Sustainable public transport in NZ

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The Transport sector in New Zealand is vital for the movement of people, goods and services around the nation. Be it economic, social, and industrial or educational, almost every aspect of country relies in some way on transportation. Within New Zealand the transport system is dominated by the use of Road transport. The majority of our freight (excluding shipping) is moved across the country by roads. This combined with the huge number of private vehicles on our roads is causing issues in relation to the environment but also human health (MfE, 2013). The majority of the privately owned vehicles on our roads depend on fossil fuel based propellants to run. The increasing number of these vehicles on the road is causing concern in regard to the environment as the pollutant emitted by these vehicles is detrimental to the air quality of our nation and has been associated with negative health effects (MfE, 2013).

In 2006 the OECD ranked New Zealand third highest amongst other OECD countries in terms of vehicle ownership per person, falling just behind Portugal and the U.S. This raises the question of how can New Zealand as a nation decrease its dependency on private transport whilst not losing the benefits that transport provides. One of the ways in which this can be achieved is through the promotion and implementation of public transport systems across the nation.

Public Transport provides an alternative to private transport and is significantly less detrimental to the environment if undertaken correctly. The Cities of New Zealand provide an excellent opportunity for effective public transport initiative to be undertaken in as they are the hubs for commercial, social, educational and industrial activity and are where the highest concentrations of people live. This wiki page will provide a snapshot into the current state of the public transport initiatives being undertaken within New Zealand and examine key cities and their efforts in reducing private vehicle usage. It will also look specifically at sustainable means of public transportation and examine how widespread these programmes are and then compare them to international examples to give a better perspective on just how effective they are.



Looking at the history of public transport is a good way to understand how we got to where we are today.Public transport has moved through four key cycles essentially following the changes in the world economy or different periods of industrialism. We are now entering the firth stage which is related to information technology and how it can be used in terms of production, transferring knowledge and services (Bachels 2001).These phases are outlined in figure 1. The phases of technology are influencing transportation choices.


New Zealand Trends Looking at New Zealand’s history it can be seen that it followed similar trends. During the past 20th century New Zealand has seen the rise and fall of urban tram systems. This type of public transport had dramatically reduced in more recent years and there has been a strong growth in road use with private cars becoming the most used form. Car use tripled between 1976 and 1996 in Australia and New Zealand where as public transport was almost static (Bachels 2001).This growing car usage can be seen in the image below which portrays the answer to the question, how did you get to work today?,from the latest census (2006)


Indicators in the New Zealand context

Three indicators have been chosen to measure the state of New Zealand's sustainable public transport. The first indicator addresses the usage of public transport in New Zealand, specifically in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The second indicator looks at comparing cycling usage between these four cities. The third indicator looks at both current and future initiatives each city is adopting in order to be more sustainable. How these indicators have developed in each city will work to give a good overview of public transport in New Zealand, and what cities are doing to make the commitment to sustainability.

Public transport usage was chosen as an indicator because it provides us with a broad overview of the sustainable public transport sector, and shows what can be done to increase sustainable public transport. By comparing public transport usage statistics between cities, we can confirm which cities have greater public transport initiatives, and more robust public transport networks. We can look at what existing public transport networks are running in the different cities, and can look at how effective they have been in engaging the population to use them.

Cycling was chosen as an indicator due to it being one of the most basic and common forms of transport available to the public and whilst also being a truly sustainable option. with no emissions or noise pollution cycling provides a relatively cheap and clean alternative to the other forms of transport available to the public. Although cycling as a mode of transport is more effective over shorter distances, it never the less provides an excellent way to get around cities streets especially when other modes of transport like cars and motor vehicles face issues like congestion in busy areas,

Sustainable initiatives, both current and future was chosen as the third indicator to investigate what sustainable initiatives are occurring in each city. We can compare the number and strength of current initiatives in each city, and see the similarities and differences between New Zealand cities. How heavily some initiatives are promoted in comparison to others can help us to understand the councils current priorities. By looking at future initiatives, we can get a vision of where the city is heading in terms of sustainable public transport.

