It’s no secret that we felt that Auckland Transport’s preferred option for mid-town buses is incredibly stupid. Both because we think it’s bad for buses and bus users, due to buses getting caught in traffic and also because it actively works against the city’s goal of transforming Victoria St into a people focused space, particularly in the form of the Linear Park. Thanks to the Indicative Business Case (IBC) Harriet obtained from a LGOIMA request, we can now reveal that AT’s preferred option is so bad for buses it has a negative Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) – even though they try to hide this.

The issues with the report start right from the first sentence of the Executive Summary. It states “The Auckland Plan seeks to nearly double the number of trips to the city centre whilst holding car travel to the city centre at current levels“. Except the Auckland Plan doesn’t say this at all, the only mention being one of the key targets which states:

Increase the proportion of trips made by public transport into the city centre during the morning peak, from 47% of all vehicular trips in 2011 to 70% by 2040

Nowhere does that say car travel should be held at current levels. But this is fairly minor in comparison to the rest of the report.

As you’d expect, the IBC lays out a lot of information as to why improvements need to be made. It identities four key problems that need to be solved and five potential benefits from successfully addressing those problems. These are described below with the biggest single problem being the need for reliable bus operations in the city centre.


The IBC creates a long list of options looked at in six different combinations on the following three east-west corridors, one with each on their own and one combined with others

  • Wellesley Street
  • Victoria Street
  • Cook Street / Mayoral Drive

These were then mixed with three different options for terminating buses from the North Shore.

  • A: City terminal
  • B: Grafton Gully Terminal
  • C: Out of the study area.

The terminal options themselves are quite interesting and I’ll take a closer look at these in a separate post.

The assessment also included how and east-west mid-town cycleway, linking Grafton Gully to Nelson St, would work through the area. Some options were able to be immediately ruled out, such as those that relied on Mayoral Dr/Cook St as the primary route, or those that required a terminal in the city centre (due to cost). Other options were ruled out after more investigation. They ultimately narrowed things down to four options.

In a number of multi criteria analysis tables, looking at how the various options align with the problems, the potential benefits, the potential dis-benefits and the project objectives, one option stands out as being noticeably better than the others.


Option 1B is clearly the best based on these (and the other tables).

In the exec summary and a few other places in the document, reference to the costs and BCRs have been scrubbed clean and replaced with TBC so we can’t see how they compare, but in the middle of the document they forgot to do this so we can see some of the information or at least an indication about it.

So here is the do minimum and the four shortlisted options:

Do Minimum

This has both North Shore and isthmus buses using both Wellesley St and Victoria St. North Shore buses would also use Princes St and so to would some isthmus buses.

Option 1B – Wellesley Street with a Grafton Gully Terminal

This was Option 2 in the recent consultation and all mid-town buses would use Wellesley St in both directions with Isthmus buses using the slip lane up to Symonds St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $44.5 million and an operating cost of $49.68 million

Option 1D: Wellesley Street (Grafton Gully terminal) via Wakefield Street

This was Option 3 in the recent consultation with outbound isthmus buses using Wakefield St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $45.5 million and an operating cost of $49.56 million

Option 4D: Victoria Street, Bowen Avenue, Symonds and Wellesley Streets (Grafton Gully terminal)

This was Option 1 and ATs preferred option in their recent consultation. Outbound isthmus buses would use Victoria St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $51.5 million and an operating cost of $50.18 million

Option 4E: Victoria Street, Bowen Avenue, Princes and Wellesley Streets (Princes Street terminal)

AT didn’t include this in the consultation. In this option, inbound North Shore buses would use Victoria St while isthmus buses would use Wellesley St including the slip lane to Symonds St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $35 million and an operating cost of $49.2 million

ATs preferred option is the most expensive to build and operate.

Pedestrian Catchments

One of the more detailed aspects that caught my eye in the report related to walking catchments. During the recent consultation, one of the comments from AT against the Wellesley St corridor was that it had a smaller catchment than the Victoria St option. Interestingly the report has this to say about it along with the accompanying map.

