In his guest post yesterday Minister of Transport Michael Wood highlighted that light rail was a priority for him and that he expects to make an announcement on the next steps for the project next year.

There are going to be a lot of decisions to make to get us from where things are to having spades in the ground and one of the key ones is how the project moves forward and will be delivered. Following the end of the bizarre process that pitted off Waka Kotahi and the Super Fund plus their Canadian partners, the government announced it would come up with a public sector delivery model. It appears there will be even more scrutiny on that process following a review of the procurement process to date by the Auditor General that was released last week. Stuff reports:

Auditor-General John Ryan has delivered a searing rebuke to the Government over its handling of the Auckland light rail project, noting that it’s not clear if procurement rules were followed and suggesting that this could damage New Zealand’s international reputation.

He said he’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the project going forward.

Ryan criticised the “unusual” process the Government ran to decide between the two organisations who would eventually build and run the project: the Government’s own transport agency, Waka Kotahi NZTA and another group, NZ Infra, a joint venture between the Super Fund and CDPQ Infra, a Canadian pension fund.

His key concern was that there were “mixed messages” around the sort of process the government was running to pick between the two bidders – it was part policy development process designed to come up with the best sort of light rail scheme for Auckland, but it was also part procurement process, designed to pick who would build and run the light rail network.

This confusion meant that it wasn’t clear if rules around procurement – designed to ensure a fair and transparent bidding for big government contracts – were followed.

While much of the debate, including on here, has been about the merits of light rail and light metro, at a higher level part of the concern was about the mixing of planning/design and procurement. Put another way, we should be deciding what to build first, such as the mode and the route, and only once that’s agreed then procuring it, not tying the two processes together. It seems the Auditor General agreed  and the full letter is both fascinating and concerning as it delves deeper into this, noting:

The Ministry has publicly described the end point of the parallel process as being to select a delivery partner for light rail, but maintains that it was not engaged in a procurement process of the sort contemplated by the Rules or to which the Rules could be applied “given the core policy choices that were ultimately to be made by Cabinet”. The Ministry described the work as a policy process (which was required to understand the interaction between policy concessions and commercial and financial terms, and comparing these to what the Crown could achieve itself), in which the Government was deciding which option (an NZTA-led model or the NZ Infra proposal) was the preferred model for light rail. The Ministry has also told us it was not appropriate to consider the NZ Infra proposal solely through the lens of the Rules or the guidelines.

It is difficult to reconcile the Ministry’s view with a process that intended to ultimately result in the selection of a party to deliver services for which they will receive significant public money. Here, the intended outcome was to select a preferred delivery model and delivery partner to commission and deliver light rail and to commit to pay public money to deliver this outcome, using a particular funding model. In addition, we saw advice from officials to Ministers that referred to the principles of procurement and the need to adopt a competitive process for selecting a provider, and about possible market reaction to the parallel process.

It seems unusual to us for such a fundamental reconsideration of project scope/parameters to occur alongside the selection of a party to deliver light rail, or at the same time as exclusive negotiations with a delivery partner might occur (once one was selected). In our view, where something occurs that causes the overall project parameters and the procurement approach to be reconsidered, or for the key policy settings to be revisited, the more appropriate step would be to terminate any existing process in an open and transparent way and revisit the policy and planning for the project.

This is pretty damning of the Ministry and I question if they should be involved at all going forward.

Part of the NZ Infra presentation for light metro that apparently led to the bizarre assessment process

And what happens going forward is really the big question. One thing that was clear from the light rail document dump in September was that not only were Auckland Council and Auckland Transport shut out of the process, they were treated with contempt. It even appeared the Ministry were prepared to undermine the existing PT system if it meant they got what they perceived as a better deal from their bidders. We believe that Auckland needs to be deeply involved in the decision making, something that appears may be happening.

Potential street level light rail in Balmoral which would have involved also upgrading the streetscape as part of the project.

