Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy.  Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.

What is the Congestion Free Network?

The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.

As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.

cfn-implementationThe CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.

Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?

The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.

Congestion is predicted to get worse:

Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:

Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:

When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!

With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.

How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?

Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.

The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:

The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major  centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas.  It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.

But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.

How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?

A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:

  • Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
  • Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
  • Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
  • Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport

In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:

The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.


The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.

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  1. Very helpful having this all in one place. Hopefully more and more political parties adopt this. I wonder what NZ First thinks of the CFN?

  2. I have a couple of questions. Whats the plan with the rail line to the north shore and the busway. The 2030 map has both so will they run beside each other or will the busway be supplanted by the rail line? Or some other solution?
    Also. Id like to ask if any thought was given to linking the busways together. There are two in the north and west that can get all the way to newmarket , and there are two in the south east that get to ellerslie. Was any thought given to extending the busways to meet each other?. Would it be worth connecting do you think? It would be nice for us from the south east to have that continual connection to the north shore or west without the prospect of transferring. Perhaps it would simplify things too. Two long busways as opposed to four shorter ones

    1. When talking about joining the bus ways together, it sounds like a good idea although there are a couple of drawbacks:
      – What if the bus way is used as a precursor to putting in Rail/Light Rail, would you duplicate the sections that are already at that standard, indeed should you duplicate the sections that already exist, or spend that resource (both money and resource consent effort) elsewhere
      – Transferring isn’t really an issue if the service is frequent enough, single seat rides are great, but occasionally not the best answer, which is effectively local optima vs system wide optima

    2. How many bus trips can be replaced by the rail line to the Shore depends largely on which version of the various options are built, or at what stage the line is up to. This is the one route that still needs more work, or rather it is still too early to say what the whole system may look like by the time we get to finalising the details on the Shore line. One option for example is to complete the Aotea- Wynyard-Akoranga-Takapuna section first, so still using the busway to Akoranga, and beyond, with buses all across the Shore connecting to the line at Takapuna and Akoranga for a really speedy trip into Wynard and the Aotea… there are many other options, but its basically too early to make those calls.

      All options, it is safe to assume will not eliminate buses from crossing the Bridge but should reduce the number to more manageable levels, while allowing many more to still be operating within the Shore for frequent local travel including connections to the new rail line.

      Here is a strongly argued case by Nick, for example: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2012/01/27/light-metro-for-the-north-shore-a-superior-alternative-to-a-harbour-motorway-tunnel/

      Everything does indeed ‘meet up’ with other RTN lines [of whatever mode; train, BRT, or ferry] and with the FTN and Local networks of buses and other ferries. The will be an FTN route from Ellerslie across town which may well qualify fro RTN status by the time it is implemented. While the CFN is a deeply considered proposal, certain details, especially with bus routes, are clearly open to extension and alteration. We always expect a rigorous process to finalise details of the network, but, and it’s a very big but, it is important that AT and NZTA and AC grasp the importance of building a full network and no longer just evaluating routes in isolation. The sum of the parts being considerably stronger than each piece is at the heart of the whole project.

      And please note, like all great RTN networks in the world, transferring is an essential tool that enables the great asset of economical high frequency. But very few journeys will require more than one transfer, and waiting time between trips on the RTN or from other networks to the RTN will always be negligible.

  3. I’ve never quite bought into the full North Shore Rail component of the CFN. It just seems a waste to replace the Akoranga to Constellation (future to Albany) section of busway so soon after completion and also when it will probably still work perfectly fine.

    Otherwise I love it.

    1. If you think the busway will work fine in 17 years then you need to try ride it at 8am on a weekday. There will be massive overcrowding issues on the buses…..

    2. By 2030 the northern busway will be over 20 years old and almost at the end of the time it was assessed over for its business case. By then I think it will be close to or at capacity.

    3. The northern bus way is too patronised to do a straight swap to rail. The years of construction time required to convert to rail would shut down the north shore

      1. What on earth do you mean ten years of construction? This kind of upgrade is common the world over, and with Light Metro it would simply be a matter of laying tracks, not rebuilding the right of way.

