In March, in a bid to address the increasing cost of living, the government announced it was giving a 50% discount on public transport as well as a 25c per litre drop in fuel taxes for three months. It was later extended by two more months and then in July extended till 31-January.

Earlier this week Waka Kotahi published the results of a research survey into the impact of half price fares and it highlights that just changing fares is not the answer to getting dramatically more people to use public transport.

A survey run over three months up to August found that half price fares generated an additional 7% journeys on public transport, 1% were completely new, 3% came from car/taxi and 3% came from walking or cycling.

The main benefit identified by users was reduced concerns about the cost of transport and relief from the high cost of fuel for private vehicle travel.

There is evidence that half price fares helped mitigate their worries about travel costs and that those accessing PT networks are currently less likely to miss journeys due to expense. However, expense is not the only factor impacting mode choice.

Those switching from active modes weren’t as influenced by cost and there is evidence that, before half price fares and increases in fuel prices, private vehicles were being chosen in cases where they were more expensive in practice.

These results provide better evidence on the impact of fare changes as a public transport intervention and will be included in transport planning guidance to local government.

Firstly it’s worth noting that this research is based on a survey not just Auckland but across all of New Zealand and weighted to reflect the population size of each region. However, with Auckland typically accounting for 50-60% of all PT trips in the country, so is underrepresented in the totals. Wellington also has an outsized impact on total PT numbers in New Zealand and the regional breakdown shows the number of new trips as a result of the half priced fares in both Auckland and Wellington were about 10% compared to 7% as a whole for New Zealand.

See also the comment below about how Auckland had a higher number of people making new trips because of the fares, rather than just switching an existing trip.

In noting that, I think what this survey really highlights is that price has a fairly low elasticity on overall ridership. That’s not a new revelation but is a timely reminder given there’s been a lot of debate over the last year or so about the idea of free public transport. If we want more people to use public transport, we have to make the service better, not just rely on cheaper fares.

The report notes this too, saying that most people still choose to drive even though the actual cost of driving was higher because they believe that the PT options are unrealistic for their trip or just take too long.

For those still not trialling PT services, price hasn’t been the main barrier since 2019. Non-users think of PT services as unrealistic alternatives for travel, since they are not available in their area, aren’t realistic for the distance that they need to travel or are going to take too long to travel the distance.

With these barriers unresolved, half price fares won’t be sufficient to make them trial services, limiting the impact HPFs can have.


Price is not the main barrier. Often unrealistic to use PT in their area, for distance needed to travel, time taken or PT not available when needed to travel. Half price fares are not sufficient incentive to trial. Overall monitoring has not picked up any change in perceived feasibility of PT as an alternative mode for non-users.

This is further confirmed in this graph showing that most of the new trips that are happening in the areas where public transport options are typically the strongest.

And in one further breakdown, it’s mostly younger people between 15 and 34 that are making about 12% more trips.

A few other interesting outcomes from the slicing and dicing of the data of who are making more trips

  • People with disabilities – about 14% more trips with some sub-groups within that category making as many as 20% more trips via PT.
  • Those with household incomes of more than $100k made the most additional trips via PT, making about 8% more PT trips as a result of the fares. Meanwhile, some lower income households saw only a 3% increase in the number of PT trips taken.
  • Those with European ethnicity took the fewest new trips at 5% while those with an Asian background took the most at 11%, though it is noted that the latter group tend to live in larger urban areas where PT use is more common.

What is perhaps more interesting is the types of journeys people are taking because of half price fares. Essentially, people used PT more for discretionary trips, like to go shopping or for appointments rather than to it encouraging more commuter trips. That’s something had expected was happening as we’ve seen weekend trips recover to a higher level compared to pre-pandemic numbers than weekday trips.

