We may still be in February but yesterday marked the start of March Madness, typically the busiest time of the year for transport of all modes. That’s due to a number of factors, such as:

  • The summer holiday period is over meaning
    • All schools and now University’s being back – and for the latter when expectations are high, before some eventually lose interest and start to drop out.
    • Most people are have taken leave so are back at work.
  • The typical winter sickness haven’t started to spread yet.

COVID has meant that for the last few years, March hasn’t been super busy compared to what it was before 2020, particularly for public transport. For PT, last year was further hampered by bus driver shortages, ferry crew shortages and rail network shutdowns. Furthermore, demand was also lowered by the rise of working and studying from home for many office jobs and office workers in the city historically tended to make up a large proportion of PT trips. It meant that average weekday usage barely made it above 300,000 trips per day compared to over 400,000 in March 2019.

This year things are a bit different. Those bus driver shortages are now gone, the full rail network is operating again – though with some reliability issues recently and for the western line, that’s about to change in a few weeks as reduced services will be operating due to Kiwirail rebuild works. Working from home is also reducing, both through some staff wanting to be in the office more but also as businesses start to require it.

The impact of this can clearly seen in the data with weekday trips exceeding 330k last week, the highest since the pandemic and 91% of pre-pandemic levels. The week before last is the second highest post-pandemic week.

Breaking this down in a bit more detail, ferries are back to pre-pandemic levels and buses are very close to that level, averaging around 96% over the last four weeks. It’s only the rail network that’s really lagging – after the first lockdown, rail initially recovered at about the same rate as buses and ferries but since the first major network repairs started occurring in August 2020 it has lagged behind.

Interestingly, weekend boardings are looking even stronger and are now regularly at or above what they were in 2019 and the Saturday just been was the second highest Saturday on record with 165k trips. The highest Saturday was in February 2019 with 178k trips (an event?) but this most recent Saturday had higher bus and ferry usage.

AT’s official target is to get back to annual boardings of 83.4 million by the end of June. As of the end of January we’re at 80.9 million and if March continues the way it’s shaping up, we’ll reach that in the next few weeks. If the next few months continues this way, we’ll likely end up closer to 90 million. To put the current results a different way, the current numbers put public transport usage back to where it was in about 2018.

This rate of PT recover also keeps us in line with many other cities we tend to look to. For example, Wellington, Vancouver and London are all generally back to over 90% of pre-pandemic levels while Melbourne and Sydney are tracking at similar levels to us.

For their part, AT say they’re doing all they can to manage demand for PT services.

AT is doing what it can to prepare for the increase in public transport demand this March, Mr Harrison says.

“Where available, we’ve deployed bigger buses to increase capacity where there is high demand. Our buses are fully staffed and we’re running extra services on routes we know will be the busiest, so even if a bus is full, it will only be a short wait for the next one.

“To help make sure we are getting the most out of our buses, we’re encouraging passengers to move down the bus and use every seat when it is busy.”

Passengers can see how busy their bus or train is on the AT Mobile App or Passenger Information Displays at train stations and some bus stops.

“We’re monitoring the performance of the public transport system daily and looking at how we can better use the resources we have available to optimise the network’s performance,” Mr Harrison says.

“We’re committed to keeping Auckland moving, but it is already getting busier out on the roads and on public transport. Driving and catching public transport could take a bit longer than normal, particularly in the morning and in the mid-to-late afternoon. We encourage commuters to make use of the AT Mobile App to plan their journey, track it in real-time and check capacity.”

Of course the one thing they don’t mention there is that cycling is a great option, and typically the most reliable when it comes to travel times. And AT’s counters are showing that cycling numbers are also bouncing back from the impacts of COVID.

AT have recently installed a lot more counters on cycleways around the region, bringing the total up to 63 but for their official measures they use just 26 of those for which they have data from late 2015 onwards. Those 26 counters show cycleway numbers in January up 26% on last year, though overall usage is still someway off pre-pandemic levels, in part because there was a huge surge in cycling in the year before the pandemic hit.

