We keep a close eye on what’s happening with public transport patronage in Auckland and to a lesser extent in Wellington. Other than the fact that these are the two biggest PT regions in New Zealand it’s also because they are the ones with relatively easy monthly data available. For other regions across New Zealand we rely on data from the NZTA and Ministry of Transport, however due to delay with the results from one of the regions, 2015’s data has only recently become available.

Across all of New Zealand there were over 144 million PT trips up to the end of June 2015, up from 137 million the year before. The results show than when it comes to PT in NZ, Auckland dominates with around 55% of all trips occurring in the region. Further, the growth in Auckland during the last financial year made up about 95% of all PT growth that occurred in NZ (6.9 million of the 7.3 million increase). Of course if Auckland was performing more like peer cities overseas it would have a much larger share of the overall pie.

NZ PT Patronage 2015

But we know PT is has been growing strong in Auckland for some time, reaching over 79 million by June 2015. We also know that PT usage in Wellington has grown much slower and has been hovering around the 35-36 million trip level. But what about the other regions?

In many regions patronage is very low with less than 1 million trips per year – in fact most are less than half a million. These regions are below along with the most recent patronage result.

  • Northland – 0.31 million
  • Gisborne – 0.14 million
  • Hawkes Bay – 0.74 million
  • Taranaki – 0.59 million
  • Marlborough –  0.03 million
  • Nelson – 0.42 million
  • West Coast – 0.02 million
  • Southland – 0.25 million

Moving on to regions with more than 1 million trips, these are shown below along with how they’ve changed over time.

NZ PT Patronage - 1m regions 2015

There are a couple of interesting things you can notice fairly immediately.

The most glaring is Christchurch which was obviously significantly impacted by the earthquakes over 5 years ago. We’ve started to see some good changes in Christchurch like the new central bus interchange, a new bus network and quite nice suburban bus interchanges, but given when they opened/were implemented we’ll really need to wait till this year’s results to see if they’ve had any impact. Hopefully they will have, but I suspect it will take a while to get back to the level it was at before the quakes, especially given the change in urban form that’s occurred.

Perhaps the next most interesting result is actually the Bay of Plenty. In 2001 there were only around 100,000 PT trips in the region but that has now risen to over 3.1 million trips, the largest percentage increase of any region over that time. One reason for this is likely to be that it appears the region has some fairly well designed bus networks providing relatively simple connective routes, such as Tauranga’s network which is below.

Tauranga Bus Network

The last thing worth noting is the drop off in patronage in the Waikato in recent years. I’m not sure what has caused it, but if current trends continue it appears likely that in a few years’ time the Bay of Plenty could surpass its western neighbour too.

Given there are also wide differences in population between different regions it’s also useful to look at things on a per capita basis. For this I’ve also included Auckland and Wellington for comparison.

NZ PT per captia 2015

The trends are pretty similar to the graph above although interestingly Otago does better on a per capita basis which is probably due to having a comparatively lower population outside Dunedin and Queenstown compared to regions like the Waikato or Bay of Plenty. This is one of the limitations of only having data at a regional level and it would probably be good for the Ministry to collect the data at a city/urban area level if possible in the future.

In my view all cities have fairly low per capita results – even Wellington should really be higher than it is. In Auckland’s case it has improved but based on peer cities we should probably have around twice the number of PT trips, so still a lot of improvement to go.

Share this


  1. I have always thought that Tauranga council have done well with the bus network (well the last 10 years anyway). Good network and good frequency. Despite this still a uptake rate (0.9% or journeys). Maybe the road network is too driver friendly, and the opening of the Eastern Arterial doesn’t help. My folks are retired there, live right outside a bus stop, free off peak travel, and yep, still hop in their car. Arhh…

    1. Tauranga’s network is certainly simpler and more frequent than other cities in New Zealand, but it’s still inadequate for a city of its size. From the outer (and fastest growing) suburbs like Bethlehem, Papamoa and The Lakes, catching the bus can take more than twice as long to get to the CBD as it would to drive. This is mostly due to circuitous routing but is compounded by how efficient the roading infrastructure is in Tauranga. The other issues are how early the buses stop running especially on the weekend (on some routes it is before 5pm) and illogical timetabling meaning that there will be very uneven gaps between buses (the Papamoa routes are the best example of this).

      The council is currently conducting a major review of the network in Tauranga which will apparently involve it being redesigned from ‘first principles’. It’s scheduled to be implemented next year so hopefully they’ll release some information about it soon.

  2. What are the y-axis units for the last graph of the post? Also wonder what Active Transport figures are looking like in the various regions – though I understand these figures are often not well measured or reported.

    1. Active transport, always relatively strong in Wellington by NZ standards, is way up to my eye in the last year or so – particularly bikes. Bike storage at work is full most days and I’m seeing more and more people on bikes at all times of day. A warm dry summer here has probably been helping a bit, but this is a rising tide in developed world cities globally so I’m inclined to think that’s a major factor too.

