With the year rapidly drawing to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred over the year. There is too much to squeeze into one post so this is the first of four posts reviewing the year – one each day – and will be followed on New Year’s Day with a look at the year ahead.

2015 has been a huge year for PT. While there haven’t been any major infrastructure changes, we’ve seen the completion and roll-out of a few projects but the important story is how people have responded to those changes. We’ve also seen significant progress on plans for the future.


Overall PT patronage for the year to the end of November was 81.1 million trips which is up over 6 million (8.1%) on the same point last year.

2015-10 - Total Patronage

By far the biggest story though has to be how people have been flocking to the use the trains in the wake of the roll out of electric trains. Patronage on trains has jumped from 12.3 million trips in November 2014 to 15.1 million in November 2015, an increase of 2.8 million trips or staggering 22.6% increase. We had already started to see patronage rising strongly at the end of last year and the question was how long it would continue. I had thought we might at 14-14.5 million trips by the end of the year but it looks like I under estimated by about a million trips. The thing that has surprised me the most about rail patronage has been just how consistently strong it has been, sustaining 20%+ increases all year. Just how long it can keep doing that will remain a question in 2016.

2015-11 - Rail Patronage

The growth is so strong that if trends continue we’ll hit the government’s target for the CRL in 2017, around three years early.

Of course buses still carry the majority of PT trips in Auckland and bus patronage for the year to the end of November was 60.4 million trips, an increase of 4.9% or 2.8 million the same as the increase on rail. Given we haven’t seen too much change with buses this year the result isn’t too surprising. The strongest areas of growth on buses remain the busway and frequent routes which is unsurprising and highlights the importance of the changes the new network will introduce. As such I expect we’ll see much stronger growth on buses in a year or two once the new network rolls out – something I’ll cover later in this piece.

Lastly the ferries have been shown some decent growth in 2015 with patronage up 10.5% to the end of November to 5.7 million trips. During the year AT changed the way they reported ferry patronage, splitting out exempt and contracted services. Exempt services are run fully commercially with no subsidy and are Devonport, Stanley Bay and Waiheke and these routes carry over ¾ of ferry patronage. Interestingly the strongest growth has been on the contracted services where AT have started to make a number service improvements and in November they had increased by 15.9% for the year.


AT completed the roll out of electric trains in July when the Western Line was the last to go fully electric. This was a little sooner than they had expected but was needed as the reliability of the diesel trains became a major issue – in June over 6% of all services were cancelled and over ¼ of those that did run were more than 5 minutes late. Since going all electric reliability has soared to record highs and in November 99% of services ran and over 95% of those arrived within 5 minutes of the timetable. The impact can be shown below.

2015-11 - Rail performance

The final train arrived in August and was celebrated at an event at the Wiri depot that included the Prime Minister.

Not everything with the electric trains has been smooth sailing though. The earlier roll out left many services without enough capacity and severe crowding – although that eased a little as more units came on stream. There have also been a number of issues that have meant the trains aren’t operating as well as they should do – such as hugely excessive dwell times. Despite a timeline to address the issues it doesn’t feel like a great deal has been done.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep
The first part of AT’s action plan to improve rail performance

Electrification to Pukekohe

Not much progress appears to have happened on extending the wires from Papakura to Pukekohe which is expected to cost over $100 million but AT have said they are looking at an interim solution of buying some new trains that include a battery to power them for the distance. At this stage all they’re saying is that the idea is looking promising.

New Network

This year has seen progress on a number of areas of the new network – although also repeated push back of when we’ll see key parts of it rolled out – South Auckland is now not likely to be rolled out till October 2016.

In March we had the outcome for the consultation for the network in West Auckland – which has been severely limited by the lack of priority on building interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu – and in the Franklin area.

In June AT launched consultation for the North Shore network

North Shore Proposed New Bus Network

In October they launched the last major consultation and the biggest of the lot covering the Isthmus and East Auckland.

Central Proposed New Bus Network

We will hear the outcome of these consultations in 2016.

For South Auckland AT finally started the tender process for the South Auckland network and their requirements for buses going forward will see the quality improve over time. We will hear about the outcome of the tenders in 2016 and so far all AT will say is they are happy with the level of response they’ve had.

Lastly the first of the new network rolled out a few months ago on the Hibiscus Coast. Part of that was also the extension of the Northern Express service to Silverdale. So far AT have reported that patronage is up about 10% in the area which is a promising start and should only improve once integrated fares roll out.

