With 2018 drawing to a close, I thought I’d pull together a quick post wrapping up the most important things that happened during the year.
Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog and supported us in making Auckland greater. Throughout the year we published over 430 posts and had over 27,000 comments. Importantly, our advocacy over the last few years appears to be bearing fruit and many of the things we have advocated for have come true, or at least moved closer to happening.
The new government have stamped their mark on transport planning for Auckland and the country.
In April we got a revision of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). The new version proposes spending $28 billion over the coming decade and most importantly, the government and council have funded it, something missing from previous versions.
The new version includes around $17 billion of capital expenditure and almost two thirds is dedicated to public transport, walking/cycling and safety. This includes $8.4 billion towards rapid transit projects, for which the plan has been improved over previous versions. and now looks very similar to our Congestion Free Network.
One major positive we also saw from ATAP was the removal of the East-West Link in it’s near motorway form with the NZTA sent back to the drawing board to look for a better option.
To help pay for the projects, the council implemented a 10c per litre regional fuel tax from July. The extra tax was also critical in that it unlocked billions more funding from the government. This, combined with a general increase in fuel taxes and rising importer costs generated a bit of noise a few months ago when prices spiked but that subsequently disappeared after prices fell again.
ATAP also helped feed into a new Government Policy Statement (GPS). The new GPS was a vast improvement on the draft produced by the previous government and included significant changes, including a much-needed focus on improving road safety and public transport. This was able to be achieved by keeping state highway spending about the same instead of the continual increases that were planned to fund the previous government’s mega roading projects.
Despite most of these major policy changes being well signalled, it seemed some at Auckland Transport didn’t get the message though and they published a draft Regional Land Transport Plan that proposed to do the opposite. AT ended up having to go back to the drawing board to come up with a more appropriate plan.
Near the end of the year we also saw the draft Regional Public Transport Plan which looks specifically at how public transport services will be improved over the coming decade.
Auckland’s plans are now in a fairly good shape and we have funding to implement them, the challenge now is how quickly and successfully we can do that.
New Network roll-out and PT use
This year saw the final major pieces of the new bus network roll out with the Central and North Shore networks being implemented in July and at the end of September respectively. For most people these changes have significantly improved buses, especially with having a number of services running frequently throughout the day, every day of the week.
Changing all bus routes in the region, along with all the contracts behind the scenes and operators introducing hundreds of new buses is no small task and the complexity of it was more recently highlighted by the struggles Wellington has had in attempting something similar.
In Manukau the new bus interchange opened.
In Auckland at least, the results have at least been positive and usage has continued to rise with annual usage nearly at 96 million trips as of the end of November, up from 91 million at the beginning of the year. Most of that growth has been on buses as trains and ferries were both fairly flat this year. We’re likely to pass 100 million trips in 2019 which will be the first time that’s happened since 1951.
City Rail Link
Progress on the CRL has been mixed this year. There has been a lot of progress on the current works culminating in the first breakthrough earlier this month. A personal highlight was getting a tour of some of the works in the middle of the year.
Also firmly in the good news column has was the council voting to future proof the CRL by allowing for longer stations, long enough for 9-car trains, and by adding a second entrance to the Karangahape Rd station with a much needed exit to Beresford Square. These two changes will increase the overall cost of the project but are something that would not be feasible to do at a later stage. The impact they have are significant though and having longer trains will allow for a 50% increase in capacity on the rail network, with up to 54,000 people an hour able to be delivered to the central city.
The good news was slightly soured earlier in the year after Fletcher’s pulled out of the tendering process for the main works – that will build the stations and tunnels between Wyndham St and Mt Eden. This delayed the tender process for months and the final result of who will build them will be announced in April. More recently there have been problems with the contractor selected to install the rails and other systems in the tunnels. This was resolved just before Christmas with an announcement the tunnel builders will also do that work.
Light rail has continued to be a hot topic for debate, especially after the government confirmed their plans to build it. Unfortunately, much of the debate in the mainstream can be best characterised as ‘fact free’ with opponents of the project spreading often deliberately incorrect information in a bid to stop or delay it.
Airport to Botany
While Light Rail will eventually reach the airport, progress was also made in 2018 on providing a rapid transit connection from the east, which when combined with the existing heavy rail network, will provide fast and easy access from the city and elsewhere via a single and simple transfer This will also be part of a busway that eventually connects through to Botany. We got a glimpse of what one of the first and most visible stages of this could look like in November with some concept images of an upgraded Puhinui station to be open in 2021 – a future stage will see a busway bridge span the rail corridor.
What is possibly Auckland’s longest running transport project finally moved a step closer this year with consent granted and initial preparation work starting to build an urban busway from Panmure to Pakuranga. Construction will start early next year.
Bus/Bike lash on the rise
One disappointing trend in 2018 was a rise in noise around improvements for buses and bikes, often by a few very vocal opponents and media commentators. Most worryingly this seems to have spooked some at Auckland Transport and it has clearly impacted on their delivery of these projects this year.
This was highlighted at the beginning of the month with the opening of the fantastic Ian McKinnon Cycleway, which at 800m is the longest opened this year.
Also in the good news column is that despite the negativity from some, usage of cycleways continues to grow strongly with routes like the Northwestern cycleway seeing very strong and continued growth every year.
One great piece of cycling news was the announcement the government had taken over Skypath and confirmed funding to build it. We look forward to hearing more about it in 2019.
Road Safety Focus increasing
With a new government has come an increased focus on improving road safety following the significant increase in deaths and serious injuries on our roads over the last 4-5 years, reversing a previous downward trend. Throughout the year this change in focus has become clear throughout many of our transport agencies which is good to see.
In the case of Auckland Transport, some of this change has also come following a damning report on their role in improving safety. While they still have a long way to go, they are moving in the right direction.
The government have kicked off a massive road safety programme that for the price of a single motorway project will see 870km of state highway made safer by 2021 and more money is being made available for local councils to improve their roads.
Perhaps the biggest change this year is also one of the smallest, from a vehicle perspective. Lime e-scooters launched in Auckland and Christchurch in mid-October and have been the subject of significant debate but also significant usage. In Auckland alone they say over 100,000 people have already used them and many of the trips are replacing car trips.
City Centre Changes coming
In November we learned of a bold new plan for traffic in the city centre that would make the area far more pedestrian friendly. This is something was unanimously approved by the council to be included in a refresh of the City Centre Masterplan. Even more positive, the councillors were eager for some of the improvements to be trialled as soon as possible rather than waiting years for expensive physical works. We look forward to seeing what 2019 brings in this space.
The city centre remains one of Auckland’s biggest construction sites with many cranes dotted around the skyline with works in all corners as it transforms before our eyes. That is something that will only continue in 2019 with projects like all the downtown works kicking off.
There are plenty more that could be included in here so let me know in the comments if there’s anything major I’ve missed.
Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing our work. Happy New Year