Sir Michael Cullen, ex-deputy prime minister and finance minister under Helen Clark, briefly an Auckland Transport director, and resident of coastal Bay of Plenty, used his opinion column in the herald last weekend to make some strong points about climate change action.

The piece is headed by a clever image that neatly brings together climate change impacts and the recent giddy reaction by opposition political parties and the media to the government’s electric vehicle Feebate scheme, by showing farmer and his ute stranded in a flood (respect to the picture editor!).

Incidentally, yesterday we got the first results since the Feebate scheme was introduced and it immediately made an impact with nearly 2,000 new EVs being registered in the month, around three times the average per month for the first six months of the year.

Of course while this jump is good, even for just July it only represents 6.45% of all light vehicles sold and with less than 30,000 EVs in the entire fleet, there’s a long way to go given there are around 4.4 million vehicles in our vehicle fleet.

Back to Cullen’s piece, he starts with the extremely important observation that the imperatives to reduce emissions are not just restricted to moral reasons or the practical need to reduce direct climate impacts like the flooding and fires we’ve seen recently but are also going to be coming in the form of penalties and tariffs imposed by our trading partners if they believe we’re not doing enough. He talks of about how not being leaders on climate issues is threat to our economic interests: “People need to remind themselves that slow followers are the ones that are picked off by predators, and that our primary exporters face plenty of predators.”

He also makes the correct point that there is no benefit in haggling over who needs to change more; town or country, clearly both do. In our cities it is transport, and particularly road vehicle transport that is a major source of emissions and it’s here Cullen makes some more good observations but also some bad ones, showing that despite his time on the board of Auckland Transport, and for the second time in two weeks, he doesn’t understand the need for light rail.

Let’s break some of that down.

It’s hard to find what the underlying rationale for this now is. Originally it seemed to be about moving people quickly to and from the airport into town. Then it became more about accelerating intensification of urban development along at least the first half of the route.

Light rail isn’t about transport or housing, it’s about transport and housing. It also was never primarily about airport to city trips and that was reflected by the fact it was previously estimated that only around 5% of trips on light rail would be doing this journey. But both the airport and the city centre are useful anchors for a public transport route and so light rail will see good all-day usage in both directions to and from the various stations all along the route.

Of course, we just last week reopened a fantastic new Puhinui Station which provides for better airport access.

We get back to some useful observations.

There are two key aspects to Auckland’s transport woes. The first is congestion. The second is the high level of carbon emissions that reliance on the private car has created. The two are obviously linked, but not inextricably.

A possible scenario for the future is that electric vehicles will be adopted more rapidly, which could increase congestion. That is because there will be less of a guilty conscience about driving an EV, even though they are far from the environmentally pure form of transport that their more ardent advocates seem to believe they are.

Then, Sir Michael, repeat after me, CBD City Centre – there are now tens of thousands of people living in the city and so it’s far more than just a business district.

Encouraging EVs means it is all the more important to invest heavily in a public transport network that fits how people move around in Auckland. In that respect, movement in and out of the CBD is not the growing challenge people seem to think it is. Peak time travel numbers were slowly declining for some years before Covid hit us, despite population growth. It is likely they will stay lower post-Covid as home-working becomes more normal. Nor do lots of people going to and from the airport want to start or finish in the CBD.

I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the city centre access numbers that Auckland Transport produce on a monthly basis. It’s true that peak time travel numbers were declining but what he doesn’t mention is that decline is almost entirely due to a reduction in car use. As you can see below, access by public transport fell by only a very small amount before Covid struck. Even with the slight decline there are some important things to note.

  1. Other city centre metrics such as employment numbers had shown consistent increases – just yesterday saw more large businesses move to the city centre.
  2. Public transport results had continued to grow, including on the routes that served the city centre.
  3. The measure only shows the number of trips crossing the into the city centre in the two-hour AM peak. Yet one of the key drivers of the new bus network from 2016-18 was to provide better all-day frequencies and while I don’t have numbers for this I suspect one notable change will have been due to the peak spreading – put another way, people were travelling more before and after the peak where services had more capacity.

Next that classic argument “It won’t stack up”

Nobody can make the light rail project have a positive benefit-cost ratio, whatever heroic assumptions about inner-city redevelopment are made. Then there is the lengthy disruption that building the project will create. It looks like an idea whose time has passed.

We have a process for working this stuff out and that’s exactly what the Light Rail team are currently doing. As for assumptions on redevelopment, we’re currently seeing record numbers of building consents being issued with most focused on areas where more housing has been allowed outside the isthmus. There’s no reason to believe that if we allowed more development around light rail that it wouldn’t be taken up on. Furthermore, with Kāinga Ora involved we can bit get more confidence that we’ll see substantial change if they’re allowed to do it.

It’s worth noting we also saw similar comments about the City Rail Link and despite the disruption, billions is being invested by the private sector into the area. There’s no reason to believe that light rail will be different.

But then things really start to go off the rails.

The alternative is clearly a network of multi-car electric buses operating on dedicated lanes for faster travel times, preferably with free fares.

That seems like a case of trying to describe light rail without using the words ‘light rail’.

I am told the main problem with this is that the electric (or hydrogen-propelled) buses are too heavy for many existing roads.

Since Auckland is already committed to an electric bus fleet over the next few years, this seems a little strange.

If true, it only highlights the need to progressively upgrade the potential routes – surely a cheaper, more flexible and more efficient option than trying to create the full light rail network which some dream of.

My understanding is most double deckers in Auckland are already at or over (with exemption) typical limits for axle weights and that’s one of the reasons we haven’t yet seen an electric double decker. But most of the bus fleet aren’t double deckers and we already electric single decker buses so there’s nothing strange about it and building light rail doesn’t undermine the need for converting the bus fleet. In reality we need both.

