Here’s our weekly roundup

COVID Level 2 from Monday

As Auckland moves back to COVID Level 2 there will be more people travelling and one difference this time around is that the government have mandated that masks be worn on public transport.

“The advice from health officials is clear – the use of face coverings can reduce the risk of people spreading COVID-19, particularly where it is hard to maintain physical distance from others. Masks and face coverings do not replace physical distancing – they complement other public health measures.

“We want to make this as easy as possible, so any form of face covering will do. If you don’t have a mask you can use a scarf or bandana.

“We encourage everyone to get three or four washable masks each and are also investigating the potential distribution of reusable masks to those most in need.


  • Face coverings should be worn on public transport and aircraft. That includes trains, buses, and ferries.
  • They don’t need to be worn on:
    • By children under 12
    • On school buses
    • On charter or group tours
    • On interisland ferries
    • On private flights
    • By private contractors of air services such as top-dressers
    • These groups are already likely within each other’s bubbles as part of a registered group or have space to physically distance.
  • In addition, face coverings do not need to be worn by:
    • Passengers of small passenger vehicles, such as taxis and uber. But drivers will be required to wear masks.
    • People with a disability or physical or mental health condition that makes covering their face unsuitable do not have to wear face coverings also.
    • There will be other times when it is not required – such as in an emergency, if unsafe, if people need to prove their identity or to communicate with someone who is deaf, or if required by law.

Not wearing a face covering on public transport will become an offence, punishable by a $300 infringement notice or a fine of up to a $1000 imposed by the courts. Enforcement of the rules will be light touch – starting with engagement, encouragement and education.

Transmission Gully

The issues with Transmission Gully are so numerous have become almost a regular spot on our weekly roundups.

Last Friday, Waka Kotahi NZTA announced they’d come to a new settlement agreement for the project, agreeing to pay another $145.5 million to complete the project. This is on top of the extra $191 million earlier in the year. In addition, another change as part of the deal will see the contractors to use a different road surface.

Waka Kotahi has also agreed to a contract variation for construction, costing an additional $45.5m, to allow for the use of a different road surface to be applied on some sections of the road, which will enable the road to be built more quickly by ensuring work continues at pace throughout the year. The new ‘deep lift’ road surface will be used in areas approaching and over the Wainui saddle, and on other sections of the motorway with steep gradients, accounting for roughly one-third of the road’s 27km length. The earthworks on these sections of the motorway account for the majority of the remaining pre-surfacing work yet to be carried out on the project, where work has been significantly impacted by the five-week COVID-19 shutdown and associated disruptions. The ‘deep lift’ pavement being used is much more resilient to poor weather during construction, meaning that work can continue to be carried out during marginal winter conditions, bringing the new opening date forward by an estimated four months than would otherwise have been possible.

All of this brings the total cost of the project to $1.25 billion, up $400 million on the original price.

Newsroom also reports that the change in road surface will have higher maintenance costs and that’s going to make it more expensive for that side of the PPP and so even if the rest of the project goes smoothly, it might not be all that long before they’re back looking for another bailout.

At the same time as all of this was announced, the government also announced they were launching an independent investigation into the project

The Government has asked the Infrastructure Commission to oversee an urgent and wide-ranging review into the Transmission Gully project, Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones announced today.

Phil Twyford says construction has been plagued with delays and increased costs. “It appears the agreement signed up to by the former government was loose and failed to protect taxpayers’ money. It seems to have been rushed through without the necessary due diligence being carried out.

“Wellingtonians and taxpayers deserve to know exactly what has happened. We want to make sure future governments aren’t left in the same predicament our Government has been.

Otaki to Levin

Moving just up the road a bit, this week Waka Kotahi announced their draft preferred alignment for the Otaki to North of Levin expressway that the government agreed to fund in January as part of the NZ Upgrade Programme. Construction on the project is not expected to start till 2025, costing about $817 million and but is assessed to have an economic return of just 37 cents on the dollar.

It certainly looks like it could be useful if at the same time they included some works to straighten out the rail line between Otaki and Manakau.

Household Transport Emissions

A new report from Stats NZ shows that transport plays a huge role in our household transport emissions.

Household transport emissions increased by 2,069 kilotonnes (15 percent) between 2011 and 2017, Stats NZ said today.

This led to an overall increase in household emissions of 3,576 kilotonnes (9.1 percent).

New data released today by Stats NZ on consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions shows that while the direct use of fuel by New Zealand households is significant, it represents just over half of the total transport carbon footprint of households.

Indirect transport emissions, which arise from the extraction, refining, and transport of fuel before its use, and household use of other modes of transport such as air, water, and rail, are becoming an increasingly significant part of the total transport carbon footprint of households.

