Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.


The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.



Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.


Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.


Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.


All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.


Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.


Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.


Share this


  1. Just about everyone knows how powerfully your pictures communicate about places and people, Patrick, but I had not appreciated just how eloquent and direct your writing is. Nice piece, glad someone is on the case and getting great messages out to wider audiences.

    Note to AT: for goodness sake, get your communications sorted. The public expects better than the slapdash corporate tripe you’re putting out, and Patrick’s writing shows you a way to tackle this. Pull-finger-out.

  2. Great article Patrick, very clear for all readers and no mode bias, just facts. I’m hoping no in fact I’m certain that the rollout of the bus network in 2016 makes a positive contribution. Unlocking the road network, and getting a cohesive, smart network that gives priority to buses where possible and links all PT modes together, and obviously widening the catchment to the rapid transit will boost that miles above 18% growth. If with the re-roadmarking of the bus routes really look at cycling same time will give cyclists a comprehensive network as well that automatically links to public transport.

    1. I think if you can get another say Government Policy Statement vs Congestion Free Network and current growth trends on Campbell Live will highlight to Auckland that still a major transport bias arguably completely corrupt going on and juggernaut still in high gear going in wrong direction wasting money and emissions when it doesn’t need to. Waterview cost vs alternative mode shift networks?

  3. Great article. Do you have some numbers of how the motorway throughput would be different (in people/hr at peak) if they had extended the northern busway/created the north western busway instead of adding more lanes?

    1. That would be interesting and full fare recovery on buses vs cars stuck going nowhere. The stats are really pointing to one mode bias with full blinkers on and a stupid one at that-not to mention last 60 years vs effects to economy, lost time? ,wasted investment, would be a good PhD paper.

  4. Great article. In 2005 I had a fuel card from work and drove huge distances all year round, including over the harbour bridge twice a day. Nowadays I cycle to work and prefer PT. Interesting how things change over time.

  5. If you want Auckland Unbound, why not look to today’s traffic? This morning, the road network was congestion free. Isn’t that the goal? A congestion free network? We have it. Today. So how much lower is traffic on 22 Dec than 19 Dec? That will fix 100% of the problems we have today. And is done today at $0 cost. So how do we replicate that? 20 minutes to work today, usually 40-60 (based on NZTA traffic timings, I motorbike, so 20-30 minutes even if it’d take a car 4 hours or 20 minutes.

    Today was congestion free. We have a congestion free network today. We just need to replicate that for more than one fortnight a year.

    1. That’s it in a nutshell the capacity is already there if there are reasonable networks for each mode. What do we need right now, a 30% ? mode shift from car to other modes?

      1. Dare I say it. If we implemented the new bus network. Got more trains, got more buses with 50% of AT budget plus had one lane on motorway in places ,tried to implement the 2030 network as well best as possible, used the other 50% for planned interchanges and bus priority measures , then marked protected cycle paths on bus routes, would probably do that bus network launch then opportunity to drop fares? may overtake the required mode shift
        real fast.

        1. While keeping AMETI the next busway going if they seriously review their car modelling during this rapid transformation period.Ditch regional traffic model with some extra buses to Panmure station and more bus symbols sooner to Howick with the bus network it is wrong and demand to motorway much less than dreamed.

      2. With the bus network launch shouldn’t they market goal of 1 in 3 out of a car and Auckland Run Free. Film motorway like today, explain congestion benefits of 1.25 billion per year, emission savings.Drop fare down to Calgary for rail,bus. Explain future spending benefits of the CFN to better mode shift and really sock it to the Ministry of Petroleum, Climate Change Advancement and Car Mode gets the cash.

    2. Marc, what we experience on holidays is quite obviously what happens when some significant proportion of people who usually drive don’t drive that day, lets say 20% less peak drivers. I guess your question is how do we make that stick? That is a tricky thought because those same people are clearly quite happy to put up with congestion and 60 minutes commutes day to day. Like yourself, they still do it when it’s bad, so how do we expect people to chose not to drive when it is better than that?

      To me their seems to be only two options. Either you restrict driving in some way to force people off the roads at peak times, basically reset what they are willing to put up with. The most common suggestion to do that is by adding on extra charges, congestion taxes. Make it extra expensive to drive and a proportion will decide it’s not worth it even if it’s flowing.

