Back on track: a missed opportunity
It should be time for some cheerful and frivolous posts (and it will be, once someone correctly identifies the mystery bar), but here's another serious post that I have to write now. A few weeks back, there was an article in the Dominion Post entitled "Commuters return to cars". The trouble was, since it only showed relative figures ("Peak-time passenger growth soared 11.6 per cent in mid-year as fuel prices peaked. This had slowed to about 9 per cent by September."), it was hard to tell whether passenger transport numbers were actually falling, or just growing more slowly. I had to email Greater Wellington in order to get the underlying figures. I then graphed these with a different series for each year, in order to show both month-to-month and year-to-year changes. Here are the results.
For most of this year (dark green), ridership has been considerably higher than previous year. There was, however, a big drop from August to September: more than the usual seasonal spring easing, and in fact enough to take it lower than last September. There's been a slight recovery in October, and since the October numbers are incomplete (some small bus companies take a while to file their figures), the final counts may be higher than last October.
It's hard to escape the conclusion, though, that passenger numbers have peaked for the time being. Recent falls in petrol prices are the obvious main culprit, but don't forget that Metlink put their prices up (in a notably complex and unpopular manner) in September, and even the weather may have something to do with it. It seems obvious that cost is the main driving factor in choosing public vs private transport.
Imagine if the $40m or so spent on the bypass had been invested in public transport. When petrol prices rose this year, instead of facing packed carriages, clapped-out buses and unreliable service, new passengers might have actually thought "hey, this isn't bad!", and become regular patrons rather then switching back when the costs changed. It's clear that the challenge is not "getting Kiwis to give up their love affair with the car", as we're constantly being told, but making sure the infrastructure is ready when they do.