The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was been a significant piece of work, mainly because it finally got the former government and council talking to each other, not over each other, about transport. It resulted in some important outcomes, such as for the first time finally acknowledging: that we can’t build our way out of congestion, that the motorway network is basically complete with only limited scope for more widening, and that major expansion of our Strategic Transit Network is needed.

ATAP is not without some major flaws though. It was overly focused on congestion and very heavily relied on ‘predict and provide’ led transport modelling, something that has traditionally not done well, especially in the face of transformative change that projects like Britomart, rail electrification and the Northern Busway can deliver. The modelling didn’t even last a year before it had to be updated with new population growth figures. That the original version of ATAP came up with a plan that was remotely sensible was more of a reflection of how dire the current situation is.

With a new government now in place, Transport Minister Phil Tywford has asked for a review of ATAP to align better with their priorities around public transport, and especially their goals of building light rail. The newly revised ATAP then going to form a part of the Government Policy Statement for 2018-21. Given the tight timeframes involved, it will be interesting to see just how far officials are willing to change ATAP. While some quick changes are most likely. We would like to see a vision for Auckland play a bigger role in determining what gets built.

Time to Decide and Provide

As mentioned, the existing ‘predict and provide’ approach to transport planning has not served us well and doesn’t cope well with changing behaviour, especially with projects that deliver transformative change. Many cities these days are taking a different approach. They first decide on a vision for what kind of city they want and then prioritise and build projects that go towards achieving that.


Last year, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched a new transport strategy that is fantastic in its simplicity whilst being very ambitious. It is summarised by this vision.

This is backed up by the following key themes.

1. Healthy Streets and healthy people

Creating streets and street networks that encourage walking, cycling and public transport use will reduce car dependency and the health problems it creates.

2. A good public transport experience

Public transport is the most efficient way for people to travel over distances that are too long to walk or cycle, and a shift from private car to public transport could dramatically reduce the number of vehicles on London’s streets.

3. New homes and jobs

More people than ever want to live and work in London. Planning the city around walking, cycling and public transport use will unlock growth in new areas and ensure that London grows in a way that benefits everyone.


The city of Vancouver, as opposed to the region, set a goal of having 50% “sustainable mode share” by 2020. In other words that half of all trips are by walking, cycling or transit. They achieved that in 2015, five years early.


Copenhagen is known for its amazing bike culture with one of, if not the highest mode share for bikes in the world. With 36% share, use of bikes was higher than any other mode but that wasn’t enough. So, as part of their goals to improve health, livability and to reduce emissions, they set the target of achieving a 50% mode share for bikes. How they’d go about this was highlighted in their cycling strategy for 2011-25.

There are many other cities that we could look at that would come out with similar visions. One thing you may have noticed about these examples is that they’re direct and clear about their intentions. They actively talk about the need to reduce car dependency and shift how people travel. Targets are then set for achieving that.

Auckland’s vague plans

The vision for Auckland is meant to be the Auckland Plan. The original version was fairly good for Auckland at the time but nothing like the clear direction set in the examples above. It was also completely ignored by Auckland Transport and a government who didn’t like the direction.

The draft of the updated version of the plan suggests that this may have gone backwards. It’s full of vague statements that are not backed up by any real targets. For example, below are the stated outcomes of the plan and they’re full of undefined statements.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the new Auckland Plan has the strong feel of ATAP in it. Below is the strategic approach for Auckland that ATAP adopted. The strategy looks like it’s been designed by committee and does nothing to tell you about how the city is going to look and feel in 30 years time. There is definitely no explicit policy around reducing car dependency and also no mention about reducing emissions. A “don’t frighten the horses” approach.

Congestion being worse than now but slightly better than it otherwise would be is hardly an inspiring vision for the future. An ATAP refresh is a chance to change this. It needs to start with the vision for how we actually want our city to be and work backwards from there on how to achieve it. It needs to be something specific to Auckland that is both a challenge and able to be achieved. By doing that we’re likely to end up with quite a different list of priorities. From some the statements made so far by Twyford, I think that’s something he’d be willing to have a discussion about though.

Once that vision is set it needs to be inserted into all relevant plans and strategies. Every project needs to be assessed against how it helps achieve the vision. Without that we’ll continue to prioritise the wrong stuff and we’ll continue to have debacles like the draft RLTP.

The one challenge with setting a vision is that it can be hard to decide on how bold to be and get buy in for that from the wider public. We’ll be better served by having that discussion than hoping a tweak of the current plans will deliver a transport utopia.