      The other way is to make the alternatives so much better that drivers chose not to drive even if congestion is less, because the alternative is even faster and easier. Thats what in investment in rapid transit can achieve. The Northern Busway is always faster than driving at peak times except when there is zero congestion on the odd holiday period. If it were a rail line with a direct tunnel under the harbour, it would always be faster.

      1. The northern busway and rail clearly show superior examples of transport planning and implementation and rail nowhere near full potential yet both with capacity and ability to the greater public to have access to it.Starting a bus network next and then focusing on rapid transit will make this alternative to car mode very attractive getting a mode shift. The 2020,2025,2030 congestion free network is the way to make this mode swap stick and be the right bang for buck investment in question. Speed and capacity and choice and done in a way that doesn’t need tolls if car mode spending stops as you have pointed out we need less cars. Add to that safe cycling and walking facilities and ferries. Unfortunately this sound transport planning not adopted yet?

      2. The guy pushing the small electric car kept quoting a study on motorbikes.

        “The Manukau based IT engineer cites a Belgian study that shows a 2.5 per cent shift from car to motorbike ownership eliminated motorway congestion.”

        If you just get people out of cars and into motorbikes, you’ll keep the levels down. Most trips are single-person. And a motorbike keeps all the reasons you want a car (stop where you want, faster and cheaper than a bus, no sharing a seat with a smelly person with Ebola).

        It doesn’t take much. Just get a few school trips down, or a few people on holday (or both) and the roads are congestion free. $80,000,000,000.00 to improve roads that are already congestion free doesn’t make sense. We just need to reduce the number of cars on them 20%. Places like Singapore do it with quotas and high taxes. I don’t have a solution (I have lots of ideas on them) but I get worked up when people want to spend billions on a plan that never actually acknowledges the problem.

        The problem is defined (by the two sides with any ability to fix it) as “not enough roads” or “not enough trains”. Nowhere is there real discussion on moving people. Where are they, where do they want to go, and how do we get them there.

        And nobody wants to fix the problem. My proof? Quote me the number of cars over the Harbour bridge this morning, yesterday morning, and last Friday between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. The numbers don’t exist. The actual “20%” drop in traffic can’t be measured because those with the money to do it are more interested in spending their money pushing trains or whatever, and not seeing how to efficiently use what’s there all ready. If the difference is 40%, then there’s likely not much we can do to achieve that without large changes. If the number is 5%, then we have a congestion free network that just needs very minor work to get it flowing freely.

        I think we’d have a congestion free road network with no changes other than signs and lines. But those that run the network get more money to fix it the worse it is, so we’ll never see actual traffic engineering used to maximize throughput.

        A solution I suggested elswhere before is separate the decision-making from the doing. The NZTA working on Auckland roads is asking a bunch of road builders what should be done about traffic. In the absence of a politician getting very hands-on, the answer will always be “more roads”. But if you separate out the building/management of roads in place from the decision making about people moving, you get better results. Fund NZTI (New Zealand Transportation Institute) to be the “brains” and research portion of transportaion, and NZTA takes orders from them. Put NZTI at AUT or MIT or Massey (Albany) and let them work on the problem with the fresh eyes of students and research that’s not as tied to implementation.

        That’s the best combination. I’m originally from Texas, and managed to study at TTI, which was the NZTI to TXDoT’s NZTA. And the combination worked much better for having real answers come from TTI (world-known transportation institute, founded as a funded extension to a university). I know it’s known in NZ. I’ve seen bad AT/NZTA decisions based on deliberate mis-representation of TTI studies. AT has referenced international studies for why they have meter lights on the motorways, but directly contradicts the study in their use of them. They “work” by smoothing the entering traffic. They are not designed to work, or studied to work for reducing the number of vehicles entering. AT says they are set to discourage road use (an unstudied and unproven possible side effect) by turning up the wait times long enough to queue to side streets. AT also says they set them long to resuce the number of cars on the road at some farther point, again, an unstudied unproven possible side effect.

        Red light cameras, and low speed limits are used in direct contradiction to studies to solve problems not supported by the local and international studies on them.

        The simple fact is that for about 10% of the year, the roads are congestion free. If we can do it for Dec/Jan, why can’t we replicate that the rest of the year?

    3. I can’t remember the exact number but traffic associated with education (schools and uni’s etc.) is said to account for something like 40% of all trips and recreational trips another decent chunk, perhaps 20%. Add to that all the workers who are on holiday now (like myself) and it means much less demand for transport (of all modes) in the morning peak.

