This is the fourth in a series of six posts, looking at a collection of articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan. They come from a booklet I stumbled across while in the Takapuna Library one day. The first post is here, the second here and the third here.

This was published in the NZ Herald on 26 June 1975

Millions Vehicles Strong Argument for Rail

As far back as 1927, it was realised that making greater use of suburban railway service, with a short part of it underground, was essential if Auckland were to have a satisfactory public transport service.

In 1927 the British consultants Merz and McLennan, employed by the New Zealand Government, urged immediate planning of extended suburban railway services for Auckland.

Nothing further was done until 1949, when the Government asked another British firm, Sir William Halcrow and Partners, to report on the best way of overcoming the traffic congestion already becoming evident, and how to prevent its getting worse in future.

They recommended what is known as the Morningside tunnel railway deviation scheme.

This scheme was adopted by the then Labour Government in 1950, and borings and other preliminary work were under way by August, 1954.

Then a question of railway or motorway priorities arose. Mr (later Sir) Stanley Gooseman, the then Minister of Works, publicly stated that Auckland must give priority for a time to planning and constructing a number of motorways to connect up, through the isthmus, the motorways that were being constructed and which were approaching the outer periphery of the metropolitan boundaries.

In 1954 the then Auckland Regional Planning Authority (not the ARA, which was not established until 1963) asked its technical advisory committee to report on the matter.

After 10 months of concentrated effort, a 26-man team of local body and Government department engineers, planners and other experts s produced, in 1955, the Master Transportation Plan for Metropolitan Auckland.


The report recommended connecting motorways should have immediate priority over railway extensions because no provision had been made to join up the motorways already under construction.

The report also recommended that rail access from the city (Victoria St) to the present railway station be provided as soon as possible. It also said that planning for a more comprehensive suburban railway system should be resumed when the recommended motorways were under construction.

These recommendations were adopted by all the local bodies in Auckland and by the Government.

After haggling over the sharing of a small proportion of local body costs, because of the seriousness of the congestion in Auckland, the Rt Hon. Hugh Watt, chairman of the National Roads Board in 1960 offered special grants to the city, Mt Eden and Mt Albert to get the motorway project started.

It was expected to be completed by 1970, but as a result of shortage of National Roads Board finance, work slowed down and the whole plan is not now expected to be completed until the year 2010 — at least 40 years behind schedule.

In the meantime, by 1964, it had become obvious that, even when completed, the isthmus motorway and roading system would never be able to cope with the increasing number of motor vehicles expected in Auckland in the next few and later years.

The American consultants, De Leuw Cather and Co. (one of the most experienced in the world) were engaged by the newly formed Auckland Regional Authority in 1964 to advise on roading and transport requirements in the region.

In their 1965 Report on a Transport System for Auckland, after full examination of an all-bus system, and a combination of buses with railway arteries, the consultants recommended a bus/rail plan.

This plan, subject to satisfactory financial agreements and other details between the ARA and the Government was approved by all the local bodies in Auckland and the Government itself.


Before the last general election, the Labour Party promised, if it became the Government, it would provide the capital repayment of loans and interest on the capital for the railway part of the De Leuw Cather bus/rail rapid transit plan.

Since then. the Labour Government has several times unequivocably repeated this solemn election promise to the people of Auckland.

This is the situation today: In July, 1973. Mr Watt, then Minister of Works, explained the Government’s proposals to the members of the ARA. The authority, after long consideration, agreed to accept the Government’s offer and to join with it in a detailed examination of costs, revenues, number of passengers expected, and all other aspects of the plan.

The purpose was to prepare firm estimates of capital and operating costs, revenues and routes, as a basis of final negotiations with the ARA regarding responsibility for capital costs of the new buses, depreciation on the bus and railway parts of the plan, and operating losses (if any).

At the time of writing, these discussions between representatives of the Government and the ARA had been arranged for June 20, and by the time this article is published, both parties should be well on the toward final agreement in principle which would have to be finally ratified the Government and the ARA.

The above brief historical resume of the situation reveals important facts:

  • Because the city and eight boroughs are situated on an isthmus – almost an island – all traffic north, south, east or west of the isthmus must pass through the central part of it, thus throwing very heavy demands on it for extra and more expensive roading.
  • As far back as 1927, it was realised that the isthmus could not physically provide the motorways and roading that would be required for the volume of tratT1c expected by the end of the century, if all, or most of the it, used private cars. Much greater use of public passenger transport by buses served by suburban railways would be required.
  • In 1955 it was expected that an all-roading system would be sufficient to meet the needs of the million population expected in 1986. Yet within nine years, in 1964, it was realised:
    1. The million population mark would be reached earlier than 1986 about 1982.
    2. The number of motor vehicles in Auckland was increasing at about twice the expected rate, and
    3. Urgent action would have to be taken to avoid congestion on the inner area roads and possible traffic paralysis at peak morning and evening hours within the next few years.