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  1. “The one challenge with setting a vision is that it can be hard to decide on how bold to be…”

    Equally, a vision can be quite humble and still be completely transformative. A city in which a child can bike to school without worrying about getting run over, for example; or in which all senior citizens can walk comfortably to their local shops.

    From human-scale first principles, everything else follows. A “liveable city” starts with surviveable streets.

    1. Yes, the vision needs only be humble, because it relates to such a basic level of human need; one the roading authorities have failed to provide. But the vision requires bold action. We need:

      -a bold re-allocation of road space to PT and active modes,
      -a bold re-allocation of funding for the same,
      -a bold change in speed limits and enforcement,
      -a bold law change to restore pedestrian priority,
      -a bold relinquishment of new roading projects,
      -a bold re-purposing of parking buildings,
      -a bold change to pricing for each mode,
      -a bold public education programme about induced traffic and past errors,
      -a bold stripping of power from the road construction and trucking industries.

      Go for it, Shane.

  2. Auckland Transport has a vision. Spend as much as they can on office fittings for a fancy office, then tip the rest into some transport projects.

  3. The vision should maybe stand alone, but ATs policies and plans should also be directly informed by the zero carbon act.

  4. Start laying LRT and don’t stop. Restoring the old network should be an ideal goal but only a starting point.

    One thing that needs reviewing is project delivery timelines. Why does vital infra take almost a decade to build, after the decades it takes to get approved? Why do we accept it takes ten years to deliver something that could be delivered in three with the right amount of courage?

  5. I have a great plan! Let’s create a super city where a bunch of unrepresentative, parish pump, parochial and blinkered councils are amalgamated so they are force to have a regional vision!

    And then, we’ll get a buffoon politician from the far right ACT party who ideologically loathes the very idea of public services to design and implement the solution!

    Result? A Supercity where the real power resides in unrepresentative, parish pump, parochial and blinkered CCOs that desperately wish they were private businesses.

  6. Such a vision requires vision, and that is and has been lacking in the political arena for a long time. To begin, thinking needs to be based on reducing private motor vehicles, principally by offering alternatives. And of course changing these alternatives to be the norm. The CRL and LRT are part of this solution, as are the creation of more separated cycle lanes. Copenhagen’s success is the separation of modes of transport, which the shared path concept here, although better than bus/bike lanes, falls short of true separation, and will eventually have to be reupgraded. The mania of creating indirect bike lanes, as the Light Path, which is lovely, and necessary, but rather loopy, and does not create the best commuting path, needs to stop. The success of the NorthWestern Cycleway is largely based on its lineality. I have never understood why we build roads for cars as flat and straight as possible, which cycle paths are as curvy and rolling, often steep, as possibly imagine. I suppose that cyclists in general are less willing to destroy the land for human ends, where as the motorcar has always been about destruction of nature, from beginning to end. To try to solve transport in Auckland without reducing car drivers is silly, AT needs to be more futuristic.

  7. Couldn’t agree more Matt L.

    Go ask Cynthia on wed night:

    To be fair, most cities, companies and organisations are useless at strategy. You get a few successful groups that everyone tries to copy by trying to do the same things without understanding the purpose behind them.

    Vision is fine, but you need the strategy to achieve it and usually there is not strategy except : “here is a list of stuff we want to do”

    Aucklands’ vision is done by looking at the rear view mirror and then creating a bunch of waffle. Strategic planning has to be the biggest waste of time and money in management. Most of those documents should be thrown into the bin where they belong. No one ever looks at them after they are created and they are soon out of date.

    How the hell can you have a strategy that has 3 directions and 7 focus areas?! Seven!?! And each of those 10 statements are so vague as to be meaningless. It’s like the people that wrote that have no idea what strategy is.

    1. +1

      London’s vision is so much better (wording and intent). It’s clear what they want the city to look like, that’s not clear at all in the Auckland Plan ‘vision’.

    2. Their three directions are so vague they need 7 focus areas for anyone to make sense of them. Direction 1 – Create an integrated transport system for people, places, goods and services. WTF? Build shit for any reason we can think of?
      Direction 2 – Increase genuine travel choices. What make users have to make more decisions? Make them make less fake decisons? There is a value judgement in the word genuine which makes me suspect they mean we should make choices they like.
      Direction 3 – Maximise safety and environmental protection. Sounds worthy until you realise that safety is only maximises once you fit 5 wheels to each vehicle like an office chair and slow it down and fit a crash attenuator to the rear. Bikes will have to be banned as two wheels are inherently unstable. Oh and we haven’t mentioned the environment yet and people will expect it so let’s shove it in here.

