Auckland has had plenty of mistakes and missed opportunities in its transport history and one of the biggest is also one of the most recent, the failure by Waka Kotahi to build a busway on SH16 at the same time as we were expanding it as part of the Western Ring Route works.

It’s still unknown if and when we’ll get a proper rapid transit route but yesterday works officially kicked off to at least make public transport to the Northwest a little bit better.

Work to improve public transport for West Aucklanders and support the region’s economic recovery by creating hundreds of jobs has officially kicked off, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced today.

Michael Wood and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff this morning marked the start of construction on the Northwestern Bus Improvements project. It includes connecting the bus lanes down SH16 between Westgate and Newton Road, new bus stops, crossings and footpaths at Te Atatū and Lincoln Road, and a new bus station at Westgate.

“Not only will the Northwestern Bus Improvements project mean better public transport for West Auckland, it’s going to support the economic recovery and create around 300 jobs,” Michael Wood said.

“It’ll make a real difference for commuters with around 25 minutes shaved off a bus trip from Westgate into the city. When complete, 170,000 more people will able to access the city centre within a 45-minute bus journey.

“By delivering faster and more frequent bus services, we’ll make taking public transport a real option for more people – reducing congestion and emissions.

“The northwest is going to be a major growth area over the next 30 years, with an additional 100,000 people expected to live there. This project is the first step in giving West Auckland the rapid transit it needs to keep it moving,” Michael Wood said.

Construction of most parts of the project will be completed in late 2022, when express bus services will begin. Construction of the Westgate bus station is expected to begin in 2023, with detailed design and consenting starting later this year.

The changes are an improvement to what we have now and it’s good to see them happening but a busway it is not. One thing I worry about is that officials and politicians will say “job done, we don’t have to worry about the Northwest anymore” when really this needs to be just the first stage of the long-term plan for a proper rapid transit route and we need more commitment that those permanent improvements, likely light rail, are still happening.

These current improvements consist of a couple of key changes:

Improved Bus Priority

The existing bus lanes on SH16 are useful but they stop short of interchanges forcing buses to have to merge with general traffic. The project will see these lanes extended to/through interchanges which I expect will be similar to what Waka Kotahi did around Onewa Rd to improve the Northern Busway. There are a few new bus lanes being added too between Western Springs and Newton Rd.

Motorway Bus Stops

At Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu, bus stops are being added to on/off ramps to enable buses to exit the motorway, board/alight passengers and then get back on the motorway again. There will also be stops for local buses that people can transfer to/from. The main problem with this is that changing buses in the middle of a motorway interchange is not going to be a very pleasant experience, especially as depending on which direction you’re travelling it may require crossing the road and these areas are fairly pedestrian hostile.

At Lincoln Rd there will be bus stops on either side of the motorway but the one on the northern side will also act as a terminus for a number of local buses.

At Te Atatu the stops are on the off ramps

Updated Bus Network

Bus routes in the west will be changed to make use of these improvements. The key change will see the introduction of an express bus service along the Motorway stopping at just Westgate, Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu and with other buses focused towards delivering passengers to those stations instead of one seat rides all the way to town. Changes like these will always cause concern from some people, especially some existing users but they’ve been very successful on the North Shore and other parts of Auckland. It should also help that it appears AT are planning to improve the frequency of a number of routes, especially those serving Te Atatu.

A Westgate Station

A proper bus station, like we see on the Northern Busway, will be built at Westgate though as mentioned above, it won’t start construction till 2023 after the other improvements are completed.

Why we don’t have rapid transit already?

As for why we don’t have a busway on SH16 already, there are a number of reasons for this.

The easy answer is to blame the then National Government, and it’s fair to do so, they could have required the busway but the issues go deeper than just that.

During the process of getting consent for the motorway works the issue of including a busway was raised by submitters. Waka Kotahi argued against having to do so by saying that the route wasn’t identified as needing rapid transit by the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority – the organisation that ran public transport prior to the creation of Auckland Transport.

  1. Submitters have also requested the future proofing or implementation of busway standard public transport on SH16.
  2. As explained earlier, in our view the NZTA is providing for the appropriate level of passenger transport infrastructure (as identified within ARTA’s PTNP) through shoulder bus lanes. By contrast, a busway standard facility would be classified as a Rapid Transit Network (RTN) connection under the definition within ARTA’s PTNP. In the case of the Western Suburbs, ARTA has identified that the Western Rail line will be the corridor for an RTN connection into the CBD – not SH16. This is based on the assumption that the Region’s passenger transport system should operate as a single co-ordinated network, rather than having different transport modes (i.e. bus and rail) competing against each other for patronage.
  3. Finally, I would note that while the NZTA is not providing for a busway facility within its SH16 designation, we are not precluding the ability to implement a busway in the future, if Regional plans were to change.

