Along with ‘Transformational’ the other phrase suffering from misuse in discussions around Auckland’s transport plans at the moment is ‘Multi-Modal’. This seems to have come from the logistics sector where it refers to the sending of goods over a variety of technologies and/or involving handling by various companies to get to their destination. In the urban transport context it seems to have at least three meanings:

1. A journey that uses more than one kind of movement, eg walk/bus/walk, or drive/rail/walk, or  bike/ferry, or even bus/bus/bus [3 different bus rides] and so on.

2. An infrastructure project designed to facilitate different modes of movement, eg the AMETI project includes highways, buslanes, cycleways, and train station redevelopment, so can be described as multi-modal. 

3. An analysis of needs for an area that sets out to not proscribe what mode, or combination of modes, will provide the best outcome. Currently there is [yet another] study into the transport needs of south west Auckland that aims to be multi-modal, which is to say it will look at whether trains, bus systems, more motorways, or maybe teleporting [!?], will best suit the needs of the area and at what cost.

So we can see how the phrase can mean various things, although generally we can say it is intended as a positive; as it sounds like a good thing, sounds like it offers choice, democracy, and in a sophisticated way. Who doesn’t want that?

Here is Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye:

I support, as does the Government, the development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternative modes to transport.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Except this is from at post on her website where the MP is detailing the government’s refusal to support the construction of the City Rail Link, because, somehow, it supports ‘a robust multi-modal plan’. So when you don’t want to support something but still want to appear all positive it seems calling for ‘a thorough analysis of all the alternative modes to [sic] transport’ seems like a cunning choice of phrasing; go all multi-modal. Okay, so perhaps we’ed better look at this phrase a little deeper.

The multi-modal journey.

Almost all public transport trips are multi-modal. With the occassional exception of someone who say works at Westpac, whose offices are directly above Britomart and who also happens to live right next door to another train station, all PT trips can be assumed to involve getting to the point of connection with the transit system by some other means, usually walking, and then doing the same at the other end of the transit journey. This fact is one of the reasons that cities with more effective public transport systems consistently record better health statistics than those without. Simply because with more people using PT, more people are getting more exercise.

The chief advantage of the vehicle mode is that it can be point to point. Straight from your garage at home to the carpark at your office. So while very handy also both extremely sedentary and completely mono-modal; therefore cities dominated by car use report poorer public health outcomes. There is all  the evidence in the world for this for example; here, here, and here.

Of course park’n’ride journeys are also multi-modal, but usually involve less walking. And when I ride my bike to University I am only using one mode point to point, but still getting more exercise than those rainy days when I take the bus. But despite these two examples a place that supports more PT journeys, and therefore more multi-modal journeys, reports better health outcomes.

Nikki Kaye again:

Twitter with Nikki Kaye

Yes well Multi-Modal does include cycling and walking, and it’s great that Kaye knows this but do her government’s transport policies actually encourage more of either? There is nothing, for example, about opposing the construction of the City Rail Link that supports either Multi-Modality or cycling and walking. In fact quite the reverse. All PT encourages walking, offers choices other than driving, and frees the streets up to be available to cyclists and walkers. And fully underground and transformative projects like the CRL do these things extremely well.

So lets look at some more examples.

It is often gloomily noted that in order to get funding for a cycleway in Auckland you first need to find a billion dollar motorway project to attach it to. Certainly this is true of the Waterview project [and here] which despite taking place on a rail designation its only claim to any multi-modality is that the Environment Court has forced the addition of some pretty good funds for cycleways and paths as a means to mitigate the negative effects of this motorway on the local community. It has no public transport component -so other than the mitigating paths and bridges it is not really a multi-modal project. Hopefully AT will add buslanes to Gt North Rd after this project is complete but there is no funding or specific inclusion of bus priority in the Waterview project itself.

Multi-modality can be retro-fitted to an ordinary road too. Here is a multi-modal street in Manhattan: From left; bike lane, parking, general traffic, dedicated buslane. And to top it off pedestrian priority in the foreground. Four modes each with their own priority, clearly to do this you need a fair bit of road width, and that presupposes other systems of movement to compliment the road space. Of course Manhattan has a comprehensive subway system to free up this roadspace.

