works are progressing to improve the speed of the trains
Work is continuing on a number of track infrastructure speed improvements initiatives as part of the Rail Performance Improvement Plan communicated to the Board during the latter half of 2015. Vector curve speed review is underway. Improvements to driver rule change has resulted in 15-29 seconds improvement at key junctions. Line speed points and signalling works are programmed for Easter and will provide additional robustness for the propose 8 May timetable improvements on the Western line
This will result in a new timetable although I’ve heard it may not be till next year. One of the concerns with this is it seems likely this is when off peak frequencies are improved and that’s an issue as the new bus network in South Auckland goes live in October so there will be a gap where a core part of the new network isn’t up to standard.
The next Timetable following mid-2016 will focus on quicker run times and the resultant benefits for ‘freeing up’ train units to support the increased patronage being experienced across the network. This review will be a full timetable recast capturing the benefits of signalling, interlocking and line speed changes, including through curves, which have been completed and validated prior to that timetable being implemented. This timetable will also factor in the closure of Westfield station in late 2016.
- Train punctuality in February was 94.3% which a little down on the 95.9% achieved in January but still remains one of the better results Auckland has had.
- Bus punctuality – which is measured differently – was also down in Feb from January. It was 95.2% in Jan but has fallen to 90.7% in Feb. With all of work and disruption in the city centre it wouldn’t surprise me if the result in March doesn’t look too flash.
- Ferries did the best in the punctuality stakes achieving 96.2%. Of the routes the two worst performing ones (other than Rakino Is) was Half Moon Bay (91%) and Birkenhead (92.5%)
On the trains, AT say they are going to start testing on-board digital information screens in March and April.
AT have a review of bus lane and special vehicle lanes has been underway to develop a more consistent approach and there is a paper to the closed session of the board about it. Let’s hope this will see bus lane times extended as many end far too early, especially on Mt Eden Rd.
The closed session is where the most interesting discussions take place. On the agenda for the next meeting
Strategy Session – Rail Development
Items for Approval/Decision
- CE/TCC Delegations
- Road Stoppings
- Mill Road NoR
- Bus & Special Vehicle Lane Operating Times
- Integrated Fares Pre-PTOM – Commercial Framework
- LRT update
- CRL Procurement update
Items for Noting
- PTOM Ferry RFT
- Future Planning – Parnell Station
- CRL Gateway
Today’s bus strike is expected to have a significant impact on the city. It will also likely have a significant impact on patronage with some estimates suggesting that more than 130,000 trips will be impacted. To put that in context last February there were just under 6.7 million PT trips in February so this could impact patronage in the month by as much as 2%.
While we’ll likely have to wait till next month to find out just how much impact the strike caused, the reports to AT’s first board meeting of the year along with the data they now publish give us information on the results from January. It’s fair to say there are certainly a mixed bag of results.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the patronage results is that overall compared to January last year patronage was down by 0.7%. It’s still up 6.6% on a 12m rolling basis but this is the first time we’ve seen a drop in a monthly result since August 2013. The drop was driven by reduced patronage on both buses and ferries. Train patronage is still growing strongly at over 19% compared to last January but given the growth in recent months and that we saw the least disruptive summer shut down in probably over a decade I had expected it to be much higher.
AT believe the primary reason for the fall in patronage was due to the timing of the Christmas/New Year break this year which likely saw more people push holidays into early January than in the past – I know I certainly did. They note that this also ties in with stronger patronage at the end of December. They also highlight that some routes have been much more affected than others. I’ll come back to those later in the post.
December increases occurred primarily towards the end of the month. The January 2016 decrease in bus and ferry occurred primarily in the first half of the month as illustrated in the patronage chart below compared to January 2015 and corresponds with the lower rate of growth for rail. Underlying trends are likely to be a result of holiday alignment between Christmas 2014 (main two week of holidays falling between 19 December to 5 January) and Christmas 2015 (December 24 to January 11); however, there are specific areas of decrease in January year-on-year for bus and ferry above the underlying trend on Great North Road (-50,000), Manukau Road (-12,000) and Waiheke Bus (-12,000). A major decrease has been seen on the CityLINK (-73,000 or -33%), which is considered to be a result of removal of free travel from March 2015.
The biggest impact was on the buses which carry the bulk of patronage and were down 4.7% on January last year. As noted above it’s interesting that the Gt North Rd buses are down so much. While the information suggest other factors were at play I also wonder if the bus changes in the City Centre to accommodate the CRL works have had an impact. I know it’s certainly made it more difficult for people like me to transfer between bus and train to get to the North Shore.
Ferries use was also down with them 4.3% lower than Jan last year bucking a trend of strong growth. AT reference the downturn on other modes and also note that the reduced use of ferries to Waiheke aligned with reduced Waiheke bus use.