      1. Down with fake decisions! Up with real decisions! Real decisions for all people places, things, goods, services! And integrated! With maximum safety! Oh and the environment/world peace/anything we forgot about!

        Fine Print: Disregard everything else and just build MOAR ROADS!

  8. A crucial ingredient for me is to be able to bring Ted the bichon on the bus. If I can’t, I’ll take the car – not by choice, but because Auckland seems intent on emulating the worst rather than the best characteristics of urban transport worldwide. In fact, my car’s just died and I’m on the cusp of buying another, which I’d prefer not to have to do.

    I reckon if Ted is small enough to sit on my lap even though I lack a white cane, he should be allowed on the bus,. Which magically happened today, because the driver spoke little English and I took shameless advantage of that, to bring him inert on my lap from Newmarket to Ponsonby. Thanks for that – can we make it a custom please? All those global study tours and no one’s figured out that small fact of usability…

    1. Unless you have a dog for disability reasons, that is the only acceptable reason.

      Animal allergies are real. Cats are the worst. You are forcing the consequences of your personal choices onto others. You don’t have that right.

      What defines a small pet? “Yeah my great dane is small for his breed, Ill just have him on my lap, its fine and hes such a nice dog, he never bites…..” A blanket ban is far more effective and minimises danger to the public.

      1. Some cities allow small pets in carriers, which seems like a reasonable compromise (and provides an upper limit for ‘small’). The carrier keeps the dander down, and Peter and others can get their pets to the vet or wherever else they need to go.

  9. Maybe Len Browns old and often denigrated “Worlds most liveable city” vision, wasn’t so out of line when compared with the other cities around the world then?

    And like Jolissa’s comments at the top of the page, her example, like Len’s one is, are simple to grasp, easy to measure/monitor and intergenerational, and just as importantly – are not all or nothing goals. Even chieving most of the goal is a hell of a lot better for everyone. So partial success is still success.

    Both Len and Jolissa’s visions are better than all the present and past waffly stuff – which is, at heart, really all about preserving/maximising the status quo for as long as possible and hoping against hope that people [or worse, the laws of physics] will change their spots and/or a magic new technology without any real downsides will come along to save everyones collective bacon from the mess we’ve made.

    Auckland wasn’t built in a day, so you have to have a long term vision of where you are going to be 5, 25, 50, even 500 years from now. And sometimes on that journey, you also will have to “go out of your way to cross the river at the nearest bridge”. But thats the tactical stuff – stuff you do to help achieve the longer term goals.

    What we see here is people creating these “visions” mixing up the tactical stuff with the overall goals.
    That leads to short term thinking and the danger that these short term “goals” end up becoming “the vision” and an end in themselves.

  10. Greater Auckland and its allies have done more to advance an “Auckland Transport Vision” than any political party in the last decade. ATAP was a prioritisation mechanism and little else.

    Well overdue time that GreaterAuckland’s team did the same as what they did before the election.

    You want a vision: create one as you have done before, make a time with Twyford, and Get It Done.

  11. Focus area 6 shows they already have a form of vision zero in their vision. Shame this doesn’t appear to have any affect on their policies.

    1. Matthew W, I think that you have highlighted the problem. AT have some ok vision, albeit too wishy washy to be account to, and the Statements of Intent are helpful. It is everything that happens from there where it just falls apart. The recent budget of course was the worst example of this. But it is everywhere. I participated in the Takapuna consultation re 40 Anzac Street. Nowhere was it clear that a 400 space car park was going to be part of that proposal. A proposal that will cause congestion, potentially harm public transport usage and cause greenhouse emissions.

      There was also a proposal for a 450 space car park on the gasometer site and that is currently passing through the different stages of approval and no one appears to give a shit that it is contrary to the stated aims of Council, AT and Panuku who are also involved. Let me partially retract that; there was one councillor that I contacted who replied to my email sufficiently interested in questioning the usefulness of the project.

  12. Maybe AT together with NZTA could announce a new round of spending on roads in order to fix traffic congestion. I suggest they call it ‘The Congestion Free Network’.

    1. You know, when you depart this life, I think you’ll sit up there above the clouds with a giant wooden spoon, and you’ll stir the traffic around and around…

        1. Better get the stirring in while you’re still with us, then, eh? Guess that’s my problem, too… 🙂

        2. I just love that term. I am putting it down as my religion on the census. I just wonder if anyone reading will see the humour. (Two of the three Ms mfwics and putting down Jedi.) We all figure if they are going to ask a stupid question then they deserve it.

        3. I’m tempted to convert to Pastafarianism. All the same mumbo jumbo as the mainstream religions, but better catering at church events.

