This is a guest post by Paul Callister.

Featured image: the Southerner Service at Dunedin Railway Station, via Save Our Trains on Twitter.

In November 2021, over 100 elected officials representing local and regional councils from Northland to Bluff sent an open letter to the Minister of Transport, Michael Wood. This letter highlighted their concerns about insufficient investment in public transport in the regions and their wish for this to be addressed in the Budget 2022.

The letter stated:

As representatives of the provincial heart of Aotearoa New Zealand, we want to be part of a better future where we have user-friendly, affordable and convenient public transport so we stay connected without costing the earth. The Emissions Reduction Plan discussion document highlights the concerns many of us hold about the impact of climate change on our planet and the place of mode shift in transport as key to significantly reducing emissions.

Some demands for change were set out:

We seek low fares for all and an expansion of free transport for community services and gold card holders, students and apprentices. We want increased route frequency and hours of operation so it is easier for people to choose the bus without having to coordinate a timetable with long wait times, services that stop at 6pm or that don’t operate on weekends. We want the option to take buses, both within and between our provincial towns and rural communities, and to connect to our large cities. In the past, many of our towns had rail services to fulfil these roles. They should again. But where that is not possible in the short term, we need convenient and affordable bus services as soon as possible.

While focussing on buses, the letter writers also pinpointed the need for other changes to assist low emission travel:

We also need massive improvements in rail and protected cycleways, and other non-transport solutions for climate change too, but improving our buses right now is fundamental as we face being left behind our largest cities.

On March 14 2022 Michael Wood replied in a positive way. Nicola Patrick, a Horizons regional councillor, tweeted part of his reply:

“I support in principle the need to invest more in public transport in the regions.”

“Public transport shapes people’s lives, the ability of our regions to connect and thrive, and has an essential role in tackling climate change and reducing transport harm.”

Nicola in her tweet thread noted, “Then later today we got the fantastic news of half price buses for three months.”

While what happens in our largest cities is obviously important, solutions for decarbonisation, safety and the provision of affordable options for all members of society to stay connected are vital for all of New Zealand’s communities, whether large or small. New Zealand’s small, and not so small, communities have been left behind.

There are two aspects to improving regional public transport. First, there is public transport and other decarbonisation and mobility measures within towns and smaller cities and, second, transport between towns and cities.

Public transport and cycling within regional New Zealand

Through a mix of history, geography, size, demographic differences, council decisions, and various other factors, the use of buses, trains, bikes and walking varies considerably across New Zealand.

The following table presents some examples of various transport methods used to get to work in towns and cities in the North Island. In every location, but not shown, driving is by far the biggest category.

Main means of travel to work for people in selected areas, 2018 Census, % in each category
New Plymouth District0.51.74.40
Tauranga City1.62.32.90
Taupo District0.11.34.30
Te Kuiti East0.01.06.50
Palmerston North City1.
Whanganui District0.42.84.20
Kapiti Coast District Council0.91.63.412.7
Horowhenua District0.
Auckland Region7.
New Zealand4.

Source: statistics New Zealand

For those communities without public transport, or with poor transport services, cutting fares or making them free does not help. The switch to bikes is constrained by the amount of safe cycling infrastructure provided.

Adding to the challenge, small towns like Levin have significant pockets of deprivation. If locals can afford cars, they are often older, unsafe, and not energy efficient. Not many people can afford new electric cars, even with rebates.

Small towns often have much older populations than the big cities. This is one reason that Grey Power supported the letter to the Minister.

Yet, public transport and cycling infrastructure is lacking in many of those places most in need of it. Take Levin for example. It is flat and the streets tend to be wide, and all of the town is within easy cycling distance of the main shopping centre and the railway station. However, local buses and safe cycleways are virtually non-existent. Although some small changes are afoot, overall attitudes and infrastructure still deter cyclists and walkers.

Levin Mall Carpark

If safe, linked cycle tracks could be rapidly rolled out, Levin would be an ideal place to provide subsidised, or even free, electric bikes.

In Levin, if you can get to the station there is only the once daily, weekday service to and from Wellington on the aging and slow Capital Connection. Ironically, much of the trip looks out on the extensive expressway being constructed up the coast, with more planned between Otaki and Levin.

There is, nevertheless, some hope that train services will be improved.

Connecting communities

In New Zealand, it is flying and driving that link towns and communities. It is difficult to estimate the impact of driving on regional emissions, but New Zealand ranks fourth for per-capita domestic aviation emissions – just ahead of Canada, despite Canada being forty times larger than us. John Vidal, the Guardian’s former environment editor, promotes passenger rail as an environmentally superior alternative to domestic flying in the UK and Europe. But passenger rail is not an option in NZ because most of our longer-distance passenger rail network has been dismantled. Most recently this has included stopping the Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific services.

The provision of fast, safe, affordable, low carbon, interregional travel has been previously investigated by Greater Auckland (GA). In 2016, GA promoted the idea of fast rail connecting Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga. Instead, we got slow rail, initially not even reaching central Auckland, in the form of the infrequent Te Huia service.

Greater Auckland has also considered reviving longer distance rail services, including the re-introduction of a Night Train between Auckland and Wellington. Currently, there is no train service, even during the day, to connect New Zealand’s two largest cities, and the towns and cities in between. Instead, the government owned KiwiRail is investigating the development of a New Zealand Orient Express for wealthy tourists, but with no plan for additional, more affordable options. In effect, KiwiRail has abandoned ordinary New Zealand families.

Under the title Better long distance coaches – design, regulation and community public health, Greater Auckland has examined the remaining coach services that still join up small towns and cities. These coaches are not considered public transport as they are operated by a private business. This means that half fares do not apply to them even if a person is just travelling a short distance within a region.

Both onboard and off board experiences on New Zealand coaches are often poor. For example, coming to and from regional New Zealand to central Auckland, passengers have to pass through a substandard intercity bus depot.