First Avenue NYC photo: NYC DoT

This pattern of strict separation isn’t the only way to multi up the modes; there’s also the ‘shared space’ way, this offers a more anarchic multi-modality that can work extremely well, especially in narrower streets where vehicles can be calmed by enough users of other modes, this type of system is common with trams too:

Shared Street in Copenhagen

Or we could think of particularly mono-modal systems; motorways are not only restrictive of what travels along them [no walking or cycling, and very little successful public transport] they also break connections across them for other modes, especially walking and cycling, but also for more local motorised connection too. Not only that but the quantity of traffic that they then dump onto to local streets severely limits the exercise of multi-modal patterns seen in the examples above.

Auckland's CMJ

This is what a Mono-Modality looks like. So anyone looking for a ‘robust Multi-Modal plan for future transport to the CBD’ would be wanting to urgently add the modes that are missing from this picture, and could well be looking to limit the use of systems like this one: the largest Motorway interchange in in Australasia.

So I guess the question I want to ask the government is how sincere are they really about Multi-Modality? I agree a truly multi modal Auckland would be a great improvement but successive governments have deviated very little from a highway dominant policy and the current one has greatly accelerated it, and therefore increased our Mono-Modality. The Government Policy Statement makes it very hard to get funding from NZTA for any mode at all other than state highways, in fact it seems designed to enable motorways to get funding no matter how poor their cost benefit analyses. So under this government the share of Land Transport funding going to anything other than state highways has shrunk. And now they are planning to make it even more difficult for the local authority to make its own investments that may differ from this bias.

These actions then are the exact opposite of promoting the Multi-Modal. I know this may seem naive but I would very much prefer politicians to back up their sweet words with actual actions.

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  1. That link to the post on Nikki Kaye’s website is amusing. You get the feeling that if anything labelled CRL gets put into a National MP’s intray they have a look and say that sounds nice, and it gets shuffled straight to the bottom.

    By multi-modal maybe she was meaning the drive to work, and the secondary mode is the walk from the carparking building to the office : ). I can just see how technically someone could call that multi-modal..

  2. The idea that waterview and victoria park contribute positively to multi-modal access to the CBD implies there has been poor highway connection from greater Auckland to the CBD in the past.

    National seems to think that resonates with commuters+voters opposed to traffic delays in Auckland, better than “we’re going to spend billions on the CRL which is just one mode and not very popular anyway…”.

  3. Come on Patrick, are you writing a post or feuding with Nikki?

    To be fair you should also probably disclose your wife’s job…

    Did enjoy the gag about cycleways attached to motorways though.

  4. ‘Multi-modal’ is the transport equivalent of this government’s ‘mixed ownership model’ phrase. Spin.

  5. Be careful not to alienate her. She could be the best internal voice within the National Party to support the CRL, and she has already been assigned the role of link person with the National Party on the CRL study. On her website she lists

    “Nikki has held roles in the United Kingdom at … Transport for London…”

    “Strong supporter of Auckland’s CBD rail link”

    “Advocate for a Western Bays tram link.”

    She apparently hasn’t been asked to take these off her website by the Party.

    Furthermore, her seat seems to be marginal.
    This should increase her voice within the National Party. If the electorate votes her out because of lack of progress on the CRL, the National government could well go out too.

  6. Patrick R, Are you really surprised that a National MP is full of crap?

    My opinion of them as the old school tie cronies hasn’t been helped by Nick Smith’s antics this week. Taken as a whole they’re not talented. They’re in on it together, and they are the dead-weight blocking anything progressive and positive happening in the country.

    They say one thing (multi-modal), and do another (motorways). Actually I’ll donate this to them as the new National Party motto – “Hoodwink the ignorami and carry on the funny business”.

  7. It has been 1.2 years since I moved from Auckland back to Switzerland. In this time I have not yet seen one NEW public transport or rail initiative put forward by the National Party lead Government. They have just signed off some older projects (with massive delays like the EMU´s for Auckland – delayed nearly 2 years by Joyce).

    On the other hand I have witnessed massive amounts of money thrown at the National Party´s self proclaimed roads of national significance, which are actually, according to the facts, not significant at all.

      1. Matt L,
        You are correct, but if AT have to join these extra EMUs into pairs of EMUs to work around the Britomart limitation on maximum trains per hour in/out (by making each train twice as long to carry twice the number of PT users per train) then we haven’t actually got 50% more EMUs as a result have we?
        We’ve only got at best most of the EMUs we originally thought we’d signed off and at worst (if every EMU is doubled up), 75% of the EMUs.

        Its a bit of a chicken and egg situation, which is better more EMUs (with the CRL) or longer EMUs (with no CRL).