  6. One simple thing which could be done now to allow faster west-to-Britomart peak journeys: run some of the peak services straight *past* Newmarket so that they don’t go through the station at all, and others would go west-to-south to both serve Newmarket and aim to develop a west-to-south and vice versa network. Avoiding Newmarket entirely might save up to ten minutes for the trains concerned?

    While we aren’t in the situation to developed a south/east to West market, without the CRL, we could still run trains in this way, to see if such a market could be seeded. Thots?

    1. Yes and a good time to do this is when Parnell Station opens, party to offset the delay from adding that station but also as it gives a place for west to south transfers for riders on trains that skip Newmarket. Shame it isn’t an island platform though.

      1. Well, I was thinking about this in terms of things we could do so now? Even in the presence of the CRL, a business case for west-to-south via Newmarket trains could still be made (I think this suggestion has been made before).

        1. I still think there is a case for a West to Panmure line via Newmarket. Especially once the AMETI busway is going gangbusters.

        2. Yes, and that would allow the Strand railway station to be put into use as well. There are jobs up that end of town which weren’t there ten or even five years ago.

        3. Think you are possibly getting a little too obsessed with one seat rides. With the frequency at 6 TPH on all lines, and of course greater where they overlap and all of these journeys become very efficient with a single transfer.

        4. Except in the case of Panmure and AMETI, if you want to go west it will take a bus, a transfer to Eastern line to Otahuhu and a further transfer to a southern line train. Now you can of course take the bus all the way to Ellerslie but if you work in Penrose, it still involves a double back and E-P Hwy, and Ellerslie town centre gets pretty slow.

        5. That “no single seat rides” track goes both ways.

          Under that same scenario you don’t need every train to go into a station e.g. Britomart in order to be able to use it.

          e.g. with Bryce’s AMETI (Panmure) to West routing, I’d suggest trains go from Panmure>GI>Meadowbank>Orakei>Parnell>Grafton> further West (skipping Britomart and Newmarket) and shaving a good 9 minutes of the trip time to Grafton. This means that Panmure is about 21 minutes from Grafton via this routing, thats a pretty fast way to link west and AMETI together.
          You couldn’t drive that sort of distance in that time and once the trains hit Grafton going west the normal pattern can resume.

          Once CRL opens that pattern can change to go Britomart>Aotea>K’Rd>Mt Eden>Out West if thats considered more feasible, or this train could avoid that route and run past CRL altogether.

          Avoiding Britomart and Newmarket in the Pre-CRL running would avoid the top 2 station bottlenecks in the network (which both require driver end changes). But also fill in a big gap.

          Doing this requires a transfer of trains at Parnell for those who want to go to either Britomart or Newmarket.
          So they don’t get a single seat ride. But this also prioritises those who use that service for other than going direct to Newmarket or Britomart – and there are lots of other trains that do that exact thing which this cross town one doesn’t need to replicate.

          And thats a more efficient running pattern than just about any other pattern you can get.

          And we know from last weeks station to station boarding data that Britomart/Newmarket nexus is not the main destinations many folks have (especially out west) on the trains.

        6. Here is the most recent post-CRL running pattern from AT. Note west south line. But remeber AMETI buses will go on from Panmure to Ellerslie, so staying on the bus is option among many.

      2. If only we could keep that Mainline Steam building there rather than bulldozing it (far nicer building than the old Newmarket stationhouse). It would make an amazing concourse, with cafe’s apartments etc. Daylight the aquifer feed stream to create shallow ponds for kids to play in…. Great links to the Domain etc.

  7. One of my friends lives in Northcote Point and has a daughter starting out in the Catholic school system. He just realised once the Skypath gets built, she could bike to St Mary’s, rather than bussing or getting a lift to Carmel College in Milford (and it would be a pretty safe ride for most of the way). It struck me as an example of once you get infrastructure built, it can start to get used in all sorts of ways you might not have anticipated.

    1. Once the SkyPath is in place, most of Northcote Point will be within 3.5km walking distance to St Marys College (which is the same distance I used to walk to school). Girls will be able to walk or cycle to a catholic school their entire school life, from Years 0 to 13. (First St Marys Northcote, then St Marys College)

      If NZTA/AT were to make a underpass/overpass under/over Curran St on ramp (as shown at, then the safest way to get to school would be riding along a path far away from cars until St Marys Rd, then left on London St and right on New St. (

      It would be great if your friend and their neighbours could make submissions supporting the SkyPath and proposing an underpass/overpass.