Double Deckers

One of the issues in 2015 has been that many key bus routes have struggled with capacity. We frequently heard stories of people on some routes (such as Mt Eden Rd) watching multiple buses sail past them completely full. In September AT announced that bus operators were buying 53 new double deckers for use in Auckland, many of them being built in Tauranga. Including the original from a few years ago there are already three on the Northern Express with many more due in January and one being used by Howick & Eastern. Unfortunately, most of the ones for NZ Bus and Howick & Eastern are not likely to arrive till after the rush in March.

Northern Express IMG_4447

Integrated Fares

AT continue to work on integrated fares with the latest go-live date being July 2016. AT consulted on a zonal system including expected prices. This was confirmed in August although they say they are still working in more detail about some of the boundary issues identified. The changes indicated will see the cost of PT travel reduce for most people although there are some exceptions.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

Simplifed Fares Prices

Light Rail

The year kicked off with a huge surprise from Auckland Transport – they’ve been seriously looking at building a light rail network on the isthmus. It stems from the realisation that even with the CRL, the number of buses in the city centre from areas not served by rail will be too much for the streets to cope with. As such they’ve been looking at ways to deliver more capacity and have decided that light rail on the isthmus is the best option. Over time it could see tracks laid down Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd – some of Auckland’s original tram routes.

Town Hall LRT_800

One of the interesting aspects of this proposal is just how fast AT are talking about moving, they’re suggesting the first tracks could start being laid in the next year or two.

RPTP potential LRT + RTN Map

Given the reasons for it’s also hard not to see increased pressure coming on ways to address the huge number of buses coming from the North Shore.

Northern Busway Extension

One positive piece of news was that the NZTA will now be including an extension to the Northern Busway to Albany in their massive motorway works planned for the area. When the government announced their accelerated motorway package back in 2013 they specifically left busway extension out of the programme despite advice from the NZTA to build it. It’s still some years away from construction but it’s great that it’s back on the agenda.

Northern Corridor - July Busway Extension

AMETI Busway

Not a great deal seems to have happened with the AMETI busway in public this year. AT had been set to go for resource consent but as far as I’m aware they’re still finalising some details. Early in the year they announced they would delay the Reeves Rd Flyover and use the money to accelerate the next stage of the busway to get it to Botany sooner. Unfortunately, a few months later they announced the original announcement was not correct and delaying the flyover was just one option being considered. I’ll talk more about the flyover saga in a separate post.


Lastly I of course have to mention the CRL. The project has progressed this year and the project officially started a few days ago with early works beginning on Albert St to move services in advance of tunnelling work. We also learnt a lot more about the project including station designs.

Aotea Station - Victoria Entrance

The one major disappointment with the project has been that AT cut the Beresford Square entrance for the K Rd station from the current plans in a bid to save $30 million. Work will still be done in the area to enable it to be opened later but we feel it should be done at the same time.

We hear that the government is close to committing to an earlier start to the project which would be a welcome piece of news.

Overall it’s been a big year for PT in Auckland and the future looks promising. Anything you think I’ve missed from my round up?

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  1. Thanks Matt for a comprehensive roundup. If I was to summarise it in a single sentence though, it would be this:

    Rail is booming, we’re not building busways.

    1. The absence of the Western Busway and the delays to AMETI are both real concerns. Transport is the number one local government issue. The possible perception that the Council is improving things in the central city, but is ignoring large parts of the city, is very real.

      People wonder where their rates go, and they are generally satisfied when built things such as libraries, pools, and visible transport infrastructure. When such things are absent, they grumble or revolt.

  2. Fits in with increased bus patronage, but I’ve noticed a huge gain in ‘turn up and there’ll be a bus in a few minutes’ on both Sandringham and Dominion Rd routes this year. Including weekend and that time when you’re heading into town at rush hour and all the buses used to say ‘not in service’.

  3. A billion dollar project in the CRL and they take out one of the most important stations to save $30 million. That is classic New Zealand. Cheap.

    To me, one of the most important benefits of the CRL is the opening up of areas of Auckland through mass transport, benefitting business and being positive for economic growth. I’m not sure the deletion of Newton and now Beresford stations will aid this.

    1. K’Road Station is still being built but only with one entrance at Mercury Lane with beresford entrance being “built” at a later date.

      Newton was cancelled because the view shaft regulations mean that less devopment can occur, that making the junction at Mt Eden goes both west, city and South hard I.e a train wouldn’t be able to go to Grafton from Newton. Also their would be heavy disruption and it would be the hardest station to build. Also with LRT network the station may not be needed as it covers the area.

