Auckland Transport have published their high-level public transport and cycleway ridership and bike numbers for August and they continue to be positive – the more detailed PT ones won’t be seen till the next board meeting at the end of October.

First, there are a couple of points to note about August this year and both work against the outcome.

  • There were 22 working days, one less than August last year. That typically has the effect of lowering numbers by about 4%
  • It was very wet with NIWA reporting 168mm of rain, 49% more than a normal August and 39% higher than the 121mm in August last year – although Metservice say there was 190mm of rain this August. Rain  obviously has an impact on bike numbers but can also impact PT numbers.

Public Transport

Despite the factors noted above, overall public transport boardings increased by 4.1% compared to August 2018 to 9.5 million. This meant August was the 4th busiest month we’ve seen, slotting in behind March-19 (10.19m), May-19 (9.94m) and March-18 (9.56m).

Once again it is the busway leading the way although as I’ve pointed out before, this is in part due to AT changing what they count for the busway. Other buses are also continuing to see an increase with numbers up 3% while rail squeaked over the line with a 0.1% increase on last year. Ferry numbers tend to be much more volatile than others and that was shown again in August with numbers down 6.7%. This may also be related to operational issues with Fullers which saw services cancelled and delayed.

For the 12-month result, this sees total boardings reach 101.8 million, an increase of 8.5% on the year to August-18. Within that total, buses are racing along at 10.1% growth to surpass 74 million trips. Trains saw growth of 5.3% and ferries 2.4%.

Overall things appear to be ticking over nicely but as we’ve said before, AT can’t afford to rest on their laurels and need to push as hard as they can to continue to see this rise.

While it doesn’t all fall within August, having only started on 7-September, one thing that will help increase numbers was the launch of free fares for children on weekends (if they have HOP). Yesterday the Council and AT both put out press releases celebrating the early success of the initiative. Here’s ATs one

The number of young Aucklanders using public transport at the weekend has increased by more than 120 per cent since Free Child Weekends fares for under-16s were introduced at the beginning of September.

Auckland Council proposed free weekend fares for children as part of Auckland Council’s 2019/20 Annual Budget, which came into effect on 7 September.

In the three weekends since Auckland Transport started offering free weekend fares, 22,945 children travelled, up from 10,377 in the same period last year.

In total, 65,457 trips were made over the three weekends, an increase of 37 per cent.

Mayor Phil Goff says the increase in children and adults using public transport reflects Aucklanders’ willingness to embrace car-free travel. “Free public transport for under-16s aims to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and use our public transport network, as well as to encourage the next generation of public transport users.”

Colin Homan, Group Manager for Integrated Network Enablement says that Auckland Transport is encouraged by the results and will continue to work to promote the initiative. “In the next year, we estimate that an additional 990,000 trips will be added to our yearly patronage because of Free Child Weekend fares. We’re excited for young Aucklanders to explore their city using buses, trains and ferries.”

Over the last three weekends, AT’s Transport Officers and station teams have also handed out 400 free AT HOP cards to families travelling on paper tickets, to further encourage the Free Child Weekend fares.

This is in addition to the Te Ara Haepapa schools programme, where to date, four Hui’s at schools have been held and approximately 184 of the new Maori designed AT HOP cards have been given out, with 74 (40%) being used for travel already.


  • 22,945 registered child passengers (aged 5-15) who travelled, up from 10,377 in the same period last year (over a 120% increase);
  • 65,457 trips have been made (47,745 in the same period last year) – an increase of 37%.

The increased trips presumably mean there were also more adults travelling and I wonder how much of the extra fares collected from them has helped to off-set the cost of the free fares for children.


With the much higher than normal rainfall, cycling numbers took a bit of a fall with AT saying their selected sites saw a decrease in numbers of 11.2%. However, within that there were a few sites that are still seeing good growth with positive numbers on Lightpath, Nelson St and the NW cycleway at Kingsland.


The numbers for Wellington are also out and showing growth. Despite the complaints about buses in the city, the number of boardings on them increased by 4.1% in August. Even accounting for transfers, the number of journeys has increased. Things weren’t quite so rosy for the rail network with boardings down very slightly (-0.8%) on last year.

The overall growth continues to push Wellington close to the milestone of 40 million trips. The graph below is from Metlink and shows the 12-month rolling totals for each mode.

Share this


  1. Yes adult numbers travelling with children on weekends would be good to know.

    Another dampening affect was probably the measles keeping people off public transport a bit to reduce the risk, not sure off-hand if that was more a September thing though.