While more buses are needed, and in some places be fine, there is only limited capacity to run more though the city centre.

Wellesley Bus Sausage

Auckland Transport are currently consulting on a City Centre Bus Plan which is intended to streamline bus routes, increase bus capacity and improve the customer experience for bus users in the city.

But even with those changes, it is still expected we’ll need more higher-capacity solutions as the city grows and that’s where light rail comes in. If light rail is delivered properly, by taking Dominion Rd and City Link buses out it removes about 10% of the bus movements in the city, freeing up capacity to run more buses from other areas. And by running more buses from other areas, it will improve PT for those not just going to the city as it will make things like connections to other services on the PT network easier and more convenient.

There’s also that old chestnut about flexibility. Sure we need that but we’re always going to need some form of public transport on routes like Dominion Rd. Furthermore, investment like light rail can, and is intended to, shape how the city develops making those fixed routes more valuable.

Finally I find it somewhat odd that Sir Michael is so opposed to light rail now. He was after all one of the people who helped push the Super Fund’s initial bid which is what ultimately derailed the light rail process and let to where we are today.

I think that perhaps one of the issues with debates like light rail is people think it’s meant to be a silver bullet solution to all our problems when it’s really just about addressing and improving one aspect of that. I said earlier that light rail isn’t about transport or housing, it’s about transport and housing. But it’s also not light rail or more buses it’s light rail and more buses. If we’re to make it easier to get around the city without a car we need to a lot more of both (and bikes). On some of those core routes, like from the North Shore, the Northwest and the central isthmus, we will need higher capacity options like light rail. Elsewhere more and better buses will ideal.

Share this


  1. I can only assume Michael Cullen has seen some sort of business case for the Light Rail network, or indeed knows which one was chosen, or that he’s been given an idea of where it was going to go or what it was going to cost.

    If so, he’s doing better than everyone else, because to my knowledge the planning for Light Rail never got that far before it got Twyford’d. So I’m curious how he can be so sure about the BCR when so many questions about the use case were still yet to be finalised.

    1. In government Michael Cullen actually achieved most things his government said they would be so I tend to listen to him. And I suspect he knows all too well that this government are about as likey to deliver light rail (or a cycle/pedestrian bridge over the harbour) as NZ putting man on Mars.

      So he’s throwing a bone to the hapless transport minister, just take the easy path Michael, go with the bus option! You know and I know you can’t do light rail. Or your government run a piss up in a brewery.

      1. The bus option isn’t an easy option.

        While he did deliver, that alone isn’t a good reason to listen to him. There are plenty of things he didn’t deliver that have set NZ back a couple of decades.

        1. Jezza, you missed my point.

          Light rail requires detailed planning, overcoming egos, relationship building, financing, legal work before a millimeter of civil engineering gets underway. All the things Twyord could not manage. And then it requires micromanagement and almost tyrannical control of the project from the minister down to ensure it happens. Something no minister in this government has managed.

          Or substitute diesel buses for one with a battery. Yes, that won’t solve the problems light rail are trying to solve but for politicians they can pretend that they’ve answered the climate change call.

          An easy out, a bit like Michael Wood and his answer to the west’s transport woes, buses using the breakdown strip on SH16.

          My point being Cullen summed up Labour’s overwhelming inadequacies with his advice for political expediency.

        2. There’s loads of disruptive work to strengthen Dominion Rd for electric double deckers. Otherwise we’re talking electric single deckers and a reduction in capacity.

          I don’t agree with you at all that that is Cullen’s angle, although I do agree Labour are struggling to drive through infrastructure. I’m unconvinced about Wood but I’m willing to at least give him some time.

      2. My take on Cullen is that he is incredibly intelligent and absolutely did deliver on some key things while in govt (e.g. the so-called Cullen fund which helped us through the GFC years).
        Unfortunately, I also think that he is one those highly intelligent people who are convinced that they’re experts on everything, regardless of experience (or indeed, evidence to the contrary).

  2. It’s great that the works around Britomart and the water front are drawing to a close so surely your not advocating digging the whole area up again to install light rail. I am impressed with the result by the way really nice on Sunday as it was such a nice day. If we really must build light rail can we start somewhere else. And we don’t want the building and business owners to start belly aching again. I have had quite enough of that with the CRL. Is there a better route that won’t be so disruptive during construction.

      1. The works has affected the whole of the CDB and will continue to until the CRL is finished in four years which would be right about the earliest time light rail could get started. So a decade of disruption.

        1. Do you actually go to the city centre? It’s improving massively, how can improvement happen without change. The closure of Victoria st to traffic is fantastic, if only AT would take the opportunity to calm more streets, complete the laneway network etc, we might actually get a quality city centre Akl over, instead of just in parts. Though if you cant bear the sight of a cone, i suggest stay in the burbs, much safer, nothing but traffic and stasis.

        2. There was a time for light rail in the city centre but it has passed now.
          Not only Twyford’s dithering but also because the extension to the airport just made it too complex which in part explains the dithering.
          But there is no reason light rail can’t be built elsewhere in the city. A cross town route like Airport to Botany could be a good proof of concept route.

        3. That the best time to do it was decades ago is simply an argument for getting on with it now. ‘But temporary disruption’ is the weakest argument against making a permanently better city ever.

        4. Especially since much of the ‘temporary disruption’ in the city centre has been due to mismanagement, not the actual work.

