This is a Guest Post by Louis Mayo and follows on from this previous post about Wellington’s PT fare review

Following on from the discussion on the previous post I thought I’d propose a scheme that, in my opinion, would make for an excellent and ‘world class’ fare structure.

Number of zones:

There would be four zones:

  • Blue: Covering the entire Wellington City area & the northern suburbs.
  • Red: Covering Hutt, Porirua and as far north as Pukerua bay & Upper Hutt
  • Green: Covering Kapati as far north as Waikanae and South Wairarapa as far north as Greytown.
  • Yellow: Covering everywhere further north to Levin and Masterton. Does expand into the area of Horizon’s council but it seemed fair to have a reasonably straight line west from Masterton.

I have prepared a map showing indicative zones:

The gaps in between the colours are the ‘overlap’ areas. You can view a zoomed in version here.

I have decided to go for the option of having a smaller number of larger sized zones. Zones are combined into to new zones at a ratio of around 1:3.5. It will mean that each zone can have its own dedicated colour (I personally can’t think of 14 different colours!) This has a number of advantages such as simplicity and easier to understand and also encourages people to use PT to make multiple transfers because they have a larger area for them to do so.

There is obviously a disadvantage with using zone based systems. For example person A could be going just across the zone boundary and end up being stung with a high fare for an extra zone even if they were only going a few stops. Meanwhile person B could make a much longer trip from one end of the boundary and only pay a one zone fare

There are two ways that this can be partially resolved. One is by having zones ‘overlap’ at each other (i.e some stops would be in two zones). My, very crude,”measurements indicate that both zones red and blue are around 15-16 kilometres long end to end “as the crow flies”, and the overlaps I have measured at around 4 kilometres long between blue & red and red & green and 6km between green & yellow zones. Obviously this does not solve the entire problem and there will be some that still end up paying more than what may be deemed equitable.

The other way is by having clear geographical marks to establish the cut off points. An example of how this could work is on the Kapati line – almost all PT users heading into Wellington will be on the train. There is a long distance between Takapu Road and Wellington so this works as a natural zone boundary. The good thing about having larger zones is that there are only issues drawing lines at three boundaries rather than at thirteen different boundaries as there currently is.

Paper tickets:

Paper tickets would be paid for in cash and purchased on-board a bus from the driver or from a vending machine or from staffed ticket booths (major stations only). There is the possibility of having tickets that are sold on-board buses to be “no change given” as used in many overseas cities. This will speed up boarding times but I do worry a little about this that it may put off some people. If I was an inexperienced, first time user of the system and handed over a $10 note expecting $6.50 change and not getting it then I’d be pretty annoyed. It is an issue that makes for a very interesting discussion.

Vending machines and counters will have cash and EFTPOS and would be located at every train, cable car and ferry stop on the network, but you could also roll this out major bus stops, which would facilitate faster boarding times. But this has the potential for fare evasion. Currently the bus driver acts as a reasonable barrier against it so GWRC would need to employ random ticket inspections (as per below) on buses as well which will increase costs.

The paper ticket would have the zone and expiry time clearly printed on the ticket. No tickets will be sold onboard trains and all passengers must have a ticket before boarding and must retain it for the entire journey.

Smart cards:

Smart cards should be an RFID system similar to Snapper, but hopefully a lot ‘smarter’. Internet top ups (without needing to pay a horrific $40 for a USB card reader) will be available as well as the facility to have the card directly linked to a bank account for automatic topping up, two features that Snapper lacks at present. I envisage that most regular users would be on smart cards as the discounts and the benefits of not carrying cash would pay for itself over time.

The ideal would be a single smart card that works across Auckland and Wellington, and potentially other cities as well. Not sure what the chances of achieving this are, but dreams are free. Surely there must be advantages from economies of scale to be gained from using the Thales system after it has been installed in Auckland?

Time based ticketing:

All fares would be time based – more like a ‘subscription’ to the chosen zones rather than just a single trip. I propose offering two hour and daily time periods. I personally see nothing wrong with people using two hour passes to make a return journey if it is within the two hour window.

In addition for smart card users there would be weekly and monthly ‘fare caps’, i.e once you reach that cap over that week / month then you can receive free travel over that / those zone/s for the remainder of the week / month.

Concession fares:

The following people will pay discounted fares at all times:
●All people under 20 years of age.
●Tertiary students
●Senior citizens
●Beneficiaries / very low income earners.

Photo I.D would need to be carried at all times to qualify for concession fares. Children should travel free when travelling with an adult during off peak hours in order to make transport more affordable for families and will further incentivise off peak travel.

