Image Credit: KiwiRail

A plan being released this week will have implications not just on how we move stuff around Auckland, but on safety in our road corridors and on our climate response. Its summary, the Auckland Freight Plan Summary Report was presented by Auckland Transport at the September AT Board meeting.

We’ve been in need of a plan for a long time.

Freight movement in Auckland was last reviewed in detail and documented in 2006. The resulting Strategic Freight Network (SFN) was not formally adopted or well communicated and has not been updated in response to changing needs.

The plan has the potential to help Auckland become a more productive, sustainable and liveable city. Some areas in which the plan could achieve good progress are:

  • logistics plans for construction sites to aid both site management and improve safety for passersby
One Less Ute, London. Image credit: Robert Wright via twitter
  • accommodate logistics at the design and consenting stages of development
Freight as part of Light Rail – easiest if designed at the start. Credit: Kelly and Marinov
  • trialling consolidation hubs and alternative last-mile delivery methods
UPS. Credit: Logistik Heute
  • restricting general traffic access to improve deliveries:

  • fleshing out the delivery aspects of the City Centre Masterplan:

A4E is already improving access in a few areas, now for the rest of the City Centre Masterplan!

The plan says:

Population growth, constrained geography and increased travel demand has meant many parts of Auckland’s transport network are over-capacity, leading to a decline in network performance over the past few years. In response to the demand for the timely pickup and delivery of goods, freight vehicles move around Auckland during the day when customers want things delivered, picked up or serviced.

The plan shows the following profile over a day for each type of traffic:

Distribution of Commercial Vehicle Activity by Time of Day (March 2017 Auckland sample)

Many customers are small businesses, and logistics is labour intensive. Freight carriers are restricted to deliver when the customer is available to receive, usually within core business hours, therefore peak period travel is unavoidable.

The plan will:

investigate feasibility of ‘out-of-hours’ and ‘out-of-rush hour’ freight deliveries… with a focus to consider and mitigate negative externalities.

10,000 Care packages delivered by PedalMe during lockdown in London.


The plan supports investment in active and public transport to encourage modeshift, due to the benefits such investment lends to freight movement:

Public and active transport investment also supports the movement of freight in Auckland. Targeted investment through the RLTP to provide quality integrated land use, safe access to and from public transport, and safe infrastructure for active modes, will support the city to move away from the dominance of single-occupant private vehicles, to a city where public transport and walking and cycling play a more important role. This will see a better use of network capacity, ease congestion and network constraints, and aid safer and more efficient movement of freight.

On mode-shifting freight from road to rail, an increase in rail freight within Auckland is dismissed quickly in the report on the basis that rail:

is better suited to much longer trip distances.

For modeshift of regional road freight to rail, Auckland Transport say the Crown funding to move more freight to rail is recognised in this plan:

through a focus on key Freight Strategic Network [SFN] connections to ports, the airport and major distribution depots which will enable inter-regional rail freight movement.

Yet amongst the actions listed, there is no use of the word ‘rail’. I hope the final plan will clarify how this Crown funding will be used for rail itself. The following words make me wonder if they’ll just be used for the road connections to the rail depots:

The Auckland rail network is a key component of the SFN. However, the network review centres on the role and functionality of the SFN within the wider Auckland road network

Written at almost the same time was the Auckland Climate Plan, which requires 8% of freight in Auckland to be moved by rail, by 2030, and 20% by 2050.


The safety challenges of moving freight are acknowledged, with a mention of rat-running by freight vehicles, and trucks’ over-representation in serious crashes:

With Vision Zero adopted, the focus is on safety over efficiency or speed:

The Freight Plan recognises and embodies the Vision Zero principles and, whilst cast through a freight lens, also recognises that safety is paramount to ‘get freight there safely, and as efficiently as it can’.

This is a freight version of Auckland Transport’s Vision Zero statement. It’s a shift from thinking we will get the freight there efficiently, as safely as we can.