Let us have a look at some of today’s facts really to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

In 1974, there were about 427,000 motor vehicles registered in Auckland; this was an increase of more than 27,000 over the previous year.

If this rate is continued there will be over 600,000 motor vehicles for a population of about one million in greater Auckland in 1981-82.

At that rate, by 1995, there will be over a million vehicles in the Auckland metropolitan area.

The sheer weight and volume of such a traffic load, using the motorways, roading and street system of the isthmus will greatly increase roading maintenance costs and cause hopeless congestion, pollution, accidents and delays throughout the metropolitan area.


The Master Transportation Report already referred to predicted that the cost of congestion on the roads would be between $10 million and $20 million yearly between 1960 and 1970.

Allowing for the same rate of increase of motor vehicles and congestion up to 1981 (the year the bus/ rail plan should come into the cost Of operation), congestion to private motorists, ARA transport division, and commercial operations in the urban area will be between $90 million and $180 million yearly.

This is a cost to the community which directly increases the cost of living to everyone in the region.

Probably the greatest obstacle to be overcome now is the opposition of some people who possibly have never seen or ridden in a modern electric railway coach.

What they do not know is that over 80 cities in other parts of the world with populations from as low as 100,000 up to 13 million are building new, or extending existing, suburban railway services. Also that in the United States, the Federal Government has almost brought to a halt grants for motorway construction, while make large grants to public authorities of billions of dollars yearly for modern rapid transit facilities.

It is useless thinking of the “good old days” when motorised traffic had almost free use of uncongested, little-used roads. Everyone concerned must think about the congestion in the years from 1980 onward — at least to 1995.

Motorways and roading alone trying to cater for an all-roading transport system will be hopelessly inadequate to serve satisfactorily the one and a quarter million people, and up to one million motor vehicles, present indications show may be in Auckland by that time.

Only a modern bus network served by the immense carrying capacity of suburban high speed railways in the main corridors. north, south, east and west of the urban area, will satisfy the transport needs of the near and further distant future.

It’s both interesting and sad that so many of the issues raised 40 years ago are the same ones we’re still taking about today. How different would Auckland be today if a full rapid transit network like this had been built?

Auckland Rapid Rail Plan 1972

The next is titled Rapid-Rail Helps City Development

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  1. Equally, imagine how different Auckland would be if the motorway network were finished? The motorway network as originally imagined still isn’t finished in 2016, and won’t be finished for the foreseeable future. If it was, moving around Auckland would be much easier, notwithstanding the fact that we now have probably more people than the motorway network was designed to be able to cope with. Having said that, I agree that it would be useful to have rapid transit. It just shows how little money New Zealand has had as a country, we just haven’t had the income to put into all the required infrastructure.

        1. That is nonsense to say that. For Auckland properly engineered raiding would solve congestion. We are a very small city with relatively very small volumes.

        2. If you think so, you should checkout the peak flows (measured in passengers) on the rail lines and the NEX, and figure out how much extra motorway lanes these people would fill up if they’d commute by car.

        3. Where is your evidence: where in the world does this work perfectly? 26 lane congested and federally subsidised freeways in Houston certainly don’t make a convincing argument.

        4. Ricardo can you clarify something – when you talk about solving congestion, do you mean creating a situation where people can easily get to where they need to go, or specifically that they can easily get there by driving their cars? I think most people here think in terms of the first definition, in which case it’s blindingly obvious that the answer is to prioritise PT, as that is by far the most efficient way to move people.

          However if you’re thinking of the second, that the important thing is that people can drive their cars without being held up, then frankly there’s no real answer to that. Although I suppose chucking a few more roads at it is probably the only tool you’ve got.

        5. Public transport is not always able to solve the situation “where people can easily get to where they need to go”. If I could get places easily, I would be happy to use public transport in a few situations, like going for a swim. This would take me a 14 minute drive or a 51 minute bus ride.

          The reality is that often cars are often the most efficient to way to move people. Therefore we need enough roads to make that possible.

          There are also situations where public transport is more efficient, especially peak hours if you’re going to the CBD.

          Neither is the panacea, they are complimentary.