A Victoria Street bus corridor pedestrian catchment would overlap with this northern corridor and not provide the same level of pedestrian accessibility as a Wellesley Street corridor could.

Options cont.

Back to the options and the real kicker comes in this summary of the options. In the version in the exec summary, AT have deleted some key information, most notably that Option 4D, their preferred option, has a negative Benefit Cost Ratio because of its use of Victoria St. Option 4E also has a negative BCR due to using Victoria St while Options 1B and 1D have positive BCRs. But they forgot to remove this information from the same table in the middle of the document (page 67). They also note that multiple corridors are less efficient, require more space and provide worse service to customers.

In the exec summary version (page7) there is an additional column with a recommendation for each option. Option 4D says “Preferred Option to take forward to the DBC” (detailed business case) while 4E also says it should proceed to DBC as a short-term solution. By comparison Option 1B says “Option 1B is not preferred and discounted from going forward to the DBC Option 1B is not supported by stakeholders due to potential patronage impacts, poor customer outcomes, and the use of the slip lane“. The idea 1B delivers poor customer outcomes completely contradicts the text in opportunities column stating it would be better for customers.

It’s pretty clear then that ATs preferred option is actually one of the worst. The fact they’ve suggested that as their preferred option boggles the mind. It seems the only reason they didn’t go with option 1B was because of opposition from stakeholders, mainly the two Universities. If AT did decide to go with Option 4D, I wonder how much those universities are contributing to make up for it being a worse option?

I have to wonder if anyone from the stakeholder group even stopped to consider the impact on bus/PT users. The report lists all stakeholders as:

  • Auckland Transport;
  • Auckland Council;
  • NZ Transport Agency;
  • University of Auckland;
  • Auckland University of Technology;
  • Waitematā Local Board;
  • Mana Whenua;
  • City Centre Advisory Board; and
  • Learning Quarter Forum.

On top of all of this we’re very confident that the thousands of submissions AT have received (we know they had over 1,600 from the Generation Zero form alone) have supported the Wellesley St option. Combined with the technical analysis showing the Wellesley St option as being the best and it seems clear that AT need to reassess their position. To not do so will make themselves look incredibly foolish.

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  1. That is damning stuff. Wonder how Council and the AT board feel about that level of professionalism from staff. Can you OIA the notes from AT internal meetings and emails of discussions about how the preferred option was chosen?

  2. > “… opposition from stakeholders, mainly the two Universities.”

    In the previous post you elaborated on the UoA opposition, but I must have missed the mention of AUT – what were their points?

    1. That was not a part of the previous request that only had UOA complaints. We only know that AT say AUT oppose the slip lane in the table above.

      1. From memory (a few years back now) when these options were first being explored, part of AUTs opposition came from some indicative proposals/ ideas which involved taking some of their land to facilitate an interchange/ terminus.

  3. from Chris Darby > The Universitys are except from paying rates… Oh … Can you give me more info on this new terminal? PS: Harriet are you from the Northshore?

    1. The terminal would be so the NEX2 services can stage/terminate/turnaround. The best place for this on using land on the other side of the motorway with proposed sites including ones shortlisted in the doc linked above.

      Not from North Shore.

      1. Do we know where exactly this terminal will be. I think its an amazing idea and one I’ve been working on for years…Slowly

        I assume it will fix the many problems in one with a terminal there.

        The issue of CBD access to the domain? I hope they put better foot traffic with new over bridge to Domains?

        Will they take the bike path all the way to the Parnell station and link that also. And improve access from Grafton road to the ports?

        Ideas? Merci.

        1. Not exactly they have shortlisted two sites with one clearly preferred to go to the PBC which are in the report including pictures of where they are.

        2. I think you next post on this terminal will be picked up by the MS media by the way. Quite new to many people. PS: Did you have a preference on 1 or 8 for terminal. Do you think either will be big enough for the future?

        3. Yes because all it is is a basically a depot for NEX2 services to stage.

          I am not sure why anyone in media would be interested its not a Downtown Bus Station or Intercity Station.

