The last time I spent New Year’s Eve in central Auckland was years ago. We had dinner downtown and as midnight approached, made a break for a friend’s apartment where we could watch the limp fireworks off the Sky Tower while avoiding the clumps of drunken teenagers and wayward boy racers hovering on Queen Street.

In 2019, things had changed. Wandering around the city, it was apparent that the crowds were different. 

Families during on Elliot St

The increased population living in the now archaic sounding but-everyone-still-calls-it-that CBD might have something to do with it, and so might the improved streetscapes, or the concurrently running Elliot St night market. Or maybe it’s just the vibe of the thing. But whatever it is, it’s different now, and it’s better. Mostly.

Night market shops and crowds

AT advertised a decent chunk of the central city would be closed to cars this year, with a few blocks around Victoria Street from Albert Park to the Sky Tower promising escape from the near death experiences of last year. And they generally achieved this, with pedestrians, cyclists and various retro-future mobility devices granted freedom of movement within this sandbox, starting shortly after 10pm.

Crowds on Victoria St

Part of the value of these events is that they allow us to see the city in a different light. With so many decades of the city being treated as a thoroughfare rather a destination and a neighbourhood, it can be easy to overlook that it’s now home to tens of thousands of people. This is especially true on the ridge of Victoria Street West, which on an average day feels like a glorified motorway off ramp, despite being surrounded by loads of residential. Pedestrianisation gives us a glimpse how it might one day feel every night, after the linear park is installed.

Pedestrianised Victoria St West

Step a bit outside the designated playground however, and business as usual was in full effect, with High Street on the east of the city largely being used as a feeder for the Victoria Street carpark and general rat-running – albeit with several businesses along it clued in to the increased volume of pedestrians, open and busy.

High St traffic and shops

But the big test of New Year’s Even in Auckland is what happens afterwards. In 2018, people were crowded off overcapacity footpaths and convoys of Prius VIPs pushed through uprising pedestrians.

Screenshot of Tweet from Ben Lilley showing cars pushing through crowds during NYE 2018

In 2019, thanks to pedestrianisation of a larger area, and cutting out of space for access to parking buildings, much of the danger of crushing by light machinery was mitigated, at least around Victoria Street.

Cars exiting Victoria St carpark

But although so much effort had gone into providing separated vehicle access to parking buildings, much of the work to provide similarly good access to public space for pedestrians was timid: and pointlessly so.

With only a few blocks around midtown officially pedestrianised, no amount of cones were able to stop the overflow of thousands of people walking through the city after midnight. Lower Queen Street and half of Quay Street were impromptu pedestrianised, despite not being part of the advertised vehicle free area. Why not do it properly and just pedestrianise the lot to begin with?

Lower Queen St taken over by pedestrians

Quay St taken over by pedestrians

On the public transport front, little has improved from last year. Almost immediately buses filled to capacity, and running at low frequency, stranded people at stops to wait – in my case almost 1.5 hours – before eventually becoming available. On the 25, it went something like this:

  • 12.25am: Arrive at bus stop
  • 12:30am: Bus full
  • 1:00am: Scheduled bus no show
  • 1:30am: Scheduled bus no show
  • 1:50am: Mystery bus turns up

Crowds waiting for the 25 bus

Others reported making it onto a bus, but it taking over an hour to get out of the city, stuck in traffic from vehicles leaving parking buildings.

Waiting in the queue for the 25, the roads began to hollow out, and the carriageway began to fill with the population from years ago again; people in cars with broken exhausts screaming down the street yelling abuse at the crowds stuck at the bus stops.

Toddler and father stranded at bus stop

All sorts of people have started using public transport now – no doubt partly because they’ve been encouraged to do so by AT’s own advertising, lowered child fares, and improved service with the new network. Is it reasonable – or safe – to leave them and their families stranded after a huge and predictable event? Should anyone be surprised that now we’re beginning to provide a service… people want to use it?

Being abandoned at a bus stop in the early hours of the morning makes your mind wander. Mine wandered into the realisation that all the effort put into pedestrianising streets, carefully controlling access to parking buildings and fastidious traffic management was really for the benefit of exactly that: traffic. When the cars have safely cleared out, and the roads are free flowing again, you’re on your own.

Central Auckland feels like a neighbourhood now. With families, eateries, supermarkets, housing – and large events people will travel in for. But it feels like our authorities still treat it more like a nuisance to be managed rather than something to provide for and grow. In 2020, hopefully we’ll see the old attitudes start to shift a bit more, and as it becomes 2021, maybe we’ll be able to get home afterwards too. 

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  1. Good post – and great photos! Seriously beautiful shots of the night market – the night lighting and exposure and composition is just perfect.

    You’re right about the traffic though – the key to any big city is smooth and reliable flow of public transport. Simply no excuse AT !

  2. It seems like running anything other than peak time services for clearing the CBD is wholly inadequate and leads to messes like this.

  3. Great post thanks, Shan. I wonder if AT could have someone appointed to be responsible for making events work? Someone who has the power within the organisation to call the shots for how both services are run and the street layout is changed, and who also fronts the public? This isn’t difficult to do, if supported by the organisation.

