Wellington Scoop

Airport Flyer: questions and answers


by Daran Ponter
I get quite a few questions/knocks about the Airport Flyer. It’s a good service – frequent, relatively quick, and comfortable. But people have been raising issues recently. including:

a) Why can’t I use Snapper anymore?
b) How come it’s no longer showing on the RTI boards and the Metlink App?
c) How come the prices have gone up?

Let me help to clarify some of these questions:

a) First, the Airport Flyer is not and never has been a Metlink Service – the service is not tendered by Metlink and no ratepayer $$$ are used to subsidise the Service (though ironically you can use your Goldcard on it).

b) The Airport Flyer is a commercial service, and it is not the only one. If you live in the Hutt Valley and come into town on an NCS (white and blue buses) then you are travelling on a commercial service, which does not use Snapper, does not track on RTI and charges its own fares.

c) As long as the Airport Flyer it is a commercial service, it can’t be tendered by Metlink (i.e. NZTA would not provide their portion of the subsidy). Why? The Government’s Public Transport Operating Model rationale is why use ratepayer and taxpayer $$$ to subsidise a service when a commercial operator is willing to provide it without any subsidy.

d) I doubt whether the Flyer is making NZ Bus much, if any, $$$, but they have probably calculated that it is better to bundle the Flyer into the sale of NZ Bus than separate it out for sale.

e) The Airport Company (majority owned by Infratil) grants concessions for access to the airport. NZ Bus (owned by Infratil) has the concession for the Airport bus (until 2020 I understand). In my opinion NZ Bus and Infratil they will squat on this concession until the very end, rather than allow another commercial operator (such as Sky Bus) to come in.

f) The decision by NZ Bus (100% owned by Infratil) not to upgrade their Snapper (100% owned by Infratil) equipment is a purely commercial decision on the part of NZ Bus, and comes with the downside that the buses can no longer be tracked on the RTI system – fortunately though it’s a reasonably frequent service.

g) The prices. Remember the Airport Flyer is not a Metlink service. It’s a commercial service – NZ Bus can charge whatever they like.

h) The No 2 is a very good option for the Airport – it is much cheaper, though slower than the more limited stops Airport Flyer (get off just to the North of the Burger King at the Airport).


Daran Ponter is a Wellington regional councillor; he first published this article on Facebook.


  1. greenwelly, 11. March 2019, 12:02

    The Airport Flyer gets upto $733K annually to transport Supergold passengers, so they are probably sweating it right till the end….

  2. Alan Wickens, 11. March 2019, 12:43

    Sorry Daran. You are incorrect with point h). The No.2 does NOT go to the Airport. The nearest it gets is Broadway. Your article should read get off at the first stop in Broadway and walk about 5 mins to the Airport. Otherwise you are quite right, it IS much cheaper than taking a Flyer and if you don’t mind the small inconvenience it is the way to go though I don’t think passengers with large luggage would be particularly welcome as regular buses have little space for such stuff.

  3. Alan Wickens, 11. March 2019, 13:44

    GreenWelly. It would be interesting to know just how many of the Gold Card people who travel on the 91 actually use it to travel to/from the Airport. I’m picking only a few, with most using it as a convenient way to get about. Three quarters of a mill is not to be sneezed at. But who’s paying?

  4. luke, 11. March 2019, 18:45

    the walk from no2 stop to the airport could do with a bit of wayfinding imo. Ive done it for years when it was the no11.

  5. Ross Clark, 12. March 2019, 0:39

    From what I know, the only way that the Airport Flyer could be incorporated into the current system, is if GWRC set out a ‘performance spec’ for the service which was more than what NZBus could provide commercially. This would mean that the service would go to open tender.

    Airport bus services can work well – where I live, the bus handles a quarter of the passengers going to or coming from the airport. What makes this service work well is that it has a strong frequency all day – better than once every ten minutes. This is viable because airport demand tends to be a lot ‘flatter’ during the day than normal public transport demand, which is much more peaked.

    Presumably NZ Bus keeps its interpeak frequency at once every twenty minutes because that is what is commercially viable, but if the GWRC want to see more use of the airport bus, then paying to provide a higher frequency than at present – like Auckland’s Skybus, which is evey ten minutes IIRC – is the way to proceed.

  6. Bussy Bee, 12. March 2019, 8:23

    Keep it!
    Don’t keep changing it.
    I use it! I love it!
    So reliable and cost effective (for passengers) – just what public transport should be! Helpful bus drivers..

    Who is making the decisions? Do we/they really need to destroy what is good in Wellington?

  7. Mike Mellor, 12. March 2019, 10:53

    A useful and informative post, but it doesn’t quite answer all relevant questions and it actually raises a few more.

    So here goes:

    i) How come Auckland’s SkyBus, a similarly fully-commercial service (“exempt”, in the jargon), continues to take AT Hop (Auckland’s Snapper equivalent) and is tracked by RTI boards and the AT Mobile app?

    Answer: this is because Auckland’s Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP) treats exempt services (which also include the Devonport and Waiheke ferries) as part of its regional network, equitably with subsidised routes. As a result, to the passenger exempt and subsidised routes are equally visible, the only obvious differences being fare levels and branding. Greater Wellington took a different approach, removing exempt services (the Airport Flyer and Hutt commuter buses) from the new network introduced last year, resulting in the fragmentation and reduction in service that we see now.

    j) Has the Airport Flyer never been a Metlink service?

