In the early days of this blog I generally got about as many visitors in a month as I now do in a day. But there were some interesting posts written, many of which are still as relevant now as they were then. This one is from November 2008, about how we might structure our ticketing/fare system once integrated ticketing has been fully implemented.

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  • It’s outdated.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. The HOP card is an awesome advent that’s made getting a bus much simpler but it’s only on some buses and I don’t know if it’s of use on the trains yet. It’s also a privately owned system so it costs more than it would if it was state owned.

    If used properly the HOP card could actually get rid of zoning altogether – you would be charged by the actual kilometres travelled. This would require full integration though and the best (and probably the only) way to do that is to get rid of the private companies and go back to a full council owned system. Doing so would be cheaper and far more rational (Buses would no longer compete with trains etc).

  2. What exactly was the point of putting Highbrook in zone 5, other than to make traveling to work by public transit more expensive for the residents of Otara and Mangere?

    I’d favour fewer zones, probably only two like Melbourne, if only to avoid having to consult something like this each time you wanted to work out how much a trip would cost.

    1. I guess there’s always a tradeoff in the zone system between encouraging value for money for crosstown trips and making very long trips a bit too cheap.

      It’s a reasonable point though. Something for further consideration how we deal with that issue.

  3. So if I were to travel from Manurewa to Bucklands beach, that would be a 1 stage trip right, as they are both in the same zone.
    But to travel from Manurewa to Manuka Centre, which is closer, would be 2 stages.
    How will we get pass this problem?

  4. I’m increasingly convinced of the benefits of a flat fare for buses for a number of reasons. Aside from ease of handling and speed of boarding/disembarking it’s a sure way of encouraging public transport use among those who really need it. Plus it allows a differentiation between trains and buses and recognises that because buses are subject to congestion they should be used primarily as feeders for the trains/busway buses which will provide the high speed connections that should make PT appealing to a wide variety of users. A flat fare would, of course, also eliminate issues such as Kiran raises. When TfL introduced the Oyster card it also introduced a flat fare regime of £1 ($2) for any bus trip made on Oyster; at one point it dropped to 90p but the Tories have upped PT fares in London since 2008 by some 40%. Nonetheless, it made a real change for the good in the way Londoners used their buses and given our need to increase PT usage I’d suggest that this is something we should consider.

    1. I think I agree with you. One way to deal with it could be to have a flat fare ($1.50 perhaps) and apply it to all buses, with exceptions. To do this, you’d make almost all buses local or train-feeders. Those exceptions would be cross-town buses, which took you from one part of the city to another. They would have another flat fare ($3.50, perhaps)

      Simplify the fare structure, simplify transport routes.

  5. Yes, integrated/fewer zones ticketing is great but why hasn’t it happened yet. Which group is holding things up? My guess is that it’s because the private bus companies don’t want to risk/reduce their fare revenue. Is that stating the obvious?

  6. Admin’s proposed fare zones would encourage cross-town use (as for example a trip from Avondale to Panmure would be dirt cheap – one stage). That alone is not bad. Essentially one is saying “those links are (generally) crappy – but you get the trip cheap”.

    The problem is that this could be easily cheated. One could buy a 1-stage ticket from Avondale to Panmure, then leave the bus early at Morningside, or even Newmarket, saving the 3 stage ticket. How do we get around that?

    I guess by requiring tagging off, and then applying a penalty fare if that doesn’t occur. But what if I want to transfer? I am already tagged off, before tagging on at a new bus, so the system can’t see that I cheat. Conversely, to even make admin’s proposed fares work, the system would essentially have to bill me a 3-stage ticket to Newmarket, then REFUND me 2 of those stages if I then continue on to Panmure immediately. Sounds complicated…

  7. As someone with a fares policy background in Australia (mostly Melbourne), I can say that both distance and zone-based ticketing systems have their strengths and weaknesses. What turns the scales in favour of zone-based ticketing is the ability to run time-based (2 hour, 3 hour, Daily) tickets that allow unlimited use and ‘free’ interchanges although the need to re-validate/touch on (and also with smartcards to touch off) reduces the utility of these tickets.

    One other advantage of a zone-based ticketing system is that if the zone boundaries (and overlaps if you have them) are well thought out, they can act as a weak force supporting broader land use objectives. The good placement of zone boundaries with an overlap between them enables people to travel to an activity centre to use its employment, educational, medical or shopping facilities from adjacent zones on a single-zone fare. Fare zones can support non-CBD activity centres to (with judicious route design) funnel PT users into activity centres on your core PT network (as opposed to off-network activity centres).

    Both zone and distance based systems will also lead to perceived or real inequities in the system (such as Kiran’s example above). A sound rationale about why the system is set up the way it is allows it to be defended, especially against sectional interest groups who want to change zone boundaries and overlaps to their advantage.

    Melbourne is currently using (mostly) a flat Zone 1 fare on the tram network (except on the three routes in Zone 2). This unfortunately was an unintended consequence of the myki ticketing system which, in requiring touch-off on exit would have led to indescribable chaos and delays, particularly in the CBD where trams are packed pretty much all day. The outcome of the ticketing system ‘tail’ wagging the ‘dog’ of the PT network is to be avoided if possible.

    Not having been to Auckland save for a week’s visit 2 years ago, I haven’t got a feel for how integrated ticketing is going. I hope Auckland does move to zone-based ticketing, particularly as the peer cities Auckland compares itself to (your Mayor compared it to Brisbane is social and economic terms, this blog has benchmarked it to Perth in PT aspirations) have zone-based integrated ticketing system. I’d like to know more about how it’s going or better still come and visit when I have the time.

  8. Thinking about it, I’d want a two zone (line around Sylvia Park, Hillsborough, and Waterview) one zone (everything, low or moderate flat fare) or no zone (everything, no fare) system. The last two sound radical, but they’re not completely extra-ordinary. They offer benefits as well as costs (simpler, faster, less admin, lower costs to users, higher patronage, economies of scale vs lower/no fare-recovery and costs of increased ridership).

    I despair of New Zealand, because I think it has become the kind of country that could not even consider the latter solution – we have narrowminded and reactionary politicians, elected by a population fed by a media that thrives on beatups and conflict and assailing the strange. Auckland, however, has a council that could do it – if it was given sufficient funding autonomy by this or a next government. This obviously isn’t happening just yet.

  9. Having grown up in London and used the zone system for 20+ years on and off, I´m a fan. The Oyster discount (or significant cash plenty) pushes the use of the system even more (I have an Oyster card for my annual day trip) and the maps of zones are well publicised unlike the current Auckland boundaries .

    Wellington´s zones are a good start if we are looking for a NZ model in my opinion, despite the lack of integrated ticketing (GWRC where are you??) and some fare discrepancies between different modes travelling the same routes.

    It has to be said that which ever route you go down, there will be winners and losers. Wellington’s fare boundaries at a little quirky and for some reason the buses & trains down the Hutt road don´t match but generally knowing that if you travel 3 zones, its $xx then all well and good.

    I just hope that AT´s switched on planning people will cover these issues (and explain their choices) in the near future as Hop Mk 2 is rapidly approaching.

  10. That looks quite similar to Brisbane (which is a good thing).
    Although one issue could be the price of ferry trips (eg Devonport to Auckland)

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