This is a post by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan. We also appreciate the contribution of key information on recent history of the sector from Greater Auckland reader ‘Kris’ Chris McKellar. While we’ve enjoyed reading widely to compile this information, and take responsibility for any errors, we look forward to learning more in the comments.

(Credit for above image: Newmans bus, Cathedral grounds, Nelson. Ref: 1/1-003864-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22802215 )

In our first post we set out some environmental reasons to rebuild a low-carbon national public transport network. Countries such as Sweden have taken action this year to improve low carbon long distant travel:

In the quest to reduce the massive carbon footprint from global transportation, Sweden plans to revive a staple of 20th century travel: the overnight train.

Since then the Auckland Council, along with many other local bodies around New Zealand, has declared a climate emergency. The time is right to look with fresh eyes at ways to reduce our rising transport emissions.

New Zealand had a significant rail and regional bus network as recently as 1976:

(Note: A surprising number of rail lines on this map were used as passenger lines in 1976, but not all.)

Greater Auckland developed a vision for improved long distance train services in New Zealand, especially rapid trains connecting Auckland with Tauranga and Hamilton. Others have suggested bringing back the daily overnight train between Wellington and Auckland, and extending rail services to Rotorua, Taupo and Northland. Electric planes may one day be viable on some routes. EVs will also be part of the solution.

However, for large rail projects and electrifying aviation, the capital investment will be significant and time frames long. In this time of climate crisis all alternative forms of land based transport need to be considered, especially those that involve relatively little capital investment and short time frames. In this article we therefore focus primarily on long distance buses, as they can most quickly be established into a network and then adjusted as improved rail lines come on board.

There seems to be an attitude that bus travel is second-rate to trains, but the bus network coverage will always be more than rail can achieve in New Zealand. In later posts we will discuss the improvements we believe are necessary to encourage people to shift from driving to regional bus travel. In this post we present a few excerpts from New Zealand’s history of long distance buses, which could be helpful in understanding the current industry structure and its particular strengths and weaknesses.

History of the industry

The Newman Brothers provides an example of the evolution of an early family business. They had been running horse coaches since 1879 and began operating service cars in 1911.

(Credit: Newman Brothers passenger vehicle with postal bags, Nelson. Ref: 1/1-011316-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23101112)

As technology advanced, the company began using buses. Part of the reason the company was successful was that it was based in Nelson where there was no railway. Newmans merged or was taken over in 1972, 1988, 1994 and finally lost its branding as it merged into InterCity in 1998. Interestingly, in 1991 the company negotiated with Mount Cook Lines to serve only one of the main islands each. Newmans are still listed in tourist websites or in google searches today, but the booking process ends up on the InterCity page. Newmans’ history illustrates the changes in the sector:

In early European settlement the sector evolved from small family businesses. In places where there were good rail networks, buses were seen as not needed. The New Zealand Bus and Coach Association suggests that in the early 20th century New Zealand Railways tolerated private bus companies as long as they concentrated on routes not serviced by rail links. Te Ara says:

The 1933 Transport Amendment Act said no new licences would be given to bus services that ran along railway routes

New Zealand Railways started buying bus companies and forming their own bus service, the New Zealand Railways Road Services (NZRRS), from 1926 onwards. Te Ara says:

NZRRS grew dramatically under the first Labour government, buying out 27 private companies between 1936 and 1939. In 1940 it had 138 coaches; in 1950, twice that. By 1980, it was three times as large as the next-biggest coach company, Newman’s Coachlines.

(Credit: Bus and Coach Association New Zealand)

In the late 1940s the first Wellington to Auckland bus service was established. At the top of the market was the 24-seater Luxury Landliner. Its route was calculated so it did not coincide with the main trunk railway line – and it was not allowed to pick up or put down passengers between the two cities. The buses featured bathrooms, complimentary meal service and “an attentive Landliner hostess.”

A number of factors led to the demise of long distance bus travel, primarily the increasing numbers of private cars and the introduction of affordable air travel. This affected rail, too, with lines to Northland and elsewhere closing.

The 1980s was a decade of deregulation. The Transport Amendment Act 1983 changed the licensing system and ended government fare-setting. Bus companies no longer had to show a service was needed, just that they could deliver it safely and reliably. In 1991, New Zealand Railways Road Services was privatised.  Te Ara has a good summary of the rise and eventual demise of these services. Its long-distance services were bought by the InterCity Group.

De-regulation and privatisation was also dramatically affecting rail services, and slowly more regional services disappeared. This included the overnight train between Wellington and Auckland, the train between Wellington and New Plymouth and the one that linked Wellington to Gisborne and Napier. The main long distance competitor, Air New Zealand, was also privatised in 1989, but then returned to majority government ownership in 2001 after near bankruptcy. So by the start of the 21st century, the government had a strong incentive to make sure Air New Zealand was successful but had little direct interest in buses.

Here is InterCity’s current map. Note the pink routes are intended for tourists so, for example, there are three daily services from Te Anau to Milford Sound, but they happen within 50 minutes of each other in the middle of the day. Like the earlier NZRRS map, it includes lines not in use anymore. You can’t actually book a trip to the Hokianga through InterCity.

With the NZRRS built up to be a dominant player, privatisation had placed InterCity as a dominant commercial operation. Two important competitors entered the market in recent years: Naked Bus and ManaBus. Naked Bus challenged InterCity by offering cheap fares. InterCity responded by trying to win customers with a better and cheaper product; they offered fares from $1, improved driver training, bought more coaches, put up drivers’ wages and improved schedules.

(Credit: Wikipedia)

ManaBus commenced operating express coach services on the North Island of New Zealand on 21 November 2014. In May 2015 it took over Nakedbus. ManaBus challenged InterCity by offering a better experience. They introduced Scania double decker coaches, with driver and attendant, onboard toilet, table seating, mobility access and daylight fares from $15 between Auckland and Wellington.