Here are the specific safety actions:

Of concern is that no extra funding is identified as needed for these actions. Can Vision Zero really be incorporated into freight planning within existing programmes and budgets, in the face of Vision Zero cynicism – without competing with other safety initiatives for funding?

DHL express, UK.

The innovative ideas in the plan show the benefit of experience from industry, with the Freight Reference Group including representation from:

Auckland Transport, NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Council, Ministry of Transport, KiwiRail, Automobile Association, Road Transport Association NZ, National Road Carriers Association, Auckland Airport and Ports of Auckland. Together, this group is tasked with overseeing the development and implementation of the Freight Plan

But the lack of representation of other road users in this working group is likely to have created the plan’s shortcomings. For example:

Ratrunning: The plan misses an opportunity to resolve the commercial vehicle ratrunning problem with actions to implement cost-effective low traffic neighbourhoods throughout the city. Advocates for decarbonising transport have been keeping up with advances overseas, and know the popular neighbourhoods don’t just improve safety, they deliver benefits for the freight sector, via lower overall car use and traffic volumes.

Parking removal at intersections: To reduce delay to freight movements, the plan intends:

to investigate removal of parking near intersections

Unsafe intersections on Auckland’s arterial roads already prevent healthy modeshift. Faster turning movements by trucks is likely to worsen safety for walking and cycling. Parking near intersections does need to be removed, along with slip lanes and many directional lanes, but for different reasons:

  • To increase footpath width, reduce the crossing distance, and provide space for bus shelters,
  • To accommodate bus stops at the intersections in order to reduce walking distances for passengers transferring between bus routes, and
  • To provide space for safe cycle infrastructure through intersections.

Safety advocates could have ensured the plan’s approach to intersections was pragmatic and contributed to the modeshift goals.

Cycling and the Freight Strategic Network: The plan talks of a:

balance of road space allocation with the provision of safe and dedicated pedestrian and cycle paths.

For a plan in which safety is paramount, ‘balance’ is too vague. Auckland Transport is struggling to create safe cycling on arterial roads. Cycling experts on the working group could have explained the need to move past the shortcomings of the ATAP Arterials Report, which said:

some arterials could be prioritised for through traffic and freight, while others could be prioritised for public transport and cycling.

It’s only fair on truck drivers to separate them from people riding bikes. Similarly it’s only fair on people lowering emissions and congestion levels by hopping on a bike, to separate them from trucks. Separation is needed to all properties on arterials.

Also, freight deliveries by e-cargo bike will help to de-congest our roads, but is only practical if the entire journey is safe.

So while the arterial roads can be divvied up between trucks and buses, separated cycling is needed on every arterial road. This includes all the routes below that are key links or that have amenities or properties to access on them:

Modelling, Emissions and Congestion

The plan acknowledges:

the C40 2030 target of reducing Auckland’s emissions by 50%. (across all sectors, including transport)

The Auckland Climate Plan has since firmed up that a reduction of 64% in transport emissions is needed to achieve this, and only 55% of the reduction will be through a switch to lower emissions vehicles.

So while the freight plan talks of electrification and switching to hydrogen fuel, these are insufficient – decarbonisation measures that get to the heart of transport change are needed.

Problems in transport planning are obvious in the plan:

Review SOI ‘pain point’ locations… to improve the efficiency of freight movements…

freight priority measures, including opportunities for priority signalling and lanes in key strategic locations…

The delivery of capital projects proposed in the RLTP and Auckland Transport Alignment Plan that improve transport options, network capacity and connectivity, will support and shape Auckland’s development through improved freight movement…

The action plan assumes that the projects delivered through the RLTP hold congestion steady through better travel choice and mode change…

Taking them in turn:

“Pain points”: Attempts to ease congestion at each “pain point” in turn (eg with extra turning lanes) is a short-term measure. The strategy fails because smoother flow at that location increases traffic through it. That traffic impacts the network, ultimately creating congestion at other pain points in the network.

