Public transport in Wellington

Locale New Zealand
Service area Wellington
Service type Public transport in Wellington
Fuel type Diesel, electricity
Operator GOWellington, Valley Flyer, Tranz Metro, Mana Coach Services, Newlands Coach Services
Web site

Public transport in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is well developed compared to other parts of the country. The system covers the Greater Wellington region, including Wellington city, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua, the Kapiti Coast and the Wairarapa.




Public transport in Wellington consists of buses, trolleybuses, trains, ferries and a funicular (the Wellington Cable Car), and, historically, trams. Buses and ferries are privately owned with the infrastructure owned by public bodies, and public transport is often subsidised. The body responsible for planning and subsidising public transport in Wellington is the Greater Wellington Regional Council which pays around NZ$30 million for bus and train services each year.[1] The region's transport services are marketed under the name Metlink.


According to the Regional Council,[2] around 35 million passenger trips are made by public transport in Wellington each year, and this number has been growing in recent years. The Wellington region has the highest per capita use of public transport in New Zealand.[3]

Of the approximately 35 million trips, around 23 million are made by bus, 11 million are made by train and 180,000 are made by ferry.

Year Bus Ferry Rail Total Patronage[4]
2001/02 19,795,687 114,163 10,163,061 30,072,911
2002/03 20,711,898 117,027 10,010,448 30,839,373
2003/04 21,338,606 127,110 9,953,408 31,419,124
2004/05 21,902,604 137,844 10,253,811 32,294,259
2005/06 23,487,552 155,799 11,097,423 34,740,774
2006/07 2,279,4990 156,718 11,175,993 34,127,701
2007/08 22,964,384 177,128 11,552,453 34,693,965
2008/09 23,381,247 179,981 11,875,820 35,437,048
2009/10 23,647,840 182,034 11,133,677 34,963,551


The Regional Council's Regional Public Transport Plan[5] notes Wellington has:

  • a rail network with 147 carriages, serving 53 stations
  • a bus network with 470 buses (including trolleybuses) serving around 2,800 stops on around 108 routes
  • two harbour ferries
  • a five-station funicular, the Cable Car.

GIS information indicates that 77% of the region’s population lives within 800 metres of public transport stop with a 30 minute frequency or better.[6]

Wellington's hilly terrain has a considerable effect on Wellington's public transport. Some planners consider Wellington to be a "good" city for public transport management, as the topography concentrates settlement in valleys or along coastlines, providing clear, dense "corridors" for transport routes. At the same time, however, the hilly terrain proved a hindrance for the construction of rail and tram lines, and buses sometimes have difficulty on narrow and winding streets.



Trolleybus at Wellington Railway Station

Wellington has an extensive network of bus routes. Routes are determined by the Regional Council, which regulates commercially-provided services and solicits bids from private operators to run the services it is prepared to subsidise. The largest operator is NZ Bus, which provides services for most of Wellington city under the GOWellington brand and for the Hutt Valley under the Valley Flyer and Runciman Motors brands. In Porirua and the Kapiti Coast most services are provided by Mana Coach Services, which also owns Newlands Coach Services, serving the northern suburbs of Wellington - Newlands, Johnsonville, Churton Park, Paparangi and Grenada North.

The majority of buses in the Wellington area are powered by diesel, but GOWellington has 65 trolleybuses that it operates within Wellington city. The trolleybus network was introduced to replace Wellington's trams (see below).

All GOWellington and Valley Flyer buses accept the contactless Snapper card payment method. As of April 2011, GOWellington buses report real time location information which is displayed on electronic signs in some Wellington bus stops and can be viewed online.[7]


Map of Wellington's suburban rail network.

Wellington and Auckland are the only two cities in New Zealand to have suburban passenger trains. Wellington's rail network is used primarily by commuters travelling to and from the central city — all lines converge on Wellington Railway Station.

There are two major rail corridors in Wellington. The North Island Main Trunk runs along the western coastline, passing through Porirua and Paraparaumu to Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast; the Wairarapa Line runs along the edge of Wellington Harbour and then up the Hutt Valley, passing through both Lower and Upper Hutt. Less frequent services continue on through the rural Wairarapa, stopping at a number of small towns before terminating at Masterton. There are also the Johnsonville Line in the north of Wellington and the Melling Line on the western side of Lower Hutt. Lines are double track except for a short stretch between Muri and Paekakariki on the NIMT and then north of Waikanae, the Wairarapa Line beyond Trentham, and the Johnsonville and Melling Lines, which are single track.

