Auckland was once considered a case study of what not to do with transport. Our singular focus on motorway building with almost no attention towards improving public transport saw PT usage rates in the region plummet before starting to recover in the mid-90’s. The improvement in PT has been particularly remarkably over the last decade, increasing from around 53 million to nearly 93 million trips. The prospects for the next decade look even more promising. The recently agreed and funded Auckland Transport Alignment Project commits to substantial investment in public transport, including rolling out large parts of a rapid transit network. Projects like light rail and busways tend to grab the headlines but a PT network is more than just a few routes and the scale of change we’re going to see is highlighted in this small section near the end of the document under the headline “Improving travel choice”

Fast, frequent and reliable public transport will be extended into many parts of the city and significant progress be made towards creating a connected and safe cycling network.

These improvements are expected to support a substantial increase to the share of travel by public and active transport modes, from around a quarter of all morning peak trips at the moment to approximately a third of trips by 2028. Public transport ridership is expected to grow substantially, increasing from 93 million annual boardings to around 170 million by 2028.

Going from 93 to 170 million boardings in a decade is a significant jump, an 83% increase, or about 6.2% of compounding annual growth. Even accounting for population growth, the number is significant as it would represent about 85 trips per person. That’s up from 55 per capita now and would put us ahead of many other comparator cities.

To help put it in perspective, this graph shows the results of the last two decades and the prediction above for 2028. The ATAP report doesn’t break down the 170 million boardings so I made some assumptions on them, which I’ll break down. The process of making those assumptions really highlighted to me just how much things are going to have to change in this city.

Let’s break those modes down. I thought it best to work backwards from the 170 million.


We’ve seen some pretty spectacular growth in rail over the last five years following electrification of the network, with ridership doubling from 10 to 20 million in between 2013 and 2017. Over the last 8 months growth has slowed down though and it’s likely we’ll end the year at about 20.5 million trips. We don’t expect to see explosive growth again until the City Rail Link opens in mid-2024 but we do still expect some growth in the coming years. Improvements such as buses feeding more people to trains (especially with the Eastern Busway), improved weekend and hopefully off-peak frequencies along with more trains to ease capacity constraints should all help encourage more people to jump on a train. As such I’ve assumed a lower rate of growth until 2024 before a few years of rapid increases.

These changes would see rail us increase to just under 24 million before the CRL opens before jumping to about 38 million in 2028. That suggests about an 85% increase in the coming decade.


Like trains, ferries appear to be entering into a period of low growth. We do expect the coming decade to bring improvements that will increase trips but not by a substantial level. That would see growth remain on about the same trajectory it has been for the last 20 years. This assumption would see ferry trips will grow from about 6.2 million in 2018 to 8 million in 2028. This is a 29% increase in the coming decade.

Light Rail

Light rail is the hardest of the modes to make assumptions for as we don’t really have anything to compare it to. For this analysis, I’ve assumed the first section, from Mt Roskill to city, will open in around 2024 with an extension to Onehunga in 2026 and Airport by 2028. The first stages of the Northwest route may also be in place. One thing we do know is light rail will replace both Dominion Rd buses and the City Link services, they currently carry about 5 million trips annually (3m for Dominion Rd and 2m for City Link). Based on that, I assume that light rail will rise from 5 million to 8 million by 2028.


Buses are the workhorse of our PT network, carrying around 66 million trips, or 71% of all PT trips. After subtracting the modes above from the 170 million trips ATAP suggest, that leaves us with 116 million trips that will be on buses, about a 75% increase on today’s numbers. That means buses will still be carrying over 2/3rds of all PT trips. There are some big projects which will help drive surge in bus usage, including

  • The roll out of the last two big parts of the new bus network, the Isthmus (July 8) and North Shore (September 30).
  • The Extension to the Northern Busway to Albany – due to open 2021/22. Also bus shoulder lanes to Silverdale over the decade too.
  • The Eastern Busway – to Pakuanga in 2021-22 and Botany by 2026
  • Airport to Puhinui and Manukau busway – the first bits of bus priority should be in place by 2020/21.

What these bus numbers really highlight is that we’re really going to need to lift our game across the board if we’re to achieve anywhere near 116 million trips by 2028. Here are some things we’re going to need to do.