“Priority signalling”: Unless freight has its own lane, priority signalling for freight will mean general traffic is prioritised, requiring people on foot to wait longer. And if freight does have its own lane but bikes and public transport don’t, the downgraded priority for the general traffic lanes mean people on bikes and in buses will wait longer.

Therefore, priority signalling cannot be widely used – it requires separated freight, public transport and cycling lanes and signals, or it will push modeshift in the wrong direction.

“Network capacity”: Increasing network capacity by adding general traffic lanes induces more traffic across the network, which ultimately delays freight. Freight-only lanes might be added instead, but this usually requires property purchase and adds climate and maintenance burden. Even attempting to reallocate space from general traffic to freight lanes can be problematic in the finite resource of our road corridor width, as that space is likely to be required for wider footpaths, bus lanes or for micromobility.

Essentially, increasing network capacity isn’t the best way to improve freight movement, which leads to the next point.

“Holding congestion steady”: This is the unambitious result of our current plans, which Auckland Transport forecast will result, for the 10 years to 2028, in:

These traffic and fuel forecasts are not an inevitable result of population growth. Forecasts like this are used to “justify” the very road-widening and road-building projects that induce the traffic, create the congestion, and hold the freight up. ATAP should be sent back to the drawing board until its balance of projects can deliver significant reduction in vehicle km travelled, fuel use and emissions.

The Freight Reference Group members need to understand the limitations of the “predict and provide” ideology, as “holding congestion steady” like this is keeping the trucks stuck in congestion. Better freight movement can be achieved through reducing general traffic volumes considerably.

Where to next?

The Auckland Freight Plan explores some of the concepts and technologies suitable for handling freight in Vision Zero environments. It has been written while our agencies are still internally conflicted about creating a safe, climate-ready system. The freight sector and the wider community will see better outcomes if experts on Vision Zero, decarbonisation, cycling, walking and public transport are introduced to the Freight Reference Group.

The plan is feeding into:

the forthcoming Future Connect 30-year integrated network plan for Auckland

It’s critical that both the Auckland Freight Plan and Future Connect are living documents, flexible to accommodate the enormous shifts in transport thinking that are on their way.

The Traditional Refuse Collector’s Bicycle Race, Zagreb. Credit: Adam Tranter, Twitter.
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  1. The aim of removing slip lanes is to reduce the crossing distance…. yet they effectively do the opposite when removed! Slip lanes help break up the crossing so that the main crossing is shorter and quicker to do for pedestrians. By removing the slip lane, the islands get removed and the main part of the intersection gets larger.
    All the while by doing do it increases the total time to cross for pedestrians while also creating more pollution due to vehicles trying to turn left having to idle behind traffic going straight waiting at a red.
    Of course the real reason is that people like Heidi actually want more congestion as that makes driving less appealing in their minds.

    1. Removal of slip lanes remove the most dangerous part of the pedestrian crossing, when drivers are looking to their right to look for traffic, and not being aware of pedestrians who may be crossing to their left.
      Slip lanes encourage drivers to speed up on the approach to the intersection to hopefully find the gap in traffic.
      You’re focusing on slip lanes being used in the best flowing traffic circumstances, usually as soon as there are 2-3 cars at the intersection the left slip lane access is blocked anyway.

      1. That’s where putting in a raised table works better. Forces drivers to pay more attention and slow while also allowing for that flow and still allowing for faster crossing times for pedestrians (since they have less distance and need less time to cross the intersection and can be allocated more frequent crossing priority as a result).

        As for it gets blocked anyway argument. Sure that can happen, but most if the time not and it only takes a single vehicle stopped at a red to prevent several vehicles from turning left.

    2. Slip lanes with pedestrian crossings are great in theory as they give pedestrians right of way but allow traffic to flow if there are no pedestrians.

