An article from the Bay of Plenty Times highlights one of the challenges facing mini-Auckland Tauranga

Rush-hour congestion on one of Tauranga’s busiest roads is returning to levels not seen since the second Harbour Bridge opened eight years ago.

Predictions made in 2006 that Hewletts Rd would be congested within 15 to 20 years of the completion of the $225 million Harbour Link project have come true almost twice as fast as expected.

Tauranga City Council transport manager Martin Parkes said it was safe to say that traffic had increased to the point where travel time delays were probably back to pre-second harbour bridge levels.

“The investment lasted about eight years,” he said.

The original prediction for 15 to 20 years was based on little change in people’s travel habits.

The last line in particular represents one of the primary issues we have with transport planning in New Zealand, we like to build stuff and pretending that it won’t have any effect on behaviour towards how and when people travel. This is also echoed by politicians who love to claim that the next project will solve the problems of congestion and deliver driving nirvana. This was also evident in the article:

The MP for Tauranga and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the congestion at peak times along Hewletts Rd would be reduced once the new link road between Baypark and Bayfair was completed. It would remove the pinch point at the roundabout with Girven Rd and keep a more constant flow of traffic along Maunganui Rd.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman and former Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said he drove Hewletts Rd nearly every day and found it particularly bad in the morning. It freed up once traffic got past Totara St and was moving towards the bridge.

He recalled the plan floated in the early 2000s to build an expressway around the other side of the airport once Hewletts Rd reached capacity again.

Mr Crosby said four laning SH29 from Maungatapu Bridge to Barkes Corner would take some of the stress off Hewletts Rd although it would always be busy.

Time and again see that perhaps most accurate adage when it comes to transport planning is that what you feed grows and importantly that applies to roads as much as any other modes of transport.

It’s another of Crosby’s comments, along with those from the NZTA and Tauranga Council’s transport department that were perhaps more enlightening and the real reason for this post.

“There is a big conversation coming up about public transport and that is not a quick fix.”

In Auckland, the discussion about public transport (and active modes) has come a long way in the last decade or so. It is now to the point that through ATAP, we have both the council and the government agreeing that we need to be expanding our nascent rapid transit network. This is also known in ATAP as the Strategic Public Transport Network and for good reason, these the routes where high quality, dedicated infrastructure is expected to be provided to act in the same fashion as the motorways do for the wider road network.

But outside of Auckland the discussion about rapid transit or strategic PT networks simply doesn’t seem to exist and seems to be a recipe for repeating the mistakes of Auckland – a place that much of the rest of the country seems desperate to not be. The closest exception to this is of course Wellington with its legacy rail network but even there, talk of even basic PT improvements seems to have died on the vine. Even in Christchurch there has been a deafening silence on any kind of future rapid transit network.

Now the first response some may give is that other places in NZ are simply too small for rapid transit networks, Auckland’s size and growth massively eclipses all other cities in NZ and is expected to continue doing so. By comparison, Tauranga has just 128k people, about the size of some of the larger local boards in Auckland. But while they may be smaller cities, it doesn’t mean they’re not growing.

Again taking Tauranga as an example, most of its urban development is in two linear corridors, to the southwest of the city centre and along Papamoa Beach, seemingly perfect some RTN routes

The concern I have is that by avoiding the conversation now, it will only make it harder and even more expensive to build anything to an RTN standard in the future, potentially stopping it from happening all together. All of this isn’t to say we should go on a massive RTN building spree around the country but that we should at least be looking to reserve some corridors to make them easier to develop in the future. Future growth could even be focused around this infrastructure.

So, a national discussion on strategic public transport networks, what do you think? Who (agencies and cities) do you think should be involved?

As an aside, this comes just days after Auckland’s new Councillor for Rodney, Greg Sayers, claimed the city should take a leaf out of Tauranga’s book.

I represent the fastest-growing ward on the Auckland Council, Rodney, which is also the largest in area. My constituents, compared with other wards, don’t ask for much but when they do, it is out of necessity, not out of some whim.

Rodney’s growth is frustrated by the dysfunction of the Super City. Meanwhile, places like Tauranga have bounded ahead.

Auckland and Tauranga is a Tale of Two Cities. While Auckland is still dithering about a second harbour crossing, Tauranga’s built two. While Tauranga upgraded rail and built a motorway to make its port thrive, Auckland wants to kill its port and the connecting infrastructure.