As for the process itself, my understanding is that the ministry have come up with a series of decisions and/or tradeoffs that need to be made. While we don’t know what those are, it is likely on things like the level of grade separation the route has, the route it takes, how much priority is given to speed vs coverage (stop spacing), and the extent of integration with Kāinga Ora housing developments.

I also think one of the things the government (and council) need to do is to think about the wider context of the decision and how to tell the story of rapid transit in Auckland. One of the pressures for building bigger expensive projects like light metro seems to be a view from some that we have to build the biggest possible thing upfront so we don’t have to do anything else for the next century. When viewed in isolation it’s sometimes easy to justify spending a bit more, or likely a lot more in the case of light metro, but this is just one of many routes that we need. As I suggested in this post, light rail could be just stage 1 of a wider plan that could eventually involve both light rail and light metro.

We have the ATAP map but the government and council need to start telling the story of it to the public
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  1. Winston could see it was a dog,and quite rightly opposed it,we have to thank him for that,it does highlight though that people latch on to a shiny bright idea,without fully considering all the implications.lts good that we have checks and balances,but this concept needs some urgency,as we cant have another three years of inaction

    1. Winston was opposed to anything that wasn’t heavy rail with scant regard for the actual merits of Light Rail or what it was trying to achieve.

  2. The MoT seem like a bunch of nutters. Isn’t that the same ministry that said that Auckland train usage would never meet National’s CRL targets by 2020 and ended up being wrong by years? I can’t think of a single sensible or progressive thing that has come from them, they make NZTA look good.

    1. Yes the same Ministry.
      Though it’s worth noting that the person who came up with that clanger and was responsible for trying to prevent the CRL no longer works there. After he left he was then hired by AT and then promoted internally and is now responsible for things like rapid transit and cycleway planning, and he’s looking at how he can cut them from the plans
      He was also the one responsible for that rogue plan a few years ago that stripped funding away from PT, walking and cycling and the chair had to apologise for.

      1. After the last comment I read to this effect, I did a little probing. The name of this trouble maker seems well-known, and much effort is taken to try to get work past him without it being sabotaged.

        In this day and age, processes do still exist to allow action to be taken when human resources present a problem. I’m not sure why the CEO is allowing this issue to remain live.

        1. Why not name and shame? You’re not going to get in trouble, and they’re a public servant. Open to criticism.

    2. I am not sure the Ministry should be blamed too much for the twin track process. I saw media reports suggesting that the process was forced on them by Twyford and that early in the process the officials were struggling to understand what Twyford wanted with it. If the Ministry didn’t like the process there wasn’t a lot that the officials could do except leak against Twyford and there was plenty of that.

  3. If they build surface level on Dominion Road that doesn’t remove the possibility of a fully grade separated airport line under Manukau road or similar in the future as the entire SH20 part will no doubt be grade separated. But I am not convinced we need that now by any means.
    If I were Wood I would break it into 3 projects: Dominion Road to Mt Roskill first, SH20 to Mangere second, airport last. I would make it clear that while it is designed to get to the airport, that is not in any way a priority and could change.

    1. Actually if I were Wood I would go back to AT’s original plans for 4 light rail lines through the Isthmus corridors and ignore Mangere / Airport altogether (for now at least). That combined with the changes to planning rules around rapid transit would be so transformational for Auckland, I really can’t think of a better transport project than that. They should be thinking how they can transform Auckland into a better compact city through transport instead of how they can get better transport to the existing sprawl.

      1. Yes. The error was thinking the Dominion Rd line could be designed like a local service but operate as a trunk service. Once the Canadian shysters pointed that problem out the whole scheme fell over.
        The big win of light rail to Mt Roskill is the Queen Street part.

        1. So the issue was thinking that we could do what dozens of other places have done? Can we not do that because New Zealand has special geometry, or because New Zealanders are incompetent?