  2. Good result but seems like effects of New Network are slowly working through. Sustaining growth will require further efforts to find efficiencies (e.g. removing duplication and tweaking poorly performing services) that can be reinvested in increased service levels.

    1. Yes indeed. There are still plenty of black spots suffering with poorly performing services around the city, for example where a bus arrives maybe once every half hour.

      Once everyone has nearby access to services with 10-minute frequencies the network will at last be able to take off and function the way that it is designed to do.

      1. Yes, Auckland definitely still has some economies of scale/density to realise from higher frequencies at level of wider network.

        Rail network is still not frequent, for example, while crosstown lines are arguably not yet sufficiently frequent to support network effect.

        Freeing up OPEX to invest in such services will be key. I’d suggest charging for park and ride and reinvesting revenue in improved services is one option to explore alongside usual service efficiencies.

        1. For rail, we are still stuck with long dwell time, poor off peak frequency, and slow line speed.

          There is not enough incentive for the bureaucrats to improve.

        2. The rail network is still hamstrung by the decades of neglect with long stretches of dodgy worn out track, 900m at 25km/hr plus all the other slow patches means even the current timetable is not attainable on the Eastern line.

    2. Yes. And we need not just efficiencies but improvements to the customer experience, and to the approaches to stops and stations for people on foot and little wheels.

  3. We still have unused capacities during off peaks. Maybe there is a strong business case to allow children use those capacities with free travel.

    Also we can extend it to 18 years old to encourage teenagers not to buy cars, instead of 16.

    Free PT can also apply to adults on Friday nights so people can spend more money on drinks after work.

  4. 11.2% is not “a bit of a hit” Matt, especially when cycling numbers are very low in any case to start with. Cycling is the one transport mode (with walking) which collapses when weather changes, unlike buses and trains.

    1. It’s when numbers are low to start with that relatively small decreases can look like a big percentage.
      And bus/train usage can be impacted by weather as let’s face it, we don’t have the most rain repelling infrastructure around e.g. most of our train stations and bus stops are horribly exposed.

  5. Pretty poor result for rail and ferries. Even with the day less (~4%) it’s still not great considering previous growth on rail. Offpeak needs to do better.
    Ferries need to get rid of the Fullers deal. Let them still operate sure but it all needs to be open to competition and tied in properly to HOP. Devonport in particular needs to have 2x modern fast ferries operating rather than the slow Kea. Provides better redundancy too.

    1. AKLDUDE The ferries can’t operate fast between Downtown and Devenport as there is a restriction of 5knots because they are within 500 metres of shore on both sides and if they go over that the maritime authorites will nail them with heavy fines .

      Just get Fullers to buy another vessel like the Kea to replace those vessels that have turn around at the beginning of each crossing similar to the days of the double ended wooden boats .

      1. It’s a 12 knot speed limit in that part of the Waitemata, but you are right there is no reason to get faster boats. The important thing on a run like that is being double ended and having big doors and ramps to speed up turn-around times.

        1. Double ended doesn’t really make a lot of time saving difference (especially these days with things like bow thrusters allowing boats to turn on a dime). It takes quite a while for the Kea to get up to 12 knots while a smaller ferry (like the ones that operate to places like Hobsonville) can get up to 12kts in a matter of seconds from the 5kt shore speed (and it wouldn’t even need to be a design as fast as that one seeing how it’ll be limited to 12kts generally). They also load and unload a lot faster.
          Basically having the Hobsonville ferry as an example would shave about 2 minutes off the sailing time and about another 2 minutes at each end for the average passenger – about 6 minutes quicker in total. That’s not to be sniffed at. Furthermore you then have improved frequency meaning less waiting time.

        2. Agree regarding acceleration, the Kea is basically a bathtub with propellers. You’re right about boats being able to turn on a dime too, although not having to turn is still beneficial at major terminals where turning boats have to wait for sufficient space to be available.

          In balance you are probably right, put the investment into smaller boats with better acceleration and increase the frequencies.

        3. The Kea is a most unappealing boat with the lower deck being noisy and enclosed so you end sitting in vibrating box looking at a blank wall. The Sydney double end ferries are just so much better. The Kestrel was vastly superior from a passenger viewpoint even if it handled like a bowling ball on ice.

    2. would a fast ferry to devo save that much time?

      The Kea gets along at 32kmh which is 18 knots. The Waiheke ones probably do 30 knots but it’s only 3km between town and devo.