Tauranga now has the country’s busiest port, while conversely Auckland’s lack of investment has created a property bubble and traffic bottlenecks.

It’s worth noting that Sayers gets some fairly basic facts outrageously wrong, this includes that over the last decade, the Upper Harbour and Waitemata local board areas have each grown more strongly than Rodney each and every year, both in actual terms and as a percentage (the Upper Harbour LB even started with fewer people but now has more). He also doesn’t seem to realise that Auckland has grown more than Tauranga’s entire population in just 3 years -which as of 30 June 2016 was 128,200.

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  1. ‘The MP for Tauranga and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the congestion at peak times along Hewletts Rd would be reduced once the new link road between Baypark and Bayfair was completed. It would remove the pinch point at the roundabout with Girven Rd and keep a more constant flow of traffic along Maunganui Rd.’

    And create another pinch point somewhere else.

    We’ve been going down this route worldwide for so many tears that its no longer even remotely funny.

    1. Rapid transit corridors are like the old chinese adage: the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time to plant a tree is right now.

      Tauranga should designate some bus transit corridors asap, otherwise it will be just like Auckland and end up spending hundreds of millions to secure corridors only five or ten years after they were built out. It’s a classic rookie move run a dozen times over in Auckland alread: expand with land release, build out land, generate excess traffic from all the new development, then try and retrofit something to deal with it but find you’ve just used up all the space.

      So a quick and dirty look at Tauranga suggest they need to secure two corridors:

      1) Earmark Cameron Rd from Greerton to downtown as a future BRT corridor and start preparing the public for the idea that some parking or traffic might need to be changed for BRT. This road is almost 30m wide so it shouldn’t be that hard.

      2) Earmark a 12m wide slice along Maunganui Rd and SH2 to Bruce Rd for a future busway, i.e. basically say one side if for busway so if you widen the highway do it to the other side. From Bruce Rd designate a 12m wide slice following the side of the stream corridor up the middle of Papamoa out past the far end of Papamoa beach. This is obviously a stormwater facility and a public park, but the reserve is over 100m wide so running a busway up one side of it shouldn’t be too impactful.

      Add in a few stretches of bus lane in downtown and Mt Manunganui and you have yourself a very effective BRT system covering the two main corridors of the city.

  2. Yes. Traffic congestion in Tauranga and Hamilton highlight a number of persistent issues for transport provision in NZ:

    1. The gov, MoT, and NZTA largely have a ‘one size fits all’ approach; they characterise the country as rural and small town. Cities get the same the treatment, only scaled up. [eg see this document, all examples are rural, shows no understanding of city conditions, emphasis on ‘engineering up’ (sic), ie making roads faster: ]

    2. Because of the source of the funds in the NLTF there is a tendency to believe that investment should go directly to build for more trucks and the private vehicles, despite the acknowledgement that traffic congestion is the biggest problem, and the fact of induced traffic. This can distort investment away from other more effective solutions, primarily in cities.

    3. Tauranga, far from being a model for AKL, is a mirror of mistakes AKL made last century; they are building Pakuranga by the sea; had RTN corridors been reserved when Pakuranga was farmland, cheaply and easily, high quality Rapid Transit could now be added affordably and the area wouldn’t be the traffic and access basket case it is now.

    4. Transport infra leads land use and urban form, the ‘massive’ investment in roads (to quote the Minister) in both BoP and the Waikato is fixing 100% auto-dependency into these communities. This is also to fix a future of permanent traffic congestion, inefficient sprawling urban form, and structurally high cost movement costs for people and freight in these areas [and of course other ills].

    5. The culture of pretending induced demand (on all modes) doesn’t exist is surely unprofessional and simply cannot go on in official reports and business cases. It is frankly outrageous. Whole of system, whole of place impacts must be included, cunning dicing up of projects in order to package them as more positive is also unprofessional.

    6. In short now is the time to plan for a more varied transport future for these growing small cities. Bus systems must be developed along with general traffic ones. And Central gov agencies, who control all the money, must lead this. Don’t be like AKL, don’t leave it so late it becomes so expensive.