InterCity responded to Manabus entering the market by introducing new Scania Double Deckers with Gold Seats (now called premium seats) that offered passengers wider seats with increased space between them, and greater recline, in a 1-2 (1 aisle 2) seating configuration and onboard toilet. The onboard toilets have since been taken out, as InterCity had many problems with blocked and overflowing toilets.

ManaBus and Nakedbus ceased operation on 15 July 2018. The companies weren’t actually sold, but the bus fleets were, and are being used as part of the InterCity fleet.

InterCity emerged from this competition offering a better product. However, with the exception of a new sleeper service between Auckland and Wellington, its coaches have no onboard toilets or refreshment facilities so the company relies heavily on the infrastructure available along its routes. This supporting infrastructure varies in quality.

InterCity is 46.3% owned by Ritchies, 46.3% by Tranzit and 7.4% by Nelson Coachlines (SBL Group). Ritchies and Nelson Coachlines are well established family owned businesses based in the South Island while Tranzit is owned by the Snelgrove family based in Masterton. InterCity Group does not own any buses or coaches and contracts its buses from its shareholder companies.

Late in 2018 Skip started operating out of Auckland, using some former Manabus/Nakedbus coaches. This service is an even lower cost option than InterCity and seems to focus on the youth market. The routes are limited to a couple of popular North Island routes with few stops. Skip is also owned by the InterCity group. In fact many bus brands are also owned by InterCity. The lack of competition is likely to influence the level of service provided.

Other Services

The long distance bus network doesn’t have comprehensive coverage of the country. Where access is poor, therefore, a range of other services have developed.

For the tourist market, there are services like Stray where people can get on and off along particular routes.

There are also some small private operators who serve particular areas. An example is Go Kiwi, linking Auckland with the Coromandel. A weekend oriented ferry service also links Auckland and the town of Coromandel. In the South Island Atomic Shuttles run some services from Christchurch.

There are some rural bus services provided by regional councils. These are often infrequent with limited destinations. The Northland Regional Council, for example, provides a few Buslink services, such as a morning service from Omapere to Kaikohe three days a week, returning that same day in the afternoon.

Organisations like Health Boards, the Cancer Society and St Johns organise shuttle services for patients to access medical services. Usually, these are run by volunteers.

In some areas, a regular service is seen as unattainable, and people rely on taxi services. This Foxton service is all-electric. Sometimes the Councils provide discounts on taxis for people with impairments, such as the Taranaki Total Mobility Scheme.

All these services are generally operated independently of each other with no network easily linking them together, and no comprehensive common booking system. In another post, we’ll discuss how technology could improve the booking experience and make many more trip possibilities visible.

In summary, the national public transport network has been buffeted by changing political ideology; it has never achieved full coordinated state control nor customer-focused competition without a monopoly. Currently, the main network is run privately for profit, and is not comprehensive geographically. Some gaps are filled by tourist-focused boutique services that also make a profit, while at the other extreme, some are provided by people volunteering their time in order to provide basic levels of access for those in need.

The climate crisis, helped by evolving technology, gives us the opportunity to rebuild an efficient, high quality, low carbon national public transport network

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118 comments

  1. There was a railway line in Nelson but it only ran to Glenhope so it wasn’t particularly useful for passengers. When the Lewis pass Road opened up after the second war buses could run to Christchurch. But good timely post will look forward to comments

    1. That’s hilarious thanks, Miffy. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Paul did the heavy work for this one. So many thanks to Paul!

    2. Miffy, you have too much spare time on your hands if you use it to search the web for gems like that… Got any more?

    1. That is an interesting map. Impressive coverage of services offered in Northland, for example. Question: the library info says 1932, and I can’t read the text too well to know. Do you think the 1924 date is written there somewhere?

      1. If you click on ‘Source URL’ below the image at that link, you’ll get a zoomable version.

        I can’t find a date on the map, but ~1932 is plausible. I think the base map in black is slightly older (mid to late 1920s), with new colour plates (red & blue) used to update it.

        A few features that constrain dates:
        – Mangahao Power Station (in black): opened 1924
        – Arapuni Power Station (in red): opened 1929
        – “New East Coast Railway” label in red north of Napier, but no black line. Rail opened to Putorino in 1930.
        – Shoreline of Ahuriri Lagoon (Napier) shown in black, but not coloured in blue (like other lakes & inlets) – suggests map printing post dates 1931 Napier Earthquake, but the plate used for black predates it.

        Quite a level of detail in that map and the route elevation profiles.

        1. Based on new information, the argument about Ahuriri Lagoon on the map is not correct & map is consistent with 1920s.

          1. Your effort is appreciated still, gk. That’s how we find out these things. And you’ve guided me to the zoomable version of the map, which I’ll probably use often if I’m going to start looking at these archive maps. 🙂

        2. It’d be good to check a few more dates to try to guess when these maps were done. A few more are that most AARD routes were taken over by the railways in 1928. The map shows the East Coast Main Trunk only to Waihi. The railway to Tauranga opened in 1927.

      2. Message to National Library – I think 1924 is a very likely date. The Raglan route is still shown on the AARD map. Robertsons Motors stopped advertising the route as AARD in November 1924 (New Zealand Herald, Volume LXI, Issue 18849, 25 October 1924, Page 8 and New Zealand Herald, Volume LXI, Issue 18864, 12 November 1924, Page 3).
        Message back – I’ll have a cataloguer change the date on the descriptive record and I change the classification of the map. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to have the map digitized again so the image will show the incorrect classification number.

          1. Interesting looking at that earlier map: appears Ahuriri Lagoon wasn’t coloured blue on that version either (unlike all the other major inlets), so that blows my theory out of the water.

            Everything else I mentioned would be consistent with mid 1920s: either under construction or recently finished.

  2. A great post. Travelled many miles on Newmans Coaches, including some charter runs by the Wellington Botanical Society into remote valleys of North West Nelson for their Easter expeditions. I remember disembarking from the bus about midnight at the road end far up above the Cobb hydro lake. The bus driver had been a truck driver for the dam construction. The only other vehicle at the road end was a landrover, whose occupants were asleep in their tent before our arrival. As I directed the bus turning round I saw the tent move and an absolutely incredulous face appear. A voice from inside then asked. “Well what is it?” The reply, “You are not going to believe this, it’s a bloody great big Newman’s Bus” whereupon the tent moved some more and a second face appeared.

