Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.

The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.

The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.

The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.

The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.

There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):

Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:

a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded

By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.

Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.

Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.

One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.

But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.

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79 comments

  1. Put it on pylons. Monorail, two tracks, small footprint, great views for tourists. Rail to the airport gets my support, but let’s make it modern and inspiring, and an attraction.

    1. How did that work for Darling Harbour in the end? We’re not after quirky points of difference for tourists when it comes to LRT, it’s a legitimate mode that will play a big part in getting diesel busses of the city streets and improving air quality dramatically.

    2. Modern and inspiring? Monorails? Really? Dreary outdated things. A 1950s vision of “the future”. Why don’t we just go the whole hog and go for flying cars?

      Modern is an easy to access system at street level that leads to a reduction in people driving and improves mobility for everyone.

    3. Please no!! Proven as an eyesore which just adds shaded effect to street level, possibly OK if over the motorway section at SH20, but even then not ideal.

      1. I agree. Skytrain is fantastic. It could tick another box for the government at the same time – self-driving vehicles… But that requires a complete separation (I think it’s called class A right of way or something like that) – no crossings, zero access to the tracks whatsoever, so yes that also means either on pylons or underground – and in some places behind fences. I know it all sounds ghastly, but it really isn’t in reality – skytrain is Vancouver’s proud icon. And the elevated tracks aren’t that bad – skytrain is light – so the structures are not as solid as they’d have to be for heavy rail. The electric conductors are the rails – so no ugly overhead power lines. The 2 minute frequencies during peak are absolute transit freedom – and because it’s self-driving increasing capacity can be done in response to unexpected event very quickly (no labour cost)… rail to airport, rail to north shore, rail on queen street, rail on dominion road, it all can be done with this!

  2. LOL Ricardo God loves a trier. Merry Christmas 🙂

    Any way I would not dismiss the Memo out of hand even with ATAP in place.
    The Cabinet reshuffle sends signals that at least Bill English and Simon Bridges are serious in advance mass transit projects regardless of where Joyce sits.

    That said one to watch as the Deputy Mayor is pushing it along is the bus way from the Airport to Manukau via Puhinui as a quick win. Should know more about it in March when the Panuku Transform Manukau framework plan goes to the Planning Committee.

    1. LRT would be relatively easy to implement if they were serious about doing it quickly. We’ll end up with half a job and the next step will never happen. It will happen with AMETI and it will happen again if we let it.

    2. Ben regardless of ‘Mass Transit’ projects from the north through Mangere and the Airport, a Puhinui/SH20B connection will also happen, and happen first.

      The opportunity to merge the inter-terminal bus with a say 10 min freq. shuttle to Puhinui and probably Manukau interchange with bus lanes on SH20, also picking up some points of Airport commercial areas is to good too skip.

      The devil is, as ever, in the detail. The cheapest and quickest thing would be a simple shuttle on shoulder lanes bouncing between the terminals and a new at grade interchange on the west side of Puhinui, but to connect it with Manukau might require a bus bridge over Puhinui with stop above the station, pricey and tricky….? Shaking up the 380 is another option, at the very least lifting its frequency and marketing it, but in my experience it gets badly stuck in traffic all along its route, but especially through Papatoetoe….?

      1. Although I am not a big fan of LRT to the airport via Dominion Rd if the plan is to extend it over the North Shore as well then it is a good option plus through to Botany as Patrick posted previously. Thus do the busway designed for light rail ASAP to Puhinui.

  3. If the Government finally decides to fund light rail then this is a call for celebration. Until then, I’m remaining quietly skepticle since it’s been one disappointment after the next with PT decisions in Auckland by the recent Government!

  4. What is the justification for fully funding the purple sections, and not the green section?
    Why would “airport north” not mean to the CBD?

  5. Not. Gonna. Happen. While. National Joyce. Is. Still. In. Power.

    Why?

    Read this article in todays Herald from Joyce for an inkling:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11769492

    Headline: “Joyce won’t write blank cheques (read “Any”) ” – for Auckland Transport Issues.

