Monitoring Transport Trends - WTAU Update No. 3

Welcome to the third monthly update from the Wellington Transport Analytics Unit Team (WTAU – aka The Unit).  Their first article was an introduction to WTAU, and their second article delved into physics, modelling and future transport scenarios.  These updates are designed to build understanding of the Unit’s work, its role in supporting good decision-making in spatial planning and future development, and to share opportunities to work together. 

What is the purpose of monitoring transport metrics? 

Monitoring a range of metrics including traffic volumes, PT volumes, cycle volumes, cycle volumes, public transport travel times, car travel times, ensures a good understanding of the transport changes and trends through time, to inform planning and business case development.

The real gold however comes from the WHY.  Can we explain what we are seeing? For example: 

  • Can an increase in PT patronage or cycle numbers be linked to infrastructure investment or fare changes? 
  • Are changes in highway travel times due to increased traffic volumes, network disruption (road works) or a combination of the two? 

If we can answer the “why” then we can learn from what we are seeing and feed this into future work. 

So what exactly are you monitoring? 

We’ve developed a range of interactive dashboards for monitoring key metrics – PT travel times, car travel times, traffic volumes, PT volumes, PT crowding, cycle volumes. 

The dashboards are updated quarterly, with key trends summarised at a regional and local level. This information can be used by a range of organisations to identify trends and understand how different parts of the region are tracking towards targets. 

We hear a lot about different travel patterns since COVID – is that still the case, or are we back to the pre-COVID normal? 

At a high level, travel demand is broadly back to pre-COVID levels, but there are some important details…. 

Is there still a lot of working from home? 

There is definitely more working from home than before COVID, but you have to remember that in New Zealand only a minority of the working population can work from home. Teachers, doctors, bus drivers, and retail workers generally can’t work from home. 

In Wellington, around 40% of workers have the ability to work from home. This is very high compared to elsewhere in New Zealand, a function of Wellington being the centre of government and having a high proportion of office based workers. 

So what do the stats say? 

Bus patronage is booming in Wellington – weekly patronage is now 5% to 10% above pre-COVID – although it is a bit more nuanced when you look at some of the details. There are around the same number of peak period bus travellers compared to pre-COVID, around 10% to 15% more during the off-peak and 30% to 40% more at weekends.  


We think this is due to a number of factors – improved reliability (compared to 2018 / 2019), a 50% off-peak fare discount compared to peak (up from 25%), newer vehicles, increased frequencies and capacity on core routes, costs of living and fuel price increases. 

And rail? 

Rail is still down by around 15% to 20% compared to pre-COVID. Working from home is definitely a factor here – a much greater percentage of weekly rail passengers are commuters who are employed in jobs where the can work from home, compared to bus passengers who comprise a broader mix of commuters (some of who are commuting to jobs where they can’t work from home), students and other users.  

Rail commuters generally have longer commute times compared to bus commuters, another factor in working from home being an attractive proposition.   

How about road traffic? 

Traffic volumes are pretty much back at pre-COVID levels, give or take. One of the interesting things we have seen is a slight contraction of the peak period, particularly coming into Wellington from the north – the network is as busy as pre-COVID between 6:30am and 9:30am, but slightly less busy in the early morning before 6:30am. We think this is because there has been a reduction in commuters who previously travelled in the morning peak, which has meant that those who used to travel very early (to beat the queues) have re-timed their trips to travel a little later. 

Friday working from home? 

Yes, definitely a thing!  

There is a significant drop off in PT commuters – perhaps 10% less bus passengers and 20% less on rail – on a Friday.  

There are noticeably fewer people driving into Wellington on a Friday too, however Friday is actually the busiest day of the week on the roads – people leaving work earlier, heading away for the weekend or travelling for leisure in the afternoon or evening. 

And at weekends, everyone is out and about – PT patronage is significantly above pre-COVID and roads are busy. 


Cycling has really increased in popularity, with numbers up by 30% on some corridors compared to before Covid.  

Why? Again, difficult to pin this down to one factor alone – we believe it is a combination of factors such as e-bikes, investment in cycle infrastructure, COVID, flexible working, cost of living, fuel price increases. 

How do we compare against other jurisdictions? 

Very well. A lot of big cities have still not recovered to pre-COVID levels – Sydney is still at around 85% of pre-COVID PT levels, with a similar story for London and many American cities. 

Part of the reason we think is that whilst there is more working from home now in Wellington compared to pre-COVID, the change in behaviour has not been as marked as in big cities such as Sydney and London. It could be due to commute distances being shorter here, businesses in New Zealand having more restrictions on working from home days, the work culture, or something else. 

Do you think these changes in behaviour will stick? 

Hmm, ask me in 5 years time. I think they will to some extent – flexibility is good (you can fit in school drop-offs, schedule hours around social arrangements, generally better for work-life balance) and I think a lot of New Zealand companies are very progressive in that sense. 

And also… many businesses are baking in some of the requirements for less office space, so gone are the days when you budget for 1 desk per FTE, with many companies working on ratios of 0.7 desks per worker now. So the remote working that we’re seeing is probably here for good. It’s the new normal, until things change again 😊 

To find out more about the Wellington Transport Analytics Unit – click here.

Wellington Regional Leadership Committee

100 Cuba Street, Wellington
New Zealand

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