COVID-19: Auckland Transport suffers as more people work from home

With more Aucklanders working from home, public transport is taking a hit.
With more Aucklanders working from home, public transport is taking a hit. Photo credit: Newshub

By Ella Stewart of RNZ

Aucklanders appear to be giving public transport a wide berth as the hangover from four lockdowns continues to linger.

Numbers show residents are not jumping on the bus, train or ferry to get to work as much as they were before 2020.

Instead, they are using their own wheels, or staying out of the city altogether.

When the latest level 3 lockdown hit, public transport was at 10 percent of regular levels - understandable given Aucklanders were told to stay home and only head out for essential purposes.

Under the less restrictive level 2 this week however, the dial has not shifted dramatically. Data from Auckland Transport (AT) shows public transport this week was only at 54 percent capacity compared to pre-COVID levels in 2019.

AT metro services manager Stacy Van Der Putten said there were several reasons behind the decrease in public transport use.

"People, I guess after these repeated sort of lockdowns, are finding their ways of working and that's only natural and that's here to stay. And of course, with COVID still very much front and centre for us people take that into consideration with how they travel too."

She said COVID-19 had shaken people's confidence in using public transport.

"People are taking their cars more than they do public transport at this point because of the risks that are still associated with COVID in our community."

The biggest dip in public transport routes are those going into the CBD, which she said indicated more people were working from home.

"So those, as an example, that used to take public transport five times a week are perhaps taking it three days a week and working a couple of days at home."

At alert level 2, businesses can be open but workers must keep a metre apart.

TVNZ and Auckland Council are just some of the organisations in the city that are opting to operate their offices at 50 percent capacity.

Last year KiwiSaver provider AMP Wealth Management announced they would be moving to adopt a fully flexible working system.

The company plans to close its Auckland and Wellington central offices and set up smaller premises outside the city centres.

In May, its Auckland city office will be moving from three floors into one.

Out of their 250 employees, the vast majority work one or two in the office during the week and the other three or four days remotely.

Chief executive Blair Vernon said a lot of people were sick of sitting in congested traffic on the way to and from work.

"We have people who are, in some cases, are commuting more than two hours a day in total to get to the office and go home. That's time that simply can be added to quality of life."

There is also the cost.

"Just the economics of it, the cost of coming into town five days a week is significant, even if you take public transport that's an expensive activity and certainly if you drive and park, it's an astronomical cost.

"We're seeing people able to be better off financially."

He said only 4 percent of staff worked full time in the office.

CBD businesses impacted

Auckland chamber of commerce chair Michael Barnett said more people working from home was bad for CBD businesses.

"For any community where you've had a dependency on people coming to the office and then doing their retailing between say 11am and 2pm or popping out for a coffee, suddenly all of that revenue, all of that spontaneous spend, it goes from the centre of the city and it does go back out into the suburb.

"There's been a shift in where people are spending their money."

He said COVID-19 had encouraged businesses to reconsider how they were working.

"People are now looking and appreciating that perhaps they don't need to work five days in an office, they can work two or three or four, and so they're changing the way that they work.

"I think there's going to be a little bit of a review on whether that's good for the business and whether the business intends doing that long term but there's certainly a change that's occurring."

University students - who are mostly not on campus during level 2 - usually make up about 14 percent of public transport users.

AT said campuses being closed put a dent in the number of people taking buses, ferries and trains.

It was expecting that to jump back up when Auckland returned to level 1.