  3. As I picked up yesterday:

    Tauranga’s issues with transport is also compounded by the fact it has a high retiree population. A population that needs mobility but wont be found with the car and wide roads. Their mobility is found in a decent transit and active modes system which Tauranga lacks but Auckland is fixing. Fortunately Tauranga’s wide roads and somewhat linear geography make it very easy to retrofit bus lanes, some bus stations at key destinations and priority measures to form a basic Rapid Transit Network to move workers, seniors, children and tourists around without relying on the car. Your basic Rapid Transit Network is a basic triangle linking Papamoa, Tauranga and Mt Maunganui with a spur following SH29 to new developments out in the south-west while two others would link Waihi and Te Puke to the basic RTN.

    Freight is also a big factor in Tauranga with Port of Tauranga shifting a lot of goods in and out. The best solution is not wider roads for more trucks but duplicating rail lines between Auckland and Tauranga, and Tauranga and Te Puke to allow more freight to be shifted by rail. The more freight shifted by rail the less need for more trucks on the roads through urban centres. As a bonus beefing up the rail network in the Western Bay of Plenty also allows the formation of both a basic high-capacity commuter rail network AND inter city rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

    Quite simple and cheap stuff to do although getting the rail line to standard will not be exactly cheap but needs to be done.

    As for who should coordinate all this? I like the NSW style Planning and Environment super Ministry. It coordinates housing, planning and transport all in one go. Although big mega projects do attract Federal “attention.” None the less we need a super Ministry that would be quite able to handle the inter-regional stuff.

  4. Yes clearly 25 years ago Tauranga should have stopped building any roads and implemented a network of cycleways instead. That way all the people who moved there wouldn’t have bothered because the traffic congestion would have been so bad they would have gone to Napier instead, along with all the jobs.

    1. Not only a straw man, but a straw man that is irrelevant to this post. Nice.

      Obviously Tauranga needed to build a few roads. It probably needed to do some other things *as well* as that, such as protecting future RTN corridors.

    2. I know that comment is purely to stir the pot … But you cannot be serious.
      How about equal investment in all modes? Rather than just one

  5. NZTA seem to manage building regional and national roads easy enough – surely there’s a few people working there that are thinking change is needed?
    Patrick; your point 3 hits the nail on the head.

  6. Great post, and it raises an important question: Where are NZ’s small- to medium-sized cities actually going? What’s the vision for what they will look like and how they will function in twenty or forty years?

    Tauranga talks up its growth, and rightly so, but it also needs to ask: If it continues at the same pace, how will it manage as a city of 200,000 or 300,000? You start to face different opportunities and challenges at that point.

  7. Cheers Matt, I agree with the sentiment of the article. Agree that the scale change from Auckland does make things very different in other cities though. Coming from a Christchurch perspective, this chart of population distribution shows how close Christchurch’s population is located to the city centre (2013 census), and I think highlights why rapid transit visions for Christchurch keep struggling to find widespread support. I’m not sure how you would get RTN to work when the average commute is only 5 or 6km. Setting aside corridors for the future seems prudent, but then I feel like that may just encourage sprawl, and would rather see more effort to get future residential development happening within the city.

    1. That sounds like an interesting chart… unfortunately the dropbox link doesn’t work.

      Christchurch’s small size and circular shape is currently an advantage for some things – cycling being one. It probably also heightens the importance of bus lanes and bus priority measures on key corridors, as those are *crucial* to making buses competitive for short- to medium-distance trips.

      However, it’s also important to remember that the city’s tipped for quite a bit of growth, which should lead to a broader conversation about the longer-term things that are needed to make that work.

        1. Good graph showing the population at each radii distance for our three main centres -Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It is not clear to me why Auckland and Wellington have rapid transit services and Christchurch does not.

        2. Auckland and Wellington both have significantly more people living further out (10km+) than Christchurch does. I would’ve thought this would make rapid transit stack up better as there is a bigger potential market.

          Sure Christchurch’s satellite towns are growing fast but right now they’re still relatively small. It’ll be a long time before they’re as large as their equivalents in Wellington and Auckland (Hutt Valley, Porirua, Papakura, Whangaparoa…). Given the long timeframes, I still feel that at the moment our money is better spent on getting the current city’s bus network working properly, than buying up land that would only be ready for use a long way into the future.

