Main mode of transport to work

This section presents statistics on the main mode of transport that people used to travel to work.

Using active transport (such as walking and cycling) to get to work is a useful way to get some physical activity each day. With the high adult obesity rate in New Zealand, this is a relatively easy way to increase physical activity in adults.

Motorised forms of transport (such as cars, vans and motorcycles) also contribute to air pollution, noise pollution and greenhouse gases.

Private motorised vehicles are the commuting mode of choice

In 2015–18, New Zealanders spent an average of 150.4 million hours travelling to work every year. Most of this time was spent as the driver of a private motor vehicle (73.5% of all commuting time), with an extra 6.4% spent as a passenger in such vehicles (Figure 1). 

Around 9.2% of all commuting time was spent engaged in pedestrian travel and a further 6.5% of was spent on public transport. Commuting via bicycle represented 2.1% of all commuting time.

Figure 1: Mode share of travel to work 2015–18

According to the 2013 census, four in five commuters (81.7%) used a car, truck or van as their main mode of transport to get to work on Census day (i.e. to travel the longest distance). Overall, 9.7% of commuters used active transport (walking, jogging or cycling). A further 5.7% of commuters used public transport (public bus or train).

Time spent commuting by all modes of transport stayed stable over time

From 2003–07 to 2010–14, the percentage of time spent commuting by active and public transport modes stayed fairly consistent (Figure 2). There was also little change in the use of private vehicles, which stayed around 85.6% (driver and passenger travel combined) throughout this period.

Figure 2: Mode share of active and public transport as main means of travel to work 2003–07 to 2010–14 (percent of all commuting time)

Women and 15–19-year-olds used more active and public transport

A fractionally larger percentage of women used active transport as their main mode of transport to work on Census day 2013 (9.8%) compared to men (9.6%). Use of public transport was also more prevalent among women (7.1%) than men (4.6%).

People aged 15–19 years had the highest use of active transport (19.6% of commuters) and public transport (11.0%) (Figure 3). Use of active and public transport declined quickly with age up to the age of 40. People aged 40+ years had the lowest use of active and public transport. 

Figure 3: Use of active or public transport to get to work, by age group (years), 2013 (percent of commuters, %)

Time spent commuting by active and public transport varied between regions

In 2010–14, the Wellington region had the highest percentage of commuting time spent on public transport (14.4%). The Gisborne region had the highest percentage of time spent using active transport (16.5%). Wellington also had the highest percentage of overall commuting time spent on both active transport and public transport combined (23.9% of all travel time).

Regional councils with low percentages of commuting time using active transport and/or public transport included Northland, West Coast and Bay of Plenty regional councils, all of which had less than 5% of overall commuting time spent on active and public transport combined (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Share of commuting time spent using active and public transport, by region, 2010–14

2018 Census data quality

Stats NZ has noted that the 2018 Census had a lower than expected response rate resulting in the introduction of new methods to produce the dataset, including using data from alternative sources. Stats NZ and the 2018 Census External Data Quality Panel (EDQP) have produced a rating system to help the users understand the quality-related issues and impacts of the 2018 Census dataset.

EHI have decided not to update the 'Main mode of transport to work on Census day' indicator and its associated factsheet based on the documentation relating to the 'main mode of transport to work' indicator. The EDQP rating for this indicator was “poor” and the response rate was 81%, with particularly high rates of data imputation for Māori and Pacific respondents. Additionally, the phrasing of the relevant census question was changed to a degree that prevents comparison between the 2018 Census and previous releases for this indicator. Further information about the Stats NZ and EDQP documentation can be found at

In the interim, a supplementary factsheet based on the New Zealand Household Travel Survey has been published to fill the gap between the 2013 and 2023 Censuses. 

Information about the data

Main mode of transport to work on Census day

Source: New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings (2001, 2006, 2013) – Statistics New Zealand

Definition: For this indicator, 'commuters' are defined as the employed usually resident population aged 15 years and over who travelled to work on Census day (therefore, this excludes people who did not work on Census day, or who worked from home).

Transport modes include walking, jogging, cycling, using a public bus or train, and using a private or commercial vehicle (car, truck or van). 'Main mode of travel' is defined as the transport mode used to travel the longest distance to their place of employment.  

For more information, visit Statistics New Zealand's NZ.Stat website, and look under the 'Census' section. 

Mode share of travel to work

Source: New Zealand Household Travel Survey - Ministry of Transport

Definition: This indicator presents the share of household travel time spent travelling to work, by mode of transport, from the New Zealand Household Travel Survey. 

‘Motor vehicles’ includes driving or being a passenger in a car, van or motorbike, ‘active transport’ includes walking and cycling, and ‘public transport’ includes travel by bus, train or ferry. ‘Pedestrian’ includes travel by foot, or foot-propelled devices such as skateboards. ‘Other’ includes travel by aircraft, boat (other than ferries) and less conventional forms such as horse riding.

For more information, visit the Ministry of Transport's Transport Dashboard and look under the 'Household Travel' section.

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