    Answer: it has never been subsidised, but the most recent PDF timetable has both the Metlink and GWRC logos on it, with the statement “This service is brought to you by Greater Wellington Regional Council”, so clearly GWRC did see it as a Metlink service. (Applies similarly to the Hutt commuter buses)

    So Snapper, RTI and the Metlink app no longer apply to the Airport Flyer solely because GWRC decided that from last year the exempt services would be removed from the Metlink network and be left up to their own devices. NZ Bus has subsequently made a rational commercial decision under the GWRC framework: such a decision would never have happened if GWRC was using the same framework as Auckland has adopted.

    And a final question:

    k) The Hataitai bus tunnel is open to “GWRC registered buses only”. Does that mean that the Airport Flyer will have to follow a different route?

    Answer: who knows?

  8. Graham C Atkinson, 12. March 2019, 11:55

    Mike Mellor the answer to your new question (k) is that the Airport Flyer IS registered with GWRC as are a number of non subsidised school bus services that also use the Hataitai Bus Tunnel. Registration with appropriate Regional Councils is a requirement for all public transport services under the Act and has nothing to do with subsidies.

  9. James S, 12. March 2019, 12:16

    If you search on the Metlink website for a way to get to the airport, it only suggests route 2. No mention of the Airport Flyer at all. That is unhelpful to say the least – surely WRC/Metlink should have some broader responsibility to encourage public transport use.

  10. Mike Mellor, 12. March 2019, 13:44

    Graham: thanks for that – and whether the Airport Flyer is part of the Metlink network has in principle nothing to do with subsidies, either.

    James: Auckland Transport has accepted that broader responsibility, GWRC has not.

  11. NigelTwo, 12. March 2019, 15:16

    @JamesS. And why should our GWRC rates be used to promote a private bus service that has created a monopoly for itself?
    We, the users are suffering the increased fares this situation brings.

  12. Wellington Commuter, 12. March 2019, 17:33

    @NigelTwo The GWRC should promote all PT services including private ones, because while these services do not receive a public subsidy, they are useful to many people who cannot or do not want to drive. The minimal cost to the GWRC of having the timetables/routes for the Airport Flyer and Hutt Valley commuter buses on the Metlink web site would be outweighed by the benefits of more people taking PT.

    As for Wellington bus commuters suffering increased fares, this is due to the GWRC no longer counting the fare revenue of these “Exempt Bus Services” in its fare recovery calculations … if they did they would not have been able to raise bus fares last July because the bus farebox recovery ratio would have exceeded the 60% maximum permitted under their own fare policy. Wellington City bus users actually pay an even higher percentage of the cost of their bus service (up to 95%) compared to the bus users in other cities, or rail users for that matter, and if we had “Fairer Fares” our city’s bus fares would be much lower than now.

  13. luke, 12. March 2019, 19:09

    I don’t think Supergold card subsidies should apply for premium services, personally. Without that, the Flyer would probably not make much money.

  14. NigelTwo, 12. March 2019, 21:11

    @Wellington Commuter. I still disagree. The Airport Flyer service should advertise/promote itself.
    The increased fares I was referring to, are the Airport Flyer increased fares (not the general bus fares).

  15. Ed Stainsby, 13. March 2019, 7:30

    Just waited 40 minutes for an Airport Flyer from Courtenay Place – much longer than advertised. Glad that I have given myself heaps of time to get to the airport (for a change!). The fact that the 91 is on the permanent board but doesn’t appear on the electronic one is crazy – it wasn’t until a helpful local came along that I was reassured a 91 would even come at all. Fortunately it did – eventually – but a nervous wait for this out of towner and not a great look for Wellington.

  16. steve doole, 13. March 2019, 9:51

    Daran, Your points are helpful and accurate, excepting point F about needing Snapper to be tracked on RTI. Last time I looked, GW Snapper and GW RTI systems on Metlink buses are almost separate, but one link between them starts RTI tracking once the driver selects a service trip time on the Snapper driver console. GW RTI has a separate control, also near the driver. The old NZ bus version of RTI kit could be different though, and perhaps would need replacing as well.
    For me the issue comes to whether GW should support public transport as a whole service or not, irrespective of the funding. NZTA takes an accountant view rather than a service view.

  17. Mike Mellor, 13. March 2019, 19:08

    NigelTwo: Objective 6 of AT’s RPTP is that “the operation of exempt services is reflected in the broader network”, with Policy 7.6D saying “where appropriate, charge operators of exempt services a reasonable infrastructure access charges in addition to charges to recover the costs of customer service and operating expenses, to ensure equitable treatment between exempt services and contracted units” (both quotes are from p75 of https://at.govt.nz/media/1978732/rptp-2018-2028-final.pdf) That indicates that Auckland rates are not subsidising its exempt services, and such an approach could have been adopted in Wellington.

    I understand that the Wellington RPTP is at the early stages of being revised, so let’s hope that the opportunity is taken to make it more enlightened and passenger-friendly. Until that happens this will be another respect in which Auckland leads the way in public transport.

    If Wellington had created the same framework as Auckland, the issue of rates subsidising a private bus service would not arise.