Off peak fares:

All people would receive discounted fares during the off peak hours. These would be 10am-2.30pm (deliberately set to end before the after school period) and after 7pm during weekdays as well as all day weekends and public holidays (and potentially for contra-peak journeys as well) This provides an incentive for people to choose other times of the day to travel and will help manage crowds during peak hours. Free travel for senior citizens off peak would continue.

Price of fares:

Suggested fare prices are shown in the tables below. A one zone fare is set at the price of what is currently a two zone fare, but would give you the equivalent of around three zones worth of travel which does mean that there is some cross subsidisation to longer trips from shorter trips. The reasoning is that PT is less likely to be competing with walking and cycling for shorter trips and more likely to compete with car travel for long trips and also because longer trips end up getting very expensive without some cross subsidisation and I would say that the marginal cost of providing for longer distance trips is lower.

To incentivise smart card usage, a 20% discount is offered. Weekly fares are set at day fare x 4.5 and monthly fares at weekly x 3.5. As it is an electronic transaction, fares do not need to be in fifty cent multiples. Prices are as below: 

There is again a disadvantage with the larger zones. The jump between a one zone and a two zone fare is quite large from $3.50 to $6. The next increases are not so bad.

I think these fares are realistic, as much as I’d like to have cheaper fares I am wary that budgets are at considerable strain and there is not really the scope to be charging lower fares. Although for some there will definitely be an initial shock of what appears to be a fare hike. But over time most will change their behaviour and get better value for money. For example someone making a one zone commute into work may be shocked to find their fare has increased from $2 to $3.50. But over time they will find that they can get a smart card and travel off peak and only pay $1.60 and might find that they can use the network to go for a meeting in another part of the city and avoid an expensive taxi fare.

Fare evasion:

Wellington (central) train station is easily gated. Due to the heavily radial structure of the network, most train travellers will hit the gates at Wellington, but it would be good to see some of the other busier stations to be gated as well in the longer run. Lambton cable car station already has gates which would simply need to be adapted for the new system. There is no reason why gates could not be rolled out busy bus stops as well.

I had assumed that all gated stations would need to be staffed. Stuart, however, informs me that Amsterdam have a system where people trying to exit without a ticket can press a button and the gate will open but they will be recorded on camera. I had envisaged that there would need to be staff to help people in wheelchairs, etc to get through the gates and stop the odd dunce from trying to jump over the gates. Wellington actually has quite a few staffed stations, Porirua and Waterloo I know but I think there are a few others as well. Inspections will have to be carried out regularly and officers would need to have the power to issue infringement notices as just forcing people to pay the fare will not be enough.


I feel this system would provide a convenient and easy policy that has many advantages. There are definitely disadvantages but they are outweighed by the positives in my personal opinion. Please do comment as there is important and very interesting discussion to be had and I’m very interested in the opinions of others on this matter.

I remind you again to go to and fill out a quick survey (takes 5 minutes) or attach a document of a longer submission – 14th September is the closing date. The criticisms I have of the survey are that it doesn’t address transfers and they have some auto system that pre judges your survey answers before you submit.

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  1. I don’t like the idea of such big zones. If I take the train from Wellington to Waterloo (20 min journey), under this system I would be paying the same fare as someone from Wellington to upper hutt(45 min journey)!!! That’s very unfair.

    I do agree with the idea of no change given on buses. There should also be prepaid only zones where you are not allowed to pay cash, only with smartcard or prepaid cash fare from a ticket machine. This prepaid only rule could be in effect maybe 7am-7pm in the golden mile and also apply at other stops like Queensgate.

    1. Yes you will face a fare rise unfortunately – from $5 for a four zone single to $6 for a two zone, two hour pass. But if you use a smart card then it will cost you only $4.80 (up from $3.80 for a current ten trip I know – but this will give you much more flexibility than a ten trip). Or you travel off peak than you can pay only $3.50 in cash or $2.80 by smart card. These are both discounts on the current fare.

      In addition to that remember that it is not a single trip, it is a two hour time based subscription to the blue and red zones. If you were to catch a bus to Courtney Place after getting off the train it would cost you $2 or $1.60 on Snapper. Now it will cost you nothing.

  2. The other limitation of less zones is that it necessarily makes quite short trips (say around 3km) very expensive.

    No change given for paper tickets is an interesting idea. But you can solve the problem of Luddites sticking with paper completely by selling the smart cards on the buses instead of paper tickets.