  13. The Government and Auckland Transport need to establish a joint vision on rail for Auckland on where heavy rail and light rail investment will be and who will own and run it.

    The city’s current heavy reliance on a road transport based network which is becoming more and more congested, is not smart planning.

    Rail, in particular heavy rail, which has dedicated high speed congestion free corridors, needs to be developed across the city, such as electrification to Pukekohe with new stations at Drury, Paerata and Walters Road at Takanini, extension of rail services to Kumeu/Huapai, building a heavy rail loop line to Auckland Airport from Onehunga to Puhinui instead of light rail, and building a rail-only tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour with converting the Northern Busway into a heavy rail line instead of building road tunnels.

    Building a heavy rail loop line to Auckland Airport from Onehunga to Puhinui would enable a new large ‘tear drop’ shape loop rail service to operate from Britomart to the airport via the CRL tunnel stations, Newmarket, Onehunga to the airport and onwards to Manukau via Puhinui, and then returning to Britomart via the Eastern Line through Panmure. This route with faster services than light rail, would serve far more people across central, east and south Auckland and linking them with the airport, than a slow single light rail line to the airport from the Wynyard Quarter via Queen Street and Dominion Road.

    With building a heavy rail line to the North Shore, this would link into the CRL tunnel and the rest of the existing Auckland rail network, including the airport (with a heavy rail line). A fast heavy rail train service to the North Shore would attract a lot of use and would likely reduce the pressure on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Northern Motorway and the need for road tunnels. A rail only tunnel would also be cheaper to build than road tunnels, meaning the project could potentially be started sooner.

    Light rail lines should be built to provide much increased capacity with more efficient use of limited road corridospace on certain key arterial road routes such as from the city to Westgate alongside the North Western Motorway via Great North Road, Ponsonby Road, College Hill and Halsey Street.

    The proposed light rail line up Queen Street and Dominion Road should terminate in Stoddard Road alonside the shopping strip there rather than going to the airport (with heavy rail instead to the airport from Onehunga and Puhinui).

    A light rail line should also be built to Royal Oak from the city through Newmarket along Customs Street, Anzac Avenue, Symonds Street, Grafton Bridge, Park Road, Khyber Pass Road, Broadway and Manukau Road, which would link Auckland University, Auckland Hospital, Newmarket, Alexander Park Raceway / Auckland Show Grounds as well as a number of central suburbs along its route with a massive potential catchment area along this one line.

    The proposed Eastern Busway from Panmure to Botany should instead be built as a light rail line from Panmure-Pakuranga-Botany-Manukau along Lagoon Drive, Pakuranga Road, Ti Rakau Drive, Te Irirangi Drive, Great South Road, Ronwood Avenue and Davies Crescent, to Manukau station (and connecting here with heavy rail train services to the airport), together with a line from Pakuranga to Howick along Pakuranga Road, Ridge Road and Picton Street.

    All these roads are multilane roads and/or with islands down the centre to which light rail tracks could easily be accommodated, moving far more people than road vehicles in the traffic lanes they would take, while providing an attractive mode of mass transit which people will much more likely get out of their cars to use over buses.

    1. If Mike Lee were to become Mayor of Auckland, I think a lot of this would occur. A man with vision, a present-day Dove-Myer Robinson.

    2. With regards to the future north shore line (that will eventually take over the northern busway’s alignments):
      Given that it’s not likely to link to any industrial zone, have any freight services and be purely for suburban/commuter rail, is it really necessary to build this line to “heavy rail” mainline standards? Is it really necessary to link it to the CRL (which by this stage would be heavily congested)?

      I would think that a future north shore rail link would be an ideal opportunity for it to be built for purpose; as a light rail (more like a Stadtbahn than a tramway), a pre-metro, a light metro or even as a proper metro line. And rather than link to the congested CRL (with only a two track tunnel); I think it would be better to have it either terminate or intersect with an existing CRL station. And I think it would be best to have it tunnelled into the CBD, have a station in the Wynyard quarter and to then circle Eastward for an interchange station under the future Aotea station (of which there should be plenty of space). I would then continue the line eastward to have a station at the University of Auckland campus. The line might then terminate there, although if it was to continue it would be to a station serving Auckland city hospital & the domain and on to terminate at Newmarket, although I accept that this last stretch would require tunnelling into strong volcanic rock and would even need to take the volcanoes themselves into account.

      But I would NOT run a future North shore rail line up the CRL. Thanks to the poor design of Britomart: the CRL canl only be two track and the future airport line should push it to capacity.

