Rail patronage continues to soar to new heights and yesterday passed 15 million trips within a year for the first time. That marks also the third million trip milestone we’ve seen this year after passing 13 million trips in March and 14 million trips in July. This is a fantastic result and continues to show that when given a decent option that Aucklanders will use it.
General Manager AT Metro, Mark Lambert says rail patronage in Auckland has grown by 22% over the past year. “Just four months ago we marked 14 million passenger trips. And if we go back 10 years we had just 4 million trips a year.”
Auckland Transport chairman Dr Lester Levy says when he became AT chairman in November 2012 rail patronage was just 10 million. “What Aucklanders have wanted for decades is reliable, frequent and safe public transport options and we have a very clear focus on delivering to those wants and needs.”
Mayor Len Brown says this is another outstanding achievement for public transport in Auckland. “At this rate we will pass the next big milestone – 20 million – at the start of 2017. Aucklanders love their trains and compared to this time last year, they’re taking around 10,000 extra trips every day across the suburban network.”
Since the rail network went all-electric in July, from Papakura to Swanson, there has been a marked improvement in reliability and on-time performance. In October 93% of services arrived at their destination within five minutes of their scheduled time and the previous month 94.9% of services arrived on time, a new record for Auckland trains.
Mr Lambert says “Our customers are liking the improved level of service and the comfort and convenience of the new trains. We’re also working on a timetable improvement which will see services on the Western Line go to six trains an hour at peak like the Southern and Eastern Lines.”
Overall public transport patronage in Auckland across rail, bus and ferries now exceeds 80 million passenger trips a year.
The result also marks us being halfway to the government’s patronage target for the CRL of 20 million trips by 2020 just over two years after it was set.
If current trends continue we will hit 20 million trips in mid 2017 however the Ministry of Transport have continued to claim that patronage growth will taper off. There’s no sign of that happening yet and in fact patronage has continued to grow at increasing rates with it currently increasing by over 22%. There are also a lot of improvements still to come. As AT say in the press release above they are working on increasing frequency of trains on the western line which last I heard was expected to occur around April. That will both help address capacity constraints and make the service much more useful at the same time. In the middle of next year we will also get integrated fares which will make most journeys cheaper and in the South the new bus network will be rolled out which should see more people transferring to trains. The changes to will happen after that. All of this means that patronage is likely to continue to grow strongly for some time yet.
One aspect I will be watching is to see how it takes us to reach the next million milestone. We’ve seen the last two taking just four months. There’s been a distinct downward trend although I’d be surprised if it went lower. One aspect likely to help keep the current trend up is that this year will see the shortest rail closure over Christmas so we should see some decent increases in patronage in the December and January months.
The patronage results for October have also been released ahead of the AT board meeting next week. Other than rail which reached 14.8m to the end of October both bus and ferries also saw patronage increase despite there being one less business day this October compared to the last one. Buses were up 0.5% for the month while ferries have continued strong growth over the last six months or so up 8.2% for the month.
Patronage results for September are out and once again there are some spectacular results, especially on the rail network which continues to be the star performer when it comes to growth. Total patronage for September was up 5.6% on the same month last year however included in that figures is a massive 21.7% increase in rail patronage. That has raised the rolling annual total to 14.6 million trips, over 700,000 more than there were just three months ago which is the data the Ministry of Transport used in their analysis of the City Rail Link. As you can see in the table below all modes are growing which is great to see.
In a few ways I was a little shocked the rail growth is as large as it has been and that’s because September last year was one of the high months at that time and was up 21% on September 2013. Combine those results and you can see that rail patronage in the month of September was up 47% on the same time two years ago – a very impressive increase.
One aspect bound to be having an impact on patronage is the rapidly improving punctuality. In September AT say that 94.9% of all trains arrived at their destination within 5 minutes of their scheduled time which I think is a record for Auckland. Perhaps it’s time to tighten up that five minute window to three minutes like many other cities.
A good news story from the business report is that the strong growth is likely to continue over the upcoming December and January months with the smallest rail shutdown we’ve seen for a long time with the western line remaining open all the way through.