      They fall over in practice with poor driver behaviour. In saying that one was removed near my office and the poor driver behaviour has just moved to cars and trucks starting to turn left while there are still people crossing at the lights.

      Maybe what is needed is some pedestrian crossing cameras (not sure of their technical viability) and some serious enforcement of vehicles failing to stop at pedestrian crossings.

    3. Slip lanes don’t do much to reduce congestion at peak times if the intersection is close to capacity. When an intersection gets really busy the left turn traffic ends up opposed by turning traffic until the adjacent through gets a green. I have recently been testing an intersection on a busy arterial where removing the left turn slip had almost no effect on the model.

      1. Especially in city and town centres, where the queue for the slip lane is only two or three cars long.

        So slip lanes are a feature for the mid century nostalgic traffic engineer, who still thinks that if you build big enough you can avoid congestion at peak times?

        1. Yes to the first part. Whatever to the value judgement in the second part. They provide a convenience to drivers when traffic levels are lower but that comes as an inconvenience for people walking. As a traffic engineer I am neutral on them. I have been required by Road controlling authorities to put them in and I have been required by Road controlling Authorities to remove them (one was a free left that authority had required I put in years earlier). I would never put one in private property for the people I work for. But if Council’s demand them then they get put in.
          The point I was making is they don’t actually do much good if the intersection is really busy.

        2. “They provide a convenience to drivers when traffic levels are lower but that comes as an inconvenience for people walking.”

          And it comes with safety implications. What safety research and statistics do traffic engineers reference when they’re making decisions about slip lanes, miffy?

        3. The research is a mixed bag. Sharobim 2016 showed they wasn’t much in it using Auckland data.
          The O’briens found something similar in Melbourne.

          We used to have a really good ongoing resource based on actual crash monitoring data. Collette Kraus from the LTSA did awesome work sending out short reports based on facts and analysis. But now every person and their dog just seem to do whatever the hell they like. The argument being that someone thinks something is unsafe so it must be.

        4. I forgot Bruno compared slips with exclusive and shared lanes. I remember his paper for the conclusion that zebra crossings on slips correlate with a much higher crash rate. The question is do zebras cause more crashes or do intersections with higher pedestrian flows cause people to mark more zebras? The usual mutual causality problem which can kill least squares as an option for analysis.
          My original comment on reduced convenience for pedestrians is because I genuinely don’t know what impact they have on safety. I know they make people feel less safe. But without knowing pedestrian flows we have no idea about exposure rates.

  2. Cargo capacity for cross-town delivery of small parcels on public transport – Courier bags, small boxes etc.
    A small section in the bus with locked cubicles that can be locked and unlocked with Google pay/apple pay type transactions.

    Parcel sender pays to unlock the cubbyhole – Recipient is sent a unique code, notified of bus route, bus number and real-time tracking of parcel.
    Parcel stays in cubbyhole until recipient unlocks unique code.

    I’ve seen plenty of empty buses with no passengers, AT may as well make a profit on doing something off-the-cuff.

  3. So no mention of congestion charging / road pricing? The best proven method of reducing congestion, which would significantly increase freight movement efficiency? This is a measure that the trucking industry and every political party in parliament is on record as supporting. It shouldn’t be that hard to implement.

  4. Parking removal at intersections: To reduce delay to freight movements, the plan intends:

    What do they have planned for the literal hundreds of vans that essentially just park in an actual traffic lane to do a ‘quick’ unload. Corner of Ponsonby and Richmond Rd is notorious for this and isn’t a good outcome for pedestrians or cars, only Ponsonby Central,

  5. There are now 3 or 4 firms in the UK developing plans to distribute palletised goods straight off a train and onto EV’s/Bikes etc in London.

    This requires an aggregating facility on the outskirts; one proposal is to run directly from London Gateway to Liverpool Street Station so off the boat through customs and onto the train. There is ample warehousing at Gateway and I think a trial is due sometime before Christmas.

