By popular request, here’s our recent Twitter thread in blog form. Not our usual style, but something that will remain topical as long as agencies and ministries leap to large-scale conclusions instead of starting at the beginning with quick, smart solutions…


Citizen: I need a 3-bedroom home, as we’re about to have a second child, and the current 2-room flat is too small. I know housing is expensive, but I can handle the deposit and mortgage for $1 million for a 3-bedroom home. Can you help?

Auckland Light Rail [or insert relevant agency here]: Absolutely. Our analysis shows you should have a 4-bedroom house. Eventually your children will grow up and have children of their own, and you’ll definitely need a four bedroom house then – maybe more, or you’ll be overcrowded! We can do this for $2 million.

Citizen: But er, I’ve got a housing problem now, and can’t afford $2 million. Shouldn’t I just get the most affordable house that works for me, right now?

ALR etc: Think of it as an investment in your future! No point wasting money on a 3-bedroom house now, when you might need 4 or even 5 bedrooms in the year 2050. Our modelling shows you could have as many as three children and nine grandchildren in your family by 2050!

Citizen: But in 2050 wouldn’t we just, like, have a second house, or two or three more houses, for the adult children? Wouldn’t they just buy a house when they need their own?

ALR etc: This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! You may never get this chance again, so you need to get the biggest house right now. Houses last for over a hundred years, this is a very long term investment. You need to get on board and support this or you might not get a house at all.

Citizen: But it’s twice as expensive?!

ALR etc: That doesn’t matter – we’ve convinced the bank manager to double your mortgage and give you a second mortgage to cover the extra deposit. All good!

Citizen: But won’t I have to pay double the payments each week for what is almost the same thing? That seems like an awful big cost for a fourth bedroom I don’t need right now?

ALR etc: That doesn’t matter. Our analysis shows the cost-benefit ratio is about the same, so you’ll be getting almost twice the value for double the money. And it’s got a basement, look.

Citizen: But wouldn’t it be better to just get the cheaper house and save the money, or take the extra loan and invest it in a business or shares or something else that’s productive?

ALR etc: I thought you said you wanted a house?

Citizen: Uh yeah, but, okay, so why don’t I get two of the million dollar houses then, that would be two houses with a total of six bedrooms. Isn’t that objectively better than one 4-bedroom house for the same total mortgage amount?

ALR etc: Our analysis shows you need at least a 4-bedroom house. But this is future-proofed: once you buy this $2m house, you could buy another $2m house in the north, and then a third one out west. See, here’s a picture of the three of them next to each other. Doesn’t that look great?

Citizen: Look, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. I just want to quickly get into a decent house that I can afford. Why would I want a $2m house with an extra bedroom, when a 3-bedroom house for $1m has all the space I need?

ALR etc: The data shows that 4-bedroom houses have more capacity and greater value for the occupants than 3-bedroom houses. We’ve had our international consultants confirm this. Plus, everyone we consulted with said they would prefer a 4-bedroom house over a 3-bedroom house.

Citizen: But–

ALR etc: But wait, there’s more! We also found that 4-bedroom houses were really popular with the community of houseless people we surveyed. Super-high approval ratings in fact! It’s really nice – see, here’s what we showed them: fancy renders of the garden you could plant out back, and a picture of a really nice car you could park in the driveway.

Citizen: Oh, so are the garden and car included in the price?

ALR etc: Well, no – but our analysis shows that people with expensive houses do have nice cars and gardens. Therefore, if you want a garden and a nice car, you should buy the $2m house.

Citizen: But if I wanted a nice garden and a fancy car, shouldn’t I just spend my money on those? I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to get a nice garden and car if I don’t spend twice as much buying the house in the first place?

ALR etc: Always with the questions! I thought you said you wanted a house? You should be grateful we’re offering you such a nice big house!

Citizen: So, um, if it’s all decided… when can we move in? Will the garden at least be ready for the kids to play in? Got any transitional housing for us in the meantime?