Comparing sustainable public transport between cities




Auckland city is the single largest metropolitan area in New Zealand and subsequently its structure and management are complex systems. Auckland’s main forms of public transport are the buses ferries and trains which are all coordinated by the Auckland Council and were formerly controlled by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) and various other Auckland Unitary bodies which served specific areas. (Auckland Council, 2013) Auckland’s transport system is largely dominated by the use roading networks to connect various suburbs. Most of this roading network links the suburbs directly to the Auckland CBD and the main motorway system and State Highway 1. The bus network which services the city operates along this same network. The main node in the transport system is the Brittomart Transport Center located in the central CBD near the waterfront. This acts as a hub for both Bus and Rail networks and is situated in close proximity to the CBD Ferry Terminal which operates on the waterfront. Due to the number of vehicles on the roading and motorway systems Auckland City suffers from congestion problems which often occur at peak hours of travel. This congestion is one of the main issues the Auckland Council faces in regards to public transport as the current system requires more and more infrastructure to be built to cope with transport levels. The above graph indicates that public transport usage within Auckland is at its highest levels within recent years. This highlights the importance that promoting and continuing to develop effective public transportation systems as within the city.

Public Transport Usage levels in Auckland


Total Public Transport Boardings within the last 12 Months (inc. Bus, ferry and rail): 69,876,704 (Auckland Transport Stats Report, 2013)

Total Bus Boardings within the last 12 Months: 52,007,794 (Auckland Transport Stats Report, 2013)

Total Rail Boardings within the last 12 Months: 10,068,070 (Auckland Transport Stats Report, 2013)

Total Ferry Boardings within the last 12 Months: 5,395,909 (Auckland Transport Stats Report, 2013)


Current Public Transport Initiatives

Auckland Transport is currently working on a new public transport network which will focus on the use of buses and trains to deliver more efficient movement of people throughout the city. It is aiming to break up the public transport network into 4 sections described below.

Rapid Network: Provide frequent passenger services on separate right of way, at all times, 7am to 7pm Connects city centre with selected centres via rail lines and bus ways rail lines and bus ways

Frequent Network- Bus and Ferry: Provides frequent passenger services across the day and week, 7am to 7pm Connects city centre with metro centres and a range of other centres

Connector Network– bus and ferry: Moderate frequency services connecting to activity centres, town and metro centres. Provides connections to higher frequent services

Local, peak only and targeted – demand driven: Provides frequent passenger services at peak times Connects local areas and centres Includes targeted services, such as school bus services

These different tiers of network cater to different uses of the public transport system with the aim of providing effective and reliable public transport to people traveling in Auckland.

Major changes include to the public transport network: Current and future developments

Electrification of rail services:

A new fleet of electric trains purchased from Spain is being implemented throughout the new rail network with the aim of creating an efficient inner city rail loop that would ease congestion within the central city. Although only in testing stages the rail expansion aims to have 57 electric trains operating by 2015 which will form the basis of public transport for much of the central metropolis. Each train will carry up to 375 passengers which is 100 more people than the current engines can move. They are also silent and highly efficient with zero emissions as they run on an electrified overhead rail system.

New Bus Fleet and routes: In conjunction with a new more efficient rail system that will services extensive areas of the city Auckland Transport is also aiming to expand the current bus network. This will be done largely by redistribution of existing resources and aims to make the bus and rail services operate in a complimentary role to one another rather competing with one another. New bus routes have been expanded into surrounding suburbs to link them into the main network as well as the implementation of more bus ways on the main road networks to reduce peak travel times.

Sustainable Public Transport in Auckland

Cycling and Walking Initiatives:

Cycling Highways: Provide for short cycle trips on roads or separate ‘right of way’ lanes

Connectors and Feeders: connects cycle ways to parks and reserves

Pedestrian Facilities such as footpaths and crossings: Provide access to employment areas, education facilities, and local shop and community areas.


Auckland Council has acknowledged the importance of walking and cycling in regards to being not only an effective means of cheap and clean public transport but also aim to promote the activity due to the health benefits gains from daily exercise in people of all ages. Some of the main initiatives that have been launched recently are listed below.