        2. See people keep saying that but nobody can show me where light rail and two separate lanes of traffic pass through shops at any sort of speed in a 20m road reserve. Just repeating the original nonsense doesn’t make it true.

        3. Miffy – why would it need to retain the existing set-up? Cavill Ave in Surfers works, as does Carlisle Street in Melbourne. Are you saying we’re dumber than Australians?

        4. It get’s pretty narrow in places like Surfers Paradise Boulevard. But a lot of the narrow sections through Surfers are away from the main arterials.

          I haven’t ridden the Gold Coast line so I don’t know if it slows down in Surfers, but my guess is Miffy is right that the travel speed will be lower in heavily trafficked sections in narrow road reserves.

        5. We have done this twice before. They have a 30m road reserve where they have two lanes and light rail where there are footpaths either side. Where the road is narrow they get rid of a footpath or traffic lane or both.

        6. I feel a lot of these things could have been addressed if the proper case had been released for the original spec, but we don’t really know enough to even have the argument 🙁

        7. Yes we have done this twice before. Dominion road is a minimum 20.1m wide. Light rail in the centre needs 7m for both tracks. Take 3.2m each for two traffic lanes and you have at least 3.35m left either side for footpaths and poles. In most sections it’s several metres more already.

          The main intersections are already much wider where you have extra turn bays, having been widened already, and they propose to widen a short section at station sites that aren’t at an intersection. There is a widening designation that allows for this. The only question remaining was whether to exclude cars from one block in each of two town centres with heritage buildings to get the platforms right in the middle of the town centre, or whether to simply have the platforms just outside the centres where widening is easy.

          If you want to do this a third time, please explain what part of that simple math doesn’t add up?

      2. Yes I think they could defer the Mangere section. I haven’t seen any evidence yet to suggest that there are transport issues there that can’t be solved by buses in the meantime.

      1. Agree.

        Michael Wood please take note of this sensible suggestion so this project can get started sooner and Aucklanders will actually be able to use it much sooner and see the benefits, to justify where to expand light rail to and when.

        The original AT proposal of four light rail lines running into the isthmus, together with a NW line to Westgate would make a lot more sense to start with. With the Covid pandemic, a mass rapid transit connection to the Airport is not a priority now – focus on the CBD and central suburbs first where it is really needed.

  4. The recent release of options for NS rail does suggest a strategy like that proposed by JimboJones. Build light rail to Mt Roskill now, and consider the next step as part of the decision process for the North Shore. A line from the Shore via Aotea, Universities, Hospital, Newmarket could extend via Manukau Rd to Onehunga and could be light rail or light metro, with parts surface and parts tunnelled. The question of whether the (Roskill to) Onehunga to Airport section is light rail or light metro (or even conceivably light rail initially converting later to light metro) could be for another day, as is the decision about which of the two lines would best serve the airport. God knows we’re expert at putting decisions off until later.

    But most of all, let’s build SOMETHING. I don’t fundamentally care what the mode is as long as it’s given meaningful priority over competing modes and we start to build a strategic-level network that actually has some “net” in it, which is the missing component for the kind of step-change in attitudes and perceptions of public transport that is required for meaningful change to the amount of greenhouse gases that we emit. Now that we have a “climate emergency” as of yesterday, it should be a no-brainer.

  5. There is a bit much ceremony involved here. The only light rail well tram project we have had in this city recently was the Wynard Quarter tramway. While it’s design was only the next step up from a sketch on the back of an envelope it all seemed to go off with out a hitch for a price of $8 million if I recall. They brought in a track crew from Melbourne well they would know how to lay tram tracks wouldn’t they. So 1.5 kilometres went okay just need to scale it up in manageable bites.

  6. The picture “Potential street level light rail in Balmoral which would have involved also upgrading the streetscape as part of the project.” is unrealistic.

    In reality, there will be cars on dominion road sharing with the train.
    If the cars are congested, the light rail ends up just as slow as cars.

    The actual journey time will not be as fast as proposed.