The one aspect that I think doesn’t get enough attention in this research is the impact of cancellations that has emerged this year due to staffing shortages. There are a few graphs and comments about but for Auckland at least the author seems to suggest it’s not too much of an issue as people can easily wait for the next service. What’s lacking in this view is that most of the cancellations, which in some weeks was as high as 14% of all services, were disproportionately in the peaks and on some routes included multiple back-to-back services.

This likely severely restricted the number of people willing to use PT. Had there not been those issues – which are still continuing – it’s likely for Auckland at least that the number of people giving PT a go would be much higher.

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  1. I’m a bit disappointed but not surprised by these results. I have also observed more people on buses and trains during off-peak and on the weekends. I also agree that fares, although ridiculously high and offering poor value for money, are not the main barrier. We switched to cycling for all short- and medium-distance trips due to poor reliability of services, mainly because of cancelled services. But what is also problematic is the speed of buses (where are bus lanes? or priorities at the intersections? what about cars parked in the bus lanes?) which makes these journeys less attractive.

    Unfortunately, under the current mayor, I don’t see this changing for the better. He seems convinced that Aucklanders simply want to drive more.

    1. Circular reasoning driven by decades of engineering (pushing people into cars as the only realistic choice).

      Then, when the slightest attempts are made to rectify that infrastructure imbalance by building cycleways or bus lanes, a certain cohort of people cries “SOCIAL ENGINEERING! THEY ARE TRYING TO FORCE US OUT OF CARS”.

      The status quo is one hell of a drug to get addicted too. As I get older, I realise how it works better than when I was young, and even occasionally feel myself acting like it (not on transport, I hope / think). But damn isn’t it depressing.

  2. The reality of the 50% fare, is that honesty has increased, there are less people “cheating” the fare system. With the central government upgrading the entire fare network in Aotearoa, it will make assessing public transport much simpler. Climate change realities demand that public transport, cycling, scooting and walking continue to take a larger piece of statistical pie. For those of us living slightly closer to the breadline, 50% fares allow us to be more mobile, therefore more physically and mentally healthy. But the secret of low stress train and bus travel is not widely whispered!

    1. Totally agree that reduced fares is an important element in helping get a bit more equity into a transport system that forces even those least able to afford it to maintain and fuel far too many cars.

      But as Matt explains, half price fares, are, at best, a cost-of-living policy (and may well be a useful one! I support it!). But they don’t really seem to be as useful as a TRANSPORT policy.

    1. The Trains are in need of an improvement. The CAF Units appear to not have any external air ingress. (Except when the doors are open!)

    1. They sent out surveys, I think via the registered HOP email address. I know I filled one in! (regular PT user, made no difference to my patronage but was nice for the cost of living support)

  3. It’s been a rough ride (pardon the pun) over the last 12 months for us bus users. Services have become worse and worse and just in my team alone, 3 of the 4 people who normally take PT have switched back to non-PT.

    I wonder if this, COVID, WFH etc have been taken into account? Apologies I haven’t read the report yet.

  4. Indeed the past 12 months has been a rough ride. Our office has become wholly car commuters – for the former PT users, the single biggest issue is the lack of reliability associated with multiple cancelled services. Whilst 50% fares help, they don’t compensate for unreliability and long wait times. Hopefully, the recent changes to drivers pay will help to turn this around – although the rebound in tourism means that it’s a constant battle to keep urban bus drivers from switching to coaches. Then, the push on bus priority needs to get serious…

  5. I have stopped taking the bus altogether now due to the unreliable service. I either ride the whole way on my e-scooter now or work from home when it is raining (which is all the time this year). The train used to be my mode of choice but with the ability to ride into town in around 20 minutes I will probably wait for CRL before I start catching the train again.

  6. It’s still a covid environment out there and our buses in particular have poor ventilation so it’s no surprise that a lot of people are out off using PT – cheap fares or not.
    Couple that with people still working from home, I think it’s going to take a while longer for the impact of half price fares to be realised.
    Furthermore there should be more promotion/advertising of half price fares to get people using them – PT is still a foreign concept to many.
    I’d like to see these fares retained longer term, or alternatively more government funding to actually improve services – frequency and reliability, or a combination of the two.