        3. They’re two different budgets. Opex and Capex. But also its more about designations than land purchase. You seem to be advocating the usual NZ way of shortermism; exactly how we get ‘surprised’ by poor outcomes, like sluggish economies, low productivity, poor urban form, and traffic congestion.

    2. Greater Christchurch is more than just Christchurch City. About 100,000 people live close to but not within Christchurch City Council borders. These are the fast growing satellite towns to the north and south west.

      There should be planning on how to integrate these places with Christchurch – rapid transit corridors should be immediately be created -at least to the level of purchasing the land -even if the infrastructure is not immediately constructed -these could be done by a combination of dedicated bus lanes for the likes of Lincoln and Woodend/Pegasus and using the existing rail corridor for Rangiora/Kaiapoi and Rolleston.

      The fact this wasn’t done as part of the rebuild is another indictment on the lack of sensible city planning coming from this government.

      1. Also I don’t the Christchurch’s greenbelt has worked as an aide for intensification. The evidence is that it has led to leap frog sprawling. I think these sorts of ‘sticks’ do not work. I think if we want more intensification -then we should look directly at removing restrictions that inhibit it.

        That was the logic behind my article about reciprocal intensification.

  8. The KL to Singapore heavy rail project is something that bloggers here might not be aware of?
    Something we should be following in the coming years to see how their decisions stack up against lil ol NZ?

    1. Mr Sayers is very Trump-esque. Rodney’s a funny place too, you’ve got your new urbanites around Kumeu who wouldn’t mind some public transport, your old school rural folk who want to drive everywhere, some oldies in Warkworth and Orewa who want to stop the immigrants, some richies on the east coast who want their holiday highway and some hippies/live off the land types on the west coast that don’t want any more people encroaching on their surf breaks/fishing spots. I don’t know how he thinks he can speak for Rodney when they’re such a diverse bunch…unless he’s got some sort of personality like john cusack in Identity.

      1. hahah love it!! Your thoughts on Rodney are very accurate, I stood for council there once (the last one before suprcity) and all the folks from Kaukapakapa were concerned about was stopping the power station and who was going to rebuild the “historic slaughter house” in the paddock by the firestation….
        I especially love the new park and ride at Silverdale only 30 years in the planning, a couple of bus shelters, two toilets and a carpark!! Imagine how well they’d do if we gave them another fifty years!! Maybe we’d get a coffee vendor and an undercover carpark for three or four cars 🙂

  9. Tauranga’s public transport has always been terrible, with only token efforts to implement a skeletal bus service in recent years. There are five times as many buses used to transport schoolchildren in Tauranga for every one used for the general population.

  10. One piece of strategic PT thinking happening at the national level is the Ministry of Trpt’s Strategic Policy Programme exercise on “Public Transport 2045” – see I don’t know what the final outcomes are yet (and it’s probably not going to delve into the micro-management level of planning PT corridors in local areas), but it will be interesting to see whether it covers rapid trpt (and doesn’t just get seduced by what whizzy technology might be delivering PT in 2045).

  11. Interesting comments one and all. Having just spent the last two weeks driving heavy transport in and out of the Mount and Tauranga I can tell you (preaching to the choir) it’s a mess and will only get worse. RTN would be great however as in Auckland’s case any passenger tranist on rail gets in the way of freight movements, so it’s not a cheap fix. Auckland Port and Tauranga Ports by the way have 50% shares in Ports of Northland and have much interest in holding back rail connection at Marsden I am told. The fact that Ports of Tauranga operates more efficiently than Auckland could have a lot to do with the high use of rail to and from Metro Port (Southdown Auckland) and seemingly endless streams of log trains and Fonterra product arriving by rail. The roads are a pain and will only hinder growth of the city and port, almost as bad as trying to navigate around Hamilton…. I ask myself what is it about cities in NZ and why do planners cringe when the mention of rail either light or heavy is mentioned?? Perhaps it’s a carry over from the days of the NZR and the culture of the 60’s of loss, damage and neglect. Modern rail is a lot different now, still not perfect but incredibly efficient moving bulk commodities and masses of people. 🙂

    1. I believe one of the main reasons the Metroport operation is viable is ships arriving in Tauranga can offer significantly cheaper import rates than Auckland as Tauranga is primarily an export port, therefore it’s imports are effectively backloads so can be offered cheaper.

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