Tramways provided the first mass-patronage public transport. Horse and steam trams created a riding culture – which led to high usage of electric trams.
Patronage peaks and falls
Patronage of trams peaked in 1944 and 1945, with 220 million trips made in each of those years. But this was the high point, and public transport patronage decreased dramatically from the end of the Second World War.
All major New Zealand cities had a significant drop-off in the number of people using public transport in the 1950s. Auckland was the most significant with a 42% decrease by 1960. Public transport use decreased nationally by 25% between 1958 and 1968.
The single biggest influence on public transport was the private motor car. The increase in car ownership correlated with dramatic decreases in public transport patronage. By the 1950s cars were becoming increasingly affordable. In the 1960s car ownership increased by 67%. Affordability was boosted from the late 1980s when a flood of second-hand vehicles began to be imported.
In 2001 New Zealand cities had one of the lowest rates of public transport use in the world, lower even than that of United States cities. Patronage has since risen.
In 2013, 4.2% of New Zealand workers commuted by bus and 1.6% by rail.
A 2007 study found that New Zealand was ranked 22nd of 28 countries in public transport usage. The study also found that young people were most concerned with fare prices, while older generations were more concerned with the frequency of services. Public transport use increased in response to the spike in world oil prices from early 2008, and continued to rise in the 2010s, despite lower oil prices.
Although nationally public transport use decreased over the late 20th century, regionally there were significant differences. Wellington, with its compact inner-city area and dormitory suburbs linked to the city by rail, has the highest public transport use per capita of any city or urban area in New Zealand. In 2013, 17% of Greater Wellington residents used public transport to travel to work, while only 8% of Aucklanders did, and only 3% of people in Canterbury.
In 2008 Aucklanders showed how quickly they would jump on the bus if things were made smoother and speedier. There was a 4.4% rise in Auckland public transport patronage in the year to June 2008. But there was a more than 50% rise in the number travelling on the Northern Express – thanks to the $290 million ‘busway’ with special bus lanes that sped up the journey.
In order to manage transport problems, fast-growing Auckland has developed a strategy to increase residential density around town centres such as Glen Innes. Dubbed ‘areas of change’, these will have higher-density housing within walking distance of existing town centres and major transport nodes.
Patronage is also influenced by the quality of the service and the vehicles used. Local and regional authorities provide and maintain much of the urban infrastructure required. Facilities such as bus shelters, interchanges or commuter car parks can make using services more appealing. Other initiatives such as bus-only lanes help improve timeliness and the reliability of services.