Last week I took a look at how public transport ridership in Auckland might grow over the next decade, if it continues current strong growth rates and lines up with the transport modelling predictions in ATAP.
On a per capita basis, this would reflect an increase from around 55 annual trips per person at the moment, to around 85. This would put us ahead of similar sized Australian cities (assuming they don’t grow, which they probably will), but still well behind Canadian cities that are of a similar size to Auckland:
This would be quite a turnaround from 10-20 years ago, when public transport use was in freefall and Auckland was seen a one of the most car dependent, sprawled cities in the world.
While this kind of “numbers competition” is fun for transit die-hards, what 85 PT trips per capita by 2028 would really reflect is a pretty amazing transformation of Auckland over the space of the last few decades. If major transport and housing plans are implemented (and with funding in place there is now greater certainty than ever before), Auckland could be a pretty amazing place in a decade’s time. Let’s see what we should achieve, starting with transport:
- A world-class rail network anchored by the City Rail Link, electrification extended to Pukekohe, 36 more trains supporting higher frequencies, and hopefully fast and frequent passenger trains to Hamilton and beyond.
- A new light-rail network linking the city to the Airport and the city to the Northwest.
- Major new busways to the East and an extension of the Northern Busway, and a rapidly growing bus lane network
- A growing safe cycling network
- First steps towards implementing road pricing
We also seem to be better placed than in a long time to fix our housing problems:
- We have a Unitary Plan that provides for large-scale intensification across much of the city, and largely gets rid of perverse planning rules (like minimum parking requirements) that make quality intensification nearly impossible.
- We have a government that’s actually interested in building homes
- We have a number of large-scale developments getting underway, often in pretty central locations
All these gains have been long and often painful processes. Some of this pain is still happening, particularly when it comes to providing safe cycling infrastructure. But each battle has ultimately been won. Equally importantly, city destroying motorway projects have been cancelled or indefinitely delayed. Progress is being made, at an increasingly fast rate.
What’s especially interesting in this “turnaround” is that Auckland isn’t just riding a wave of cities getting their act together all around the globe. San Francisco’s housing crisis only seems to get worse, Sydney is still building stupid $16 billion motorways, New York can’t build anything for seemingly less than three times the price of anywhere else in the world, Perth’s transit ridership is declining, even Vancouver is building some pretty dodgy freeway projects. Declining oil prices (until recently) and a more polarised political environment (including anti-urban backlash voting) mean that this is not a universally great age for urbanism and reducing our reliance on private vehicles. Just take a look at what’s happening to transit ridership across the USA over the past few years:
So what is Auckland doing right? Why is Auckland able to come up with such good transport plans, a Unitary Plan that allows for growth far more than most plans do, a comprehensive (although still early days) plan to fix our housing crisis, and much more?
We would like to think that we have played a role in this success, along with other groups we work with closely, like Generation Zero and Bike Auckland. The public conversations around transport and housing issues, while still frequently crap, are certainly generally better than they used to be. Politicians now have confidence to be pro-housing or pro-travel choice, knowing that both there’s a strong evidence base behind these positions as well as a pretty big bunch of potential voters.
The other big change for Auckland has obviously been amalgamation. With one council, Auckland has been able to progress big projects like the City Rail Link or consistent and bold plans like the Unitary Plan. A large and powerful Council was also able to stand up to the previous Government in a way that would have been impossible before amalgamation, getting some major wins against the Government’s initial position, like the City Rail Link (and was well on the way towards winning support for light-rail).
I certainly hope that the progress Auckland has made in recent years continues and accelerates over the next decade. While a lot has improved in recent years, Auckland is still a long way away from fixing its housing crisis and a very long way away from having a safe cycling network. A new road safety crisis has emerged in recent years that requires massive change to our transport system to make it safer. But I think we can be proud that we are, for the first time in a very long time, doing better than a lot of other cities.