Wow, things really have gone crazy in transport circles over the last few days since the local government elections. In the past I had found myself highly disappointed by the lack of information on the big public transport projects advanced by the mayoral candidates (as they were at the time), but now it seems like we’re almost getting overwhelmed by the media’s interest. It is all quite exciting. Here are a selection of articles from the NZ Herald and the Dominion Post just today on transport matters:

  1. The NZ Herald finally got around to doing a bit of research into the “big three” rail projects that Len Brown wants to advance: being the CBD Rail Tunnel, Rail to the Airport and Rail to the North Shore. While the article’s title is typically dismissive of rail (that’s an ongoing theme which I guess we have the editors to thank for) it is useful for the details of the projects to be raised. Personally, I think the estimate that rail to North Shore will be under $2 billion is extremely optimistic – as the harbour tunnels might cost something close to that, let alone the regrading of the Northern Busway plus an extension from Constellation Drive to Albany.
  2. Another NZ Herald article with a title that is dismissive of rail looks at the government’s (predictably) lukewarm response to Len Brown’s rail plans. I suppose that I know a little bit more about the disparity between the government’s transport policy and the new Council’s transport vision than NZ Herald editors, but I actually found myself somewhat encouraged by what John Key had to say about Len Brown’s transport plans – basically that they need to talk about it, but everyone needs to be aware that there’s not much money rolling around.  I agree, the problem is not that we don’t have enough transport funding available, the problem is that we’re spending it on the wrong stuff.
  3. In the Dominion Post, there’s a fascinating article outlining the pointlessness of them spending $2 billion on more motorways, when that spending won’t actually make a difference to traffic congestion in the longer term. One of the problems of induced demand is that it effectively becomes impossible to fix congestion through building more roads and wider roads.
  4. And finally, there’s another article in the Dominion Post the potential conflicts between central government and the Auckland Council over the issue of rail funding are highlighted. Perhaps most interestingly, potential deputy mayor Christine Fletcher weighs in with some strong words supporting fast completion of the CBD Rail Tunnel.

Many of the articles mention that Len Brown is meeting with John Key (and presumably other senior ministers) on Thursday to discuss transport funding issues. Oh how I would love to be a fly on the wall in that meeting!

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    1. Lets just hope the pressure keeps up, also there is a Your Views section on “Does Auckland’s rail network need expanding?” So far there are 55 published comments (I hate how the herald don’t publish them until they are moderated) and from a quick look through it seems like about 90% support rail. If we can get some stories like this every week the government will start to feel some pressure on the issue and hopefully agree to some funding.

      1. I love the people who say “I don’t live next to the railway station so why should I pay for this.” Fine, I don’t have children why should I pay for public schools. If self interest is the only thing that appeals to them, then the time on their commute because the people near the train stations are taking the train should be more than enough incentive…

    2. The Dom-Post article on the pointlessness of motorways (well overdue!) looks to me to be covering for the fact that tomorrow Wellington might have a Green mayor.
      ‘We’ve always been at war with Eurasia Transmission Gully, Madam Mayor’

      1. Yeah, well, Transmission Gully is almost a waste on the scale on the Holiday Highway.

        This is an issue which frequently comes up in the Wellington sustainable transport community; it’s the usual story – TG would fix some problems, but in an /extremely/ expensive way, and it’s been pointed out for ages that the phenomenon of induced demand would simply shift the am. peak traffic jams to much closer into the city.

        Kapiti(the local council) has been wanting this for years; it would help them promote residential development in the area, but at the expense of wrecking all the regional sustainability goals. The trouble is that regional political issues have prevented the regional council from telling Kapiti where to get off. Maybe a Supercity for Wellington would fix this?

    3. The editorial in the Herald today was annoying… It seems that whenever ridiculously expensive motorways are proposed the price is no problem but rail is a pipe dream…

    4. This telling quote from Christine Fletcher:

      And Chris Fletcher, elected a super-city councillor on the right-leaning Citizens and Ratepayers ticket, predicted “a real test” of the relationship between central and local government in Auckland over transport funding.

      Mrs Fletcher said all of the elected councillors would support Mr Brown’s bid for a central city rail loop. “I think central government will be quite surprised at how quickly council as one is going to want to move on that specific project.