        6. No one, absolutely no-one is saying rip up the roads. In fact we are saying that they will work better FOR DRIVERS when the alternatives have networks as complete as the existing road ones are. This is simply a fact; the better the alternatives the lower the demand on driving systems; all systems will in fact regulate the others. This is know as the Nash Equilibrium.

          Traffic congestion is a function of our imbalanced networks not a lack of roadspace.

          Ricardo is a traffic engineer, and an especially old-fashioned and unsophisticated one at that; he’s simply ‘talking his book’.

        7. Ricardo I have learnt two things from this blog. 1/ No matter how much traffic roads carry they are no damned good. 2/ regardless of how few people travel by train they are wonderful because their success is measured by their potential capacity not their actual patronage.

        8. stefanolson, if cars are the most efficient way to move people, why do we need more roads? Sure the need for more roads demonstrates their inefficiency?

        9. Cars are efficient, because they get you from where you are to we want to go in the most direct way. Most of the time that is way more efficient than public transport. However when you add lots more people and lots more cars, the efficiency reduces. Especially when you haven’t built enough roads, as we haven’t Auckland in most places. We still haven’t even finished the motorway plan from the 1960s! The problem we have in Auckland has been exacerbated by the current mayoralty and wanting to move everything into the central city. A distributed city would allow people to live closer to where they work and thus travel a smaller distance, also reducing risks of congestion.

          The value of public transport occurs when lots of people are trying to travel to the same place, for example getting to work in the city. If I was working in the city I think I would be very unlikely to drive, because it is more efficient to take public transport.

        10. So cars are efficient, so long as we are the only ones using them. Yet we live in a city full of people. We haven’t even completed the rail network from the 1960s master plan yet either. Haven’t even started in fact. No wonder the roads are so congested when we have built the more efficient alternatives.

          If you look at the travel times maps from the census data on Matts L latest post about the Rural Urban Boundary. You will see a dispersed city does not lead to reduced travel times, in fact quite the opposite as everybody has to travel all over the place. Having AT based at Henderson does not make a traffic engineers travel time from her family home in Papakura any quicker, or should only westies be allowed to study traffic engineering at Uni?

        11. Stefan – a plan is just that a plan, to make sure it is possible to build infrastructure as it becomes required. There was also a plan for an extensive rapid transit network, I assume you think this should also have been built by now?

        12. I’d love to see something like that, but the problem with the rapid transit network is not just the capital cost, it’s the ongoing running costs. We already have a council that is right at the top of its debt ceiling as it is, if there are additional loss-making activities like that we could be an even more trouble.

          Unless you have a more dense population the financials of that network would be difficult to justify.

          Having said that I think that they absolutely should have allocated space for where future lines should go, because it will be required at some stage. Unfortunately we have councils that waste lots of money on unnecessary things leaving less money for necessary things like this.

        13. I don’t think that everybody does have to travel all over the place. I very infrequently leave the North Shore, because it has the things that I need reasonably close by, so I don’t cause congestion at peak times.

          Even with a rapid transit network it will take a very long time to get from Papakura to Henderson, so I would never recommend that. My wife let works on the North Shore so therefore we live on the North Shore and when deciding where we are going to live we take into account how long it will take to get to work.

          It appears to me that densification has increased road congestion (not talking about highly dense near transport hubs, but subdividing). Each property needs 1 or more cars in order to get where they need to go, because not everywhere is feasible to get to with public transport in a reasonable period of time.

          Yesterday at various times during the day it was pouring down with rain. In order to take a bus somewhere I would have to have to have waited for a bus in the pouring rain and then walked a long way at the other end in the rain. Cars are most of the time more convenient for most people

        14. Stef. Yes. Private vehicles are tremendously effective at point to point travel. So long as everyone in even a moderately sized place aren’t trying to do it all at once. Then their spatial inefficiency starts to undermine their effectiveness (congestion). Similarly, quality Transit, especially on its own right of way Rapid Transit, is, as you’ve noted, highly effective AND efficient when there are numbers of people travelling in similar directions, and when there is a viable network for them to access sufficient destinations. So both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, in this of course they are complementary.

          But note, and this is the vital point now in AKL. The first system has a declining effectiveness in a growing and spatially constricted city, just as, happily, the other has an increasing efficiency in exactly this situation (its effectiveness is a function of what services are provided). This is where we are at in AKL: the need is pressing to add the complementary city-shaped network.

