[updated November 2012]
With some effort and assistance from others, I’ve managed to compile public transport patronage data for major cities in Australia and New Zealand. What follows are trends on what I do have, including figures for 2011-12 from most cities.
A large number of caveats are required around the data (particularly Sydney). I have used South East Queensland (the TransLink service area) and what I am calling Sydney and surrounds (the catchment for CityRail including Sydney, Newcastle/Hunter, and Wollongong/Illawarra). See below for full details.
Overall Patronage growth
This chart shows growth in patronage since 2001-02 (except for Canberra which is since 2004-05).
- Several cities have shown very strong growth:
- In Perth part of this can be attributed to the opening of the Mandurah rail line in late 2007.
- Melbourne’s patronage slowed a little in 2009-10, but is growing fast again in 2010-11.
- South East Queensland has been investing in bus services significantly in recent years, including radial busways to the Brisbane CBD. However patronage stabilised in 2009-10, dropped slightly in 2010-11 and then stalled in 2011-12. This may be impacted by the floods and associated free travel periods (not counted as patronage), and recent above CPI fare price rises. Also train patronage under the old paper ticketing system may have been overestimated – creating an inconsistency in the time series as people transition to Go Card.
- Auckland and Christchurch had very strong growth to a peak in 2002-03 (attributed by some to a boom in international students), a lull and then strong growth again from 2007. Christchurch patronage fell dramatically in 2010-11 following a major earthquake that closed large parts of the CBD (where PT probably had a high mode share) and led to population decline.
- The other cities are languishing significantly behind:
- Sydney’s problems with public transport are often discussed, and I understand there has been relatively little expansion in services in recent years. 2010-11 patronage figures had not been published for Sydney as at mid-November 2011.
- Adelaide has not been investing significantly in bus or train services in recent years (although that is now changing).
- Canberra has seen funding cuts and increases over the years.
- Hobart is included for completeness. I cannot comment on reasons for patronage trends there.
- Wellington has also had only modest patronage growth, although it maintains the strongest rate of public transport use in New Zealand.
- Greater Sydney data is very difficult to obtain – mostly because private bus, ferry and light rail data is not published in any consistent form. In the above I have used a dataset prepared by BITRE. Annual reports also appear to come out much later in NSW than in other jurisdictions.
- Auckland train patronage is off the chart. 2010-11 patronage was almost 384% of 2001-02 patronage. Auckland have been heavily investing in services and a new city terminal. Patronage growth is off a very small base, such that percentage growth rates are very large.
- You can see the significant surge in Perth train patronage following the opening of the Mandurah line in late 2007. Patronage has almost doubled in 9 years.
- Melbourne has seen a steady increase in train patronage since 2005. There have been two relatively short extensions into growth areas (Sydenham and Craigieburn), and mostly peak period services added over the last 9 years.
- South East Queensland train patronage figures dropped after 2009. TransLink make a comment about a change of ticketing system impacting these figures in their tracker report (previous estimates probably being inflated), so it is unclear what the “real” trend is.
- Sydney (CityRail) showed some modest growth between 2005-06 and 2008-09.
- Adelaide train patronage has been fairly flat, with a drop in 2010-11, probably related to the closing of the Gawler line from 6 June 2010.
- Wellington train patronage had a peak in 2002-03, and has had modest growth since then, stronger in 2009-10.
- South East Queensland is by far the standout for bus patronage growth, which has followed substantial investment in busways and increases in bus frequency. Patronage has almost doubled in the last 9 years on SEQ buses.
- Melbourne’s bus patronage growth follows significant increases in services from 2006-07 onwards.
- Perth’s bus patronage is an interesting story. Between 2007-08 and 2009-10, patronage increased by 14%, while timetabled kms only increased by 2.8%. When the Mandurah line was opened in late 2007, buses that previously travelled into the city were converted into rail feeder buses. This significantly reduced the bus trip lengths and hence passenger trip lengths for people who now transfer onto trains (the introduction of transfers might also have increased total boardings more than the total number of “journeys”). Presumably it meant that bus frequencies could be improved and/or buses were reconfigured to meet travel demands that were not well catered for previously.
Ferry and light rail patronage
- Brisbane ferry patronage almost doubled to 2008-09, but then collapsed in 2010-11 following service suspensions and cutbacks resulting from flood damage. The strong growth to 2008-09 followed increased services, and fare integration with other modes.
- Adelaide tram patronage grew significantly following the tram extensions into the city that opened in 2007 and 2010 (travel within the CBD area being free).
- Melbourne tram patronage grew steadily until 2007-08, and then saw significant growth in 2008-09. There have not been significant increases in Melbourne tram service kms.
- Sydney ferry patronage has been quite flat for a while (note: at the time of writing I did not have a good estimate of private ferry patronage for 2009-10).
- Perth has a very small ferry network, I couldn’t comment on trends there.
- Auckland ferries have shown modest growth (index values happening to be very similar to Melbourne trams, just to make the chart difficult to read)
Boardings per capita
Trends in public transport patronage will of course be impacted by population growth, so the ratio of the two can be a good indicator of system performance.
However, it is not necessarily fair to compare cities. The Greater Sydney catchment includes many urban areas significantly detached from the main Sydney metropolitan area, including the cities of Newcastle and Wollongong. South East Queensland includes the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. But the Melbourne catchment does not include Victoria’s equivalent city of Geelong. The boardings per capita figure for the main Sydney and Brisbane metropolitan areas would likely be higher than the figures here. So it is more important to look at trends (household travel survey mode share figures may be a better method of comparison).