  • Buses will need to become a lot more useful. The new network helps the network structure but we’re going to need more frequent routes and all frequent routes are going to need to be more frequent i.e. a minimum of every 10 minutes instead of every 15. A lot greater percentage of trips will need to come from counter-peak, off-peak and weekend journeys.
  • To run more frequent services we’re going to need a lot more buses. In 2017 Auckland had just over 1,300 buses on the roads. This kind of growth suggests we could need 1,100 more. That’s an awful lot of additional buses that will be roaming around. As we’ve already seen though, one way to make buses more efficient is to have larger buses, such as double deckers. The counter to this is that cities like Vancouver are able to move more than twice the number of predicted bus numbers using just a few hundred more buses than we have.
  • More buses mean we’re going to need a lot more bus lanes, least those they grind to halt. As a result, it’s likely that almost every arterial would need them. But not all arterials will be able to cope with more buses, Symonds St for instance is already struggling under the weight of bus numbers in the morning – which is one of the key reasons for looking at light rail.

Auckland Transport has a lot of work to do to pull this off but in doing so, not only will there be huge benefits for Auckland, we’ll likely become a case study in how to turn a city around.

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  1. I expect Auckalnd LRT to be massively oversubscribed and for detractors to go from ‘This won’t help our area at all’ to ‘I demand one of these in our area pronto’. Mark my words, we’ll have a Remuera/Meadowbank branch petition sooner than you can blink.

    1. I agree. Gold Coast light rail is on track to pass ten million trips per year next year, four years after opening. That is on a smaller system, with one third the population.

    2. Light rail will be very popular. Easy to use, get cars off the roads, and encourage more walking and cycing
      Can we get it and the CRL started soon?

  2. Regarding bus lanes – We need to continue rolling out bus lanes.

    Also, nice to see – The bus lane on Great South Rd, from Greenlane to Adam St has new hours signposted now: 7 to 10am and 4 to 7pm.

    Not so nice for me on the occasion I have to drive down Main Highway during peak (people break the rules and stack in the bus lanes, shock, horror), but nice to see work towards improving the attractiveness of buses.

      1. I hope that AT can build bus lanes faster than they respond to OIA requests about building bus lanes. Here is an answered request from 6/5. If the “comms” person is out spraying green paint around then I forgive the oversight.

        Dear Sir / Madam

        Please advise for each of the past three years and the uncompleted part of this year
        1) The budgeted kilometres of extra bus lanes to be added by AT around Auckland and the nett number actually added
        2) The number of extra kilometres of road added, or extra lanes added during that above period. (Where a road has been added please count the kilometres and multiply by the number of lanes).

    1. Stu, the Mayor has said that congestion pricing won’t happen at least for five years. In political language: not in this term; or in the next, but maybe in my last.

  3. “an 83% increase, or about 6.2% of compounding annual growth” Why would it compound? Are you expecting the existing passengers to breed little passengers each year?

    1. That’s what I do. Don’t you? And no, I’m not talking about my kids, I’m talking about the kids and adults I encourage onto public transport, by being clear that that’s how I’ll be going – so why don’t they join me, etc.

    2. Someone using PT occasionally could notice service improvements (frequency, speed, proximity to key destinations etc) and decide to use PT more often. Using PT to get to and from work one day a week is about 100 trips a year. Switching to use PT every work day is about 500 trips a year.

      Sure individual passengers aren’t compounding annually but the number of trips each individual makes can be. Trip growth is driven by service improvements and service improvements do compound.

  4. While this post is inspiring, it would be better to know the percentage of people using the private car versus public transport in Auckland over the next decade.

    That would show if all these projects and fuel taxes are really worthwhile.

    Particularly for those in the sectors that are working on them.

    1. Yes, and particularly so we can see what our vkt will be like. I suspect the planning should start from this very perspective. “What vkt reduction should we be achieving, and what infrastructure and bus lanes are required to do so?” The picture would be quite a bit different from this, which is more focused on “how can we increase travel choice?”

      1. Yes explicit VKT reduction targets are necessary in my view to break through the counterproductive habits of the industry…

      2. Heidi, what we do know is that Auckland annual fuel use continues to track upward despite new cars being more fuel efficient, Recent strong PT ridership increases have not caused fuel use to lower.