Norway is often held up as an example of a nation that has supported the switch to electric cars. But Norway also boasts an extensive intercity rail (62% of which is electrified compared with only about 13% in New Zealand) and a high quality, long-distance bus system. Yet, Norway has a relatively small population (5.5 million) and challenging terrain. Moreover, Norway’s inter city coaches all contain onboard toilets, a feature appreciated by an aging population and those travelling with children.

An intercity coach in Norway

In a post about Regional Access we asked readers to imagine a New Zealand where you can…

  • knock off work and escape the city for a long weekend, without having to drive on dangerous roads, bleary-eyed from a week at work…
  • grow old in your hometown, knowing that even if you become too disabled to drive, heading to the nearest large centre for a doctor’s visit isn’t a transport hassle…
  • take the overnight train to Wellington for business, so you can stick to your no-flying commitments without it eating into your working week…
  • travel to regional tournaments safely by public transport (while teammates are still gaining experience as drivers)…
  • visit grandchildren in other regions travelling on high quality buses equipped with onboard toilets and fast wifi, enjoying vegan and gluten free options at refreshment stops…
  • have seamless door to door travel between cities and small towns using a mix of trains, buses and electric vehicles, with the help of accessible technology…

Unfortunately, in New Zealand, such possibilities can only be imagined. The system is broken and we need to design and build a National Public Transport Network.

There are a number of groups supporting this concept, an example being the Public Transport Forum through its Connecting Communities 2030 initiative.

This is the type of vision the 100-plus elected officials were asking of Transport Minister, Michael Wood, in their open letter. We hope the 2022 budget will have money to start this process of revival. But just one budget will not fix it. We need a complete transformation of our transport systems throughout New Zealand if we are to meet our emission reduction targets, improve safety, and create a joined up system that affords all New Zealanders mobility choices, both locally and regionally.

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  1. Just booked my daughter Whangarei to Bombay in the school holidays coming back from her grandads. So when it exist will use it.

  2. Commenting for about the billionth time that our trains don’t go to actual holiday hotspots (Taupo, Rotorua, Paihia/Russell) but could. The whole ‘Premium Tourism’ thing is a big ask when the trains are competing with existing plane journeys that take a fraction of the time, and only really go to the main centres.

  3. I think you also have to consider our small population as the reason we don’t have good trains. If Auckland and Wellington were 5 million and 3 million, then high speed rail might make sense (although the terrain isn’t easy either). But at 1.5 mil and 0.4 mil it would be a massive cost for a fairly small number of users. Hamilton and Tauranga are even smaller.

    1. “I think you also have to consider our small population as the reason we don’t have good trains. “

      You mean like 80 years ago when Auckland/NZ had a third it’s population but had 10 of trams leaving every minute from 1 downtown and there was a full blown intercity rail system?

      Policy drives the outcome, not arbitrary population thresholds.

    2. Interesting argument.
      So Wellington should not have an airport, since it is just a small city.
      And Hamilton and Tauranga are even smaller, so even less reason to have airports.

      Also there is no need for a highway between Auckland and Wellington because of the challenging terrain and large distance between a medium city and a small city.

      Happy to not have rail connections if we also remove air and road connections.

      I am not sure where the requirement for high speed rail comes from, has anyone asked for a Shinkansen between Wellington or Auckland? I think the ask is to have basic rail connectivity… Not just one train every other week which takes multiple days and costs thousands of dollars with overnight stops (or whatever the current KiwiRail plan is).

      1. The problem is that a train line between Auckland and Wellington for example serves almost nothing in between except Hamilton. Airports can serve every other airport.
        We already have highways, at the moment most of them are pretty basic, when the demand is high enough we upgrade them to expressways.
        We also already have train lines, but they are so slow and point to point that passenger demand is almost zero. Not many people will take a 12 hour train (plus connections) over an 8 hour direct drive or a 1 hour flight. And with low demand comes low frequency, which is then another factor causing low demand. Sure they could try a few regional train services, but I imagine they could spend that money better elsewhere (for example $100 mil could have created a great frequent bus service between Hamilton and Papakura which would be faster than Te Huia).
        High speed rail would be great, I’d love to have that in NZ, but its hard to see anywhere where it could make the slightest economic sense due to our small cities that are far away from each other. Auckland -> Hamilton maybe, but its still hard to justify billions on that route.

        1. “Not many people will take a 12 hour train (plus connections) over an 8 hour direct drive or a 1 hour flight. “

          K. Now think how that works when petrol costs $25 per litre. $50 per litre? This is coming, in your life time.

          By the way, there are daily busses that go between Auckland and Wellington, at peak times multiple each direction. It takes 11 plus hours.

        2. The record for an Auckland to Wellington trip by rail was a shade over 8 hours, in the 1960s, before extensive track re alignments for the overhead wires. You don’t need to spend billions to compete with driving time but you do have to run multiple departures daily. How many airports are subsidised by council owners?

        3. “a train line between Auckland and Wellington for example serves almost nothing in between except Hamilton”

          Pokeno, Huntly, Te Awamutu, King Country, Central Plateau, Fielding, Palmerston North, Levin are all on the main trunk line. Notably, most of these places don’t have airports.

        4. I’ve read that there are 2.5m people living within a very short first/last mile hop to this line. And much like the Auckland Airport line, the focus shouldn’t be on the few (as a %) people going end to end. Its the thousands of intermediary trips that could take place along that single route. Between Palmy, Fielding and Levin, for example.

          Now for that to work, frequency is required and that’s not an easy fix, cost-wise. But I don’t think a lack of catchment or lack of busy destinations is an issue when looking at the line as a whole.

      2. Not many people want basic rail connectivity, hence why Te Huia is a flop. Most people will only consider rail as a transport mode if it is at least somewhat competitive on time, cost and frequency as the other modes. Without spending billions upon billions, we don’t have that at all.