        5. The best time to build better infrastructure in Auckland was yesterday, the next best time is today. It is not going to get easier or cheaper

        6. I have to tell you that disruption is the enemy of public transport and rail even light rail suffers much much more than buses because of the knock on effects of incidents on the rail net work. Each time a potential passenger is stuck in disruptive traffic caused by the construction of cycleway, bus lanes and light rail, public transport will get the blame. So we have had years of disruption to get to the point where things are starting to function and you want to start the pain all over again. And its not just pain for car users they probably suffer less than public transport users. I am not looking forward to alerts from Auckland Transport telling me that buses will be replacing light rail due to some unexplained excuse.
          Building light rail at this stage will just drive public transport users away. Its just not worth it because in the end light rail won’t deliver a sufficient advantage over improved electric bus services to justify the 5 years of disruption. You should know by now nothing get done quickly in New Zealand. I am pro rail but I look at the performance of Auckland’s train and I know that the Northern Busway is more reliable. Anyway I expect they will be silly enough to go ahead and build it. But it is just extending the pain and the biggest losers will be the public transport users. Jam yesterday jam tomorrow but never jam today.

        7. “won’t deliver a sufficient advantage over improved electric bus services to justify the 5 years of disruption.”

          If we hired a world-class construction company, from the USA or Korea, they could complete the entire Light Rail project faster than using local companies. The reality is we have to structure complicated multi company contractors, who do not have the scale, staff or equipment on hand to build such projects. See:

        8. The closure of Victoria st to traffic is fantastic – Not if you are business with dozens of businesses closed or on the brink of closure due to the massive sudden loss of business. Go look, go talk with the businesses letting staff go before they too lose their homes.

    1. “If we really must build light rail can we start somewhere else. ”

      You’ve fundamentally misunderstood the problem. We really must build rapid transit to connect the city centre, central isthmus, and southwest to the rest of the network. Light rail is the only feasible way to do this.

      1. Is that right I see other routes which have potential particularly cross town. Central London is all buses and Paris. Light rail is out in the suburbs yes they have their subways but so will we when the CRL is finished. So it’s not as though a city has to have light rail runing through it to qualify.

        1. London and Paris have no bus based rapid transit at all. Both have LRT rapid transit on routes with similar corridor constraints and demand levels to what is proposed.

          The business case produced 5 years ago explained the need for the rapid transit network and why LRT was the best fit for providing that.

        2. Your right they don’t have bus based rapid transit so what’s your point The fact is Twyford stuffed up its too late the government has no credibility in this space. Light rail in the city centre should be dropped.

        3. I didn’t realise that you had missed my initial point: “We really must build rapid transit to connect the city centre, central isthmus, and southwest to the rest of the network”.

          If you want to abandon LRT, what are you suggesting we do instead?

  3. As Minister of Finance, Cullen, would not fund the CRL resulting in a long delay in getting the project underway. It would be up and running now if he had supported it earlier.

    1. “On 5 March 2008, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) announced preliminary planning for a 3.5 km tunnel between Britomart and Mount Eden”
      Note preliminary planning for the CRL only began in March 2008, to blame Michael Cullen for the delays is ludicrous, he was out of office before the project was finalised. The culprits for the delay are Steven Joyce, Gerry Brownlee and the National government. The same crowd who stopped any PT provision on the SH16 causeway upgrade. You’re trying to rewrite history again, maybe go for the double and mention the US Marines offer to build the CRL, Cook Strait bridge, Trans-Tasman tunnel etc etc.

        1. The Morningside deviation was just another report/study of Auckland public transport improvements that were ignored during the six wasted decades from the 1940s. The Central library has dozens of them including one on light rail in the mid 90s, all binned in favour of roads. The CRL planning began in 2008.

      1. Cullen isn’t directly responsible for the delays to the CRL, yes that’s Joyce and Brownlee. What it is responsible for though is taking so long to agree to fund electrification.
        That too was then able to be delayed by Joyce though arguably we ended up with a better plan than what was originally funded by Cullen (full electric fleet, longer trains etc).
        Perhaps if electrification had happened sooner we’d have seen pressure for the CRL sooner.

        1. My point was that just agreeing to electrification eventually was a momentous change from the policies of the many decades preceding that decision. Such a break from the past perhaps excuses the delay?

        2. OMG Matt you need to read up on your urban rail history in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The only reason we have an urban rail system at all right now is because Cullen was determined to save it from the scrapyard that the ARC and ARTA had sent it.

        3. Ad – you might have a partial point but you’ve shot yourself in the foot with the last comment and also ignoring Christine Fletcher as the actual initial champion of rail in Auckland.

          The main reason ARTA was set up, with a significant funding boost from the Mike Lee led ARC was to get Auckland’s rail and public transport back on track and leverage from the construction of Britomart.

          You’re right about the mid-90s ARC though.

      2. No one really delayed the CRL. To go from preliminary planning in 2008 to construction in 2016 and completion in 2024 is a pretty respectable pace for a large PT project in a western country.

        National were naysayers but they actually got behind it at the point they needed to, thankfully Key had spent some time in large overseas cities.

        1. Thankfully big developers and business leaders made it clear to Joyce, English, and Key that the CRL made sense to them.

  4. Cullen says “Nobody can make the light rail project have a positive benefit-cost ratio”. How do we know that? Does he have some good information that he can share with us? I wonder how he feels about the benefits of any PT?
    Citizens should be given the information and reports that we pay for.
    When a city invests in a new project we should be free to read the reports, cost/benefit numbers and recommendations.

    1. Of course they can make it have a positive benefit cost ratio. They start with the B/C ratio they want, then multiply that by the costs to get total benefits, subtract from that the actual benefits and call the balance ‘Wider Economic Benefits’. They shorten that to WEB to make it sound like something.

  5. I do share the sentiment that one massive project isn’t going to fix aucklands transport woes. I am concerned that these massive projects turn into vanity projects where costs grow and the dream is never fufilled. At the rate they are going I expect National will be back in power before anything happens and the project will be canned again. Or perhaps they will go back to their original proposal?