        AT do have a target for reducing fuel use, but have achieved nothing. Matt has a post from me on this subject, so you may see it shortly.

        Yes AT should have these targets and recent evidence suggests that they will only be attained by introducing congestion charges as Stu has talked of earlier.

        It all or course may become completely academic because if this report from today is correct
        we won’t be deciding whether we travel by car or bus, but rather by canoe or boat.

        1. Wowser. I thought I had anticipated climate change effects by buying a home at RL40. Turns out my local port will be titirangi at some point – and I assume from the article this is just Antarctica, not the Arctic and other ice volumes. How long until the real estate panic sets in…?

    1. It sure needs bus lanes etc soon but there will be some bus routes like mine that won’t go through here anymore as the transfer to train is what is mainly to be expected. Wonder what the difference in buses per hour once all the new networks are up and running say morning peak is compared to pre new bus networks.

  5. What’s the story in Vancouver, Matt? “The counter to this is that cities like Vancouver are able to move more than twice the number of predicted bus numbers using just a few hundred more buses than we have.” Is that due to a better road layout? Is there more area covered in medium density? Is demand less peaky? I’m curious.

    1. All of the above Heidi.
      They have grid pattern streets and plenty of them. Their density means that people travel counterflow also. While Auckland has a decent amount of motorway system, what it lacks generally are arterial roads (in most countries a road isn’t considered arterial unless it’s at least 2 lanes in each direction). Vancouver has almost all roads in the main part of the city (think old Auckland City Council area) as arterial grid roads.

  6. You’re spot on about buses, Matt. More buses and bus lanes. But also:

    More one-way roads, since we don’t have the road corridor width to add bus lanes, and sometimes there aren’t enough traffic lanes to create the bus lanes while retaining traffic lanes both directions.

    Cutting rat-runs, which will otherwise take the brunt of buslane reallocations.

    Every connection between routes designed for maximum passenger connectivity. This means the bus stops need to be right next to the intersections. The oversized car infrastructure at intersections of arterials needs to be reallocated. AT needs to tackle this one head-on. Levy and Ellison must specify that this is what’s going to happen at all the intersections, or we’ll be left with a network approach that isn’t a network. Congestion for cars will worsen, and AT need to be prepared for the backlash about it.

    1. So improving roads for buses may lead to greater car congestion and you say AT need to be prepared for the backlash. How do they do that?

      1. Intersection re-working. I think removing many arterial slip lanes and right turn lanes would be relatively easy, allowing more space for a bus lane (or at least a bus priority lane at the intersection).
        Having each light phase allowing all movements from that particular intersection (ie one light is green and all others are red) would help. Four way intersections each get one phase rather than allowing for right turns first, then straight through traffic.

      2. What I am proposing is to maximise the flow of people through the intersections. What AT would need to do to overcome the backlash from the people in the least space-efficient mode is to run a campaign pointing out how space-inefficient their mode is, and to explain why they need to now accept lower amenity in order to prioritise the space-efficient modes.

        1. I’d agree with your proposals. However, I think SOV people are likely well aware how space inefficient their mode is. AT would have little success appealing to them when PT alternatives are either non existant or involve significantly longer travel times.
          2024 for first section of LR? Wasn’t there talk of this being done in a year or two, or does this mean construction won’t start until 2022?

        2. How did the stop-smoking campaigns get traction, I wonder? When I was little, my mum was belittled and ostracised for trying to keep us away from smoke, and for saying that people couldn’t smoke in the house. Now, for most demographics (and sadly, not for all), that’s really changed.

          I think the same sort of campaign is needed. While retaining amenity for vehicles is necessary until PT is improved, no vehicle amenity should be retained if it delays or inhibits that required PT improvement. Why don’t AT couch it as:

          “If you wouldn’t want to smoke in front of your kids, why would you want to prevent them from an equally healthy transport choice?” Or

          “You might notice reduced amenity for driving as we improve public transport. We have no choice about this now – the multiple crises our children are facing (mobility in the city, housing affordability, climate change) requires these changes. Your best choice is to go with the flow, and hop on the bus. Or accept some delays.”

        3. I seem to remember Dominion road was going to be done by 2019 (but I can’t seem to find that page on GA). I doubt there will be a spade in the ground by then!