      “[But] people cannot tolerate any further rates increases. They are absolutely at stretching point.”

      Now, lay those sentiments alongside one of the NZTA documents which the Admin posted (, where they remarked (para 24):

      Currently the NZTA funds 50% of bus and ferry contracted operations, and 60% of Rail operations. The region has to date adhered closely to these funding Assistance Rates and has not been willing to exceed its 50% or 40% share.
      However it is obvious that in a severely constrained CPS funding environment options for the region are to top up programmes with more regional funding. NZTA is reviewing its funding policy to move to a more outcomes based approach which would change the FARs. Question – what is ARTA’s approach to a FAR change that would see contributions increase from the region?

      It’s not just the structure of central government funding which needs looking at; the question of how the local share is raised will have to be revisted. The new Auckland Council certainly wants to see more rail investment, and one should be thankful – but not at the cost of raising rates?

    5. Its a pitty the report released about Wellington Roads only focused on roads. There was only a small mention of public transport.

      Transmission Gully will drain any transport dollars Wellington as a region will get over the next decade or two. We wont get anything and will be told…. “you got your transmission gully”. Celias light rail plan for Wellington is absolutely critical to get the city moving. Transmission Gully will only promote increased sprawl at the end of the day. I also have to say that Kapiti is controlled on the left atm and probably wouldn’t be too worried about transmission gully, they just need to tell the people, no gully = no expressway = more frequent rail services.

      1. My parents live in Kapiti and I’m familiar with the rail system. There is a train every 30 minutes during the day, with a few more at peak time. The local buses are all timed to arrive at and depart from Paraparaumu to match the train. The trains aren’t busy except during the rush hour. I don’t see any demand for more frequent services.

        I’m not sure I “get” light rail for Wellington, except the obvious attraction that trams are sort of cool. There are buses coming down the city backbone (railway station to Courtenay Place) every 30-60 seconds throughout the day. Sometimes there are so many they’re queued up waiting to pull in to the bus stops. Even buses out to the airport run every 15 minutes or so. So what benefits does light rail give you? Extra frequency… no. Extra capacity… not needed, and would probably require lower frequency to avoid the trams running mostly empty most of the time. It’d make sense if the existing local rail lines were converted to light rail so that rail wouldn’t terminate at the station but would carry on in to town seamlessly. But that isn’t going to happen because mixing heavy and light rail on the same tracks is dangerous, and because Waikanae and Upper Hutt are a bloody long way to go on a tram. So instead of a single seamless system, you’d replace a heavy rail and bus system with a heavy rail and tram system. Why bother?

        Oh, and Wellington is damn hilly. You’re still going to need lots of buses, so you’ll need a city center transport spine that handles both trams, buses, and maybe trolley buses.

        1. “Sometimes there are so many they’re queued up waiting to pull in to the bus stops.” Answered your own question there.
          “So instead of a single seamless system, you’d replace a heavy rail and bus system with a heavy rail and tram system. ”
          As opposed to the system they have now where they have to transfer to a bus. We have to get used to mixed modal transport in this country and transfering to other services. The bus services in Auckland are shambolic because they go out of there way to avoid transfers which means you have buses diverting off arterial routes to service a particular suburb. Time lost by deviating from a direct route is the same time lost as transfering.

          “Oh, and Wellington is damn hilly. You’re still going to need lots of buses, so you’ll need a city center transport spine that handles both trams, buses, and maybe trolley buses.” No one suggested putting buses into the hill suburbs just the route through the CBD to the airport. Buses can feed it.

          Now I don’t neccessarily know if the demand for light rail is there in Wellington but if buses are starting to congest bus stops it is highly likely that is.

          1. So how does light rail fix the queueing problem? The only way to avoid equivalent light rail congestion is to have less trams than there are buses. Which means less frequent services, which is a bad thing. And you’ll probably end up with a mix of buses and trams at the same stops, which just sounds like a mess.

            At the moment buses from all the inner city suburbs sort of merge in to the CBD backbone. You seem to be suggesting that buses should terminate when they arrive at the backbone and the passengers transfer to trams. Why? That seems much worse than what is there already.