    Weekly cap is equal to 9x 2 hour fare? That represents a source of farebox leakage right there. The monthly is even more. Is this to be loaded on by the system or requiring user intervention? I think you can remove some business rules and therefore complexity just by removing these tickets. Better to just reduce the prices overall.

    1. The overlapping means that one will need at least four kilometres before they risk being penalised with a two zone fare. The jury is still out for me on no change given on buses.

      In terms of weekly or monthly caps – they may or may not be necessary. If we could afford the drop the base fares by around fifty cents then that may be alright.

        1. Yes true. But very few people actually go one zone currently in Wellington as the zones are so small. Most travel two or more zones.

  3. Just a quick question.
    How much revenue would this model generate? Compared to how much the current fare structure generates.
    An important question! Any ideas?

    1. I’m not sure how it can be modeled effectively without a lot more data as it depends on elasticities. My very crude analysis would suggest that it would be revenue neutral assuming current patronage levels are retained and revenue positive if patronage increases – a highly likely scenario assuming the public transport network is altered to allow for a system that uses more transfers to get around.

  4. You fare settings have just added over 20% to those who solely use the cable car to get to work ……

    (based on the current cheapest 50 trip concession pass vs your monthly cap of $88)

  5. You’ve also almost doubled the fare for ‘city zone’ travellers: from $1.50 to $2.80.

    The problem with having huge zones like that is that it subsidises the travel of people who travel further – which just encourages more urban sprawl.

    1. Well in in the blue zone, no additional urban sprawl is encouraged. In the outer zones you are only subsidising within that zone, so for example, people going 4 zones subsidise people going 6 zones.

  6. I much prefered the old pre 2002, Christchurch system of sections where for example it was a $1 from Riccarton to the Square- with the section stop near Westfield. This and the related l0 or 20 ride concessions tickets, meant minimal cost could take you close to the varsity. Given the limitations of drivers vision range and the facts that two interpretations of the sections were given on the tickets, ie 2 sections were also 4 sections, there was hugh scope, given a comprehensive study of ticketing cases from 19C underground to Judge Cherrie Blairs enterprise of free riding there was huge scope on the historical christchurch system to get $50 travel for about $8 more than a decade ago.
    One enjoys the many advantages of low fares for shot journeys in Auckland, ie $1 from the Britomart to Victoria Park or Upper Symonds st. I feel in Wellington such concessions should be extended to say $1.50 from the Station to haitati, brooklyn, northland, wadestown, roslyn, varsity, newtown. Low fares should be for short distance travel in areas that should be infilling and mult level. In terms of longer distance rail commutting I feel rates should be nearer full rates of recovery. In Wellington I suppose the charge rate is 50% of operating cost in Auckland its absurdly low about 25%. My own view the cost of maintaining a rail passenger service to featherstone are huge and its very anti social to live out at Paek, Paraparamu or Waikanae- because the costs of long distance commutting by rail like long distance commutting by car is very high. Therefore while I favour low fares for short distance tram or bus commutters, I beleive an environmentally consistent policy would immediately steeply raise fares to say Papakura or Swanson and to Peakarkariki or Waikanae- but at the same time cost recovery in Wellington would remain twice as high. Neverhtless I think both Auckland rail commutters and their long distance Wellington compatriots are being subsidised to an absurd degree I see trams as for short up to 8km intensive low fare commutting.

  7. I rather like the Lisbon system. It has three tiers of pricing.
    Casual: Cash fares are expensive (relatively speaking, with a min 40% discount for cashless). This is convenient-ish for visitors, but not so expensive as to be aversive.
    Frequent: A 50c cardboard smartcard. No transfers, but offers a 40% discount over cash
    Local: Card is registered to a specific user. I’m not entirely familiar with this, but Lisbon locals have these. They are around the same price as the paper ones, but also offer transfer discounts, possibly monthly caps or passes, not entirely sure, as I was only living there for 2 months, and the cardboard one was fine for my needs.

    Lisbon has only two Zones, and I’m not sure I ever made it to Zone 2 (think it would be Upper Hutt-ish/Porirua distance away), and the price difference is pretty minimal.

    However, if you have an excellent smart card, I don’t see why there couldn’t be a relatively more complex fare system. You could have a $1 flagfall (valid for 2 hours to allow for transfers), and then a distance based pricing scheme, perhaps in 10c increments. I don’t see that the price needs to be obvious and transparent to someone at a stop. That seems like a throw-back to an old paper system. If you know that staying on the bus is going to cost you another 10c for each half km you travel (I’m making up the 20c cost), then I think that seems innately more fare, even if you might not know exactly how much your ride was costing.

