The number of trips being taken on Auckland's public transport network looks set to miss targets this year, and a new survey shows public perception of the services is worsening.
There has been strong growth on trains and the dedicated Northern Busway but fewer people are using the general bus network, which carries 75 percent of the city's public transport users.
With two months to go, patronage is down slightly - despite population growth - and overall bus trips are expected to fall short of the annual target of 51.5 million, by more than 4 percent.
Auckland Transport (AT) said cutting some free travel on the downtown City Link bus had produced the biggest single fall, of about 700,000 trips.
"If you're transferring from another bus or another train using the AT HOP card, the service is still free," AT Metro general manager Mark Lambert said.
"But I guess some of those people who were using the City Link for relatively short distances would rather walk a few hundred metres than pay a 50 cent fare. That's completely understandable and that's probably a good thing."
AT said the bus network had suffered years of neglect, but new fares and a redesign of routes over the next 18 months were expected to provide a boost.
"As we change the bus network there may be a localised stagnation, as people get used to the changes, but we certainly expect to see strong growth as a result of those service re-designs," Mr Lambert said.
The decline was also being blamed on this year's partial bus strike, cheaper petrol and the moving of some downtown bus stops to avoid major construction zones.
Patronage growth was strong on the rail network, where more than $1 billion had been spent on electrification and new trains, with trips up 20 percent on a year earlier.
Similar growth was occurring on the dedicated Northern Busway, where double-decker buses had been introduced to add capacity.
Transport advocate Matt Lowrie, who is an editor on website TransportBlog, said AT could do more, and it seemed to be distracted by the re-design of the bus network.
"There are a lot of other aspects that they need to get onto and get fixed up," Mr Lowrie said.
"They're a bit behind on their bus lane roll-out that they talked about years ago; ones like Manukau Road would really help because it would make buses faster and more attractive to use."
Meanwhile, a quarterly survey by AT showed slightly fewer people than a year ago thought public transport was getting better - and their view of the council agency had worsened.
Fifty-six percent of those surveyed thought Auckland's public transport was improving, compared with 59 percent a year ago.
Only 38 percent rated AT as responsive and approachable, down from 47 percent a year ago.