        But I agree that there is still capacity on it as a busway for years to come and the first route should be city – Wynyard – Akoranga – Takapuna, leaving the busway to function as it is as well as connect with the new crossing.

    4. Hi Fred. You’ll see the North Shore rail is in the last phase of the plan. The busway is great for now and has some ways to go yet, but in the long term it will need something further done. Indeed the busway is only seven years old but by 2030 we’ll have a further decade and a half of growth and development to accommodate.

      You are right that the Akoranga to Constellation section is great, a world class busway. But the main issue is across the harbour from Akoranga to town -where the busway runs in general traffic on the motorway-, and through city streets to Britomart or beyond. Buses are already delayed on the motorway morning and evening, and there are only so many buses we can run through town, find bus stop and layover space for, and turn around on street. Buses are very efficient at low and medium levels of capacity but start to have very large spatial requirements at high patronage levels.

      Effectively we will eventually need a transit crossing of the harbour and a tunnel and stations under city streets. At that point it’s cheaper, easier and much more efficient to use a dedicated metro rail system. For example, a bus tunnel needs to be over 4.5m tall and about 4m wide per lane to take a double decker, while a light metro train needs only 2.7m height and 2.6m width per track. At stations buses need double width stopping and passing lanes to throughput high volumes of buses, while a metro can load and unload more people by stopping in line. Like we’ve seen with the CRL, rail is cheaper and more effective for the busiest city corridors.

      Like Patrick notes, the first stage could be rail only to Akoranga or Takapuna, with the busway feeding it. But the light metro can be easily and cheaply fitted to the existing busway, it could handle the width, grades, curves, bridge loading etc. it’s more or less a case of laying the tracks into the busway and tweaking the stations. So it makes sense to spend a bit more and run the trains right through, removing the potential for double transfers.

      There is also a big operational saving with automated metro. Consider the busway at a fairly leisurely 10,000 passengers per hour. Assuming around an hour round trip and double deckers that carry 80 people, you are looking at 125 buses and drivers in circulation to run the peak service (and you need to push two or three double deckers a minute through your city stops). With automated light metro you would need about 15 trains, a nice four minute headway, but critically zero drivers. That would be a saving of around a quarter million every week in driver costs alone, while the savings on fuel and maintenance wouldn’t be far off that either. A quarter million a week is a huge saving that could be pocketed, or reinvested in other infrastructure or much increased feeder bus service. You could put fifty buses back on the road running super frequent feeder links across the north shore, and still have a cheaper operating budget. A further upside of automated operation is that you can basically run the same frequency round the clock seven days a week at only the price of motive electricity. Staffing is difficult and expensive for Sundays, holidays and late nights, cut that out and you can afford to run more service at all times and days.

      So in basic terms, investing in automated light metro for the long term is actually cheaper to build and much cheaper to operate, as well as delivering far better services.

  4. That figure 9: percent change in GHG emissions, is a shocker!

    Has anyone done a rough cut on what the CFN would deliver? I would guess a step in the right direction.. an enabler perhaps, but not enough in and of itself.

    Could be interesting to explore what more needs to be done.. e.g. in the context of the Auckland LTP and what general direction we need to be heading (such as set out in the Auckland Low Carbon Action Plan), what would a wash up list of initiatives look like that actually delivers the -50%.

    That’s not to say that -50% is sufficient. But surely this is an overriding concern, above for example reduction in congestion?

  5. I note that Onewa Road does not feature on the map. despite the fact it pretty much already meets the requirements now with very frequent buses coming from both Beachhaven and Glenfield.

    1. Why is Onewa Road not included?
    2. Are there any other main arterials used for PT (that already meet most of the criteria) that are also excluded (for the same or different reasons)?

    1. The CFN only shows the very highest top level RTN network, below and connected to it seamlessly is the Frequent network with routes like that up Onewa Rd. of course that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have the highest possible quality and frequency.

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