    1. The northern bit of the Balmoral shops pictured there opposite the Capitol, there is actually a parallel road on the western side that goes behind the shops. With the trams centre running it is easy enough to divert the general traffic lane behind the shops. In fact lets do that now, it will make the shops way more pleasant, why wait for the trams?

    2. “If the cars are congested, the light rail ends up just as slow as cars” I don’t see why, the light rail and cars are fully separated except when passing through the major intersections. The only time light rail should get held up is if cars queue over the intersection.
      There is plenty of room on Dominion road for two light rail tracks and two lanes of cars. Most of that room is wasted on car parking today.

    3. “ In reality, there will be cars on dominion road sharing with the train.”

      Not through balmoral shops where the picture is.

  7. The new trains priorities number 1 then the bus on rails and if don’t then America gets everything and nz gets nothing unless a deal was done I’ve seen how good these new trains are and lots of wins and it can do both north and south with only 1 train and it pays good and national ran away once they seen it

      1. Because u don’t know what I’m talking about because none of yous ever seen this train and what it can do

  8. Looks great. Raises questions around why council charges a lot of rates but can’t produce propositions like this.
    I’d suspect there’d be blocks with shops at each end. Some shared space would be required for access to the mid block properties, or demolish properties to gain the width required, which would also allow apartments to be built above new shops & intensification.

    1. Because that would have significantly greater impact on roads, and people’s houses. Not to mention more expensive. And it doesn’t serve the same purpose as the proposed light rail line at all.

    1. Blair, do you really not understand how to use punctuation? Joe is right; without it, we just can’t understand what you are trying to say.

      1. Yous are so wrong and I’m right as all ways and the new trains coast 8.1 billion dollars beat that if u can catch it

    2. There this button that puts a little dot at the end of a sentence, beside the space bar on mobile. That way if you’re using the entire wrong word (spell check is not your friend here) we will be able at least guess what you are trying to say.

      I’m going to take a total shot in the dark here and guess: “Auckland can’t do anything right if any new trains they have are losing against old trains.”

      To which I totally disagree, as they say, houses for courses. It isn’t about which train wins in terms of speed or capacity, it’s about moving the most people effectively around the city, if it costs way less per line and is almost as good at than then that’s great, we can build more line and buy more trains then.

      But mate, good you are trying to participate, but turn off spell check on your phone, when you end a sentence in your mind, put a full stop.

      1. Wrong and I put some light on it when u put light rail it’s not up to standard and lose and not celled a train and old trains get upgraded to a new version and wins all the time when running u find out about heavy and light rail and real trains and thanks to nansa and Concorde . think about a train go like a rocket and do like a Concorde.

  9. I was right as no one has seen these new trains. It was thanks to USA to build these ones and these new trains will pay for everything but yous think wrong bout what trains are and wrong about the electric trains that derail and slow and air con rubbish and not capable of been fast and have to relief on diesels to tow it or keeps running with out power and have to put on rail buses. Auckland miss out on the new trains that Auckland likes roads and buses and bus on rails

  10. I was right as no one has seen these new trains. It was thanks to USA to build these ones and these new trains will pay for everything but yous think wrong bout what trains are and wrong about the electric trains that derail and slow and air con rubbish and not capable of been fast and have to relief on diesels to tow it or keeps running with out power and have to put on rail buses. Auckland miss out on the new trains that Auckland likes roads and buses and bus on rails.

    1. The new trains are the ultimate and who said that the new trains are to heavy .they don’t have a clue they can roll over new and old bridge without damage

  11. The new trains will running all power and when it says high voltage it means it and it won’t have battery’s to store it . it has a thing that will be good thing it will running 24/7 all cards will work or money to top up and beat the bus every time

  12. The new special trains that has more surprised instilled and it has less time for repairs so it won’t have any down time

    1. Stills on wheels is a great idea – fresh liquor for people all over the city while they ride. No downtime in bars. Pay for itself in no time.

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