    2. Once the SkyPath is in place, then hopefully will connect with the SeaPath bikeway to Takapuna, which means there should be a nice flat (and scenic) route from Northcote point to Takapuna..

      From there, there is already one cycle/walkway (the existing one) towards Baywater/Devonport, but does show that a cycle/walking loop around Lake Pupuke could really connect hubs like Smales farm via schools/hospital to Milford, Takapuna and the city.

      Exciting times; would love to see a return to kids feeling like they could cycle to school. I cycle Milford to Victoria park area now, and the ferry is the expensive time wasting bit; imagine if car drivers were forced to all use a ferry?

  8. Well done Patrick and might I say well done to all the AKL transportbloggers who have made such an impact on Auckland politics. From this side of the ‘ditch’ it is a matter of envy as few of the transport commentators here have any real impact at all (possibly Robert Dow the exception).

    There were those of us here, who were worried Josh Arbury’s departure would spell the end but far from it.

    One comment, from afar – who is doing this job for Wellington or Christchurch? They need it too.

    1. Yup, Wellington, $2.5billion motorway from Levin to the Airport including a flyover at the basin plus a council that cant agree to a 7km cycleway fom island bay to the cdb if it means a few onstreet carparks are lost. Definatley in need of a blog like this one in the capital.

      1. We would be very keen to run posts on those cities any time, and do, but to do so well we need contributors who live in them. There is nothing like the knowledge you get from daily use of a city to improve the quality of the analysis.

        Anyone want to submit guest posts; we’re keen. Warning; it can take over your life.

        Hamilton has a good blog: Hamilton Urban Blog.
        And Welly has the Architectural Centre.

  9. Patrick, a couple of issues with your analysis.

    You very much view the roading as part of a city. You ignore that Auckland is a part of New Zealand and provides a natural blockage the severs Northland from the rest of New Zealand. The result is among the highest unemployment and poverty rates in New Zealand. The CRL is not going to connect Northland with the rest of New Zealand, roading will. Of course the CRL has a role to play but to ignore that we need roading improvements is plain silly.

    The second aspect is that people like yourself sell the CRL as being a silver bullet. The CRL is going to go down as a missed opportunity. You talk about the need for a third line but ignore the benefits of a 4 line transit system. A four line system would allow us to run western line services express from New Lynn to the CRL and also on the Southern Line from say Manukau. Finally, if the long term plan is to get rail from the North Shore to Aotea Square a 2 line CRL makes absolutely no sense because services from other lines will have to be cut (unless North Shore trains end at Aotea.

    Finally as with all your articles there is next to no financial analysis despite this project resulting in massive debt for a council that already has excessive debt. I think we both know the reason why this crucial element keeps getting missed.

    1. You’re ignoring, deliberately so perhaps, that financial analysis has already been done. Indeed, far more financial analysis than the majority of the RoNS.

    2. Indeed, tha CRL will not solve poverty in Northland, nor will it cure Ebola, or defeat Isis. You criticise an economic argument because it isn’t a financial report. Do you understand the difference? Then claim that instead we should spend a fortune (the land acquisition alone!) on doubling the track where it already is instead of extending and linking it up in order to maximise its efficiency.

      The CRL will make every train on the western line faster than any possible express train, that’s way better. It will also increase the speed and frequency on all routes. the third main, especially taken to the port, would give more than enough capacity for express services on our longest route, south. Four tracking would be an extravagance.

      Yes the CRL is the Silver Bullet to unlocking the wasted capacity in the existing but under-utilised rail network, and therefore is the key to most efficiently delivering a Rapid Transit Network in AKL (note not Northland).

      And yes it is likely that North Shore trains will end at Aotea, particularly as the line with arrive at right angles to the CRL.

    3. Matthew a couple of questions for you:
      – Have you asked for the same level of financial analysis on the roading projects that are currently proposed to ensure that the BCR are being generated and evaluated on an equivalent basis
      – If the CFN is the goal should the strategy be the next step to unlock current potential or the reinforcing of the Northern Busway with conversion to rail (Light or Heavy), given that any system enhancement moves the bottleneck, the question is where does it move it to and will the enhancement generate additional capacity beyond initial requirements
      – four main line, I agree, but how do you sell that when the concept of a third main line is meeting resistance

    4. Matthew, do you genuinely believe that the core reason that northland has high levels of poverty is that there is congestion in Auckland?