  14. Re: Auckland needs a transport vision…
    Matt L’s post this morning, basically describing how ephemeral transport planning has been in recent times, reminds me that the concept of suburban railway extensions, in the form of what was first known as the ‘Town Hall Deviation’, then the ‘Morningside Deviation’, and now, the City Rail Link, has remained the plan for a great many years.
    Indeed, as far back as 1860, a detachment of Royal Engineers proposed the construction of railway tunnels from a central station, near where the present Town Hall stands, to what was then known as Arch Hill Gulley – running one line north to the Kaipara and a second, south, through to Newmarket. However, it wasn’t until 1912 that such a project was seriously considered – when District Railway Engineer, Daniel Thomas McIntosh, “…conceived his great scheme when, one evening, he viewed the panorama from the roof promenade of the Cargen Hotel [now the Station Hotel, Beach Road].” (O’Hara 1927) “If recalled at all, Daniel McIntosh is notoriously remembered for his proposal to relocate Auckland’s Railway Station far from the City’s centre, at Beach Road. However, what is largely forgotten is that his vision, his great scheme, had also included a connecting tunnel to a second station near Upper Queen Street and a Northern Tunnel outlet to the Kaipara line.” (Mexsom 2016) Perhaps today’s transport planners could benefit from some time spent atop the Sky Tower.

  15. If the AT CEO can not provide a vision that is clear and inspires staff they should be replaced.
    This goes for any CEO as this is ultimately their vision as “the boss”.

    1. The new CEO only started in December. We’ll have to wait awhile to see what his style turns out to be. I’ve certainly been hearing some good things so far….

  16. Reading the comments there seems to be confusion between vision, goals, and strategy.

    Vision : This is all about aspirational statements, how it is achieved is seperate. I.e. A transport system that supports efficient and safe travel for people and goods throughout Auckland

    Goals : This is how we measure success in the vision. These typically become more granular the further down hierarchy but should link back to main goals. I.e. Trains on time

    Strategy: This is how to achieve goals. I.e “update timetable” or “add trains”

    1. How is a vision different to a goal? A vision is a desired state; a goal is a desired state. Both are in the same set of entities.

      A goal, an objective, a vision, a target are all animals of the same genus. I’d say perhaps a vision is a sub-species of goal.

      However, we can say that some visions are better than others. Visions that focus on process (i.e. a public transport system!) rather than result (i.e. people able to get to work quicker, cheaper, and safer) are probably not as good as those that do.

      Your vision statement ” A transport system that supports…” is analogous to a police vision of a “cop shop on every corner.” Flip it : “People can travel efficiently and safely through Auckland” and you don’t need the second bit.

      Personally, for me, a good vision is “Get to where you work, live, and play 20% faster by 2025”
      – short
      – specific
      – open to multiple solutions

    2. HSB1, I tend to think of goals as small steps or way points along the way to achieving the vision. They are not the vision in and of themselves. Just parts of the whole.

      Strategy is planning out the goals along the way to the vision.

      Your vision is about speed. That’s the the process isn’t it? You could achieve your vision by building a heck of a lot more roads and motorways at great cost.

      I posted this on another page somewhere as a replacement for AT’s vision:

      Vision/Define the challenge: “Freeing Aucklanders to live & play without needing to own a car.” This is easy to measure via car ownership rates, is very specific about what we want for the future without specifying specific solutions.

      Strategy/Guiding principle: “Everything we do should improve the attractiveness of using PT or active modes over that of private vehicles.”
      This strategy is very specific in how we are going to achieve the vision and specifically says what activities we will do and what we will not do. This helps guide our actions.

      Goals/Coherent actions:
      1. Human-centric road environments and speed limits and enforcement to reduce road deaths because people’s lives come first. (easy to measure via road toll)
      2. Expanding a connected and segregated walking/cycling network that connects people to people via PT hubs or town centres. (may be tricky to measure)
      3. Increasing the number of PT users at all times of the day through better service using a congestion free PT network. (easy to measure via HOP data)

      Limited number of actions helps us focus resources into a few key areas. These are just semi thought out goals I threw in, but I wanted to illustrate that they are all meant to work together.

      Action 1 amplifies action 2,3 because it makes PT/Cycling/Walking more attractive. Action 2 amplifies action 1,3 because there is safety in numbers and active modes are a key component of PT. Action 3 amplifies 1,2 because an amazing PT service is safer than private cars and gives people freedom from needing a car.

  17. I know this is not strictly on topic of this article.

    But is there going to be any discussion on this website about the Hobsonville Ferry being at capacity? I’d be keen to get some story from the horses mouths.

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