Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the outcome of their annual fare review and the result is a mixed bag. There are some good structural changes coming to fares but at the same time the cost of catching public transport is going up as a result of the largest fare increases we’ve seen.

Discounted off-peak fares are to become permanent on public transport in Auckland. The permanent ten per cent discount will come in on 7 February. It means cheaper fares for everyone using AT HOP, travelling between 9am and 3pm and at night weekdays and all weekend.

Also from that date, a daily cap will be introduced meaning you can travel as much as you like on buses (not Skybus), trains and inner harbour ferry services and never pay more than $20 a day.

Auckland Transport’s annual fare review will see an average fare increase of four per cent which is consistent with the approach set out during Auckland Council’s consultation on the Emergency Budget last June.

AT’s executive general manager Integrated Networks, Mark Lambert, says around half of all bus and rail passengers will see a maximum increase of 35 cents on a journey using their HOP card. “This year’s fare review is about balancing improvements in value for passengers through new and in some cases reduced fares, improving services where there is demand and balancing use of the public subsidy within the Council Emergency Budget. We’ve tried to keep any general increases as low as possible to encourage people to use public transport given the impacts to numbers since Covid. During Covid we trialled reduced off-peak fare prices and we are making that permanent to encourage people to travel when buses and trains are a little quieter.” Mr Lambert says savings of $10 million have been made through a very small number of service reductions and delaying planned improvements.

There are a few things to break down here so let’s start with the positive.

Off-peak fares

It’s great to see AT making off-peak fares permanent and is something we’ve wanted to see AT introduce for a long time. As they mention, they’ve trialled them during lockdowns and I understand the impact was positive.

There are a couple of nit-picky issues I have with them though.

  1. Only a 10% discount seems a little light. Overseas discounts of 20-30% are more common but this is something they hopefully work up towards.
  2. Having to complete your journey before 6am seems a little early. My understanding is there is normally quite a quite a bit of capacity in the 6-7am window and so extending that slightly might be worthwhile. Likewise, the 6:30pm timeframe suggests that people on long commutes, such as to Swanson or Pukekohe, could board a train at peak times and qualify – though perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Daily Caps

The addition of daily caps is another welcome change and for one thing, it will make exploring Auckland by PT easier.

Again to be a little bit nit-picky:

  1. Our PT network is strongest in and around the city centre but you’d have to make a lot of trips to get to $20 in a day. So it would be great to see a couple of tiers for this depending on the maximum number of zones you’ve travelled through, say a cap of $10 if you only travel through a maximum of two zones in the day or something like that.
  2. It would also be great to see weekly and/or monthly caps put in place.

Fare Changes

After the two positive changes above, we get to the announcement that’s not so great, the fare increases.

As noted by AT, the average increase is 4%, however, I think these are the largest set of increases I’ve seen. For people making some of the most common trips, such as 1 and 2 zones, the increase is 10%, for Adults at least.

Here are the adult and child bus and train fares.

I’ve also created this graph to highlight how fares have changed since integrated fares were introduced in mid-2016. Since they were introduced, 2-zone fares have increased by over 25%, or $0.80 per trip.

This is clearly not an ideal outcome and reminds me of that that saying “The beatings fare increases will continue until morale ridership improves“.

Only ridership won’t improve and it is estimated the changes will result in a 0.7% reduction in PT usage. That doesn’t sound like a lot but based on pre-covid ridership levels represents over 700,000 trips. That is presumably to go with the roughly 30% drop in usage as a result of COVID.

Perhaps a bigger issue than that is it will contribute even more towards putting off non-PT users trying services. It is critical that we get lots of new users on PT if we’re to see AT playing its part towards Auckland’s Climate Plan and to help in addressing congestion. This becomes even more important if we were to implement road pricing as PT fares that are too expensive will lead many to treat PT as too expensive and therefore not a viable alternative.

While it is of course easy to blame AT for these changes, I do appreciate they’re somewhat between a rock and a hard place when it to comes costs and funding. We really need the government to step up here and help provide more funding to keep PT viable, especially if they’re serious about the recently declared climate emergency and also because of the additional requirements still in force for COVID.

Finally, perhaps AT need to start thinking more holistically about how they change PT fares. By that I mean perhaps they should look to change other transport costs, such as for parking, at the same time. That way it provides better context to the wider transport discussion and looks less like AT are just trying to discourage PT use.

The new fares come in from 7 February.

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63 comments

  1. They really are gearing it even more to commuting… $4.40 return for a quick trip to your local shops is just insane. Last time I did that it was $3.24 just a few years ago… even that was a bit of a stretch, but at least a bit more reasonable.

    1. On the topic of quick returns, I’d love to see the transfer time extended from the current 30min to an hour. Would make it more reasonable for errands, and to chain errands into your normal commute.

      1. Yeah definitely. 30 min is quite a rush, I have tried it with varying levels of success. Fortunately the train allows pre-tag on also. With buses not so much, and if they are 30 min frequency then definitely not doable as is also…

      2. And 30 minutes is impractical when the service is infrequent or when there are delays. I’ve actually exceeded the 30 minute window when waiting for an Outer Link! And often, on other routes.

      3. > chain errands into your normal commute

        To expand on this, major hubs like Newmarket would stand to benefit from this, the Business Association should be pushing for it. Giving people an hour to loiter around the area would be long enough to meet a friend for an after work drink or pick up groceries for dinner, buy a gift or whatever..

  2. I remember hearing that AT undercuts its competitors in the parking building market. Was that ever true? And is it still true now? Because that sounds like an easy fix.

    Paid on street parking is something I assume AT have something more like a monopoly power over. I’m sure their competitors in the carpark market wouldn’t be too unhappy with substantial increases here channelling drivers into the carparks, as well as causing them to ditch cars.

    I suppose they could start setting fines for things other than driving in bus lanes to “revenue gathering” levels but that seems… unideal. What other “prices” could AT adjust though?

    1. Definitely true, at the moment in takapuna there is a council car park that I park in (free with motorcycles) that they recently brought off Williams. Cars pay $4 for the day, right next door there is a Wilson’s where it’s $5 per half an hour if you turn up. If you download their app and get there at a certain time it’s $10 a day.

      1. Everything you need to know about AT and AC, right there.

        Slugging PT users with more costs, but subsidising drivers (and distorting the market) and thereby incentivising drivers in direct contradiction to a host of transport initiatives for the CBD (congestion, A4E, climate change mode shift, etc).

        If it wasn’t so ridiculous it would be hilarious.

        1. Honestly I pin a large part of the blame on central govt. The farbox recovery rules need to go and is essentially why PT is so expensive in Auckland. 50% is way above the most of the rest of the western world. especially in PT poor cities.
          But bigger picture there needs to be better funding of councils and their public transport packages. The tax collection tools and revenue available to central government is far and away above what councils can do. And when councils do try (Auckland fuel tax) they get huge hate for doing so. It benefits central govt to get to tut tut at councils after setting them up to fail and then swoop in and save the day wowing voters. But this is not the dynamic that should exist.

        2. Totally agree.

          And why does Central Government need to get involved if a local government wants to implement a levy (fuel tax)? National are probably opposed ideologically but really it just smacks of concern the local body will be able to be more independent.

          Let the incumbent Mayor live and die at the polls.

  3. When you’ve just shut down your rail network for weeks and weeks and there is a pandemic raging that has made people gun shy of crowds like you get on PT only an idiot would think to put fares up and AT are not peopled by idio…

    Oh wait.

    1. Can you and all the others out there get it into your brain cells it’s not AT that has shut down the Rail Network it was Kiwi Rail .

      They own the tracks and they try to keep them running , as it’s not like a motorway/road were you can reduce it to 1 lane or detour around the works .

      1. You can actually reduce rail to single track, but not for major works. The reason that people are angry is that Kiwirail have failed so badly at keeping trains running by failing to even do basic routine maintenance.

      2. Agree, it’s a massive failure by Kiwirail not AT. Brings into question whether they should be responsible for metro tracks.

        1. Ironically, Kiwirail now are probably more capable than they have been for decades with all the experience and skill built up over the last 2 years. But really the blame lies with politicians from the eighties on who wanted the the rail network gone.

      3. Really?? When Countdown put up the price of cheeps you want me to blame Bluebird or maybe it’s the penguins. It is well accepted practice that when you sell a product or service you take FULL responsibility for FULL delivery of the COMPLETE offering. NZRail may be ultimately responsible for the debacle AND AT are responsible for its impact on their customers and should be compensating them not shafting them with another price increase. Outrageous I say.

    1. Since most of the opposition to doing something substantial to decrease GG emissions will be local, shouldn’t it be “Our generation’s Springbok Tour moment”?

      [Hopefully it will not get as bad as the general strike of 1913!]

      Also, It is not as if NZ dismantled its nuclear weapons programme when it became “Nuclear Free.” The effort required to address climate change is far greater.

      On topic: Why hasn’t the 50 % fare box recovery goal been ditched yet?

  4. Wife and I have moved to Point Chev, (zone 2) and both work in the city. It’s cheaper to use the car and park . PT must be made cheaper for the commuter else more people will find the same.

    1. Welcome to Pt Chev.

      That’s nuts, isn’t it? It’s a suburb that is very well connected by public transport. Easy to live without a car. Yet most people will still have one, so the marginal price difference for each trip mean that people choose to drive. AT have their parking and fare prices out of balance.

    2. That fails to consider the underlying costs of car ownership-insurance, servicing, WOF, rego petrol, parking (at home) as well as the externalities that are passed on to others which drivers do not face (congestion and GHG emissions). PT costs are salient- you see it every time you tag on or off. That car use costs are not as salient is where the problem lies as drivers fail to realise the true cost of their action. Though cost increases aren’t ideal, they are reasonable when the government’s farebox recovery requirement remains in place- its up to the Government to step up

      1. So the problem is less that public transport is over-priced and more that other options are under-priced to their users. Price all of them on the same cost-recovery basis and then users can actually make sensible evaluations.

        1. Ding ding.
          We have a winner.
          Doubt the PT enthusiasts are going to like the cost of their service to more than double though.

        2. A doubling of fuel tax/RUC and a tripling of parking fees would about make driving pay for itself. Lotta drivers would get bent out shape over that.

          Public Transport would t quite need to double ticket prices, as the marginal cost per user would drop as more users come from driving. More like a 50% increase. Still, that would be cheap compared to driving if everyone is paying their actual costs.

    3. Precisely. I also live in Zone 2, but if I need to go anywhere with somebody else we’ll drive and park in an AT carpark because its usually several dollars cheaper.

      I’d love to know the reasoning for not increasing parking fares.

  5. So other AT charges such as parking at Downtown, fines etc. are not going up only the public transport costs? – Wow

  6. Good to see off peak fares made permanent and daily caps.

    Really AT should be asking for and getting a one off boost from the Government due to Covid to avoid the need for fare increases this year. After that, well that’s a different story (it’d be nice to continue of course).

    Agree that 10% discount is stingy, definitely should be at least 20%.

        1. Add to those prices the lack of transfers from ferry to/from bus in the City or on the Waiheke end of the trip.

        2. On the Island at least there are buses every 15 mins and it’s on a 50-75metre walk to them but Auckland is another storey .

  7. AT should have raised the price of parking in the city. This move makes it slightly less appealing to take a bus or train over driving. This is at a time where PT patronage has taken a big hit and services have had to be curtailed to make up for the shortfall.

    I applaud the transition to daily caps and discounted off-peak fares but a 40c increase for a single journey is quite a substantial increase and it all adds up when someone works full time and takes a return journey five days a week.

    1. “AT should have raised the price of parking in the city. ”

      Yes, and by “city”, this should be everywhere. Fares have risen everywhere. Most parking is free but it should not be. This is not just about congested inner city streets. This is about modeshift for emissions reductions and increased safety.

  8. Pre integrated fares I believe I paid $140.00 for a monthly pass. If I was going into the office everyday, my monthly spend would now be at least $152.00, not including any weekend trips. Time to introduce more monthly passes.

    1. Yeah the various different levels of monthly passes were great. It really encouraged me to use PT for trips other than just my commute to get maximum value.

      However as soon as they changed it to the $210 (now $215) all zone pass that was no longer viable… as paying as I went was much more affordable, but side effect of that was limiting it to commutes.

    2. The problem with passes / caps is that it effectively gives free off peak PT to commuters, this then needs to be paid for by everyone else.

      I think half priced off peak is a better option. People should pay something for every trip they make, passes and caps are an outdated leftover of the days before integrated ticketing.

      1. Only if there is something to be paid for, which there usually isn’t off peak. It only costs money if you have to run extra buses and trains, which we wouldn’t as they’re generally no where near full off peak.

        If people just use the existing service more there is no cost, and if they’ve making extra trips after already having paid their regular commuter fares there’s no lost revenue either.

        More people using off peak transit more often, for no extra cost and no lost revenue. ‘Everybody else’ isn’t paying anything.

        If you charge people to use transit every single time they use it, whether it’s peak or not or if it’s valuable to them or not… people will only use transit when they are forced to and they’ll get straight back in the car whenever it is humanly possible to avoid PT.

        1. Likewise you could increase the price of the peak fares and make off peak free for everyone. There would be no lost revenue and no new costs.
          If off peak does not cost then why should anyone pay for it?

        2. I don’t follow. I mean they are increasing peak fares a bit to make off peak cheaper.

          But if you made off peak completely free there would be a massive amount of lost revenue, about half the patronage and half the revenue happens in the off peak. Trying to double peak fares to compensate would only lose peak patronage and the corresponding revenue base there.

          There’s a big difference between not charging anything to people using transit, and letting people who have *already spent $20 in one day* fill up empty seats that aren’t being used otherwise.

  9. It’s probably not right that I get free public transport after 9.00 am with my Super Gold AT hop card but I feel it is my duty to put on my mask and try and make the buses and trains a little bit fuller. At the moment the buses I travel on have not suffered as much in terms of low patronage as the trains. Usually I travel about lunchtime. I try to keep a mental tally I suppose I should try to record patronage but record keeping is not my thing. More of a big picture thing. I would have thought that AT could have waited until March to put up the price. Because maybe with a bit of good luck and management the rail would be back up to speed by then.

