In an interesting move Wellington City Council is paying $200,000 to subsidise bus fares on Go Wellington buses on weekends in the lead up to Christmas.

As Wellington bus users look forward to low weekend fares in the run-up to Christmas, their Auckland counterparts face a doubling of the price of new Hop cards.

Wellington City Council yesterday announced it was contributing $200,000 to subsidise bus fares, to as little as $1 for one-stage rides, for four weeks from November 28 to encourage more people to use public transport.

“This initiative will provide a welcome boost for retail sales,” said Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

The fares, on yellow Go Wellington buses, will also include $2 for an adult two-stage ride and $1.50 for children travelling across two or three zones.

Auckland Transport is not jumping to match that, saying only that it will “watch the Wellington trial with interest”.

There are a couple of thoughts I have about this.

In effect this is the council trying to encourage people to use PT to shop in the city rather than them driving to a mall which most likely has free parking. In my view there are both positives and negatives to this. On the positive side it’s certainly better to encourage people to catch a bus to go shopping – which in most cases isn’t for going to be large bulky items – rather than lowering prices for limited numbers of council carparks.

At the same time though I wonder there are other reasons why more people aren’t already choosing to use the bus for shopping. The biggest of these is likely to be that that buses simply aren’t fast or frequent enough on weekends. Lowering the price might get a couple of people to change their behaviour but improving the level of service will likely have been much more effective – although possibly more costly.

In saying this I do think that in Wellington and in Auckland more use should be made of off peak fares to encourage more people to use PT at times when there is often an excess of capacity. For Auckland at least this isn’t currently possible with HOP so I very much hope AT are including it as part their integrated ticketing work.

It will be interesting to see if this has any impact on patronage. Currently growth on PT in the region is basically non-existent and for the 12 months to the end of September patronage was only up 0.6% however that was only due to rail with bus patronage down 0.2%. Hopefully the regional council release information about the impact of the campaign so we can see just how successful (or not) the idea is.

Wellington Patronage 2015-09

What do you think of the idea?

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  1. Bus fares can be prohibitively expensive in Welly; travelling to Lambton Quay from West Wellington over a distance similar to going from Eden Terrace to Britomart costs nearly $7.5 return (3 zones) using Snapper whereas in Auckland, this would only be a one stage fare. This high expense is also related to poor drawing of zones because you can also go from Karori to Lyall Bay (one end of line to the other) also for nearly $7.5 return. Will be interesting to see how demand responds to this discount, although over the holiday period patronage can be lower so might not be a useful period for analysis.

    Hence when travelling as a group of friends or family, costs less to drive to CBD to park or to drive to the malls in Porirua, Lower Hutt or the new big box in Lyall Bay.

    1. Fare zones in Wellington are designed to get smaller and smaller as you approach the central city. For example, the CBD to Waterloo, Petone to Upper Hutt, and Featherston to Masterton are all four zones each – however the first is 15km, the second is 22km, and the third is 35km.

    2. The fact that Karori to the CBD and to Lyall Bay are the same fare has nothing to do with “poor drawing of zones” – it’s because while the shorter journey goes through zones 2 and 3 once and the longer twice, each zone is counted just once for fare calculation purposes.

      1. Yes, which goes to show the zones need to be redrawn, with fewer zones and eventually integrated fares across the entire region’s network. E.g. it is possible to travel farther from the inner east or south suburbs to say, Parliament, for only a two zone fare compared to a shorter journey from Karori tunnel (Karori end) to Parliament for three zones. Another example is northern Churton Park to Parliament (farther) is the same three zone fare as Kilbirnie to Parliament.

        In other words, bring on integrated fares and fewer zones please

          1. From memory, anything Karori-side of the Karori tunnel to the CBD is 3 zone. The crux of my argument is, Wellington City’s bus zoning is flawed because you can have really long trips (Churton Park to Parliament) that have the same 3 zone fare as much shorter trips (Chaytor Street, Karori to Parliament), which doesn’t make much sense to me.

          2. Any zonal system creates anomalies when comparing places at the limits of the zone, as you are with Chaytor St (inner end of zone 3) and Churton Park (outer end of the same zone). The larger the zones the more pronounced this will be, so your proposal to reduce the number of zones is likely to exacerbate the issue that you want to fix.

            But many places don’t see this as a problem, charging a flat fare irrespective of how far you travel, whether it’s one stop or many kilometres, eg the New York Subway and London buses. I’m not suggesting this for Wellington, but it just shows that there are many different valid approaches. I happen to think that with integrated ticketing Wellington will have it about right.

