Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bus patronage down in Auckland - want to know why?

The NZ Herald reports that while North Shore bus patronage has shot up thanks to the opening of the $300 million busway providing a faster ride. The increase is 66% on the express services that now use the busway. No surprise there, although by no means are the bus passengers paying anywhere near the full cost of building the busway. However bus patronage across Auckland is down 2.2% in the 6 months till the end of 2006. Why so?
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Well there are a couple of reasons. For one, the collapse of the language school business a few years ago is having an ongoing impact, so it is partly demographics. However a more important reason is what you see in the overall public transport patronage figures - they are only up 0.4%.
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You see train patronage is up 11.6%. Given the millions spent on new stations and more rolling stock, and subsidising more frequent services, it isn't a surprise, but many of those new passengers are actually former bus passengers. That is why the net increase in public transport use is a derisory 0.4%.
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So with a fortune being spent on enhancing trains and buses (hundreds of millions from central government alone), with petrol prices continually growing, Aucklanders are hardly switching en-masse to increasingly heavily subsidised public transport.
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The problem with people shifting from bus to train is that it costs. In 2002 the average subsidy per passenger in Auckland for rail was $3.69 per trip, for bus passengers it was 96c per trip (Source: Surface Transport Costs and Charges report, Ministry of Transport, Final report Table B8.1). Remember some Auckland bus services get no subsidy whatsoever, although the ARC has been trying to get the government to change that - because it wants to control all services and not allow bus operators to operate services on a commercial basis.
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So it costs more to construct, maintain and operate rail services, and with lowering patronage of buses, it costs more to subsidise them as well. So when the ARC's leftwing Chairman Mike Lee says that it will impose a full 5c a litre petrol tax increase, for Auckland only, to pay primarily for upgrading rail services, you might ask a few questions:
1. How does shifting people from bus to rail services represent value for money for ratepayers and petrol tax payers?
2. How much faster is it to get around Auckland as a result of the improved rail services? In other words, is the spending on rail reducing congestion?
3. Why are people who live near railway stations and work near other ones, deserving of an over $7 a day handout to help them get to work, paid for by people who don't, including those who don't even go to work?
4. Why shouldn't they just ride buses that would cost only $2 a day to subsidise - in fact, why can't they pay for that themselves?
5. How many Aucklanders who live near the boundaries of Auckland region will buy fuel in Northland and Waikato, which wont be taxing motorists to pay for lavish public transport? How many petrol stations on the wrong side of those boundaries will go out of business?

7 comments:

john-ston said...

Liberty Scott, you have forgotten another significant reason why bus patronage in Auckland has fallen - the Queen Street upgrade. The road works on Queen Street slowed down several bus routes and patronage fell. The City Circuit (free bus) was on average down 20,000 passengers per month between March and October last year; the Western Bays routes were down an average of 10,000 passengers per month during that same period.

To answer some of your questions

"1. How does shifting people from bus to rail services represent value for money for ratepayers and petrol tax payers?"

That I have to admit is a very tricky question. The best way to answer it is to look at Perth - the Kwinana Freeway Bus Transitway was covered by the Mandurah Line and that has enabled bus resources to be used to feed the new Mandurah Line - thereby expanding the reach of the Mandurah Line. Auckland hasn't implemented the second stage yet, that of the bus feeder routes

"2. How much faster is it to get around Auckland as a result of the improved rail services? In other words, is the spending on rail reducing congestion?"

It is reasonably plausible to say that congestion has decreased in Auckland. The average speed of traffic in Auckland has risen since 2003 from 33km/h to 37km/h. The other thing is, though, that if you replaced all the rail services with bus services, you would end up with massive congestion.

"3. Why are people who live near railway stations and work near other ones, deserving of an over $7 a day handout to help them get to work, paid for by people who don't, including those who don't even go to work?"

That is at the present. When Auckland has passenger levels comparable to that of Brisbane and Perth, it is likely that the subsidy will be much smaller - Brisbane I believe has 50% expense recovery, and their fares are lower than in Auckland. I haven't seen the Perth figure

"4. Why shouldn't they just ride buses that would cost only $2 a day to subsidise - in fact, why can't they pay for that themselves?"

Because the rail services are faster. Here are some destinations and their bus and rail times

Papakura to Auckland (B: 1:45; T: 0:51)
Manurewa to Auckland (B: 1:30; T: 0:41)
Swanson to Auckland (B: 1:45; T: 0:54)
Henderson to Auckland (B: 1:20; T: 0:45)
New Lynn to Auckland (B: 0:55; T: 0:32)

You probably get the idea

"5. How many Aucklanders who live near the boundaries of Auckland region will buy fuel in Northland and Waikato, which wont be taxing motorists to pay for lavish public transport? How many petrol stations on the wrong side of those boundaries will go out of business?"