Despite being less than I had expected train growth remained very strong up 19.1% on January last year. That saw patronage for the month surpass 1 million trips meaning that for the first time every month in the previous 12 has been over the 1 million mark. The first ever time we surpassed 1 million trips within a calendar month was in March 2011 and back then there were just over 460k trips in January. Overall rail patronage is now over 15.5 million over the last 12 months which is another solid increase representing a 21.6% growth compared to the same time last year.
One last interesting bit on PT patronage, within the business report AT have commented on the impact of the changes they made to Titirangi/Green Bay services in late 2014. Those changes effectively saw the new network implemented in this area with 24 infrequent routes replaced by 9 simpler services with a “more consistent service pattern operating at higher frequencies”. One full year on AT say that patronage from this area is up 35% which is very impressive. Perhaps they need to try and push harder to get the entire new network rolled out sooner.
It wasn’t only PT that saw usage down on last year. Bike numbers across many of the counters also showed a decline in January although a few counters showed some good growth. Perhaps the most interesting is that there was a large spike in usage of Grafton Gully (+29.9%) and Beach Rd (+23.5%). Looking at some daily data it’s not from any one day so it appears to be a general increase that’s occurred. Monthly data suggests that while numbers had been improving, growth rates really picked up from December and that coincides with the opening of Lightpath. Perhaps we need more data to confirm but it suggests that more connected routes are helping drive usage (who would have thought). Also telling is that the only other route to grow is also connected – the NW Cycleway at Kingsland.
||% change from previous year
|Carlton Gore Rd
|East Coast Rd
|G Sth Road
|Nelson St cycleway
|Nelson St Lightpath
|NW Cycleway (Kingsland)
|NW Cycleway (Te Atatu)
|SH20 Dom Rd
|Te Wero Bridge
|Upper Queen St
|Victoria St West
One other potential factor is that January was considerably wetter than last year and the historical average. This may have affected PT use too.
What is very helpful is that a few days ago AT publicly released the cycleway data for each automated counter allowing us to see back to November 2010 for some of them. This is far more useful that reporting on just nine counters across the region – Thanks AT. I’ll look at the results from the counters more in a future post but for the meantime here is the 12 month rolling number of bikes recorded as going past the NW cycleway counter at Kingsland.
Auckland Transport are making a few changes to public transport fares on 28 February and some of them are bound to result in howls of outrage. The changes are part of ATs annual fare review and they have said they are being influenced by a couple of key factors:
- The need to achieve the NZTAs farebox recovery policy of 50% of costs covered by fares by June 2018
- Changes to operating costs
- Changes in preparation for ATs Simplified Fares which they say are currently on track to roll out at the end of July
I’ll cover off these aspects before going into the fare changes.
Achieving the Farebox Recovery Policy
As I talked about on Friday, the NZTA require that 50% of all PT costs across NZ are met by the revenue from fares paid by PT users. As Auckland accounts for over 50% of all PT across the country it means the city is critical to the country meeting that target. Of course this doesn’t mean that the target is rational or provides the best economic and social outcome but it currently exists so AT has to work within that. The good news is we’re on the right track. Farebox Recovery has increased to 47.8% from 45.9% the year before.
Changes to operating costs
The way that contracting currently works for most services is that the operator gets the fare revenue and AT pay the net cost of providing the service. The amount that AT pay is adjusted based on a cost index determined by the NZTA which takes into account changes to aspects such as labour costs, fuel costs, RUC costs etc. There are two indices, one for bus/train and one for Ferries. AT say these are up 0.5 for bus/train and 0.1 for ferry in the September Quarter and the fare changes are to respond to that.
Out of interest the NZTA’s info on the indices say that fuel prices only make up about 15% of the operational costs for buses and just over 30% of the costs for ferries. But those indices also suggest that while prices are up in the September Quarter they are still down on a year on year basis. In other words, as of the September Quarter – which would have been used by AT for their fare review – AT were paying less for services than they were the same time the year before. On a YoY basis they are -0.4% for bus and -3.7% for ferry.
Changes for ATs Simplified Fares (aka integrated fares)
There are two main and significant changes being made by AT to better align fares in the lead up to AT rolling out Simplified fares at the end of July. They are also the ones that will likely get the most reaction – especially from the media. The changes were suggested as part of the consultation for simplified fares but that won’t make the changes any easier for those affected. Essentially it seems like they’re getting the bad news parts of the Simplified Fares out of the way now so that when they do roll out in July the positive aspects don’t get overshadowed.
The first change is that Orakei Train Station to Britomart will go from 1 stage to 2 stages. The reasons suggested are:
- As part of Simplified Fares there will be a City Zone which is based on roughly the same area as covered by the current 1 stage fare zone and which is effectively a circle the same distance from the centre of the city. Orakei is an anomaly sitting well outside of that. In addition, buses from Orakei pay a 2 stage fare so there needs to be consistency. Changing the area to 1 stage would be unfair on others who are travelling a similar distance.