My understanding is that ARTA’s view on this stemmed from the Auckland Regional Council (their owners) who were worried that a busway on SH16 would undermine the case for the City Rail Link.

They also said this despite having previously drawn up plans for how they’d do it. These drawings were for stations at Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd.

However, ARTA’s plans did call for the section of SH16 between Lincoln Rd and Westgate to be of RTN quality to serve a Henderson to Constellation Dr route. That section also didn’t start construction until 2016 and it was clear long before then that rapid transit would be needed. So why wasn’t it?

During the consent for that stage Auckland Transport requested rapid transit be provided for.

Waka Kotahi argued against having to even future proof for a busway by blaming AT for not having produced detailed designs for a project that would be inside Waka Kotahi’s State Highway corridor. They also thought it was better to rush ahead to get consent for a project that wasn’t to start for another 5 years than put a small amount of effort in to do even some basic future proofing.

Frustratingly, Auckland Council’s planners supported Waka Kotahi’s position and so no provision was made for rapid transit.

So as a bit of a summary to all of this, Waka Kotahi argued they shouldn’t have to provide for a rapid transit corridor in some sections because it wasn’t shown as needed on existing plans, but where it was on existing plans they argued they shouldn’t have to provide rapid transit because they didn’t want to.

Interim improvements elsewhere

While these improvements aren’t perfect and we still need a proper rapid transit route, I also think we should look to use this model for other identified rapid transit routes that are currently a decade or more away from delivery. For example this kind of solution may work on the Upper Harbour route between Westgate and Constellation, on the remaining Airport to Botany corridor and on the New Lynn to Onehunga corridor.

Ideally I think we should be aiming to have all of these delivered by 2025, similar to when the City Rail Link comes online. That way the entire Rapid Transit network could sold as a transformational step forward as well as getting PT in general ‘good enough’ to enable other changes like congestion charging.

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  1. Kumeu will need a bus lane between there and Westgate for anyone to get the bus to town, the traffic is gridlocked from Westgate back through Huapai from 6.30am most days

      1. 4 laning of SH16 to Kumeu in 203_? By then the growth will soak up the additional roading capacity.

        Labour promised light rail to Kumeu in 2017. Some bus shoulder lanes are truly aspirational for Auckland in 2021.

        1. To be candid Anthony the publicity shot of the Transport Minister turning the first sod of earth of this 1980’s North Shore solution of breakdown strips being used as bus lanes, screams this is the high tide mark as far as he is concerned.

          He also seems oblivious to the sizeable transport problems of the upper west satellite suburbs too which is very concerning!

  2. Are there even continuous bus lanes along Lincoln road and te atatu Road for feeder buses to take advantage of?

      1. The massive and excessive widening of Lincoln Road doesn’t include any bus lanes at most it has some T3 lanes, which generally don’t have any priority at intersections.

        1. I thought AC had abandoned the Lincoln Rd widening project because of budget issues?

  3. Agree this is not a busway. I expect it will handle today’s volumes ok but in 5 years time the budget version will start to have delays at peak. This will then affect how much increase in patronage you will get.

  4. So it’s ok not great. Talking about the west, I have long wondered if there is any scope for a ferry terminal on the east side of Te Atatu. It would link nicely to the Whau path, the western bike path and this busway. Can’t help but feel Auckland does not use its harbours enough (The Manukau should have one from Takanini to Onehunga too). The western side of Te Atatu needs an active mode bridge to west harbour too.

    1. Do you think one of those bus route style ferry services like they have in Sydney might work here? Tat Nth – Pt Chev – Westmere – Herne Bay – Downtown for example?

      1. Yea something like that. The could be direct services at peak time and then, “around the bays” style services off peak. Move some boats of down town as needed. Harbours are a hell of an asset.

      2. None of those places except downtown are deep enough for a ferry. They’re surrounded by mudflats. Sydney has deep water right into rock coves, it’s quite different to Auckland.

        1. There is usually plenty of water in Sydney Harbour, but if you are travelling up the Parramatta River, there are mangroves, mud flats and very shallow water at low tide. The catamarans used on the river (RiverCats) are of a very shallow draft and designed to operate int eh environment. So, although I’ve not looked at the water depth in Auckland, it may be practicable to make more intensive use of the harbour.

      3. I like the idea but sadly they could only run at high tide. Unless some serious dredging and blasting a channel was a possibilty? Prob would be some snail in the way so no chance really.

        1. Hovercraft! Southampton Isle of Wight style!

          Just imagine the glorious sound of four helicopters at ground level, which a cumbersome ungainly boat straight out of Thunderbirds crushes all seabirds in its path while picking up passengers from Meola Reef!

  5. This is totally needed on SH18 as well. Unfortunately, I can’t see where any provision has been made for a quality connection between SH18 and Constellation Drive.