      2. Was too lazy to read the whole report, but year sorry the answer to my question was in there. Thanks Harriett. wow amazing study. really it’s sad that AT gets so much criticism – their report is pretty amazing and thorough and well organised it seems it gets swayed when it bounces into politics. It seems this option 1B was not the only one influenced by the Universities:

        Long list options

        “The workshop introduced a further alternative option, which turned North Shore buses
        around before reaching the Queen Street Valley. This Option was then discounted as it did
        not support the Learning Quarter demand or project objectives and the benefits of the
        option were captured in existing options proposed to continue to the long list.”

        All in all though there are some genius solutions proposed lets hope we get the best result. 🙂

        1. Technically they didn’t write the report the three independent consultants on the header did.

        2. How does that work are the consultants using their own data information or are the effectively using ATs data and then analysing it? Would there be an advantage of using their owns staff for this? Well the reports cool basically.

        3. Most of the modelling data comes from Joint Modelling Applications Centre (JMAC) which is joint AT/NZTA which agencies can request info from or they would go to the relevant team such as LRT team etc.

          They use consultants due to the uneven nature of the work they might have 0 Business Cases to do or 5 which lends itself better to hiring consultants as needed rather than staff.

          The consultants are also usually international experts and thus provide great insight and are technically independent which makes the reports more reliable.

  4. I would suggest that perhaps an example needs to be made and heads roll for this incompetent call from AT.
    Not only are they going against the wishes of council, they have chosen an option that has a negative BCR when the better option also has a positive BCR.

      1. You need to rewrite employment law to get rid of employees who don’t perform their work to a sufficient standard?

  5. conflict of interest at best there, possible corruption. Sorry University Directors we don’t hate you but time to resign on this //AKDude… Auckland demands standards these days. Being a director cant be a cushy ride.

  6. I’m unclear why the BCR numbers are redacted. Clearly they are important for the public to know, and I don’t see any reason to keep them private.
    We should also get Auckland University on the record here – while I agree about the slip lane (it’s tiny) the outright rejection of the option is taking a hammer to a snail.

  7. ~maybe not resign’ but a fair bit of Media scrutiny. Of topic sorry, but I personally am starting to realise the very real and feeliable value of good journalism and finally am at the point of happy to pay for investigative news. Hat-tap to Simon Wilson from Spinoff by the way, I forgot what it was like to get real in-depth articles. TVNZ could charge for real news and paying good journalists to keep on tops of democratic issues.

  8. Give away my grandiose idea I had 15 years ago an never actualised if there are some entrepreneur reading this site. Start an ISP which uses a model of free access to massive paid online content and own original news, media creators. So the monthly fee to the ISP goes out to various news organisations to get bulk subscription online for the ISPs customers. I think would be a better business model than ads / and premium content model currently.

  9. Love these business cases. Can these things truly be prepared on an impartial basis without some sort of political involvement or pressure toward a predetermined outcome.

    1. No, Better for us to know that’s how it works realistically and then make sure we have a balance of political sway.

  10. I’ve been involved in borderline calls in this field, but this is appalling. These guys will have to stand up and defend this report in court of they get challenged on this.

    1. Yeah, most transport consultants do work for AT though so won’t want to annoy a major client. They’ll politely decline representing the universities if it came to court.

  11. I’ve only just started reading this post but am already stunned by this:

    “The Auckland Plan seeks to nearly double the number of trips to the city centre whilst holding car travel to the city centre at current levels“

    Put another way this says:

    “We’re not taking any responsibility for all the negative consequences of car travel: air pollution, climate change, road runoff water pollution, pedestrian and cycling deaths and injuries, wasted land, ugly, disconnected urban spaces. Our policies will never, in any way, reduce the freedoms of the people whose transport choices are ruining Auckland for everyone else.”

    Why? Because the road construction industry lobby is bigger than us, that’s why.

    Vehicle kilometres travelled matter. FFS.