        4. There’s been no consenting or detailed design so yes, construction won’t start until 2022.

  7. I agree with Matt L, rail will is see a slow growth until the opening of the city rail link, when there will be big growth of rail users, as train services will be more frequent.

  8. It’s interesting with the projected numbers of bus trips, what are the plans for storage of buses on layover? The central city depot at Wynyard is being closed and redeveloped, and those buses have to find somewhere to live off peak, so to add another 1100 of them will make this a significant issue. Maybe it will fuel calls for more light rail lines, I hope so anyway.

  9. I suspect Govt is hoping to see some prelim works before the next election, services diversion and the like. I have been told it takes on average 5 years to get one up and running from the start of serious design.

  10. I would expected city centre to be very vibrant, with more people and amenity.

    Land surrounding train stations and public transport interchange starting to get intensified and become desirable place to live.

  11. If you look to Australia, their experience is that from a similar start point as Auckland is today, it takes seven to nine years until any effective light rail system carries its first fare-paying passenger. I’m sure we will see some form of enabling works before the next election but an operating system will take much longer. Remember, this is an urban redevelopment project not just a railway so it will likely be slower to complete

  12. Off thread maybe, but for those who are interested I’ll give you something interesting that I just found before I forget the link:

    A common argument from the sceptics and naysayers who doubt the value of investing in better public transport is: ‘People need their cars for reasons A,B,C …’ One of the reasons is usually ‘to bring home the shopping.’ Clearly they’re visualising the weekly big shop at the supermarket. So I note with interest that ‘Small basket quick trips are half of all shopping trips.’

    The broader point is that when we talk about promoting public transport, we’re trying to nudge the habits of the population as a whole over all their activities. We’re not trying to force change on any particular person or any particular trip. There are people all along the spectrum of different needs and motivations at different times and places. If half the people all the time, or all the people half the time, or most of the people most of the time, still need their car for their next trip, for whatever reason, that’s fine. The people we’re trying to nudge are other people at other times, the people for whom public transport is ‘maybe, sometimes, when it’s convenient.’ The aim is that as services improve (with the related planning and infrastructure policies to support that) it will be convenient for more people more often.

    1. Quite right, but our delivery of message needs work.

      Whenever the topic of PT investment generates the comment “but you cant take all your grocery bags on the train”, I respond with “how did you make the leap to being banned from driving to the supermarket – forever?”. Usually followed up with, “and how do you get the 5 piece lounge suite back from Harvey Norman in the Corolla”

      The first point highlights that its just providing options for people and circumstances. The second that even their car has limitations too.

      There is some irrational, almost subconscious fear tht PT spend means they will not be able to use their car. That it will limit their “freedom”, rather than enhance it (in terms of more options). Its perplexing – and I am a car owner.

      1. There will always be guys like Mike Hoskardson who absolutely need to use their cars and will be prepared to pay to use their cars, although they will bitch and moan about the cost.
        Fortunately there is already about 60% of Aucklanders saying that they need better public transport and its probably because they recognise its necessary to fix congestion; or the environment; or to save money or a combination of all of these.
        The message that we all need to do something different is on our tv screens and internet everyday with pieces about abnormal weather events, rising sea levels and warmer temperatures. This will only become more common.

  13. Light rail opening from Mt Roskill to city in 2024? Laughable. There probably won’t even be any work started by then.

  14. Big fan of the future of light rail, living in Grey Lynn and working in Wynyard Quarter. Also keen to see more bus lanes on the main routes into CBD. Whilst also see there is a need for improving local bus links connecting into the current rail network. My partner lives in StJohn’s park, she drives to Meadowbank train station with most parking full by 7/715am, on the narrow streets. She’d much prefer to get a little bus that should be zipping around the St.Johns/ Remuera / Meadowbanks estates and dropping people at the stations. Coming from uk, they have these smaller buses, carrying around 25 people, running every 10-15 mins around the local estates and dropping at the train stations. They use these smaller more frequent buses, as due to car parking on both sides of roads, they need to be smaller and nimble, as the double decker or long single decker can’t navigate the roads as easy.

    1. The new bus network due to start 8th July has a bus connector to this station but won’t be quite as frequent as that. 20mins peak I think. Where is St. John park?

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