That is something I am fundamentally concerned about, and it has been brought up in the New Zealand media. The main thing is that it depends on the distance between the fuel retailer in Auckland and the one in Northland. Another thing is that I suspect that the Waikato may be looking at a fuel tax too for their roading network.

libertyscott said...

Thanks John-ston. Yes fair point about the CBD.

Your first answer doesn't seem like value for money - could simply buy more buses. Buses feeding trains isn't particularly an attractive proposition for commuters.

Yes average speed has increased, but then again how much of that is attributable to increased fuel prices, the completion of the Central Motorway Junction upgrade and Grafton Gully? Don't know.

I've not seen the per passenger subsidy figure expected by ARC going down to anywhere near that for buses.

Fair enough about train times, but shouldn't people pay more than buses for faster service?

Thanks for the contribution, it is welcome to have an intelligent interaction about this.

john-ston said...

"Your first answer doesn't seem like value for money - could simply buy more buses. Buses feeding trains isn't particularly an attractive proposition for commuters."

I would dispute that assertion. In Perth and Brisbane (especially Brisbane), bus feeding trains is a very attractive proposition. To get from Surfers to Brisbane involves getting on a bus feeder and then getting on a train; similar to get from Noosa, Maroochydore and Caloundra to Brisbane involves getting on a bus feeder and then getting on a train (or a railbus). Similarly, the Joondalup Line and the Mandurah Lines in Perth have been centred around that same idea; remembering that the Joondalup Line started construction when Trans Perth only had seven million rail passengers per annum.

The problem with Auckland is that the routes are very badly integrated at the present - once the routes are integrated then things will change, unless the rail network becomes badly overcrowded again.

"Yes average speed has increased, but then again how much of that is attributable to increased fuel prices, the completion of the Central Motorway Junction upgrade and Grafton Gully? Don't know."

Of course, although the idea of induced demand would suggest that the CMJ and Grafton Gully upgrades would have become full by now anyways. In saying that, it is similar to whether or not Britomart, or the introduction of the SAs had more impact on Auckland rail patronage (I suspect the latter).

Also, reduced fuel prices would have seen increases in public transport usage - as you argue, that hasn't occurred.

"I've not seen the per passenger subsidy figure expected by ARC going down to anywhere near that for buses."

From the Rail Development Plan (2006), page 26

"Our current modelling suggests that by the year 2016 (when the system will be carrying some 15.7 million passengers) the total operating cost per passenger trip will be around $5–$6 and the subsidy per passenger will be $4; this subsidy is well below the current figure of around $7–$8.
If we recognise that the average train journey is over twice as long as the average bus journey, the subsidy per km for rail in 2016 will be very similar to that of bus services."

"Fair enough about train times, but shouldn't people pay more than buses for faster service?"

Personally, I do agree that at the present, the rail services are underpriced and those fares will have to increase to make way for integrated ticketing. While it is fair to suggest that passengers can pay more for the increased speed, I doubt that it would be practical with an integrated ticketing system.


What I am interested in seeing is the impact that integrated ticketing on the North Shore is going to have on their network overall. I know that Brisbane has seen a massive climb in patronage since they introduced integrated tickets in 2004.

Tony said...

I would like to make some further points to this discussion.

Firstly, the comparison between buses and rail in Auckland should be based on what service you would get for the equivalent costs (operating and Capital). The claim that replacing buses with rail would create massive congestion is based on not transferring the proposed rail investment to increased road space/busways. Here in Wellington, if you include the rail replacement and incremental service improvement capital cost, our rail service will cost $2,000,000,000 over the next 25 years with 2/3rds being subsidised. The proposed investment in our bus service that carries more than twice the rail patronage is maybe $35M . . . less than 1/20th the rail capital investment.

I do not know anywhere in the Western World where rail operates with less than 50% subsidy . . . this is certainly the case here in NZ.

Secondly, the lack of access for residents is only half the problem. The other problem is the lack of jobs at the other end. I understand that only a minority of jobs in Auckland are in theCBD. If you work in another suburb . . . you can’t use rail even if you live next door.

Also, people really hate interchaning, esp between buses and rail. The "time penalty" in the Wellington transport model is 6 minutes (i.e. changing has the same impact as increasing the travel time by 6 mins). Another example of this was the modelling for replacing the Johnsonville Line with buses increased patronage (because more people would choose to bus to work rather than train/bus).

Finally, there is the statement: What I am interested in seeing is the impact that integrated ticketing on the North Shore is going to have on their network overall. I know that Brisbane has seen a massive climb in patronage since they introduced integrated tickets in 2004. I would think Brisbane’s very successful South East Busway and other inveswtment in getting buses out of the traffic has have had a bigger effect than introducing integrated ticketing.

john-ston said...