  6. The last diagram showing the potential future rapid transport network should include a cross town route from the North Western busway to Puhinui Station. This would be competition for state high way 20 from Waterview to the junction with state highway one at Manukau. It would be useful if an interchange with the western rail line could be arranged as well.

  7. After all those years of just talk, this feels like a step in the right direction. I definitely have serious reservations about how this will work in practice – there seems to be a lot of pinch points along the SH16 where bus lanes don’t look feasible (for example city-bound through Waterview interchange). Without having at least a T3 lane along Te Atatū Rd and Lincoln Rd the whole thing will grind to an absolute halt (as it does now) every morning and every afternoon.
    The passenger amenities are basic and almost all transfer will require a hike through multiple lanes of traffic, exposed to the elements.
    Since Te Atatū interchange routes local buses through, any delays along Te Atatū will likely result in really poor reliability. There’s no space for any bus layover facilities around Te Atatū so I suspect that the ‘timing’ stops for the route ’13’ will remain at Henderson and Taikata Rd on the Peninsula side.
    And finally – why do we need 14 months to build this?

    1. Agree Pshem, currently people are complaining that it can take 30 mins on the bus from countdown Te Atatu South to the motorway – a distance of 1km ( accepting that they may be exaggerating somewhat – I ride a bike so wouldn’t know). There is need for big improvements on the connectors- with the last new network rerouting, the buses in Tat North are now a longer walk from the areas getting intensification. Will be good to actually have a reasonable option for PT to Westgate ( currently at least 50 mins by bus or 10 by car and 25 on pushbike)

    2. Need the 14 months to allow for consultation, tendering and construction of surrounding enabling infrastructure, like Te Atatū T3 lanes you suggest (which are in fact happening – I was lucky enough to be on the team designing them).

      1. Excellent news! Where can I hear more about the Te Atatu project? All the Google results are from past projects…

  8. Could the busway include some underpasses at the interchanges? Undepasses on the NW bikeway and at several stations are low cost and easy to use.

  9. What do you mean? The highway engineers obviously went out of their way to non-future proof every bridge, to occupy the entire designation across the causeway, and in every way lump cost and difficulty onto any future addition of Rapid Transit on this route.

    The result is plain to see. So much incompetence with their tiny understanding of how urban transport systems work, so narrowly focussed on one mode, they don’t even grasp how it is the quality of the alternatives that enable that spatially greedy one to function at all well, despite the example of the Shore busway.

    The cycleway, which is under-built with sudden breaks in separation, was forced on them by the environment court. And the transit – or rather break-down and cell phone – lane is even more intermittent. Just disappears where’s it’s hard. Such low performance, such a miserable unambitious standard of engineering. That’s what gets me; do your job. Those in charge should be ashamed of this, but no doubt they’ve all failed upwards.

    This is not to give the Council planners any kind of pass either. Their record here is shocking, have they ever understood transport? Waste their time dribbling over the fiddly bits on villas in Herne Bay instead of getting the big structural city shaping moves right.

    1. Could light rail down the middle of the motorway something similar to some of Perths heavy rail extensions work.

      1. Through some places – probably yes, but I can’t see how would it sneak through the Waterview interchange. Also, some bridges are definitely too narrow, for example, just before Gt Nth Rd off ramp (city-bound) the ‘bus shoulder’ disappears on the bridge and there’s little space around the middle too.

  10. You can’t blame Auckland Council planners for NZTA not including a busway in their designation. The RMA sets up a sham process for designations that tries to give the appearance of an independent review while ensuring the Requiring Authority can do whateverthehell they like. If NZTA didn’t put a busway in their Notice of Requirement and didn’t include a busway as one of their objectives then the Council doesn’t get much of a chance. The decision on Notices of Requirement is made by the Requiring Authority not the Council.

  11. I’m pretty impressed by how quickly Waka Kotahi have actually delivered this one. It’s obviously disappointing that it’s not a true rtn, but this is still going to make a huge difference for people in the NW

    1. Would be a great opportunity to highlight time savings ( like done on original CRL maps). If AT could confidently say this will reduce a bus trip from Lincoln Rd/Te Atatu to the city from x mins to y mins they would get people on board ( fig and lit).

  12. “While these improvements aren’t perfect and we still need a proper rapid transit route, I also think we should look to use this model for other identified rapid transit routes that are currently a decade or more away from delivery. For example this kind of solution may work on the Upper Harbour route between Westgate and Constellation, on the remaining Airport to Botany corridor and on the New Lynn to Onehunga corridor.”

    In regards to A2B – from what I saw on LinkedIn, Auckland Transport want the Airport Link running to Botany Metropolitan Centre on Te Irirangi Drive by 2025 while Council and NZTA fluff around with the Stage 2 infrastructure build. The NWBI Interim solutions would translate very well here to A2B Stage 1.5 and the Airport Link being extended to Botany.