North Shore Cycling Strategy (2009)

Design, maintain and promote cycling facilities such as trails and cycleway to encourage more people to enjoy cycling safely and conveniently. Educate the public and especially children on the values and benefits of cycling as a means of transport Aims to achieve health in terms of the environment and of individuals through increasing fitness levels among the population, reducing traffic congestion along with air, noise and water pollution and provide a sustainable and energy efficient means for individuals to travel.


Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan aims to address traffic congestion, support economic development and provide sustainable transport options. The Wellington City Council suggests sustainable transport options include walking, cycling, car pooling and public transport. In the way of public transport Wellington offers a network of buses, trains, cable car and harbor ferries.

Public transport usage

The Regional public transport plan suggests that Wellington has a relatively strong public transport usage, with 36.6 million trips during 2010/2011. It also suggested that most people live and work within 800m of a public transport service stop (77%).(Wellington Regional Public Transport Plan 2011-2021). The graph below shows public transport numbers since 2000, it can be seen that there is a slight increase in more recent years. This is a good sign in terms of a more sustainable way to travel.


Cycling usage

According to the State of cycling report cycling numbers in Wellington have been gradually increasing in the last few years. Just under half of all households now have access to a bicycle, however it is still very low compared to other transport modes in the city(This can be seen in the table below). Comparing this to cities like Copenhagen (see below) Where more then 90% of the population have access to a bicycle.It Can be seen from the image of peoples bike rides in the last 3 months that numbers are gradually increasing in more recent years. However numbers are still not very high. Surveys have suggested that there are three main barriers to cycling in Wellington

• Safety- just under half the residents believe cycling is unsafe.

• Growth in the number of motor-vehicles

• Not enough cycling infrastructure, service and ease of cycling are poor.

Bicycle.PNG Biking2.PNG

(State of Cycling Report: Wellington region 2001-2021)

Sustainable Initiatives

Wellington has a range of sustainable transport initiatives,

• Lets Car Pool- web-based initiative which helps find car pooling partners (

• Making the workplace transport friendly – the regional council put together a workplace travel toolkit called Get Your Workplace Moving. It has ideas on how to encourage staff to walk, cycle, use public transport and carpool. The document also outlines how doing this will benefit the business.

Regional Walking Plan- to encourage more walking

Regional Rail Plan- Recognises and encourages the increase use of rail as a sustainable transport option.

State of Cycling Report- Education about and encouraging cycling. Lots of room for improvement.


Christchurch’s main form of public transport is an extensive bus network, which connects residents to most parts of the city. A ferry runs across Lyttelton Harbour to connect Diamond Harbour residents with the city. However, private cars is the most popular transport option, which has seen increased congestion, especially since the 2010/11 earthquakes, where many of the roads have been damaged needing repair, with cracks, slips and bumps.

Environment Canterbury recognises six main types of sustainable transport: Walking bus, biking, energy efficient vehicles, bus, community car and hybrid vehicles.

Christchurch's 2012 Transport Strategic Plan has four main goals.

1. To improve access and choice of transport options.

2. Create safe, healthy and liveable communities

3. Support economic vitality 4. Create opportunities for environmental enhancement Its short term goals focus primarily on the rebuild and recovery, while its medium term goals are focussed on the transition phase, by improving the safety, function and efficiency of existing networks, while increasing investment in a range of travel options. Its long term vision is to implement improvements to public transport, walking and cycling (Christchurch Transport Strategic Plan, 2012).

Public transport usage:

The graph below shows a slight increase in public transport usage up until 2010/11 where it steadily declines. A reason for this decline could be due to the earthquakes, which may have limited some users access to public transport.


Cycling usage

Christchurch City Council was the first council in New Zealand to establish a cycling strategy for its residents in 1996. The latest cycling strategy was formed in 2004. The strategy addresses the mechanisms needed to improve the cycle network and increase the safety of cyclists while also promoting cycling as a sustainable transport option. The long term vision for the Cycling Strategy is to make Christchurch a cycle friendly city (Christchurch Cycling Strategy, 2004).

The 2006 census results show that 9093 out of 178,092 residents cycled to work (5.1%). This is the most up to date data as the 2013 census results have not been released as of yet (Statistics NZ, n.d)

The graph below shows that the number of commuter cyclists has remained relatively stable over the period from 1994 to 2003. The data was formed by counting the number of cyclists passing through selected intersections.


