Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP

  • Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
  • Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
  • Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
  • Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
  • Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.

The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.

What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.

That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.

Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.

1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity

Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.

This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.


Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.

While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past

4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money

Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.


It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.

And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport

Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).

Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.

And on the City Rail Link they say:

As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.


More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.

Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?

There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre

While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:

  • Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
  • If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term

To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.

Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?

Auckland Isthmus tramlines
The old Tram Network

And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.

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  1. Dominion Road light rail is a good idea (it does require removing all on street parking of course) as long as it occurs after CRL so that project’s opponents don’t opportunisticially jump on it as an alternative to CRL, which it is not.

  2. Well those are Auckland’s ‘tram-built’ suburbs. And there is a very wide gap between the Southern and Western Rail lines that currently is served by increasingly full buses that could almost certainly justify higher capacity PT vehicles especially with higher priority on the corridors that tracked systems would have to bring [no more parking on the roadsides!]. It would be fantastic to be electrifying more of the PT systems and surely if such a route used the Queens St spine, as we think is logical and as shown on the CFN, then that surely means the removal of general traffic from there. Make it like Bourke St in Melbourne.

    However, clearly this would have to be in addition to the urgent task of expanding and improving the Rapid Transit Network. Services that are out of other traffic, and that are currently attracting huge increases in passenger numbers. And that means the CRL, and the North Western Busway, and the expansion of the Northern Busway north and south.

    Bourke St, Melbourne, exactly what Queen St north of Mayoral Drive should be like; people, electric transit on clear routes, deliveries at specified times, vehicles on cross streets:

    Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne. What The flat section of Queen St should be like.

  3. what about providing a bus lane on all arterials for the existing bus network? that’d speed up buses at minimal cost – light rail is expensive.

    1. Yes that is the obvious place to start. There still is the issue of how many buses can be handled on city streets, and the operating costs of ever more buses and drivers. Perhaps these are the sort of questions being asked in CCFAS 2?

    2. It’s conceivable that bus patronage will increase significantly into the city. Is there enough room for all these buses? Should we spend money on bus infrastructure like new bus terminals etc if it won’t meet future capacity?

  4. I wonder if this is related to the trams to the airport idea? Maybe a tram line from airport to city via dominion or mt Eden road?

    1. A terrible idea. Would be too slow. That distance requires Rapid Transit, and look we have an RTN half way there already. LRT is for shorter more local journeys, its great benefit is its integration with the street rather than its separation from it, and that means an overall slower journey.

      If AT are thinking LRT from the city to the Airport then they have rocks in their heads. Anyway, would hardly be a saving.

      1. Maybe small rocks. It would certainly be tedious to the point of uselessness to take rail to the airport stopping every other block. There could be express trains or limited stop trains (and there ought to be anyway) now and in the future, especially at peaks. I have no idea what the travel time to the airport would be on an express LRT from CBD to airport. Any guesses?

      2. Assuming it was pretty much RT between the airport and Dominion road / Mt Eden road (e.g. it was attached to the side of the motorway with a limited number of stops), then the only slow bit would be between the end of the motorway and the city. Maybe only an extra 10 minutes compared to heavy rail?
        I guess AT would have a better idea of how much the saving is. But it does of course solve two issues in one go (better PT to central isthmus and the airport)

        1. Well why not the old Manukau Rd to Onehunga route as LRT? But it’s still a shit way to get to the airport; could never compete for time with extending the Onehunga Line through Mangere, but would be a good distributor up Manukau Rd from the Onehunga Station…. That is a much better gradient too btw.

  5. I think with the Nov patronage and the clear message for rapid transit , yes your congestion free network is looking more and more a no brainer when comparing what is actually being planned. Do you think bus rapid transit links could be phased in, maybe not class A straight away but separated and on priority signal. Could separation be stick on kerbs not full barriers? Just thinking more up for now to try to get the spike needed and look at better priority at intersections later?

    1. A note about stick on kerbs: they’re only as good as the substrate that the epoxy can bind to and in Auckland the roads are not off sufficient quality to do this on. Any sharp impact will cause them to shift laterally which is not good as vehicle strikes have quite an impact force; as a comparison I’ve seen stick on islands in London move horizontally even with the 1.1m deep pavements employed there, I have no faith in the wafer thin ones here standing up to this. They may seem like a quick fix, and they would be, but the risk to more substantial pavement damage on impact is far greater than just installing them properly.