      At least there is plenty of space for bikes on the Kea, unlike that Capricornian Surfer thing.

      1. Yes a smaller boat designed right would – about 6 minutes in total including boarding/disembarking times.
        Properly designed a smaller ferry could have space for bikes incorporated easily.

    3. Yep, there’s not much AT can do to increase ferry frequency with this deal. However they could fix up fares so that commuters pay the same fare as bus and train users – that is perfectly doable with Fullers (or any operator). We know from the free PT day that fare equality and integration create make a huge boost to public transport uptake including ferries.

    4. Another ferry factor was the weather. The Hobsonville ferry has an exposed upper deck, and August was a wet month. It effectively limits capacity to 109 (from 160+), because nobody wants to sit upstairs in the cold and wet – so passengers opt to drive.

      Imagine if the northern express double deckers had an open top deck, no airconditioning downstairs and a 75 minute frequency (peak only)!

      1. This is true, but it actually has nothing to do with the weather.

        Maritime law prevents ferries from carrying more people than they can accommodate on enclosed seating. Outside seats and standing room don’t count.

        Sp they can never ‘fill up’ both decks regardless of the weather. So if there are 109 seats then that is the capacity.

        There are also limits on the number of passengers that can be carried per staff member, for evacuation management. I can’t remember the exact level but I think maybe at 110 passengers they need a third staff, so it probably isn’t a coincidence their ‘legal’ seating capacity is one fewer.

        1. Not sure about the seating capacity. We had a few days where discovery 2 (much smaller vessel) was operating and the aisles were crammed with passengers

    5. The ferries are fast, they only take about seven or eight minutes to get across. Most of the time is spent docking and letting people on and off.

      Having two ferries giving a 15 minute headway would make the biggest impact. These could be smaller with fewer crew on each and less fuel consumption, and it might not even cost anything.

  6. “2,945 registered child passengers (aged 5-15) who travelled, up from 10,377 in the same period last year (over a 120% increase);
    65,457 trips have been made (47,745 in the same period last year) – an increase of 37%.”

    We have enough information here to determine many things:
    1) there was an increase of (22945-10377) = 12568 children’s trips for the six days
    2) total trips increased by (65457-47745) = 17712 over last year.
    3) If we take the organic growth of 4.1% off the previous number we are left with 16985 extra trips possibly due to the child fare decrease.
    4) So adult trips have increased by 16985-12568 = 4417
    5) The proportion of adult trips compared to children’s trips is (4417/12568) = up to 35% where a child may be accompanied by an adult.

    What we don’t know is whether (as Goff claims) the additional trips have taken any cars off the road. The “AT Local” fiasco is still uppermost in my mind where many of the trips are ones that were previously done on foot or by bike.

    Whatever way you look at this scheme the numbers are inconsequential compared to what Auckland needs to do to reduce vehicle carbon emissions. It certainly does not put Auckland on the steep decline path for carbon emissions as the C40 Cities have prescribed; in fact we are still seemingly searching for the path.

    Somewhere we need to find the money to decrease PT fares. We know Minister Twyford has a spare $300 million odd floating around because it was not used for light rail. This needs to go into PT and not some dubious spade ready road project that will likely increase emissions.

    Any fare reduction should be targeted to get the most people using PT most of the time. A cheap monthly, or most likely yearly pass is most likely the mechanism to cause people to dispense with their cars – certainly that seems to be the European experience.

    1. I think you over estimate Phil Twyfords;

      a) Recognition of the public transport issues facing Auckland
      b) His competence in general
      c) And him having anything to do with the NZTA’s decision to help themselves to the Light Rail funds.

      Going by his farcical press release in raptures over the diversion of that money to roads that NZTA can ever so quickly organise from Light Rail, he was simply left out in the cold. I cannot help but think they just blindsided him, knowing what a light weight he is.

      It was just his way of saving face!

  7. Interesting, so if I have this right they lost the revenue of the 10,377 child trips that previously paid fares, added 12,568 new child trips (with no cost or revenue impact), and got a revenue increase from 4,417 new adult trips.

    Adult fares are just under double the equivalent child fare. so actually this is probably pretty close to revenue neutral, with the new adult fares almost covering the lost child fares. Not bad to add 17,000 new boardings to the network!

  8. The cycle home this evening was pretty cold & wet. Rained so hard it felt like hail, clouds were black enough it probably was.
    I’ve been cycling on light path since April so I’m part of the increase. Have been using the NW cycle way for years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *