In order for Auckland to achieve its goals of reducing emissions, improving liveability and mobility we are going to require significant mode shift away from driving. Some of that shift will come from people travelling less, some from a shift to active modes but the lion’s share will need to come from more people using public transport. Auckland’s Climate Plan calls for PT to account for about 35% of trips by 2050, up from about 7.8% pre-pandemic and will be lower than that now.
The biggest factors in getting people to use public transport are frequency reliability and speed. Big infrastructure projects like the CRL, Light Rail and busways will also play a big part in making public transport faster, more effective and attractive while other interventions like road pricing will provide an additional push factor to get people out of their cars.
However, another aspect that is often raised in relation to getting more people on to public transport is how much it costs. The discussion of fares most commonly comes up around February every year when Auckland Transport announces their now annual changes.
So with this post, I thought I’d look at how our fares compare.
Our Fare History
To start with let’s look at how our fares have changed.
Auckland’s current fare system was introduced in August 2016 and simplified our fare structure as well as improving it by charging for your journey instead of by how many buses or trains it took you to make that journey – making transfers between buses and trains free. More recently ferries have been integrated though there is an additional charge for the ferry journey itself.
When the system was introduced, even ignoring transfers, most people saw their PT trips become cheaper which was great. Since then we’ve had fare changes each year around February.
The two graphs below show how much fares have changed over the last five years, one in dollar terms and one as a percentage. I should also note that these are adult fares only, they are also the discounted fare as achieved with a HOP card
- City Link: $0.50 -> $0.60
- 1 Zone: $1.80 -> $2.20
- 2 Zones: $3.10 -> $3.90
- 3 Zones: $4.90 -> $5.40
- 4 Zones: $6.00 -> $6.80
- 5 Zones: $7.50 -> $8.00
My understanding is that 2-zone trips make up the largest proportion of PT trips in Auckland, which is not surprising given that includes everyone travelling to the city from the Isthmus and lower North Shore. These graphs show they’re also the group that have seen the largest increase in fares. For someone just using PT for commuting to and from work this change over the last five years represents them now having to spend an extra $400 annually.
A Longer History
Prior to integrated fares, how much you paid was based on how many stages you travelled on each individual service. There were more stages than we now have as zones and the exact location of stage boundaries varied a bit depending on which route you were on but some of the boundaries are comparable with the current system. Based on that I’ve estimated how much you’d pay for a trip from the city centre to various parts of the region and below is about how far you could get for each stage:
- City Centre: A special fare for trips wholly within the city centre – this separate from the special InnerLink fare.
- 1 Stage: Kingsland / Newmarket / Orakei / Harbour Bridge
- 2 Stages: Mt Albert / Mt Roskill / Ellerslie / Glen Innes / Akoranga
- 3 Stages: New Lynn / Onehunga/ Otahuhu / Constellation Dr
- 4 Stages: Henderson / Papatoetoe / Albany
- 5 Stages: Swanson / Manurewa
- 6 Stages: Papakura
- 7 Stages: Silverdale
One thing you can clearly see is that when Auckland Transport simplified the fare structure they effectively collapsed every second zone so if you were previously a 3, 5 or 7 stage fare away you ended up much better off. The other big beneficiaries are those making crosstown trips that don’t require a transfer in the city, including trips like those say New Lynn to Ellerslie or Pt Chev to Sylvia Park which became a 1 zone fare.
Another interesting way to look at this is adjusting those fares for inflation. It suggests that while fares have increased, in many cases they’re actually lower lower than they used to be, especially for longer distance trips.
What about Families
Individual fares are useful to look at but if we’re to achieve the levels of change needed, we need public transport to be accessible and affordable for a much wider range of trips, and right now it’s simply not. For example even with adults now getting an extra 10% discount if travelling on weekends or off-peak and children being free on weekends, a return family trip to the city on a weekend will set them back $14, $19.50 or $24.50 for a 2, 3 or 4 zone trip respectively.
Meanwhile the maximum you’ll pay on a weekend in the downtown carpark is just $10.
Trips to other parts of the region will often be both cheaper and have fewer public transport options. Yet they’re just some of the trips we’ll need to shift.
An International Comparison
I also thought it would be interesting to have a bit of an international comparison. It seems no two cities are the same when it comes fare structures and there are so many cities to choose from so to make a comparison I’ve looked a range of comparator cities in similar ‘new world’, car dominant countries.
To make the comparison I’ve looked at how much it would cost to travel certain distances from the city centre (1km, 2km, 5km, 10km, 15km, 20km, 25km, 30km, 35km). In all cases I’ve used the equivalent discounted fare for using a card like HOP and I’ve converted the costs to New Zealand dollars.
What we can see from this is that at compared to these other cities, Auckland fares are not terrible but where things get expensive is for trips over 10km – or about once you’re out of the 2-zone area.
Passes and caps
If we really want to get people out of their cars using fares, perhaps the best thing we could do is to make pass and/or fare cap offerings better. Passes/caps are great because while you might get one to cover your regular commute, having one means you’re more likely to use PT for other trips, such as going out on the weekend. Personally I know that when I’ve had passes in the past it has changed how I think about my travel as additional trips are essentially free and the more I use it the more value I’m getting from the pass.
Yet AT’s strategy over recent years has been to reduce pass options and make them more expensive in order to push people onto the single HOP fares above. I suspect this is because the driving force for AT has been increasing revenue rather than maximising ridership. The current bus/train monthly pass costs $215 and so is only really suitable for people who travel by PT a lot and/or do so long distances. For example, for those making the most common 2-zone trip, they’d need to make 55 journeys a month, or nearly two a day including weekends in order to justify the cost.
Not all cities offer passes or fare caps but perhaps one of the best examples is Vienna. As well as weekly and monthly passes, they also have an annual pass that costs just €365 (NZ$609) and allows unlimited travel on almost all public transport in the city for a year. The whole point is to help make public transport the first choice for people travelling. The annual pass can also be bought by employers for employees and they can then claim the tax back on them.
To put the cost in perspective, a year of monthly passes in Auckland will set you back nearly $2600, just over four times as much.
Annual passes exist in other European cities too but often costing twice as much (or more) as Vienna’s does.
Because I know it will be mentioned, another option is to remove fares altogether. We’ve talked about this a few times before, including earlier this year so I won’t cover it again but it isn’t the panacea some suggest, with oversees examples showing no impact on getting drivers out of their cars but instead seeing mode shift from people walking and cycling.