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in recent years has been so strong, and is expected to remain so, that less than a year later and ATAP is already out of date.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.

Northern Greenfields

Southern Greenfields

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.

Airport Access

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.

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30 comments

  1. The whole PT debate now is getting very confusing.
    So many plans. Many groups with their favourite solutions.
    National is strongly against the petrol tax and will get the votes of many car users. They still support urban sprawl and highways.
    Mayor Goff is for a plan and government help with projects in Auckland. Before the election Phil Goff said he wanted to reduce the cost of the council and to build more PT. But the silence from the mayor and AT about their preference for PT rather than more highways over these weeks help give national a win.

    1. They are not against fuel taxes they have raised them a ton since 08.

      They are against regional fuel taxes as it means they can’t control councils to the same extent.

      What the Govt want is for Auckland Council to sell its assets.

    2. I think it’s fairly straightforward: akl is growing so fast that our plans are often having to be rewritten.

      The only solution is to commit to road pricing in, say, 10 years, before which we build a butt-tonne of PT projects like nw busway and lrt. These projects could be funded from infra bonds paid back with road pricing revenue, for example.

      Instead, labour, and greens are trying to pretend we can build our way out. National know we can’t but are afraid of having an honest conversation about what it means for road users and pt investment.

      So we’re left updating plans. With more congestion.

      1. “Instead, labour, and greens are trying to pretend we can build our way out. National know we can’t but are afraid of having an honest conversation about what it means for road users and pt investment.”

        Can you explain more?

      2. Spot on! What to do with ATAP though? All I can see is more roads all over the place, especially north of the harbour where roads are the one thing we already have too much of.

        In my view ATAP is in no way fit for purpose. We might be better to scrap it so that we can start afresh by drawing a proper map of Auckland that has a transit station at every urban centre, then work backwards from there to find the best way to network them within that same ten year time-frame.

        1. As far as I’m aware Labour and the Greens are basically non-commital on road pricing and every time the Government brings it up they get all grizzle-pants and try to change the conversation to talking about building stuff.

          Here’s the latest statements I could find from both parties:

          https://www.greens.org.nz/news/press-release/rail-needed-road-tolls-auckland
          http://www.labour.org.nz/road_pricing_years_off_public_transport_investment_needed_now

          What is true about those statements is that we need to accelerate PT investment before road pricing. But what’s also true, and not state, is that you need to first research, second discuss, and third commit to road pricing as early as possible, so that you can signal years in advance that it will be implemented.

          It’s much more efficient for everyone if we know that, in 10 years time, it will cost you approximately $XX to drive by car from A to B. The details can be worked through over time, but we need commitment in principle.

          On the other hand, National are under the delusion that road pricing doesn’t necessarily mean investing in rapid PT corridors, especially where they don’t currently exist: AMETI and NW busway I’m looking at you.

          So what we need, like normal, is to combine National’s support for efficient pricing with Labour/Green’s committment to building PT. That’s my take on the discussion as it stands, and I’d really like to see Labour and Green drop the grizzle stuff and say yes we agree with road pricing, but want xyz first and money to be used for abc.

          Or something similar.

  2. Note in the first chart there is a 4 to 1 ratio of population growth between ‘existing urban areas’ (400k) to ‘greenfields’ (100k). Increasing capacity and efficiency in the existing city’s transport networks is at least four times more urgent than adding yet more drivers to this systems by extending the road network outwards. A case made even stronger by the fact that greenfields dwellers will also use existing networks.

    1. The 4 to 1 is by design. The Unitary Plan was based on an assumption of 80-30. 80% would be in existing areas and 30% in new areas with the 10% provided as a margin. The old Regional Growth Strategy made similar assumptions. The reality is the 20 or 30% in new areas get used up early and they add another 20% and another.

      1. Yes that fits. To get the brownfields development actually happening, I can’t see any way around just stopping the pretense and cutting all greenfields development from the plan.

  3. I still think new EMU should be ordered as permanent 6 car sets.
    The argument against it is that the depot can only take them as 3 car sets…
    Can still do that – have seen it overseas even a “permanent” EMU set can still be designed to be easily broken in the middle for storage etc. They have big rubber sleeves that connect together and can have a door fitted to protect from the elements. Coupled up pretty much like 2x 3 car EMU just without the wasted space and expense of 2x unused driver cabs.
    Costs less and you gain 10% extra capacity as well as better passenger amenity.

  4. Would it make sense to have the NEX buses carry on via Dominion road to airport if light rail not being done for decades (i.e. if National get back in)? That way there are no new buses in the city centre (actually there would be less as current Dominion road buses removed).

    1. Interesting thought, you may get some economising but surely would end up needing just as many buses to cover two routes. You would need a recovery time in the CBD also or huge lags could develop on a route that long, esp. the Dominion Rd end.

      1. If National insist on this enhanced bus nonsense then those delays would be fairly small. There would be fewer buses in the city centre at any one time though as you would remove the need for staging and terminal facilities.

      2. Not trying to decrease the total number of buses, just the number of buses in the city at any one time. I don’t think bunching is a problem if there is a bus at least every 5 mins – unlikely to have too long wait. Don’t have a timetable.
        No huge cost either, just make Dom road and queen street bus lanes continuos and 24×7.

    2. National won’t be in government for ever and I get the impression from comments that have been made that they are reluctantly accepting that LR is the realistic option.

    3. Actually if they went up Queen St would almost do the job of the awful City Link, except double deckers not suited to quick boarding short trips if people went upstairs. Could sit outside Britomart like they used to, once the works for CRL/DSC done there 2019. Frequency could be kept all day the City Link so awesome for Northshore & Dominion Rd!

  5. They called for Smarter Pricing in first decade in original ATAP. They have now said it would be of benefit to bring forward given higher pop growth, but still don’t commit to first decade (although assume will be in place from 2026) It’s a bit strange.

    1. well-spotted. I believe that’s bureaucratic code for “everyone thinks this is a good idea but requires political leadership”?

      1. You’re kind. How about “everyone thinks this is a good idea but no one is willing to be associated with the backlash from it”?

      2. Actually the problem with smarter pricing is technical to get the right system you have to ask the right questions first and then find the best system to implement.

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