      1. Yes annual boardings per capita. All very low internationally. Auckland is growing PT trips at a rate of around 3 x pop growth, and around 8 x times on Rapid Transit Network. Driving in Auckland is at saturation and no amount of extremely expensive road expansion projects will change this, as while one route is temporarily improved this way the resulting induced traffic simply hits a wall elsewhere on our networks. This is a geometric certainty in cities of AKL size and form, so we can be certain that AKL will keep adding PT trips in advance of pop growth. And, therefore, it is only by investing in improving our PT networks that AKL can grow its economy efficiently.

        It is a different story in the other cities: Auckland is anomalous.

  3. We ought to be seeing a full on ‘arms race’ between Chch, Ham, and Parlmy for cycling volume bragging rights, driven aggressively by council policy. All three are flat university towns with wide roads…. competition can be a useful thing.

    Are we there yet?

    1. I think we’ve just seen a very important change in strategy in Auckland. A change that I firmly believe will bring significant change to cycling in Auckland once construction starts.

    2. I studied in Leuven, an university town in Belgium. Cycling is a very popular way of getting around over there, to the point they encounter the same problems with space usage as cars (mainly parking).

      What exactly enables this high share I’m not sure, but I can share some observations:
      • Cars drive slower on the narrow (!) streets in the centre, and there is also no way to pass cyclists at speed. These days the speed limit is set at 30 kph, but even before that it wasn’t really possible to go much faster anyway.
      • Car-free campuses. Car mode share among students is so low it is not worth building parking lots at all.
      • Drivers might be a bit more careful around cyclists over there. Drivers license tests officers are quite strict on giving cyclists enough space, and giving way if the traffic rules require it. Drivers learn to expect they may have to stay behind a cyclist for a while. Shenanigans like intentionally pinning a bicycle between your car and the kerb are completely unheard of.
      • But the main difference is that riding a bicycle from A to B is generally considered a normal thing over there. As opposed to here, where Bicycles are Not Supposed to be on Our Roads. This is more a cultural difference, not sure what councils can do about that.

      Not on that list is bicycle infrastructure, you’ll hardly find bike lanes in the city centre. Council policy, maybe. On one hand students don’t get to vote, but on the other hand they had better make sure students don’t switch to driving.

      And what about PT? Once cycling is acceptable, it is usually much faster and flexible than taking the bus. I don’t think a lot of students living nearby regularly took the bus to seminars.

  4. I’m looking forward to the implementation of HOP or the underlying technology in other regions, so that the data becomes more readily available and easier to compare.

    1. Seems to me that all the provincial towns have buses that are too infrequent and too expensive. A bus every half hour and $5 for a round trip. It seems only 684 (1.3%) out of 50,904 (see http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/data-tables/tables-about-a-place.aspx?request_value=24433&reportid=14&tabname=Transport) are that keen to use a bus. In most other countries about 20 times as many people use buses, but they’re mostly much more frequent and usually less costly compared to a litre of petrol.

      1. Most provincial centres accross New Zealand are seeing a relatively sharp decline in patronage over the last year or so as a result of more affordable vehicles, gas, registration etc. Unlike Wellington and Auckland there aren’t a lot of push factors to PT such as parking charges/availability or congestion so demand appears to be very elastic when it comes to other pricing factors.
        BOP is no exception but has been fortunate enough to take over (and pay for) a significant number of school routes from the Ministry of Education which has masked a decline in year-on-year patronage.

  5. Interesting, but patronage is a very blunt instrument in that it assumes that a one-stage trip has the same value as one from Pukekohe; and it presumably treats a multi-vehicle journey as multiple trips, when in fact it’s just one. (If this is the case, the new network with its required interchanges will generate an artifical increase in patronage).

    A better measure of transport usage is passenger km (ie every individual trip added together), which should be easily obtainable from HOP – it will be good when that data is available. Following from that, passenger km per vehicle km gives a useful measure of capacity usage, which I don’t think that we currently have.

  6. The low result for Blenheim will be due to the first bus running after the morning peak, and the last before the evening peak. I.e., absolutely no interest in providing a service when it would be most useful.

    1. Interesting timetable! I wonder if they use the buses for school runs in the morning and afternoon peaks? I was surprised there was even a bus service in Blenheim, people there would drive their cars to bed if they could get away with it.

    2. Sounds like its squarely target at a social welfare market, i.e. get little old ladies to the shops once a week sort of stuff. Almost certainly just making use of a school bus between 9am and 3pm.

    3. I’ve used the Blenheim bus on a couple of occasions, and it was pretty well patronised, mainly with shoppers – the CBD terminus is outside a large supermarket, the eastern route serves another large one, and it’s sponsored by Mitre 10, also en route – and it also provides a useful service to the hospital (and the adjacent cemeterý!). At $2 a trip it’s not bad value and seems to provides a valued service.

Leave a Reply