With the year rapidly drawing to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred over the year. There is too much to squeeze into one post so this is the first of four posts reviewing the year – one each day – and will be followed on New Year’s Day with a look at the year ahead.
2015 has been a huge year for PT. While there haven’t been any major infrastructure changes, we’ve seen the completion and roll-out of a few projects but the important story is how people have responded to those changes. We’ve also seen significant progress on plans for the future.
Overall PT patronage for the year to the end of November was 81.1 million trips which is up over 6 million (8.1%) on the same point last year.
By far the biggest story though has to be how people have been flocking to the use the trains in the wake of the roll out of electric trains. Patronage on trains has jumped from 12.3 million trips in November 2014 to 15.1 million in November 2015, an increase of 2.8 million trips or staggering 22.6% increase. We had already started to see patronage rising strongly at the end of last year and the question was how long it would continue. I had thought we might at 14-14.5 million trips by the end of the year but it looks like I under estimated by about a million trips. The thing that has surprised me the most about rail patronage has been just how consistently strong it has been, sustaining 20%+ increases all year. Just how long it can keep doing that will remain a question in 2016.
The growth is so strong that if trends continue we’ll hit the government’s target for the CRL in 2017, around three years early.
Of course buses still carry the majority of PT trips in Auckland and bus patronage for the year to the end of November was 60.4 million trips, an increase of 4.9% or 2.8 million the same as the increase on rail. Given we haven’t seen too much change with buses this year the result isn’t too surprising. The strongest areas of growth on buses remain the busway and frequent routes which is unsurprising and highlights the importance of the changes the new network will introduce. As such I expect we’ll see much stronger growth on buses in a year or two once the new network rolls out – something I’ll cover later in this piece.
Lastly the ferries have been shown some decent growth in 2015 with patronage up 10.5% to the end of November to 5.7 million trips. During the year AT changed the way they reported ferry patronage, splitting out exempt and contracted services. Exempt services are run fully commercially with no subsidy and are Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke and these routes carry over ¾ of ferry patronage. Interestingly the strongest growth has been on the contracted services where AT have started to make a number service improvements and in November they had increased by 15.9% for the year.
AT completed the roll out of electric trains in July when the Western Line was the last to go fully electric. This was a little sooner than they had expected but was needed as the reliability of the diesel trains became a major issue – in June over 6% of all services were cancelled and over ¼ of those that did run were more than 5 minutes late. Since going all electric reliability has soared to record highs and in November 99% of services ran and over 95% of those arrived within 5 minutes of the timetable. The impact can be shown below.
The final train arrived in August and was celebrated at an event at the Wiri depot that included the Prime Minister.
Not everything with the electric trains has been smooth sailing though. The earlier roll out left many services without enough capacity and severe crowding – although that eased a little as more units came on stream. There have also been a number of issues that have meant the trains aren’t operating as well as they should do – such as hugely excessive dwell times. Despite a timeline to address the issues it doesn’t feel like a great deal has been done.
The first part of AT’s action plan to improve rail performance
Electrification to Pukekohe
Not much progress appears to have happened on extending the wires from Papakura to Pukekohe which is expected to cost over $100 million but AT have said they are looking at an interim solution of buying some new trains that include a battery to power them for the distance. At this stage all they’re saying is that the idea is looking promising.
This year has seen progress on a number of areas of the new network – although also repeated push back of when we’ll see key parts of it rolled out – South Auckland is now not likely to be rolled out till October 2016.
In March we had the outcome for the consultation for the network in West Auckland – which has been severely limited by the lack of priority on building interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu – and in the Franklin area.
In June AT launched consultation for the North Shore network
In October they launched the last major consultation and the biggest of the lot covering the Isthmus and East Auckland.
We will hear the outcome of these consultations in 2016.
For South Auckland AT finally started the tender process for the South Auckland network and their requirements for buses going forward will see the quality improve over time. We will hear about the outcome of the tenders in 2016 and so far all AT will say is they are happy with the level of response they’ve had.
Lastly the first of the new network rolled out a few months ago on the Hibiscus Coast. Part of that was also the extension of the Northern Express service to Silverdale. So far AT have reported that patronage is up about 10% in the area which is a promising start and should only improve once integrated fares roll out.
One of the issues in 2015 has been that many key bus routes have struggled with capacity. We frequently heard stories of people on some routes (such as Mt Eden Rd) watching multiple buses sail past them completely full. In September AT announced that bus operators were buying 53 new double deckers for use in Auckland, many of them being built in Tauranga. Including the original from a few years ago there are already three on the Northern Express with many more due in January and one being used by Howick & Eastern. Unfortunately, most of the ones for NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern are not likely to arrive till after the rush in March.
AT continue to work on integrated fares with the latest go-live date being July 2016. AT consulted on a zonal system including expected prices. This was confirmed in August although they say they are still working in more detail about some of the boundary issues identified. The changes indicated will see the cost of PT travel reduce for most people although there are some exceptions.
The year kicked off with a huge surprise from Auckland Transport – they’ve been seriously looking at building a light rail network on the isthmus. It stems from the realisation that even with the CRL, the number of buses in the city centre from areas not served by rail will be too much for the streets to cope with. As such they’ve been looking at ways to deliver more capacity and have decided that light rail on the isthmus is the best option. Over time it could see tracks laid down Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd – some of Auckland’s original tram routes.
One of the interesting aspects of this proposal is just how fast AT are talking about moving, they’re suggesting the first tracks could start being laid in the next year or two.
Given the reasons for it’s also hard not to see increased pressure coming on ways to address the huge number of buses coming from the North Shore.
Northern Busway Extension
One positive piece of news was that the NZTA will now be including an extension to the Northern Busway to Albany in their massive motorway works planned for the area. When the government announced their accelerated motorway package back in 2013 they specifically left busway extension out of the programme despite advice from the NZTA to build it. It’s still some years away from construction but it’s great that it’s back on the agenda.
Not a great deal seems to have happened with the AMETI busway in public this year. AT had been set to go for resource consent but as far as I’m aware they’re still finalising some details. Early in the year they announced they would delay the Reeves Rd Flyover and use the money to accelerate the next stage of the busway to get it to Botany sooner. Unfortunately, a few months later they announced the original announcement was not correct and delaying the flyover was just one option being considered. I’ll talk more about the flyover saga in a separate post.
Lastly I of course have to mention the CRL. The project has progressed this year and the project officially started a few days ago with early works beginning on Albert St to move services in advance of tunnelling work. We also learnt a lot more about the project including station designs.
The one major disappointment with the project has been that AT cut the Beresford Square entrance for the K Rd station from the current plans in a bid to save $30 million. Work will still be done in the area to enable it to be opened later but we feel it should be done at the same time.
We hear that the government is close to committing to an earlier start to the project which would be a welcome piece of news.
Overall it’s been a big year for PT in Auckland and the future looks promising. Anything you think I’ve missed from my round up?