- The park & ride is often full as a result of people driving from around the region to pay for the 1 stage fare. They are hoping that changing it to 2 stages eases pressure on the station and that passengers will instead go to closer stations to catch the train.
- Hobson Bay is a logical boundary for a fare stage/zone boundary.
- As the station data AT provided suggested, the number of people affected isn’t that high overall. There are ~300,000 trips a year to or from Orakei which is around 2% of all rail patronage across the region.
The second change also affects the city zone and will see the removal of the current CBD zone which was a separate price for those catching a bus purely within the CBD (and a little bit around the southern end of Symonds St as shown below with the lighter area. Again it’s so that there will be a single City Zone. Until the Simplified Fares roll out it means trips within the CBD will be a 1 stage fare however importantly this doesn’t affect the CityLink buses which will remain at $0.50 if you use HOP.
There is one other aspect is at play in the fare changes, AT say that compared to many other cities our short fares are often a bit cheaper while our longer distance fares are a bit higher. AT have decided to use these fare changes to try and balance that out slightly and so the fare changes are primarily for shorter trips.
Adult fares are below and there are no changes to child, accessible and tertiary fares with the exception of the child monthly train pass (which still uses the old cardboard tickets). As you can see stages 1 to 4 increase by $0.10 if you use HOP while other fares remain unchanged
There is a change to the Adult Monthly passes too with the 2-zone monthly pass (the one I use) going from $190 to $200. There are a few changes to child monthly train passes too as well as family passes – on those AT say they are still working out just what the future will be for family passes and hopefully will finalise that soon.
Ferries don’t escape the changes. They are splitting ferries into three zones which they say simplifies things and allows for better integration with the future integrated fares pricing structure – although they’re not quite ready to say how that integrates the approach they indicated to me sounded pretty reasonable. They’re working to align ferry fares within those zones over time and the new Adult HOP prices for them are below.
- Inner Harbour (Birkenhead to Devonport) – $4.50 – these prices are now aligned.
- Mid Harbour (Half Moon Bay, Hobsonville/Beach Haven, West Harbour) – $7.04 – $8
- Outer Harbour (Gulf Harbour, Pine Harbour, Waiheke etc.) – $11-$11.20
AT want more ferry customers using HOP and as such they’re making some changes including removing some pass options and increasing the price of some too.
Lastly as a quick update to Simplified Fares. As mentioned it is due to roll out in July this year and AT say the project remains on track and they are currently testing some of the new functionality. They have confirmed the zones that will exist but are still reviewing four of the zone boundaries based on feedback from the consultation. These are:
- Upper North Shore/Lower North Shore – There are a few school trips affected by the boundary on the map below.
- Huapai/Waitakere – how it integrates with the new Westgate/Massey North development
- Waitakere/Isthmus – again some school trips and short trips are affected but the boundary on the map below.
- Manukau North/Manukau South – impacts on trips around Manukau
So what do you think of the changes and how much will they impact you.
Public transport fares are often a contentious issue. Too high and they can put people off, too low and it may increase the subsides needed or you may need to cut services. So it’s interesting to think about fares in the current climate we have in Auckland. We know from the last AT board meeting that the annual fare review was up for a decision/approval in the closed session. Given this is the time of the year they usually announce the outcome of that fare review I expect we’ll be hearing soon what they’re going to do.
Over the last few years we’ve seen fares for most people (HOP users) stabilise quite a bit and even fall while fares for cash payers to increase to help encourage people to move to HOP. Given some of the trends we’re seeing and what’s planned it seems that other than perhaps a few small tweaks any substantial changes can’t really be justified – in fact possibly the opposite, reducing fares might be justified.
We know that later this year Auckland Transport will be implementing integrated fares which will see us move to a zone based system. It’s quite likely they’ll use the fare review to move towards what’s planned for integrated fares and that could see some interesting changes, one of these could be around Orakei train station which sits outside the City zone in the proposed map below.
The NZTA require that by mid-2018 public transport has a farebox recovery ratio of 50% – the percentage of costs that are covered by passenger fares. Auckland has traditionally hovered around 45% meaning that if we’re to meet the national goal then AT needs to do better – whether 50% is the right level to get the best economic outcome is for a different debate. Many of the current initiates such as electrification, the new bus network and PTOM contracts are all expected to improve Auckland’s performance through both reducing costs and increasing patronage and therefore revenue (AT’s farebox recovery policy is in the RPTP). For this year Auckland Transport and the Council set a formal target of 46-48% as part of their Statement of Intent.