      1. Maybe so, but cutting out Beresford, is as JeffT pointed out, extreme short-termism – for a *mere* $30m saved. $30m is absolutely peanuts on a project this size.

        And even if those savings are real, allowing for the likely construction cost increase when the station access is added in later, it will render that $30m “saving” a distant memory and shows blind faith and wishfulness in the extreme on the part of the accountants.

        Anyway why subject the users of K-Rd station, who already have crap access to it via Mercury Plaza, to another extended construction round, so that they have to put up with even more inconvenience and construction activity for many months, after K-Rd station opens, as they build the Beresford St entrance in the future. The one they should have built when they built K’Rd station. And all at a time when K’Rd patronage will be far far higher than it will be before it opens. So the cost of working on a “live” CRL station, to add another access way – even if its done out of sight will be way more than the $30m “saved” by not building it earlier.

        All I can think is that the new Auckland Panuku Development Agency is delaying the Beresford St entrance so that they can retain/snap up the adjacent properties for far less than they would have to pay if they all had nearby CRL station access.
        Instead of it being across K’Rd and down the back alley.

        And then Panuku can re-develop these sites for themselves, post CRL and Beresford St CRL access opening. That is however a little too much “Pollyanna” for my liking on this project I think.

        1. I don’t disagree at all, just wanted to point out only the entrance was going not the whole station as Jeff may have thought 🙂

    2. I’m most exicted about the Light Rail I think it will allow us to pedestrianise the city like nothing else and once we build one line it will be letting a genie out of a bottle it will be so popular the network will be quickly fast tracked not just for Auckland but Wellington to just like Gold Coast etc. as long as not at expense of CRL 🙂

      1. LRT will be a game changer for Queen St and environs without a doubt. And as long as the LRT stops have good easy walking links to/from the CRL stations at Mt Eden, K’Rd and Aotea then the two could become a true catalyst for change beyond what either alone could achieve.

        The next city after Auckland that needs LRT is not Wellington, but Christchurch. But while CERA and Brownlee have their fingers in the Christchurch reconstruction and also eCan pies it will never happen.
        But Christchurch would be mad to ignore what LRT is doing to the Gold Coast.

        Why? because its the second city of scale in NZ and can and should be planning and acting like it is, not acting like its a country bumpkin town which is how the Government and Brownlee views it now.
        That view is out of date by many decades.

        1. Another interesting article on the theme of Christchurch should be acting like NZ’s second international city of scale is by young architect theorist -Charles Collins who proposes; “The design capitalises on Christchurch’s inability to host cruise ships and the desire for light rail through integrating a purpose-built cruise berth, terminal and facilities for the Diamond Harbour ferry with a commuter rail system between Lyttelton and Christchurch’s CBD, all within a single structure.” http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/75252348/A-Great-Place-To-Be-Christchurch-should-explore-alternative-anchor-project

        2. hopefully auckland lrt is the catalyst for both Wellington and Christchurch lrt. the capital needs a much smaller network (only one route really).

          1. I hope the grown up conversation about urbanism in Auckland is a catalyst for new conversations about urbanism in our other cities : )

          2. I think the next big priority should be Hamilton. Wellington doesn’t need much investment after Light Rail to the Airport via CBD, after that is mainly Network tweaks like Integrated Fares/Network & Smart Ticketing. Hamilton will grow over next 20 years, more so if Auckland’s Housing Crisis doesn’t get sorted. Hamilton already has rail tracks, and a few upgrades which would benefit freight as well could set Hamilton up for the next 20-30 years before it is too late & expensive. Pre-emptive Transit Orientated Development.

            1. Upgrade Hamilton Underground Station to allow two through tracks & 2 terminus tracks. Stations to start off with at Morrinsville, Te Awamutu, Airport, Uni, Te Rapa (Base), Ellicott Road & Cambridge 2. Electrify & double track Te Rapa – Central – Morrinsville/Cambridge/Te Awamutu.
            3. Add new spur to Airport & University green land most of the route can still be done at grade if done now.
            4. Network is now Te Rapa to Morrinsville via Central & Uni. and Cambridge – Te Awamutu via Central & Airport.
            5. Make sure all growth occurs in this corridor, if more area is needed then expand rail to Greenfield at Waitoa. Industry should be zoned around Airport spur.
            6. Electrify to Puke & procure intercity EMU’s run to Brit via Airport. (Would be done in conjunction with third main in Auckland, Electrifying to Puke, CRL & Southwest Airport Line). Service unlikely to work without the above projects) Not just great for Auckland but Hamilton as the Northern Waikato towns could be TOD’d as well with people from Huntly etc. easily able to commute to Hamilton.