    1. Classic. Saw a similar reaction to a charter bus turning up in the dark at one of the Tararua roadends years back.

      Must’ve been interesting with a bus on the Cobb road as it is somewhat narrow, iirc (seemed like it when I did a uni field trip in there anyway & that was with vans).

      1. Yes the hairpins between the powerhouse and the dam could not be swung in a single turn. The back seat of the bus was a seriously scary place to be as it reversed just short of the back axle out over the edge illuminated by an Easter full moon. A couple of years later on the same trip the driver and his late teenage son had an enforced overnight somewhere on the return above the lake as a rock fall had occurred after dropping of the botsoc’ers and one rock was too heavy to move for the two of them. They had to walk down to the telephone at the dam to summon help next morning. Newmans was not pleased as the bus was scheduled on that morning for the early Christchurch trip from Nelson.

  3. Caught mana bus and it was good, not stopping at every tin pot little place and nice coach with toilet onboard. Pity they folded. I’ve caught intercity and found a four hour car trip takes seven hours as they come off the motorway and take all the back roads. We really don’t have the extensive motorway network required to make coach travel genuinely comfortable.

    1. What have you got against InterCity Coachlines? Every time that InterCity Coachlines is mentioned, you make negative comments. At least they are serving most local communities, who rely on InterCity Coachlines for regional and inter-regional travel. In essence InterCity Coachlines is doing the job of regional rail.

      Skip is currently limited semi express service between Auckland and Wellington.

      1. Can be a bit tedious if the service is full & stops everywhere.

        I do Wellington Hawkes Bay on the bus occasionally and have had an express run from Palmy to Porirua. That saved quite a bit of time by not diverting into Levin & off the Kapiti Expressway (plus skipping the others stops). It was a one off due to lateness (& possibly driver hours issues): a few passengers were transferred to another bus at Palmy for the skipped stops.

        With increasing amount of expressway & motorway I’d like to see a regular express for the longer distance run with connections to a Wellington – Palmy stopper service.

        (Or regional passenger rail)

        1. I’ve nothing against intercity, I just preferred the mana bus as it didn’t stop everywhere and trundle through all the small towns. I used both national express and megabus in the UK and found them great, also sticking to motorways for the majority of their trips.

          1. The UK/European business model Manabus was using for NZ, didn’t work, hence Manabus shut down operations, as they weren’t making money on limited stop services between Auckland and Wellington using double decker coaches. Unlike InterCity Group, Manabus owned either through leasing or outright purchase their coaches which adds to the operating costs. The double decker Scania coaches Manabus were using are expensive to buy compared to single deck coaches.

          2. @kris Mana didn’t nt operate Scania buses, they used Volvo B11R’s with Kiwi Bus Builders bodies

  4. A piece of entirely useless information, but Newmans had a brief stint operating an airline between 1985 and 1987, competing with Mount Cook Airlines on the tourist routes.

    They were bought out by Ansett in 1987 as they tried to become a domestic competitor to Air NZ.

    1. Don’t Newmans – and Nimmons – offer some long distance bus rides out of Hawkes Bay – or at least I think they used to, back in the 70s? Both companies are still going back in HB.

      Newmans also had a service in the 70s called Pegasus – the future of buses. The Pegasus bus was a beauty – just the one coach i think, but kitted out for corporate largese with lounge seats and conference facilities, for those busy business executives on the move. I remember seeing it once on the Napier-Taupo highway – it allegedly had an aircraft landing light mounted up top, which shafted out into the darkness as it sped across the plains near Taupo. Sounded cool – but as far as I know, was never a success, despite its vast expense…

      I’m amazed to hear that Mana and Naked have both been bought out by Intercity – had no idea that our bus service is so monopolistic.

      1. The Manabus double deck coaches and some single deck buses were bought by Ritchies and are now used on high density routes or as back up to current InterCity Coachlines double decker services and the singe deck coaches were refurbished and used on Skip services. Ritchies also took most of the Manabus drivers and employed them on Skip services.

        Naked Bus never owned any coaches/bus as Naked Bus mainly ‘purchased’ seats from smaller 2nd and 3rd level bus operators, except on the main line services where Pavolich Motors being a small sharedholder in Naked Bus, provide the coaches.

      2. Not long before the sale I think Mana’s city stops were pushed out from convenient Quay St up to Mayoral Drive due to downtown works and development unfortunately so wonder if this had any bearing on the matter. NZ seems to have a style of pushing buses to the outer edges of everything. We could of restricted cars through here instead.

        1. Manabus were certainly better than InterCity. For example they were using the new Manukau Bus station as soon as it opened while it took Intercity months to make the move. The fact that it meant their passengers were left waiting in an open bus shelter with no facilities/heating/security seemed to be of no concern. Manabus got a very raw deal with bus stops in central Auckland but I think it was “new manager syndrome” that finally killed them off. Now we’re back to being stuck with only Intercity and it’s stifling overpriced buses.

          1. You really don’t like InterCity yet as the largest integrated inter-regional and long distance bus, coach, ferry and scenic coach travel network in NZ, they are do better job than rail and 2nd/3rd level regional airlines are doing, connecting small rural communities, towns, provincial cities and main centres together without regional or government funding.

            Manabus failed because the fares they were offering, weren’t covering their operating costs. InterCity Group operates on a different business model to what Manabus was operating on which Intercity to operate non-profitable routes.

  5. Thanks for this informative piece on a subject that doesn’t get much airtime. AS a sometime user of the national bus network, my experience is that it’s harder and harder to get from A to B. I suspect the trend in recent years toward smaller vehicles for non-trunk routes is more a reflection of declining patronage than anything else – it isn’t an indicator of increased frequency.