Christmas 2015 rail closure has been confirmed for maintenance and upgrade works. Closures in 2015 are limited to between 27th December and 4th January Eastern Line Sylvia Park to Manukau, Onehunga Line and Southern Line with services operating Eastern Line Britomart to Sylvia Park and Western Line. Rail services will operate on Christmas Day for the first time and Boxing Day across the full network for the first time in many years. Closure permits NZTA works at Ellerslie and Takanini, KiwiRail maintenance and AT works for the new Otahuhu Station
The other fast growing mode right now happens to be the ferries. Annually they are up over 10% with the non-exempt services increasing the fastest. Both the exempt and the contracted services (contracted services are Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke) are bound to see some growth after the announcements recently about new ferries for the harbour.
A good news story across all modes is the continued improvement in farebox recovery and therefore lower subsides per passenger km. If the current trend continues Auckland will be over 50% soon which is unprecedented for the city – at least any time recently.
On the subject of rail ridership growth variability reader and occasional poster Greg N has sent us the follow chart highlighting the trend since 2005, including the RWC/HOP blip [green]:
As you can see with the RWC 2 month blip shown in green, the “major dip” in patronage Post-RWC is revealed for what is was – back to normality for a few months and then the upward trend continued as per usual.
Its been pretty much a linear trend since 2005 of upwards month by month (allowing for the seasonal variations of patronage).
And we surpassed the RWC blip in patronage over a year ago. So where is this “patronage variability” crap MoT talk about coming from.
Oh and to make it Crystal clear what is going on at Christmas with patronage, I marked up the annual Xmas shutdown in the chart so you can see their impact too.
And given that post RWC we had endless, ongoing nightly shutdown on the rail network past 8pm with rail buses for Monday-Thu and Weekend network shutdowns almost every weekend, it amazing that the 2012/13 patronage is as strong as it was.
It’s a good thing the government might be moving on the City Rail Link because Auckland Transport’s latest patronage report for July shows that there has been no slowdown in the staggering growth of the rail system – or the rest of the PT system for that matter.
Overall the annual patronage across the entire PT rose to 79.7 million trips, an increase of 9.6% on the previous year. Assuming things carry on – and I see no reason why they shouldn’t – then we should pass 80 million trips any day now if we haven’t already. That’s a significant increase from the 50 million trips a decade ago with the last 10 million coming in just 18 months. AT have a target for this year of 84.47 million trips and at current rates that will be considerably exceeded.
New financial years tend to bring a few changes to the way AT reports on patronage – both in what is covered and in presentation – and this year is no different. The good news is that they are now providing more detail about patronage, the downside being we don’t have any history to compare to. The new information is broken down a few ways:
- Bus patronage is broken down by the Busway, Frequent buses and Connector/Local and Targeted buses. Splitting out the patronage this way matches the classifications of the new bus network and therefore this reporting structure will give a better indication as to whether the flagship frequent services are performing as expected. This also responds to a new target in AT’s Statement of Intent that patronage on the Rapid and Frequent networks will increase at a faster rate than the network as a whole. Unfortunately at this stage I’m not sure just what routes are counted in the frequent routes.
- It splits out ferry patronage in into commercial and exempt services. The exempt services are to Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke.
- The Monthly Indicators report now also gives more info about a variety of stats including Farebox Recovery
Once again the rail network has been the star performer with the annual result up 14.2 million trips, up 22.5% over the previous year. With the electric trains running on all lines for just over a week of that I’m really looking forward to seeing how August patronage stacks up as I think it will be huge. What will also help August’s result is that reliability and punctuality have noticeably improved in recent weeks which will help encourage more people to use trains. Auckland Transport have an annual rail patronage target to the end of June next year of 16 million trips, at current rates we’ll blow that figure out of the water.
Another area that continues to have very good results is the Northern Busway combined with rail forms our rapid transit routes. One interesting aspect about this result is that the annual figure of 3.5 million which is much higher than we had last month. I can only guess that they are now including patronage from some of the other buses that use the busway.
While we don’t have anything in the way of history, for the rapid buses one thing we can tell from the information table is that patronage on those services are rising fast and the increase percentage is not far off the busway. As expected the connector and local buses aren’t seen as attractive and therefore aren’t growing at the same rate.
Like the other modes ferries are also growing fast at nearly 10% and leading the charge are the contracted services. I wonder if part of this is due to the issues that have occurred with some of their vessels such as the Kea.
Looking at performance there was significant improvement on the rail network following the introduction of all EMU service on 20 July which AT says justifies their decision to pull the date forward. After falling to a low of just 73.6% of trains arriving at their destination on time in June, July jumped up to 83.7%. In addition AT say for 1-16 August that is up further to 89.3% and some days have exceeded 95%. The eastern line remains the poorest performer at just 73% punctuality.
