Public transport in Auckland

Public transport in Auckland, the largest metropolitan area of New Zealand, consists of three modes: bus, train and ferry. Services are coordinated by Auckland Transport under the AT Metro brand. Britomart Transport Centre is the main transport hub.

AT Metro
An Auckland Transport electric train (AM class) at Puhinui.
ParentAuckland Transport (AT)
Founded1 November 2010
LocaleNew Zealand
Service areaAuckland Region
Service typeBus, rail, ferry
HubsBritomart Transport Centre
Chief executiveShane Ellison

Until the 1950s Auckland was well served by public transport and had high levels of ridership.[1] However, the dismantling of an extensive tram system in the 1950s, the decision by William Goosman[2] to not electrify Auckland's rail network, and a focus of transport investment into a motorway system led to the collapse in both mode share and total trips.[3] By the 1990s Auckland had experienced one of the sharpest declines in public transport ridership in the world, with only 33 trips per capita per year.[4]

Since 2000, a greater focus has been placed on improving Auckland's public transport system through a series of projects and service improvements. Major improvements include the Britomart Transport Centre, the Northern Busway, the upgrade and electrification of the rail network[5] and the introduction of integrated ticketing through the AT Hop Card. These efforts have led to sustained growth in ridership, particularly on the rail network. Between June 2005 and November 2017 total ridership increased from 51.3 million boardings per annum to 90.9 million.[6]

Despite those strong gains, the overall share of travel in Auckland by public transport is still quite low. At the 2013 census around 8% of journeys to work were by public transport[7] and per capita ridership in 2017 of around 55 boardings is still well below that of Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and most large Canadian cities.[8]

Auckland's rapid population growth means that improving the city's public transport system is a priority for Auckland Council[9] and the New Zealand Government.[10] Major improvements planned or underway include the City Rail Link,[11] extending the Northern Busway to Albany,[12] construction of the Eastern Busway between Panmure and Botany, and the proposed Auckland Airport Line, a light rail line between the city centre and Auckland Airport.[13]


Pre World War II growth

Horse-drawn trams operated in Auckland from 1884 while the Auckland Electric Tram Company's system was officially opened on 17 November 1902.[14] The Electric Tram Company started as a private company before being acquired by Auckland City Council.

The tram network enabled and shaped much of Auckland's growth throughout the early 20th century. Auckland's public transport system was very well utilised, with usage peaking at over 120 million boardings during the Second World War, even though Auckland's population was under 500,000 at the time.[15]

Post World War II decline

Auckland's extensive tram network was removed in the 1950s, with the last line closing in late 1956.[16][17] Although a series of ambitious rail schemes were proposed between the 1940s and 1970s,[18] the focus of transport improvements in Auckland shifted to developing an extensive motorway system. Passionate advocacy from long-time Mayor of Auckland City Council Dove-Myer Robinson for a "rapid rail" scheme was ultimately unsuccessful.[19]

Removal of the tram system, little investment in Auckland's rail network and growing car ownership in the second half of the 20th century led to a collapse in ridership across all modes of public transport.[3] From a 1954 average level of 290 public transport trips per person per year (a share of 58% of all motorised trips), patronage decreased rapidly.[8][20] 1950s ridership levels were only reached again in the 2010s, despite Auckland's population growing four-fold over the same time period.[3]

These decisions also shaped Auckland's growth patterns in the late 20th century, with the city becoming a relatively low-density dispersed urban area with a population highly dependent on private vehicles for their travel needs.[21] By the late 1990s ongoing population growth and high levels of car use were leading to the recognition that traffic congestion was one of Auckland's biggest problems.[22]


It has been claimed that the city's public transport decline resulted from, "privatisation, a poor regulatory environment and a funding system that favours roads".[23] On the other hand, NZ Bus claim that increasing passengers and cost control began with privatisation in 1991.[24]

21st century revival

As concerns over urban sprawl and traffic congestion grew in the 1990s and early 2000s, public transport returned to the spotlight, with growing agreement of the "need for a substantial shift to public transport".[25] Growing recognition that Auckland could no longer "build its way out of congestion" through more roads alone led to the first major improvements to Auckland's public transport system in half a century:

Despite these improvements, the lack of investment in Auckland's public transport system throughout the latter part of the 20th century means the city still has much lower levels of ridership than other major cities in Canada and Australia.[29] Auckland's ongoing strong population growth and constrained geography means that Auckland's transport plans now have a strong focus on further improving the quality and attractiveness of public transport.[30] Further improvements are to be realised in the years to 2028 under the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), valued at NZ$28 billion[31] ($4.6 billion more than previously planned), of which $9.1 billion is for additional public transport projects, including: the completion of the City Rail Link; the construction of the Eastern Busway, which will run from Panmure to Botany; Northern Busway extension to Albany; the extension of the railway electrification to Pukekohe; a third line to Auckland between Westfield and Wiri[32] or Wiri and Papakura, to allow freight trains to bypass stationary passenger trains;[33] further new electric trains and the construction of a light rail network to the northwest (to be designed) and to the airport.[34]