“These findings highlight the ‘hidden’ role households have in driving emissions,” environmental-economic accounts manager Stephen Oakley said.

Households contributed 71 percent to New Zealand’s total carbon footprint in 2017. Transport accounted for 37 percent of the carbon footprint of households, food and non-alcoholic beverages contributed 25 percent, and housing and household utilities, which included the use of electricity, contributed 12 percent.

“This new data shows that the choices households make contribute significantly to New Zealand’s carbon footprint,” Mr Oakley said.

LA’s Green line reflection

LA Metro, the public transport operator in Los Angeles, runs their own official blog called The Source. A few weeks ago they published an interesting post about the C (Green) Line, its history but also the issues with it, including recognising that rapid transit that runs in freeway corridors

Several thousand homes that would be demolished had to be replaced. The freeway would be built mostly above or below street grade. And a mass transit line would be built in the corridor as a way to help communities impacted by the new freeway.

Thus, the C Line was born. But it was a mass transit project with a number of compromises from the start. Namely:

  1. Because the 105 stopped at the border of Norwalk, so would the C Line, denying it a useful connection in Norwalk to the Metrolink and Amtrak line that runs between downtown L.A., Orange County and San Diego.
  2. Most of the C Line’s 20-mile route is in the 105 median, requiring riders to descend from bridges over the freeway to isolated stations in the middle of a noisy and exhaust-ridden freeway.
  3. The four westernmost stations were only built for two-car trains. The standard for the rest of the Metro light rail system are three-car platforms.
  4. Perhaps most notoriously, the C Line has a station just south of LAX but doesn’t actually connect to the airport. There was a confluence of reasons for this failure ― failure isn’t a strong enough word, frankly ― including funding issues, ambivalence at LAX and L.A. City Hall and concerns by the FAA, among others.

All that adds up to less than ideal outcome.

AT could learn a thing or two from The Source – there’s also so much they could do if they had something similar and could it could greatly help improve their engagement with the public as well as the public’s understanding of a variety of issues.


Some more of the changes to make physical distance space more permanent on Queen St have gone in. These concrete blocks, which I understand are also called the sugar cubes, have sweetened up the street by replacing the plastic hit sticks. They look both tidier and sturdier which will help in addressing the issue of cars parking inside them.

I wonder if we’re going to need something similar to keep the cars off the new and wider footpaths on Quay St when it is completed. Speaking of which, the trees are starting to go in.

An interesting thread on some history of the US interstate system

The Eastern Line is closed at the moment but when it’s back in service, it will be down to a single track on the approach to Britomart.

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  1. “Newsroom also reports that the change in road surface will have higher maintenance costs and that’s going to make it more expensive for that side of the PPP and so even if the rest of the project goes smoothly, it might not be all that long before they’re back looking for another bailout.”

    Correction: The new asphalt surface will have lower ongoing maintenance costs. It’s the old chipseal surface (that has already been used for much of the road) that will need to be redone every few years leading to very high maintenance costs.

    1. “It’s the old chipseal surface (that has already been used for much of the road) ” – are you sure about that? My understanding was that they have not started sealing any of the road yet – its still just at the base compaction stage. TG is still a long way off from getting a drivable seal in place. The TG project website doesn’t mention any sealing done yet – indeed they’re still saying things like: “As at mid-July our Wainui Saddle teams have moved almost 860,000 cubic metres of earth. That’s 61,414 truck loads and is around 1.3 times the volume of Sky Stadium in Wellington.”

      1. They may not have got as far as sealing yet but they have committed themselves to doing so by constructing a pavement designed for chipseal. This is over most of the project.

        From the Newsroom article:
        “Meanwhile, most of the road’s surface will be chip seal – innovative because it’s an unusual choice for a state highway of this sort, but an innovation unlikely to be welcomed by the road transport sector.”
        “Roading experts who have spoken to Newsroom predicted it would likely require resealing every three years.”
        “Partial road closures to conduct maintenance work will likely consume a good chunk of the 25 years CIMIC-owned contractor Ventia will spend maintaining the road.”

    1. Jo, you must be a very easy going type who always see’s the glass as half full. To me it looks like someone forgot to take down the barriers for the Santa parade. You even gave them a well done, bless you.

  2. Look at the overhead traction wires on the C line looks so simple compared to what we have on the Auckland network.

      1. Yes also maybe the wire can be lower if freight trains don’t have to travel under it. I wonder how the cost between the two systems compare on a kilometer basis.

      2. Yes that’s light rail DC, has much lesser requirements for earthing and insulation as designed to work in urban environments with other wires, pipes, poles and people around.

        Downside is the catenary wire can’t carry as much power so you need a lot more substations spaced quite close together.