However, on the counters that surround the city centre, the rolling annual total is back to what it was just before COVID hit.

There are certainly some positives in the number’s we’re seeing. When it comes to public transport, how high do you think our recovery will get in March. Could we get into the mid-90% range?

Share this


  1. The 5.30pm Downtown to Devenport Ferry yesterday was a fantastic reminder of how crap our infrastructure really is. There were hundreds of people waiting patiently, several bikes were denied access and then a woman with her baby, my son and I. As parents we were fine but I am reasonably sure that some people with bikes could not get on the following 6pm ferry either. If I had a bike I would have been fuming.

    Sometimes you wonder if Auckland Transport is trying to make us angry?

    That was just a soggy Monday peak hour ferry, I dare not imagine what that will look like when the days are shorter and we are denied public transport in the dark; hungry, and hope(less/ful)?

    Bah humbug

    1. “You don’t need a cycle/active mode bridge across the harbour as you have ferries every 15 minutes”

      Cyclist trying to take ferry; sad faces

    2. Why blame AT when Fullers are the problem? Those catmarans are just too slow to load and unload. They are not designed for a short, intensive shuttle service like Devonport. One narrow gang plank for hundreds of people is really taking the piss.

      1. Same with the Waiheke ferries. Large numbers disembarking and then embarking can delay one sailing by 15 minutes, which has knock-on effects on the rest of the sailings for some time…and it can get worse as the day goes on if the numbers stay high.

        I posted something about the Vancouver city centre to north shore ferries the other day. They have the fastest and best docking, mooring, disembarking and embarking I’ve seen and apparently that infrastructure dates from the 1970s.

        I saw a submission from Fullers recently absolutely eviscerating Auckland Transport for providing poor infrastructure. I wasn’t sure the extent to which I took their perspective and I’ll be interested to see the response. But for sure, ferry passengers are poorly served by the lack of a decent system for (dis)embarkation – which requires changes to both the boats and the wharves.

    3. Makes me really sad to hear this is still as bad. It was a problem when I lived in Auckland 10 years ago. If you weren’t denied access without a bike it was still awkward and sometimes enough to make me just lock it at the terminal and walk on the other side. With the profits Fullers must be making on the Dev/Akl route they should be made to do simultaneous runs (or 5 min frequency) during peak hours.

  2. Not forgetting the impact that fuel prices have on PT demand. Prices have dropped a bit over the past 3 months (went up a bit a month ago). It can be a bit psychological when prices get close to $3 people really try to cut back driving. When it drops back below $2.50 you get an uptake in people driving. Right now it’s probably neutral. The WEX should help and if rail can sort its s%!t out then we could see some good numbers.

    1. So the obvious thing to do is increase the price of fuel. Maybe ramp the tax up by 10% per year.

      We have to stop burning stuff.

      The extra tax can be used to increase PT or to introduce an income- tax-free threshold so that those on lower incomes can exercise choice re transport.

      1. Removing the Regional Fuel Tax enables the government to raise the national fuel tax to fund the infrastructure defecit across the whole country… if only.

  3. The NZ population increased by 2.7% in 2023 alone so targets should be increased by at least that to stay the same. I believe that the increase since 2019 is 6.2% but not verified.

    1. Stats NZ say that Auckland City’s population rose 5.1% from June 2019-June 2023,
      So given the strong migration since June 2023, 6% is certainly within the expected ballpark for a figure from March 20- March 24

  4. It always amazes me that students take cars to uni’s and tech’s. Where on earth are they parking them and how are they are able to afford to pay for parking.

      1. Maybe those students are better equipped to make judgements about the best use of their time and the relative availability of alternatives than you are.

        Oh wait, what am I saying. Yes, it’s clearly ‘bad parenting’.