          And importantly, and this is what escapes Riccardo and NZCID, this is also the most effective AND most efficient (value for money) way to keep the existing and substantially complete road network working and working efficiently. Maximising its throughput of high value road traffic ( especially truck, trade, emergency) while diverting low value SOV trips to the other, complementary, networks, instead of clogging the arteries for these vehicles.

        15. Funny thing is how people laud how cars are so efficient and fantastic in the same breath as saying that traffic is terrible and the system doesn’t work and needs widening and expansion, etc.

          Public Transport: The existing bus didn’t work that one time for me when it rained >>> Public Transport is always a failure and can never work anywhere
          Cars: Traffic is terrible, there’s never any parking, they didn’t build the big motorway scheme >>> driving is awesome and will always be awesome… by the way can we spend ten billion dollars to fix the awesomeness?


        16. Stefan – roads also have significant operating costs, they just usually end of directly in the hands of the users, but they are still real costs. Every time I catch the train I save running costs on fuel, and more importantly get close to the point my wife and I only need one car, which is where the serious savings are.

          Also you appear to be overlooking the costs of completing the network proposed 60 years ago. With the eye watering cost of current and proposed projects and the subsequent reduction in BCR it is clear that we have already built the easy roads, and anything from this point on is going to be extremely expensive. On the other side of the coin the population is growing and getting more dense, and use of rapid transit continues to grow rapidly, meaning the farebox recovery continues to cover ever more of the operating costs.

        17. Perhaps this is obvious, but I recommend you don’t drive to the swimming pool during rush hour.

          But the example illustrates the problem we currently have with PT for our everyday trips. If the restaurants, shops, swimming pool, etc. were clustered in a town centre, then we could get on a bus to that town centre and do our businesses there. But that’s not the case currently, and most PT itineraries will have a 20 to 30 minute walk on one or both ends. So even with some congestion, the bus will still be much slower than driving.

          Be careful with how you compare though: for transit, Google Maps gives you the door-to-door time. For driving it only shows the driving time, and you’ll have to add some extra time for finding parking and walking to the other door. Finding parking at a mall on Saturday afternoon can add a lot of time to your journey.

          Talking about game theory, without bus lanes the Nash equilibrium is when everybody drives and nobody takes the bus, since the bus is never faster than the car. The best outcome for any individual is when he drives and everybody else takes the bus (which of course will never happen). If it’s really busy (rush hour towards the CBD) bus lanes will change that equilibrium towards taking the bus.

        18. @roeland ha, yes I would never attempt to go in peak times. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother to go after about 12 PM on the weekend because it’s just too slow getting past Greville Road. I’m very thankful for the NZTA website where you can see the travel times. If it’s too long I just don’t bother going.

          You are right though that it is better when we have facilities grouped together. Will be interesting to see if the new Albany pool will work for my swimming. Unfortunately they are doing the typical Auckland half-pie thing and building it 20 m long instead of 25. Then, if I’m willing to risk my life, I can try biking there.

    1. A lot of countries have grand unfinished motorway dreams from the 60s. New Zealand is not special in that regard. Somewhere West of Brussels is an interchange almost as large as what we’re building in Waterview, leading to just an urban arterial street. That was supposed to be the start of a motorway, which has since been cancelled.

      And incidentally the current situation in Belgium is a good illustration of what happens if you bet all-in on cars. (hint: Antwerp and Brussels are two of the most congested cities in the world)

        1. Yes that one.

          The problem is, sooner or later countries just run out of money to build all these motorways. Or they figure out better uses for that money.

          If you put this one, and a junction in Auckland side by side and look closely, you’ll notice a difference between the two: the scale. It is a bit subtle on satellite images, but it is very noticeable when driving.

          Interchanges around Auckland are designed so you don’t need to slow down in those bends. You can drive through the spaghetti junction at 80 kph. You can drive through other interchanges at 100 kph. In Belgium, while the speed limit is 120, on an interchange you’ll have to slow down to 70 to 90 kph, depending on the junction.

        2. Roland, But in Auckland the put traffic lights on the interchange because they can’t plan anything properly so you can’t do more that 1 Kph during peak periods.

  2. Do Councillors like Dick Quax bother to read the reports of qualified consultants presented here?
    Or do they have a set agenda which is entered on selfish reasons and not for the benefit of the City as a whole?

    Seems to the casual observer that the Merz and McLennan (commissioned by the government) recommendation to immediately increase the railway would have resulted in a far different Auckland than what we have today.
    Even the De Leuw Cather bus/rail rapid transit plan was rejected by self interest and now we are forced to pay overs because of the likes of Quax and his forerunners. But not content with that they will doggedly try to enforce unrealistic planning on the rest of us and seem to continually get the funding to enforce their self interest agenda.

