Fare trial influences bus patronage bounce-back to pre-COVID levels

Five months into a two-year trial of simple, flat fares, Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) believes the initiative is driving public transport patronage above pre-COVID levels.

On 1 July, the regional council eliminated distance-based zones and introduced a $2 adult fare and a $1 concession for travel with a Metrocard on any Metro bus across the entire Greater Christchurch network.

Transport, Urban Development, and Air Quality Committee Deputy Chair Councillor Vicky Southworth said that the Council is extremely pleased with the early success of the fare trial, which has highlighted how cost-effective and convenient public transport is.

"Each weekday, more than 4200 extra rides are being taken, so it looks like Christchurch’s best-kept secret is out – for those keen to keep some money in their pockets, and make a difference to their environment, public transport is now simpler and easier than ever before.

"This early in the trial, it is already clear that many in our community have embraced the opportunity to include public transport in their weekly travel plans. For some, the difference is the simple, low fare. For others, we’re hearing that they are loving our new, rapidly growing electric fleet and making a positive difference to air quality and climate outcomes," she said.

Significant increase in bus patronage

Patronage has shown a 10 per cent increase against pre-COVID figures when comparing the first half of this year (January – June) with the second half (July – November).

Within Christchurch, patronage in the July – November period has surpassed pre-COVID levels by 3 per cent, and in particular, has seen a 12 per cent improvement compared to the January – June 2023 period. We have seen similar significant increases from Waimakariri (from 6 per cent above to 15 per cent above pre-COVID patronage) and Selwyn (from 5 per cent above to 18 per cent above pre-COVID).

Councillor Southworth said that the community is enjoying the simplicity of the low $2 fare for all bus services, and the additional benefits such as improved daily and weekly fare caps.

"It’s positive to see the trend heading the right way. Patronage for November has just been finalised and shows a continuation of this growth trend. Customer boardings for the month were 10 per cent above the comparable pre-COVID month of November 2019. This is evident at our busier locations, such as the bus interchange, where boardings were 30 per cent up on this time last year.

"If this rate of increase continues until the end of this financial year, patronage will have returned to levels not seen in Christchurch since the earthquakes," she said.

Boosting sustainable travel

Councillor Southworth said that the Council’s forward-thinking approach has made sustainable travel more accessible and convenient for the entire community, providing an incentive to give public transport a go.

"It appears that much of this patronage increase can be attributed to new, adult riders who haven’t previously used the bus, given that in the post-COVID era, many people are still regularly working from home. It’s great to see people willing to give the bus a go and hear that they’re enjoying the experience.

"This is helped by a real improvement in service reliability. We are now back to 97 per cent of all trips running on time following the service cancellations caused by the recent driver shortage. We know how crucial it is that the service is reliable and believe that this is another factor attracting new customers to give public transport a go.

"This is especially when coming from the likes of Rolleston, Kaiapoi and Rangiora, where we offer fast and frequent direct services," said Councillor Southworth.

More Metrocards issued

Close to 25,000 Metrocards have been issued since 1 July, and nearly 42,000 in the year to July 2023, compared with nearly 29,000 in the previous financial year. Metrocards can be purchased online or at various locations around the city.

The fare trial using your Metrocard provides:

Metro buses:

  • A $1 flat fare for individuals under 25, tertiary students, Total Mobility card holders, and Community Services Card holders.
  • A $2 flat fare for everyone else.

Diamond Harbour ferry:

  • A $2 flat fare for those under 25, tertiary students, Total Mobility card holders, and Community Services Card holders.
  • A $4 fare for everyone else.

Improved daily and weekly fare caps:

Regular commuters using a Metrocard receive free travel after paying for eight trips in a week.

  • Weekly fare cap: Customers pay no more than $16 a week (or $8 a week for concessions).
  • Daily fare caps: $4 a day for regular commuters and $2 a day for concession cardholders.