Posted by: Gregory | April 2, 2015

Know Your Network: Should I ever buy a bus pass?

Per-trip costs vs bus passes

Per-trip costs vs bus passes

Every time there’s a fare change on the bus network, I run a calculation on bus passes. I recently changed my working days to suit my parenting needs, so I had an opportunity to re-evaluate my transport costs and decided to share my process for deciding whether to buy a bus pass or pay per-trip fares.

According to Greater Wellington’s Fare Structure Review, approximately 20% of bus passengers use bus passes. I thought that was on the high side, but the report (PDF) said it was an estimate. Passes are set to be phased out in the medium term, but they can still be useful in the meantime.

The basic idea is simple. I’ve (very lazily) plotted 6 sloping lines based on two fares per day. If you’re travelling only in Wellington and not leaving the 3-zone limit, you can use the $150 Go Wellington pass. If you’re travelling into the Hutt Valley or around to Eastbourne, the $200 GetAbout 30 pass would be needed. Both passes are valid for 30 days from the first trip. The points where the sloping lines cross the horizontal lines indicates the number of return trips needed to justify the cost of the pass.

People in going two zones are very unlikely to benefit from a pass, but with three zones, the result is just over 20 return trips in 30 days. For three-zone commuter, working a 5-day/week job, that’s a normal month, but probably not over the Christmas break. Similarly, four zones is unlikely, but passengers going five and six zones are likely to benefit from the GetAbout pass.

Until we get integrated ticketing, combining trips changes the formula, but not the method. A return journey is two sets of return tickets. It’s shocking that we’re still having to pay multiple fares for having to change between buses, but penalty-free transfers are on the way. Eventually.


  1. For comparison, I have used the Hutt Commuter 30 Day pass over recent years on the 92 & 93 services into & out of Wellington. The cost of the pass is cut out in fares in about 3 weeks as the fare is a full 7 zone fare ($7.18 on Snapper, $9.00 cash). Well worth buying even if I’m not traveling for 2 or 3 days a month.

    • I should re-run the plot for the Hutt Commuter for completeness. And also fix my zero-index error. Thanks for the nudge.

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