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Perceptions of public transport, cycling and walking among Auckland drivers

Kathryn Ovenden, Jesse Allpress
Auckland Council Research and Evaluation Unit, RIMU
Publication date:  

Executive summary:


The purpose of this research project was to explore the ability and willingness of Aucklanders to shift their private vehicle trips to public transport, cycling or walking, in order to inform the delivery of interventions and services designed to encourage use of transport modes other than driving.

The impetus for this research was the development of a Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) adopted by Auckland Council in August 2022. The TERP aims to give effect to Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri Auckland's Climate Plan, which commits Auckland to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Reaching this ambitious goal relies heavily on reducing transport emissions, and the TERP outlines a clear focus on reducing private vehicle travel, making public transport competitive with driving and to making it safe and attractive to walk and cycle.

The project was developed and undertaken by researchers from Auckland Council’s Research and Evaluation Unit (RIMU) and Transport Strategy team, in collaboration with Dynata, an independent research service provider.


From 20 May to 13 June 2022, an online survey was undertaken among a representative sample of Auckland drivers.

At the start of the survey, participants were shown a map, and asked to enter their start and end locations in a search box which placed pins and showed routes on the map. This portion of the survey generated data about the driving trip and equivalent trips by non-car modes, including duration, distance, elevation, and latitude/longitude coordinates for each transport mode version of the trip.

Participants were then asked a series of questions on their perceptions of public transport before being shown the equivalent trip by public transport, as calculated by Google Maps. Questions on perceptions of cycling and walking the trip followed (these were only asked if participants met certain criteria).

The research method was reviewed by Auckland Council’s Research Ethics Advisory Group.

A total of 4448 completed responses were received, however only results for those whose trip had a start and end point within the Auckland Major Urban Area (n=2799) are presented in this report.

Key findings about driving trips

Driving trips described by participants were most frequently for the purpose of going to work (35%) followed by a social visit (20%) and shopping (16%). Over half (58%) of the driving trips were undertaken alone – 29 per cent had one passenger and 8 per cent had three passengers.

Two-thirds (64%) of participants took small items on their trip, one third (36%) took medium-size items (e.g. shopping bags) and only 7 per cent took larger items.

The average reported duration of a trip was 28 minutes (when excluding trips with a duration over 3 hours).

Key findings about public transport

Overall, participants reported more negative perceptions of public transport, cycling and walking compared with driving. These results show little variation across demographic characteristics or features of the driving trip (e.g. reason for trip, time of day).

A majority of participants (81%) reported that doing the trip they had described by public transport would be ‘much less convenient’ than driving and 11 per cent stated it would be ‘slightly less convenient’. There were three overarching reasons for this:

  • The lack of ease (53% disliked transferring between services, 35% reported it is hard to carry items)
  • The amount of time (42% disliked infrequent services, 42% reported it takes too long)
  • The lack of reliable services at the right time (40% reported no services at the time of day they travel, 35% claimed it is too unreliable).

No significant differences in perceived convenience were found across different reasons for the trip, items transported, or number of passengers (including child passengers). Differences were also not seen across different days of the week, areas where participants live, or time of day the trip was taken.

Compared with driving, 74 per cent of participants reported public transport would be more stressful and 58 per cent of participants reported feeling less safe from crime and harassment if taking public transport.

Participants were asked how long they thought the trip would take by public transport. The average expected duration of the trip was an hour and 10 minutes. The average trip length calculated by Google Maps was an hour and one minute. These figures are close to double the average perceived duration of the trip by driving (28 minutes).

Only 9 per cent of participants said they would be likely to make the trip by public transport when they were shown how long it would take by public transport (as determined by Google maps). Reasons provided for being unlikely to take public transport are similar to those for why public transport is less convenient: the amount of time, lack of ease and comfort, and concerns around reliability of services.

It is worth noting that the participants did not report cost as a reason they are unlikely to take public transport. Consequently, initiatives to reduce the cost of public transport may have little impact on the likelihood of Auckland drivers to take public transport. Changes to public transport services to make them faster, more frequent, more reliable and safer would be expected to improve public perception of the public transport experience.

Key findings about cycling

Almost half (42%) of participants stated it would not have been possible for them to do the equivalent driving trip by bike.

Safety was the main reason they felt that it would not be possible. Forty-three per cent were concerned with busy roads, 42 per cent felt the route is unsafe, and 36 per cent reported that there were no cycleways. Limits on personal capability to cycle is an issue for close to a quarter of participants (27% report route is too hilly, 25% lack required fitness, and 20% lack confidence/experience cycling).

Eighty-eight per cent of participants reported that cycling on a regular push bike would be less convenient than driving, and 80 per cent say cycling on an e-bike would be less convenient than driving.


Compared with driving, public transport, cycling and walking were perceived to be less convenient, more stressful, and less safe from crime and harassment for most participants. These results indicate a real need to make public transport competitive with driving, and to make it safe and attractive to walk and cycle, if Auckland’s TERP goals are to be met and if public transport, cycling and walking are to take a greater share of transport in Auckland.

The information described in this report can be used by transport professionals to:

  • identify priorities for public transport investment to improve speed, comfort, safety and reliability
  • prioritise investment in cycling infrastructure to address concerns around safety and connectivity
  • inform the development of behaviour-change interventions to complement the above
  • implement other transformations as directed by TERP.


Based on the findings of this study, this report makes two recommendations:

  • Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to develop and report on key metrics related to quantitative targets for all transport modes, particularly focusing on the differential between private vehicle access and access via shared and active modes.
  • Auckland Transport to implement a required project outcome and design review phase for all transport investments which focuses on improving customer perceptions of active and shared modes.

The ultimate purpose of these recommendations is to help create a safe and effective transport system in Auckland. It is hoped that they are considered and adopted by relevant parties.

Auckland Council technical report, TR2024/2

March 2024