Auckland is undergoing a quiet public transport revolution. On Wednesday 5 June. Auckland reached an annual 100 million boardings across its bus, train and ferry network for the first time since 1951.
When more people use public transport there are simply fewer cars on the road, helping to manage congestion on our roads, making it easier for those that have to use private vehicles and for small goods and services providers to get around.
Every day, 270,000 customer trips are taken on Auckland public transport; reducing traffic, congestion and emissions. 400,000 people use Auckland’s buses, trains and ferries. Maybe for Auckland, public transport is becoming a normal transport choice.
The average growth each year since 2010 was 5.5 per cent, compounded to 70 per cent over that time.
The previous highest annual public transport use was in 1951 at 105 million and the highest ever in 1945 at 118 million, when the Auckland tram system was at its peak.
Growth in use is above the significant population growth with 62 annual boardings per person in the general population in 2019 compared to 45 in 2009 and 35 in 1999.
Planning for growth
Getting the massive increase in numbers of people using buses, trains and ferries has come from years of strategy, planning and effective delivery, focused on enhancing the quality of the experience.
The development of a new Auckland public transport system – AT Metro – focusses on providing people with public transport choices that are frequent, reliable, safe and value for money. It delivers for the first time an integrated public transport network across buses, trains and ferries.
In the early 2000s, Auckland’s train system was nearly dead, in fact the commuter rail service was in serious threat of being shut down.
After a renewed focus and major investment in electrifying the rail network and the introduction of a new fleet of 57 trains patronage has been increasing by 11 per cent each year since 2009 to 21.3 million boardings.
16,000 train services were operated in March 2019, at 10-minute intervals during weekday peak periods; a few years ago services only operated at limited times. And once the City Rail Link is built both the capacity and the convenience of the network will push it even further towards the train system Aucklanders need.
Buses are the backbone of public transport used by Aucklanders, with 72.4 million passenger boardings in the year to June 2019.
The success of the Northern Busway now means that more than half of the people who travel across the Auckland Harbour Bridge on a weekday do so on a bus.
A hub-and-spoke network
The entire Auckland bus system has been redesigned around a hub-and-spoke connected network, providing for a simpler system of fewer routes operating more directly but at far higher frequencies. The ideal goal is that customers do not have to worry about a timetable and can just turn-up-and-go; reducing the anxiety of using public transport.
Instead of long, direct routes, there are shorter, more frequent routes which connect with other bus, train and ferry services at interchanges.
The only way to really grow public transport is to provide frequent services across the whole network every day of the week that are not caught in traffic congestion.
The trunk of the network is the developing Rapid Transit Network comprising congestion free high-frequency services – the rail network plus the Northern Busway and the Devonport Ferry. Work has started this year on the new Eastern Busway linking Panmure Train Station via a dedicated busway to Pakuranga and then on to Botany. The Northern Busway is also being extended, and central Government is progressing planning for new light rail corridors.
The Rapid Transit Network is supported by a growing number of high-frequency bus routes, utilising bus priority to avoid traffic congestion where possible and along with the Rapid Transit Network offering a target of service frequency at least every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. Ten kilometres of bus lanes or special vehicle lanes have been added in the past year alone. Local bus and emerging on-demand services carry people to these high-frequency services.
Ferry is an integral component of the whole public transport system. New services and infrastructure have been opened in recent years, in particular to the highly successful Hobsonville development.
Park-and-Ride also has its part to play in providing access to the AT Metro system. More spaces are being provided across the network, particularly at the periphery, recognising that more will always be required or expected.
The AT HOP card, launched across public transport between 2012 and 2014 is now used on more than 92 per cent of public transport journeys; better than most bigger cities in the world.
In the past year, Auckland ferry services travelled 1.5 million kilometres, trains 6.4 million kilometres and buses over 60.2 million kilometres. AT Metro operated a high of 16,000 train services in March 2019 and provides over 12,750 bus services per day. Reliability is now continually well above 98 per cent of services on-time.
We are on a journey and there is a lot of work still to do - it will never be completed, however, over the past decade Auckland has made the first step towards a public transport system that it deserves; contributing to placemaking and improving the city; becoming an increasingly recognised normal transport choice for more people.