Steam-tram services began in three cities in 1878 or later, but they were quickly replaced in two of them by horse-drawn trams. For the next 20 years horse trams, omnibuses, and cabs met the needs of municipal transport, until the invention and use of the electric tram. But the large capital needed for the electrification and construction of the permanent way made public ownership of tram services almost inevitable. Privately owned electric-tram services ran only in Auckland and Dunedin. When, however, the tramway services ceased operation at Napier in 1931 and at Wanganui in 1950, they were replaced by privately owned omnibus services.
Horse and steam trams lasted from 1878 to 1905, to be followed by electric trams, the last of which ran in Wellington till May 1964. Motor omnibuses appeared in the 1920s, while the precursor of the modern trolley bus, said to have been the first in the Southern Hemisphere, began a service from Thorndon to Kaiwharawhara in 1924. Since 1950 the role of the electric trams has rapidly declined and, today, motor omnibuses and trolley buses are overwhelmingly the most important means of municipal transport.
The table at the foot of the page summarises the statistics of operation of municipal transport services for the five years ended 31 March 1964.