Urban services

Buses provide for around 70% of public transport trips in Auckland.[6] Bus services generally run from around 6am to midnight, with a limited number of buses linking Auckland's suburbs and city centre after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights only, with Northern Express services on the Northern Busway on the North Shore running half-hourly until 3:00 a.m.[35]

Services are contracted by Auckland Transport and operated by a number of private companies, including:

Auckland Transport began rebranding bus services to AT Metro in 2014–2015 to create a single identity for all bus services, with some exceptions like the Link buses which retained their red, green and orange colours.[37]

There are four Link services; all accept fare payment by AT Hop card or cash and all run from early morning to late evening, 7 days of the week.[38]

SkyBus provides services between Auckland Airport and both Albany and the Auckland CBD.

Bus priority facilities

Auckland has a growing number of bus lanes, some of which operate at peak times only and others 24 hours a day. These lanes are for buses and two-wheeled vehicles only and are intended to reduce congestion and shorten travel times. All are sign-posted and marked on the road surface.

The Central Connector bus lane project improved links between Newmarket and the inner city, while bus lanes are also planned on Remuera Road and St Johns Road to connect the city with the Eastern Bays suburbs.

The Northern Busway provides complete separation for buses from general traffic between Akoranga (near Takapuna) and Constellation Drive. This busway is to be extended further north to Albany Busway Station[39] including building a new station at Rosedale. In the long term plans remain to extend the busway to Hibiscus Coast Busway Station, and Orewa.[40]

The Eastern Busway (AMETI) is currently being constructed to connect Botany and Panmure with a separated busway along Ti Rakau Drive, onto Pakuranga Road and Lagoon Drive. Pre-construction began in late 2018, with the removal of houses along Pakuranga Road due to be complete by April 2019. Stage one connecting Panmure and Pakuranga should be completed by 2020, with the Reeves Road fly over (2022) and continued construction of the busway from Pakuranga to Botany being completed by 2025. A new Botany station is due to be completed by 2026. Further extensions to Auckland Airport via Manukau City are being explored, although no decisions on this extension have been made public.

Other planned busways include the Northwestern Busway[41] between Westgate and the city centre (possibly to be built as light-rail instead of a busway[10]) and a bus connection between Auckland Airport, Manukau City and Botany.[10]

Long-distance services

Long-distance bus operator Intercity links Auckland with all the main centres in the North Island,[42] also operating the budget-orientated SKIP Bus services.[43]


Urban services

Auckland's urban train services are operated under the AT brand by Transdev Auckland. Trains and stations are owned by Auckland Transport, while tracks and other rail infrastructure are owned by KiwiRail.

Since the opening of Britomart Transport Centre, significant improvements have been made to urban rail services. These include:

  • Sunday services were reintroduced in October 2005 for the first time in over 40 years, together with a general 25% service frequency increase.[44]
  • Project DART upgraded the core rail network between 2006 and 2012, including double-tracking the Western Line, completed in 2010,[45] constructing the Manukau Branch line from Wiri to Manukau City Centre, completed in 2012, rebuilding and reconfiguring Newmarket railway station, completed in 2010, and reopening the disused Onehunga Branch line for passengers[46] in September 2010.
  • Electrification of the rail network from Swanson station on the Western Line and Papakura station on the Southern Line and the purchase of 57 electric trains. The first passenger services operated in April 2014.[47]
  • Otahuhu railway station was extensively rebuilt to connect with a new bus interchange being built alongside. In October 2016, the interchange was opened to coincide with the launching of a new bus network timetable in South Auckland, Pukekohe and Waiuku.[48]
  • The new Manukau bus station (next to Manukau railway station) was officially opened in April 2018 and bus services from the new facility began, serving South and East Auckland.[49][50]

These improvements have led to rapid growth in rail ridership, from a low of 1 million annual boardings in 1994 to over 20 million in 2017.[51] Increasing train frequencies to meet further growth is not possible because of the "dead end" at Britomart train station which means all trains entering and exiting the station need to use the same two tracks. The City Rail Link project, due to be opened in 2024 is a tunnel between Britomart to Mount Eden station designed to address these constraints, provide greater route flexibility across the entire network, and create a more direct route for Western Line services.[52]


There are four commuter rail lines[53]:

