Story: Public transport

Page 1. Early transport options

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Walking, riding and cycling

Public transport usually runs on fixed routes through towns or cities, charges set fares, and anyone can use it.

There was little need for public transport services in the first decades of European settlement in New Zealand. Towns were small in population and compact in size. As late as the 1880s, Auckland was limited to an area stretching about 2 kilometres from the waterfront and 4 kilometres east to west. Wellington was also compact, hemmed in by the town belt on its hills, and its harbour.

Most people walked to work and lived as close as possible to their workplaces, so residential and commercial land use was often mixed.

Cycling became an urban transport alternative in the 1880s, but horses were also used for personal transport.


Horse-drawn omnibuses provided a limited service into outlying areas. Services were generally operated by small private companies under regulation by local authorities. Timetables were geared towards the arrival and departure of inter-city coaches. Fares were too expensive for most people.

How to cite this page:

Adrian Humphris, 'Public transport - Early transport options', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Adrian Humphris, published 11 Mar 2010, reviewed & revised 11 Mar 2016