    1. That’s what Auckland Council pays the 200 people at ATEED $50m a year for.

      I think AT used to have a major events team to do just that, but I think they got disestablished. Events are just annoying interruptions to AT’s real job of building wider roads.

      1. Disestablished? That’d be right. A team intended to improve life for the plebs wouldn’t really fit in that rates-funded organisation designed to remove resident-friendly bureaucratic hurdles.

        1. Don’t ask about the cycling team then! Is there anyone there now, with any seniority? What future plans are being developed, are, you know; ‘shovel ready’? Are actually AT planning a real joined up network, ready to apply for funding?

  4. These posts are a neat little summary of the current state of play more generally. Still obviously not nearly good enough, but at least trending in the right direction.

  5. The PT issue is the same for all big events now.

    We went to the U2 concert last year. Parked at Albany P&R, NX1 to downtown, train to Mt Smart. We used our concert tickets to get free entry on to those services. Couldn’t have been easier, and was a really good experience.

    For the ride home, we simply jumped on one of the many trains they’d put on to get back to the CBD. We got on (I think) the second train back to the city, so very little waiting involved – once again very easy.

    After that is when the PT side of thing completely failed. We walked across to Lower Albert St, to find a long queue for the NEX, but no bus. They had not altered the standard timetable, so the (literally) thousands of people they’d helped to ship in, were expected to fit on to the two normal buses that were scheduled to leave after the train arrived back in town (about 11:30), along with anyone who’d spent the evening in town.

    After waiting 15 minutes to see what would happen, we got an Uber back to Albany, as it was obvious that there was going to be no PT solution.

    I struggle to understand how AT can do the first part of the evening so well, without figuring out that the same crowd of people will also want to get home.

    Even without an event on, the night services are already packed, run too infrequently, and finish way too early. Hopefully it’s something that AT put some effort in to solving, so that PT is a viable option for an evening in town.

    1. A reply here from the PR department of AT would be a really useful and timely move…. How about it AT ? Time to talk to the people and own up that you’ve screwed up, and vitally, announce some plans so it doesn’t happen again !

    2. Yes that really shows the difference in capacity of the two modes unless you increase the frequency of the bus.

      The example of the 25 bus is rediculous with two no shows half hour apart each until 1:50 another finally gets through the chaos.

        1. Or if you could change to a bus at Aotea or Britomart. The problem here isn’t that the wheels are rubber. The problem is that the service doesn’t run during major events.

      1. A ten billion dollar train tunnel because they can’t put on enough buses?!

        I’d see if they can run the buses first before trusting them with an risky economy crippling mega project.

        1. Where does 10 billion come from?
          And the financial aspect -if Auckland was forward looking it would be planning for vastly improved use of any new PT facility – eventually there will be a coherent plan to reduce emissions.

  6. After reading this and some of the comments it proves that these Council (UN)Controlled Organisation’s just don’t talk each each other . They need to be locked in a room until they can sort something out and the only let out when they have got their s*** together for that event with all the transport options that can be made .

    And as for the central city these people that like to promanard up and down just give them the chance to do 363 days of the year and the other 2 just ban them outright .

  7. I have a worse story to tell. I recently went to the movies and when I got there I had to pay to go in! Auckland Council seems to have forgotten it is their job to provide me with free entertainment and half price transport at any hour I might want it. I mean they act as if it is their own money. It isn’t theirs, it is actually money stolen off all the rest of the property owners of Auckland who didn’t go to the movies that night. So clearly Auckland City had no right to hold out on me like that.

    How can Auckland City get away with not paying for my night out and not paying for half the cost of hundreds of more buses for Knuckleheads Night Out every December 31st. What is the Council doing with the pile of cash they are clearly saving?

      1. No but plenty of people commenting want more buses put on, and our buses are run on the basis of only 50% recovered at the farebox so that means 1/2 is free to the user. And perhaps buses run at 1am on January 1st cost even more in wages.
        Maybe the answer is to put up the price of bus trips to double or triple at these times and pay much higher wages to the folk who have to drive them at antisocial times.

        1. If the buses are full they are probably making a profit on them, even with holiday rates for the drivers.

          Even if they weren’t profitable a good experience on New Years is probably a great loss leader for the PT system.

        2. Without roads how would you walk, cycle or ride on a bus?

          Perhaps if bus passengers want a system where supply is more responsive to demand then using price is actually the answer. If bus drivers were offered a very generous bonus for working at 1am on a public holiday then many might volunteer for the shift. Similarly perhaps passengers might be happy to pay three or four times the fare to not have to queue for hours in the dark. There you go we reached the efficient solution and it means having fares that vary with demand. Who would have thought?

        3. I think an after midnight surcharge is reasonable on the face of it. Years ago when I was young and stupid enough to go out for New Years in Queenstown the buses cost more after midnight.

          However, I struggle to believe that PT on New Year’s wouldn’t actually make a healthy profit. Lets not put off prospective new users by charging more for the captive return trip, it might sound good on the night but will probably cost more in the long run.