    During Covid Part 1 there was a train run from DIRFT (Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal – google it – it is huge) to Euston carrying supermarket goods in roller cages (there have been other trials). This is onto of small parcel consignments already being carried on trains.

    Just a thought.

    1. Yes, and it looks like the “time is right” in Sweden, too, with a trial underway.

      “It does not look as if one solution will fit all circumstances, but if the Swedish experiment is to be a success, or any other mixed use trials amount to commercial viability, it could herald a significant modal shift and a new class of train on the rails of Europe.”

      The link I gave to Kelly and Marinov gives folding seat and shelving options for interpeak travel on light rail; it’s the sort of thing we could be designing in from the start.

  6. In the “good old days” Wellington had freight trams which ran to a published timetable off peak so as not to delay passengers.

    They stopped at designated points and people were usually waiting for their parcels, or the tram would deliver the parcels to a nearby shop for collection.

    1. And, in times gone by, apparently the trams used to have a Post box on the back of each tram – so you could post a letter at each tram as they headed back into town – and the trams would stop at Post Office Square, swap out the letter contents, and continue in. Hugely efficient system to all the users – the mail used to be able to do two deliveries a day, and very little cost for the PO as all the collections came to one point. Nowadays, of course, it is hard enough to find a post-box or even a post-office, as that system of delivery is dead.

      But the freight trams is an interesting idea. While letter volumes have almost completely disappeared, small freight (ie Amazon packages, my Food Bag, Hello Fresh, other assorted couriers etc) has grown hugely. But also highly inefficiently. There is probably a vibrant business opportunity there for someone to monetise a more efficient freight distribution business….

    2. I saw freight trams when I was in Germany years ago.
      I doubt they’d be possible in NZ’s current WHS regulatory environment.

  7. Good Ideas Heidi they should be paying you for them. This doc just reads like more road industry enabling busywork for the managers at AT to sign off then ignore.

  8. Every time I see another Kaitaia transport logging truck roll into the container stuffing operation on Massey road I just think New Zealand you can do better than this. So lets hope that Kiwirail can make the North Auckland line really percolate next year after it is reopened. Don’t know if the containers go out through Auckland or Tauranga port perhaps they go on the train to Tauranga anyway a lot of mucking about and double handling and trips on Auckland’s road that don’t need to happen. Amazing to see the skill and the speed of the operators picking up individual logs and pushing them into the containers. I would love to know the annual tonnage of the operation I wouldn’t be surprised if its as much as 100,000 tpa. Hopefully the operation will transfer to Otiria and no longer have any impact on Auckland’s roads.

  9. Another operation which makes an art form of double handling is loading of container with bottles at the old port of Onehunga. The pallets of bottles come presumably from Penrose to Onehunga in curtain sided trucks where the are transferred by forklift into the containers. The containers are trucked away to Auckland Port or perhaps to the rail. But where did the empty containers come from.
    Maybe some of the bottles are for export but most would be going Inter Island. You wonder what happens at the other end.

    1. We import massive amounts of products – coming in via full containers from China, and then it is not worth sending the empty containers back to China. From what I understand (there is an excellent book on the economics of recycling by Adam Minter : Junkyard Planet) a lot of the recycling trade has been driven by China just to try and fill up the empty containers, to try and return them with something more than air. Fascinating read – I thoroughly recommend it. Depressing, but gets to the core of the issues.

      In NZ, empty glass bottles are recycled in Auckland at the O-I Glass plant in Penrose – but for the rest of the country, it is not economically viable to send the glass up there, so other councils further south attempt to recycle the glass via other means. Like: grinding up for grit to mix with green paint for cycle paths, or simply burying in the ground. 100% Pure? Hardly…

      1. We import a pretty decent number of empty containers too for a couple of reasons.

        Our exports are more bulky and more container based, so we need more containers for exports than imports.