        1. Te Huia services could be made better, and more friendly for Auckland-based travellers to/return from Hamilton, with better schedules.
          Likewise, Intercity bus has cut back/shifted some of the coach schedules making it less appealing than private vehicle travel.
          We really need some joint-up thinking across multiple organisations if we want move away from lip service about climate change adaptation

        2. JimboJone – Te Huia is not a flop as it hasn’t had a chance to do what it was designed to do, due to ongoing disruptions caused by COVID19, track access issues and disruptions on the Auckland rail corridor, politicking by Auckland Transport, bad media reporting and initial teething issues.

          With the new timetable released in February 2022, with Puihnui being added as a stop and service terminating at The Strand coupled further service enhancements this year and hopefully not to many more COVID19 disruptions, Te Huia will start to achieve some of its goals.

        3. It would not cost billions to have rail be competitive on “time, cost and frequency”. We could buy trains and run enough service for just a few hundred million.

        4. Its interesting to note that in the 60s we had a service that did AKL-HAM in 1hr 48mins.

          Such a service, with the right frequency, and strategic stops only once into AT territory, would be easily competitive for commuters. Also note that weekend services have often been at capacity.

          It would be easy and (relatively) cheap to make this project successful. And while I don’t think its being set up to fail, its not been given much of a chance. The timetabling at destination changes will hopefully help.

        5. I wonder what advice Tywford and the Waikato regional council got with regards to using locomotive hauled trains on Te Huia. Were they informed that a modern DMU could do the job considerably quicker or were they thinking about jobs at the Hutt workshop. No doubt readers on this site will remember the swaying ride of the SA trains and the clangs and groans when they were in service on the Auckland network. I recently made a trip on Te Huia and they haven’t changed. Its alright and I have no complaints about the finish inside or out but I noticed the difference in ride a few weeks later when I made the trip between Pukekohe and Papakura on an ADL which is a lot smoother. Still Te Huia probably has a higher top speed and the ADL,s reek of diesel.

        6. Their priorities for the Te Huia ‘start up’ wasn’t about investing in new DMUs. That is definitely in the too hard basket for Kiwirail or the NZTA who think we’re lucky to have some tarted up museum carriages pulled by their freight locos.

          You might remember a certain board member got publicly scolded for suggesting that if you do a trial too cheap and small it won’t be attractive. If they can’t comprehend a couple extra runs per day with the trains they have sitting in the yard what makes you think they’d consider buying new DMUs.

        7. There will be no regional rail services until suitable modern rolling stock is available. It’s a simple as that, there are only 17 AK carriages which is what you need for the Tranz Alpine. As Royce says, the ride of the S carriages is ok at best and sometimes downright disturbing. They have large steel side doors which draw out the heat and make them noisier than purpose built regional trains. Ok for a “trial”, but upgrades to modern trains are needed urgently for a whole range of reasons, not the least being fuel consumption and emissions.

    3. JimboJone – Between 1936 to 1978, New Zealand had a national regional and inter-regional passenger rail network using 48-88 seat railcars that operated from Opua in the North Island to Invercargill in the South Island which was a back up with long distance passenger trains and mixed goods/passenger trains on rural branch lines when the population of New Zealand was less than half of the current population.

    4. I’d note that we have almost no proposals for High Speed trains ( 250km/h+) but instead the aim is for something closer to 150km/h. This could use existing track and gradually get faster as sections are improved.

      Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga is around 200km so 100 minutes from centre to centre is a possibility.

      Have a look at the regional rail proposal on this website.

      1. Almost every first world country with cities the size and distance apart that Auckland and Hamilton are would have multiple daily trains.

        1. Between Southampton and London Waterloo there are over 60 return trips per day, it’s turn up and go almost all day long from Waterloo or from Southampton Central for the return. There are also additional services from London Victoria.

      2. 250km/h trains will require a different gauge and a completely new alignment. As far as Akl-Ham goes, by the time you incorporate stops, the benefits evaporate fairly quickly…
        However, with some reasonable earthworks, 160km/h top line speed is within the realms of possibility and 120km/h would only require a few curve easements. Obviously it would also need any single track sections to be doubled. Ideally, you’d just go the whole hog and put 25kV line all the way and go electric operation. That would also give the flexibility to towns on the NIMT south of Hamilton potentially.

    5. If the billions spent on motorways and expressways had gone into high speed railways, we’d have a good network of them. It’s not the small population. It’s the way money’s been wasted.

      1. Amen. Nothing to do with the small population. That’s a red herring. I have travelled extensively in Europe, and places with smallish populations like Norway and Finland, that also have their own geographic and weather challenges have far more and better developed services. But their populations and govts have made the concious decision to invest in their rail network and services. The situation in NZ has everything to do with our and our govt’s, and also rail organisation’s attitudes to rail transport in the last 50 years.

        1. I absolutely agree with your statement:
          “The situation in NZ has everything to do with our and our govt’s, and also rail organisation’s attitudes to rail transport in the last 50 years.”

          However it is also very much to do not only NZGov & KiwiRail but importantly the total lack of absolute commitment by all political parties to dismember the dinosaur monolith SOE and vitally the majority of the general public’s overall disinterest in the state of the rail network and sparsity of passenger trains.

  4. I wish Norway would not be held up as a positive example so often on this web site. Norway has some good features in their society but all being paid for by fossil fuel. This is like saying the Sacklers are role models as human beings because they are philanthropists (or for that matter Pablo Escobar). Note that Norway also plans to increase their oil extraction and do not plan on winding it down. So in effect their EVs are just greenwashing.

    1. I don’t agree with this argument about Norway. Their EVs are not greenwashing, they provided a major boost to EV growth worldwide. What should they have spent their oil revenues on instead?

      New Zealand also exports oil, but we have much lower royalties overall than Norway, and the money goes into general government revenues.

      And then there is our dairy industry…

      1. Norway should have spent (/should be spending) more of its oil revenues on extending its rail system. My understanding is that little rail network development has occurred for many decades now. Meanwhile a massive amount has gone into highways, tunnels and bridges, burrowing under mountains and fjords, replacing slow ferry journeys and connecting many small, remote towns and islands with direct road links. Norway’s rail system is excellent where it exists, but the network is quite limited. It has not been keeping pace with highway development and certain extensions which have been proposed for decades have still not happened. Norway’s EV craze seems to have stifled development of rail.