There are long-distance trains to Palmerston North (the Capital Connection commuter train) and Auckland (The Overlander). These are not part of the Wellington transport system.

Wellington Railway Station at night

Most Wellington trains are electric, with Wellington currently being the only city in the country to have electric passenger trains - Auckland's network is due to be electrified by 2013.

There are 49 stations in the Wellington rail network, all except Wellington station owned by Greater Wellington Regional Council. Wellington is the busiest by far, with trains arriving and departing every few minutes at peak times. The next busiest stations are Porirua, Waterloo (in Lower Hutt) and Johnsonville. Most stations are served by only one line.

Passenger trains are owned by Greater Wellington Regional Council. They are operated by Tranz Metro, and the rail infrastructure is owned by KiwiRail, its parent. The Regional Council estimates that around 800,000 train trips are made each month.

Most trains are EMUs in sets of two to eight cars. The majority of cars are Ganz Mavag units, 20–25 years old, and were extensively refurbished in the late 1990s. The 50-year-old English Electric units operate primarily to Johnsonville, Melling and Taita. The EE units have undergone minor refurbishment to extend their life to 2010. On 22 September 2006 the Regional Council announced [1] that it would begin the tender process for 29 new two-car EMUs (reported as 58 "electric carriages"), to replace the EE EMUs and expand the passenger rail fleet by 2010. Trains to the Wairarapa are hauled by diesel locomotives.

Wellington is to get 35 two-car EMUs by 2010 by a consortium of Rotem and Mitsui, announced as the preferred supplier in July 2007.[8] The Greater Wellington Regional Council had earlier named three short-listed tenderers; the others were Bombardier (Australia) and CAF (Spain). This is part of a $500 million package announced in July 2007 with the government, which includes double-tracking and electrification to Waikanae and an extra track from Kaiwharawhara into Wellington. Proposals for new stations at Lindale and Raumati and double-tracking of part of the Paekakariki-Muri section including opening up the northernmost tunnel are in abeyance. (Dominion Post 25 July 2007).


Blue services run every day, green services are weekend-only.

Only the western and northern shores of Wellington Harbour are heavily populated, and the trip between these population centres is often as quick along the coast as it is by water: demand for ferries has been lower than might otherwise be expected. Two ferry routes are operated by East by West, a privately-owned company: daily between central Wellington and Days Bay on the harbour's eastern coast, near Eastbourne, serving Seatoun at peak times from 3 April 2008; and the Harbour Explorer Excursion at weekends, also serving Petone and Seatoun. Off-peak and weekend sailings call at Matiu/Somes Island, a nature reserve.

Historically ferries also served Miramar, Karaka Bay, and Eastbourne proper. These routes were discontinued as road connections around the region improved.

There are also larger road and rail ferries linking Wellington to the South Island, crossing Cook Strait. These ferries are not part of Wellington's local public transport system, but as the largest ferry operator, the Interislander, is owned by KiwiRail, they are interlinked.

Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington Cable Car, which runs between the central city and the hill suburb of Kelburn, is something of a Wellington icon. It is used by commuters travelling to and from work, by people travelling from the city to the Wellington Botanic Garden, and by students at Victoria University.

Despite its name it is a funicular with two counter-balanced cars permanently attached to each other by a cable, rather than a true cable car, where the cars grip or release the cable as needed. The cable runs through a pulley at the top of the hill, driven by an electric motor. Originally the Cable Car was a hybrid between a true cable car and a funicular, and retained its name when it was converted to a full funicular.

The Wellington Cable Car is owned and operated by Wellington Cable Car Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wellington City Council. Until 2007 it was operated under contract by Transfield Services, a private company. Unlike most other public transport in Wellington, it runs without subsidy.

Trams (historic)

Between 1878 and 1964 the city of Wellington had trams[9] serving the western, eastern and southern suburbs, with the northern suburbs served by trains. The trams were replaced by buses or trolleybuses, and occasional calls are made for light rail to be reintroduced.

Following the 2010 mayoral elections, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown pledged to investigate a light rail system running between the rail-way station and the airport.[10][11]


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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