            I still don’t see what problem light rail in Wellington is supposed to fix. The current system seems pretty good whenever I’m there. And I always take the bus from the airport in to the center… difficult to justify a taxi when the #91 is sitting just outside the terminal.

          2. Yes less units that have more capacity. If buses are starting to clog stops then that means the time to complete the route will increase. What you are saying is that frequency is the only consideration that should be taken into. In which case I believe we may as well rip up the train tracks and replace them with buses that are smaller and arrive at greater frequency or better yet a continuous line of taxis that take still less people and can be operated at yet higher frequencies.

            As for transfering from buses to a tram. If it works out that the tram takes less time to complete the journey than the transfer time then yes. Assume 5 minute frequencies for trams along that line. The average wait time is two and a half minutes therefore if the light rail is more than 2 and a half minutes faster on average a passenger would be better off time wise.

          3. James, I think I’m with Obi on this one:

            1. The railway station link
            Although the lack of easy connectivity between heavy rail and the bus is a nuisance, most of the railway station commuters are within a ten-minute walk of the station anyway and there’s no point in trying to get these people onto tram. Given that a tram would take up to ten minutes to get down to the Civic Centre from the station – and this is a fifteen-minute walk – there would not be that much time saved by having a tram to this point. Past the Civic centre, the number of jobs falls off sharply as the number of carparks increases. If you want to link the Courtenay Place area to the station easily, then the way to do it would be a free shuttle running from about Tory St up Customhouse Quay (not via Lambton Quay) to the station. Even in rush hour traffic, this is only ten minutes or so.

            2. Connecting the south of the city to the CBD
            Much of the current tram thinking is converting the Jville line to light rail, which would then go to Courtenay Pl and perhaps the hospital – that’s where you would have your transfer point. But LRT isn’t going to work if it gets bogged down in car traffic (no faster); it would need decent road priorities to be faster; and if you can do this for LRT you can do it for buses as well. I agree that the Golden Mile area can be messy during the rush hour, but there are more cost-effective fixes for this than light rail.

          4. Ross… The Johnsonville light rail proposal doesn’t stack up for me either. The line isn’t very busy for most of the day and probably wouldn’t support light rail frequencies of more than about one tram every 20 minutes, tops. But the railway station to Courtenay Place demands trams or buses every 2 or 3 minutes. So you’d still end up with a system combining occasional trams with frequent buses and I don’t see any benefit in this.

            Ideally you’d have a sort of fan-in fan-out system with multiple tram lines converging on the railway station, combining through the CBD, then fanning out to various destinations after Courtenay Place. But that would require converting all the heavy rail lines to light rail, and that just isn’t going to happen.

            The best small improvement they could make, IMHO, would be a covered walkway between the railway station and Lambton Quay. There are verandahs all the way along the Quay, but I recall getting absolutely soaked walking from the station once. Small improvements in the pedestrian experience can avoid the need for a lot of public transport.

    6. The Wellington result might be good news for Auckland overall.

      The Mayors of Wellington and Auckland promote PT (light rail and rail respectively) over more roads. Throw in parker in Chrstchurch who has extended the tram network down there and plans on a building a big bus interchange and exploring light rail options.

      Might cause a change in approach from this and future central governments re transport planning and funding across the country?

    7. Hamilton hasn’t had too much support from the local Council re express trains to Auckland in recent times – but not sure what’s happened lately.

      I think they have a new mayor? Didn’t the old one get the job of events boss for the new Auckland Council, based on his history of luring big events to the Waikato (V8s, Rally of New Zealand, World Rowing Champs etc)?

    8. Joshua, I heard your blog mentioned in a discussion about public transport on the National Programme this afternoon. Jim Mora’s guest, David Slack, talked intelligently about public transport, using as an example the success of the North Shore busway and put in a good word for you.

    9. The new Hamilton mayor is also supportive of PT and of a rail connection between Auckland and Hamilton – c.f. the previous who didn’t give much more than lip service. This is a pretty string sign to central government. The Wellington result is also a pretty powerful sign that Wellington isn’t too please to have all of its transport funding for the next 10 years blown on a motorway.

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