    I look, as an example, at two of the tourist jewels close to Auckland – the Coromandel and the Bay of Islands, and wonder how tourists actually get around if not by car. Surely there’s a market for small (15-seater?) minibuses operating 3-4 times a day connecting key tourist centres in these regions, allowing passengers day return trips from their base location? And with frequency, locals should also be attracted to such services. Connecting, for example, Paihia/Kerikeri with the Hokianga, Coromandel Town with Whitianga and further south. And so on. And on Great Barrier there’s no PT at all – you have to hire a car at exorbitant cost.

    Time for some central government policy on connecting the regions, I think, to the benefit of locals and tourists.

    1. New Zealand’s high minimum wage means that labour costs are prohibitively high to run 15 seater services. With large markets on trunk routes the relatively higher patronage means the labour cost per passenger is diluted down. This isn’t the case for the smaller markets.

    2. Agree about the need for central government policy.

      In terms of socioeconomic benefits (access to friends & family etc) there should be a full coverage regional network (bus, minivan, plane) with at least 1 return trip per day in each direction. The minimum size town to be included would need consideration.

      An aggregator site (if it doesnt already exist) would allow the government to determine the gaps & tender the services, as well as provide a service portal for customers

      1. If you try searching on Google, you can often find small specialist operators – for example Go Kiwi do a daily service Auckland – Coromandel area. Hamilton’s Bus -it company also go further afield
        to places like Te Awamutu, Raglan and Pukekohe.

  6. would be nice if there was a better central auckland terminal than skycity hobson st . . . not sure people coming to ‘the big smoke’ are expecting it so literal

    1. You’re so right there – the Auckland Skycity bus “station” is about as crap as it is possible to be. A totally negative experience for any travellers, whether domestic or tourist. Incredibly badly designed, just a slipstream width off the diesel path, and what feels like an old laundromat as a “waiting room”.

      Wasn’t that nice John Key going to do something about that when he got a free convention centre for the price of 100 extra pokies ? Or did Sky wiggle out of that?

      1. The power of persevering at lobbying for improvements, though, is seen in its recent minor improvements. Now the toilets are cleaned more often, and there are information boards from AT. Still a long way to go, but cheering to make headway. So thanks to all the people who’ve joined in that fight.

        1. Are they planning on keeping it in its present location then? I thought they had plans to remove it and site it elsewhere?

          1. My line of questioning has turned up blanks so far, but I suspect you’re right. Do other readers know more?

          1. AT managed to get the three wayfinding signs installed in early March.

            Toilets… it was early this year that we thought things had picked up.

          2. Heidi – 12 Days ago I was at Skycity, nothing had change in the mens toilet. The doors between the street and the toiletx hadn’t been fixed and the toilets was still rough and ready. No sure about the women’s toilets. A InterCity Travel Centre staff member was doing the destination boards at the bays.

      2. I agree with you. The issue of Skycity Coach Terminal in Auckland is mainly a dispute between Auckland Council and Skycity. InterCity Group has a very long term lease on the area used by InterCity Group branded services – Great Sights, InterCity Coachlines, Skip, etc and pays rent let according to drivers, Skycity wont do any maintenance or refurbishing on the area unless they really have too, as they want InterCity Group gone. InterCity Group would like the area smarten up but Skycity is saying no. As I see it, unless Auckland Council and Skycity comes to some agreement, Skycity Coach Terminal will still be an embarrassment for Auckland

        It is up to Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to come up with a solution but it seems neither are interested in doing anything, as they don’t see the importance in inter-regional, long distance and scenic tour coach travel important for travelers and visitors to Auckland. This attitude is also seen at Auckland’s longest ongoing construction site – Auckland Airport and the ‘temporary’ station for long distance passenger rail.

        1. The SkyCity group is promoting itself as being a leader in working towards being carbon neutral. It has even recently introduced a low carbon meal in its casino. SkyCity should recognise that coaches are a low carbon form of travel and show some support for the depot being within its building. Or perhaps its all ‘greenwash’?

          1. Paulc – Apparently, Skycity wants to use the bus bay area for the Convention Centre. What the drivers are saying, the bus/coach bays are in the way for the footbridge over Hobson Street between Skcity Casino and the Convention Centre. Looking at where the footbridge access portals are going to be, I can’t see how the bus/coach bays are in the way. I think Skycity is using this as excuse to get rid of the Skycity Coach Terminal.

          2. “The SkyCity group is promoting itself as being a leader in working towards being carbon neutral”

            This seems almost completely disingenuous to me. Yes, while the company may be approaching carbon zero in its operation, what about the emissions of all their customers? They come from widely spread locations and SkyCity encourages them to drive by reducing the price of parking if they spend more at the casino.

            And from the SkyCity Grand Hotel website (the first few lines)
            Private Transfers
            “The SKYCITY Concierge Team can assist you with private transfer options in our luxury car service.

            Please phone +64 9 363 7029 or email [email protected]

            Auckland Airport
            Auckland Airport is an easy 45 minute drive away by bus, car or taxi.”

            Where are the carbon friendly alternatives.

            For me SkyCity and carbon zero is a cynical marketing ploy; but what do you think?

          3. johnwoodtakapuna.nz – InterCity Coachlines and Skip can travel from Skycity to Auckland airport in 25-35 minutes depending on traffic about the same time a limo/taxi which quicker than Skybus.

            I have notice a small number but growing number of passengers using Intercity Coachlines between Skycity and the airport.

      3. Don’t moan about Sky city depot the old railway station Whangarei Railway station and outside the Herald building in the early hours of the morning were all cold and miserable with no convenices available . And on wet winters even worse .

    1. It could for regional rail but not InterCity Coachlines, as drivers need to know where passenger’s will be boarding/disembarking and what passengers will be traveling on a connecting on route.

      When a reservation is made, the driver is advised of any pick ups on route in real as long as the reservation is made 2 hours prior to departure time through the smartphone app the driver’s use. This app also acts a passenger manifest for the service.

      I do believe that drivers should have hand held mobile EFTPOS terminals.