          3. My view is Tauranga is the simmering issue. Big growth there, and to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually threatened Wellington and Christchurch for the second city position. It’s got a lot of advantages, namely climate, room to grow, a strong port and proximity to The Waikato and Auckland.

            However they’re going right down the traffic and congestion path, following Aucklands mistakes. If Tauranga was cover they would be securing RTN corridors now, not filling up with traffic then trying to retrofit it at huge cost.

          4. If you go to interest.co.nz and look at regional residential building consent charts for Canterbury versus Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. http://www.interest.co.nz/charts/real-estate/building-consents-residential

            You will see quite clearly that Canterbury is the faster growing region for every period in the last 12 years. At times Waikato has got close but it has never grown faster. The Bay of Plenty is not even close.

            This is not to say that Tauranga or Hamilton are not nice small to medium sized cities that also need support to develop their own urban culture.

            But it is important to be clear about which cities are what size and how fast they are growing. In the NZ context. Auckland is our fast growing big city. Wellington and Christchurch are our mid sized cities with Christchurch being our second fastest growing city (absolute figures and as a per capita basis), Wellington although relatively high income is not fast growing. Hamilton and Tauranga are small to mid sized cities that are also growing quite quickly.

          5. Thanks Brendon, I’ll check out the historic building stats (although they are perhaps less relevant than simple population growth). Nonetheless, I’m making predictions about the longer term future here. In my opinion Tauranga has the best conditions for sustained growth over time.

          6. Nick

            I completely agree Tauranga also needs to prepare, however I don’t think it will be as easy to set up RTN’s like Auckland & Hamilton. The issues being their is a rail line misses a lot. My strategy would be this though its only thoughts I am no expert 🙂

            1. Have a more direct route to the port, If we have a new bridge for freight follow a more SH2 alignment on a direct crossing to the port this would speed up freight times, and free up most of the cities central track for passenger rail free of freight. Essentially working as a third main without having to do one.
            2, Have a spur to the Airport, and either work with Bay of Plenty Polytechnic or another institution to relocate closer to the rail & centre, they would get a station out of it. This place would eventually turn into a BOP Uni over time. Also lots of TOD around South of SH2 at Kairua.
            3. BRT on on SH2 Wairoa River until Rail at Drive Cres, SH2A & SH29 until rail at Phoenix Heights or BRT would just go straight into city depending if the rail transfer would be worth it etc. Bus lanes up Cameron Rd maybe?
            4. Double Track where necessary.

          7. Brendon I do think that this is the best case; that the obvious successes of urban policy decisions in Auckland will support their application in our other cities, especially CHCH, cos right now the opportunity for it is so strong in AKL. But of course agitation locally is also vital. It is great what you and Glen K and others are doing there, and any win will lead to more. Same for Wellington. Perhaps there’s chance of spillover to HAM and TAU of more than just people from AKL, but it is hard to escape the thought that a certain amount of ‘self-sorting’ isn’t going on right now; there is some evidence that the anti-urban, especially the anti-urban down-sizing baby boomers may be cashing up and heading down the line…. while their opposite are buying apartments on Hopetoun, Wynyard, Grey Lynn and Grafton…. there are interesting movements all over the place at the moment. I’m not optimistic for better urban form forward planning in BOP and Waikato, especially as both are getting way over spending on Highways pro-rata via the RoNS. There’s a disastrous driving double-down happening in those places; which will reinforce habits and further disperse form.

        3. Yes, you would want 1) Light Rail to the Northwest down Memorial Ave most likely, then 2) Use existing tracks to create services from Darfield to Rangiora & Lyttleton. Spend 5-10 years growing the Network and concentrating nearly all growth in the two above corridors. After a period of time you would then consider a CRL like project to put rail in CBD as well as electrification.

        4. Greg, Wellington and Chch metros are effectively the same population. Wellington is much better placed to benefit immediately from LRT due to its strong PT spine and existing bus congestion issues. Not to say LRT won’t work in Chch but Wellington is the better proximal fit by far.

  4. Not sure how accurate that graphic is, but it seems to suggest that Constellation will get not one, but two new mainline platforms with the Albany busway extension. All I can say to that is great! I’d assumed they were going to make it the same layout as Smales Farm, but that would probsbly be a little light on capacity.

