We were quite excited last week to see the Congestion Free Network essentially adopted by the Green Party as part of their Auckland transport policy for the upcoming election. The CFN was created with the express purpose of outlining a vision for Auckland’s transport future that was truly transformational, yet also more affordable than the oversize and ineffective Integrated Transport Programme prepared by Auckland Transport. We don’t think the CFN is aligned with any particular political ideology – after all we still include billions of roading improvements. Add to that one of the prime reasons for creating the CFN was because we thought the ITP was fiscally irresponsible by proposing to spend a huge amount of money and still let things get worse. Therefore we hope that, over time, it will be adopted and further developed by more and more political parties.

CFN 2030A

The non-ideological nature of the CFN was picked up by commentator Bob Dey on Monday, where he talked at length about the Green Party’s transport announcement and responses to it:

The alliance of alternative thinkers which has begun to lead debate on how people travel – the Congestion Free Network, a collaboration between the TransportBlog, Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport – hasn’t just made an ideological proposal. They’ve said the country should apply the best means to the task, and that adding superhighways to fix congestion isn’t it.

They’ve said improving many other road connections would help, but the primary gains would come from increasing the off-road network. That includes providing off-road corridors for buses, and expanding the rail network in Auckland.

The minister’s response was that 97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – and therefore road is best, not that that proportion might be better reduced.

Mr Brownlee said major roadworks around Auckland had reduced congestion, and completion of the western ring route would reduce it even more. Recent works, such as taking traffic off the Victoria Park viaduct by building the northbound tunnel, have given temporary respite, but congestion quickly resumed growing.

The Auckland peak traffic periods are longer than they’ve ever been because workers know they can’t make the job without leaving home in the dark, and the return is just as slow because all along the way there are exit bottlenecks.

What the transport network needs is considered – and transparent – evaluation, not ideological slagging.

As for ideology, you would have to wonder why travel needs to be ideologically based at all, but it is. Using the private car to drive to work equates to personal freedom. Providing mass transport that is comfortable & provides amenity (such as WiFi) could be even more personally uplifting, especially if it gets you to your destination more quickly & less harassed.

As we have said on numerous previous occasions, it is frustrating how politicised the transport debate can be at times and how good ideas can often be dismissed for spurious ideological reasons. This is one reason why we have gone out of our way to ensure the CFN focuses on delivering the right solutions in a value for money way. That is why so much of the plan is actually busway improvements and extensions, that’s why we’ve retained significant funding for roading projects we think are actually necessary, and that’s why we’ve highlighted the key role of the CFN in taking people out of congestion so they’re able to experience fast and reliable travel times.

Another key element of making CFN happen relates to its financials and how they show what appears at first glance to be a pretty unaffordable and expensive programme is actually much less expensive than our current transport plan. For those who want to scrutinise the financial details of the CFN, we welcome the analysis and today we make available the excel worksheets used to calculate the cost of the CFN and the remaining other major projects we think are worth funding between now and 2030. This information goes right down to our best guess about how much might need to be spent on each project in each particular year:


The overall level of investment in major transport projects over each of the next 16 years is also an important consideration here, especially in relation to making sure the CFN is affordable. We’ve worked hard in the timing and sequencing of different projects to keep the annual total expenditure to not much more than one billion in any particular year:

CFN-total-annual-costOf course we still need to fund smaller things like walking and cycling projects as well as operating costs and renewals, but given there’s around $3.5 billion a year available from the National Land Transport Fund, plus significant extra funding from Auckland Council to complete this network, we don’t think a total annual cost for new transport infrastructure of around this level is unrealistic. Furthermore, it’s significantly less than the Integrated Transport Programme would require.

Our spreadsheets also make a detailed comparison between the CFN and the ITP. Firstly, we cut around $12 billion away from unnecessary road spending proposed in the ITP over the next 16 years:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - roads

What’s interesting in the above are the roading projects that you’re still getting. The Western Ring Route is still completed, Mill Road is still built (though to a lower standard than the proposed semi-motorway), you still even get Penlink, although not until the mid 2020s and only as a two lane road. Most of the reductions come from fixing cost errors, removing a stupidly high proposed level of spend in greenfield areas, getting rid of the idiotic Additional Harbour Crossing Project and down-scaling a number of projects to a more reasonable level of cost.

When it comes to public transport, perhaps the surprising thing is that we’re only proposing to spend around $2.9 billion more on public transport over the next 16 years than what’s in the ITP – and all of that extra (plus a bit) relates to providing rail to the North Shore, something which could probably be delayed until after 2030 if there was a squeeze on funding:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - PT

Overall, the contrast between the cost of the CFN and the ITP are pretty significant – as is the difference in the balance of funding between the two:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - summary

So not only is the CFN a more balanced programme than the ITP, it’s actually around $10 billion cheaper and sequenced in such a way as to ensure it’s affordable in the long run over the next 16 years.

We hope to see the CFN become a key topic of conversation in this year’s election because transport is such a big issue for Auckland and because we are confident that the CFN represents an affordable, realistic vision for Auckland’s transport future.

Share this


  1. Wasn’t the “funding gap” around $12 billion over the next 30 years? If you’ve saved $10b in the next 16 years then surely the CFN is very affordable.

  2. I note the Te Atatu to Westgate busway. Why not have it all the way into town? This would cut the commute time for westies by many minutes and give a clear incentive to all to use the bus.