  3. On Otaki-to-Levin: work has just started on a 2,500-house subdivision to the south-east of Levin. So Levin is being planned to be divided more or less in half by a 300m-wide highway that hasn’t even been built yet.

    And I think what Mr Oakley meant to say was, ““This new data shows that the choices governments make contribute significantly to New Zealand’s carbon footprint.”

  4. Someone must have looked at the plastic sticks in Queen Street and thought they wouldn’t do enough damage when a car or cyclist hit them. ‘Lets use rocks’ they figured, but they were too round on the edges. So square edged concrete it is.

    1. They didn’t do any damage, drivers drove over them to park on the new footpath and broke them all within a day or two. So yeah, you get concrete blocks.

      Unfortunately we’ve had a long time of AT failing to do anything with Queen Street despite knowing a shitstorm of buses is coming when they close down Wellesley Street for the CRL build.

      So the council has been forced to step in and do it themselves ‘temporarily’, these get moved around over time for the construction diversions.

    2. Thats exactly what I thought, they’re pretty deadly. Compare with the cycleway kerbing separators on Ian McKinnon Drive which have large 45 degree chamfers on all edges and rounded ends.
      All decision makers and people working on cycling infrastructure should be daily rain or shine cycle commuters, as a prerequisite for obtaining and retaining their jobs. i.e. part of the required qualification.
      Its this sort of project that really annoys me. Would the cost have been much different if they’d done it properly? How many times are they going to redo it? Do I really feel any safer overall than if the separator was just a painted line? Consider the frequency and consequences of avoiding pedestrians, falling off, avoiding cars and getting hit by cars, and how each of these changes.

      1. yeah but the panzers people like to drive these days just mount those in a situation like Queen St, so gotta go harder core.

      2. These blocks look almost identical in profile to the planters on Queen Street. The cyle lane is 2.5 m wide there. These are the perfect object for this sort of layout where they need to be moved often.

  5. The reduction of train frequency to 20 minutes during peak is a disgrace. I cannot believe it is happening. Coupled with the train network’s notorious unreliability, I suspect many people will be switching back to their cars for their daily commute. A lose-lose situation for all involved, except the management of AT and Kiwirail who orchestrated this disaster and are allowed to continue to drive their taxpayer-subsidised BMW X5s to work and have morning tea breaks four times a day.

    1. While it’s not ideal, for many parts of the network it is simply a return to what it was six or seven years ago. The biggest hit will be on those who have started using transfers in the last few years with integrated ticketing.

      I agree the whole track situation is a debacle though.

    2. “The reduction of train frequency to 20 minutes during peak is a disgrace.”

      “Coupled with the train network’s notorious unreliability”

      Join those two in your mind and you will see that the first is the result of the second.

      Please provide the plate numbers of the BMWs so I can look out for them.

    3. “and have morning tea breaks four times a day.”

      I assume that you have written it this way to take account of the days that some people don’t arrive until lunchtime?

  6. Excellent idea to bypass the Forest Lakes rail curves by deviating the NIMT along the alignment of the southern end of the new O2NL section of SH1 – wonder if they’ve thought of it?

    And that LA blog is good, too – a great example for our agencies to follow.

    1. Electrification at the same time. Leave the older alignment in case of demand reaching a point of separating freight and passenger rail.

  7. And in other news:

    “The start of the new Hamilton-to-Auckland commuter rail service Te Huia has been put off until early next year.

    The service had been scheduled to begin on 2 November,”

    Looks like Twyford is in charge of this project.

  8. I think we are in for a long extended Level 2 – can PT weather these blows?

    – the impact of distancing (which I believe should be redundant with masks). Noone will tolerate being turned away from a half empty bus more than once, before giving up.
    – Train line woes. No eastern line and half speed across the rest of the network.

    I think this blog has been complacent recently on the long term challenges…covid hype and the associated restrictions are massive PR blow to public transport that will take years to unwind.

    1. A lot of people work from home during level 2, also the bounce back that happened this year suggests that most people will revert to what they did once there is some normality.

        1. Maybe if we had followed the likes of those ‘selfish individualistic nations’ like….Sweden, Japan and Taiwan we wouldn’t have that predicament.

        2. Unemployment will grow no doubt, but still the majority of people will continue to be employed. Even if unemployment were to hit 10 % there will probably still be more people riding the trains than in say 2016.

  9. Will be interesting how much the QR code scanning holds up some bus lines, inside the buses should have plenty of posters to scan…but then there’s the issue of leaning over someone in their seat to scan it unless there is one in every seat isle. Able bodied people could scan on exit before the bus stops perhaps…holding AT cards and phones going to be tricky though.

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