  13. WK and AT are Vision Zero organisations. One thing that means is that wherever there are conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles, the speeds must be no higher than 30 km/hr.

    At these interchanges, they are introducing new pedestrian / vehicle conflicts – for people transferring from the NW buses to the feeder buses. The network design is correct – but a Vision Zero organisation must ensure the environment is safe.

    So where is the accompanying measures to slow down the traffic on the local roads and the on and off ramps to ensure the speeds are no higher than 30 km/hr?

    Where is the accompanying bylaw to set the speed limits at 30 km/hr?

    AT and WK have successfully resisted the changes required to bring Vision Zero to Auckland.

    1. There aren’t new conflicts here. Just more pedestrians exposed to existing conflicts. Are raised safety platforms included in the designs?

    2. It does seem madness to put pedestrians wandering down the side of a motorway on/off ramp that will be doubling as a bus stop. No good can come of that.

      But this project is one of extreme compromise to save money and face by the looks.

  14. This sets up the network better for the future, but the quality of the transfers is seriously concerning me. I don’t know if people will find the frequency/comfort tradeoff workable here. Imagine trying to transfer in the rain and having to cross the lanes of motorway traffic involved.

      1. And it might just be my eyes but looking at the frequency map it looks like a local bus 6-8 per hour and the bus on SH16 4 per hour -so potentially two bus loads waiting on that island

    1. The enormous majority of people will take two frequent buses and a three short walks in the rain over infrequent buses and two short walks in the rain.

      1. The enormous majority of people will take their car. Getting them to change means providing the most convenient PT system possible. Each change causes people stress. When I worked as a PT modeller in London we applied a penalty in the model to each transfer, to make it replicate the observed behaviour.

        1. Good thing we don’t need to rely on modelling and we can use the real world experiment of the new network to prove that people would rather have frequent transfers than infrequent door to doors….

      2. The buses should loop into the same bus stops – like they do at mangere Town centre – rather than having people crossing busy roads.

        The te atatu interchange originally planned on thy south side of the motorway looks like a way better option than various bus stops spread around off ramps.

  15. Would be interesting to know if that State Highway Manager who was pushing the Waka Kotahi line that a North West RTN wouldn’t be needed for another 30 years was the same Tommy Parker who is now Group Leader of Arup NZ and a recent appointment to the board of Auckland Transport.

  16. “Frustratingly, Auckland Council’s planners supported Waka Kotahi’s position and so no provision was made for rapid transit.”

    Any further detail about this?

  17. Why is it they always say these works are going to create Hundreds of “Jobs” are they Permanent or short term ? . The job unless like other major road projects might go on forever and a day . As all those projects are short term as in any Construction work . sites there is small workforce and all the rest are involved in deliveries etc .
    Then again all those jobs will be for Towies , Police , Fire and Ambulance that pick up all the pieces after the road opens .

  18. I really hope this will improve something. Currently bus travel from Te-Atatu South to Victoria Park with either change at Pt Chev or at Western Park takes about 1 hour on a lucky day. I’m really sceptical about bus changes this is a biggest point of failure, unless one of buses goes every 2 minutes.

    1. The local bus will be 10 minutes or better all day and the motorway bus will be every 5 minutes all day. I think your concerns are pretty well covered!

      1. If they don’t bunch! The trains through Ellerslie are every 10 mins during peak and the 70 buses every 8 mins on paper, so a reasonable connection (other than the distance between the station and stop) on paper.

        In reality three 70 buses come along about every 20 – 25 mins.

        1. It’s a good thing that these routes are getting continuous bus lanes to significantly reduce bunching….

        2. Yes, the Eastern Busway will certainly help but unless there is an imminent plan for bus lanes through Ellerslie Town Centre, west of Panmure station and improvements through Greenlane and Newmarket this long route will continue to suffer from bunching.

          It’s already got some impressive ridership numbers but it could be so much better if buses were more reliable.

        3. This whole area around Ellerslie is so key going forward. And there is no obvious solution short of some major property purchase and underpass of the rail, and motorway. It’d be very difficult to prevent this poor performance in this area without some pretty drastic moves.

          Ideally in the end scenario:
          Third rail line extends up to Ellerslie interchange station for Onehunga shuttle.
          Dedicated eastern busway continues west to great south road from Panmure.
          Have a really good, covered interchange between busway and rail.
          Should have a solid arterial cycleway along busway.

          Ellerslie is really positioned well to be quite the key interchange and hub.

        4. Sorry, I was meaning that the NW was getting bus lanes on the motorway and Te Atatu Road. I completely agree that AT need to ask some hard questions between Ellerslie and Panmure that will probably mean making an existing lane a T3 or bus lane.

        5. hi Sailor Boy – can you point me to where I can find about bus lanes on Te Atatu Rd being included – the only thing on AT website is the old version that just mentions about 50m of bus priority at interchange.

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