  7. Spinoff had a similar article last year -https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/19-11-2018/rail-land-a-eulogy-for-new-zealands-lost-passenger-rail-services/. It’s a pity that at peak hours it was possible to get by train from Dunedin to Mosgiel faster in the 1960s than it is now by car! Hamilton to Tauranga rail journeys in the 1990s were also comparable with modern car travel times. Google maps says it takes 1hr 22min to drive the 105km between Hamilton and Tauranga. The Kaimai Express was timetabled as 1hr 24min in 1999, with a Morrinsville stop.

  8. Until 1991 Heidi, the NZR bus and train fares were the same. If Wellington-Napier was $42 by bus, it was also $42 by train.

    After the buses were sold off, the new owners sought to compete with rail. You may recall that in 1988 Cyclone Bola spelled the end of the Gisborne-Wellington train. NZR ran a bus from Gisborne to Napier, then train from Napier to Wellington, so you could still travel through. But after the buses were sold, the new owner retimed the bus to miss the connection with the train, arriving in Napier about 30 minutes after the train had departed. The bus however, continued to Wellington. So Gisborne people had no choice but to travel to Wellington on the bus.

    It would be great to go back to having an integrated network again, and if the climate emergency was an actual emergency instead of a feel good exercise with no teeth, they could probably justify doing something. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. The only new passenger train being planned by KiwiRail is between Hokitika and Westport. Like the rest, it will target higher-paying tourists.

    The government’s national rail strategy gets released in a few months. It will be interesting to see if that has any long distance or regional passenger rail component, or if it’s just all about freight.

    Have you given any thought to my suggestion on an earlier post of yours about setting up a National Network Timetable? NZ needs a single source of long distance passenger service timetables that includes all operators. To overcome the likely desire by some operators to not want to have their services displayed side-by-side with competitor services, it may require a helping hand from government in terms of minor legislation change, requiring long distance passenger operators to submit timetables to the National Network Timetable outfit.

    1. I think an integrated timetable is key. And yes, regulating it would be a good role for government to play. We’ll be writing more about how little data collection, even, is done centrally. I imagine this government will be open to making some changes. Even without direct investment in services, there’s a lot of work the government could do to help.

      1. In Europe and North America Wanderu gives some opportunity to plan linked up trips. But it requires companies to join up so if it, or a similar system, was to work efficiently in NZ it might need some government regulation. As Heidi says we plan to look at some of these issues in future posts. https://www.wanderu.com

      1. I just tried this out for various trips. It works well on some fairly standard routes but came up with some pretty odd suggestions for routes I know have bus or train connections. If i had used its recommendations i would have had some long and expensive taxi rides!

      2. It seems to be about the best there is. But it doesn’t seem to include, for example, some of the Council-funded services. Try Omapere to anywhere.

      3. Nick R – I am aware of rome3rio.com but it is misleading, as it doesn’t tell you that you have to spend a night in either Hamilton or Rotorua if travel from National Park to Gisborne or v.v.

    2. I agree with you. There needs to a fully integrated timetable and reservation system for all urban, regional, inter-regional and long bus/coach and train services, 2nd and 3rd level regional airlines like Air Chathams, Soundsair, Sunair, etc and ferry services.

      I have looked at the idea but is very expensive to build due to the large on external connections between the main information reservation system and the respective proprietary transport computer systems.

  9. Thank you for this great piece.

    I feel the limitations of our long distance buses in Whanganui. I often take the Intercity bus to Waikanae to get on a train to Wellington, but this takes 3 to 3 and half hours, when the car travel time is less than 1 hour 45. This is of course because most buses go through Palmerston North (which, on the flip side, is a very good place to live if you like long distance transport options)

    If we had more direct Whanganui – Levin – Waikanae buses, we would have an attractive alternative to driving (and that’s without waiting for Capital Connection improvements which could mean a Whanganui – Levin feeder bus), but right now anyone with a car is unlikely to give it up for the alternatives.

    As for going north – it’s only an hour and half to Ohakune – and from there, 5 hours 10 to Papakura Station on the Northern Explorer. Combining bus and rail should make a trip to Auckland by public transport reasonably competitive with driving (tourist prices aside). But the Northern Explorer leaves Ohakune at 12. 45, and Intercity’s daily bus arrives at 12.45 – on the other side of town to the station.

    1. Anthonie, i attended your Railand tour performance in Paekakariki. It was wonderful. Plus it encouraged many in the audience to catch the train to get to the venue.

    2. “But the Northern Explorer leaves Ohakune at 12. 45, and Intercity’s daily bus arrives at 12.45 – on the other side of town to the station.”

      This sort of misalignment shouldn’t be costly to fix. It just takes an understanding that it’s an acceptable role for government to intervene.

  10. Why is the Intercity Terminal and its toilets in Auckland so truly foul? I’ve been in better cleaner toilets in India. When I was there in May the women’s restroom door had no lock n no way of closing it and the toilets were filthy at 9.30 in the morning. This situation has remained unchanged for several years despite complaints. No wonder people call buses Looser Cruisers!! Jude

    1. Thanks for the update. Last time I checked there had been an improvement, but if this was your experience in May, there’s obviously been a drop in standards again. My introduction to them was up there with the worst experience I’ve ever had internationally. Truly needing platform shoes to keep you out of the muck – and that’s in the men’s because the womens were locked. If you’re in town and passing, I wouldn’t mind receiving an update – and photos are invaluable.

      Why? Well, there is a list of people approached about it who did nothing, palming it off as someone else’s responsibility…

      1. Perhaps the Mayor would like to do something about it. Its not his responsibility, of course, but it is the reputation of Auckland – and New Zealand as a whole, at stake. Phil Goff – make it your mission to clean out the loos !

        1. I wrote to the Mayor about the InterCity depot and its toilets. No reply. I have also written to all local MPs – and MPs with an interest in transport -of all political colours. Only National did anything by contacting the council – and the council came back saying the facilities were ‘tired’ but not a health hazard. The Greens passed it up their chain until it went to Labour’s Phil Twyford. He was probably too busy with housing at the time to do anything. NZ First, no reply.

