The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) released just last year has been already been one of the most influential transport documents Auckland has seen. That’s because for the first time Auckland and the Government agreed on the future of transport in Auckland and even though it asked many of the wrong questions, ATAP still came out with many of the right answers.
Yet, Auckland’s growth in recent years has been so strong, and is expected to remain so, that less than a year later and ATAP is already out of date. By 2026 there are now expected to be almost 100,000 more people living in Auckland than previously thought. That means we’re going to need more projects, built sooner, to cope with the transport demands of 1.9 million residents.
We learnt from Mayor Phil Goff some months ago that ATAP was having to be updated to reflect these population changes and late last week that report has been leaked out. That prompted the government to officially release it on Friday.
First, here’s the expected population changes by area, which in in the greenfield areas reflect the changes in when some housing is expected to come online, hence why the Northwest is down slightly.
To support that additional growth a number of projects now need to be brought forward, some substantially. This includes a few particularly notable and high-profile projects, such as
- Isthmus Mass Transit – While officials are still non-committal on the mode, given they’ve already agreed that Light Rail will be needed eventually, it seems odd if they decided not just go straight to it within the first decade. It’s also worth noting that based on the original ATAP, this should have already been in the first decade as it met the criteria on the analysis.
- Penlink – but initially only as a two-lane toll road. This saves quite a bit of money over the four-lane option (almost half) and is probably more ‘right-sized’ for predicted demand
- Mill Rd – the first stage of this, between Manukau and Takanini is already in ATAP for the first decade but this will take it all the way to Drury.
- Airport to Manukau Bus – This picks up what we’ve pushed for some time of a proper busway level connection and full interchange at Puhinui
- More electric trains – needed to support increased frequencies the CRL will enable. This is on top of the 17 new battery powered trains the council plan to buy.
The projects being brought forward are shown on the map below and explained in more detail further down the post. Unfortunately, the text on the image is as blurry in the original document as it appears here. Some of these projects were also included in the Government’s election promises for Auckland
In total, all these accelerated projects add around $2.9 billion to funding the shortfall for the first decade, which was already sitting a not insignificant $4 billion. However, these additional costs are partially offset by $500 million in from changes such as updated project costs and refining renewal costs, as well as $506 million of additional transport and rates revenue as a result of the increased growth. There’s still no indication of where that full $5.9 shortfall is going to be funded from.
Below are the expected Benefit Cost Ratio’s for the various projects above although it’s worth noting that many of the projects in the greenfield areas are lumped into one.
On top of the capital costs of the projects above, the document suggests that an additional $250 million is needed over the first decade for operational costs. This is 5% higher than ATAP originally assumed. Some of that is to pay for additional public transport services to help meet higher demand. Interestingly they note that by 2026 we are expected to have 150 million PT trips annually, up from 142 million in the original ATAP. That suggests an annual ridership growth rate of around 6% and that by 2026 we’ll be making about 79 trips per capita annually, putting us above were Wellington, and many other comparator cities are now.
Overall there seems to be a few good outcomes from this update, despite still appearing to use the same wrong questions and poor modelling as before. The big question though is why it wasn’t clear a year ago that the growth numbers were going to be wrong.
Here are the details for each area.
Network Optimisation and Influencing Travel Demand
City Centre Access
One aspect that’s noted in the report is that bus ridership on Symonds St is tracking 3-4 years ahead of previous projections. Given one of the main reasons for light rail was to ease bus congestion issues, this makes light rail even more important.
Rail Ridership Growth
Based on the cost of a normal EMU, as seen in the battery EMU paper to council, this would add about 29 more 3-car trains to the fleet.
Lastly, I have to point out the bizarre responses to the revised ATAP report from the Auckland Business Forum. They put out two separate press releases within 6 minutes of each other calling for a huge amount of spending across different lists of projects.
In the first one (at 3:22), they demand that ATAP’s 30 year plan must be completed within a decade. This includes major projects such as the another Harbour crossing, a motorway to Whangarei, light rail from Paerata to the airport and once again trying to bring the Eastern Corridor back to life.
At 3:28 they released a second statement in which they criticised light rail down Dominion Rd but then call for it as part of a programme to serve East Auckland, North Shore and the West. The latter is confused by also calling for the Northwest busway. In addition they want an extension of the SH16 motorway from Stanley St to Quay St, the East-West link extended to East Tamaki, a huge, multi-storey park & ride programme and some level crossing removal. That last one isn’t bad but they claim it’s needed to prevent chaos from 10 minute frequencies which the say will start with the CRL, clearly not realising we have that level of frequency already. If they don’t understand what our transport system is doing now then I’m not sure why they keep getting given so much airtime.