Since AT stopped relying on operators self-reporting performance and instead using tools like GPS tracking they’ve seen bus performance also improve. It is now approaching 95% after being around 90% last year.
Apart from just moving more people, one other reason the rise in patronage is good is that it should also be helping to reduce subsidies thanks to more fares being collected. The good news is that’s exactly what’s happening as the Monthly indicators report shows that over the last year farebox recovery (how much of the costs are covered by passenger fares) has improved quite a bit going from 45.4% last year to 47.2% this year. That might not sound like much but is a significant improvement. Note: the data is only till June
Farebox recovery is only one part of the story though and the next chart shows the amount of subsidy per passenger km. As you can see the cost per passenger kilometre travelled for rail are falling dramatically and seeing as this report is a month behind, as such we should see quite significant improvements once the July data is made available.
Last week I had some work in Sydney and while there I was able to grab a quick look at some aspects of that beautiful city. I want to start with Light Rail because Sydney has one line in operation, and is about to start another much bigger project next month, and one that is strikingly similar to what AT is proposing for Auckland. Similar in that it upgrades at capacity bus routes, links significant residential and commercial areas with the heart of the city from areas not covered by other Rapid Transit, links event locations with a major transport hub, serves some big tertiary institutions, and most importantly that it will be the catalyst for pedestrianising the main city street. For like AT’s Light Rail plan for Queen St Sydney’s also comes with the opening up of George St for pedestrians.
Below are some shots from my quick ride on the somewhat curious Dulwich Hill Line. This is mostly on the route of the old Metropolitan Goods Line, extended past the old docks of Darling Harbour for the tourist trade and terminating at the city end at at the busy Central Station. This is where I got on on a weekday morning, so heading against the flow, you’d think.
It arrives at Central on one-way loop to an elevated stop at the main concourse level of the Victorian train, Sydney’s largest. I assumed this was a built originally for Sydney’s previous trams, and so it was. The earlier system was largely about distributing into the city centre from this terminus station, but as Sydney grew a number of previously terminating lines were extended through to new underground stations in the central city and through to the bridge and across to the North Shore. The logical and very successful upgrade for a terminating city edge station, just like Britomart. In addition to the new Light Rail line they are also now planning the third underground city rail route and second rail harbour crossing: the new Sydney Metro.
The lovely CAF Urbos 3 arrived full and left full. On this evidence it looks like it could do with additional frequency.
It runs on city streets till Darling harbour then uses the impressive cuttings of the old Metropolitan Goods Line. So the route was not selected because it is necessarily the best place to run Light Rail, but because it was available. Very much like Auckland’s passenger rail network, and many new or revived urban rail systems globally [See Manchester Light Rail, and the London Overground for example].
This business of running services where there happens to be an existing route can of course lead to poor results if there isn’t a match with the surrounding land use, and this line at first did not perform as well as hoped. But that all changed with a the extension to a good anchor; Dulwich Hill rail station [opening 2014], and intensification along the route. It is now booming.
John Street Square Station with apartments and very urban open space above.
Heading back, and full again; mid morning on a week day.
Approaching Central on Hay St, crossing Pitt. Smart bit of kit.
There are obvious parallels with Auckland everywhere you look in Sydney, it is after all, pretty much just a bigger better version of a similar urban typology: a new world anglophone Pacific harbour city. It can be argued that Auckland is at a comparable point of development that Sydney was at decades ago, and while that doesn’t for a moment mean we should slavishly follow what happened there, there is much that can be learned from this city. There are a number of interesting projects underway in Sydney now, like the new Metro, which is introducing a new separate and fully automated rail system to complement the existing network. This is certainly an option for Auckland in the future, especially for upgrading Rapid Transit to our North Shore. The same universal urban forces are in play here as there, as can be seen with Light Rail in Sydney now: It is is working well simply because it delivers on the classic necessary conditions for this mode:
- Good land-use match: intensification around stations
- High quality right-of-way: mostly grade separate or has signal priority
- Strong anchors at each end of the route: train stations in each case, and destinations along the way.
- High standard of vehicle and service [sufficient frequency yet?]