    Both Bill English and Joyce are in their post-Cabinet shuffle announcements, are putting the “onus” firmly back on Council to sort out the Auckland Issues – housing, transport etc. English told everyone looking for a housing solution to look to “Auckland [City – sic] Council”, according to the Herald.

    So, while NZTA might have had grand plans for this or that, the reality is that not while Joyce has his hands on the chequebook.
    I’m sure Joyce can easily justify to himself spending whatever money Auckland may have got on fixing up the Kaikoura/Upper South Island roads instead.

    1. Hopefully if they keep that attitude up they won’t be in power very long. I think the Mt Roskill by-election was a very serious message from Aucklanders that they want housing and transport fixed.

      1. Yes people “say” they want the transport and housing fixed and will vote accordingly.

        But, then when a thinly disguised election bribe aka “a tax cut” is dangled in front of them, like the cheap trinket it is.
        They take the tax cut, every time.

        Under National you can’t have tax cuts and expect them to fix the housing and transport issues, its a one or the other option.

        Their current rhetoric about Local Government being the only solution/ aka “council blaming” for just about everything including, it seems, global warming and sea level rise, is just starting up the Central Government responsibility dodging machinery in time for the coming election campaign.

        Of course, they’ll throw a few billion down on the East/West, or 10 more bridges (or worse, more RoNS) just like that – if the trucking lobby whines.
        But regular, commonsense plans, not involving more roads? Never.

        In any case, the (ever decreasing sums of) fuel tax money that NZTA will collect from all of us over the next few years has all been “forward spent” (committed) by previous National budgets on various road only projects around Auckland and elsewhere.

        There is no new money for new transport spending likely (thats not already committed) in Auckland, at least, by NZTA for 5 or more years.

        Any chance of Auckland ever getting its share went out the window during the ‘qaukes at 12:05 am on 14 November, and then was cemented home when English in turn anointed Joyce as “Finance Minister” last Monday when he officially became PM.

        At this stage, you’d also have to call into question the Governments commitment/timeline to their half of CRL, now that Key has gone.

  6. I’d still much rather see the Onehunga line extended to the airport through Mangere but this is great news regardless if the government decides to go through with it.

  7. Man those Western and North shore suburbs are looking light on alternatives for cars – Should AT be looking long term at mass transit from Westgate along the Upper Harbour towards Albany.
    We’ve waited a good 50yrs for the Waterview connection, looks like we’ll be waiting another 50 for the rail connections from existing lines to the upcoming areas?

    1. Yes the North Shore with its gold plated busway sure is light on options compared to the rest of the Auckland.

      On the NW you are absolutely correct though; and ideally the potential Shore LRT and SH16 LRT should meet up out the back of Albany. Future proofing is a strange thing, I know, but maybe, just maybe AT can make it happen.

      1. Plus, the NW busway is a first decade investment in ATAP with a current business case, and the Northern Busway extension is in detailed design and due to start next year.

          1. TRM is still wondering how to get out of Toronto airport – as there is no train!
            And his comments on the CRL were so negative (boringly negative and repetitive…..)they made my cellphone jam.

    1. I’m more in favour of changing the mandate fr NZTA to include rail, so I think the question should be “How do we remove the constraints on NZTA funding modes other than road?”

          1. Leaving aside that this is roughly equivalent to a local road project which would only be funded 50% (correct?) The road will still be congested so it won’t make bugger all difference.

            And it’s ‘road funding’ from ‘road user charges’.

          2. @Tony, my understanding is the Road User Charges are a partial cost recovery for the damage caused by Heavy Goods Vehicles that goes into the consolidated fund, that the amount that gets allocated to NLTF is roughly the same amount is a policy setting that can be changed.

          3. Nik, road user charges are payed by all road users eother via a fuel tax on petrol or road user charges for diesel. The exceptions as far as I’m aware are electric cars and cyclists.

            It’s also my understanding that it is no longer part of the consolidated fund

          4. “Leaving aside that this is roughly equivalent to a local road project which would only be funded 50% (correct?)”