        1. Rail doesn’t work in regional Norway because govt policy is to keep the regions viable, it’s simply not possible to connect all those regions up to rail with frequencies that make them useful.

          In coastal Norway ferries have been very important in keeping communities linked up, but as traffic has increased and technology has improved replacing them with tunnels and bridges has become viable. Norwegians pay, the govt isn’t funding this infrastructure for free, users pay high tolls for the crossing and for the roads leading up to them, these trolls are usually for a specific time period or until the cost has been paid down, for example the world famous (in Norway) Atlantic Road had a toll period of 10 years but proved so popular it was paid down in less than 5.

    2. Norway is spending hundreds of billions upgrading and expanding their motorway network, they are spending very little on rail, the high speed project has been put on indefinite hold, the rail doesn’t cover the whole country, it stops at Bodø. Norway has one of the most extensive domestic air networks in Europe, far surpassing New Zealand.

      1. Norway doesn’t have motorways covering the whole country either, not even close to the coverage of the passenger rail network. The motoway network stops on the outskirts of Oslo, plus a few kms of urban motorway in Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger.

        Actually once the current round of construction is completed NZ will have the same length of motorway as Norway, a touch under 500km.

        Norway does however have 2,600km of electrified main railway covering 80% of the population, plus another 1,500km of non-electrified lines reaching most of the rest. Sure the rail network stops around the arctic circle but that’s because almost nobody lives north of there. Well the swedish rail network actually runs to the port at Narvik, but that for freight export.

        So yeah, New Zealand should use Norway as an example and electrify 2,600km of mainline rail track to catch up, we’ve already caught up on motorways.

        1. Norway’s Motorway network is close to 1000km now, it was 599km in 2018, there’s been nearly 400km added since then. The motorway network goes straight through Oslo, you can drive Hamar to the Swedish border on the E6 on motorway the entire distance. You can almost drive on motorway from Hamar to Kristiansand, there’s a few missing sections but it close, by 2028 the motorway between Kristiansand and Stavanger will be completed, about 100km is finished so far.

      2. Even Hitler during the Second World War wanted to build a railway from one end to the other and it turn out to be harder than his engineers thought and all that was put in place was around 25km which since the war has just been abandoned and never used . There are tunnels all over the place but the rest of the infrastructure was never completed .

        1. The Germans built far more than 25km, they completed the Sørlandet line in 1944 and electrified a number of sections and branches on this line. They built large sections of the Nordland line, extending the line from Mojsen to Dunderland which is 140km.

          The abandoned railway line was the Polar Line from Fauske to Narvik. A lot of the bridges and tunnels the Germans built were later converted to road and are now part of the E6. The government looked into completing the lines several times but the cost is very high with very little return on the investment. The only railway line into Narvik today is from Sweden, it’s used for transporting iron ore from Sweden to Narvik.

    3. Yes Norway does, but they have also used those revenues to invest in the rail, network. IMHO Finland is the better example because they like NZ don’t have the oil revenues to help pay, though the fact they have a wide gauge network (Thanks to being originally part of the Russian Empire when railways were first built) is an adavantage they have over us but still it’s a similar population, one of the larger countries by land area in Europe, with a single large city and a couple of decent-sized cities like Tampere. If we’re talking night trains, IMO the VR ones are the best! (though again helped by the fact they have wide guage so can have the bigger double-decker carriages).

  5. Unless the government is willing to risk the wrath of the vocal (private vehicle minded) minority who feel slighted by increased spending on public transport because they themselves do not use it – similarly to increased spending on cycle ways, this will be and unfortunately stay a pipe-dream.

    1. It’s a sad truth about NZers (and AKLers) that too many can’t see the vision unless it actually gets built and is right in front of their eyes. I still remember the prevailing attitude amongst AKLers that Britomart was a white elephant. It took it to be built and other improvements on the rail network for many people’s eyes to be opened. I bet there are many people who now take the trains in AKL that once upon a time had that attitude.

  6. Good post. Improving regional public transport hasn’t served the automotive, road construction or freight haulage industries, so the issue’s been dismissed as “wasteful of public money” by the media.

    The government doesn’t seem to be that interested in resolving this media problem, and unless it serves their growing populist tendencies, it’s unlikely that they’ll do anything to improve regional public transport, despite the clear need to do so to reduce transport poverty or emissions.

    1. Even the Greens have notably been silent. I can remember them being very vocal in the mid 2000s with athe campaign to save the Overlander. yet they have been silent on this. Transport doesn’t seem to have as higher priority in their eyes as it used to (seem to be more interested in gender politics nowdays). As a longterm Green voter that very disappointing. It was interesting that in Paul Callahan’s Guardian article this week about NZ regional rail transport, that was brought up.

  7. Just because a bus service isn’t public doesn’t mean it can’t offer regional travel at reasonable cost.
    Nakedbus still offers fares from $1, and services all over the country.
    Likewise, Intercity. Auckland-Wellington is $42.

    BusIT offers services in regional towns and around the waikato.
    Horizons regional council appears to offer bus services to/from Levin and Waikanae and Palmerston North.
    Services aren’t non-existent.

      1. And therein lies one of the major problems.

        No stability or security, nobody can trust that a service will exist.

        1. Yip Te Kuiti has like one IC bus nowdays to and from it. That in no way can be considered a good connection for local people with other regions.

          And there’s many other towns in the same situation. Even bigger towns and smaller cities like Whanganui etc have only one or at most two IC services a day. 20 years ago I can remember there was like 4 going through Whanganui.

          Some regions like Horizons, Waikato, Otago (for Queenstown to Wanaka etc) have stepped up and have buses between their major centre and surrounding hinterland.

          But if you look at the timetables, the services a few, and often on a weekend day, only one service, or none at all. Eg I was looking at going to the Pahiatua Railcar Woodville to Ashurst runs on a Saturday in early May. But there is no connecting PT on the Sat between Palmerston North and Ashurst and back, that ties in with any of the railcar runs so I gave up.