        1. Lol, yeah.

          When the authorities are choosing to manage a transport system so deficient that many people find themselves having to drive, it amazes me that anyone would single out one age group / demographic as needing to be excluded from that option.

          Better to use the moment to reflect on what kind of transport system we’re leaving as a legacy.

        1. exactly if you have lectures in random times and the bus service is once every 30 mins or something then it’s pretty hard to manage. Or the train doesn’t turn up then drive.

          Maybe they carpool too.

    1. Perhaps they value their time and punctuality.

      I remember deciding to buy a car and drive to Auckland university in rush hour after realising that catching the 7:00 a.m. bus from Howick would consistently fail to get me to Symonds Street in time for my 9:00 a.m. lecture. Parking was $6 / day or so in Carlaw Park or the Strand – equivalent to a one-way bus fare.

      I suppose things have improved in PT, but possibly not enough. I assume today’s students make the same rational decisions.

      1. Parking is $25 a day in the OGGB basement at UOA now, probably slightly cheaper options around. I did know a few people that still drove, one case was a flat of 5 that carpooled which was probably a fairly good outcome.

        NX2 instead of 881 has been a dramatic improvement for students from the North. I imagine the eastern busway is helping out east but it’s only a small portion of that trip from Howick. I believe that transfering to the eastern line and then again onto a bus up from britomart (or just walking / e-scootering) is faster if there is appreciable traffic.

        Otherwise every lecture is recorded, still go because it’s a better learning environment, but being late is not a big deal for lectures.

        1. All the money and extra lecture rooms I presume. In some ways it’s good in that it’s near the Grafton motorway access points. Better than some other spots.

        2. The location is bad for creating conflict between people in cars and people on bikes on the NW cycleway. Opened in 2007 apparently.

          What we should be doing by now is requiring such facilities to plan their transition to other uses.

        3. Back in the day could park on the open gravel area around/just down from that OGGB building, university student run parking I think and it was only about $1-2 for the whole day I think. Close to the southern motorway.

        4. Actually it was between Grafton Rd & Wellesley St, before more motorway development, now I check GeoMaps.

        5. Yeah. Far fewer spaces, though, thus far fewer conflicts generated… (emissions, congestion, inactivity, air pollution)…

        6. Council are still building car parking buildings themselves very recently. I imagine in 2005 or whenever they got building consent the council would have been nearly popping champagne. 1000 private parks, right next to the motorway. Practically zero council expenditure on it.

          UOA has 33,468 full time equivalent students plus thousands of staff. 1000 space car park is a drop in the bucket, vast majority of people bus walk or train.

          I used to drive in for exams mainly, or for events I was going to or running.

      2. Yeah exactly, driving is slow during rush hour but it still works.

        From Birkenhead, it is about 45 minutes of queueing on Onewa Road to cross the bridge. That seems bad at first. But even on a good day PT will not beat that time unless you have to be somewhere on Fanshawe Street.

        And in general, compared to driving a car, it seems on PT you’re 10 to 100 times more likely to get stranded, or be really ridiculously late.

        (100 times worse would be a couple of times every week instead of once a year. That is quite plausible, actually. It really is that bad)

        1. Not sure where you’re bussing from in Birkenhead but I do door to door about 30 mins on most days Birkenhead to CBD. So 45 mins Onewa road is absolutely beatable by a long way

        2. I guess that is a single seat ride and you’re going somewhere reasonably close to Fanshawe Street?

      1. Also, if you only go in to university once or twice a week, and maybe pay for parking only some of the time, getting a ticket occasionally as well, it’s not too much. The bigger cost is in the car.

  5. The Devonport ferry service had a perfectly good vessel in Kea designed to carry bikes and around just over 400 passengers, but they scrapped it in favor of smaller ferries with less of everything. But they are building new electric ferries that will carry even less passengers again. Bring back new ferries designed the same as the old originals like Kestrel where you could cram on close to a thousand people back when Auckland had a reasonably decent public transport system including trams.

