Auckland Transport Blog is a great resource on its topic. As you read through its numerous posts, you become quite aware of how much of a old fossil Steven Joyce (and NZTA under his direction) is in his thinking of Auckland’s transport priorities. They are using presumptions that don’t really apply anymore.
But first the good news – 2010 PT Patronage – a spectacular year.
Well it was a bit like getting blood out of a stone, but finally Auckland Transport has released full patronage information up to January 2011, broken down by bus, train and ferry. Helpfully, regular commenter Luke managed to get historical patronage data dating all the way back to 2002 off Auckland Transport – which probably provides us with the fullest and most helpful data I’ve come across yet.
The post goes into the detail about the changes with extensive tables which you should go to if more detail is of interest. But in summary:-
Looking a bit closer at the data really shows us what a spectacular year 2010 was for public transport patronage. Compared to 2009, every single month was ‘up’, with October and November being the most spectacular months – having increases of 21% and 15% respectively. The October data is a bit misleading because it was a recovery from the October 2009 bus lockout (hence the huge leap in bus patronage and the slight decline in rail patronage). Overall, total PT patronage for 2010 was up by 8% compared to all of 2009
Most heartening to see is how well the bus system performed last year. With around 80% of Auckland’s public transport trips on the bus it is critical that we keep focusing on improving that bus system to attract more people out of their cars and onto PT. An 8% increase in bus passengers equate to an extra 3.5 million trips – equivalent to 40% of 2010’s rail patronage. Rail patronage also continued to grow quickly, with a 14% increase in numbers compared to 2009.
ATB points out that the total increase in bus patronage in 2010 is equal to the entire increase over the 2002-2009 period and
Over the past three years we’ve seen public transport patronage in Auckland increase from 52.4 million trips in 2007 to 63.5 million trips in 2010. That’s a 21.1% increase over the past three years.
Imagine what might happen if we actually tried to improve the bus system?
Now, why is all of this important. Well it cuts to the heart of the incorrect and dated transport planning presumptions. An earlier post at ATB was called The false assumption.
Even though the cost-benefit ratio of both bridge (0.6) and tunnel (0.4) options for providing an additional crossing of the Waitemata are pathetically low, I actually think they’re an over-estimate. This is due to the same false assumption that afflicts the analysis of all future roading projects:
That traffic numbers will keep rising
If you have a look through the business case for the harbour crossings, the main justification is that – supposedly – traffic volumes will continue to rise dramatically across the harbour bridge into the future, and therefore we will need more lanes in the form of another crossing.
As someone who has either been on the bridge or has seen it for virtually every morning and evening over the last 5 years, I’d agree that the assumption is outright bullshit. ATB puts up the numbers but I will just look at their graphs.
This reflects what I’m seeing (literally) in my last three jobs. The number of cars is slightly declining, jams are less frequent, and the crawl speed has been increasing. Many people like myself have shifted to using the bus especially since the Northern Busway was completed.
There are a *lot* of reasons to use the bus over the bridge and there is a different mix for everyone I know. Personally my major reason was that I did the morning moderation this site while in transit. A secondary reason is because I can’t get rear ended by an idiot driver talking to his female passenger as happened a number of years ago. In fact that was when I started to use the bus – 6 weeks without a car while it was being repaired was quite convincing. But in general the bus is a hell of lot less hassle and a lot more comfortable way to spend the weekly commuting hours.
The assumption that “traffic will always grow” is not only misplaced for the Harbour Bridge, but also more generally all over New Zealand. You can clearly see how the last few years has broken away from long-term growth trends in NZTA’s analysis of state highway volumes:
The world is clearly changing. As fuel prices increase and as alternatives to driving slowly but surely are improved, it seems as though there’s a clear tailing off in the level of traffic increase on New Zealand’s roads over the past few years. This cuts to the heart of justifying new roading projects of course – and therefore it’s not really a surprise to see traffic modellers, engineers and most particularly NZTA still in absolute denial over this issue. After all, if traffic levels aren’t going up it becomes pretty difficult to justify new spending (just like it would be difficult to argue for more spending on public transport if patronage was plummeting).
A world of never-ending traffic growth is a false assumption. It’s time those in charge of transport planning started to realise this.
Just at present Steven Joyce and the NZTA seem to be locked into thinking of the world as it used to be – in the 20th century. I wonder how long it will be before they see what I’m seeing and join the rest of us in the 21st century.