Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald continues its 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In part six of the series we look at transport.

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WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - SERIES OVERVIEW

Public transport in Auckland has been ranked second most expensive of 32 major cities, confirming concerns of commuters weighing fares against petrol and parking costs.

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Only London was found to be costlier than us, in the latest "Cities of Opportunity" survey by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The survey compared cash fares last year for the some of the longer public transport trips through urban areas from the centre of each city, which in Auckland's case was train travel to Swanson.

Aucklanders discuss public transport throughout the region.

But Auckland Transport is disappointed that discounted Hop fares were not counted in the survey, from which PwC did not list dollar amounts.

A single adult cash fare from Britomart to Swanson costs $8, compared with $6 for Hop card users, a price the council body says will be discounted further when a new simplified zonal system is introduced throughout the city in mid-2016.

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It has indicated a fare of between $4.80c and $5 for travel through three zones to cover the 21km from Swanson to the city centre.

Auckland was ranked a more respectable 21st for the quality of its public transport systems, but only 28th for how much of it is served by mass transit lines.

Paris had the best coverage and Toronto the highest quality.

Indonesia's teeming capital of Jakarta with its colourful collection of vehicles including pedicabs and bemos had the lowest fares, but was 29th for service quality, and 30th for coverage.

PwC partner and strategy leader Craig Rice blamed Auckland's low population density spread over a large area for our high fares.

"Auckland is one of the most sprawled cities in the world," he said.

"We still have a lot of quarter-acre sections and, when you consider relative densities, it's harder for Auckland Transport to spread its costs across what's currently quite a low-density city." He said public transport affordability was a very important issue, given that a population the size of Hamilton's was expected to be added to Auckland's over 10 years.

"The natural consequence is people will be having to use a lot more public transport to get around, so there's a real challenge in that."

PwC director David Walker added that most cities in the survey were well-established global centres "so it is a tough list to be compared against".

"London, New York and Paris have all had metro [rail] systems for a hundred years or more."

He said fares in Auckland covered only about 50 per cent of bus costs, and less for rail travel - a low percentage internationally.

An Auckland Transport spokesman questioned the comparison between cash fares, given that about 75 per cent of passengers here used Hop cards, which he said would increase under the new zonal system.

Transportblog editor Matt Lowrie said Hop card fares had fallen over the past two years.

"When I looked overseas, I found we pay a bit more than others, but we are not hugely different compared with Australia and Canada," he said.

"The United States is much cheaper generally, but they tend to have flat fares that make it really expensive for people closer to the city, and much cheaper for people further out."

That is also the case in Melbourne, where public transport in the city centre became free at the beginning of this year, but there is a flat fare for unlimited travel across the rest of the metropolitan area of A$3.76c ($4.18c) for two hours or A$7.52c ($8.36) for all-day travel.

Campaign for Better Transport convenor Cameron Pitches said the increasing popularity of public transport in Auckland belied its low PwC ranking.

"When you look at the large number of people now who are flooding on to the trains and buses, public transport is a popular as ever," he said.

"I wouldn't want to see prices increasing any more, but with the Hop card you get a discount and seniors a free trip after 9am."