Current sustainable initiatives

Christchurch has a number of current sustainable initiatives.

1. Four biofuel diesel busses operate on the bus network daily (Travel and Transport, n.d)

2. Community walking buses are being promoted in schools as a safe way to get to school and to encourage physical activity for both children and adults (Travel and Transport, n.d)

3. Making Christchurch a cycle city is another sustainable initiative that has become more prevalent since the 2010/11 earthquakes to ease traffic congestion and make use of Christchurch's flat landscape. Cycle lanes along the major roads into and around the central city have been created to provide users with a safe route into central city areas. Cycle lanes are present on Riccarton Road, Kotare/Kilmarnock St and Fendalton Road. There is also a major cycle way that follows the main railway line, which passes through the suburbs of Riccarton, Fendalton and Papanui.

4. Walking has been heavily promoted as a sustainable transport method, and a healthy alternative to driving.

5. Bus lanes on the major suburban roads work to make bus use quick, efficient and attractive to new and existing users.

6. A free central city bus that does a loop round the city helps to ease congestion in the central city areas. This is used by central city workers and tourists, as users can hop on and off.


Future sustainable initiatives

Light rail is seen as a real possibility to help rebuild Christchurch's central city area and futurise Christchurch as a whole. No concrete decisions have been made as of yet. Many different ideas of routes have been proposed. The majority of concepts connect the university and airport to the central city, as well as other lines connecting the Northern and Southern Suburbs to the central city. Below are two of the many proposed routes for light rail.

Lightrail2.jpg Smallerlightrail.PNG


Public transport in Dunedin consists of a fleet of Diesel Buses and public cycling and walking routes. The organization of the bus system is overseen by the Otago Regional Council, who conract/lease the rights to the privately run company Citibus.

Other forms of sustainable pubic transport recognized and provided for by the Dunedin City Council are cycling and walking. No public rail or ferry service exists in Dunedin at present.

Public Transport Usage

This is born at both the city and regional scale, where minor fluctuations in public transport use fails to produce any significant long-term trend. The use of these sustainable methods of public transport have remained static over the period 1996-2006, with the public opting to use their private vehicles by preference, as shown in Figure below.


In response to these trends the city has developed it’s Transport Strategic Plan, which contains seven objectives, four of which refer to the need for sustainable use of transport.

◦ Dunedin has an affordable, responsive, effective and safe road network.

◦ Dunedin has affordable and convenient public transport.

◦ Dunedin’s transportation system provides a platform for sustainable transport choices and the city’s dependence on oil for transport is reduced.

◦ Dunedin is a safe and pleasant place to walk and cycle.


Cycling usage

Dunedin has had a cycling strategy since 2004, initially based on the Environment Canterbury Cycling Strategy Model, and in consultation with interested cycling groups has now developed its own Dunedin specific flavor. Cycling is now promoted as part of an integrated transport system within the city, and with a traditionally high accident rate in Dunedin, the issue of safety for cyclists is a large focus of the current strategy plans.

Sustainable Initiatives

In 2011 the city adopted a Strategic Cycle Network, the development of which will occur over the next 20-30 years. Four areas of development will provide effective and safe access for cyclists around the city. Figure B

