The next council election is exactly 3 months away on October 12. There are already many candidates announced for Mayor, councillor and local board positions and we’re starting to see some policy emerging. With that in mind, I thought I would pull together some of the key areas those seeking to be elected should be focusing on trying to deliver. These aren’t fully formed and costed policies to be adopted, although I may try to do that at a later date,
Previous elections have been dominated by discussions about infrastructure about projects like the City Rail Link and then Light Rail. While I expect there are bound to be discussions of some level about infrastructure, perhaps for the first time it is unlikely to, and shouldn’t, play a key role. That’s because at a regional level, the agreed infrastructure plans, as identified in ATAP, are actually pretty good. If delivered, it will see significant positive change delivered to public transport infrastructure in Auckland. What’s more, from the council’s point of view, the funding is largely in place for it thanks to the regional fuel tax – any candidates promising to cancel the RFT will need to explain how they’ll pay for Auckland’s share of ATAP, and it’s extremely unlikely the government will stump up with the money, especially given some politicians desire for the focus to be on the regions.
If there is one thing to discuss about infrastructure it’s how candidates will ensure that what’s planned is actually delivered and done so on time. Auckland Council may have its funding largely sorted but it’s the government and its agencies that has been dragging their heels. The NZTA and AT have also both been very poor in some areas of delivery, most notably with cycling infrastructure and so I’d like to see how candidates would look to change that.
Turn PT up a notch
Last month Auckland celebrated reaching the milestone of 100 million PT boardings in a calendar year, having been less than 60 million a mere decade earlier. If we look back at what led us to achieve that milestone it was not one single thing but almost every year there were improvements that have combined together to create a significantly improved PT system. For example:
- 2008 – Northern Busway opens and some more improved stations on the Western Line
- 2010 – Western Line double tracking completed and new, significantly improved stations at Grafton, New Lynn and Newmarket.
- 2012 – HOP rolled out to the rail network, Manukau station opened.
- 2014 – HOP rolled out to all buses, first electric trains start
- 2015 – Electrification completed.
- 2016 – Integrated Fares, new bus network rolled out in South Auckland and upgraded Otahuhu Station opened
- 2017 – New bus network in West Auckland and at end of the year in East Auckland
- 2018 – New bus network in Central Auckland and North Shore
Thinking about the future, there will be some improvements in 2021/22 as the Northern Busway Extension and new Rosedale Station opens as well as in East Auckland when the Eastern Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga opens but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much planned until the CRL in late 2024.
Earlier this year the updated Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) was adopted. This is the document that lays out ATs plans for public transport over the coming decade including what services will be run.
The new bus network introduced the concept of a ‘frequent’ route where buses turn up at least every 15 minutes all day, every day. These routes are responsible for much of the growth of the last year or two. The proposals in the RPTP are actually pretty good with one of the key aspirational goals being to increase the quality of the frequent network by increasing the standard to a bus every 10 minutes along with having more frequent routes and longer spans of frequent service. Many routes will already achieve this level of service at peak times but it’s off-peak and on weekends where service drops. One good thing about service
Many routes will already achieve this level of service at peak times but it’s off-peak and on weekends where service drops. One good thing about increasing off-peak and weekend services is it doesn’t require any additional infrastructure and the buses that would be needed to run it are already here, it just needs drivers.
The difference between a service every 15 minutes and one every 10 might not seem like much but in my experience makes a significant difference to how people perceive the usefulness of PT. I still recall the impact it had on my commute when train frequencies were improved from 15 to 10 minutes at peak times. When the prospect of a just missed train meant a 15 minute wait I would go out of my way to make sure I made it, precisely timing when I left work or as often happened, having to run to make it. That all changed when services were improved to every 10 minutes. Suddenly the wait didn’t seen anywhere near as bad and it means now I often don’t even bother checking the time, only seeing when the next train is when I turn up at the station. I expect improving frequent buses to be every being 10 minutes to have a similar impact for many others across the region and is even easier to market to potential users.
While the proposals in the RPTP are decent, we need the changes now, not in a decade and so I’d like to see candidates pushing to bring forward the implementation of it with perhaps a goal of the current plan being achieved by 2024 when the CRL opens. This would require more funding, and ideally most of it should come from the government but Auckland will need to contribute too.
From a very brief, high-level analysis, the only services that would currently meet that enhanced definition (and I was only looking between 7am and 7pm) would be:
- City Link
- Inner Link
- Dominion Rd (the 25 routes)
- Botany (the 70 route)
I hope to do some more analysis on this in the coming weeks.
Electric Buses now
This one is really pretty simple, we need more electric buses now. AT’s current plan is not to require all new buses to be electric till 2025 with not all buses electric until 2040. This is too far away and not ambitious enough given the urgent need to address emissions for both climate change and health reasons. We’d like to see candidates taking a stronger stance here and requiring all buses bought from now on be electric.
Fix our Streets
While our PT networks have been improving over recent years and now get strong political support, the next goal is to get similar levels of support to fix our streets. As I said in May
Auckland’s streets need to change. They’re horrifically unsafe, they waste enormous amounts of space on incredibly inefficient uses, they destroy – rather than support – the quality of our neighbourhoods, they actively discourage people from using them in anything other than a car, and they don’t even do a particularly good job at keeping traffic moving.
There are some good proposals for the city centre with the Access 4 Everyone scheme but we need this implemented ASAP and similar ideas need to be rolled out to other centres around Auckland. We’d like to see candidates pushing this.
Note: This also includes speeding up the delivery of cycleways which have been way too slow.
Fare Free Weekends once a month
The free public transport a few weeks ago was a fantastic success and saw many people using PT to explore the city. It would be great to see this used again and tied to open streets events. It should also be made a regular thing, perhaps something like repeating it on the last Sunday of every month, or something like that.