“Firstly, the comparison between buses and rail in Auckland should be based on what service you would get for the equivalent costs (operating and Capital). The claim that replacing buses with rail would create massive congestion is based on not transferring the proposed rail investment to increased road space/busways. Here in Wellington, if you include the rail replacement and incremental service improvement capital cost, our rail service will cost $2,000,000,000 over the next 25 years with 2/3rds being subsidised. The proposed investment in our bus service that carries more than twice the rail patronage is maybe $35M . . . less than 1/20th the rail capital investment.”

I don’t entirely understand where you are coming from about rail causing congestion to increase. I do understand that railways involves a massive capital cost, however, unlike buses, the capital cost can be spread over a much longer period. Railway formation can last decades before it needs replacing, and even with low maintenance, can still last a decade before problems start to emerge (as was seen with Tranz Rail in the 1990s), and has been known to last three decades before it becomes a serious health and safety hazard (as seen in Adelaide). Similarly with rolling stock; the Taits in Melbourne lasted sixty years before they were finally replaced in 1984; similar with the Swing Door stock. The U sets in Sydney lasted forty years before replacement in 1996, and early Sydney suburban rolling stock lasted sixty years. The English Electrics in Wellington have lasted nearly sixty years as well.

On the other hand, your typical bus only lasts twenty years before it needs replacement, and your road surface needs to be re-laid every couple of years or else it becomes a serious health and safety hazard.

“I do not know anywhere in the Western World where rail operates with less than 50% subsidy . . . this is certainly the case here in NZ.”

Agreed – the issues around subsidisation of rail needs to be looked at, however, you must also bear in mind that the provision of rail tends to boost property prices in the immediate vicinity. IIRC, the Jubilee Line extension in London cost the equivalent of $5 billion. Property prices in the vicinity benefited to the tune of the equivalent of $15 billion.

“Secondly, the lack of access for residents is only half the problem. The other problem is the lack of jobs at the other end. I understand that only a minority of jobs in Auckland are in the CBD. If you work in another suburb . . . you can’t use rail even if you live next door.”

I know about that issue as well; however, it is a chicken and egg scenario – I am convinced that rail access does result in some form of urban renewal. It has been seen in the United States that areas that were formerly derelict started on the process of urban renewal after a light rail line was built, and even in Auckland, there is much more development in the CBD. Another thing, when all things are considered, you should have about 40,000 rail commuters to the CBD daily with the present network and distribution of the population. There are of course reasons why this isn’t happening.



“Also, people really hate interchanging, esp between buses and rail. The "time penalty" in the Wellington transport model is 6 minutes (i.e. changing has the same impact as increasing the travel time by 6 mins). Another example of this was the modelling for replacing the Johnsonville Line with buses increased patronage (because more people would choose to bus to work rather than train/bus).”

The reason why people hate interchanging is because of service frequencies – if said bus or train services runs at a half an hour frequency and you miss the service, naturally you would be annoyed at waiting for another half hour. Improve that frequency to fifteen minutes, and things start getting better – improve it even further, and people start caring less about interchanging. Also, when you have an integrated ticket, things are quite easy. The people that use Perth’s Mandurah Line don’t have a problem interchanging between bus feeders and the rail line; in Adelaide, you even have a service that runs non-stop from Noarlunga Central to Adelaide primarily to service passengers from bus feeders.

Thus, the Johnsonville Line argument is difficult to hold – that line has anywhere from 13 minute to 26 minute frequencies in peak, and half hourly frequencies off peak. If said bus is running at every two minutes (like would occur if all Johnsonville services were replaced with buses), then of course people would prefer to take the bus. The problem is that you would have “bus congestion”

“Finally, there is the statement: What I am interested in seeing is the impact that integrated ticketing on the North Shore is going to have on their network overall. I know that Brisbane has seen a massive climb in patronage since they introduced integrated tickets in 2004. I would think Brisbane’s very successful South East Busway and other investment in getting buses out of the traffic has have had a bigger effect than introducing integrated ticketing.”

The South East Busway was opened in 2001, long before integrated ticketing became a reality. Other investments may have helped buses get out of traffic, but consider that rail patronage is up 20% on 2004 figures in Brisbane. This is without a single piece of new track being laid (only in last month has a fresh piece of track opened to service), and without a single new line being opened, and with little in the way of new services. Integrated ticketing also reduces the transfer penalty, as the fare paid is the exact same whether or not a transfer is involved.

Tony said...

I don’t entirely understand where you are coming from about rail causing congestion to increase.

