I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

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  1. Don’t worry, his PR people will already be working on a fudge. My bet is “it wuz the GFC!” Just keep on building the roads; everything will be back to ‘normal’ soon.
    Just one more motorway. Please. Then I’ll stop. Promise!

  2. This is a massive flaw in the neoliberal philosophy, part of which is the pro-road anti-PT rhetoric – it doesn’t actually work. When you look back with the benefit of hindsight to evaluate the effect of neoliberal policies, it ain’t pretty reading.

    More progressive ideas may not be perfect but in general softer, more social forms of capitalism have worked and created better societies. History tells us that (and no, Communist eastern Europe is not an example – NZ in the 1940s to 1960s would be a better example). In other words The Dirty F&%king Hippies Were (and continue to be) Right:


    That’s why I switched from voting ACT when I was younger to Greens now. I didn’t see any real life examples where the neo-liberal philosophies actually led to a better society. They just make rich people richer and increase inequality – and road focused transport policy is one example of that

  3. We need transport heads to agree on efficient/sustainable ways of moving people and Rapid Transit is proven in Auckland. What is done is done -hopefully we have learned now…????but there is no reason why even the current roading layouts can change across the board without any widening. The Congestion Free Network is easily achievable within the balance sheet. MOT/NZTA need to stop all their planned motorway projects in the Auckland Region after Waterview or assist on the congestion free network. The existing road network on the motorway/arterials needs to be prioritised for public transport-even initially via paint/signal optimisation ( could be done widespread for minimal cost and ideally simulating the ultimate fix to tie in with rail connections etc) while congestion free network capex improvements are rolled out. Same could then be said for cycling where ideally separated facilities are installed/rolled out. Freight could be optimised on key routes and the motorway.Making these changes will also help cars -probably sooner than we think that is the ironic thing.

  4. “Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.”

    Thats because they will tell you if you ask them, that its “too soon” to accept that enough evidence (evidence – what evidence? People using buses that travel on roads we lobbied for? they’ll say) is in yet.

    These people are like climate change deniers, and will simply argue until they die that there is not “enough” evidence yet,
    Of course, they don’t agree on a timeframe when there will be enough evidence to hand either, so simply espouse that until there is enough evidence [that suits our position] the business as usual approach is still good.

    The pro-road (NZCID, Trucking industry and AA) crowd continue to argue that “whats good for road users is good for PT users”, using the same belief that GM argued to Congress decades back, that “Whats good for GM is good for America”.

    GM as some of you may well know, headed a cartel who bought up and helped run down the perfectly good “RTN” PT services that operated in most major US cities up and into the ’50s and ’60s and replaced them with buses to ensure that GM made a large chunk of money out of the PT business.

    Still the Northern Busway has been open for 6 years now, has smashed all records set to date, and continues to be well patronised. In time it may well be able to, on its own, stave off the AWHC for decades (if not longer), and on that basis alone, any investment in it will be well repaid by not needing to spend the eye watering amount of money [we don’t have] to build the road tunnel [we don’t need]. So the Busway could become “The little engine that could”.

    Meanwhile back at the farm, good old NZTA is pushing on as usual with yet more roads for Africa. Everywhere we look its yet another roading project (or 3 or 6) out for consultation with building to start ASAP once the consultation is over.

    It will indeed be a grand day, when “Aucklands PT has everything it needs, and the NZTA has to hold a cake stall to pay for another motorway project”.

  5. It seems to me that Stephen Selwood has peddled nonsense for a long time and the Herald would do well to refuse to publish his prognosticating handouts in future and allocate the space to better reasoned opinions.

    1. If they did that, stuck to the facts and produced balanced and reasoned arguments, how thin would their publication be. It’d also lack the pandering to readership sections who want confirmation of their biases and would reduce the sensationalism associated with print media.

      Overall it be a commercial disaster for the publisher, so I don’t see it happening.

  6. Peter I think your graph of the Northern Busway may UNDER REPRESENT Northern Busway use. Referring to the blog article on Sept 23 2013 the estimated numbers stated by Annette King were for the NORTHERN BUSWAY (and are shown by the Blue line on your graph).
    The other numbers shown in your graph are for THE NORTHERN EXPRESS (the red line). This is a specific route and is approximately half of all Northern Busway use (and maybe less than 1/2 at peak times).

  7. Rail proven, bus transit proven, protected cycle ways proven on Netherlands etc. Motorways not proven anywhere. There is an air tight case of neglecting ethics of sustainability and looking after future generations. I’m personally putting in a complaint to IPENZ and it would be nice if IPENZ Transportation Group joined me.

    1. “I’m personally putting in a complaint to IPENZ and it would be nice if IPENZ Transportation Group joined me.”

      You are putting in a complaint to IPENZ and you want a part of IPENZ to assist you???? How is that going to work? What will the basis of the complaint be?

      Do you realise that the decision to build more motorways is a decison made by politicians, not engineers?

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