  6. The mad thing here, and this is the second week in a row, in discussing the huge challenge of urban emissions, he chooses to attack a major zero emission high quality new rapid transit proposal, that, done well, will go a good way towards creating the high quality PT network necessary to improve non-driving mobility options, and reshape the urban form of our biggest city, rather than the other current plans to build low value traffic inducing highways!

    Clearly a sign that he’s either smarting from some pet project not going his way, or, more likely, just the prejudices common in his generation, both left and right. These types (can be of all ages, sadly), are absolutely convinced they know some things that are forever true, no matter the evidence. These include: city centres are always failing, sprawl is the only urban form, and, above all; steel wheeled passenger transport is as pie in the sky as taxing capital.

    All you have to do is incant the magic auto word ‘flexibility’ and every great city with light rail systems that grow efficiently and attractively on the pattern of their permanently fixed routes just evaporate off the face of the earth.

    Then arm wave something about ‘modern’ buses, that somehow can carry vast numbers of people but take up no street space at all, so neither inconvenience a driver nor jam a city, and, especially wonderful, are free, cos they don’t exist.

    Urban transport, urban form, and the challenges of decarbonisation in cities, are not the great man’s strengths. Sad to see him devaluing his reputation.

    1. It’s the latter. He’s a provincial man, never supported the CRL and had to be held upside down to shake the money out of his pockets for rail electrification. Can anyone seriously say now that electrification wasn’t a good idea!?

      1. Services on the southern line are suspended as we comment after a problem with the overhead. However just kidding electrification is great.

  7. Interesting that he was supportive of the super fund proposal … Did he have some fingers in the pie? Financial gain to be had perhaps?

    Ex politicians having a high and mighty opinion piece really bugs me, you had your chance to influence change, and you arguably did … as above, not funding x, y and z public transport projects, now that you have no political power you have a ‘this is what we should do’ article. Slightly annoying and ironic.

    1. Greg, you should think long and hard about accusing someone of corruption.
      I think the mods should remove your comment.

      1. What Greg is describing isn’t curruption, he wasn’t in a position of influence when he was pushing the Superfund proposal.

      2. Accusing and asking a question are two very different things. And how is that corruption? He may have had a financial interest in the super fund proposal going ahead, he wasn’t a decision maker on the project, so no corruption at all.

        Either way, if it is removed, happy for it to be removed.

    2. You need a good read of the Auditor General’s letter on the decision-making from 2019-2020 before you comment further.

  8. Cullen comes from a small provincial town in the deep south of the country. As such he has little knowledge of a real city. Whilst in Wellington and Auckland he was driven around in chauffered cars.
    I’ve been to Dunedin many times; charming little place. I once got “stuck” behind 5 cars at traffic lights near George Street at about 5pm – that was rush hour I was informed.

    1. Michael Cullen remains the only Labour minister of any seniority who really stood up for Auckland when it counted in transport. We would not have had the North Shore Busway without him, nor the rail system bought back from private hands, nor double tracking, nor multiple station upgrades such as New Lynn. Also worked hand in glove with Brian Roche on other key Auckland transport moves. Might be a bit before your time.

      1. Are you sure it was him that drove those projects? He was the Finance Minister but my understanding was Clark was more of a driver for some of these.

        1. Yes I am.

          It was Cullen and Roche and others close to him, not Clark, who were the people that actually fronted to the multiple meetings with Mayors and CE’s to actually broker these deals. It was Cullen who had to evaluate the Treasury advice that sought the central government contributions that were outside of Transfund etc.

          I am just amazed that so many here have so little memory of how Cullen drove the survival of rail from near death from 2003 through to 2008. Does anyone recall the entire system having to be bought back from Toll for $655 million.

          Also Cullen as Min Finance was responsible for increasing public transport funding elevenfold since 1999.

          All of these are part of the public record.

          Why Matt would want to dismiss the opinion of the most experienced, successful, and senior Labour politician around is unfathomable, but certainly indicates not being in touch with actual decisionmaking reality.

  9. Michael ‘buses need roads too’ Cullen has always struggled to understand public transport. It took years to get him to begrudgingly fund project DART.

    1. But he did fund it, unlike the generations of finance ministers before him. If it wasn’t for Michael Cullen, Auckland would probably still have diesel trains. And one track out west.

  10. The article lost any credibility when I read that a light rail system would never achieve a positive BCR, and that the best option would be to have buses, preferably free.

  11. I think he is kind of right – an upgrade to Dominion Road to handle heavier longer buses (steel reinforced concrete comes to mind but I am no expert) would almost certainly have a better BCR than light rail. The city centre bus movement argument seems like rubbish – these buses could take the same route as light rail. But if it is extended to Mangere things do get different. To build a brand new busway could in fact be dearer as it would be wider and require more land, wider bridges, etc. Unless the buses ran on the motorway shoulder lanes which would probable be adequate for the foreseeable future and much cheaper.
    But BCRs don’t tell the whole story. I don’t think many cities that have invested in rail would be regretting that decision and wish they could go back in time and build a busway!

    1. Yes. There is not really a weight issue, that just underlines how ill informed he is.

      The issue is space: 1. Width along route. BRT requires the demolishing of one side of the whole route, as they are doing for the Eastern Busway now, this is not desirable or practical in the denser inner areas.

      2. Space in the city centre. One bi-direction LRV slides down the Queen st Valley and back out again with hundreds of passengers v 10-20 buses tripping over each other then somewhere rotating around a city block to get back out again. So build a nasty and expensive underground city bus tunnel.

      Add that real BRT (see Northern Busway) needs all the kit of LR; stations, right of way etc, only except track, it is no cheaper. So, as you observe, because it is so much more spatially hungry, its works out as similar or more expensive. Space issues = capacity issues = cost issues. Also operating cost is lower with fewer better paid drivers of bigger machines.

      Or just build the globally proven, efficient, and attractive LR!