    1. Need to get the busway over to the western side of the motorway before Albany. Having to go out of the way, especially once it is inevitably extended further north, would be silly.

        1. Cross under or over so it’s seamless. Like a rail line would. Not where the buses have to leave one side to cross the motorway, including intersections, and then cross the motorway again.

        2. The current route shows the busway running down the eastern side of the motorway with the station being a virtual branch on the western side.

    2. There is the space for it which is good. The H-shaped building being the existing bus station. Got to wonder though if an overhead path is the way to go? Would have thought a cut n cover tunnel would be cheaper to build and not involve as many stairs (running just below ground level rather than 4.5m up to allow double-decker buses to pass underneath). The other good thing is that it will de-clog that intersection on Constellation since the buses will fly over the top of it all.
      Regarding linking up with Albany, one big consideration has to be about future conversion to rail…. Straight rail = fast, corners = slow trains.

      1. The current busway is only designed to take light rail not heavy rail, so corners are not such a problem.

        Still with all NEX buses being double deckers, and improved frequency you can get quite some throughput even with some corners. [about 12,000 passengers per hour]. LRT from memory can start at 12,000 passengers per hour and go up.
        so its not a wasted effort to build patraonge using rubber wheels and bring in the steel wheels later on.

        1. Not true, the Busway could also most likely handle Automated Rapid Transit Metro (Medium Rail). Reducing curving is important as it will stack up by the time you get to Silvedale 🙂

  5. AT talking of laying tracks in a year or two ( Queen St LR)?

    And where is the funding ?. Its impossible isnt too strong a word. The political mood in Auckland will likely overturn the current councillors who are in favour of heavy rail, while they wont walk away from the CRL, there will be no money repeat no money for another rail based system in the next 10 years.

    1. Don’t be so sure, there are already a lot of noises about funding coming for it. Project is likely to be a PPP and paid off over time by slight increases in funding and opex savings.

    2. As Matt said, this is likely to be a PPP. As such PPP’s are “off the books”. And if its good enough for central government to use them, why not local Government – where appropriate.

      And while PPP’s have a bad reputation (mostly well deserved, both here and overseas, especially for toll road PPPs) as being expensive and bad for the public purse.
      As far as PT goes, Auckland already has a massive PPP on its bus network. So replacing a big chunk of the central portion with a PPP using LRT instead of buses is pretty much revenue neutral for the council [Actually AT who are responsible for this].

      While the eventual form the PPP will take, it would most likely be a “BOOT” – (Build, Own, Operate, Transfer), PPP which means that the private part pays for, owns and operates the LRT network. While AT pays for it via a higher per passenger subsidy.
      The idea being that the Private part of the PPP, unlike say Serco with their prison PPP has a lot of skin in the game, so they have every incentive to get it right.

      At the end of the PPP agreement AT will (presumably) own the LRT network that is built. As far as a PPP goes, this is almost the ideal text book case of how it should be done, and done right.

      So, it won’t impact council rates much, if at all, so why the politicans will run a mile from it as you suggest seems to me to be totally out of touch with how AT works – its arms length from Council by design, so that politicians can’t and won’t meddle in operational decisions like this.

      This decision is really for AT to make and be responsible for. And all the costing I’ve seen so far indicate that it will deliver a superior solution to Auckland for the same total $ spent over the life of the PPP as compared to the staus quo option of shovelling more money as subsidies down NZ Bus’ or other bus companies throats forever, which is the only alternative right now.

      Like the AT HOP v Snapper debate, politics could yet intervene and be very nasty if NZ Bus loses out to its crown jewel routes and throws its toys out of the cot and seeks a Ministerial review like they did when they lost the HOP tender 5 years ago.

      All up this is nothing to fear, and may well mean that NZ gets to use world leading technology “down under” from a world leading LRT systems provider.

      And how is that going to be a problem?

      And of course if it succeeds, those same politicians (local and central) will line up to be front and centre of any photo ops, showing how clever they were to approve this PPP in the first place.

  6. I’m beginning to think that, not withstanding the quicker travel time west-central, for all the disruption in building the crl, we’re only getting one decent new station, Aotea, out of it? The K Road one’s now down a back alley. If the patronage projections are low, they are helping to fulfill that by placing the second-most important station down the bottom of Mercury Lane.

    Why don’t AT be honest and show the gradient of where that station is. Down a steep hill?

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