Patronage on Auckland buses has fallen for the third year, but the distance passengers travelled has jumped 10 per cent.
The Auckland Regional Transport Authority has, in its first full annual report, disclosed a 2 per cent decline in bus patronage to June 30, down to 42.175 million passenger trips.
That is 8.4 per cent below a peak of just over 46 million in 2003 - although the number of Aucklanders catching trains has doubled to more than 5 million passenger trips since then.
Authority acting chief executive Eleanor Trout yesterday blamed last year's industrial dispute between Stagecoach and its drivers, a readjustment of services after the bus operator said it could not keep running various "commercial" routes without subsidies and a 10 per cent rise in fares 12 months ago.
But Mrs Trout told Auckland Regional Council's transport policy committee, which oversees her agency, that patronage had recovered in the past four months and the outlook was good.
Many passengers were making longer trips and the distance travelled on buses had risen to about 420 million "passenger kilometres".
That was helped by a 10.6 per cent increase in children catching school buses after an increase in subsidised services, and an average of 50,000 trips a month on the new Northern Express service between Albany and Britomart.
Overall public transport patronage was nudged up 0.85 per cent by a 32.4 per cent increase in rail trips over the year and a 2.1 per cent increase in ferry custom, to 3.9 million passenger journeys.
Rail patronage has been boosted by a 25 per cent increase in services and more trains running on time or no more than five minutes late - to 83.1 per cent in the three months to June 30 compared with just 60.9 per cent for the last quarter of 2005.
Even so, the authority is under pressure to nearly double public transport use by 2016, to 100 million passenger trips a year, and councillors asked it to produce a more detailed analysis of bus patronage trends to help them to prepare next year's budget.
Frustration is meanwhile growing at the regional council over the time it is taking the Government to decide on possible law changes to give the transport authority greater control over bus services, which it says it needs to introduce a single transferable ticket between various operators.
Researchers profiled 5837 Auckland public transport users, of whom:
* 58 per cent were female;
* 50 per cent were white-collar workers;
* 23 per cent were tertiary students;
* 71 per cent had other means of transport available;
* 37 per cent wanted services to be more frequent;
* 83 per cent were satisfied with the standard of service provided.
The survey also found that:
* 41 per cent of Auckland households have at least one member who depends on public transport and
* 18 per cent of Aucklanders are willing and able to increase their use of public transport.