    1. Heidi that’s not how I read it. I think its badly ignorant sentences to try to reflect they will keep everyone happy. I don’t think there are sold out on the hope for a Friendlier CBD for Bikes etc. Keep hoping. ;-D

      1. Always hopeful, Yoyoyo. Neither of us would be commenting otherwise, eh?

        But one of the old mindset problems is that they can’t budge about cars. Improving public transport, for example, whilst having many social benefits, does not reduce car travel. The only thing that does, is reducing the road network. (Northern Busway a prime example.) This is simply not understood by people with the old mindset. And we have to reduce the vkt. It is undeniably irresponsible to future generations not to do so.

    2. The Auckland Plan doesn’t say that though also ATAP doesn’t say that they both say CBD SOV mode share % has to come down they made this up.

      1. Exactly, and making it up probably seemed benign to people who don’t understand the consequences of car travel.

  12. Lets see If I understand how the two options compare:

    Option 1B: Is cheaper to implement, has cheaper operational costs, has a positive, BCR, allows linear park, has better PT outcomes, better matches the assessment criteria, is (presumably) supported by AC, has more public support. Is not supported by UOA.

    Option 4D: is more expensive to implement, has higher operational costs, has a negative BCR, does not allow for linear park, has poorer PT outcomes, is a poorer match on the assessment criteria, is not supported by AC, has less favourable public support. Is supported by UOA.

    So naturally Option 4D is the one that is chosen, because none of the other things really matter, what matters is UOA’s opinion??

    Am I missing something here? it seems that option 1B beats 4D hands down, it would be a no-brainer except that the universities don’t like it?
    How can an important transport decision that is going to affect potentially hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders be made purely on the basis of a couple of negative submissions?

    1. Happens a lot tbh the BCR’s of Bus Lanes for example are through the roof same with cycle infra but if any negative parking subs come in.

    2. Shows how much “control” Council actually has over the ‘CCOs’ – thanks to the law that defined their relationship. That a few conflicted Board members might have more influence is reason for reflection.

  13. I was the representative of the Waitemata Local Board on this project scoping stage.

    Both AUT and University of Auckland were present at the meetings I went to, or if one wasn’t there, the other surely was.

    The general consensus was for an option that used Wellesley Street in the discussions that took place (these were very preliminary discussions), and the Universities did raise objections, but not strenuously, which suggests that higher ups had serious discussions with Mr Warburton.

    I suspect that AT would prefer the Wellesley St option as it is the ‘cleanest’ of the lot, but have been pressured by the Universities.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Are we able to get copies of the input from the various stakeholders?

  14. When AT was set up, the arms-length relationship with Auckland Council was justified by seeking to “depoliticise” transport issues. Given the level of politicisation in the past, and the potential for pork-barrel projects to get priority over necessary infrastructure (and, indeed, potentially for PT and active transport modes to be deprioritised by a car-friendly Council) I supported that.

    However, what I see in reality is that the Council are far more progressive than AT is, despite there being good people in some key roles within AT. It also appalls me that AT is apparently behaving in the way that it now is to appease narrow sectional interests, rather than having the balls to stand up to these interests. I’m coming to the conclusion that a greater measure of political control IS required – not so much that transport decisions become interminably mired in the politics of pro- and anti- factions on Council (and not so much that Councillors who feel that their “legacy” project is threatened by the adoption of light rail as the preferred option for the airport are given a platform to continue to beat that drum ad infinitum), but a measure of control that sees rational decisions taken on an up-front basis, not by hiding BCRs and twisting the arguments in order to come up with a predetermined outcome.

    Shame on you, AT, you’re better than this!

  15. Several years ago I spent a summer in a physics lab in Building 303 at the University of Auckland, which is the building on the corner of Wellesley and Princes St.

    The experiment used optical equipment that was very sensitive to vibration. There was a pneumatic isolation system, but that only went so far, and every time a heavy vehicle passed by on Princes St our experimental set-up stopped working. Fortunately only a few trucks went by each day.

    There are also labs on the Wellesley St side of the building — in fact I think most of the experiments have now been relocated to the basement on that side. I can certainly see that frequent use of the Wellesley-Symonds ramp by buses could cause serious issues for this kind of experiment.

    Option 1D seems like a good compromise: it meets most of the goals of the project, without interfering with the use of the area for research and teaching.