  8. Intercity busses having a bit better intface with cities would be amazing. The current Auckland bus terminal is in dumb location, to access via the trains.

    Long term, oil is going to become absurdly expensive and precious, we need electric rail, with speed as a secondary consideration. Electric busses are going to have tiny ranges, e trucks are going to have tiny payloads. Electric trains can avoid these issues.

    Speed doesn’t really matter, for anything except passengers, and that can be offset by making things more comfortable (sleep, food, wifi and a loo).

    1. The sky city terminal is about to get a lot more practical with CRL, give it a good spruce up, improve the street outside it a bit by getting rid of some of the traffic. Once Sky city’s building stops getting set on fire the area will be a lot nicer. The northern busway and downtown bus infra makes services to the north congestion free for the worst bits, and provides ready made decent quality station facilities.

      As for the range of electric buses, already operating with a range of 300+km in NZ. Enough for Auckland to Kerikei at least. Given these long distance buses tend to stop for 20 minutes sometimes for breaks semi often, they could work now ok.

      I think there are a lot of route km that bev buses make sense on. Of course the heavy lift routes, rail would be a better long term option. 150km/hr with tilting trains or similar would be massive speed over our highways.

      1. Yea the bus terminal is a bit of grind from Britomart right now.

        My rule with any involving electric vehicles, it does not exist until it is commercially operating.

        Even it it was in place, 300kph under perfect conditions, is very different to a commercial bus being able to do that reliably. Weight is brutal on EV ranges, this probably won’t change.

  9. Intercity makes a pretty good go of it any solution should not disadvantage them. Subsidise them to provide more services. Another thing would be to use them to feed regional buses into Te Huia and Capital connection. The 2 pm train from Hamilton gets you home for dinner. The 9.00 am train from the Strand gets you to Hamilton for lunch and could provide a starting point for services to Taupo Roturua or New Plymouth or a relatively convenient connection into the Auckland Public transport network. A bit better than Sky city anyway.

    1. Yes, we could do a lot of small changes quite easily, like improving the terminals and integrating Intercity with the other regional services subsidised by regional councils. At the moment it is very difficult even to find out which bus services exist.

      1. Exactly… the lack of joint up thinking just keep encouraging people to drive their private vehicles to clog up existing and new motorway… and we all stay away from intercity bus services or Te Huia because of poor integration with other PT services

      2. Robert McLachlan – Regional council’s don’t have the money unless they ask Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for it from the National Land Transport Fund or from Regional rate payers, bearing in mind, there are region’s that may have high population numbers on paper but in reality their population would spread over a wide area like Horizons region.

        In the Waikato region, Hamilton city rate payers pay a higher public transport levy compared to rate payers outside the Hamilton city boundaries.

    2. Just sucks that the Govt / NZ Railways sold InterCity off as it was owned by the tax payer and did join up with the passenger railway system.

      Likewise it’s such a pity the Nelson, Queenstown and Kaitaia lines were never finished and instead pulled up as has been done with lines to Waihi, Thames, Rotorua, Opua, Gisborne and many other places in the South Island.

        1. I might be wrong but when last there two years ago only half of the line was in comission. I can’t imagine much has changed since.

    1. Thats big news. Welcome news. P&R needs to be managed like other parking facilities, and I’m sure most of that 240km should have had the parking gone a decade ago. Just not practical to have arterial parking any more.

    2. I like the vibe of that. But unfortunately this is AT and they already had that policy in place except more broad. They just actively ignored it for some reason. The paying for park and rides is great news tho.

      It will be interesting to see what happens in probably November this year.

    3. If you read the article, AT seemed actually gung-ho to just remove parking, but Goff said it was arrogant and forced them to consult on it.

      1. Yep. And the article does not make mention of the fact, AT already had a consulted upon parking policy that encourages them to remove parking on arterials.

        And missed the hilarious/infuriating bit that as Goff was fighting AT on this, he was publicly talking about climate change being his world war 2 and his climate change package being his gift to future generations.

    4. “We do want to set the expectation with the public that our starting point is that the parking will be removed. And we’re not going to be having the debate when we consult on individual roads”

      This sounds different from AT. Fingers crossed.

  10. I think you hit the nail on the head. There are few models
    There’s the complete private solution.
    There’s AT, where we contract our operations to private companies with public budget.
    I’m relatively government averse when it comes to operating things in general, due to horrible inefficiencies that can happen.

    I would say with someone like busses, a lot could be done by the govt simply focusing on managing Bus terminals that are in good locations and well services. Private bus operates would use these facilities. Of course more can be done to make sure the timetables are sane etc. But first and foremost I believe the infrastructure needs to be built.

    Train wise, I honestly think we need to be an Italy. Kiwirail has no vested interest to operate trains. I would split them into Kiwirail and kiwitrain. Make kiwirail like Chorus, a network operator. They should be making money by selling slots on the train network. In the beginning this needs to be subsidised, but ideally the company can operate and cover it’s costs from improving track, and getting more trains through.

    Kiwitrain could be a public train operator, but they would operate under the exact same rules as anyone else who would like to operate.

    For example in italy, on their HSR, network there’s the Italo, and the frecciarossa train. Frecciarossa is a publicly operated train that runs on the track, Italo is the private one. But for anyone who’s been recently, Italo is generally faster, nicer, and cheaper. But also private. Frecciarosa needs to be there to provide the bare minimum level of service required, say if all the private companies pulled out.

  11. I agree with Paul Callister opinion, that subsidize bus and rail based public transport suck across New Zealand.

    There are 16 regions in New Zealand, with 7 regions having populations over 200,000, 4 regions with populations between 100,000 to 199,999 and 5 regions with populations less than 99,999.

    Our current urban, semi rural, rural and regional public transport services is uncoordinated, hap hazard, not user friendly and lacks regional connectivity due to the fact, it is based on regionalised and commercialised procurement through the PTOM (Public Transport Operating Model), where each council develops and grows their own ‘commercialised’ public transport services using competitive tendering, allowing increased fare revenue whilst reducing reliance on rate and taxpayer subsidies, that has lead to little or no inter-regional cooperation and planning, creating inequalities between regions.