  3. To The Rt Hon Gerry Brownlee, Minister of misleading arguments:

    97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – therefore we should spend 97% of the tax take from motoristst on more roads
    20% of all adults in the country are smokers – therefore we should spend 20% of the tax take from tobacco on better facilities to encourage smoking

    1. Yes of course, and all alcohol excise must be spent on subsidising pubs, bars, and more drinking.

      But also it’s a completely bogus made up number, ‘by road’ well that includes bus travel, which does need its own infrastructure, which they are also completely refusing to fund, but anyway this is in no way justifies total capture of the transport budget by the truck freight and highway building industry.

    1. mfwic – And I would have thought the government would support a better proposal that is $ 10 billion cheaper, After all, they profess to be the party who are the best managers of the nation’s finances but I am becoming somewhat disillusioned as to their money management capability. The potential saving is so huge that it beggars belief that somebody in the party is not saying ” We really need to seriously look into this – maybe there is something in the Congestion Free Network”.

      1. Warren, as has been demonstrated elsewhere, this policy proposal in particular shows how the current Government is pouring money into inefficient, uneconomic projects, and it is the Greens who are the party of sound economics, efficiency, and freedom of movement (see the current thread about teenagers).

        It’s amazing how reality can be the complete opposite of the image the Government wants you to believe.

  4. It is all very CBD focused. Most of Auckland’s congestion is not caused by people commuting to CBD but passing through CBD and locally by mums who drop kids at school and then have to cut across town to their place of work.

    It also depends on people being willing to make multiple changes bus-bus or bus train in any given journey. I do not believe they will be willing to do this more than once because of time delays inherent in such a process.

    1. Neil, I would argue that the reason for the school drop-off/pick-up congestion (and yes it is massively congesting) is that the roads are too unsafe for kids to make their own way to school. By providing more public transport options, reducing vehicle speeds and providing fast and safe cycle lanes, we could reduce this congestion for quite a low cost.

      There’s no doubt that the time delays with multiple change-overs make public transport less useable, but the whole idea of the CFN is to reduce the impact of this through high frequency services and sufficient core capacity. Of course it would be ideal to avoid changeovers in the first place by locating public transport lines closer to where people live, but in many parts of Auckland that could only be done through the somewhat difficult provision of additional public transport routes. It’s still worth looking into of course, perhaps even by repurposing existing roads, but the CFN will get most people around with minimal delay if I am understanding it correctly.

      Compare that to what AT currently offers, which is if I want to go to an event in town at night, I have to take the ferry back home to collect a car and then drive all the way back into town just so I can be sure of getting back home!

      I also look at the CFN as a living, evolving idea that can be refined and expanded as Auckland grows. But make no mistake – already it is functionally superior to what NZTA and the Council are proposing, and it returns $10B to taxpayers like me who can’t really afford the proposed lavish roading spend.

      1. Few parents are going to put their 5 year old (or even 8 year old) on a public bus. Many primary schools are not on main roads or even near them.

        1. But Neil, this happens all the time in many countries – I saw it every day in Japan. Why should it not happen here? When PT is convenient and frequent, and the roads accessing it are safe for pedestrians, then everyone (including children, the elderly, etc.) can use PT, and everyone benefits from greater freedom of movement (even those who choose to drive).

          It simply requires a change of mindset to deliver the road and PT functionality David O describes, which comes at a tiny cost to motorists (who ultimately benefit from reduced congestion anyway) and a massive benefit for pedestrians and cyclists. Win-win all round.

          Needless to say, it is the Greens who understand best how urban transport (and particularly transport to school) works in NZ. Julie-Anne Genter has been campaigning for some time for safer built environments to enable more children to walk and bike to school as a key way of reducing peak congestion. Look it up, it works.

    2. Neil this view is so funny. How is it that for someone who travels to the city from, say, Papakura, and home again, the quality and efficiency of that journey isn’t also ‘about Papakura’. Why does only one end of their journey have any meaning?

      Also because the CRL through routes a currently terminating system it will enable it to be finally used for many more through-town and not just to-town journeys, so really as one of those who don’t believe that the city matters this is clearly an improvement.

      Also when does congestion occur? At the peaks, where is by far the highest concentration of work and education situated, that’s right the city. It just isn’t credible to claim that city commuters aren’t part of congestion, or rather if they’re not it can only mean that they are using other modes, as we know they are. The city being the only area with adequate Transit has greatly reduced congestion because of PT use.

      Also with the CFN almost every journey will require zero or one transfer, which people are already doing. Transfers from bus to train and back again have taken off at Panmure since the new station was built. With more frequent better trains, better bus priority, and integrated fares it’ll just take off. Your ‘hunch’ there looks wrong.

  5. Neil – Where is your proof? Did you know that 41% of passenger journeys from the North Shore now come by the Northern Busway to the CBD and that current car volume on the bridge peaked in 2003. The CRN will be as big a success as the Northern Busway. So the more that go by bus/ train, frees up our existing mature road system for those who have no other alternative.
    Have you checked out the highly competent analysis work done on this blog?

  6. The CFN is superior in every way to the current plan and budget and more politicians should back it. We end up with all modes working as they should. In fact more engineers should back it also. My personal view is that if real cheap off-peak fares came in and one lane in key places including priority measures was dedicated for trucks and buses we could simulate a 2030 network while we are still building it. Dove tail that with the new planned bus routes-even if you had to put up a sign only at this stage to get it all going.

Leave a Reply