      Bus has been looked at for this route, it isn’t a contender. Bus will eventually max out on Northern Busway too, so then it goes up the NW and over the Shore too.

      Build the city we need.

    2. “an upgrade to Dominion Road to handle heavier longer buses (steel reinforced concrete comes”

      Perhaps we could lay the steel reinforcement along the surface of the concrete in two parallel lines and run the heavier, longer buses on steel wheels that drop into the reinforcing….

      1. If it is that easy then great. But why do we keep getting told it will cost billions? Steel and concrete are not that expensive!

        1. The only quote I’ve ever seen for Dominion Rd LR is $1b, including a short tunnel under K Rd. That’s a few years ago though.

          It became $3b with the extension to the airport, which is a much bigger project.

        2. It will cost billions because it also includes 13km or right of way on a new alignment south of Dominion Road, which a bus solution would also have to include. A busway might actually be more expensive than LRT because the structure would have to be substantially wider.

          The LRT project also includes the cost of new vehicles, whereas buses hide that in their higher OPEX.

        3. The NZ Infra proposal was estimated at $10 billion.
          Cullen has certainly seen the costs of all options.
          Similar to the $785M cost for a cycle bridge over the harbour, there is a point where a project is just too expensive. No amount of WEB can be justified to bring the BCR to an acceptable value. Robertson has all but confirmed that the cycle bridge will not happen and they’re now looking at bringing forward the second harbour crossing.
          I think the same thing will happen with the LRT, and the government will pivot to a more politically acceptable solution. Something like constructing the Avondale-Southdown line and reconfiguring bus routes, with the Puhinui shuttle being enough to service the airport especially given Covid.

        4. “Similar to the $785M cost for a cycle bridge over the harbour, there is a point where a project is just too expensive. […] I think the same thing will happen [….], and the government will pivot to a more politically acceptable solution.”

          The NZ Infra proposal was too expensive at $10b, so the government have pivoted to the more politically acceptable solution of LRT at far lower cost.

    3. “an upgrade to Dominion Road to handle heavier longer buses”

      That’s nonsense – why would that be required? Dominion Road already takes dozens (hundreds?) of truck and trailer movements every day with the fill from the tunnel boring machine at Mt Eden station. Those trucks, fully loaded, will be much heavier than any electric bus…

      1. “Dominion Road already takes dozens (hundreds?) of truck and trailer movements every day with the fill from the tunnel boring machine at Mt Eden station.”

        Those trucks do not use Dominion Road. Plus they have more axles than a bus, to distribute their load.

        1. “Those trucks do not use Dominion Road.”

          Sorry but you’re wrong there. I live where I can see Dominion Road from my house, and I see something in the order of a hundred movements of these trucks every day. Unless “Gleeson & Cox” is transporting vast amounts of spoil from a different central city project?

      2. They might be heavier overall, but its all about axle weight. The existing double deckers had to get an exception from the NZTA and a new higher class of RUC in order to run. They’re the heaviest axle weight vehicles allowed to regularly run in the country.
        They absolutely shred roads, much more than the standard truck and trailer units. Symonds street, great south road in places are pretty bad at the moment. Not pot holes but huge ruts in the asphalt. And they repaved some of these places less than 2 years ago.

        Any addition to axle weight compared to the existing double deckers will require a rebuilding of the road with concrete or whatever else they do to make them stronger. Way stronger. And at that point they’re essentially running on a constrained corridor and it really might as well be light rail.

      1. “The city centre bus movement argument seems like rubbish”
        “Even though CCFAS and the LRT business case have been out over 5 years, I still haven’t bothered to read them. I’d rather be ignorant than read information that might change my mind.”

  12. Is the East-West link along Quay St and Wynyard Crossing still a future likely bus route or has that idea pretty much fallen by the wayside? As an aside, it would be great to at least widen the Wynyard crossing.

  13. You have conveniently failed to mention Michael Cullen’s point about the cost and disruption of light rail. Light rail down Dominion is immorally expensive and will destroy businesses for a number of years.

    The answer is electric buses. The issue being quoted of ‘peak buses’ is a problem that can be solved with appropriate transfer stations in the CBD. This would require the acquisition of some very expensive real estate but is spare change compared with the cost of this disaster waiting to happen.

    1. Indeed. You get most of the light rail benefits with a dedicated electric multi carriage fleet, at multiples less Capex and opex and maintenance costs, and fleet + network integration, and a whole bunch less years to complete.

      Unlike CRLL, which will take a decade to make 3.3kms of heavy rail.

      Dominion Road is a 2-decade political graveyard of transport concepts, including 1 good Minister. Cullen’s warning must be heeded.

      Light rail is dead – its just the advocates just haven’t caught up.

      1. Ad, why don’t you write a post about a “dedicated electric multi-carriage fleet” along with your calculations of capex and opex and maintenance costs, your fleet and network integration design and the delivery timeframe you think is possible?

        It would be good to see how it stacks up.

        1. Cabinet will have that as part of tge business case – whenever it arrives.

          At minimum such a massive project should be subject to competing proposals. Just like they are doing with the NZBattery project.

        2. The enhanced bus idea has already been analysed and discarded 5 years ago, please try to keep up. Now that we’ve gotten the silly ideas out of the way, we can look at the best routes for LRT.

    2. I’m sure when they built the motorway right through the city it destroyed a few businesses (and houses and cemeteries). Do you think in hindsight they should have built a normal 2 lane road instead? At the time that probably would have been adequate and significantly cheaper.

      1. Weird logic. But like some of other the arguments for Light Rail in these comments, driven more by a pathological dislike of motor vehicles rather than sound reasoning.