What I said was “the comparison between buses and rail in Auckland should be based on what service you would get for the equivalent costs (operating and Capital)”. What I mean is the correct way to compare rail and bus investment options is to compare what you would get for the equivalent investment. In other words, you propose spending $80M on say, opening the Onehunga Branch, you should compare the rail option with what you would get from investing $80M in a busway. However, I know of only one example where a NZ rail investment compared and modeled rail against the equivalent major investment in bus corridors (and when this was done for the Johnsonville Line vs. Busway, the bus system was found to be superior).

I do understand that railways involves a massive capital cost, however, unlike buses, the capital cost can be spread over a much longer period. . . . Similarly with rolling stock . . . The English Electrics in Wellington have lasted nearly sixty years as well.

On the other hand, your typical bus only lasts twenty years before it needs replacement, and your road surface needs to be re-laid every couple of years or else it becomes a serious health and safety hazard.

I am sorry, but I have to disagree. Rail corridors are more expensive to maintain than the equivalent road corridor. For example the 10Km of track on the 1,100 commuter/day Johnsonville Line costs ONTRACK $420,000/year to maintain (this only has lightweight passenger trains). There are three reasons for this . . . firstly, rail vehicles are very heavy and, being steered by the rails, means the rail corridor has many moving parts often under stress (“points failure” do not happen on roads). Rail systems also have to have their own dedicated power and signaling systems. Busways on the other hand only have to carry much lighter vehicles and these only need a simple, (unpowered) asphalt surface with no moving parts. Secondly, rail systems need many specialized systems while even dedicated busways share most components with, well, ordinary roads meaning they benefit from a major economy of scale. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, passenger rail only has the limited rail freight service to help share the maintenance costs, while most of the time buses only have to fund their “share” of the roads along with cars and trucks (the one benefit of "buses in traffic").

The same issues also impact the vehicle argument. Yes, rail vehicles have a longer life expectancy than buses, but this does not compensate for the very high rail vehicle cost. This is best illustrated on a per seat basis. Assuming a rail vehicle seats 80 while a bus seats 40 (rail actually has less & buses more, but to simplify the calculation :).

A new Electric rail vehicle costs $3M and has a predicted lifespan of 30 years. You would also need to add in a mid-life refurbishment $0.6M. Therefore the per seat cost = ($3.6M / 30) = $45,000 (yes the price of a decent car). Divide by 30 years and the annual seat cost is $1,500/seat/year.

A new standard bus costs $0.3M (a hybrid diesel and has a predicted lifespan of only 15 years. Therefore the per seat cost = ($0.3M / 15) = $7,500 (yes the price of a basic 2nd hand car). Divide by 15 years and the annual seat cost is $500/seat/year . . . 1/3rd the per seat cost of a rail seat !

Even doubling the bus cost that would support proper hybrid diesel/electric buses would still be cheaper.

The reason why people hate interchanging is because of service frequencies – if said bus or train services runs at a half an hour frequency and you miss the service, naturally you would be annoyed at waiting for another half hour. Improve that frequency to fifteen minutes, and things start getting better – improve it even further, and people start caring less about interchanging.

While I fully support integrated ticketing, I also think you are being simplistic about peoples behaviour. Many people just want a direct trip to/from work. When the alternative a direct journey by car, a direct PT service is essential, something much more easily provided by bus than rail.

A real world example of this was when the Newlands/Churton Park service was changed from stopping at the start of the Wellington CBD (outside Kirkcaldie & Stains) to run through the CBD to Courtney Place. This elimination of interchange lead to a 40% increase is bus PT patronage. Now, as many people get on the bus at Johnsonville Rail Station as the train (even though it is less reliable, the bus is more frequent and more direct for many people) !

The South East Busway was opened in 2001, long before integrated ticketing became a reality. Other investments may have helped buses get out of traffic, but consider that rail patronage is up 20% on 2004 figures in Brisbane. This is without a single piece of new track being laid

I have to ask the “so what” question. How many additional daily rail commuters is 20% and how many cars were taken off the road ?

I must also note the South East Busway patronage has continued to grow strongly requiring new articulated buses and warnings it may be “full” before to long anyway. There is also research showing the positive urban impact of the South East Busway:
Urban Development Impacts
Urban development impacts for ANEB [Adelaide North East Busway] and BSEB [Brisbane South East Busway] were identified by Levinson et al. (2003) (see Table 3). Property value growth of up to 20 percent was identified in the region of BSEB, a higher growth than in other Brisbane corridors.
Bus Rapid Transit in Australasia: Performance, Lessons Learned and ... (PDF)

I remain unconvinced that Auckland’s rail investment will work other than to starve the bus system of the investment it needs to get out of the traffic and will make little overall difference to either congestion or car usage.

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