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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3 (July 1, 1927)


As a result of the figures for ordinary passenger tickets issued during a series of years being published recently, some rather erroneous deductions have been made regarding the trend of passenger traffic on the railways of the Dominion.

In order to obtain a true perspective of the passenger traffic position, many factors have to be taken into consideration besides the ordinary ticket index, and when this is done the position in relation to train passengers is seen in a much more reassuring light.

True comparisons could be made with a figure showing in consecutive years the number of passenger miles travelled and the revenue derived therefrom. It is only recently, however, that passenger-mile statistics have been possible on our system.

The figure which is used for comparison between New Zealand and the Australian State Railways is that for “passenger journeys.” This is a truer index of the patronage afforded the Railways than the “ordinary ticket” figure. As an illustration of this fact, it may be pointed out that while in 1917 the number of ordinary tickets issued was 14 million and 25 million passenger journeys were made, in 1927, with only 10 million ordinary tickets issued there were 26 million passenger journeys made, and the passenger revenue had increased from £1,873,048 to £2,304,180. In round figures it may be said that whereas between 1917 and 1927 the ordinary tickets declined by 4 millions, the total of all passenger journeys increased by 2 millions, and the passenger revenue increased by £500,000. 1922, the centre of this decennial period, was a year of general prosperity, in which the passenger journeys exceeded 28 millions. But when the revenue is considered, 1922 returned only £100,000 more in passenger revenue than 1927. Viewing the general trend over a shorter term it is seen that 1927 is only 100,000 passenger journeys short of the total recorded in 1925, whilst its passenger revenue figure is £20,000 better than in the former year.

1926, the year of Dunedin's Exhibition, cannot be considered as a normal year.It was sure to outrun the average andeven rob the years on each immediate side of it—particularly the following year—of a proportion of normal revenue. It was, therefore, no surprise that 1926 was a better passenger year than 1925 by £250,000 in revenue and 1½ millions in passenger journeys.

Excluding abnormal years, it is satisfactory to find that the sharp decline of 2,300,000 which occurred between 1924 and 1925 has not been repeated, for the difference of 100,000 journeys between 1925 and 1927 cannot be regarded as anything more than an ordinary fluctuation between years in each of which over 26 million journeys were made.

The swing of public patronage from ordinary tickets to concession tickets of some sort is a good rather than a bad sign, for it ensures a steadier patronage, and goes to show how much has been done in recent years to create a public demand by introducing new types of concession tickets—such as the “trip—bearer” and “family” tickets. The very fact that these have taken so well with the public is in itself a most potent explanation of the inroads made on “ordinary” ticket sales. When, for instance, a 50-trip “bearer ticket” is purchased, it prevents the sale of 50 ordinary tickets, whilst a yearly season ticket (the sales of which are increasing) represents as much travelling as could be secured by the purchase of about 600 ordinary tickets. Facts such as these were overlooked when the statement appeared in the press that railway passenger traffic had “declined by 50 per cent. in the last six years.”

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In 1917 the number of train miles run in the Dominion was 9,000,000. A similar mileage was recorded for 1922, but in 1927 the number of train miles was over 11,000,000. This 25 per cent. increase in train mileage indicates to how great an extent the Department has expanded its train services for the benefit of rail users.

The action recently taken in the direction of providing modern travel facilities and improving service and equipment, has already definitely checked the ebb of passenger traffic, and holds out fair promise that the men of the railways, accepting the challenge and unitedly bent on turning the tide, will live up to the pious aspiration of the immortal Burns in his “Address to the De'il,” and come out with the courageous reply:—

“But, faith! We'll turn a corner jinkin, An' cheat you yet.”