  10. Essentially a 8-10% increase in peak fares, off peak stay the same or are slightly reduced. The daily pass is replaced by the $20 cap, another 5% increase. Not too bad considering the hole AT are in after Covid and especially the rail fiasco.

  11. Joke’s on you AT – I’m working from home 3 days a week, so my inner harbour ferry is only $1.60 per week more expensive.

    1. AT seem to have this idea that demand for public transport is fixed and nothing they do affects it, like their product isn’t subject to supply and demand.

  12. So to use park and rides, which are already significantly supply-constrained and inefficient to supply, remain unchanged in price — being mostly free.

    But to use a feeder bus, many of which area not running particularly busy and which strategically need greater patronage, has just become more expensive.

    Am I getting that right?

    1. Not really: the feeder bus adds nothing to the overall fare. It’s essentially free.

      But certainly people will avoid the increased overall fare and drive instead. This will reduce the ridership on the feeder buses which, as you say, strategically need greater patronage.

      1. With the exception of the scenario where the feeder bus crosses a fare zone, in which case it will cost more than it previously did.

  13. I’m not convinced the off-peak is purely based on tag off time, from the way they have worded that, except for the 6:00am morning one. The inter-peak may need to tag on after 9am and off before 3pm. Similarly the night one, could be tag on after 6:30pm.

    Darn that 2 zone fair increase they’re seem to like targeting.

  14. Related to the cost of fares…Does anyone know if there’s been any progress at all with regard to getting Waiheke and Devonport on the same playing field (PTOM)? Or has that been quietly dropped?

  15. Based on the chart above, the real cost of some public transport trips have risen faster than the real cost of rental housing, and that is saying something. Interesting that the increase in fares passes almost without comment…

  16. My trip has gone up 40cents, 8%, $4 week or around $16/month. With this increase, constant cancellation of trains, too long wait times transfers from train to bus, this is encouraging me to use my car. The 10% for off-peak is a joke. Travel and arrive before 6am, most of the first bus’s only just start their journey before 6am so no chance of arriving before 6am. Between 9am and 3pm this will mainly benefit students who already get a cheaper rate, so double bonus for them. So once again the average worker who has an 8, 8:30 or 9 start time (most of us don’t have flexitime), ends up paying increased fares every single year. How is that fair. I would like to see monthly price offers for all fare zones so those that work 5 days a week in any zone can get a discount because the so-called “monthly” fare only benefits those in zone 5 or higher (further out). If you offer good prices then you will get more patronage. All those that keep saying its not AT’s fault for the cancelled tracks, shutdowns etc, that its KiwiRail. This may be technically true however I am paying AT not KiwiRail so to me AT is responsible.

  17. You want to encourage public transport to get cars off the road and for Auckland Transport to not make such a loss. I think $10 daily fare unlimited use for all zones (Bus/Train only) and $4 for up to a 2 hour journey (covering train/bus transfers). No off peak discounts. So most would pay $8 for a return journey and those who want to do multiple trips throughout the day pay $10. This would reduce Auckland Transports income from public transport, however if they charged for parknrides say $2/day, they could recoup some of it this way. Also it would encourage people to use bus instead of their car so they should get more patronage. The more people that use public transport, the less vehicles on the road, means less road maintenances (saving money), less accidents (reducing our insurances, and the use of services like Police, Fire, Ambulance etc). Win Win all round.

  18. Imo, AT needs to revamp their fare system entirely. If one’s journey just passes a boundary, that’s $3.90, but if one goes from Pt Chev to Sylvia Park (over 10km) on the 66, that’s $2.20 as it’s within the isthmus zone.

    Second of all, the increase is just too high.

  19. So if after 7 February I decide to use the train for a three-stage daytime trip – notwithstanding speed reductions and limited frequency etc etc – I could save *fourteen cents* over what I would pay if I took that same three-stage trip with HOP right now?

  20. Another joke. But didn’t expected any better from AT. Price increases for 90% of travellers. Off peak discounts of literally few cents (2c if travelling only one zone, 4c for two zones). And riddiculous daily cap of $20. I used to use a lot of PT before and never spent that much in a day. It may affect 0,01% of users I suspect. They might have put it at $100 and it would probably have almost the same effect. Wish they would at least introduce some reasonably priced monthly or weekly tickets. (Monthly pass currently costs some astronomical amount). I don’t like driving but year after year I’m more and more happy that I have a car. Probably gonna use it more and more

      1. really? 50% of travellers don’t ever use PT in the peak? To get those few cents discount you would have to use it ONLY in the off peak. I’ll say 100% of all my friends then 😉

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