            Not correct. Albany to the airport via road is a state highway (several actually) which are 100% funded by central government. This is basically the Harbour bridge and SH20 but for PT.

            “The road will still be congested so it won’t make bugger all difference.”

            The private vehicle part of the road will still be congested for those who choose to use it. The public transport part of the road will not be congested, so for the people who choose to use PT will not experience congestion; so it will actually make a big difference.

            “And it’s ‘road funding’ from ‘road user charges’.”

            Yes, currently it is. Many commentators on this blog consider that it should become ‘transport funding’ from ‘transport user charges’.

          5. Arguably true perhaps.

            Exactly. So for those who are the main contributors to the cost the road won’t work better.

            I realise that. I disagree.

          6. “Exactly. So for those who are the main contributors to the cost the road won’t work better.”

            Only if we completely incorrectly assume that people only ever use one mode.

            “I realise that. I disagree.”

            Perhaps don’t try to use the status quo existing as a justification for the status quo continuing then.

          7. “Only if we completely incorrectly assume that people only ever use one mode.”

            No, all the cars, trucks, buses and motorcyclists and associated rate payers (including cyclists) are covering the bulk of the cost. Not one mode, several. The only mode not contributing would be the rail.

            “Perhaps don’t try to use the status quo existing as a justification for the status quo continuing then.”

            I’m not. If you want NZTA to incorporate rail, which is quite a good idea, you’ll need some way of funding it other than RUC and (arguably?) rates.

          8. Tony. Road freight is hugely subsidised by private vehicle users and ratepayers, road freight is less user pays than rail.

            As all transport is subsidised our attention should be on where the most value can be found, included economic costs and value, as well as financial cot and value: what can best be achieved for our subsidies…

          9. “Tony. Road freight is hugely subsidised by private vehicle users and ratepayers, road freight is less user pays than rail.”

            Thanks for that captain obvious. Not sure how it’s relevant?

            “As all transport is subsidised our attention should be on where the most value can be found, included economic costs and value, as well as financial cot and value: what can best be achieved for our subsidies…”

            That’s no excuse for adding yet another whole new level of subsidy. Perhaps passengers or customers could be levied a ‘transport user charge’ or some such by NZTA to cover the cost? Then open the network to private providers? Kinda like, you know, roads?

          10. “Then open the network to private providers” Tony that was a mistake made by a previous government that had that chance (they owned Ontrack, Toll owned the trains), they funded Toll to double their trucking fleet by buying the trains when it could have opened its network to all comers instead.

          11. ‘Perhaps passengers or customers could be levied a ‘transport user charge’ or some such by NZTA to cover the cost? Then open the network to private providers? Kinda like, you know, roads?’

            Err? Right; fares and fees. Already happens, got anymore big ideas?

          12. It seems you don’t understand what the word ‘subsidised’ means. All transport modes and systems are subsidised, so not one, not the private motorist, not the road freighter nor the rail freighter are user pays. User pays is a nonexistent trope in our transport economy. If it is that important to you then you should pursue it in all cases, no? But you’ll have to achieve it economically not just financially. Or for efficiency and simplicity allow some transfers to make up the difficulties in getting the economic and financial to align. Like we do now.

          13. “No, all the cars, trucks, buses and motorcyclists and associated rate payers (including cyclists) are covering the bulk of the cost. Not one mode, several. The only mode not contributing would be the rail.”

            In what world is this possibly true? Rail is paid for by it’s passengers when those passengers drive and pay RUCs, when they earn income and pay tax, when they buy goods and pay tax, and when they pay rates which would fund the stations and the running of the services, and when they pay fares, which would almost certainly make a profit on this route.

            Just because people paid directly when they were motorists, doesn’t mean we can only fund projects for motorists out of it when we can get far better outcomes for motorists by allowing them to occasionally skip congestion altogether.