The key lesson here is that if any of these conditions are missing steps must be taken to change them, as they did here. And that it is possible to exploit existing rights of way so long as there aren’t other barriers to change, especially to more intense urban land use around stations. Now that in Auckland we are well on the way to fixing the major vehicle and frequency standards on the rail network it is the development around stations that needs work. Especially as we only need to look at the improved performance of stations like Manukau City and Sylvia Park to see, yet again, how closely linked landuse and transport always are.
Looking ahead to the next Light Rail route in Sydney it is pretty certain that this will perform even better because it is designed around need not just route availability. It is hard to disagree with Alan Davies here when he writes:
There are literally hundreds of existing light rail systems in the world. The value of some is questionable, but Sydney’s proposed CBD and South East Light Rail line looks like it’ll be among the best.
And Davies, the Melburbanist, is often skeptical about high capex Transit systems, often questioning the value of ones in his own city.
I reckon that this is probably true for the proposed Auckland Light Rail programme too, with two provisos: That land around the stops is zoned for more intense use, and like in Sydney, that the through-routing of the current terminus station is at least funded and underway first. That’s the first fix.
Auckland Transport announced yesterday that annual rail patronage has now passed 14 million trips after reaching 13.9 million by the end of June. While it’s great to see the growth that’s occurring overall, it’s also interesting to know where it’s coming from – and by that I mean which stations are people coming from and going to. Recently Auckland Transport kindly provided me with the the station boarding stats for most recent financial year – 1 July 2014 through to 30 June 2015. This follows on from them providing the same data for the previous year meaning we can now start to compare the changes.
Before delving into the results it’s important to note that they don’t cover every single trip. Not included are trips from the likes of special events, missed tag on/offs and a small number of pass options e.g. the child monthly train pass which still uses a paper ticket. That means for the last year the data covers 12.4 million trips out of the 13.9 million in total that were taken (89%).
As expected Britomart dominates the results with trips to or from the station accounting for 60.2% of all rail trips. What’s more the percentage of trips to or from Britomart is increasing as it accounted for 57% of trips in 2013/14. By comparison the next busiest station is Newmarket with just 12.6% of trips. Note: as there are a large number of trips just between these two stations, the total trips involving both of them is 68.2%.
The map below shows comparatively how many boardings occurred at each station across the network. The orange is where the Southern and Eastern lines combine and the purple where the Southern and Onehunga lines combine.
Things get more interesting when you compare how stations have changed from one year to the next. As the 2013/14 data only covered 83% of trips I’ve adjusted it to make a more fare comparison. Some of the interesting things to note from it are:
- Manukau has had massive growth of well over 120% more boardings compared to last year – this is likely due to the opening of the MIT building above the station and the increase in services thanks to the introduction of electric trains.
- Panmure has also had a big year growing 71% over the last year and like Manukau it’s likely related to the station upgrade and better, more frequent services.
- The average growth across the network was 22%, Other than the two above, the stations that grew faster than the average were (in descending order):
- Sylvia Park
- Conversely at some station boardings actually fell. These were:
- Waitakere – which is now closed
- Te Mahia
- Fruitvale, and
- The Eastern line Stations of Glen Innes, Panmure and Sylvia Park are now all in top 10 stations
- New Lynn has remained the third busiest station despite having much less frequency than all the other stations in the top 10, imagine how busy it would be with 10 minute frequencies like those Eastern Line stations.
- It appears the idea of downhilling is still growing. This is where people from on the Western Line get off at Grafton and bus/walk/cycle from there to Uni or other places in the city then carry on down hill to Britomart to catch the train home.
The table below shows the boarding and alighting data for each station. You should be able to filter the columns to get different views of the data.
Like last year the data also breaks information down further allowing us to see just how many trips went from each station to each other station on the network. I’ll look more closely at that in a separate post and reader Aaron Schiff who made this fantastic visualisation of the data is already working on updating it with the latest results.
From what is above, what do you make of the results?
Lastly I hope that one day we can get the Northern Busway stations included in here as well.
Late last week I asked the question of whether we have enough trains. The post has resulted in a lot of discussion however some of the answers I received from Auckland Transport left me asking more questions. In particular
CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains.
So I sought some clarification around why only supply of 46 EMUs. AT have now have now provided that clarification confirming that the 46 was just to implement the services we have now and an additional six sets will be available for service once the roll-out has been completed.