    1. There will be the same number of buses going past that building in any case, the only question is whether they are on the south frontage or the east one.
      I must say when you were doing your experiments there would have been dozens of buses an hour driving past on symonds Street. Are you saying that the buses weren’t a problem but trucks were?

      1. We never had any problems that we could attribute to buses on Symonds St. Symonds St is some distance from the physics department (about 130m, based on a quick look at Google Maps), which evidently is sufficient for the vibrations to be less of an issue.

        These instruments have a sort of threshold amount of vibration they can tolerate. I’m no expert in vibration propagation through buildings, but my guess would be that a heavy vehicle needs to get quite close to the building to cause this kind of problem.

        I am not in any way involved in these discussions, but my guess is that the crux of the issue is the use by buses of the ramp from Wellesley St up to Symonds St, which would bring buses very close to the building (and presumably in quite large numbers, too). Option 1D would mean that although the buses would travel along Wellesley St, they wouldn’t use the ramp.

        1. AT said they would bring the road up to a higher standard anyone as part of any upgrade in the minutes of early discussions so the point is moot.

    2. My understanding is that the vibrations you point to are not AT’s problem. It’s a legal road, and can be used by any normal dimension vehicle as it currently stands.

      It’s unfortunate the equipment is affected by vibrations, but it really seems to be a case of “suck-it-up snowflakes” methinks. Or move to a more suitable building/location.

    3. The Uni shouldn’t have been so stupid to invest in gear vulnerable to the legal use of a road. But even if they have been stupid, is there really any difference between buses on Wellesley and around the corner on Symonds?

      1. Yes, pretty stupid to build a science building with equipment sensitive to road vibrations next to a road!
        Perhaps a narrow deep trench could be dug between the road and building and filled in with vibration absorbing material (foam?) to provide a barrier to some of these vibrations.

  16. Well done to all those involved in shining some light on what is scandalous behaviour by AT. One wonders if they can even be reformed or if an entirely new governance model needs to be considered.

  17. Has Greater Auckland considered raising a complaint with Auckland Transport about this abuse of process and taking it to the Ombudsman for external review?

  18. I met a chap the other day who believes that all tertiary education facilities should be moved to small towns like Taumaranui (on the Main Trunk Line) – this would free up valuable land in Auckland, take pressure off city accommodation resources and provide a huge boost to Small Town NZ.

    Food for thought…

    1. What a terrible idea. Let’s put all of the research infrastructure 300km from the businesses that need to use it. Taumaranui is a great place for polytechs teaching forestry, or agricultural management. It’s a terrible place for a world class medical school.

      1. That line of thinking assumes that students (and staff!) don’t have lives, don’t have families, don’t need to work, don’t do anything but go to class or study. University isn’t boarding school.

  19. Well you have Massey in Palmy – perhaps the Med School would be a notable exception, but engineering research? How about Dannevirke or Stratford?

    1. Yes, you have a university that specialises in agricultural services which has elected to set up in a regional city with a population of 80,000 people. I’m not quite sure why you would locate an engineering school that does wind turbine, rocket, and healthcare tool development 300km from their biggest market.

  20. Interesting to read the list of stakeholders. If UoA and AUT are included as stakeholders why not St Paul’s Church, which occupies the remaining corner of the Symonds/Wellseley intersection? And as an old building, is presumably more vulnerable to traffic vibrations?

    For that matter, how come the list of stakeholders doesn’t seem to include people who live/work/play in the affected areas? Or is Auckland Council deemed to represent us?

    My one concern about buses using the slip lanes would be that there is an access point to the Grafton Gully cycleway behind St Paul’s. People exiting there presumably come up the path beside the church and can cross Symonds Street at the pedestrian crossing. If they want to continue biking down into mid-town, or to return from there, their natural path would be the slip lanes. Are they wide enough to safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and the buses? If not, can they be made so?

    1. Buses already use the slip lane, so if this is an issue it already exists.
      But looking at that picture above, they are proposing to put a cycleway in the underpass below symonds st. So people from the grafton fully cycleway would no longer need to climb up the hill by the church only to roll back down the slip lane. They’d just stay low and pass under on the flatter, straighter route.

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