        1. No the first question is which urban road projects shall we delay to invest in the more valuable and overdue Transit ones sooner. Building every road imagined is neither necessary nor desirable. On an already over subscribed network each new addition makes little marginal improvement but costs ever higher, and doubles down on lack of choice and of course gridlock. In contrast investment in the underdeveloped complementary networks generate immediate improvement to both networks at a greater rate and scale.

          1. Very well put Patrick. Putting it like that, it seems obvious. It’s a very convincing and compelling argument. Why is it so hard for MoT/NZTA/AT to see it?

            This may have been delved into in more detail in a post or a linked item in a post, but if there is clear data/case studies that we can refer to that proves that:

            1. each new addition to the road network makes little marginal improvement but costs ever higher, and

            2. investment in the public and active transport networks generates immediate improvement to both the road network and the public and active transport networks at a greater rate and scale,

            then I think it’s worth pinpointing and highlighting that data/case studies and repeating that strongly and often, until it can’t be ignored.

        2. I think the better question is ‘Where do we find the extra revenue to fund the extra projects over and above public transport?’.

    2. Should the Ministry of ‘Transport’ or the New Zealand ‘Transport’ Agency be able to fund a piece of ‘transport’ infrastructure?

  8. If they decided “late in the piece” to change the wording to “mass transit” then it could only be for ideological reasons that they have an allergic reaction to the word “rail”. It wouldn’t just be great if the government funds it all, it would be common sense.

  9. Before jumping on the light rail to the airport bandwagon NZTA should request and independant review of RAPID transit including Heavy Rail from both Puhinui and Onehunga. Then the Govt could be assured which presents the best options for Auckland.

    1. If there were any evidence at all of significant error in the business case then it would be worthwhile to revisit it and force Jacobs to pay, however, there is none of that evidence.

    2. JR don’t forget the Otahuhu option, better than Puhinui and cheaper than Onehunga and with the added advantage of allowing travel to and from all directions via the Otahuhu transport hub.

  10. i’m kinda interested in the timeframe and how are they going to get it across the harbour. Guess these reports do not discuss it – but looking at the money being spent on the City Centre to Akoranga part of the project ($1.1 billion) it is either going be using existing infra-structure or another piece of infra-structure (i.e. the proposed harbour tunnel). Does the document say if NZ Goverment will be paying for the new tunnel within this timeframe? the last I heard it was not going to include provision for RTN (but that is many months ago on this blog). If I read the blurry numbers correctly this project is 20 year away…it is difficult for me to get excited about this…it is pie in the sky stuff.

    1. $1.1b from Wynyard to Takapuna would have to be with it’s own crossing, it would be a lot less if it piggybacked on something else. Otherwise it’s far too expensive.

      Consider the Waterview connection, twin three lane tunnels twice as long, with motorway extensions, huge interchange ramps etc. That cost’s $1.7b. A comparatively tiny light rail tunnel of half the length would be far cheaper.

      1. I doubt if you could do a underwater tunnel for that. Look at the dominion rd LRT. $1.4 billion. What is the third harbour crossing costing? I understand that a LRT crossing will cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to 2 billion (I saw those figures for a 2 lane busway instead of the $6 billion third harbour crossing… Can not remember what report (I suspect it got burnt because it mentioned that an efficient busway tunnel could move as nearly asuch people as a $6 billion proposed tunnel.
        I would like to see how they come up with that figure.
        I just can not see how a two way LRT tunnel can be built under the harbour for less than $1 billion.

        1. “I doubt if you could do a underwater tunnel for that. Look at the dominion rd LRT. $1.4 billion. What is the third harbour crossing costing? I understand that a LRT crossing will cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to 2 billion (I saw those figures for a 2 lane busway instead of the $6 billion third harbour crossing… Can not remember what report (I suspect it got burnt because it mentioned that an efficient busway tunnel could move as nearly asuch people as a $6 billion proposed tunnel.”

          $1.5-$2b for twin bus tunnels; now make the tunnels narrower, don’t’t build a road deck and don’t build the ventilation systems either.

          Bear in mind that the bored CRL is 2.6km long and the tunneling is just under $1b. Tunneling is cheap, underground stations are expensive.