    More densely populated regions like Auckland and Wellington and lessor extent Hamilton and Christchurch have better public transport services and less populated regions have little or no public transport services like the Westland region.

    The cost to each region to maintain and operate a regional public transport system is expensive, especially for those regions who have populations less than 200,000.

    Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency being the public transport funding agency, lacks national leadership on public transport planning, policy and funding standards and guidelines yet puts regional council’s who want to provide subsidized public transport services in their region’s, through bureaucratic funding loops.

    Unfortunately, for too long politicians in councils and central government have spent most transport dollars on trying to make driving easier. By putting cars first and denying the public affordable and frequent transport choices, they have forced more and more people to drive allowing for carbon and other toxic emissions to escape into the atmosphere warming our planet.

    It about time that New Zealand has a sustainable, environmentally friendly, integrated, subsidize ‘turn up and go’ national bus, passenger rail and ferry public transport system, with its own ‘open’ national ‘tap and travel’ payment/ticketing system, a national information and timetable website and associated smart phone travel app that contains all ‘turn up and travel’ and ‘book and travel’ bus, rail and ferry services linking communities across New Zealand 16 regions, that is administered by a dedicated national public transport agency under the Ministry of Transport, providing national funding, planning, procurement and operational guidelines for urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional bus/coach, passenger rail, light rail and ferry services and good passenger facilities like stations, bus/train interchanges, etc, that works in association with the agency’s city, district and regional councils and transport services partners.

    The days of planning and funding our subsidize ‘turn up and go’ public transport services through ‘here and now ‘ lens are over and major reform on providing better public transport whether its subsidized ‘turn up and go’ or ‘book and travel’ travel needs to happen now.

    1. Nobody knows. At this stage, the Northerner Explorer and Coastal Pacific carriages are suppose to be repurposed for Kiwirail’s premium Great Journeys of NZ scenic multi day rail tours.

  12. Classic elephant in the room!
    As with most of these transport debates, you cannot separate them from the issue of land use planning.
    Over the last 50 years all our towns and cities have grown in a completely car dependent manner – housing in particular, but also retail, leisure, education, health, employment – all are built in a way that relies totally on the private car.
    I don’t know the figure, but travelling around the country the vast majority of new housing is still single-storey stand alone houses (outside of the major centres).
    Even if you provided for more inter-city PT, or even regional PT, it would be so untenable in all but a handful of more urban places.
    Norway like most European countries has significantly more compact towns and cities, with the centres of even small towns being walkable and high-enough density to sustain PT.
    Until we also change our land use policies and development patterns, any talk of inter-city PT and in the regional towns is almost pointless.

    1. While I agree that towns are also places where we need to stop sprawling (and this is urgent in terms of land use and biodiversity, as well as transport emissions), I don’t think this prevents good transport planning now. There are lots of towns of a good size to walk and cycle around easily but where the lack of public transport and active travel planning and investment over decades has stripped the town of liveability. Providing more frequent bus services to connect to other towns, (and to a functioning rail service) and making the streets safe for walking and cycling would breathe new life into the towns.

      And yes, better planning rules to prevent both sprawl and the hollowing out of the main street would then ensure the towns remain at a scale that works for biking / e-biking, as well as set the councils up better (fewer roading and other infrastructure assets to maintain, and less of a local bus network required than if sprawl is continued).

    2. “Until we also change our land use policies and development patterns, any talk of inter-city PT and in the regional towns is almost pointless.”

      And yet New Zealand has 41 airports operating scheduled inter-city PT between cities and regional towns, all working with the same land use policies and development patterns.

  13. I wonder if there would be any point in trying to integrate rural school buses into regional public transport and Intercity buses. After all they sort of go at the right times taking people from outlying area to a centre that has a school probably a high school in the morning then returning in the mid afternoon. In between there is 6 hours to travel onto a bigger population centre for a return day trip or they can be the first leg of a journey to the other side of the world. Many of the bus companies that run regional buses or Intercity buses run school buses as well which would help in organising connections. In the case of Intercity, journeys could be through booked and drivers will be aware they need to make connections. School buses could be rebranded as rural public transport. Maybe regional public transport could have a booking option as well as it would give passengers more confidence if they new that the bus driver new that they will be travelling on a particular route. I know that some school bus routes would be unsuitable but many could be.

  14. “Unfortunately, in New Zealand, such possibilities can only be imagined. The system is broken…” +1

    a) Vehicle drivers need to moved towards paying their true costs. This needs to be done at a steady rate that can be absorbed by the economy. We cant afford subsidised /cross-subsidised vehicle drivers and subsidised PT.

    b) The PTOM needs to be scrapped and replaced by a system that considers the full socio-economic benefits of PT. This will require more cross subsidy funding from vehicle drivers to account for the full costs they dont currently pay.

    c) Regional PT should be regulated. both within communities and between them. e.g. require coaches to have toilets & set emission standards & have companies bid for subsidised routes where there are no services. There are social benefits to allowing the poorer in society access to jobs, services, family and friends. For smaller towns “PT” could simply be having Uber et al available.

    1. We don’t need to scrap PTOM to have “a system that considers the full socio-economic benefits of PT”. PTOM doesn’t worry about economic benefits. It doesn’t tell councils or government how much PT to provide, when to provide, or why. It just enables councils to contract efficiently by taking 100% of farbox revenue and contracting a company to run buses.

      The 50% farebox recovery rate is not from PTOM, it’s a MoT funding policy.

      1. “When PTOM was introduced its overarching objectives were to:
        a) grow the commerciality pf PT services and create incentives for services to become fully commercial; and
        b) ensure services are priced efficiently and there is access to public transport markets for competitors”

        So much for taking socio-economic benefits into account.
        a) where is the requirement for full coverage services, and
        b) maximum headways of circa 30 mins, and
        c) 24/7 services
        so those without transport alternatives can move between all urban origins and destinations.

