Aucklanders are gradually getting back on buses, trains and ferries under level 2, but the numbers are still well below the same time last year.

And in an effort to spread the public transport load across the day, Auckland Transport is offering a 30 per cent discount on buses and trains at off-peak times next month.

Since the first Monday under level 2, the number of people using public transport has risen from 126,000 commuters to 154,000 on Tuesday. This is about 40 per cent for the same time last year.

It is also close to the 43 per cent capacity on Auckland's buses, where social distancing stickers are placed on aisle seats, although couples or friends are allowed to sit next to one another.

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The new rules have limited seating on buses to 15 or 18 passengers, and 39 on double-decker buses. Bright pink signs with the maximum number of passengers allowed have been placed on buses.

Crowded carriage on the train from Britomart to Swanson. Photo / Supplied
Crowded carriage on the train from Britomart to Swanson. Photo / Supplied

The issue of social distancing has caused some problems on public transport with a report of schoolchildren packed into the carriage of a westbound train at Newmarket station this week, and Waiheke residents fed up with people's behaviour on ferries and at the wharves.

AT's public transport general manager Stacey van der Putten said the social distancing rules have been challenging, but believed the numbers of people using public transport would continue rising incrementally.

She said the peak times had changed to early in the morning and between 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon, reflecting the big uptake by students using public transport and a lower update by workers, which was particularly noticeable in the central city.

Buses are nearing 43 per cent capacity and AT is looking at putting on extra services. The Link services and the 70 bus between Botany and Britomart are among the busiest services, van der Putten said.

She urged patience from people who see a bus go past with room on board, saying they should use the AT Mobile app which says how many seats are available or whether the bus is "likely not accepting passengers".

To encourage Aucklanders to use public transport during the day, AT is discounting bus and train fares in June. There will be a 30 per cent discount on HOP rates during weekdays between 9am and 3pm, and after 6.30pm for adults and tertiary students.

For example, the cost of travelling by bus from Avondale to Queen St will drop form $3.55 to $2.50, from Papakura to Sylvia Park by train from $5 to $3.50, and from Orewa to Fanshawe St by bus from $6.40 to $4.50.

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A study done in Melbourne before the pandemic found between 4 per cent and 7 per cent of commuters said they would shift from peak to off-peak services if offered a 30 per cent discount.

Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison. Photo / Supplied
Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison. Photo / Supplied

AT chief executive Shane Ellison said this is an opportunity to continue the fight against Covid-19 and try to move demand away from the busy periods as more people return to work and study.

"This is an opportunity for Aucklanders who are able to work more flexibly, to trial it for the month. It does have a real impact on our public transport and road network and we are looking forward to seeing how Aucklanders' travel choices might change with this discount," he said.

The Public Transport Users Association has welcomed the move, saying it had been asking for cheaper off-peak fares for years.

Auckland Transport is expected to lose $40m of public transport revenue in the next financial year from spacing people out on buses and a reluctance by people to return to public transport.