    3. There are already buses on Dom. They are maxing out there and in city. Tripping over each other. The city is growing, It needs to grow up as well. We need PT that is the best choice for more people on more trips. Not just more of the same. They’re doing OK, but they won’t change the world. Long past time we served this route and these communities way better (like rest of city too).

      1. Agree, and they take 35 – 40 mins to get from Mt Roskill to the CBD at peak, adding more in isn’t going to make that better.

        1. That’s what I’d like answered from those who think buses are the answer for Dom Rd.

          It’s not like we have 1 bus an hour on that stretch. It’s already packed with buses and, ignoring for a minute the spatial issue at the city end, how is adding more buses to a bus congested route the answer? We needlesser vehicles, more capacity. That’s light rail.

          Besides, aren’t they looking at Sandringham Road now?

        2. Waka Kotahi are considering whether Sandringham Road or Dominion Road is the best route across the isthmus.

        3. To me, SR looks too close to the Western Line, or probably more accurate to say its not close enough to the center of the Isthmus, where the issue is. But I guess there is probably only a block in it and its probably an easier sell at this stage.

    4. Where is the evidence that it will destroy businesses for a number of years? This is not the huge cut and cover such as has happened with Albert St, and the massive station at Aotea. George St Sydney has just gone through such a project. When we were there hundreds of people still were moving up and down both sides of the street, with access to the shops. Ultimately this will be a tremendous wealth enhancer for these shop owners as we inevitably move to a city where there are less and less car trips.

      1. “Where is the evidence that it will destroy businesses for a number of years?”

        SOLUTION: Purchase all of the run down retail properties along Dominion Road, then bulldoze them all. Replace them all with low rise multi use buildings.

    5. They really probably should have a fund to support the businesses, it’s probably worth it purely from a purely financial standpoint, before counting morals. Not that I’m an expert by any means.
      Base it partially on how much % loss of pedestrian traffic there is in the area, and make them hand in their books to see how much they really need. Basing it on loss of pedestrian traffic would also encourage the sites to be more ped friendly as well.

      I also fail to understand how rebuilding dedicated concrete or exceptionally strong asphalt roadways on a dedicated bi-directional corridor on the street, will be significantly easier / cheaper than doing the same thing with light rail. I really don’t get why people think this will be the case.
      You have to rip it all up anyway, why not make it a railway with signalling & all the other trappings that make rail a better experience and less technologically risky.

      Either way light rail or Advanced busses will be a much less disruptive project than the CRL. The areas are less dense, and laying a surface corridor and surface stations is a far cry from the complexity and time taken to build huge underground tunnels and structures.

      1. Maybe the fairer way to support businesses is a business loan. There will be those who benefit hugely from these corridor upgrades. Property owners will be the first, with land values significantly higher because intensification is allowed. Many businesses will be more profitable due to their increased accessibility. There does not seem any point in enriching these people more.

        1. It depends on the conditions of the lease, but really over the medium – long term, the only winners are the building / land owners. Rents will be bumped up to represent the amount of people around and improved streetscape.
          But this has no advantage to the renters / businesses. They bear the cost of the construction in the short term, and their rent over the longer term will be priced taking this into account.

          It would be better if the government / public agencies could somehow capture the value increase. One of the advantages of having large sites consolidated around stations, like CRL, is now they can sell that land off at the new increased value.

          Currently with CRL many building owners are discounting the rent, this seems fair because they will be the ones with the increased land value in the end. But if the govt subsidised the businesses then the landlords would have no incentive to discount rent, and it would be a free ride the value ladder.

          Unsure what the solution is.

  14. Cullen, how do you reckon people feel – who’ve lost their children or their parents or their siblings hit by a car crash – when you say “There are two key aspects to Auckland’s transport woes. The first is congestion. The second is the high level of carbon emissions that reliance on the private car has created”

    Safety isn’t just a nice-to-have only if all the big boys’ stuff gets sorted. If you don’t know what our problems are, don’t comment.

    1. I haven’t heard safety being quoted as a reason for this project. If so, you would have to think $10B plus on a single route would be very poor bang for your buck. Also very unfair for the rest of NZ who are missing out on much needed projects which have real safety issues.

      1. Sure, so build the $5b surface light rail version. And fix unsafe provincial roads instead of wasteful new highways.

        1. Those RONS are about as safe as you can make any road.

          Safety isn’t a useful argument for light rail in Auckland.

        2. Those RONS, Ad, induce traffic. That traffic doesn’t stay on the RONS, it goes onto local roads as part of the trips people do. This extra traffic on local roads is part of our safety crisis.

        3. The RONS are exceptionally safe, but safety per dollar is exceptionally poor.
          Rolling out upgrades like in dome valley across the state highway network would have been a much better use of funds.

          I went up and filmed the Dome valley upgrades a while ago :
          It really feels very safe, and the difference is huge compared to when you transition back to the NZ standard state highway.
          Plus like mentioned above capacity upgrades and speed upgrades have induced more traffic, which overall causes more issues.

      2. Doesn’t the $10B price tag come from some Winston Peter’s gossip? And that was the gold plated underground version which is not the only option on the table.
        Last time I heard a proper cost it was $3 billion for street level. It would have gone up from there but not by 3.3x.

        1. We don’t even have a route or design to base a price on yet. Let alone a VFM report or something that will withstand Cabinet. At least 12 months of design to get a fix on it.

        2. Either there’s no route or we can’t evaluate or buses stack up better and cheaper.

          Well, which one is it? If there’s no route or price, how can you make that assertion? Pick an angle and stick with it.

      3. The project is in part a safety project, fyi.

        Buses are less safe than light rail because their path is less predictable and they have more vehicle fronts per passenger than light rail does. And the superior quality of light rail will shift more people from driving to public transport, which is a huge safety improvements.

        But you sidelined Mum of Two’s important comment: anyone who lists the Auckland’s key transport woes without mentioning safety is ill-informed. It’s a systemic problem that arises when someone’s thinking isn’t people-focused.