    2. Jude – The issue of Skycity Coach Terminal in Auckland is mainly a dispute between Auckland Council and Skycity. InterCity Group has a very long term lease on the area used by InterCity Group branded services – Great Sights, InterCity Coachlines, Skip, etc and pays rent let according to drivers, Skycity wont do any maintenance or refurbishing on the area unless they really have too, as they want InterCity Group gone. InterCity Group would like the area smarten up but Skycity is saying no. As I see it, unless Auckland Council and Skycity comes to some agreement, Skycity Coach Terminal will still be an embarrassment for Auckland.

      1. Kris – how will Auckland City Council and SkyCity ever come to an arrangement over the state of Intercity office and facilities? How and where could pressure be best applied?

        Maybe one of these agencies or Intercity itself could supply: stilts (to help stay above the muck), nostril blockers, and blinders to help punters circumnavigate these grisly pissoirs. I once heard some UK tourists saying they were the worst ‘lavvies’ they had ever had the misfortune to encounter.

        1. Jude – Apparently there was deal done between the old Auckland City Council and SkyCity, that SkyCity had to incorporate a coach terminal as part of a building consent for Skycity to expend their Casino and hotel facilities. InterCity Group took a long term lease on the planned bus/coach bays and the Travel Centre and driver rest facilities for InterCity Group branded services departing/arrive Auckland city.

          Skycity now wants to use the bus/coach bays for the the new Convention Centre so they want InterCity Group gone. Auckland Council has said there is no space in Auckland city for a dedicated urban, regional, inter-regional and long distance coach terminal like in Hamilton and Christchurch despite the original plans for Britomart to have an all purpose underground bus/coach terminal above the current railway station.

          Apparently Auckland Council is still enforcing SkyCity to honour the original consent to keep the terminal. InterCity Group is paying rent to Skycity but it seems that Skycity is making it difficult for InterCity Group, hoping they will move, hence the current conditions of the terminal.

          Unfortunately, InterCity Group is caught between Auckland Council and Skycity Dispute.

          One of suggestions that Auckland Council has suggested, that all inter-regional and long distance coach/bus services originating south of Auckland terminate at Manuaku City and passengers use Auckland Metro train/bus services to the city at the passengers own expense. The same will apply for inter-regional and long distance coach/bus services originating north of Auckland terminate at Akoranga terminal and passengers continue to the city by Metro Buses. Auckland Council hasn’t to-date come up with a solution for Great Sighs scenic and touring coach services.

          Auckland Council suggestion shows that the Council doesn’t care about travelers and visitors arriving into Auckland by coach/bus despite the Council’s tourism agency Tourism Auckland saying great Auckland as a tourism destination.

          Auckland Council actions shows they see inter-regional and long distance coach/bus travel is for the elderly and the poor, which to me is short term planning attitude. Bulls has a better bus/coach terminal facilities that what Auckland is offering.

          There needs to be a National Public Transport Network lobby group to work with local authorities to point out that inter-regional and long distance bus/coach services is cool and sexy, great for the climate, can bring in more travelers to their towns/cities and like with airport terminals, a good bus/coach terminal is important gateway to their town or city.

          1. Perhaps if a few people wrote to Phil Goff and Phil Twyford suggesting that they need to organise a meeting with InterCity and SkyCity there might be enough pressure put on both organisations to lead to an upgrading.

          2. Zippo and Sailor Boy – Your comments re-enforce why Auckland is a basket case in its urban and transport planning. So you expect a passenger traveling by bus from Whanganui to Auckland city get off their coach at Manauku City and then pay for a train/bus to the city? It same as the the proposed train service between Hamilton and Auckland, where passengers will have to disembark at Papakura and take a AT Metro train onto Britomart at their own expense.

            What do you suggest that a passenger traveling by bus from Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Paihia or Whangarei traveling to Auckland do, change to a AT Metro bus at Akroranga?

            Doing this, your are encouraging people to drive or fly don’t want the disruption of changing services especially traveling to/from the Auckland region.

            It there was a nationwide fully integrate ‘tap n travel’ payment/ticking system for all train, bus and ferry travel services through NZ, then it might work.

            Paulc – The dispute is between Auckland Council and SkyCity and nothing to do with InterCity Group. The Skycity Coach terminal is for Auckland city and Auckland region to provide terminal facilities for inter-regional and long distance coach/bus travelers to/from Auckland. I do agree that people should write letters to Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Skycity to tell them stop being short sight and fix the problem but if you look at the longest ongoing construction site called Auckland Airport, it may take a while for the parties to come to a resolution.

          3. “Zippo and Sailor Boy”, Sailor Boy is saying (as I understand it) that the Manukau one is good for Manukau, but the central city also needs one.

      2. Intercity bus users need to spend up big at the casino, it’s restaurants & hotels for them to be accepting I suspect. They are or perceived as more a back packers market. Also wasn’t their talk or perhaps just the blog that Manukau bus station would handle this with transfer to train. I guess a northern busway station for the other direction.

        1. We need to make sure they don’t use Manukau (and Akoranga), for the reasons Kris gives and for one more, dear to my heart:

          What about children? Children aren’t allowed to hop off and change to the train or an Auckland bus. They’re only allowed to travel unaccompanied on one-leg journeys, and only if a guardian meets them at the stop. So while everyone else on the bus will be able to continue on their journeys in Auckland, the children will be waiting until a guardian picks them up. If that guardian’s coming from, say, Albany to Manukau, in our city of travel time unreliability, that puts children at risk of having to wait a long time.

          It would put the trip into the too-hard basket for many families. Children travelling on InterCity buses unaccompanied are often from poorer families where the parents’ relationship has broken.

          Moving the InterCity Terminal to Manukau will mean children who might’ve seen their father (or mother) every month or so might only see them once a year. And frankly, that’s a change with so many poor knock-on social and psychological effects I don’t think we can sit back and allow it to happen.

          1. So like the council, you also see long distance buses as being for “the elderly and the poor”. I’m not quite sure why it’s OK for the airport to be in South Auckland but not the bus station.