    1. Distance fares would be okay but in my opinion far too much administration for a relatively small problem. I also dislike the idea of having more than one strucuture. One for all with a discount for smart cards is what I say!

  8. Because it involves how much people pay fare zones are a very emotive issue.Simpler is better, one of the biggest issues with PT is that it is more complicated than driving so reducing the amount of fare zone is a good idea. Its true that bigger zones favour those who travel longer distances. The current system favours those who travel on one route. No matter what system you have in place there will be winners and losers. The idea is to get a system that works for the majority and encourages growth in patronage. The current system doesn’t do this. I pay $180 per month on PT but can only use one route of one operator, so all other trips are by car! It easier by car!

    1. Hear hear. This is very much my point of view as well. Fewer fare zones makes everything so much more streamlined. There will always be some people better off and some worse off. As I said in my last blog post I will personally be worse off as when ever I’m in Wellington, I am always on the boundary between zone 1 and 2. That way I can catch a #11 to the Airport for two zones or go into the railway station for one zone. I lose mainly from this scheme but a whole lot more will gain.

  9. Currently the Zone system works okay for Wellington for both money and Snapper users.

    I am not sure why it needs to be change.Make travelling on PT simple and not make it complicated as per Louis post.

    I m not sure where Louis M lives. If he lives in Wellington, he will know how the Wellington PT zone system works will enough for both money and card users.

    If I want to travel from Miramar to Kilbirnie its 1 zone, Kilbirnie to Courtney Place is 2 Zones & Courtney Place to Railway Station is 3 zones.

    Under Louis proposal Miramar to Railway Station would be 1 zone at $3.50 but if I want to travel from Miramar to Kilbirnie it will be still 1 zone at $3.50. To me that is unfair for those who are pensioners and students, especially pensioners who only want to go Kilbirne to do shopping.

    The 3 zones also applies to the Seatoun to railway station on route 11.

    Then you have the situation with the Airport Flyer Route 90/91 which is 4 zones from the Airport to Railway Station. For the airport Flyer zone 1 is the airport property, zone 2 is outside the airport property to Kilbirnie, zone3 is Kilbirnie to Courtney Place and zone 4 Courtney Place to Railway Station.

    When the Airport Flyer first started it was 3 zones but the Greater Wellington Regional Council didn’t want to fund it so it was made as a 4 zone journey.

    Snapper works fine and I get tired of the Snapper bashing especially in Louis post. Snapper works on GPS hence the fare charging is calculate when you tag on and tag off.

    With regards to suburban trains and the Wairairapa Connection, card readers can be installed at railway stations, so I could ‘Tag On’ at Taita and ‘Tag Off’ at Wellington rail using the same principle as the buses. Alternatively train managers can have hand held GPS readers.

    The cable card once again can have readers on either the two cable cars or at the each of the 4 stops. Since the cable is fixed route I think it is with the city zone, there is no problem for Snapper as it is 1 zone.

    With regards to the East/West ferry service Wellington to Eastbourne, hand held GPS card readers for the crew and a gate reader at Wellington terminal.

    Once again not a problem for Snapper.

    I have seen NZ Bus (Wellington) fare inspectors having hand held readers, to check if the passenger had tagged on the bus. All they had to do is tap the card on the reader It will tell them when I got on the bus.

    Louis – if you are going to make constructive comments about Wellington PT, please do a bit more research.

    You can top up Snapper via internet banking.

    Also, when you have tag off and if your balance is below $10.00 the reader will say ‘Please check your Balance’, telling you its time to top up.

    Have at look at options for topping up at –

    While Louis concept is interesting, its some what complicated. The say is – it it works why fix it.

    1. 1) I don’t really think where I live is relevant to the discussion but I am a frequent user of Wellington public transport and are aware of the problems.

      2) Yes it is correct. If you choose to travel during peak hours on cash then it will set you back $3.50 for this trip. BUT if you only go shopping for a short amount of time then you may well be able to return on the same ticket, as it is a two hour pass.

      3) A smart card can shave 20% off your fare. This will mean you only have to pay $2.80. If it is a $10 fee to buy the card then you get the money back after 15 trips.

      4) You can also save by travelling off peak. This significantly reduces your pass down to $2 or $1.60 on smart-card. Suddenly you are now paying the same amount you were under the old system. As an aside, pensioners it is no concern is they will pay concession fare during peak hours and free off peak as they do now.

      5) I would probably put the Airport in red zone. There’s no good reason why the flyer should cost you more than another bus. If it has to be then it shouldn’t be too hard to put it in the blue so it costs you a two zone trip to go anywhere to / from the airport.