        But all signs I see point though to the EMUs becoming an outrageous victim of their own success…
        Heck even the folks in our office in Newmarket are coming round to thinking about getting the train to work and to go see our customers in the CBD from Newmarket instead of driving. And thats with the current levels of service and crappy DMUs.

        So, when the EMUs arrive and the crowds do too – then what? we wait for 3 more years for extra EMUs and/or more wrangling over the CRL?

        We need both not one or the other.

        You may recall that one of the reasons why Robbies Light Rail never happened was that the National Government of the day (lead by Muldoon) wouldn’t release the foreign exchange funds to buy all the required (expensive) equipment for it. The main mantra trotted out then was then we had to use the countries FOREX reserves to buy OIL. We all had to worship at the alter of roads in those days as OIL carried all our goods to market…

        Now 40 Years on, I see the same mantra from another National Government, except gussied up in the guise of “we must have multi-modal this, and must have RoNS for that”. Meanwhile our hard earned FOREX goes to buy more and more OIL, while the concept of electric powered anything transport related is treated by the Government like its suggesting we use plutonium to make it go.
        [Which funnily enough was the mantra in the ’50s when the motorway planners were dragging their pencils across paper to draw the current network up].

        I will however, give one small plaudit to the Muldoon National Government in the 80’s and that was to proceed with the electrification of the NIMT between Palmerston North and Hamilton, think how much in FOREX reserves that has save the country in the last 30 years which would have been spent to buy oil for Diesel power locomotives.
        This is probably one of the few, if not, the only, “Think Big” project I can think of that probably was worth the money spend on it as measured by hindsight. They should however have extended it to Wellington and Auckland years ago.

    1. Jon,
      You are right about there being nothing actually new under the National sun as far as PT announcements, its all mostly delayed stuff from the prior government being allowed to proceed with severe reticence, grimacing and teeth grinding over the “cost”.

      You are also almost correct with you what you about the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) on the level that actually counts.

      These are actually Roads of National Government Significance – “RoNGS”

  8. Bingo Nikki! “Multimodal does mean walking and cycling too.”

    Why, then, has your government slashed funding for walking/cycling funding to within an inch of its life? At the same time as it ramps up expenditure on state highways by an extra $1 billion per year (partly funded by borrowing).

    Don’t patronise us Nikki; this National government is pro-car and anti-any other transport mode. National knows what multi-modal means, they just don’t want to fund anything that is not about cars/trucks.

  9. Not giving any exuses here but I think she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    At least Jacinda’s stated goals are aligned with those of her party. It is a pity Labour and the Greens didn’t work a bit closer together at the last election.

    1. Bryce,
      My heart bleeds for Nikkie

      Yes, as Nikkie witters – oops, I meant twitters “Multimodal does cover cycling and walking too”.
      But only in the sense that “We (as a government) don’t have to pay for it” – so it comes for “free”.
      Which is totally unlike the RoNGS which aren’t multi-modal and don’t come free or cheap.

      As for the CMJ, its also technically “multi-modal” too by the same logic.

      Multi-modal clearly means (in MP speak) “lots of alternatives you use can choose” – so the average (road) user arriving at the CMJ has lots of alternatives (modes) they can take. These are north, south, east or west!

      1. No, no sympathy from me either. To campaign on issues, that you know your party has no interest at all in, is mischevious and misleading to voters.

  10. Well done Nikki Kaye, you know what multi-modal means. Why then does National provide such little funding for anything other than roads?

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, National is supposed to be the “sensible” party when it comes to economics, so why do they invest so heavily in uneconomic motorways while ignoring projects which would actually be beneficial. This National government has to be the most short term thinking government in my living memory (30 odd years).

  11. Multimodal is the new euphemism for the so called “balanced transport plan” of De Leuw Cathers of the 1960’s. it is green rhetoric that conceals the fact that what is proposed is business as usual. There is nothing new about the fact that walking, cycling and pt facilities and services are funded… they always have been.. but until the funding split is changed to reflect where we actually want our transport system to head then they will always remain the “bits on the side”.. the things that people do either as a form of recreation, or when they dont have a car.. not as preferred modes of choice.

  12. Yes I agree with other writers about government short sighted focus.. but unfortunately it is our councillors and AT Board that are also buying into the roads will reduce congestion cop out. In looking at the Auckland Council Draft Plan and REgional Transport Plan, you can see that despite the “transformational” rhetoric, the actual funding split, and allocations is very much consistent with where the government is at. The overarching plan to link Auckland with NZ and the rest of NZ and the world is entirely consistent with the think big of government that it is all about the national picture.. and therefore national roads.

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