          2. I see long distances buses as being for everyone, Zippo, and amongst ‘everyone’ are some people who need extra consideration. When we design a service well for the most vulnerable, it serves everyone better than if we only designed it for able-bodied, independent adults.

            I’m campaigning for PT for everyone, in the hope that enough people find it attractive enough to switch from driving to PT and thereby support a network that provides better access for everyone, and that pollutes much less.

            Long distance buses are my own travel mode of choice for regional travel.

          3. Zippo – the airport is in Manukau because it needs a huge amount of land, a bus station just needs somewhere for a bus to park and a decent waiting room and toilet facility, that’s not too much to ask in the CBD.

          4. If the airport took up as much space as a bus terminal we would definitely have it in the middle of town, in the middle of the region. In fact before the shift to land based planes and huge runways the international airport was downtown at Mechanics Bay.

          5. Good point Heidi, and yes thinking about it more for all the other good reasons: We surely have room in central Auckland for a decent one. Not sure SkyCity is a good long term position for it, but surely there is somewhere & would be more room if we restricted car lanes somewhere anyway.

          6. @kris Mana didn’t nt operate Scania buses, they used Volvo B11R’s with Kiwi Bus Builders bodies

  11. I just caught the Intercity sleeper bus between Wellington and Auckland. Very convenient and ok for sleepingbif you take a blanket and eat plugs. But, oh, the awful state if waiting facilities, minimal cafe and given they want you there a while before departure time there should be shelter and enough seats and ideally some charging points. Otherwise it feels very third rate.
    Nice not to have to spend money and time catching airport buses as you start/end in town.

    1. The InterCity Coachlines Sleeper services between Auckland and Wellington are ex Manabus double decker coaches, so they should have all of the onboard facilities except the toilets, that where used when operating under the Manabus branding.

      The facilities at Platform 9 Wellington Railway Station for inter-regional and long distance coaches are not ideal. There has been talk over the years to upgrade Platform 9 but since Wellington railway station is now in private ownership, the owners are not that interested in improving the facilities at Platform 9.

  12. “since Wellington railway station is now in private ownership”

    When did that happen? Last I heard was sale vetoed by government. That was last year & a quick internet search turns up nothing since then.

      1. GK – I just checked and your are right. Winston Peters in August 2018 stopped any sale of the station. Apparently the station needs approximately $62 million worth of earthquake strengthening.

        The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust decided not to purchase the building in 2016.

  13. Interesting post thanks. I remember catching a couple of NZ railway buses, Papakura to Pukekohe to get to high school or my brother up from Waikato.

    Sure couldn’t miss those big red Mana buses they really stood out. Children & I had used them a few times or intercity. We even managed to try the Mana sleeper to Wellington…..don’t think got too much sleep that night once it gets off the motorway it’s hideous.

  14. “The time is right to look with fresh eyes at ways to reduce our rising transport emissions.”
    For me the single most important thing to increase rail and bus travel is to correctly charge for the price of our roads. The Productivity Commission has pointed out that road users do not pay the full cost.
    We only need to look at the Northern Gateway toll road for an example of how much is required to recover road costs. At a length of 7.5km motorists pay 31 cents per km, or $31 per 100km. This amount obviously includes a profit margin for the operator. Even if a toll was set at $10/100km a car trip to Whangerei would cost $13; and to Tauranga $21.
    I hear people say, the public will never agree to that. I say that if the public had voted on gun reform there wouldn’t have been complete agreement either; and NZ may need to tackle climate change based on the most popular of unpopular alternatives. If we do nothing we will achieve nothing; much as is happening right now; 1% emission reduction in the last 10 years.
    The present road subsidies are causing serious issues. We have realised that it is encouraging free independent tourists to travel enormous distances as they travel around both islands. There are huge incentives for them to do this: they don’t pay the full cost of the roads; we provide free parking for them at major attractions; and we then provide free accommodation for those who want it by way of freedom camping. How can our parliament and councils be so oblivious to the carbon effects of such travel?
    Increasingly subsidising roads is becoming unfair as more and more, particularly young people, choose not to drive. Why should they pay for a facility that they do not use? I have heard the argument that roads are how they receive their goods and that is correct, but the cost of those goods will reflect the price paid by the freight forwarder for the roads.
    So yes Heidi, there needs to be trains on the more populated routes; and in other areas bus services that compete on an even footing with car travel.

    1. I do agree with you about NZ’s dirty tourismbeing created by increasing number of self drive stays due to the perception that NZ is a small country where you can drive from Auckland to Queenstown in 1 to 2 days on 4 lane motorways on flat land and a take short ferry ride between the North and South Islands. In Asia, especially in China, the perception is, that Auckland is the only city in NZ and Wellington and Christchurch are smaller provincial cities.

      The subject of NZ’s current dirty, unsustainable, low financial yield ‘cram them in’ supermarket style of tourism is another subject in its own right.

  15. Coach travel may become more popular if airlines are forced to reduce emissions. The only viable non fossil fuel for air travel is Renewable Jet. This is made from bio mass, but is very expensive. Electric planes are not going to work for mass passenger movements or over significant distances.
    However, moving people from jet planes to busses won’t be popular as it could be seen as returning air travel to the rich only.
    Also – no one wants to sit on a bus for 10 hours to replace a 50 minute flight.
    Finally, unless you make the busses run on renewable diesel (also expensive), you haven’t solved anything.