…running away noises…

Citizen: Hello?


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46 comments

  1. Missing the response from the Eden-Albert board with a proposal the provides almost all requirements at a fraction of the cost.

    1. Does it fulfill the same regional objectives as the original proposals or is it just a really good outcome for the Eden-Albert area?

      1. What Regional objectives were they? The ones someone wrote after AT surprised everyone by pulling light rail out of their butt?

        1. I don’t remember any such objective prior to light rail appearing out of nowhere in 2015. Let’s face it the AT Dominion Road idea was hardly rapid transit. Any objective has been written ex-post to justify something they want to build.

  2. I know its hardly an apples for apples comparison, but do you think London would have been better off buying the 3 bedroom surface level LR house 100+ years ago or the 4 bedroom underground metro they did buy?

    1. In 1890, London (according to Wiki) already had a population of over 5m residents. That offers pretty good potential ridership. The first tunnel also went under the Thames. And they only built 5km (plus 6 stations from what I can glean of the interwebs) to start with. If anything, the London ‘Tube’ shows how incremental transit development really works (albeit on a larger scale than Auckland).

      1. Not to mention the majority of the underground lines (and most main lines at the time) were initially built by competing private companies and London had an amazing tram network as well until they, like us ripped it out in favour of regular buses and more general traffic

    2. London built the three bedroom house every single time. In the 19th century they built narrow bore tube tunnels because it was far cheaper than building tunnels that could handle mainline rolling stock. They built the lines a few stations at the time while allowing for future extensions. They built more than half of the underground on the surface because it was so much cheaper. When they built new tube lines in the 20th century, they still made them incapable of running with mainline running stock. When they built the DLR they chose tiny 3 car trains because the bigger stations wouldn’t have fitted. When they built the Croydon trams they went on the surface, including street running because a tunnel was too expensive. When the built Thameslink they built the shortest tunnel possible because tunnels are expensive. When they created the overground they left the existing tracks almost untouched and just modified stations to enable trains running at surface, mixed with freight.

      London has a great network because they have 20*3 bedroom houses, not 10*4 bedroom houses.

      1. But almost all of London’s rail network (whether above or under ground) is on dedicated right of way. Yes there is some LR that isn’t but even the main LR line (DLR) is. At that time they could have just built surface level trams like what GA proposes for much less, but surely that would not have been better now.
        In fact I would say Auckland’s LR is a bit similar to London in that they have chosen the dedicated LR option over the cheap surface level option or the (slightly) more expensive metro option. Personally I think they should have spent more on Metro.

        1. Meh. I think it is arguable that many other major cities have a better, more cost-effective rapid transport system precisely because they learnt from London and did not copy their mistakes. In effect, once London built their 3 bedroom house, New York built a 4 bedroom house with an underground garage. Their big lesson they learned was to make sure that you had multiple lines – so that you can have an express service. On London, once one train breaks down or fills up, everything behind crawls to a halt. In New York, you can catch the local D Train, or an Express D train on exactly the same route, but only stopping at a select few stations.

          Yjat’s something that we certainly cannot do with a surface based Dom Road option – but it is theoretically possible (probably only in a few select places due to cost) to make a double track, faster version. Just saying….

        2. I used to work with some of the people who recommended the DLR when Docklands was going to be a residential area. They told me had they known Thatcher was going to unilaterally upzone all of Docklands they would have gone with a tube line instead.

  3. I know there is a lot of bad sentiment about the LR decision, but it would be great to see a post that puts that aside and looks at the positives and the decisions yet to be made: where the 18 stations should be, where the exact route should be, how it should connect with the rest of the CFN, what should happen with Dominion Road now, what should happen with isthmus buses, what should happen at the airport end, where will zoning be upgraded by the NPS, etc.

    1. Auckland Light Rail: Planning will take another four years,apparently the answer to your questions will be known in 2026.

      1. That is a bit pessimistic isn’t it. Sure it may not be the best option but it is still a new dedicated RTN that will turn Auckland into a proper city with proper transit (not just some poorly placed rail lines and a busway). Yes maybe they could have done something better with all that money, but this is still going to be very very good.

        1. I don’t think it’s pessimistic. I think it’s a fair criticism. I think that a surface light rail line through the isthmus is better than this and costs half as much. The option chosen achieves the same travel time from the airport with fewer stations. I don’t see any benefit at all over the cheaper option. Had they at least gone for a proper metro the whole way (even on a motorway alignment) at least there would be tradeoffs to discuss.

    2. Why look at something that will never happen. It’s more like a 6 bedroom house with a pool and tennis courts in its current form. The nats could build two or three east west links with the money .

  4. Lol. Oh, and the choices of home would need to impact the environment differently too… I guess that’s about compact apartments with beautiful courtyard gardens vs a house in sprawl.

  5. That’s a good read. Had to laugh.

    This LR proposal is really what I would expect from a minister on a psychedelic trip. Or a minister who has been played nicely by his bureaucrats. It seems to achieve very little that involves common sense but connects Downtown Auckland to the airport at fantastic open cheque expense with tunnels and speed and kids playing soccer on a road and young women blowing bubbles …and what were we talking about again?

    I read yesterday that it not going to be started for another 4 years as planning, if not even dreamt of yet, is in its infancy. Yet Michael Wood says it is, by next year no less. One of them must be wrong, can’t guess who!

    Can we just agree what started off as a relatively sensible multi route surface tramway serving busy suburbs far more efficiently than buses has exploded into a 1960’s sci fi LSD sponsored Buck Rogers trip. And the truth is Michael Wood has no idea how any of this plan came about or how it is ever ever going to be implemented. And with 22nd century pricing!

    1. Unlike emancipated Princesses Mr Wood needs to win an election to get to build his fractal ice tower and I’m not re-electing him to do what he has proposed.

  6. I don’t get the opposition of Dominion Road shop owners to surface light rail. How can they ever imagine, when the climate crisis really bites, that the same number of cars will pull up in front of their restaurants? In the cities that I have visited people in suburban areas use light rail to access facilities. A more widely spaced underground station does not facilitate that trip.
    I guess people imagine all sorts of things though. On 3 News a poll found that 50% of people believed farmers shouldn’t reduce cow herd size. How can NZ halve our emissions by 2030 by doing nothing? I wonder if the question was, should farmers keep their current herd size, or should we reduce emissions by only using our cars on Fridays?

    1. Some say the 4 carparks outside their shop is the difference between being solvent or otherwise. Others have looked at the disruption caused by the CRL in Albert St for year, the impact on business, the lack of financial support by the govt and have thought, “I don’t want any of that”

      Both of these could be addressed but we have taken the “easy” option to spend billions to put the thing underground and avoid the conversation.

      I agree that surface light rail has the ability to deliver a far better aesthetic outcome and experience and the ability to deliver many more people to these locations.

      1. Going for the 4 carparks over a light rail line is like selling your apple shares in 2008 for $6 even though you know they will be worth $130 in 14 years.
        And not only that, but having a consortium of advisors / representatives saying that is what you should do too, and holding on would be too risky when just hold cash instead, slowly devaluing.

        The most short sighted thing that a business association could advocate for. Sometimes I think businesses succeed despite the owners rather than because of the owners.

    2. Are they really opposed to the finished light rail or do they know it will be built at glacial speed with the entire road dug up for extended periods to optimise things for the builder? Remember Albert St and Te Atatu Road

      1. If they were for it but concerned about speed, that’s where the compensation package would come in. The longer it goes in, the more gets paid.

        My understanding is they resisted change full-stop. But happy to be corrected.

      2. I can understand that the whole of Albert St was dug up for a huge length of time for a huge cut and cover. But this is a very different project with surface rails.
        And yes I did see Burke St and the disruption was significant, but in most places not insurmountable.