The 46 sets is what CAF has confirmed they can supply to daily service as at 20 July. This does not include two additional EMUs that are held on standby ready to inject into service operations to smooth service recovery following disruption. A further three EMUs are not available as they are waiting for replacement ETCS equipment which has long lead times. These are expected to be released for service over the next few weeks. Three EMUs are “maintenance spares” which allow CAF to take the trains out of service for lengthy periods for major maintenance.
Capacity will be increased from the three trains currently out of service plus the three to be delivered next week. Once the accelerated delivery schedule is complete and all 57 EMUs have been accepted into service, up to six existing 3-carriage trains could be increased to 6-carriage trains (based on the current timetable).
I guess only time will tell if the extra six trains will be enough to cover the capacity constraints at the peak and shoulder peak periods.
My 6-car train was pretty full last night
Note: the comments of first post contained a lot of discussion around buying extra carriages or bringing back the old diesels. There is no need to rehash those arguments again.
The new electric trains have by in large been a fantastic addition to Auckland. This is not to say that there haven’t been implementation issues however they are things that I expect Auckland Transport, Transdev, CAF and Kiwirail will iron out over time – though perhaps not as fast as we’d all hope for. One issue that is already emerging and that will be much harder to fix is the issue of whether we have enough capacity or more specifically did AT buy enough trains?
Auckland is getting 57 new three-car electric trains or 171 carriages. That is up from what was around 148 carriages with the old diesel fleet however as each carriage is also longer it equates to an overall capacity increase of something like 40% (sorry can’t remember the exact number).
A single three-car EMU is meant to have a total capacity on part with one of the four-car trains they’ve replaced. In addition there should be enough trains that a number run as six-car trains with a capacity that eclipses anything we had before.
However despite this increase in capacity it seems we’re still having a lot of issues with trains that are over full. This tends to be on the fringes of the peak. It’s something that’s come up on social media a few times such as yesterday where trains on both the Southern Line and Western Line were affected by trains so full, they left hundreds waiting for a following service.
There have been many more experiences like these in the last few weeks.
What’s more with the growth in patronage that’s been occurring and with what’s projected – from the fact they are better trains, that within a few years there will be the new bus network that will see a lot more people transferring to trains to complete journeys and with integrated fares – this will only become more and more common. Trains too full will put people off using them and that will affect the entire PT network.
I’m also aware that there are still a few more trains yet to enter the country, I imagine they could help a small amount – although AT are also meant to be increasing frequencies on the Western line to match those on the other main lines, six per hour.
With this in mind I put some questions to AT about capacity. Here’s the response I got
CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains. In determining where the 6-carriage trains would be best utilised, AT reviewed passenger demand profiles which show that in the morning passenger boardings and alightings peak 07:45am to 08:30am. Given this, and demand profiles observed from other sources the allocation to services of these 6-carriage trains was prioritised to those service scheduled to arrive at Britomart within this time band.
A 3-carriage EMU has slightly fewer seats than a 4-carriage SA train (234 seats on an EMU versus 250 seats on a 4-carriage SA), however an EMU is better equipped to cope with standees as passengers can move through the train rather than being “compartmentalised” in a single carriage. On the Western Line the planned capacity supplied during the peak hour under diesel operations (the four trains arriving at Britomart between 07:44am and 08:30am) was a 5-carriage SA train (312 seats) followed by three 6-carriage trains (384 seats each). These four services have been replaced by 6-carriage EMUs with seating capacity of 468 per train. The net result is that on the Western Line during the peak hour (four service arrivals at Britomart 07:44am to 08:30am) the EMU capacity has increased by 408 seats, or 28%, when compared to the planned capacity under diesel operations.
The two services either side of the peak hour were previously programmed with 4-carriage SA trains, which is more of less the equivalent to a single 3-carriage EMU. In periods of service disruption which results in delays or cancellations it is possible that the trains will not be operating in sequence as planned and a single EMU may turn up at about the time that a double EMU would normally operate. That will result in crowded conditions and may mean that some passengers may not be able to board. Over the next few weeks AT will be monitoring demand to determine the services that should be prioritised for 6-carriage trains once all 57 EMUs have been fully commissioned.
Unfortunately they didn’t answer about whether the final three sets due to arrive soon will be on top of the 46 mentioned above. There’s also no answer on where trains to increase frequency on the western line to six per hour – like promised would happen in 2010 – will come from. On that, I expect the answer is they won’t come from anywhere. Instead that AT will keep the western line frequency at the level it is now till after the CRL is built as it’s likely the works around Mt Eden will limit capacity during construction.
