This is the fifth 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, the third here and the fourth here

This was published in the NZ Herald on 27 June 1975

Rapid-Rail Helps City Development

Statements such as, “Auckland can’t afford it,” or “It will cost too much,” indicate how little many people know of the benefits of the proposed bus and railway plan for reorganised transport services in Auckland, or how necessary and urgent it is, and how much more any alternative scheme would cost, both financially and socially.

Whatever steps may be taken to slow down and better control the growth of Auckland, one fact stands out clearly: We cannot stop it, even if we wished to.

Therefore, to control growth better and to provide the essential public transport services needed, something much better than the kind of all-bus system which we have now is required.


The Auckland City Council central area plan has placed emphasis on the need for an efficient public transport system. The underground rail with its centrally situated stations is an integral part of this plan. It will provide a fast and silent means of moving people to their destinations within the central business district, free from the problems of traffic congestion that would inevitably occur with any surface means of mass transportation.

If for any reason the bus and railway scheme is deferred or abandoned, the City Council’s central area plan will have to be reconsidered, which could involve several more years’ delay in completing zoning and building ordinances.

The Auckland Regional Authority transport committee recently ordered a complete review of routes and services for its bus fleet. But officers of the division will not be able to do much in the way of reorganisation of services until they know if and when feeder railway services will be available. to enable them to plan for the improved bus and rail services then possible.

An early decision on the location of the four city and 10 suburban stations will allow the officers to plan bus services circumferentially to run to and from these strategically placed stations.

It will be seen, therefore, that many urgent town planning, development, redevelopment and transport reorganisation decisions await the outcome of negotiations between the ARA and the Government.

Ill-informed statements that ‘ ‘it will cost too much” or “Auckland cannot afford it”, must be weighed against the social, as well as financial, costs of alternatives. People who measure the value of everything in dollars and cents, without asking if the benefits are worth the costs are fooling themselves.

The old saying “you cannot get anything worth having for nothing,” is very appropriate in this case. Do we say we cannot afford to have a first-class water supply or adequate sewage or rubbish disposal schemes, or dozens of similar services that are essential in modern communities, because it is going to cost a lot of money?

Although the public growls about the cost of them, and local bodies do their best to keep down the cost of them, no sane person would say that because they are costly, we must do without these essential services.

The same arguments apply to public transport. More than half of the population does not have the use of personal private transport. They depend on local authorities such as the ARA or private companies, to provide public transport.

Because public transport is as essential in modern cities as water supply, sewerage and other services, any cost (or loss) on public transport has to be borne either by the local ratepayers, or by the country as a whole through the taxpayers, or by a combination of rate and tax payers.

The fair allocation of costs of running the new bus and rail scheme between the ARA (representing Auckland ratepayers) and the Government (representing the tax payers) is now entering the final stages.

The satisfactory outcome of these discussions will determine whether Auckland is to get adequate public transport in the future. If not, the city will have to put up with the present unsatisfactory system steadily growing worse and worse until the complete disruption of the central area of the city and the surrounding isthmus compels the city or the Government to do at a later date, what is now proposed, at many times what it will cost to do now.

In the meantime, the inconvenience and social and economic loss to the city, of inadequate transport, would cost it many times more than the cost of providing a satisfactory service.

However this is looking at the worst side of the picture.

It is appropriate to review briefly the basic facts about the financial capital and operating costs, as explained in previous articles in this series.

  • The Government has already agreed to accept responsibility for providing the capital for the railway part of the scheme and for capital service charges (repayment of loans and interest). Therefore ratepayers of Auckland need have no fears of increased rates on this account.
  • The ARA and the Government are at present negotiating the allocation of costs of operation (if any). Present indications show that a satisfactory outcome of these negotiations will mean that from 1981 (the year the is to come into operation), the annual costs of the improved services will be less than the forecast of the loss of S6.4 million for this year (1975-76) on the present unsatisfactory bus services.
  • Indications are that when the scheme comes into operation, there is more likely to be a reduction in the levies for, and losses to, the public for public transport in Auckland, than an increase.
  • Of even greater importance than the financial benefits from the scheme, are social benefits which cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents.

It is quite impossible to over-estimate the social benefits likely to be expected from this scheme — benefits which will
be worth many times any probable costs in dollars and cents.

The following extract from a report to the Southern California Transport Authority by the “Stanford Research Institute” (a department of the University of California) expresses this very clearly:—

“Finally the additional benefits are not expressable in dollar terms, but perhaps most important will be the opportunity that rapid transit will present for the community to regain control of its urban environment; to shape the land use closer to its desires, to reduce the trend of sprawl, sterility and burdening Government costs; to make what appears to be the best first major step toward a more balanced and diversified community.”


An example of the sort of nonsense being talked by those who are wedded to motorised (polluting) road transport are the recent published statements that electric trains are more polluting than buses. Such stupidly misleading utterances demonstrate the lack of factual basis for most of the other exaggerated statements being made by the opponents of the scheme.