      1. You are probably right. One row of concrete barriers isn’t that expensive and can be installed just as fast. I guess the key thing at the moment is just giving them space and speed and make the bus network have priority across the board and a cohesive network with more frequencies as required. Then prioritise as per the congestion free network plans every 5 years. Network repriorisation first then rapid capex.

  6. I know they are angling again at tolls but NO! I heard nothing of tolling prior to this Frankenstein of a super cities creation.

    The Auckland Council is largely made up of unelected and seemingly unaccountable bureaucrats who most not be given a blank cheque in which to abuse. The semi demolished new foot bridge on the Otahuhu platform that cost us dearly to build and similarly to rip down again is a prime example of how easily money can be wasted by these fools, only for this project to not have the funding. WTF??

    1. Are you seriously suggesting that we should have an election for every bureaucrat in the council? That is likely to cost a lot more than you’d receive in savings. It should also be noted that the majority of central government is also run by ‘unelected bureaucrats’. How much money would be wasted having an election for every bureaucrat in the country every three years? To say that they are unaccountable is wrong. They will have performance measures and could suffer from disciplinary action if they aren’t met. As for tolling, this is standard practice overseas, especially in Europe.

      1. I assume you would trust these guys to use toll money wisely and correctly because in the last 4 years I have been seriously unimpressed. AC’s CCO’s are designed intentionally to avoid political interference from whatever they were really set up to do and this is quite different to all seeing eye of the current central government.. And yes I would like to see a lot more meaningful oversight of those bureaucrats than the almost impotent system we currently have from our elected representatives. The mayor of all people was a spectator in the Ports of Auckland debacle so they do what they want how they want. Vis vis the CCO’s will happily spend our money as they see fit.

        Check out the new Watercare highrise in Newmarket where “The council body would not say what the rental costs were under the 12-year lease, citing commercial sensitivity” or as I said the fiasco at Otahuhu station!. Recall not 1 metre of bus lanes in the first 3 years of AT yet what a budget they have! And unlike Europe we are a low wage free market economy with a bus based third rate PT system so most of us are stuck using cars we can afford!.

  7. Well done Matt for reading the RLTP. I am guessing less than 20 people have. It is one of the “regional policy” documents that serve as a work creation scheme for under employed consultants and people who are between useful projects. I wouldn’t give too much credibility to anything it says as if it is like past versions then it is a paper tiger.

    1. I was wondering the same thing. Will AT follow up on the words in its project planning and priority setting, or will that part go ahead, business as usual, regardless of the overall guidance stated above?

  8. “Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used” Wrong. The land for a rail link from Avondale to Southdown is still there, just waiting for someone to do something useful with it, maybe for PT even. Now there’s a heretical thought!

    1. I wondered about that..

      “…we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network”

      Surely the same goes for some forms of PT as well – i.e. the CRL has to be underground at least in part due to the value of above ground land, so again expensive tunnels?.

      I suspect though that PT might have some advantages there as routes like the northern bus way are capable of being upgraded to light rail.

  9. Stop thinking downtown, whatabout the suburbs where most people live. We still have a downtown egocentric thought process which does not consider the rest of Auckland. How about a tram service (light rail) from Botany (or even Howick) to Manukau Station then on to the airport?
    You could include the new Flatbush suburbs and new build areas East of Redoubt Road. It would be a Southern East/West service.
    Getting heavy rail to the airport from Onehunga looks like a dead duck….
    You guys need to start thinking about where the majority of people can afford to live which is not the old legacy areas of Auckland City.

    1. I agree that Botany to Manukau City should certainly be on the list for LRT routes. It’s just that the criteria in general needs sorting. Because of the capital cost of LRT over buses is so high it is unlikely to return to anywhere that doesn’t first exhibit over capacity buses on over capacity streets. Currently that is probably only those old core isthmus tram routes serving high density areas and in particular linking them with the densest of the all, the rapidly growing City Centre.

      Or to put it more positively; build up the bus services to the point that they either qualify for BRT on long haul routes like the North Western, or LRT on routes for more local travel. It is important to note that Te Irirangi Drive does have a median that is ideal for LRT. A campaign for LRT on that route would be a good addition to the debate, especially as the service would link the southern end of AMETI with MC Interchange Station and the the attractors of the MCC, Rainbow’s End, and the Courts etc…. Southern Link. A great way to knit across the motorway severance.

    2. The Congestion Free Network includes a busway or LRT running between Botany, Manukau Central, and the airport. In fact, if you look at the map of proposed routes ( a key aim is to get better rapid transit service to parts of the city that have historically not been served well – especially the northwest and eastern suburbs.

      For what it’s worth, AT has also included many of the same projects in its “fully funded” spending programme. So they’re on board with the vision of providing rapid transit throughout the city. However, due to funding availability (and central government’s reluctance to commit National Land Transport Fund dollars to strategic busway projects) they’re looking at a slower timeline for implementation.

      Lastly, I disagree with your claim that the isthmus gets too much spending relative to other areas. Remember, lots of people live and work in the central and southern isthmus, and they’re not all wealthy Orakeians. When I take the Mount Eden or Dom Rd buses, they are *full* with people travelling to Three Kings or Mount Roskill.

  10. I just hope AT can adopt your common sense transport planning and spending programme. They need to throw a match at their non-council funders as seems they are trying to please their industries rather than being mode neutral and addressing Auckland’s needs it is becoming clearer and clearer that is the case.

  11. I think that the current shift in thinking is down to more people being involved in the discussion, which is what transport blog is all about. The ability for the good ideas to be taken from everywhere and then be picked up to provide a result that benefits all transport users is important.

    Whilst I thinking that the reintroduction to LRT into the isthmus is a great idea, I believe we should be concentrating on getting the CRL over the funding line first, with a secondary objective of creating and preserving PT access corridors. Focusing on too many things at once will disipate what little resources that can be mustered.

    I’m frustrated by how slow some of this change is occurring, but until the thought leaders within the AC/AT sphere change strategies away from road centric investment, I don’t see a much better alternative. This is why I see the CFN as being key to the battle of ideas.

    1. ‘Whilst I thinking that the reintroduction to LRT into the isthmus is a great idea, I believe we should be concentrating on getting the CRL over the funding line first, with a secondary objective of creating and preserving PT access corridors. Focusing on too many things at once will disipate what little resources that can be mustered.’

      Yes this is a risk. But it is possible that this idea could raise the level and even the standard of the conversation, both within Auckland and with Central gov. Maybe even our local paper may find a productive role for itself in this?!

      1. I’m not a herald fan, so I’ll be polite and leave that one alone.

        I think the ideas are better captured in the CFN and talking about the whole pacakge as an end state/future state is important as it provides the vision for what the future could be.

        Concentrating on more than one thing is risky, I’ve hear this described as “Maintenance of the aim”

  12. I think at the moment need only 3 agenda items. Congestion Free Network programme, Bus Network launch like now crikey , and a code for NZTA drop dead I was hoping that was the mystery one.

  13. Bringing LRT back is a no-brainer. That photo shows how comfortable people are around trams – esp. compared to buses. If Auckland had clusters of LRT – eg inner burbs as per the historic system, Takapuna, Henderson, Otahuhu – all serving their wider local areas and linked together by higher speed modes we’d be getting somewhere…

  14. I’m all in favour of bringing back Light Rail, but it’s a real shame the discussion seems to be limited to places that already have a multitude of bus options.

    It’s time the city saw LRT as an opportunity to add character to areas, such as Newmarket, Ponsonby and the villages on Tamaki Drive. It would also mean we would finally get around to having the parking vs. transport debate. And if it means widening Tamaki Drive, then just do it. St Kilda makes the Auckland Waterfront seem like a missed opportunity that we have to relive every day.

  15. I can see the light rail being good in quite a few areas if money wasn’t a problem. My concern is that we are now playing catch up and car mode projects like the ones that took the trams down in the first place are still marching forward regardless of what Auckland needs or wants based on patronage. If we can stop those incl state highways implement the CFN, maybe there could be more budget available to look at this in areas even if they don’t fully stack up, but maybe these need to wait a while?

    1. Agreed – it’s mighty depressing to think how much of the ‘livable’ city spending will be just getting ourselves out of a traffic quagmire for the next few decades. Being able to use transport as a way of adding a dash more culture to some places – you know, having an enjoyable city – probably won’t happen in my lifetime. I’m under 30.

  16. I live in Westmere and would like a more direct tram route into town by linking Garnet Rd with Jervois Road via West End Rd. Had lunch yesterday with a lady (from Westmere) who caught the bus into the city for the first time in 15 years due to the new drink driving laws.

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