        PTOM is purely aimed at the financial component of PT.

        If its applied to PT, then a commercial approach should be applied to vehicle drivers – i.e. congestion tolls, dynamic parking pricing, no ratepayer cross subsidy, no developer contributions cross subsidy, vehicle air pollution excise tax, fuel excise taxes being increased instead of being held, no underpayment towards crash costs etc.

        1. Your close to correct. PTOM is purely aimed at the procurement component of PT. As you seemed to miss in my first comment; nothing in PTOM prevents the councils from doing the things you listed (all good ideas), it is a council and government funding decision whether to provide those or not.

      2. Sailor Boy – kiwi_overseas is correct, the PTOM is about each ‘regional council’ to develop and grow their own ‘commercialised’ public transport services using competitive tendering, allowing increased fare revenue whilst reducing reliance on rate and taxpayer subsidies.

        This is why urban, semi rural, rural and regional public transport services is uncoordinated, hap hazard, not user friendly and lacks regional connectivity, as there is little or no inter-regional cooperation and planning.

        1. allowing increased fare revenue whilst reducing reliance on rate and taxpayer subsidies”. Not requiring. It can allow for increased fare revenue and reduced subsidies at any level of service.

        2. Sailor Boy – What do you mean “Not requiring. It can allow for increased fare revenue and reduced subsidies at any level of service”?

        3. You implied that the PTOM requires council to reduce subsidies. That isn’t true. PTOM gave councils more control over bus companies so that councils can get the same service for a lower price.

  15. All good points in this forum and the OP is spot on.
    The National opposition’s policies seem to be “no tax, no tax, no tax”
    While this is a winning strategy, it bodes poorly for any PT or regional links.
    I want to catch a train to the coromandel, but NZ folk be like “yeah – no tax”

  16. A thing that was mentioned in was this ;-” Instead, the government owned KiwiRail is investigating the development of a New Zealand Orient Express for wealthy tourists, ”

    Siting in the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin are 31 ex AT SA/SD carriages that were under conversion by a private NZ/Chinese company that turning them into an overpriced tourist train for the same purpose as the Government has suggested , but because of some little virus this has to my knowledge has been put on hold . The name of the Train was going to be called the Antipodean Explorer . ;-

  17. I can’t see AKL-WLG (sorry for the airport codes) being anything other than a flight, at scale.

    But Wellington should be able to support an hourly service to Palmy, with extensions to Wanganui, and 2-3 a day to Napier via Masterton (which should be hourly but might always be more peak-flighted – although Napier could help balance that skew?)

    Equally Auckland should be able to stand up hourly (minimum!) to Hamilton and onwards to Tauranga, at least. Rotorua too. Likely a few other smaller extensions.

    Those two mini regional networks would be competitive with the car and well-used, if the experience was good (wifi, coffee, whatever), the fare decent, and journey times much improved. And frequency of course – and trust it’ll be there.

    Many people work remotely and anywhere, and are productive on a 1-2 hour train ride, not like in the 60s. It’s a different world now. Same for access to entertainment/distraction on a longer journey – it flies by.

    Just needs the vision and gumption to bring it to life.

    1. Exactly, the demand would be there.

      The question is how do we get there, considering the cost of upgrading the track to 160kmh – we probably don’t even ned to electrify beyond Hamilton, there should be Battery EMUs that could handle Tauranga to Hamilton and then just recharge when they get to the electrified network or terminal at Tauranga

      1. Note the following figures are “rounded”.
        Hamilton to Tauranga=100km. The world record distance travelled by a BEMU was 224km between Berlin and Warnemünde on the 22nd December 2021. The air temperature was 0°C and the BEMU was not carrying passenger – it was a test mule – all be it an actual production model. The run was conducted in battery only mode and did not at any stage replenish the onboard batteries from any other energy source.

        In normal passenger service the Flirt BEMU in battery only mode has a range of only 80km however it is designed to automatically switch to EMU mode where overhead power transmission is available, thereby extending its range to wherever power lines are present.

        1. So the range only needs to cover one way HAM to TGA, then it can either charge under the wires at Hamilton, or they can install a short wired section in Tauranga that it can charge while the service is reversed. Seems eminently doable, especially considering the speed won’t be super high so the battery usage should be pretty efficient

        2. But you’d be better off electrifying the route so that all trains are electric, not just the passenger ones.

      2. We’d have to start with modern DMUs.

        Some of the new units in the UK are firecrackers, and even with 130 km/h limits, would obliterate historical journey times. Especially with the terrain we are talking here.

        And as ever, the real gains for regional are in upping the lowest speeds and in average speed. On a stopping/urban services, it’s about accel/decel and dwells – and so wires help more than they do on a longer distance service. That said, ideally wires would get to Tauranga.

        And correction, I’d likely run Napier via Palmy. Much quicker – even if it is a nicer use for the Masterton frequencies and counter-peak flows/stock moves.

        1. +1 regarding Napier. Should be Wellington to Napier via Levin and Wellington to Palmerston North via Masterton. Add a transfer station at Woodville.

          The other option I have thought about a few times is to do Napier (or Gisborne) to New Plymouth. Then just run Wellington to Palmerston North up both coasts.

      3. Diesel hauled freight trains through the Kaimai tunnel are already marginal because of air quality issues for train crew.
        Electrifying the tunnel would fix this and make passenger rail feasible.

    2. You are falling into a classic trap of thinking about the ends of a train line and conclusing that air is better. A train line with 15 stops has ~100 potential combinations of origin and destination. The air route has 1.

      If we are running hourly trains Palmy to Wellington and Auckland to Hamilton, we may as well have 4 of those services per day also run through the rest of the North Island.

    3. There are those out there that have the vision and entrepreneurial skills that are working on bringing interregional rural rail passenger services back onto the tracks with a modern fleet of HMU’s that are currently in service throughout the EU. However despite interest from overseas investors no Kiwi investor has stepped forward to register their interest. If you want to know more I am sure Chris at PTF NZ will forward your interest to me.

