Rail clips the ticket as ferry trips fall away

By Mathew Dearnaley

City's trains more popular but marine services suffer big decline.

Auckland transport authorities are puzzled by the sharp downturn in the number of ferry trips taken last month compared with patronage in the same period last year. Photo / Janna Dixon
Auckland transport authorities are puzzled by the sharp downturn in the number of ferry trips taken last month compared with patronage in the same period last year. Photo / Janna Dixon

Auckland rail patronage is at a record high, but transport officials are scratching their heads over a 16 per cent fall in ferry trips last month.

They have reported just 459,923 ferry boardings, which were 87,641 fewer than in February last year.

Auckland Transport has attributed that largely to fewer passengers on Waiheke ferries, in contrast to a 27.4 per cent increase in rail patronage to just over one million passenger trips last month.

Annual rail patronage increased 2 per cent, to 10.88 million trips for the 12 months to the end of February, and hit 11 million for the first time on Tuesday.

That compares with a previous record of 10.98 million trips in the 12 months to April 2012 - a period which included the boom time of the Rugby World Cup - before patronage slipped back below 10 million early last year.

Monthly bus travel was also up for February, by 7 per cent to 4.6 million trips, although 0.5 per cent fewer cyclists were counted at nine automatically monitored sites around Auckland.

The decline in ferry trips caused puzzlement and concern at an Auckland Transport board meeting, raising a promise by chief operating officer Greg Edmonds to investigate the cause and report back next month.

Mr Edmonds said the result appeared to be an anomaly, particularly in view of a strong season for cruise ship visits.

Board member Mike Lee, who is Auckland Council's infrastructure committee chairman, said it was particularly alarming after a 10 per cent fall in ferry patronage in January.

Although Waiheke ferries are run as commercial services without subsidies from Auckland Transport, Mr Lee said wharf taxes collected from them declined to $1.172 million last year, from $1.56 million in 2010.

"Something's not quite right and it needs to be investigated," he said.

Fullers ferry company operations general manager Tim Palmer said it had expected some fall in patronage, because of fewer events on Waiheke Island this summer, but that didn't account for the full shortfall.

He said the company would work with Auckland Transport to find the cause. In contrast, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy is hailing the new record for rail which has emerged since the board meeting, and has been reached just weeks before the first batch of new electric trains is due to start running on April 28 between Onehunga and Britomart.

"We are now seeing 5000 additional passenger journeys each business day compared to a year ago," he said. "People are responding to initial improvements such as integrated ticketing [through the AT Hop card], better on-time performance and improved facilities like the new transport hub at Panmure - and there's a lot more to come."

Auckland annual rail patronage is yet to overtake Wellington's figure of 11.4 million.

- NZ Herald

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