1. Dunedin to Port Chalmers (State Highway 88 shared path).

2. South Dunedin cycle network.

3. Portobello Road shared path and cycle lanes

4. Dunedin Tunnels Trail (Southern Cycleway – Dunedin to Mosgiel via Caversham Tunnel).


Looking at Public Transport in New Zealand: Holistic Persepective

By looking at specific cities and their individual efforts in promoting and implementing the use of public transport systems as a means to achieve sustainability it is apparent that as a nation New Zealand has some large differences between city centers. Auckland and Christchurch present major challenges in terms of planning and developing public transport initiatives to serve each city's needs. In the case of Auckland it is clear that a new and innovative transportation system is necessary to service city's growing populous whilst also relieving public roads of private vehicle numbers. Arguably Auckland is well on the way to achieving such developments with Auckland Transport Branch of the Auckland Council overseeing major new developments such as the restructure of its public transport system and the implementation of new and sustainable technologies such as electrified rail and cycle way expansions. In terms of sustainable initiatives Auckland city has promoted the use of cycling and walking as sustainable transportation modes. These like the initiatives within other cities like Christchurch's 'community walking buses and Wellington's 'Lets car pool' programme these sustainable transport options are driven by individual motivation and lack large scale focus on sustainability due to the marginal nature of walking and cycling in comparison to other modes of transport. The city of Christchurch is another unique example of a city facing relatively large scale issues with infrastructure. Prior to the 2010 earthquake Christchurch was faced with congestion problems from the outer suburbs to the central CBD. The earthquake however has meant that a lot of roading infrastructure has been damaged and meant that alot of new design and planning is required to restore Christchurch’s transport system. It also however can be seen as an opportunity to restructure the network and potentially create an effective public transport system that could service the current transport needs of the city whilst allowing for future expansion and growth.

Looking at New Zealand Public Transport System holistically through the use of our indicators it is clear that despite public transport usage levels increasing and many cities providing innovative new strategies to help relieve issues inner city congestion. As a nation true sustainable practice in regard to the public transport section comes in the form of cycling and walking based plans. While these can be seen as a positive step it raises the question of what else could be done to truly address our countries huge road and private vehicle dependency large scale investments into alternative transportation modes is needed. This is difficult as the justification of this investment requires an understanding between the governing bodies of New Zealand and our people that we both want and need these changes to our transport system. This final section will examine some of the potential alternatives that other cities around the world are implementing which huge success in regards to encourage and promoting the use of sustainable public transport systems. New Zealand current faces little pressure to make its transport sector more sustainable as the environmental and health effects are acknowledged by bodies such as the Ministry for the Environment but are not backed by any form of encompassing strategy to effectively mitigate the potential negative effects of these.

Overseas Perspectives

To gain some perspective of what New Zealand cities could do to improve the sustainable public transport some overseas cities were looked at as examples. Some key ideas were to increase cycling, walking and rail, to start building more integrated cities and to create more stable frameworks that include a wider range of the community.

Copenhagen- A Bicycle City


Copenhagen has more bike traffic then it does car traffic at the busy times of the day, 90% of the population own a bike and 58% use one on a daily bases. This form of transport has many benefits; it is environmentally friendly, healthy and reduces traffic congestion (CIVITAS). So how can other cities learn from Copenhagen and increase bicycle usage? Studies in Copenhagen suggest that it needs to be made an enjoyable experience, there needs to be good quality paths that are well maintained and wide enough to allow multiple cyclists past. Another factor is the planning of cities, having mixed up cities and neighborhood centers that make it easy to get everything you need on a bike. Restricting the places cars can drive and having less parking , compared to having cycle and walkways right into the heart of the city will encourage cycling further (Nelson & Scholer). These are things that lots of New Zealand cities could learn from, it could easily be applied to Christchurch in the rebuild. Below is a table with some initiatives suggested by Copenhagen about how to increase cycling in a city.


European cities in general

Like Copenhagen much of Europe is good with public transport, the design of the cities, with mixed up zoning (residential, retail and office all in the same area) makes the cities easy to walk around and cycle in. Europe also never developed the dependence on private cars like much of the rest of the western world did; this may be due to the smaller area (and so less urban sprawl) but also excellent rail services. It is likely that New Zealand needs to work on public transport issues at the planning level, instead of spreading out have I higher density of housing inner-city this would mean people would be more likely to walk and cycle to work (Kenworthy 2006).


Looking at cities outside of Europe, Perth is a good example. Perth Implemented a framework called “Dialogue With The City” which involved all sorts of sustainable issues and a mixture of government, businesses and community all working together. Focus groups were a key element and many issues were brought up (Kensworthy 2006).The framework for decision making is something New Zealand could learn from it helps get large amounts of people involved and could be a step forward for our sustainable public transport systems. Perth was faced with huge growth in recent years meaning Urban sprawl and car dependence were two key factors. To deal with these issues Perth has been and is in the process of developing a mass transit system (Public transport Plan2031). Below is an image which outlines the first two stages of the transport networks.



  • all images have their source location referenced in their description when clicked on*

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