    1. Is the average person on the street paying attention to covid? They’re mostly not wearing masks and daily case numbers are massively up. Doesn’t seem like it.

        1. This attitude, and the lack of mail mandates for public transport is currently topping my list of trains to avoid public transport wherever possible.

      1. They don’t until they’re sitting on a bus next to someone coughing (or even a few rows away).
        Why risk it when you can go in your own car?
        That’s the problem of course… we need a lot more people using PT.

  7. The fare price doesn’t change my behavior at all. Lets take my trip home yesterday as an example. Train from Newmarket to Britomart, then NX1. The CBD was gridlocked, and the bus lanes were great (except for the idiots blocking them in their cars).

    Get to Albany and while still on the NX1 I watch the 856 depart on time at 4:15 The next 856 or 861 is at 5pm – 5 services in a row cancelled between those 2 routes, not counting the services already removed from the timetable.

    A 44 minute wait is unacceptable, especially when AT only give you 30 minutes to connect to the next service. I had to get my wife to drive to the station to pick me up.

    Until the services are reliable, it doesn’t matter what the fares are.

    1. You have enjoyed the treasure of NZ transport, and should be charged higher. What a wonderful but normal trip most of the public transport user experienced.

  8. I think this type of survey is only useful to extract decent information IF all other matters were equal.
    other comments related to bus services … as we know people want to have some certainty in their travel time. no matter the mode. if buses / trains can’t show up on time, last minute cancellations … rail services always being disrupted by track works/faults.

    No wonder 50% off fares haven’t made a bigger difference.

  9. The Impacts of Half Priced Fares only works when:
    1. Improvements to Bus, Ferry & Train Services can be implemented quicky
    2. Results of improvements are rapid
    3. Public transport decisions are made locally with support of Central Government

  10. Going to be interesting to see if AT work to get people back on buses next year

    The reliability thing is such an issue, that my daughter who normally leaves the car behind and takes the bus whenever she can, found that the stress of missing buses and being late to work/events is worse than stress of driving and parking.
    So is very cautious about planning trips using buses or trains; and planning is the operative word, not just turning up and riding.

    I assume AT will get on top of reliability issues; even if not so much on Ferries and Trains, so when they do get capacity, will be important to relaunch and do promotion and get people to trust the network again. Unfortunately, I suspect it could just spiral down; AT won’t promote PT, people won’t use it, and AT will use to justify not spending money on PT

    One slightly baffling gap in promotion is the Airport service. Rental cars are in demand and Uber/Taxis/Shuttle busses are more expensive than AT normal services. Regular question that pops up on Reddit is how to get/from the Airport, and few people are even aware that there is (right now) a very cheap option to get out of the Airport and to Puhinui.

    I still think anybody exiting the airport (domestic or international) has to see a large display giving PT options and HOP card vending machine.

    If nothing else, taking an Uber from Puhinui will be cheaper for most people, but few people seem to be aware you can use PT to get into central Auckland for ~$5 right now

    1. Numbers on the airport bus to Puhinui are picking up but there are some confused looking back packers standing around at some of the stops. Also people are using it to get to the Manukau bus station to transfer to Intercity buses. An ambassador at the airport and Puhinui train bus stop would be useful particularly if rail buses are running.
      I was talking to a couple of fellow passengers at a bus stop the other day one observed that 31 and 36 buses are seldom cancelled I could only agree. I think AT is targeting services that have reasonable patronage. I think 33 would be another. Numbers on these buses have improved in the last couple of months along with the trains. Whether this can be attributed to half price fares is another thing but I would expect it can but help. I expect passengers commuting to work is not the leading reason for using PT transport out here as the peak is around lunchtime and between 3 and 4 when school gets out.

      1. I will qualify the last sentence by excluding trains obviously there is still a peak of workers heading into the city center.

