This post is an update on two of the three key busway projects in Auckland at the moment, the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany and a busway along SH16 (the third one is the AMETI busway).

Northern Busway Extension

The Northern Busway has been an outstanding success since opening fully in 2008. Despite only being grade separated for 41% of the route it has managed to exceed patronage projections and defy the doubters who claimed it would be a waste of money. It’s even had the remarkable success of significantly changing mode share with the number of people crossing at peak times on a bus increasing from 18.5% in 2004 to 41% in 2012.

Northern Busway White Elephant
NZ Herald Cartoon 14 Feb 2008 – The day after the busway opened

One of the most crucial projects we need to be getting on with is the extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation to Albany. When the government announced it’s package of motorway projects in June last year the associated map included “Northern Busway Improvements”


It’s also mentioned on the NZTA page for the Northern Corridor improvements as component 5.

Northern Corridor Improvements

In July we found out that the plan to extend the busway was estimated to cost about $250 million and that the busway would actually stay on the Eastern side of the motorway to make it easier for a future extension to Silverdale (which would cost an additional $300 million. It would be connected to the Albany busway station by a dedicated bridge across the motorway.

Northern Busway Extension - Eastern access to Albany

So it should be about to be constructed right? Unfortunately not.

Papers released by The Treasury show the project isn’t part of the government funding package anymore.

The Northern Busway

25. An extension to the Northern Busway was previously included as part of the Northern Corridor package of projects.
26. The NZ Transport Agency has advised it would need $250 million to deliver this project on accelerated timeframes but that investigations and route protection for the project can continue without additional financial assistance from the Crown.
27. [7]

The point 27 which has been withheld is “to maintain the current constitutional conventions protecting the confidentiality of advice tendered by ministers and officials

From conversations I’ve had it appears the NZTA were quite keen to get on with the busway extension and had expected to get the go ahead to do so but were stopped by The Treasury who pulled the funding for it at the last minute. I suspect that’s what point 27 refers to. My understanding is now all the NZTA can do is to make sure that the motorway plans they do proceed with leave enough space so that they don’t stop the busway from happening at some point in the future.

I guess we won’t know exactly why funding was pulled and I notice none of the other motorway projects have had parts stripped out of them. It appears to me that this is just a continuation of the single mode focus that has dominated the transport discussion for so many decades and it’s both hugely frustrating and disappointing. It’s also an insult to anyone who lives on the upper North Shore or up by Orewa/Whangaparaoa and who wants better choices in how they get around.

Northwest Busway

We’ve called for a busway along SH16 for a long time and it is a key part to the Congestion Free Network.

NW Busway on CFN

It’s also an idea that seems to continue to gain some traction. In my view it’s a project that will become increasingly important as large greenfield land gets developed in the North West. The area already contains ~40,000 dwellings and it’s been estimated there will be additional 80,000 over the next 30 years. To put it another way it will grow by about the size of the North Shore.

In March last year Auckland Transport proposed a bus interchange station at Te Atatu between the motorway and Titoki St however it seemed to have a couple of major flaws like requiring all westbound buses to cross the motorway twice just to access the station. There was also significant community opposition to the proposal and in the end AT dropped the idea and went back to the drawing board. In a response to an OIA request initially to the NZTA but passed to Auckland Transport they say:

NW Busway AT OIA request

There’s no information about what that new interchange station may look like but it’s positive to hear that they are now looking at full busway along the route – although I suspect only from Te Atatu west. My guess is we might hear more about the project later this year when the consultation for the new network in West Auckland happens.

Of course even with a full busway is chosen who knows if or when it would be funded. In my mind it should be an NZTA project like the Northern Busway however considering how difficult it appears to be to get the extension to that funded we could be waiting a long time for a Northwest busway.

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  1. Whether through Treasury or the by Minister personally this latest decision shows that even the slightest pretence to support any mode other than drivers at the very top of this government is completely absent. No one can use a buslane or busway whether space for it is ‘future proofed’ or not. And as is clear from the Treasury doc above even the future proofing is only happening because NZTA say they can do it at no cost. Leaving air empty can be done cheaply, but reading between the lines if this cost so much as a dollar even that would be gone too.

    Of course the success of the Busway must terrify the motorway lobby as it is the single biggest impediment to getting that vast white elephant – more lanes across the harbour- funded. And by widening the approaches to the bridge and limiting further growth of the Busway this is the best possible way to try to make that nightmare look more viable.

    I guess Brownlee understands ‘multimodal’ to mean multilane.

  2. I’m glad that – as part of their massive motorway spend-up – NZTA saw fit to advocate for a significant public transport solution in this case.

    I’m frequently amazed at how transport policy-making in New Zealand is completely divorced from any attempt to maximise outcomes.

    1. What do you suppose was the ‘advice’ that we’re not allowed to see?

      ‘Of course Minister, if we invest the comparatively modest sums required to get the Busway operating to it full potential then we’ll never need to spend those billions on the AWHC’

  3. The Northwest busway is a no-brainer, and it continues to baffle me that the busway isn’t being built at the same time as the NW motorway upgrade.

  4. So let’s see… if we *don’t* build the Upper Highway-SH1 motorway-to-motorway interchange, we’d have most of the money to build both busways…

    1. Now that’s a useful comparison of the relative costs of PT versus highway spending in Auckland.

      When will the Government realise that the marginal costs of PT users are significantly lower than the marginal costs of highway users? They focus too much on the average road user, which certainly pays their way. At the margin, however, new road users are being massively subsidised – much more so than the marginal PT user, which tends to cost less than the average PT user.