  2. Buses in Wellington are quite frequent but not reliable, and trolley buses are very slow. If you intend to do Christmas shopping it’s much easier to drive from Wellington to the big shopping mall in Lower Hutt than to mess around catching buses and then slogging around the CBD. Even buying some clothes or a pair of shoes means you have “bulky” items to carry. If I’m thinking of buying more than one item it’s easier to catch the airport bus right to Westfield in the Hutt than to go to town. Also, if we travel as a family (for example, going to the movies), it’s cheaper to pay for a carpark in the city or take a taxi than it is to bus – not to mention much quicker and more convenient. I live on a bus route, 15-20 minutes from Lambton Quay at quiet times on a diesel, or 35-40 minutes on a trolley bus during the day. I believe Wellington’s buses are already well-patronised and the lower fares won’t make much difference at all – though it will be nice.

  3. It’s a good idea yes, but when there is 12 hours of parking available in town for $4, for most people the latter will still be more attractive unless they are out drinking. Also worth noting that they are not doing anything for the northern suburbs where bus services are provided by Newlands Coach Services, so if we want to go into town it’s still $3.63 one way electronically or $5 cash on a 10km or thereabouts run. I would have thought that if Wellington City Council were going to subsidise travel within the city council area they would do it for all rather than some of it.

    1. The use or non-use of trolleybuses has no bearing on route frequency. Wellington’s frequent routes e.g. 1, 2, 3, 11 have run all-day frequent service on Sat and/or Sunday for many years now. The reason for not using trolleybus on weekends, if I recall correctly from a local paper many years back, is that the electricity/lines tariffs are more expensive on weekends. Nonetheless, the trolleys are an ass and always come off winding up some of Wellington’s steep roads, good riddance.

      1. Lack of weekend trolleys in because the contract with Wellington Cable Car Ltd, the WCC CCO that owns the wires, does not provide for backup at the weekends, those days being allowed for maintenance. It has nothing to do with fuel cost.

    2. “The lack of trolley bus service in the weekend must surely be an impediment to boosting frequency.” No, buses are still quite frequent in the weekends, and diesels run much faster than trolley buses. Trolleys are very slow and the new ones are very noisy too. My bus route could do with a few more buses on a Sunday, but I’ll be delighted when trolleys are gone. One the other day (mid-afternoon, off-peak) was 11 minutes late arriving at my stop, and I estimate would have been running 30 minutes late by the time it got to the station. Cost, slowness and unreliability put people off the buses.

  4. In effect this is the council trying to encourage people to use PT to shop in the city rather than them driving to a mall

    There isn’t really a Wellington mall. There are malls in Porirua (20km from the central city) and Lower Hutt (15km), which require driving through the city to get through from most suburbs (excluding Johnsonville and Tawa). There’s a small Dressmart complex, and a mini-mall in Johnsonville, but that’s it.

  5. Is it possible for the HOP to distinguish charges by time and date. It seems to me that discounting the fares each side of the peak would encourage greater patronage. If it were to be reduced still further for off peak weekend use maybe the liquor industry wouldn’t need to raise the Breath test standard to regain their patronage. Then if we got more late night users maybe the PT could run later, Although I’m not sure that I’d want to drive them if the number of drunk patrons rose.

    1. HOP transactions are time-stamped, so no reason why you cannot have time-based differential pricing. Will most likely be a component of the Simplified Fare structure to be implemented next year.

    1. I think that’s a 2017/18 development assuming that GWRC start taking some action rather than just talking about it and it will be integrated fares as well as ticketing.

  6. I think they should make them cheaper. These people are doubly disadvantaged, they live in Wellington and have to ride public transport.

  7. Better idea would be can the gully + the flyover and instead build LRT from WCS through the golden mile through southern CBD all the way to the airport.

    Also why are we not thinking one smart card for the whole country. If we build LRT above + Southwest Airport Line in Auckland we could have easy PT use for all the people who travel between both.

  8. Even in auckland, for weekend where the parking fee is cheaper, it is cheaper and convient to drive then use the low frequency bus.

    A return trip for a whole family can cost 20 bucks or more, which is more expensive than petrol and fee bucks of parking, or free if in suburb

      1. But it is the lack of frequency of any services. Some of the bus services drop to only once per hour. Train frequency is only every 30 minutes. That alone put me off using PT on the weekends unless I have no other choice

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