  11. I’d be interested to see a study for the pros and cons of light rail versus dedicated buses on the northwestern route. Including where the stops would be (say Pt Chev/Motat/Grey Lynn – and how this would fit with the existing outer loop buses.
    Although the existing two routes being considered (dom rd -airport and north shore, do appear to be busier. Phil Goff campaigned on ‘putting tramlines back on ALL the previous tram routes’, (at the campaign meeting I attended) one of which is Great North Rd (now largely alongside the motorway) and New North Rd (which being largely alongside the rail) would appear to be redundant.

    1. I don’t recall Goff promising to put all old tram routes back but if you have a link to him saying that then please let us know.

      As for the Northwestern, buses are the most likely but LRT might be better from a whole of life cost I.e. is patronage growth is expected to be strong enough it might be better to put it in first than go through disruption of upgrading it in 20-30 years – northern busway has this problem and will hit capacity sooner than expected

  12. They should call it the Light Rail L — with the horizontal bit being the Botany via Manukau section. Snappy names help convince people, although maybe this is not snappy enough.

    1. I doubt if you could do a underwater tunnel for that. Look at the dominion rd LRT. $1.4 billion. What is the third harbour crossing costing? I understand that a LRT crossing will cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to 2 billion (I saw those figures for a 2 lane busway instead of the $4 to $5 billion third harbour (option 3) crossing… Can not remember what report (I suspect it got burnt because it mentioned that an efficient busway tunnel could move as nearly asuch people as a $6 billion proposed tunnel.
      I would like to see how they come up with that figure.
      I just can not see how a two way LRT tunnel can be built under the harbour for less than $1 billion.

      1. I think you’ve replied to the wrong post?

        If not, there is no particular need to have the vertical part of the L run all the way to the North Shore (although, personally, I think this would be a good idea… perhaps heavy rail would be better for that? I don’t know)… and my understanding is that if there’s a second harbour crossing (and, as I remember things, it is an if) they would pay attention and do things properly (i.e. future proof).rather than needing a third crossing. It is also my understanding the light rail can handle gradients such that it could possibly go over a bridge (I’m not sure how quickly the bridge needs to reach X height, maybe heavy rail can too).

        1. “my understanding is that if there’s a second harbour crossing”
          There are already two harbour crossing, the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Upper Harbour Bridge.

          “they would pay attention and do things properly (i.e. future proof).rather than needing a [fourth] crossing”
          The NZTA have an appalling track record of failing to future proof for rapid transit on the airport line and the NW motorway.

          “It is also my understanding the light rail can handle gradients such that it could possibly go over a bridge (I’m not sure how quickly the bridge needs to reach X height, maybe heavy rail can too).”
          They both could, but heavy rail couldn’t go from Sunnynook to Constellation and even light rail would be close to the limit without regrading.

          1. Huh, I’d never heard of the Upper Harbour Bridge before. Or Greenhithe for that matter.

            I’m aware of the airport line case. To be more specific, my understanding is that they decided to put a third crossing on hold due to objections over its necessity, with criticisms also being raised about a future proofing. However, I am clearly not very well informed.

            Are trenches/tunnels practicable?

          2. Re cost of bridges and tunnels. My understanding is that tunnels are cheaper than bridges, particularly as the Waitemata Harbour is a drowned river valley, and not that deep. This appears to be due to the development of tunneling technology. It seems to me the Government wants a third crossing, while the council is not so keen?

  13. I thought Light Rail was now the preferred option to the airport, with first Heavy Rail then Bus Rapid Transit out of contention.

  14. My guess is that National’s polling of the Auckland electorates has revealed that traffic congestion is a huge festering sore. While a sizable chunk of people are homeless; and an even bigger number cannot afford to buy houses; both of these numbers pale into insignificance to the hundreds of thousands stuck in traffic every day.
    Most of those trapped people will realize that the current plans will not fix anything; for too long we have all heard “just one more road” is the solution.
    I am certain .that this government has no enthusiasm to do anything regarding public transport; it is more a situation of their realizing that they have to do something.

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