      2. 33 is ok, would be better if it went further to Ellerslie and terminated there, good for people who work along great south south road and

      3. I used the Puhinui – airport bus a couple of weekends ago. I noted that as many people were being turned away due to not having a Hop card yet as were getting on. They had to go and find the machine or find the shop where cards are available. It can’t be too hard for the bus driver to issue a Hop card while boarding can it?

    2. You can get into central Auckland from the airport for $2.43 but few people do so.

      A retired couple had just arrived from Christchurch and were looking bereft next to the empty HOP vending machine outside the domestic terminal. Where to buy a card? The information counter inside was vacant. The salespeople at a nearby store were busy. Eventually the couple found out they could buy cards from a place next to Subway and were able to embark on the next stage of their journey to Devonport.

      People are happy to pay $17 to take the SkyDrive bus to SkyCity or several times that to take a taxi or Uber.

      Taking an electric bus to Puhinui then an electric train to Britomart (or another station) for just $2.43 is an excellent deal. That so many spurn it shows that cost is not a consideration for most people.

      1. Don’t you think the “empty HOP card vending machine” indicates plenty of people are using the bus/rail combo despite your anecdotal opinion? Many people are able to use their phones to access all this info now in 2022, that’s why the cruise ship passengers are lining up for the local buses instead of the ripoff shuttles.

  11. Just need better bus services without having to transfer to a train station just to get another bus or train to complete journey

    1. “Just need better bus services without having to transfer to a train station just to get another bus or train to complete journey”

      HUH? Are you asking for a direct trip from outside your house, to and from the Airport? If so, its called SuperShuttle. Your suggestion would require thousands of extra bus routes to and from the airport, to service all parts of Auckland.

  12. Absolutely horrific result but one that was fairly predictable for anyone whose head is not already stuck in the transport sphere. Price sensitive commuters were already on public transport, a further reduction in fare recovery was never going to have much of an impact.

    If our media was fair and unbiased, this colossal waste of taxpayer money would be front page news and resignations would be demanded.

    1. How is this a horrific result? The purpose of this was to offset the cost of living increases with cheaper fuel and cheaper fares, which it did.

      I agree that they colossal waste of money from subsidising fuel needs to be front page news, but can see why it isn’t.

  13. The one passenger transport service that would have seen a notable increase in patronage from half price fares was excluded due to the PTOM exemption that exists for this service – The Waiheke ferry.

  14. No idea why NZ always try to eliminate people using vehicles. Let look at US and GB, they are still the major private vehicle user and create pollution that are hundreds times if NZ!

  15. A few things to consider in evaluating the results:
    – Surveys are based on self-report, which is notoriously unreliable. For example, people are more likely to say they switched to public transport from cycling or walking than from driving because those modes are seen as more virtuous, and people like to see themselves that way. They may have really switched primarily from driving, but they walked or cycled once or twice, so that’s what they say.
    – Half-price fares has always been described as temporary. Only a small number of people will make a change to public transport (which requires learning new skills and much mental effort) when the benefits will be temporary. Once you become a public transport user it’s easy, but many of us forget the big mental energy needed to start using it, and we all reading this blog are probably the type of people who enjoy that kind of thing somewhat — most people don’t.
    – Petrol was made cheaper at the same time, which obviously encourages driving. Therefore you would not expect to see people switch from driving, since driving has been encouraged, and staying with driving requires no extra mental energy.
    – We know that frequency and reliability are more important than fares, but that doesn’t mean fares are not important. A recent report found frequency was inadequate in Auckland (and therefore probably everywhere except perhaps Wellington) and the reliability issues are well known, so we may not see the impact of half-price fares because those two limiting factors haven’t changed.
    – You can’t usually apply overseas research to New Zealand in the case of fares because most countries where this research is done have always had nominal fares and often, higher costs to drive. So the impact of reducing fares in these countries will always be slim because they’re already at the right level. In New Zealand full fares are often more expensive than driving, and that’s especially true for families.

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