    1. The Kea was an enclosed, noisy, vibrating box. Probably scrapped due to metal fatigue . But a modern version of the old double enders with spacious open decks, unlike the Kea, is exactly what is needed. So, of course, it won’t happen.

      1. Yeah was not fun to ride on – everything rattled, the drone of the motors was unpleasant, and the interior was very much 1990s. Pretty sure there are some cats with a similar embarking configuration in service now, where central doors open wide on the wharf.

        1. Agree ,i was just using it as an example but yes it was noisy and always sounded like a few bolts needed tightening.

  6. It would be good to show the cycling numbers in same format as PT rather than a rolling average total for a year. Obviously can’t be on same scale as the average <6k one-way trips would be lost.
    Would also be good to see the vehicle numbers entering/exiting the CBD for comparison. i.e. how much is working from home affecting the overall numbers.

  7. Bike! I bike in to work and it is always 25 minutes give or take 99.9% reliable…i have had 1 puncture in 5 years. Lucky that I am on protected cycleways but i have biked a lot, including London to work canary wharf. Anyways – bike bike bike it is the way to go, even them battery powered cheating bikes ( jealous, i would love one). Cycle defensively for mad drivers and don’t take risks coz your number will come up. PS I work for AT…greaterauckland is fantastic writing/ commentary keep it up and help us fight current insane central government policies and their “war on Auckland”. ATérs want to do whats best for the city…but politics working against us at the mo.

    1. It was more damaging to promise Auckland a bunch of rapid transit that it had no intent or capability of delivering. Even if the intent was there, the outcome was still the same. It’s been a huge set-back for the city and I struggle to see how National doing National things is really that much worse.

  8. Greater Auckland, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, South America, Polynesia, Greenland, Europe, United States, Japan and New Zealand. I see that Paper.

    The Paper means:

    List 1 China must be Up now,
    List 2 United States must be Up now,
    List 3 Europe must be Up now and
    List 4 Japan must be Up now.”


    List 1 New Zealand must be Up now immediately forever,
    List 2 United States must be Up now so anytime go to US or not,
    List 3 Keep the Europe must be Up now,
    List 4 Keep the Japan must be Up now and
    List 5 China must be Down now immediately forever.”

    So I already choose OPTION 2: SON WANTED 5 COUNTRY RATE DOLLAR LIST, because Greater Auckland, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, South America, Polynesia, Greenland, Europe, United States, Japan, New Zealand and Son like China rate dollar down forever about Bad Mum’s Born Harbin China Die forever, New Zealand rate dollar up forever about Best Son’s Born Wellington New Zealand Life forever, build Expressway, MRT, LRT, BRT, Everything and many more, Buying more Apartment, House, Townhouse Everything and many more, get marriage and many more in the Whole New Zealand.

    And also Greater Auckland and Son like United States rate dollar up now so anytime go to US or not.

    And So Greater Auckland, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, South America, Polynesia, Greenland, Europe, United States, Japan and New Zealand, now try have a biggest fight to get all the money out from 26 Country List: List 1 China, List 2 Mongolia, List 3 North Korea, List 4 South Korea, List 5 Taiwan, List 6 Hong Kong, List 7 Macau, List 8 Laos, List 9 Myanmar, List 10 Vietnam, List 11 Thailand, List 12 Cambodia, List 13 Philippines, List 14 Central Asia, List 15 South Asia, List 16 Western Asia, List 17 Singapore, List 18 Malaysia, List 19 Indonesia, List 20 Brunei, List 21 East Timor, List 22 Southeast Asia, List 23 Micronesia, List 24 Melanesia, List 25 Australia and List 26 Africa into 4 Country List: List 1 New Zealand, List 2 United States, List 3 Europe and List 4 Japan for every month.

    Because we want China rate dollar Down now immediately forever, New Zealand rate dollar Up now immediately forever and United States rate dollar Up now.

Leave a Reply

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