How To Kill Public Transport In One GO!


There’s an easy way to kill off public transport. Keep putting the fares up.
The latest NZ Bus report posts a warning about how difficult it may be for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to achieve their ambitious targets to increase the numbers of passenger trips on buses, trains and ferries.
This is significant because an Auckland fare rise is pending because of the Government’s demand for local authorities to pay more towards Metro services and the cost of Auckland’s electric trains.
NZ Bus reports that in December NZ Bus’ patronage was approximately 3% higher than the same month a year earlier. For the nine months patronage was up 5% or 2.2 million trips.
But while the Auckland region is continuing to perform well…

“Wellington and Hutt traffic numbers have recently fallen away, in particular patronage seems to have been impacted by Greater Wellington’s October fare rises. NZ Bus analysis of the fare changes have indicated a mixed range of responses. There has been some move from cash payment to Snapper (the discount for using Snapper has increased and a patron previously paying cash could usually lower their cost of travel by moving to Snapper, notwithstanding the fare rises), but changes in travel demand have been inconsistent.”

This is especially worrying because for over a year, the capital’s train patronage has been falling away as well - but because of the disruptions caused by the work being done on the Wellington rail network.

You would have hoped some of those disgruntled train pasengers would have switched to buses when that alternative was available instead of hopping back into their cars.

The Wellington fares went up on October 1 last year, the same day GST went up with the regional council there advising passengers it was council’s policy “that fares should make up between 45 and 50% of the costs.”

The council said the increases comply with a new Government policy requiring that passengers pay a 50 per cent share of costs, with taxpayer and rate-payer subsidies paying the rest.

The average increase was about 2.5% for GST, plus a further 3% to cover the increasing costs. However some increases were even higher.

We now see the result.

And Wellington council said there would be another around 3% increase this year -and every year thanks to that Government policy.

But if passenger numbers continue to fall, the increases may have to be even larger for commuters so the council can meet the revenue the Government demands. And then there are always oil and pay rises to add to the justification for bus fare increases.

Fare increases for Auckland have yet to be announced but a minimum 3-4% increase is likely given the talk at council meetings around the shortfall the Government expects Auckland authorities to make up. And it could even be scarier.

Fewer using Wellington buses after big fare rise

And it’s not just patronage drops that is worrying NZ Bus.

That uncertainty over all the regulatory plans is also worrying a company with multi-million dollar contracts and a lot at stake for the company’s shareholders.

“Progress continues with the development of the new public transport contracting model. The importance of this is evident given that slightly over 40% of NZ Bus’ patronage income is derived from contract payments received from regional transport agencies for providing services. The slow progress on the review of the public transport operating model (PTOM) is generally resulting in difficulties for operators and regional transport agencies. As Greater Wellington Regional Council has noted, once the PTOM is finalised legislative changes may be required which will probably take until 2012, yet Greater Wellington is legally obliged to refresh its Regional Public Transport Plan before the end of 2011.

Public transport occurs in an interconnected and complex policy environment. In addition to needing to reflect whatever emerges from the PTOM and subsequent law changes, the Regional Public Transport Plan must also be consistent with Greater Wellington’s Long Term Plan, Passenger Transport Plan, Passenger Transport Operational Plan, Bus and Ferry Procurement Strategy, Regional Rail Plan and the Public Transport Asset Management Plan

The same difficulties of sequencing also faces NZ Bus which is grappling with the need to have confidence in the regulatory and commercial environment alongside maintaining investment in fleet and system improvements.

In addition to its regulatory reviews, Greater Wellington is also undertaking an evaluation of bus services to enhance the connectivity of the region’s public transport network. It is also implementing a $10 million real time information system which is expected to “go live” on GO Wellington services next month.”

It’s that sort of frustration that can cause bus operators to quit.

As an aside, it is now clear there will be  at least initially, both the Thales Card and the Snapper Card.  Snapper will be available in April in Auckland  with installation on NZ Buses and completed by July. There’s still no talk of other operators joining -something not compulsory at this stage.

The NZ Bus report:

“In Auckland over 80 shops now signed to accept Snapper for payment and to provide reload services. The objective of having Snapper available for use on major national branded outlets is also progressing.

Coincidentally Auckland Transport is developing a similar ticketing system with the French company Thales and the NZ Transport Agency is leading a project to develop national standards for integrated ticketing.”




  1. Matt L says:

    I had just posted a similar story over at

    Like you I am also pretty concerned about that Snapper update and a number of other things. It is also sad that its the only way we seem to be able to get patronage data as well.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Robin Hickman and Save Dominion Road, AKT. AKT said: Wgtn's bus patronage drops- after fares went up. How to kill off public transport in one GO! #wellington [...]

  3. Nick R says:

    The Government’s arbitrary farebox recovery ratio policy is completely foolish. Do they realise farebox recovery in Auckland is already on of the highest in the western world?
    Melbourne achieves around 35% and Sydney has a mere 25%… but the expect Auckland to achieve 50%!
    Why? Because it sounds like a nice round number I guess.
    If they are so keen on closing the gaps with Australia they should probably look at what Australia does: funds public transport rather than pouring money down the drain with motorways to nowhere.

  4. Matt says:

    Nick, it’s another way of pushing people out of public transport. “Prove” that people would rather use their cars, and lo you’ve got your rationale for ceasing to fund public transport improvements.

    Cynical? Me? About the Minister of the RCF? Surely not!

  5. Kurt says:

    Buses are already to expensive, ferries worse and for the umpteenth time in the past 3 years fares are on the way up again.

    In the 1990′s I think it was the then transport minister Maurice Williamson that introduced us to the current public transport model based on some market knows best philosophy, the same theory that gave us the unregulated building industry, leaky homes etc.

    Auckland was forced to sell of the Yellow Bus Co to fit in with the private enterprise provided public transport nirvana we were promised. Rate payers were and are still held to ransom by private operators especially as there is no regulator that is the publicly owned bus company (such as Kiwibank is to banking).

    This flawed model has not delivered in so far as buses are concerned and it is summed up in the line ” a lot at stake for the company’s shareholders”.

    Private competing interests (Bus companies, ferries) are not interested in integrated ticketing or integrating transport modes to compliment each other, rather their bottom line is maximising profit. They make more running services that suit themselves and not contributing in anyway to their competitors.

    It has had little to do with what the public ultimately want rather what companies like NZ Bus want.

    Its broken and it needs to be fixed. Bring back a public owned bus fleet and ditch the funding ratio. You are right it will drive people back to their cars.

  6. Matt says:

    Kurt, it’s not so much that the private ownership model fails as that a private ownership model that doesn’t use the contracting authority as the final arbiter of route and payment decisions is thoroughly doomed.
    If AT got absolute control of transport routes, and providers had to return all fare revenue before being reimbursed on a set passenger-kilometre basis, it would work pretty well. But we have the worst possible combination of systems, with the results currently in evidence.

  7. [...] first post talks about fares and how they affect patronage. The post reports that for the month of December, patronage dropped by approximately 2%, following [...]

  8. Cecilia Torres says:

    Initianally only train fares were going up but they ended up increasing bus fares as well. A variety of reasons can be invented for these increases but it is of concern that WE - the people who take buses or trains every day to get to school, uni or work- DO NOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. I sent letters, made calls to NZ Bus, to ARTA, to Maxx but I am only one person. There is nothing in the news about what is going on with bus and train fares. We should protest to bring about some change. What are waiting for??


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