Could it be that the biggest risk to meeting the CRL targets is AT not buying enough trains to handle the demand and the disruption the CRL construction itself will cause. What is clear is we’ll need the CRL asap if we don’t want the rail network to cease up in the next few years.
A random assortment of charts from data that I regularly collect but which don’t often warrant their own post.
That downward spike in fuel prices a few months ago didn’t last too long
Average traffic volumes over the harbour bridge are up slightly – an increase of 0.9% over this time last year – but still below what they were a decade ago. For an explanation on why there is a new and old count see this post.
The road toll is creeping back up. The 12 months to the end of June were up 11% on the same time the year before. Note: back in the mid-late 1980’s it was over 800 in a year so this is an improvement but still way too many people killed and injured on our roads.
Airport passenger volumes continue to increase, now over 15 million passengers a year pass through the airport. Of the 4 million international arrivals, 1.9 million are New Zealanders (I assume a similar number of departures are too).
Wellington patronage data for June is now available and shows modest growth of 2% for the year. The strongest growth is on the rail network at just over a 4% increase in patronage.
On the issue of rail, a year ago the Auckland rail network carried less passengers than the Wellington network however (11.4m vs 11.6m) however the huge growth in Auckland has dramatically turned the tables.
While still on rail, here’s the results for each month shown over a calendar year – highlighting just how much larger patronage is this year compared to previous years.
Lastly on PT, how we’re tracking against the Auckland Plan target of doubling patronage from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022 (we’re just over 78 million now). After a slow start, patronage now seems to be tracking at a similar level – albeit with a lower number – to the Auckland Plan target. If the current trend continued we’d probably end up with around 130 million trips.
AM peak cycling counts from 9 of ATs automated cycle counters shows numbers continue to rise.
We learned the other day the patronage results for rail in June, now we have them for all modes and once again they are extremely good – helped a little bit by there being an extra business day compared to June last year. The results are also significant as June is the end of the financial year so the results are what are compared against targets and compared against other metrics.
For the 12 months to the end of June, patronage was 79.25 million trips which is up 9.5% on the 2014 result. That’s an increase in almost 7 million trips over the course of a year and given the strong weekday growth probably represents around an extra 30,000 trips being taken each working day. When you think of it this way it’s not surprising that so many trains and buses have been full to the point of leaving people behind. The changes for individual modes were:
- Bus (excluding Northern Express) – 57 million trips, up 6.6%
- Northern Express – 2.8 million trips, up 17.2%
- Rail – 13.9 million trips, up 21.7%
- Ferry – 5.5 million trips, up 8.3%
As you can see from the numbers above the Rapid Transport Network (rail and busway) continue to shine with stunning levels of growth once again highlighting that investing in frequent and high quality services is really pays off. And of course the growth is likely to continue strongly following the roll-out of the electric trains on Monday – which should really help drive up patronage – and the Northern Busway which is about to get a capacity and free advertising) upgrade in the form of new double-decker buses which should improve (the new network for most parts of Auckland doesn’t start rolling out till next year).
The results meant that AT smashed it’s patronage targets for the year – although in fairness the Council had agreed to lower them to stupidly low levels. The Long Term Plan sees some much rougher targets
And here’s an update as to how rail patronage is tracking vs the 20 million trip target the government set back in 2013
The patronage increases along with the roll-out of the electric trains on the rail network are clearly having an impact on subsidies with the per passenger kilometre figures continuing to fall.
Not everything is good news though. On the rail network the key stats of punctuality and reliability are some of the worst I can remember seeing. If such poor outcomes continue it must surely start having an impact on patronage at some point.
Things are a bit brighter for buses with results improving since AT started using actual data to monitor where buses where – as opposed to AT being provided data from the operators. While they might be much smaller than the other companies, Urban Express are out performing them on these stats.
Overall it’s been a pretty good year for patronage growth in Auckland. Let’s hope that the same thing happens again this new financial year and that AT and the bus companies have the ability to respond to the capacity needed
Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.
The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’ it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.
Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.
Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:
All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.
People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.
There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.
However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.
Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.
The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:
- current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
- the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
- the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
- the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
- and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities
being missed in our only city of scale
. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…