Line Frequency (off-peak) Calling at Notes
Eastern Line 3 tph Britomart, Orakei, Meadowbank, Glen Innes, Panmure, Sylvia Park, Otahuhu, Middlemore, Papatoetoe, Puhinui, Manukau
Southern Line 3 tph Britomart, Parnell, Newmarket, Remuera, Greenlane, Ellerslie, Penrose, Otahuhu, Middlemore, Papatoetoe, Puhinui, Homai, Manurewa, Te Mahia, Takanini, Papakura
Southern Line (Papakura–Puhekohe shuttle) 2 tph Papakura, Pukekohe Diesel shuttle connecting with service to/from Britomart
Western Line 3 tph Britomart, Parnell, Newmarket, Grafton, Mount Eden, Kingsland, Morningside, Baldwin Avenue, Mount Albert, Avondale, New Lynn, Fruitvale Road, Glen Eden, Sunnyvale, Henderson, Sturges Road, Ranui, Swanson Trains reverse at Newmarket.
Onehunga Line 2 tph Britomart, Newmarket, Remuera†, Greenlane†, Ellerslie, Penrose, Te Papapa, Onehunga
tph = trains per hour
† station served at evenings only

Rolling stock

Class Image Type Top speed Number Carriages Routes operated Built
km/h mph
AM class EMU 110 68 57 3 Eastern Line
Onehunga Line
Southern Line (Britomart–Papakura)
Western Line
ADL/ADC class DMU 90 56 10 2 Southern Line (Papakura–Pukekohe) 1982–85

Long-distance services

Auckland has only one long-distance passenger train, the Northern Explorer to Wellington, operated by KiwiRail Scenic Journeys. It runs southbound on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and northbound Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The service is mainly tourist-oriented.

Future upgrades

A number of upgrades and extensions to the rail network have been proposed, some for several decades:



The first official ferry started in 1854, the first steam ferry in 1860,[61] the first scheduled ferry in 1865, Auckland & North Shore Steam Ferry Co in 1869, Devonport Steam Ferry Company in 1885, a vehicle ferry in 1911 and North Shore Ferries in 1959.[62]

In 1981 George and Douglas Hudson bought North Shore Ferries and Waiheke Shipping Co. In 1984 they founded Gulf Ferries, and their first catamaran, the $3m Quickcat, cut the Waiheke ferry time from 75 minutes to 40,[63] with Fullers putting Kea on the Devonport route from 1988.[62] Fullers Corporation was mainly operating cruises and, in 1987, when they introduced Supercat III,[64] they were refused a licence to compete on Waiheke commuter trips.[65] The Hudsons bought Fullers from its 1988 receivership[66] and formed Fullers Group Ltd, in 1994 and Stagecoach took a majority holding in 1998.[67] In 2009, Souter Holdings purchased Fullers Group and also 360 Discovery Cruises.[68]


Around 7 million ferry trips per year[6] are made in Auckland, on a variety of routes radiating from downtown Auckland. Ferry service operators are:


The Auckland Ferry Terminal is in downtown Auckland on Quay Street, between Princes Wharf and the container port, directly opposite Britomart Transport Centre.

Ferries also connect the city with islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Regular sailings serve Waiheke Island, with less frequent services to Great Barrier Island, Rangitoto Island, Motutapu Island and other inner-gulf islands, primarily for tourism.

There are no ferry services on the west coast of Auckland, although there were some historical services from Onehunga. None are planned, as the city's waterfront orientation is much stronger towards the (eastern) Waitematā Harbour than to the (western) Manukau Harbour.

Ticketing and fares

An integrated ticketing / smartcard system, known as the AT HOP Card, was developed for Auckland by Thales, similar to systems like Octopus card in Hong Kong.[69][70]

The first stage of integrated ticketing came online in time for the Rugby World Cup 2011, with construction works for the 'tag on' / 'tag off' infrastructure having begun in January 2011.[71] The 'HOP Card' was publicised with a $1 million publicity campaign that started in early 2011.[70]

The AT HOP card system went live in October 2012 for trains, November 2012 for ferries and between June 2013 and March 2014 for buses.[72]

In 2016, Auckland Transport simplified fares by changing to a system based on 13 fare zones. The fare is no longer based on the distance travelled (number of stages), but on the number of zones passed through, so that a journey in a zone that involves multiple rides or even a mode mix (bus or train) will be charged only one fare.[73] Ferries are not included in the simplified fares system and are charged per ride.

Public advocacy

A number of groups advocate for improving public transport in Auckland. Some groups operate prominent blogs, participate in public discussions on social media and prepare plans advocating for particular improvements. These groups include:

See also


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