        1. Heidi, I agree. Absolutely a safety project because less car trips and more PT trips the more safe our roads become.

        2. Safety is always in a BCR.
          But it’s not a main driver for this project and has never been promoted as such.
          Arguing for marginal safety benefits between big-mover pt modes isn’t going to move the dial on this one.

        3. Yes, the difference between big-mover pt modes shouldn’t be big. AT’s failure to “move responsibility upwards” about bus driver behaviour does, unfortunately, make the difference between lots of buses and light rail something that is easy to visualise.

          Safety is not dealt with well in business cases; it’s something the sector does very badly.

  15. Hehe love the conniptions from the LR or die crowd.

    It’s over. LR is dead in Auckland. Even if this government pressed GO tomorrow, we all know deep down they couldn’t get it done. An incredibly expensive and inflexible technology with a single geographical “benefit” – our poor dears along Dominion Road) – this puppy is done.

    Meanwhile, the world has changed. Working from home is a new norm for many. Demand has declined. The concept of an office-heavy CBD is out. Urban sprawl is now inevitable to address insane housing costs. LR doesn’t factor.

    1. I think it’s the right thing from a regeneration along key routes and climate change perspective – car street scapes are boring and unappealing as destinations. Plus, bus capacity along the route and at each end is a real thing and the scale of congestion means that the sheer number of buses needed to provide that kind of services is unworkable.

      I do however agree that LRT is probably cooked. Whereas places like the Gold Coast made it work, a tame media and sheer incompetence, both from the government ministers and civil servants have meant there is little chance of it ever succeeding.

      Frankly, I would like my 10 cents a litre back for the last few years. The social contract between Aucklanders and Wellington has been broken, and seemingly without consequence for anyone. Not good enough. ATAP is not worth the paper it is printed on.

      1. Do we have to go through the long list of projects funded by the fuel tax? Again! You know that flash new station at Puhinui that opened last week, the 10 c a litre paid for that so no, you’re not getting it back. It has been spent and continues to be spent regardless of the light rail fiasco.

  16. He’s right. They’ll never get it built, millions spent already on consultants business case studies talk talk talk. all at the tax payers or rate payers expense. Auckland had a fine network of trams, they ripped it out, that infrastructure could of been upgraded etc. over the years as usual Auckland stuffed up .Back then they just got on and built it, didn’t spend years talking about it and drawing up graphs of every hue and design. Multi articulated european trolley buses are fine proven technology and cheaper and less disruption to install go with them, problem sloved.

    1. This what all you nitwits said about the CRL, right up till there were diggers in the ground. Sad that you’re only able to look backwards, must be hard constantly tripping over the change you can never imagine.

      1. Obviously judging from your childish name calling you have no idea ,in fact i am all for the CRL and also think the HR should be extended to the north shore not LR .I don’t think the horrendous expense with LR is worth it when other options are available . Most of the countries with LR systems kept the tram routes they had originally and modernised as the years went by,or they have much larger populations in their cities or countries to afford new systems.

    2. And ironically, one of the reasons its not being built right now is because of Dr Cullen.

      Those dismissing LRT aren’t offering any logical solutions to the problems we are trying to address on that route. You can put your head in the sand all you like, but pushing more and more buses into that corridor will not work. It will grind to a halt. And we will be back to this discussion and the obvious solution will have got more and more expensive.

      Its easy to criticise and claim all sorts of conspiracies and anti-car/pro-LRT agendas, quote all sorts of unbased costings, than it is to offer solutions. That much is very clear from the comments in this thread.

    3. They did build a trolley bus network ” back then”. Then ran it into the ground with no upgrades within 20 years, so much for “back then”.

      1. Re back then I was referring to the tram network not the trolley bus network which was criminally left to run down.

    4. Pete – There is merit in what you said about multi articulated trolley bus especially if they operate on a dedicated right of ways and loop services at each termini, especially if they are electric battery powered.

      The only infrastructure required would be power distribution and overhead wires using high speed flexi Kummler and Matter equipment and there will be no expensive and disruption of re-organizing of public utilities and track laying plus it would be quicker to implement the network.

      1. Exactly right trolley buses are actually making quite a big come back in parts of the world with quite a few cities installing the bi articulated models. I would of thought it’s the sensible way to go myself certainly be up and running sooner than LR and all the associated disruption.

        1. Of course, there’s literally no disruption with running Trolley Buses down a right of way in an urban corridor that you’re suggesting running Light rail running down a right of way would cause.

          Just…. just wanting to be super clear that the disruption for the right of way required for trolley buses is functionally different and somehow miles better than the right of way for light rail cars also running in a right of way?

  17. Has everyone forgotten that there is an organisation and a process happening?
    Michael Cullen’s views come down to the discussion of steel wheels vs. rubber wheels, which will be evaluated in the business case – as they should be. Infrastructure for either won’t be much different, as some of the posts have discussed. There is still the option of the trenched semi-railway to be discussed and evaluated – that’s the one with the big disruption potential. And don’t forget that after Albert, Victoria and Wellesley have been rebuilt and reopened, traffic will have little use for Queen Street, so surface rail (or bus slab?) can be built with much less business effects. How many more tractors will you be able to park on Queen Street then?

    1. By the time CRLL opens, Queen Street will be largely closed to regular traffic.

      But if you think that means the retail businesses won’t kick up about having infrastructure at least as disruptive on their doorstep, you’re mistaken. On the contrary, both retailers and property owners will attribute all losses to the project, fair or not.

      The Sydney George Street light rail fiasco comes to mind. The Minister needs to come up with a convincing disruption package – and if they’re not prepared to revisit the Public Works Act “injurious affection” clauses then they had better have a big compensation fund ready.

