At the talk I gave on public transport in Auckland on Tuesday night, I took a look back at Auckland’s transport history – in particular how in the mid 20th century we went from having some of the highest levels of PT use in the world to having some of the lowest. Perhaps most interestingly, this was not the result of any natural process, but rather occurred because of deliberate policy decisions.
Immediately after the Second World War, the Ministry of Works produced a reasonably balanced transport vision for Auckland – a mixture of new motorways around the edge of the city and railway lines to serve the centre. This is shown in the map below: red lines indicating motorways and green lines indicating proposed railway lines (including the Morningside Deviation, a precursor to the City Rail Link, and the Avondale-Southdown Line):
Reasonable chunks of the motorways section of this plan were built, though obviously not all of them. Interestingly the idea of a Harbour Bridge was not on the radar at the time, as it was thought (quite sensibly) that motorways should go around the city, not through it. None of the rail projects were ever built, and by the 1960s our transport plans had changed to being very much more “single minded” with their focus on building motorways:
The most important step in this change was actually the transport plan that came before the De Leuw Cather report – the 1955 Master Transportation Plan for Auckland (which I must remember to get out of the library some time). An academic article by Paul Mees and Jago Dodson provides a good description of the effect of that transport plan:
You can see the patronage plummet in the graph below:
A really detailed “blow by blow” account of what led to the 1955 Master Transportation Plan, put together by Chris Harris, can be read here. What really stands out to me, reading through the details of what was happening at the time, and some of the details of the plan, was that the decision to shift Auckland’s transport focus was very much not done through strong public support of such a change (after all, Aucklanders were huge PT users at the time) but rather because a fairly small number of people thought this was the way of the future, that Auckland was too “low density” for public transport (once again based on dodgy calculations) and as part of the deal which led to the construction of the Harbour Bridge.
A critical part of the process is outlined below (from Chris Harris’s article):
The Master Transportation Plan was produced in 1955 and printed for large-scale public distribution in 1956. The plan recommended that a dramatic acceleration of motorway construction at the expense of rail. The Plan’s rationale was that low density of population, and the possibility of using the motorways for buses (ARPA, 1956, p. 26, pp. 42-3, p. 48), made rail both infeasible and unnecessary. However, motorway bus stations were uncosted and were never built, and Auckland City excluded inbound buses from its former tramway mall Queen Street until 1967, even though the last tram ran in 1956 (Bush, 1971, pp. 371-3).
The Master Transportation Plan tacitly replaced an earlier, multimodal Outline Development Plan for Auckland (AMPO, 1951) produced by the same technical committee only four years before, when it was still assumed that Auckland would develop along the same lines as Wellington. The 1951 Plan used a ‘density diagram’ approach (Mees and Dodson, 2002) to estimate Auckland’s built up area at 30,000 acres (120 square kilometres); the Master Transportation Plan divided Auckland’s population by the entire planning area of 113,000 acres (450 square kilometres) to arrive at a much lower density of population, which formed a significant rationale for the Master Transportation Plan’s argument that Auckland should follow American motorway practice (AMPO, 1951, pp. 20, 34; ARPA, 1956, pp. 18, 31, 77). This alteration has remained obscure, and the replacement tacit, because the Master Transportation Plan did not refer to the earlier plan in text or index. Nor did the Master Transportation Plan discuss the growth in patronage on Wellington’s railway system, from suburbs of similar density to Auckland’s.
What is really interesting looking back at Auckland’s transport history, and what these article reinforce, is something I touched on in this earlier post – the huge difference between transport decisions that Aucklanders seem to want, compared to what we end up getting. This it touched on in the Mees & Dodson article: We see this issue again in the 1970s, when Dove-Myer Robinson proposed a rapid-rail scheme. Even though the system never happened, Robinson goes down as one of Auckland’s best known local politicians – he has a statue in Aotea Square. While some of the recognition is for getting raw sewerage out of the Waitemata Harbour, “Robby” is often best known for his fight to get Auckland a world-class rail system.
Overall, it’s hard to know whether to be depressed or enthused by Auckland’s transport history. On the plus side, it seems that there’s a good case for arguing that Aucklanders have generally always wanted a bigger focus on improving our public transport system – and it’s surely only a matter of time before politicians wake up to realise that (at central government level, I think they’re well and truly awake to it in local government). On the down-side, it is obvious that Auckland could have, and should have, ended up with a far more balanced transport system throughout the latter part of the 20th century – if it wasn’t for “technical” decisions made by a few people, based on information that was pretty dicey. It doesn’t say much for democracy in Auckland over the last 60 years.