      6) There’s no Snapper “bashing” in this post. I’d love to support Snapper as a New Zealand business (albeit with most of their technology run out of Korea). Snapper works okay but it’s not great. Just because it’s currently there it is no reason why Wellington should have an inferior system. I’m happy to go with Snapper but obviously Auckland Transport had issues with it processing things such as time based transfers and so on. If Snapper can make it work then they would be entitled to make a bid provided they comply with the national standard.

      7) The other reason why I am a little sceptical of Snapper is that cards take a lot longer to tag on / off compared with Octopus or other card systems overseas. Online top ups are available but you need to fork out $40 for a USB card reader, on many other systems you can do it wirelessly and the system simply credits the balance next time you tag. Wellington deserves nothing but the best as far I’m concerned.

      8) As proposed in the post, definitely readers at the station for rail, ferry, cable car and possibly some bus stops as well. The idea of a conductor moving through the train collecting tickets is very outdated.

      9) Never seen that before in Auckland but definitely inspections with handheld readers will be required to ensure people are paying.

      10) I have done plenty of research. I don’t really see how this is complicated? This new system will be far simpler and user friendly than what is currently used. I also strongly agree with you saying that that the system isn’t broken – having a system that penalises transfers is not a system that works.

      Louis M

  10. After reading through I comments I do agree that it is a little unfair that very short trips have to subside the longer ones to such a huge extent. Could I suggest that a special ‘short distance’ fare is applied for those who take a trip less than 2-3km? I would suggest a price of around $1.50 or $1.00 for concession users. It would only need to be for smart card users, as such systems could easily calculate the distance one has travelled. If someone then travelled further in the same zone their journey cost would just need to be ‘upgraded’ to a full one zone fare – within full capability of most systems. It would also act as a incentive for people to get a smart card, speeding up boarding and making the network more efficient. For routes that only lasted less than 3km like the cable car it could apply to the cash price as well, but this could complicate a system where simplification is the key goal.

    On another note, why are there 5 zone passes Lewis? I only see a maximum of four zones. Is there an extra ‘hidden’ zone or am I missing something.

    1. Very true there Hamish. I had initially thought of a five zone system but reduced it to four but forgot to adjust the fare tables. I am of the opinion now that fares for the outer zones may have to rise – there is massive subsidy on Capital Connection users there. But at the same time, I don’t believe it is fair that Levin commuters should pay significantly more than Masterton commuters as they are a similar distance.

  11. The problem with grand schemes for Wellington’s public transport system is that they always struggle to answer the question “what’s broken?” I like the idea of a zone-based system, but I’m not sure whether there’s a massive problem to solve here. Just as I’m not sure why Wellington embarked on such a massive rework of its bus network when the current one works well.

    Or why the government wants to blow nearly $3 billion on the Wellington Northern Corridor when the region has very little population growth.

    Do nothing is always a valid option.

    1. Fares system isn’t good. It still has generally unintegrated fares – which makes it a bad system. I’d also say that evening frequencies of some (most?) of the buses have room for improvement. While 55% farebox recovery isn’t bad it’s well behind some places in Asia.

      There’s always room for improvement.

    2. Can’t say I agree Anderson. There is definitely a problem to solve: Transfers between services. It has to be fixed! That is the first priority. The second priority is reducing the confusing and expensive 14 zone system. The rework of the bus network will now not be as massive as originally planned, mainly because it would have meant under utilisation of the trolley buses. Fully agree on the Northern Corridor though – a terrible idea. I agree with Simon L about frequencies, they’re okay and comparatively better than Auckland, but there’s a case for improvement. I’d like to see a 10 minute Mon-Fri day time frequency on the #1,#2,#3 and #11 (or whatever they are called after the new network) with a 12 minute Sat- Sun frequency and 15 minute frequencies on the #7 with the #8 turned into a shuttle from Brooklyn to Kowhai Park. #9 and a few other routes could do with a boost as well. Evening frequencies also are in need of improvement. One area that needs fixing is that currently trollies don’t run on the weekend, this pushes up the marginal cost of improving weekend frequencies.

  12. Wellington PT is standing still, other cities are moving forward. In the not to distance past Wellington was streets ahead of Auckland or Christchurch. Both cities are catching up!
    So whats wrong
    The fare system doesn’t work if you transfer
    Train ticketing is in the dark ages
    There is some wasteful duplication of bus routes in Wellington
    Night and weekend services is inadequate or non existent in some areas
    The trolley bus system is a grossly underutilized asset
    Most railway station are run down
    These issues and no population growth are holding back patronage growth

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