    1. Wallace Rae and I wrote a series of articles about options for flying. If you were to replace all of the aviation fuel used in NZ (domestic and international) with crop based biofuel it would require about 75% of the current farm land of NZ to grow these crops. Clearly not an option. It is possible to produce bio diesel from waste which Z energy does from waste tallow. Electric planes will only be viable for short haul. It is possible to produce liquid jet fuel via various chemical routes using electricity. but it will require a big increase in electricity production and large scale investment in these plants. Hence why buses and trains should be an important strategy to assist in dramatically decarbonising our domestic travel. If we dont invest in alternative transport but keep building/extending runways, keep increasing international tourism plus do not have a realistic price on carbon to encourage mode shift we will keep increasing our transport based emissions. https://pureadvantage.org/news/2019/06/18/can-new-zealanders-keep-flying-while-reducing-their-carbon-footprint-1-3/

      1. Paulc
        and we should be thinking of buses and trains as an alternative in our cities because the same reality of more expensive electricity also applies if we need to power evs.
        I note that James Shaw’s rhetoric regarding evs seems to have changed from a strong endorsement to a position that they are suitable for those that can afford them.
        One of the reasons that I have argued against a Productivity Commission feebate is that it will subsidise the more affluent who can afford evs and it will continue to penalise the less well off as the pay higher power prices to fuel those cars.
        Surely a better regime would be to have a fee applied to all fossil fuel car purchases and to provide the revenue to subsidise PT opex? i.e. drive down PT fares

      2. I read your work. You have not mentioned the biggest producer of Renewable liquid fuels, a company that currently makes and sells renewable Jet in Europe and the US.

  16. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/113790113/economics-vs-environment-the-battle-for-the-electric-bus#comments
    Talking about buses read this. It states that 40 buses charging with 80 Kilowatt charges will require 320 megawatts of power well ten would need 800 kilowatts and forty 3,200 kilowatts which is 3.2 megawatts. I read through 95 comments of mostly utter crap and not one of them picked up the mistake so it doesn’t say much for the mathematical ability of the author or the stuff commentators.

    1. Rather harsh Royce considering the poster Stringfellow picks up the error and states 3.2megawatts rather than quoted 320 megawatts.

      80 x 40 is 3.2 MW and they take 4h to charge

  17. Apologies to Stringfellow. Interesting comment.
    “If we had 80 we would need 320 MW at 80 kW each. 80 x 40 is 3.2 MW and they take 4h to charge so divide by 6 as you spread your loads. This gives about 500kW. Or 1 MW if you need to have spare capacity. 1 MW is a standard street transformer at about $200K with about $150K connection…so less than the cost of 1 bus..that’s not going to be your problem.”

    1. Talking of electric vehicle chargers, here is a report, from the Devonport Flagstaff, of two ev chargers installed at the Devonport ferry terminal. They are free, but despite that have only been used three times per week.

      A far more serious question though is why would AT possibly think that they were needed at the ferry terminal. Where do ferry patrons come from? I would have thought that the longest likely trip to use the ferry is from Takapuna – only about 6km away. What possible need could there be to recharge an ev after that distance?

      If indeed AT are encouraging ev owners to drive the length of Lake Road to use the ferry then this is seriously short sighted given the huge congestion on Lake Road.

      Auckland needs better quality decisions regarding transport spending. Nothing that they have done has eased congestion or emissions and we deserve better.

  18. There is a market for international tourists who are unable to hire cars. Here in Australia a teen needs to be 18 to get a licence followed by 4 years of a restricted licence. To hire a car needs at least one year of an unrestricted licence so the minimum age for driving tourists from Australia is 23. Yet at this age many have already been to multiple countries but with an emphasis on those with good public transport. My daughter has just turned 18 and keen to go to Japan, which is one of the 3 safest countries in the world (along with NZ and Iceland). I couldn’t recommend NZ because it’s once-good public transport system is now so broken that travelers can’t get to the best attractions without a car. A system of routes contracted to the private sector like here in Victoria Australia would provide a system good enough to attract the younger tourists who are currently confined to Japan and Europe (and a few parts of Australia).

    1. That must work against young people in Australia, too, or is your regional pubic transport better? Of course, being their home country, they are more likely to own a car, and not be up against the rental car rules. But this will be hindering young people following the trend in cities to not own a car and just rent one when needed.

      It’s a good point. In general, I think we need to be planning our transport networks to cater to everyone, including the many who don’t drive.

      1. My son now 24 doesn’t have a car and many of his friends in Melbourne don’t either. The regional public transport system is quite good. We’re using it right now on our way to 2 weeks in Japan where we’ll travel mainly by train but hire a car in Hokkaido.
        As a teen I took the rail car from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass for a day’s hiking, and was in NZ for 2 months without a car, working on farms near Timaru, Nelson, and Whanganui. I don’t know if this is even possible now.

        1. You can still do the Arthurs Pass hiking without a car. Atomic Shuttles will drop you at any track end that has enough room to safely get a bus off the road, which is most of them.

    2. That’s not entirely correct, it varies depending upon which stars you live in.

      The minimum driving age for drivers varies between states and territories. Learner drivers may drive, under the supervision of a fully licensed driver, from 15 years and 9 months in the ACT, and 16 years in the other states and the Northern Territory. The minimum unsupervised driving age is 18 years in Victoria, 16 years and 6 months in the Northern Territory, and 17 years in all other states and the ACT.

  19. Thank you: an interesting read, an interesting discussion, and a good public policy case to develop a national plan for inter-urban (land) public transport.

    Speaking as someone who has struggled to get round NZ without wanting to hire a car (I have a licence but it has been years since I drove), I would say that the key need is to boost service frequency, and then look at passenger facilities along the way. Rotorua has excellent passenger facilities for its inter-urban bus traffic, so does Hamilton, but as for the cesspit which is the Sky City Terminal … Wellington’s are attached to the railway station, and work as a result.

    1. Like you, I have a licence but don’t own a car and I have found the current InterCity Group national network easy to get around NZ. There are frequent services between provincial cities and the 6 main centres and at least one daily service between provincial cities and rural towns and small communities. At least you can travel from Kaitaia to Invercargill using one bus, coach and ferry network especially if you use InterCity Flexipass being the cheapest way of traveling around NZ by land.

      There is one gap in the network that needs to be filled is between Christchurch and Greymouth. Currently this route is being operated by two private operators – Atomic Shuttles and West Coast Shuttles. Nelson Coachlines has InterCity Group contract rights for this route but they say the route is not economic to operate as they is insufficient passengers number to justified them operating. I some what surprise by this, as this is a potentially good route if it was incorporated into InterCity Group route network and Flexipass and Travelpass programmes.

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