        4. “Without roads how would you walk, cycle or ride on a bus?”

          A pretty minimal road network is needed for these modes compared to the urban heater we have, though.

          Driving is far more than 50% paid for publicly, when you factor in climate and public health costs.

        5. Time and a half and a day in lieu for working on a public holiday. I don’t think the problem will be remuneration but more likely that AT wanted the shift to start at (e.g.) 11:00 p.m.

          It’s a very very predictable one off peak event. AT should be able to do (a lot) better

    1. ‘stolen’: wow an actual Regan era buzzword, geez old man, read the room, your oh so rad 1980s heyday is long gone.

      1. I can accept ‘taken compulsorily’ for the taxes they spend on our welfare and wellbeing but it isn’t a strong enough term for the taxes taken and spent on fireworks, buses for people who want to travel for daft reasons in the middle of the night or anything at all to do with paying David Beckham to play football here. Stolen is closer to the mark. That includes anything that ATEED spends.

    2. Miffy. I prefer not to spend my lunchtime being insulted and told I’m a thief, regardless of how many layers of sarcasm it’s wrapped in. The comments on this post are to remain polite. Please keep this in mind for any future comments. Thanks.

      1. If you can be bothered then try reading it again and you will see I never called you a thief. If I thought you were I would level such an accusation directly at you. I levelled that accusation at a tax collecting part of government that gives the cash to ATEED to waste. Not sure I have insulted you either but I guess that is for you to decide not me.
        But I hope you had a nice lunch.

        1. As I said, wrapping your behaviour in sarcasm doesn’t change what it is. Drop it, or take it elsewhere.

  8. ‘I want all my voluntary travel needs met where and when I want it and I want everyone else to pay half the cost. ‘

    And they some people call drivers entitled…..

    1. I’d be very surprised if fully ladened buses on New Year’s Eve are only recovering 50 % of their running costs.

    2. Drivers aren’t paying anything like 50% of the costs they are imposing.

      But I wouldn’t call them entitled, I’d call most of them stuck without enough options.

        1. Do you want to pay rent and rates on all that land covered in tarmac? Just because the government / council own the land, doesn’t mean people should be allowed to drive over it for free…

        2. No ones driving for free jimbo.

          Do you want to pay rent for footpaths and bicycle lanes?

          It’s a silly argument that just goes round in circles.

        3. No, it’s not a silly argument.

          Driving adds risk, noise, fumes, delay, all of which prevents people from cycling and walking. The pollution, and the inactivity, add a huge cost to our public health system. It all also prevents people who don’t drive from getting where they want easily, and congests the road, preventing people who drive from getting where they want at the speed they want, so there are massive social costs. Children bear the brunt of this in their loss of independent mobility, which has physical, social, psychological, neurological impacts on them. And then there’s climate change, and the actual road trauma cost.

          If you think any of this is covered by your road user charges, think again.

        4. Me
          Do the numbers – drivers are paying a huge cost for the privilege of driving.
          First there is the individual cost: petrol, depreciation, maintenance etc and garaging would make the cost horrendous.
          And then add the cost that the govt bears to build roads.
          And then the cost on Councils to build local roads.

          Sophisticated cities have quickly worked out that enabling people to use PT is a huge financial win for most of the population.

          But if my logical approach to this makes me a car hater I will live with it.

  9. Many years ago I did have the exact experience when using bus after a big event.

    Ever since, I gave up to their event PT and drive instead.

    It seems AT has not learned anything after few years.

    AT PR marketing encourage people to use PT, but in reality they continue to treat PT user as second citizen.

  10. Yep — that will teach you to drive next time.

    I noticed the same on the lantern festival, with the added complication that you start just that little bit away from the city centre. Trains were not running that evening, and buses couldn’t have moved more than a couple of 100s of people. Luckily for us nobody else seemed to have come by bus.

    Wilson parking had a $25 event tariff, which is about the same as 4 return bus fares.

  11. Whilst they’re at it, perhaps some co-ordination between AT and the schedule-makers for Spark Arena, would it be posible to have one train headed in each direction from Britomart half an hour after the last curtain call? (by which time AT is in sleep-mode) – there are literally THOUSANDS of people pouring out of that venue.

  12. Our experience:
    Caught a bus from North Shore and met up with friends for dinner / drinks at Auckland Fish Market, which for those who don’t know is in the Viaduct area.
    Around 2330 walked to the Viaduct pedestrian draw bridge and got a good spot to watch the fireworks from both the Sky Tower and the Harbour Barge.
    Following the fireworks walked to Fanshaw St. Thought public transport would be a impossibility so ordered an Uber at 0030. Could see that our assigned car was caught up in the Viaduct area traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular. and just wasn’t making any headway towards us. At 0040 a suitable bus came along so we hopped on and cancelled the Uber. Although the bus was full, a couple of the younger generation gave up their seats for my wife & I, chivalry is still alive and well. Our home is approx 600m from our bus stop, and were home by 0115am.
    Using AT Hop Card linked to our Gold Card our total travel costs were $10 for the cancelled Uber. Can’t beat that.

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