I have actually taken the data series to 2010-11, using guesstimates of June 2011 population. For Australian cities I’ve looked at the average growth rate of the last four years to project a June 2011 figure (that’s a bit rough). For New Zealand, I have used “service area population” estimates kindly provided to me by Ian Wallis and Associates (for up to 2009-10) and then applied district growth rates to estimate 2010-11.
*2010-11 figures are based on less rigorously estimated population figures.
- This chart shows Melbourne as the stand-out in terms of increasing boardings per capita, a trend that started in 2004-05 (as many other of my posts have shown). However, consistent with other evidence about mode share, boardings per capita did not change in 2009-10.
- South East Queensland has also shown an increasing trend since around 2003-04, mostly from the increase in bus services and patronage.
- Perth had a significant increase in 2008-09, following the opening of the Mandurah rail line.
- Adelaide has had only very modest increases while Canberra and Hobart remain flat.
- Sydney has bucked the trend of the larger cities, with no great increase in boardings per capita, but perhaps a small decline in 2009-10. The drop in boardings per capita in 2001-02 is probably related to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Wellington has the highest boardings per capita in New Zealand (notionally higher than most Australian cities)
- Auckland has seen some steady growth in recent years from a low base.
- Christchurch had seen some small growth to 2009-10, but collapsed in 2010-11, after major earthquake disruptions in the city.
Again, I must stress that it is dangerous to read too much into comparisons between cities.
A slightly better measure might be public transport journeys (linked trips) per capita. This is something I might explore more in a future post.
Long term patronage data
David Cosgrove from BITRE recently collated annual data on public transport patronage for all Australian capital cities, right back to 1900. His very interesting ATRF 2011 paper is here. He includes several summary charts which I won’t repeat here. What follows is some further analysis of this particular dataset.
The following chart shows estimated public transport trips per capita:
Note BITRE used Sydney statistical division population with all Cityrail patronage, which is different to my approach above. It probably explains why Sydney figures are much higher.
Public transport usage rates grew until Word War 1, dropped in the Great Depression, peaked during petrol rationing in World War 2, and then declined until around 1980. In the bottom right corner you can see several cities trending upwards in recent times.
It is interesting to see Canberra had comparatively very low rates of public transport use until the 1980s – perhaps the product a low density car-based city from the start? Although public transport was clearly important leading up to Word War 2.
The Darwin figures are even lower – I’m not sure of the history but perhaps Darwin only became big enough to need public transport in the 1950s, when the car was becoming widely affordable.
You can see a spike in Hobart PT use from 1975 to 1977 – when the Tasman Bridge connecting the two sides of the city was severed after being struck by a ship.
The paper also includes estimates of passenger kms by mode since 1945. Here is a chart showing public transport mode share of motorised passenger kms:
Again I think the Sydney figures are inflated by non-Sydney Cityrail patronage.
Caveats and Disclaimers
This stuff is important, particularly for Sydney figures. (Similar caveats would apply to the long-term data from BITRE immediately above)
- Patronage is invariably an estimation exercise, as not all passengers register a ticket when they board. The methodology used by agencies probably varies quite a bit. For example, Translink don’t seem to estimate free trips. The figures I have presented however are estimates of boardings (including boardings on journeys involving transfers). As far as I am aware, they include school children travelling on government funded bus services.
- I have adjusted official Melbourne bus patronage figures to account for a change in estimation methodology.
- Sydney bus patronage is very difficult to estimate, as figures are not routinely published for private operators. I’ve used a BITRE time series for Greater Sydney bus patronage (related to this paper).
- The Sydney ferries figures include private operators (maybe 1-2 million per year), but I have had to estimate a figure for 2009-10.
- Sydney Metro light rail don’t generally publish their patronage figures to great precision. The 2008-09 figure I have is 7 million (rounded to the nearest million).
- I have calculated the population of greater Sydney as the Sydney SD + Newcastle SD + Wollongong SSD. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect match for the footprint of CityRail and “outer metropolitan” bus services, but I think reasonably close, particularly for trend analysis purposes.
- South East Queensland includes the LGAs of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Ipswitch, Logan, Moreton Bay, Redland and Sunshine Coast.
- I have not included:
- Hobart ferries (with limited commuter services)
- Queanbeyan buses (which connect Canberra with Queanbeyan, just over the border in NSW)
- Metropolitan V/Line services in Melbourne: diesel train services currently operate to outer suburbs of Melton and Sunbury. And before the Sydenham and Craigieburn extensions of the electrified suburban network, these areas were also serviced by (lower frequency) V/Line train services. I understand the metropolitan patronage on these services is in the order of a few million boardings per year, which is less than 1% of total Melbourne public transport patronage.
- School holidays typically impact on public transport patronage (particularly suburban buses), and not all financial years contain the same number of school days as school holidays often straddle the June/July break of month. Different states have holidays in different weeks. This means that the individual growth figure for one year in one city might be impacted by up to 1-2% away from the underlying trend. However, this should wash out over several years for index values.
- Compiling patronage figures is a very messy business. I’ve done the best I can, but I cannot guarantee that there are no omissions or calculation errors.
- Data compiled by the “Federal Department of Transport” and the West Australian newspaper (credit to Andrew Probyn).
- Victorian Department of Transport
- Victorian Budget Papers
- Metlink (Vic)
- PTAWA annual reports and TransPerth statistics
- DTEI and DPTI (SA) annual reports, media reports and personal communications
- NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics
- Metro Tasmania Annual Report
- TAMS annual reports (ACT)
- Translink (QLD)
- Ian Wallis and Associates (NZ)
- New Zealand Ministry of Transport, Transport Monitoring Indicator Framework