In examining recently published costs of car and bus transport in Auckland, it becomes clear that, unless
fully loaded, the cost of using a car is much dearer than using bus transport. Research in the United States has produced some interesting comparisons between the cost a passenger mile of bus and rapid-rail transport.

Using the same basis of comparison buses use eight-tenths of a gallon of fuel for 50 passenger miles, rapid-rail uses four-tenths of a gallon. Using rapid rail, up to 1000 passengers require only one driver. To carry the same number in buses would require 14 to 24 drivers.

Also, bus transport is a highly labour intensive industry. Today, the ARA bus costs show about 70 per cent of costs and about 90 per cent of total revenue is paid for labour wages alone.

While the capital cost of providing motorways for exclusively bus use is about equal to providing the right of way for railways, a comparison of the carrying capacity makes any proposal for the exclusive use of buses financially ludicrous.

Buses have to use heavily congested roads and are subject to frustrating delays (reducing their average speed to 10 miles an hour) plus costly accidents and repairs.

Electric railway coaches running on exclusive rights-of-way on steel rails are relatively silent, average about 40 miles an hour, and the cost of maintenance and repairs is much less than buses.

In summary, it can be shown that the cost a mile of railway travel is much less than buses, and the average speed, safety and comfort of trains is much higher than buses.

As stated at the beginning of this contribution, it is not a question of whether Auckland can afford the proposed scheme; it is a question of how much extra it is going to cost Auckland not to have it.

Mayor Robbie

Much of what he said still applies today and so it’s great that tomorrow the CRL officially kicks off with a sod turning ceremony, around 100 years after first proposed and 40 years since Robbie pushed it.

Update: AT have advised they’ll be live streaming the groundbreaking which starts at 10:30 and includes John Key and Simon Bridges. Will be details here

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  1. Wow, it’s very haunting ready those words. So little has changed, he could literally be saying those words today and they would still be so relevant.

    “it is not a question of whether Auckland can afford the proposed scheme; it is a question of how much extra it is going to cost Auckland not to have it.”

  2. Auckland would have been by far a better city with Robbies plans. It would be more compact but more affordable. Congestion would be half what it is now and it would be possible to travel to most parts of the city by train and almost the entire city by rail+train while probably needing much less subsidies from the council due to its higher utilisation and economies of scale.

    1. I agree, if we had his rail instead of the motorways Auckland would be much smaller and houses would cost far less. But Tauranga with its 1.5 million people would be a tough place for most of us to live in.

      1. ….and Tauranga would finally be beginning construction on the missing link in its rapid transit system, a rail tunnel under the harbour to Mt Maunganui!

      2. It didn’t work out that way in the Australian cities that built rapid transit systems earlier on. If anything, regional rapid transit networks allowed Perth, Brisbane, Sydney etc to develop more housing.

      3. No reason to say it had to be one or the other – If this rail system had been built back then, then for sure, a motorway system could and probably would have been constructed after.

      4. I was thinking smaller as in more compact but with a bigger population. Auckland would probably be close to 2 million if that had all happened as Auckland would likely have gained population all along rather than having periods of loss. NZ overall would have probably held on to more people that moved to Australia meaning we would be over 5 million and the economy would be the stronger for it (and also Australia wouldn’t have gained from our loss).

      5. Funny Mfwic? Why would you suggest that would happen?

        Auckland’s population was about ~800k in the 1970s. Several times that of Tauranga today.

        Would all those people just get up and leave because there was a convenient way of getting around?

  3. Repeating my statement that by 2024, the Robbie statue should be relocated to greet people coming out of the Aoeta Station. Maybe later, we can then add a Len Brown statue on the other side, but that will cause heart attacks to some, so may have to wait a little longer.

  4. Ranui-Hobsonville would have been a very rural railway, and very indirect to the city compared to the motorway. More so than today’s proposal for Kumeu rail.

    I agree with the sentiment entirely. The objectors to vision who existed back then, exist today.

  5. Electric railway coaches […] average about 40 miles an hour

    That surely looks very optimistic. I wonder what railway they were talking about at the time.

    1. Does anybody think electrified LRT or similar would reduce congestion along SE highway?
      From Onehunga to Pakuranga via Waipuna road?

      That could be used as another feeder to get people from Eastern suburbs to CBD via the Penrose train line

      1. It depends on where the people using that route actually want to get from and to – does anybody know?

        Such a route from Pakuranga would intercept the Eastern line in the vicinity of Sylvia Park (from where people could transfer to go north or south) before the Southern line in the vicinity of Penrose. A north-facing curve at Westfield junction, and rehabilitated south-facing curve at Penrose junction, could enable a continued east-west journey from the Sylvia Park area using existing railway lines to Onehunga (and if LR is extended from Dominion or Mt Eden or Manukau roads to Onehunga and the airport, and the Mt Roskill spur is built, then east-west journeys could continue to/from Avondale, New Lynn, Henderson, Swanson, maybe Kumeu/Huapai).

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