      And then there’s Dominion Road. That is one punch-drunk set of communities.

      1. Look at doozy Minister Wood and his shocking treatment of retailers and restaurant businesses on Albert St and Victoria St. They are closing down broke, loosing their homes, suicide attempts and the “caring government” is allowing their businesses to fail with the messy CRL construction – and NO compensation for years of disruption. Wood, a full time politician with next to no real life experience is allowing people to lose their jobs and livelihoods. Now, imagine the mess light rail with a decade of construction mess will do to all the thousands of small businesses enroute? If the Mongrel Mob owned the businesses the government would give them millions!

        1. The property owners there are getting gold plated transport infrastructure and an improved street environment, which will be reflected in their property prices. It is they who should be lowering rents to compensate businesses.

    1. More like typical of actual politics, and not the nerd-prom you guys think generates decisions.

      Why would you think that 2 hours of cyclists taking over the Harbour Bridge would have superior influence compared to weeks of much larger blowback the entire government received?

      1. Why indeed, when the Political Economy of Car Dependence (including sectors and politicians) decide to go on a warpath?

        Quality transport planning, within a new low-carbon, safe and people-focused paradigm, communicated as an entire package to deliver a transformation for a better future, at the scale required by the crises we face, would have fared better. But it would still need to tackle the advertising sector, sectors that will lose in a more progressive future, and the old media.

        Meanwhile, what is Coughlan actually basing his article on? Robertson doesn’t seem to be saying what Coughlan implies. In parliament, Robertson was asked whether the priority of that project over other harbour crossings is now being reconsidered? He said no, and repeated pretty much what Michael Wood had said weeks ago about the AWHC. Next he was asked if the Government was backpedalling on the bike bridge, and he replied no.

        Has anyone seen anything to actual provide the substance for Coughlan’s article?

        1. That march by farmers shows it would take a lot more than better-expressed planning to bring the blokes back, let alone the entire political economy.

          NLTP 2021-24 has yet to be approved by the NZTA Board. Happens in late August. Robertson looks like he’s applying pressure to that. IMHO that’s appropriate.

    1. That Jacobs report from 2016 has been well discredited on many points, including their ridiculously low cost estimations.

  18. Cullen saw the LRT as an opportunity to “leverage opportunities” from the new CPTPP trade agreement to create “gold standard” PPP projects. This was less about solving Aucklands woes than cementing a type of agreement that has had limited application in New Zealand. Where it has been utilised here and overseas, it has resulted in cost blowouts and long term cost of financing far higher than if the money had simply been borrowed at sovereign finance rates. This is the reason the Canadian pension fund became involved. The gold plating of the project resulting in estimated costs balooning and resulting in the dropping of the northwestern part of the project. Had we proceeded (and we can actually thank Winston for this) we would have been paying over the odds to keep retired Canadian teachers very comfortable in their old age. Unfortunately, it also means we have wasted several years by not starting what was described then in its simpler form as a shovel ready project. Given the planning, design and rational now seems to have dissapeared into another round of navel gazing. You have to ask how shovel ready it was. Perhaps we also need to look at a more “agile” form of project management. The eastern busway being an example where planning, consultation and design for stage two is only starting now after stage one is complete. I have been out of Auckland for a few years and expected it to be well on its way to Botany now with the Reeves road fly over almost complete. Could design and construction of projects suited to this not have one or more sections proceeding at the same time, or even starting at opposite ends. This would also allow for problems and other factors to be taken into account as the project progresses without having to start from scratch with every minor setback. It seems strange to me that a technology from 120 years ago is so hard to implement in the 21st century.

    1. “slow followers get picked off by predators”
      Auckland transport users are DSI’d by unsafe infrastructure, or safe infrastructure made unsafe by the quantity of traffic we’ve imported.

  19. “and that’s one of the reasons we haven’t yet seen an electric double decker’

    The reason we have not seen double decker electric buses in Auckland yet, is that there is no bus manufacturer willing to produce such a small number, that comply to NZs narrow width requirements.

    1. “The reason we have not seen double decker electric buses in Auckland yet, is that there is no bus manufacturer willing to produce such a small number, that comply to NZs narrow width requirements”- so how come that there is small (but with more on order) fleet of electric double deckers in Wellington?

    1. And all that poll result shows is that if you frame the question right you get the answer you want. If you asked people whether they wanted $3b in tax cuts; or $3b in tax cuts, and to achieve that Pharmac spending would be held for 5 years and 1000 nursing jobs would be cut. I suggest it would look like two very different polls.

  20. They have electric double deckers in Wellington by the way, they’re just quite a bit smaller than Aucklands and not great good value for money.

    Maximum width is actually 2.5m in NZ, so international standard of 2.55m is too wide to be legal.

    1. Are our standards somehow smaller/stricter than places like London? I guess for NEX etc they would probably need longer range than a standard city bus stopping more often etc

      1. Yes standards are different, including width, height and axles weight limits.

        But it’s not really the standards but the economics. In wellington the weight limit, the battery weight and size means 82 max per electric double decker. More people and it’s too heavy. So Wellington are happy to have relatively low capacity, smaller electric buses with a higher cost per passenger.

        The diesel that run on the NEX hold 105 people before hitting the weight limit, so higher capacity, lower cost per passenger. At this point in time it’s hard to convince operators to increase cost and cut capacity by 25% at the same time.

        It’s just a matter of time, the next gen buses will have fixed it.

        1. Wellington’s CRRC double deckers have just two axles so seat only 68 people, but Tranzurban are converting one of their three-axle BCI diesel double deckers to electric, and they seat 85.

    2. “Maximum width is actually 2.5m in NZ, so international standard of 2.55m is too wide to be legal” – maximum width in NZ is actually 2.55m, so internationally standard-width vehicles are legal here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *