Auckland’s public transport ticketing system probably annoys me more than most other things in life. In fact, there’s little good to be said about it at all. Let’s run through the problems:

  • It’s slow. A lot of interaction with the bus driver or train clippie is necessary. This doesn’t hold up the operation of the train as much as it does for a bus, but can make it difficult for the clippies to collect each and every ticket on a busy train ride.
  • It’s confusing. For example, a trip from the CBD to Glen Innes is 2 stages on the train, 3 stages on some bus routes and 4 stages on other bus routes. This is crazy. There are also just too many ticket-types: cash, multi-journey, stored value, monthly pass etc.
  • It’s outdated. On the train the main ticketing system still involves someone wandering around the train clipping tickets, it still involves little paper tickets that a guy has to take off his collection, clip with his clipper and then hand to you – oh and that’s in addition to having to stash away the money you give him and also for him to give you change. Same for Birkenhead Transport, who still clip your 10-ride cardboard tickets.
  • It’s incompatible. This is my big annoyance, and I will write more on it below.

So yes, there isn’t really much good to say about our ticketing system at all. While the slowness, confusion and outdatedness of the ticketing system are somewhat bearable most of the time, the lack of integration is what totally kills our public transport system. Train tickets aren’t valid on the bus, some bus companies tickets aren’t valid with others, nor with ferry tickets and so on. Some bus companies have unlimited travel tickets, some don’t – it’s enough to make you tear your hair out. For years our public transport agencies have gone on and on about “working towards integrated ticketing”, but apart from a horrifically overpriced Discovery Pass, there’s absolutely nothing to show for this “working towards”.

I propose a solution, which is a whole new ticketing system for the Auckland Region. It is composed of six zones, which I will show the boundaries for on maps of Auckland’s four main areas (North, West, Central and South) in a minute. There is probably a 7th zone for all other areas not covered by the original six zones, but anyway that’s not a major as it would only cover areas such as Pukekohe and Helensville which generally require a special fare in any case for the trains and buses that serve them. The idea behind this new system is that it’s completely based on the simple notion of how many zones will one be travelling in. Although it’s CBD focused, that doesn’t at all mean that zone 1 is the zone around the CBD and central area, and that each zone further out is zone 2, 3, 4 and so on. I envisage the zones as not being hierarchical at all. So, a travellers works our how many zones they want their public transport ticket to take them through, and then they buy the appropriate ticket. Tickets can be for two hours (single-trip with transfers), one day, one week or one month of travel.

By giving people more unlimited travel options with their passes, hopefully a greater proportion of users would choose to buy weekly or monthly passes. I consider this to be an important part of increasing the use of public transport in evenings and at weekends, generally on services that aren’t particularly busy at the moment. The current monthly pass system is only really useful if you travel 3 stages ten times a week, or close to that.

So my new ticketing options would be as follows:

  1. 2 hour pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $1.60 to $7.50, the current prices for a 1 stage ride and a 6 stage ride.
  2. Day pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $5 within just one zone for the day, and maybe $12 for unlimited daily travel anywhere on the network. Importantly, one would be able to buy a day-pass for travel within two or three zones, depending on necessity, allowing better value to be had (as at the moment there are relatively few day-pass options).
  3. Weekly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for one week within the specified number of zones. The pricing would probably give a 15% discount on 10 two-hour passes for that number of zones (eg. $14 approx for a 1 zone weekly pass). I would probably cap the cost of a weekly pass at around $40, a quarter the price of the current all zones monthly pass, so that people are no worse off under the proposed system than they are under the existing system.
  4. Monthly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for a whole month within the specified number of zones. The price might be a slightly discount on the equivalent number of weekly passes to encourage people to use a monthly pass. Price would be capped at around the current price of an all-zones pass ($160).

I envisage using a smart-card system to allow this ticketing to be introduced. A stored-value pay-as-you-go system would also be included, generally giving 10% off the price of a 2 hour pass for irregular users. Potentially there could also be a similar system to what London’s Oyster Card uses, whereby they get charged at pay-as-you-go rates until they reach the amount of a day-pass, and then each subsequent trip is free. That system ensures that Oyster Card users are always getting the best value, and is a great idea. Cards could also be topped up online, avoiding the horrific queues that many university bus users face, and the annoyance of having to find a ticket agency that many other users face (plus avoid bus drivers having to sell the passes too).

If this all sounds a bit confusing, it starts to make sense once we have a few maps up. Here’s a map of Auckland City, where I would have three zones.


The current Auckland City area is split into three zones, with each of them kind of radiating out from the CBD. As explained earlier, anyone travelling within this area would purchase a 2 hour, day, week or monthly pass relating to the number of zones they want to travel across. In my case, I live within the Green Zone, work in the Blue zone and often travel into the Red Zone. If all my trips originated from home then I’d probably be OK with a two zone pass, as I’d never be catching a trip that took me across three zones. However, as it happens I do often catch buses from work into town, so at times a three zone trip would be necessary. Pay-as-you-go would possibly work best for me as my trips vary in length and are a bit all over the place. It would mean that a trip to Parnell or Ponsonby would be greatly simplified, as the Link bus would become a free-transfer under the “2 hour trip” window. A ticket would be printed off that would show the zone I entered and the number of zones that my pass covers – so either a ticket inspector or a suspicious bus driver could tell if I had over-travelled.

Below are my zone boundaries for North Shore City, Waitakere City and Manukau/Papakura. I imagine that the Whangaparaoa Peninsula would be in Zone 6, like Papakura is.

North Shore City:


Waitakere City:




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  1. Waiheke could then be in the Half Moon Bay zone, since it’s about the same distance to the CBD by ferry (and get rid of the enormous inequity of $13.40 return fares for Half Moon Bay and $32 return to Waiheke)
    A maximum $212 all zone monthly ticket would work too – not far off from my original $50 a week – all transport modes, all times, all passengers.

  2. I’m not sure how Waiheke would fit into that. If you really want things on Waiheke to change then I would suggest you focus on ensuring that Steven Joyce can’t mess with the Public Transport Management Act (PTMA) that became law last year. The PTMA meant that over time all public transport routes would become “contracted” if ARTA wanted that (which they do). This would mean that ARTA would basically pay Fullers a set amount to operate the Waiheke service and then do the fare collection/setting/etc themselves.

    Steven Joyce wants to change that though, so that companies can retain their current “cherry-picking” of profitable routes.

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