      Put another way, highways schemes are quickly entering constant diminishing returns to scale, i.e. marginal cost > average cost, while some PT schemes still seem to be in increasing returns territory, i.e. marginal cost < average cost. Mainly because PT experiences economies of scale and more importantly density (NB: In this case "density" refers to intensity of use of service/infrastructure).

      Always worth emphasising that services on the Northern Busway are operating at approximately 100% cost recovery, i.e. no operating subsidy. They would even generate a profit to reinvest in other services if AT sticks to its guns, does the right thing, and charges for park and ride.

      1. And speaking of cost recovery are there any reliable statistics on the income from various vehicle road user charges?

        I imagine the annual income the government gets nationally from a few million cars is considerably greater than that from a few thousand buses. Reducing the number of cars nationwide and increasing the number of public service vehicles would presumably lower overall income to Treasury from that source.

        If so then there is a vested interest in promoting roads rather than public transport.

  5. Did Len Brown ‘scapa’ the Northern Busway to help fund the CRL?
    We have no idea, there is no transparency, of these Mayoral discussions with Govt Departments.

    1. No Don the Mayor has absolutely no pull at Cabinet, furthermore the money went to motorway widening not into the CRL.

      It so isn’t train v bus in Auckland in terms of funding, it’s driving amenity v everything else.

        1. What exactly are they proposing to change? The motorway already has well-used variable speed limit signs along that whole stretch.

        2. It only has variable speed limits on a particular section, used mostly for safety purposes. This would speed manage the entire urban motorway network.

        3. OK, thanks. I didn’t get that from the article. I read it as placing signs along the part where they’re adding the extra lane – which is the exact section that already has the variable speed limit signs. So they’re extending it north to Porirua and south to the Terrace?

          I wasn’t a huge user of the motorway in peak times in Wellington, but it did seem like they dropped the speed to 70km/h in the evening peak every day that I used it.

        4. The only way this could be a good thing is if that lane was a bus only lane – at least at peak times.

          I just love this:
          “Improvements made to the Ngauranga Gorge interchange further north between 2011 and 2013 cut peak-time travel by up to 2.5 minutes in some areas” –

          That must be the most useless, empty statement I have ever seen. It has so many caveats and exceptions to it that it is meaningless. The average saving could have been 10 secs and that statement would still be true.

          If you stated that a PT project was going to cut travel time by 2.5 minutes for $50m, it would be laughed at by the talk back radio crowd. But this motorway spending will be considered “common sense” by the same ill informed crowd.

          And how much did that “up to 2.5 minutes in some areas” cost us? Anyone know?

          The patients are definitely running the asylum.

        5. This is my favourite

          “It’s another step towards creating a fully integrated, multi-modal transport network for the Wellington region.”

  6. Perhaps this stupidity is covering the absence of any other policy to add real growth to NZ’s economy, so we have motorway building. I mean its becoming increasingly obvious that a decent part of NZ’s growth is coming from Auckland’s housing bubble and that is bad short to long term on many levels too.

    Similarly bus lanes won’t give our economy a quick sugar high which is then used to tell the unquestioning masses that everything is going well when in reality its not.

  7. This makes me so angry that funding for motorways is considered sacred, and anything other than supporting one person in one car commuting is clearly considered a waste of time by #teamkey
    We need a change of direction!

    1. Then start by talking to everyone around you about why you think #teamkey is a bad idea, and encouraging them to vote for the alternative you believe is best. Have a positive influence, make a difference.

    2. Right wing governments don’t have to behave toward transport in the way currently being demonstrated by National, as evidenced just across the Tasman by the NSW right wing state government which is leading the charge on Light Rail (tram), regional Intercity double decker trains and Automated Light Metro projects in Sydney. David Cameron’s UK Conservative government is another English speaking country with a more enlightened attitude to transport.

      The current National government stance toward transport appears to owe much to bone-headed provincialism and “inspiration” from the sort of politics played by oil and road building industry lobby groups who manoeuvre Republican led states in the USA.

      The answer has to be to get message break-through to the 5 to 10% of swing voters that National care about greatly and poll constantly.

  8. I’d argue incompetence is blind and is practised by all wings of the kiwi.

    I’m in favour of a “citizen’s todo list – by binding referendum”.
    Whatever incompetent happens to find themselves in a green seat, this is what must be done.

    Fixing the roof of The Beehive, that’s your problem guv(ness).

  9. My suggestions for the Northern Busway (as a semi regular user):

    First, Albany

    Secondly, Dairy Flat:

    Note, this is on the Western side of the motorway, not on the Eastern side of the motorway as NZTA suggest.

    Thirdly, Millwater, which has not been suggested by NZTA nor Auckland Transport. Note, there will be an estimated 10,000 plus residents within a 2km radius within a few years. Southbound on and off ramps are being constructed there right now. The existing Silverdale Park’n’Ride is not planned to have anywhere near this kind of potential walk up/ride up user base.

  10. Interesting, it’s a continued oddity that facilities like Auckland University, Auckland Hospital, North Harbour Stadium or Massey don’t get a major focus for PT, I mean we know people want to use these things and that if that can’t by bus and train then……..

    You’re dead on about Millwater, which is daft anyway, but to then not have the integrated interchange built in and through to Orewa ( which is already intensifying right?)..

    Development in Auckland is downright bizarre sometimes, I mean did no one realise that a single road down the Whanaparoa Peninsula would fill up.

    A sceptical person might think we pick a place which is passably connected, allow a load of building, then go back to build more roads, because all the new people are complaining they are clogged.

    This occurs whilst avoiding the fact that if they’d hooked up a PT network, and then allowed the building, the results would be somewhat different, although provide less for road builders to do….

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