The good news is that the surge in patronage that Auckland has been experiencing over the last year has had a noticeable impact on the farebox recovery ratio. The most recent data up to October last year show it sitting at top of the target range at 47.8%, that’s up from 45.9% the at the same time the year before. Does this suggest perhaps there’s some room to move on fares while still keeping the farebox recovery ratio within target?
In the past when they’ve raised fares AT have said that one consideration in setting fares is the cost compared to driving for an individual. We know that in recent months fuel prices have fallen (shown below) which obviously makes it cheaper to drive. The decrease
Diesel prices have fallen even more sharply and that will likely be having an impact on bus operational costs.
There are likely to be some other factors I’ve overlooked however it seems to me that given the broad factors we’re seeing that raising prices is about last thing we should be doing.
Inevitably when discussing fares many like to compare Auckland’s to those in other cities. In September I took a look at a number of Australian and Canadian cities. One thing that was clear from doing that activity is it’s incredibly difficult to say whether fares are too high in Auckland. Every city has very different fare structures and often who is cheapest depends on distance travelled and the mode used.
Lastly another topic people love to raise is fare evasion and suggest we should gate all stations immediately. To put some things in perspective the last I heard fare evasion – which I believe is based on how many passengers are found without a ticket by the ticket inspectors – sits at around 6-8%. The amount of lost revenue from those evading fares is the vicinity of $2.5 million. The reality is that if AT tried to eliminate fare evasion the amount of money they would need to spend on staff and infrastructure to enable it would dwarf the amount of money they end up collecting. The key is to get the right balance rather than an impossible attempt to stop all evasion (which still happens on systems fully gated)
Auckland Transport normally releases their monthly patronage data at their board meetings but as the first one for 2016 isn’t till February they’ve kindly provided me the results for December.
Overall patronage growth has remained strong with trips in December up 7.4% on December 2014. The 12-month result has now topped 81.5 million trips which is up 7.6% on the same time last year.
One concern though is that the growth is increasingly being driven increases in the rail network and on the ferries. This is due to a slowing on the rate of patronage growth on buses. My guess is this reflects there hasn’t been all that much in the way of service improvements on buses over last year or so and I suspect some of the growth that has occurred has been due to HOP making travel easier. The growth that is occurring on buses is mostly being driven by growth on the Northern Busway.
We will hopefully see the slowing growth reverse once we finally get the new network starting to be rolled out which is happening in South Auckland later this year. Integrated fares are also likely to help and we should hopefully know more about that soon.
I was expecting the rail results in particular to be very strong as the network was open for Christmas Day and Boxing day while the Western line and the inner part of the Eastern Line remained open all through the Christmas/New Year period. This has shown through in the numbers with rail ridership in December up a staggering 32.6% compared to December last year reaching 1.1 million trips. That leaves January as the only month that has now carries less than a million trips a month and given many of the same factors are at play I’d expect that to change once we get the January results next month. The chart below shows how patronage has changed for each month since 2002 and you see just how big the jump in 2015 was compared to previous years.
The 12-month result is up 22.9% or 2.9 million trips to 15.4 million. Related I remember when the case for electrification was being made about a decade ago they touted it as delivering 15.6 million trips by June 2016. It looks like we’ll surpass that despite the actual roll out happening a few years later than predicted.
The last year has seen good growth on ferries on the back of service improvements on a number of routes. Patronage for the month was up 9.6% compared to December 2014 to around 580,000 trips and the 12-month result is up 10.7% or just over half a million to 5.7 million trips.
All up December was a continuation of many of the trends we saw throughout 2015. It will be interesting to see if those same trends carry on through to 2016 or if things slow down. Rail likely has a bit of strong growth left yet, especially if AT improve frequencies and move the rail network towards a proper raid transit service with decent frequencies off peak too. The roll out of Integrated fares is likely to help patronage too and the big unknown will be the new network which rolls out in South Auckland in October.
Related, last week Patrick posted results of the latest rail station boardings. I thought it would be interesting to plot the change in rankings over time based on data I’ve collected over the years. In the end I’ve only done it from 2011 onwards as prior to that the movements were too erratic which will be in part due to the how station usage was counted. It might look like a mess of lines now but was worse with pre 2011 data included.
To be clear this only looks how the stations rank compared to other rail stations so isn’t looking at the size of growth but there are a couple of notable points.
- The impact of Manukau is very clear and between mid-2014 and mid-2015 rose substantially and is currently the 13th busiest station.
- Panmure is also seeing strong growth, moving from 14th to 5th busiest.
- New Lynn shifted from 7th to 3rd.
- Given the stations above along with Otahuhu and Henderson will also have bus interchanges in the New Network then I’d expect them to keep seeing them with an upward trend in coming years.
- Sylvia Park shifted up 7 places to 8th.
- Onehunga moved up 8 places to 21st.
On the same topic we’ve long wanted to see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and I’ll post this in the next day or two.