        The Pacific Islands are net importers so end up with a surplus of containers. Many Pacific Islands are only serviced from NZ and maybe Australia so the empty containers end up here.

      2. And the energy difference between recycling glass bottles and reusing them is vast… the logistics required to enable either is really a big enough topic for a post.

    2. And the hilarious thing is the NIMT rail line goes past the glass works in Penrose. So why not build a little spur line and save all that double handling.

      1. If you look at that glass works on a map and satellite imagery then it looks like it used to have a spur line on its Eastern side (curved boundary that would only be explained by a rail line, loading bays facing towards that boundary etc).

        1. It maybe a bit messy trying to refit a siding its on the wrong side of the line for a simple back shunt but Daily Freight is just across the road and rail line maybe less than 500 metres they could be loaded into railway wagons there. I know Heidi could deliver the pallets there on her e cargo bike there only about 2 metres high and there would be about 100 per day. I am guessing the bottles are going to Christchurch, Timaru for beer and Blenheim for wine.

  10. One thing that I think would really help with freight challenges in Auckland is consolidated parcel collection points. i.e. having a collection centre in or very close to most rapid transit stations. It is obvious how these can be accommodated in the bigger stations such as Smales Farm, Panmure, and Puhinui, but they could also be accommodated in retail premises close to the proposed light rail stations or at stations like Papatoetoe or Ellerslie.
    These would make a massive dent in the travel demand for couriers that currently go house to house by allowing a single van to pull up and unload 1,000 packages at a station. This would also help by keeping other loading zones available for people delivering larger items. It also gives customers certainty that there package isn’t being left unattended/unsheltered on their front door step.

    1. Yes, and if there could be a price differential in it, that would really help.

      I’ve been allowed to track the customer choices for a particular business sending tiny parcels, using TradeMe as its only marketing platform.

      Everyone chooses the cheaper option, even though there’s usually not much in it. So they choose couriers instead of the NZ Post service which wouldn’t add courier trips. Except in rural delivery areas where the NZ Post option is cheaper.

    2. NZ Post already has a model for this with ParcelPod that could be great if it weren’t for the current limitations:
      – Not enough locations
      – Locations in dumb, out of the way places
      – Locations that are advertised as 24/7 access but aren’t
      – Can only be used for CourierPost parcels

      The last one is the biggest problem. If you’re shopping online then you usually don’t know which courier company they’ll use. And it’s clearly impractical for every courier company to set up their own independent parcel collection box system. It makes sense for NZ Post to run such a system but as a SOE trying to run on the smell of an oily rag they can’t afford to think of the societal greater good.

    3. This would straight up be a better service for a lot of people than delivering to home. Never mind the other advantages for the city.

  11. “With Vision Zero adopted, the focus is on safety over efficiency or speed.”

    Someone else bringing up efficiency and speed:

    – For a century, speed and efficiency have been our gods. But they’re dangerous and duplicitous deities, making us destroy our cities and our planet and still not delivering the promised time savings. Because high-speed travel actually increases distance, pushing buildings apart, the time savings are illusory.

  12. Rail probably isn’t mentioned because railway companies are not allowed to use the publicly-owned network, so nobody can develop any plans to use it more. KiwiRail doesn’t offer a general freight service anymore, they only want large port-related contracts.

    Until the 1980s there were railfreight loading points for businesses to use at Henderson, New Lynn, Auckland Central, Penrose, Tamaki, Southdown, Otahuhu, Wiri and Papakura.

    Now there’s just Southdown, and only for a narrow range of customers.

    Network access needs to be changed before anyone can expect the network to be used more, and I mean nationwide.

  13. More Rail should be utilised for safety reasons where it is easier for trucking to collect from rail sites provided safety measures are in place at Rail. Avoid traffic on roads for Trucking Companies and more reliability on Rail to also ensure public safety

  14. Glad local rail/light rail freight is getting looked at now (I got mainly derision when I suggested it about half a year ago).

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