      3. You could give every business owner on Dominion Road a million dollars in cash, no questions asked, and it would only come to 3% of the extra cost of the tunnel option.

        1. Yes but they wont. Public agencies don’t work like that. If your land isn’t taken then you get nothing. If your land is taken then you get paid at the reduced value of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’.

  7. I dont disagree with the premise of the argument but then we should have:
    0) local bus along the full corridor
    1) kerbside bus lanes
    2) brt central bus lanes
    3) trackless tram
    4) light rail at grade
    5) light rail with key grade separations
    6) grade separated light rail
    7) grade separated metro
    (noting there are clearly some constructability issues going from one to the next)

    1. I don’t think it means you go from one to the next on the same line, you do one line, then the next line on the next corridor, then the next…

  8. There is the case for light rail on dominion road I would say just build it, but stop at mount roskill.
    It should only cost 2b max.
    But this will only be a local network system,
    As it would be to slow to be part of the greater network.

  9. On other thoughts maybe they should build the tunnel,
    Look at the harbour bridge 60 years later, we are still stuck with the same problems, the bridge can’t even be retrofitted with a footpath let alone a rapid transit line.
    And there aren’t any realistic plans to fix this.
    So build a high quality tunnel and use tram trains that can bridge gaps in the network by road running and as the gaps are filled over the decades with high quality rail line we could introduce larger metro rolling stock.
    Some solutions would be to build shorter underground stations.
    Complemented with wider rolling stock to get the same capacity, build temporary platforms that can easily be raised or lowered.
    Use standard gauge track and 25kv over head power.

    1. “the bridge can’t even be retrofitted with a footpath let alone a rapid transit line”

      That’s not an infrastructure problem. It’s entirely about intent.

      1. Well we know there won’t be any lane’s turned over to activate modes or a bus / car pool lane ether.
        We know the bridge won’t take any extra weight, and we know that the only ideas/plans in circulation ATM are for a tunnel, if this tunnel includes traffic lanes the cost will be so big that it will likely be cancelled. And around we go.

        1. Build another bridge then!

          Like people baulked at the $700m cost for the walking and cycling bridge, but compared to this sort of ‘future proofing’ that’s chicken feed.

    2. Think you missed the point my other John, you don’t need it all on the one and only bridge.
      They could easily build another footpath bridge, or one with rapid transit and footpaths or whatever, it doesn’t have to be all in the same bridge up front.
      If they’d demanded the harbour bridge have eight lanes and rapid transit and footpaths back in the 1950s it wouldn’t have been built at all.

      1. The cycle bridge was baulked at due to it being short sighted.
        Say if we built a bridge for rapid transit and it costs 2 billion and then it is decided to also include a lane for active modes it will likely not cost more than 150 million extra.
        But more cracks appear in the clip on lanes, so they want 4 road lanes added to this bridge, this let’s just say adds an extra 2 billion to this bridge, now totalling 4.15 billion.
        Now imagine if we built the 700 million cycle path and then built a transit tunnel it would cost around 3 billion, but then add 2 X 2 lane road tunnels a conservative bet would be 5 billion. all up 8.7 b.
        So it sometimes pays to think big.

        1. But they aren’t building any bridge, or crossing of any kind. They’ve been talking about it since the 70s.

          “Think big” means no cycle bridge, no rapid transit crossing, nothing but big thinking.

        2. Not if it’s going to suck up all the available funding for a region and leave some areas in transport poverty, while entrenching premium access to transport in areas who are already comparatively creaming it.

  10. 15 billion is too much. Its not realistic. I find myself supporting improving public transport in auckland but probably voting against these guys due to the exorbitant price of this project. Should just give up on this and build the avondale southdown line.

    1. It’s not too much if they just go ahead and build a full noise metro (or LM) system. The costings for this project are nuts. Sydney with its higher costs have just built a full blown metro that’s bigger than our planned one and includes a cross harbour tunnel for similar amounts.

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