    5. Matthew, on the basis of your argument, the Auckland roading problem to solve Nortland’s poverty has already been completed; it’s the Vic Park tunnel. If it hasn’t worked it’s probably because the tunnel is north bound not south bound.

    6. What an absurd comment. Lets just work through some of the issues.

      No the CRL won’t directly help Northland but nor would any of the RoNS. Even Puhoi to Wellsford is entirely within Auckland’s boundaries and primarily about getting people to Warkworth, Matakana and Omaha faster. We have long advocated that it would be better to spend the money not on a motorway but on a series of improvements (bypasses of towns like Warkworth, extra passing lanes, curve realignments, centre barriers in dangerous spots etc.) to SH1 that could be extended further north than what’s proposed. That would have far more impact on Northland than a motorway not to mention far more doable (they still can’t find a suitable alignment north of Warkworth due to the poor ground conditions). Doing that would even employ people in Northland to do the work.
      Perhaps you also don’t realise just how few people use the existing road between Northland and Auckland. NZTA traffic counts show volumes on some stretches as low as 8,000 vehicles per day and even between Wellsford and Warkworth volumes are less than 10,000 per day. The traffic volumes don’t justify spending billions on upgraded roads when most of Northland’s transport demand is internal.

      No the CRL isn’t a silver bullet for transport in Auckland an no one has ever claimed it is. It is critical to getting the most out of the existing rail network though and is a core part of an integrated network.

      So you then complain about the cost but you also want to add extra cost to the project in terms of quad tracking. How about we consider that once we’re close to maxing out the network we have and in the mean time use the money that would cost to expand the PT network (bus or rail) further where it’s needed. Anyway not sure quite why an express train to New Lynn would be needed when from the centre of town it would only be just over 20 minutes away.

      Rail to the North Shore is likely to be completely separate to the existing network. From Aotea (which would allow a fast transfer to the existing rail network) it could eventually be extended somewhere where trains don’t exist now such as the central isthmus.

      We have covered of financial analysis in the past and the project has been subject to a huge amount of it over the previous years. The debt situation is blown up by the media trying to portray the council as in bad shape however the Auditor General doesn’t have an issue with the levels and nor have credit rating agencies with Auckland’s rating unchanged. Auckland typically had a much lower debt ratio than other councils so has had more room to move. From memory even with the CRL council’s debt repayments remain below a cap of 12% (would need to check exact figure though).

    7. “provides a natural blockage the severs Northland from the rest of New Zealand”

      I was intending driving the family from Franklin to Russell on Boxing Day for our annual vacation. I’m a bit alarmed to find that Northland has been severed from the rest of the country by Auckland. When did it happen?

  10. Imagine the western line having two services, one (named “Yellow”) running from Swanson to Newmarket, and the second (named “Red”) running from Henderson to Britomart. The Yellow service stops at all stops through to Henderson, then stops at Sunnyvale, Fruitvale Road, New Lynn, Avondale, Baldwin Ave, Kingsland and Grafton, skipping Glen Eden, Mt Albert, Morningside and Mt Eden, either terminating at Newmarket, or becoming a secondary service on the southern line.
    The Red service leaves Henderson six minutes after the Yellow service, and skips Sunnyvale, reducing the headway to four minutes. It then stops at Glen Eden, which the Yellow service skipped, restoring the headway to six minutes. By skipping Sunnyvale, Fruitvale Road, Avondale, Baldwin Ave, and Kingsland, and turning directly to Britomart, it should be possible to run the service in under 30 minutes compared with the 45 minutes currently scheduled. Passengers can transfer between services at Henderson, New Lynn, and Grafton. Henderson-Britomart in a little under 30 minutes.
    The Red service would require six trains, probably configured as six coaches, or 12 EMUs, while the Yellow service would require seven EMUs assuming that only a three coach set is required on the Swanson/Henderson leg, for a combined total of 19 EMUs. Running a ten minute schedule stopping at all stops, would require a commitment of at least 20 EMUs. Running costs are therefore reduced even as service is improved. Only cost would be some minor track laying at Henderson to stable one six coach unit between the main tracks. Benefit/Cost ratio anyone? I would venture the new EMUs, together with skipping Newmarket and five other stops, would go close to doubling the patronage on the western line within twelve months of introduction. The case for advancing the funding for the CRL would be overwhelming.

    1. Sounds like a real good idea Eric. The western capacity /time travel is of real concern if we want a big mode shift before CRL and NZTA being anti-helpful with no busway right now can’t type what I would like to say about that, I think I have already suggested the tunnel borer from an upwards direction would be appropriate. But then again they are working for the Ministry of Petroleum and Climate Change Advancement, mission accomplished, meeting GPS objectives.

      1. I think highlights that we need more plant right now to make up for network inefficiencies in both rail and with the bus network at least we can line them up and improve frequencies with some smarts, we need more firepower if we want to bring PT up from one star to at least a 3.5 to attract a good mode shift. Overall 34 more EMU 250m, 400 hybrid buses 240m – 40% of AT budget next 2 years, implement bus network add extra buses to future rapid network now it makes things interesting.

        1. What is a 30% mode shift in terms of patronage and % increase? Mt Roskill spur , Pukekohe electrification, 2020 plan next steps, are any on AT list apart from CRL?

        2. Don’t you guys see it. Your 2030 plan is the CRL of the bus network. For 20% budget next 2 years fire it up with 400 hybrid buses.

        3. I’d say we can probably get more bus lanes on these core routes than you think. But we need an express fleet to open these up. Panmure to Pak highway all the way to botany rd. Botany Rd to Ti Rakau. If really serious Ti Rakau Dr back to Pak highway.Then ellerslie highway to ellerslie and this is just Panmure Station. Then we went south down Te Irirangi and a cross to Puhinui Stn like your plan. Put about 50 buses on those 24/7 in tandem with what AT is doing.

        4. Even if we don’t get extra trains by 2016 or only a few on western line, we setup this express bus fleet and really give it some tarmac on a 2030 network costing $240m for the hybrid buses it is really going to boost bus network speed and capacity and get patronage into the system. Then demand will force more trains the next year, and no more excessive road building as clearly obvious don’t need it. 1 in 3 out of cars who knows? But at least as fast as we can buses to go without it being a rapid busway in 95% unfortunately.

    2. Thanx, this is more or less what I was getting at. Given that:

      * It is going to take a long time to build the CRL; and,

      * We need to have something in place if Britomart runs out of capacity first;

      The case for making much more use of Newmarket is actually quite a strong one. A Glen Innes-Grafton-New Lynn and vice versa service pattern would provide at least some of what the CRL is going to achieve. And – with a spur to Aotea – we could actually do it now.

      1. There are capacity issues at Newmarket too, and not just the station but at the junction of the NAL and the Newmarket branch. Certainly capacity would be improved at the station by western line trains skipping Newmarket, or at least some of them. But then look at these stats for Newmarket and south:

        As there is already significant demand for west south journeys [including Newmarket] it seems to me the best way to add capacity pre-CRL is to add west south direct services and sending the west-Britomart services direct passed Newmarket as that is still the main destination by a long distance. But only once we have 6 tph on the western.

        So 6 tph Swanson-BM [not Newmarket]
        Say 4 tph Henerson-Otahuhu

        East-West change at Britomart still

        This would require additional trains, and with 10 tph on most of the western the level crossings would need sorting or traffic holdups would be fairly drastic.

        Like this [thanks to reader Andrew who made the map]:

        1. If there was approx a 1 in 3 mode shift do we need post CRL fleet right now or can it be achieved with less than that ? Different routing like this. What are your thoughts? It sounds to me that we do.

  11. Comprehensive, thank you Patrick.

    Two minor niggles:

    ‘metro’ doesn’t mean much to the general public unless you explain it upfront.

    “across most of the city” would make your point better if you said ‘region’. Only local govt insiders call the whole area a ‘city’.

        1. Kiwis would be no less informed about what metro means than we are, and over here, metro is becoming the default word for high capacity rail system. Although in Sydney they got burnt so now it is Rapid Transit, probably a better term.

          The ABC even referrd to the attack in NY recently, the perpetrator went to a metro station in NY. a change from talking about subway everywhere.

  12. OK not sure if right place to put this comment or if it’s been discussed before…wouldn’t a new station of sorts at basically the Vector Arena (ie old station area) be warranted….there is nothing from Britomart all the way to Orakei (I know lots of the track through there is basically through water) and with perhaps potential population density that could be built/happening there wouldn’t it be great? I know lack of room and also the southern line joins there could be difficult but with train going slow there anyway must be possible without slowing journey’s too much. Maybe exactly in the old historical building site and some. The distance is pretty much the same as to the planned Aotea station.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *