Spectacular passenger growth spurred by Auckland's $300 million Northern Busway has been overshadowed by a patronage decline elsewhere.
The Auckland Regional Transport Authority yesterday reported that more than 80,000 passengers caught Northern Express buses last month - the first in which the two-lane dedicated busway operated in both directions with all four of its stations feeding suburban services into it.
Authority chief executive Fergus Gammie told Auckland Regional Council's finance committee that patronage was 66 per cent higher than numbers carried by the express service in February last year, when buses had to jostle with other traffic for space along the Northern Motorway.
Although the service has enjoyed strong growth since it began late in 2006, the February increase was far higher than a 21 per cent jump in the previous month's patronage from January last year.
Patronage for the six months to the end of December was 34 per cent higher than for the second half of 2006.
But Mr Gammie also disclosed a 2.2 per cent decline in patronage on scheduled bus services throughout the rest of Auckland, to 19.6 million passenger trips.
That followed a glimmer of hope raised by a 1.2 per cent rise in patronage for the financial year to June 30 - after three years of decline - which failed at the time to allay concerns of regional councillors about poor returns on annual operating subsidies for buses which have risen this year to $85 million.
Mr Gammie blamed disruption from the prolonged Queen St road works for part of the latest decline.
Rail patronage continued to grow in the latest period, up 11.6 per cent to 3.2 million passenger trips, and ferries carried 1.6 per cent more people despite a setback to the Bayswater service caused by resistance to new parking charges for commuters.
A transport authority report also identified "positive growth" by other bus services where it had invested in improvements to routes or frequencies. These include new links from the high population growth areas of Howick and Dannemora, and improvements to cross-town services between New Lynn and Sylvia Park.
Patronage on school buses also rose by 2.8 per cent, to 1.22 million rides, contributing to what the authority called a "very small" increase of 100,000 public transport boardings - meaning an average increase in patronage across all modes of just 0.4 per cent.
Challenged by council deputy chairman Michael Barnett to offer "something profoundly different" to boost patronage, Mr Gammie said the best way forward was to keep working with local councils to extend bus priority lanes and to develop a region-wide transferable electronic ticket by 2010 which would allow a simpler fare structure.
The authority hopes its recent doubling of fare discounts for tertiary students to 40 per cent will also make a big difference, especially as that group was identified in a survey as being particularly unimpressed with the value-for-money public transport offered.
Only 63 per cent of passengers surveyed in October believed Auckland public transport offered good value for money - the same as the year before, but down from 71 per cent in 2005.
v THE REST
Auckland public transport patronage from July 1 to December 1 last year, compared with the equivalent six months of 2006
* Northern Express buses .... up 34%
* All other scheduled bus services .... down 2.2%
* School buses .... up 2.8%
* Trains .... up 11.6%
* Ferries .... up 1.6%
* TOTAL .... up 0.4%