Putting Bus Ridership Numbers into Perspective

Christchurch’s public transport is often talked about in a negative light. It attracts a low mode share for a city of Christchurch’s size, and recently this mode share has been shrinking rather than growing.

This constant negativity is justified, but I do wonder if it has made people underappreciate how many people Christchurch’s public transport system actually carries, and how critical it is to the succesful functioning of the city. I thought I’d try to put it into perspective a little here.

On a typical Christchurch weekday, a touch under 50,000 people catch the bus. This is equivalent to around 1,000 packed buses, which is this many:

Quite a few right? If all these people drove a car instead, there would be an additional 50,000 car trips made in the city every day, which looks like this:

You can imagine the impact that this many additional car trips every day would have on the city – the extra congestion, extra vehicle costs, the space required for parking them all, the air pollution, carbon emissions, etc etc.

Another way to visualise 50,000 people is to take the photograph below, and try to picture about 10 times as many people as are in this shot (estimating around 5,000 people here)

The buses are well-utilised at peak times. My regular 7 (the route formerly known as orange) is always packed in the morning and evening commuter times:

In the commuter peaks it carries a lot of central city workers. Judging purely from appearances, there seems to be a good mixture of white-collar office workers, people in supporting services, hospitality workers and students. It also carries a lot of hospital workers; it’s common to see nurses still in their uniforms.

Around 9am and 3pm it’s full of school students.

There’s this classic picture showing why it’s important that we try keep these 50,000 using the bus, and why we should try to attract more if we possibly can (cars occupy far more space than any other transport mode).

Economically Successful Cities Favor Space-Efficient Modes ...

And there are lots of this type of image around too, where the motorway looks full and the busway looks empty, but actually there are more people in those 5 buses than there are in all the hundreds of cars clogging up the motorway.

Proposed Staging for the NW RTN - Greater Auckland

Whilst Christchurch has a long way to go in improving public transport, we shouldn’t underestimate its importance right now in keeping the city functioning. And be thankful that these 50,000 people are using the buses – if they all chose to drive their cars then none of us would be going anywhere fast.

9 thoughts on “Putting Bus Ridership Numbers into Perspective

    1. Yes at a high level anyway i.e. everyone wants a to live in a place that is nice, successful and easy to access things. People only disagree on how to go about achieving that.


  1. Christchurch is a flat uniform city unlike Wellington or Auckland (Harbour Bridge) with significant geographical constraints. This means many dispursed origins and destinations.

    It also ranks well below Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton on the TomTom index meaning car travel is not significantly congested and can be said to be substantially faster than PT as a generalisation.

    PT can certainly be improved over time in Chch:
    a) congestion tolls eventually
    b) pricing all parking (dynamically)
    c) more density along PT corridors (NPS on urban development)
    d) more bus lanes
    e) more express hub to hub services with local origins & destinations served by on-demand transit to from hub.
    f) the rail corridors eventually – but these need TOD zoning along them (probably congestion tolls & parking pricing as well) and double tracking in places


    1. Christchurch’s flatness, dryness and moderate temperatures also mean that it has historically had more cycling than the other main centres. And the very significant rollout of the Major Cycle Route network in the past six or so years has seen some big jumps in those cycling numbers – probably at the cost of some previous bus users. So we certainly can’t say that recent car-centric expansion around Chch is solely to blame for poor bus patronage. Mind you, good planning would see “bike + bus” being a viable competitor to the car, e.g. with better “bike & ride” parking at key bus stops and greater promotion of using the bike racks on buses.


      1. Yep. There’s also “temporal” bike and bus e.g. it’s a lot easier for a household to drop one car if there is both a good cycling network and a good public transport system, than if there is only one or the other.


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