  3. Matt, thank you. These series make me so sad and upset. It’s stating the obvious…

  4. Interesting that it was proposed that what we know of Penlink today was to be a rail bridge… Other notable issue is the non-existent Onewa Rd busway station (labelled “Northcote”)… still missing today, and it means that the whole of Kaipatiki loses on the new network concept.

  5. Let’s be sensible when using facts and not mixing the usage of such. The number of registered vehicles has little relevance to peak flows. Whether 500,000 or 2 million, actual peak numbers are around 100,000 or less. And for those levels we should be embarrassed that our current roading infrastructure can not cope. The biggest problems we face is the poor signage, poor adherence to rules, bad light sequencing, arterial routes with parking allowed, numbers of lanes going from 2 to 3 to 2 etc.

    1. If we were to take all parking off routes that are arterial roads (those that have regional route numbering) as a precondition of further investment in the route, how much consultation and effort would be required to achieve this?

    2. Yep, we could definitely make some improvements the result in more consistent lanes, removing parking and putting in continuous bus lanes being an obvious place to start, meaning traffic and bus lanes are able to continue unobstructed.

  6. Auckland would be a real city! Without a subway, Tamaki Makaurau is just a town. And underground will be so free of that wet stuff that falls obscenely so frequently from above. Better late than never, so that like-minded folks won’t have to catch an aeroplane to achieve their tube fix!

  7. I had an interesting chat last night with someone (who is in a position to know) about the Akl UP from 2010 and the effects on the AWHC on Victoria Quarter and his perspective was that everyone (when I pressed, AT/AC or NZTA, he reiterated ‘everyone’) was certain that rail was going to happen, even though no one seems to really know anything yet. I don’t have any context beyond that and of course it’s all hearsay, but it was in interesting data point.

    1. Well all the modelling outputs we have seen show that demand is for travel from the Shore to city but not through the city by a huge margin; this is obviously best served with Rapid Transit and not SOVs… but AWHC has always been a political project and not a technical or rational one. The biggest shame in this is not that politicians are proposing things to suit their political base, but that the technocrats, ie major parts of NZTA, have gleefully picked up politicians whims and are rushing to try to do it, instead of being rational and evidence based and politically neutral, as they should be….

      In any rational universe NZTA and MoT would be patiently explaining to their masters that what the evidence shows this route needs next is a dedicated Rapid Transit system; that this is best for the economy and quality of the wider city, for users of the road system [especially freight and delivery], and for future competitiveness and resilience and security of the nation….

      Is that happening, or are they rushing to shoehorn a vast disaster on us all in the name of ‘just following orders?

      1. Totally agree. These guys go off to university to get their degrees only for them to park their brains at the door when Mr Politician walks in with his next big dream.

  8. Political mismanagement to the extreme by politicians and bureaucrats who get fat salaries to do nothing but obstruct. I have watched Auckland over 35 years slowly grind to a halt on all fronts.Back in the early 80s there was a huge outcry about families living in garages,and parks.To see it all happening again is heart breaking. The biggest causes of the housing crisis are planners who increasingly apply more and more rules that do not really work and then there is the complete overregulation of the building and fire codes. As a result it takes twice as long to build a house as it did in the early 80s

  9. Sorta on topic, given the need to reduce cars… Just spent time in the Hague with a friend, OMG the bikes!!!!! Everywhere!!!!!!! The bike is now the preferred choice for Quaxing to the local supermarket, or indeed any reasonably local journey. In fact, bikes are so ubiquitous that the time must be rapidly approaching where the owners get fined for lazy parking, since they can actually clog up the footpath for considerable distances in residential areas. My friend, who moved to the Hague, also tells me he has lost weight since hee has taken up with a bicycle, and he is an enthusiastic convert. He reckons bikes will save billions in future health care costs.

    It would be so easy and cheap to engineer such a revolution here, if only we had politicians with the vision to do it. I guess the big roading contractors will need a cycle way division first, got to cycle that taxpayer money to your mates somehow…

    1. Bikes – the most efficient transport ever invented.
      its like we have a miracle cure for transport, but our politicians are working late nights negotiating the purchase of foreign carbon credits to ensure we don’t miss our 4dr ute emissions targets in 2030

      The disconnect between what we do and what we should do is really sad.

      Im guessing my future carbon offsetting taxes will purchase some asian countries carbon over-achievement credits.

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