  18. Flagging Norway as the role model that NZ could do likewise, or, NZ’s low population as the fundamental of why it cannot be done clearly demonstrates that many do not understand the holistic of passenger rail operations.

    To put it starkly Norway’s railway funding model cannot be replicated in Aotearoa New Zealand. Low population and or widely dispersed low population centres do not exclude the provision of reliable, modern, and beneficial frequency of service. The research data to validate those two statements is far too extensive to list here. However it is so.

    But a total reliance on state owned public rail transport to deliver interregional rural passenger rail services that consumers will support in sustainable volumes just will not happen given the current model of the industry of rail, and in particular that of passenger rail services.

    The health, vitality and growth of Aotearoa New Zealand’s railway network is a key building block to the growth of the economy, social cohesion and well being. Without a truly transparent open access passenger rail network that vision of interregional passenger rail regeneration and expansion will not happen.

  19. Quite frankly what ‘Save our Trains’ advocacy group is really unreasonable due to fact that were still in an economic and health epidemic crisis at the moment, its possible its going to get worse over the coming months, which means people are more unlikely to use the service as a result because their too busy paying for essentials over non essentials! In future even if economic conditions and health epidemic it won’t be possible at all to try and revive the long service routes such as Coastal Pacific, Southerner Bay Express, Bay Express and Kaimai Express. We’ve already had these services which ‘Save our Trains’ is suggesting of bring back into service previously in the past and hasn’t worked out due to not enough people riding the service, cost of operating, fare price too expensive vs car, doesn’t capture enough people in rural areas.

    A good example of this is the Bay Express. The travel time of the Bay Express was uncompetitive compared with both air and car travel (five hours thirty minutes on average by rail compared to one hour by air and four hours by car). Long-distance coaches had similar travel times and cheaper fares. Following significant changes in management within Tranz Rail, a bottom-up review of the business indicated that the Bay Express was not a financially sustainable service. By 2001, roughly 45 passengers were riding the Bay Express per trip, and it was proving to be unprofitable. Subsidies from the central government or other bodies were not forthcoming due to the increasing inflation rate at the time which meant people wouldn’t be able to afford the service.

    Another good example of this is the current Te Huia train service running from Auckland to Hamilton, its not fast, frequent, flexible and reliable. The patronage numbers also reflect why not many people are using the service currently, cause it doesn’t benefit the passengers who ride the train and are better off travelling by car. If the train services aren’t earning a profit cause Kiwirail ain’t going to absorb the enormous cost of running the service, that will get subsidised and gets passed onto the tax payer/rate payers which they’ll not be happy about, the rates just increases which increases poverty for people already in financial pressures and also becomes unfeasible for Kiwirail to operate! If you want trains to be able operate, it needs to be gaining a profit and central government to invest in proper upgrades to ensure passenger service will be top quality and reliable long term.

    People in small rural towns aren’t going to use the services due to the fact they’ll be driving instead since its more convenient and faster also doesn’t go to individual places such as farms, industrial factories and residential visits. Every Small Rural Town Centre (population 10,000) are different compared to urban town centres/big rural town centres (population 20,000+). People in Small Rural Town Centres (population 10,000) are more centralised when it comes to travelling cause of everything they need are in town centre and don’t require travelling towards the next town whereas people urban town centres/big rural town centres (population 20,000+) would use the service since there would be people who are not working in industrialised jobs and would be working in commercialised jobs which are normally situated in cities or urban areas along with high paying jobs.

    We all know that every person who uses public transport often want a fast, flexible, frequent, reliable service which gets them to places and seemingness experience. The only way you can do that is by spending on upgrades to lines, electrification, changing gradient steepness and reducing sharp turns which slows the trains consistent speed. If you have all of the components fixed/upgraded, it will lift patronage numbers of people wanting to use the service and makes it more resiliently economically viable to operate. Bu those often can come hearty price tag which can be really expensive dependant on the length intended for upgrading. Along with it we should be purchasing EMU’s instead of running the diesel old trains and the reused carriages.

    Only train services we need to see right now is phased by phased Auckland to Hamilton electrification, Christchurch rail Waikanae-Levin electrification and upgraded line between Pukerua Bay-Paraparaumu to double track line. What is being suggested by ‘Save our Trains’ is not sustainable and feasible due to the fact it misses key components on what drives people onto trains vs cars and how to maintain the service from a social perspective. If you want a train service to work, there needs to be a proper plan in-place to ensure that the service can operate economically and efficiently from a travel time perspective.

    What ‘Save our Trains’ advocates for is just history repeating itself all over again and should look to having a proper plan/long term plato on how you’re going to maintain train services and stop going for the silver-bullet solutions! We should be going for a phased approach and realistic plan going forward!

    1. Tim K
      Firstly I do appreciate the depth of your posting and in there are some “truths” that most folk ignore in general forums such as “Save Our Trains.”

      However bringing back interregional trains to rural communities of all populations sizes from the tiniest to the largest before than can accurately be nominated as even towns is perfectly reasonable and sustainable provided that the overall route strategy is designed appropriately.

      Now here on this public forum I am certainly not going to disclose how that is so because it is my intellectual property but nonetheless, operating a sustainable i.e. profitable passenger rail services is not singularly about the individual community population but the sum of, and the sum of those who can be attracted (for their own divergent reasons) visit those rural communities, towns and cities on the complete route from departure to end destination of a given service route.

      The operation of modern passenger services is not about where you start from and where you finish – it’s about delivery a transport service that cannot not be competitively replicated by any alternative transport mode.

      It is related to delivery of: onboard facilities, ticketing cost, frequency, speed and punctual reliability. Get it right and folk will not jump in their car, hop on an InterCity bus or worst still fly.

      There are those who are working to deliver that with modern (not refurbished ex BR carriages) and the most eco friendly motive power.

      Theses plans will take at least 5 years or more to implement on a Aotearoa NZ railway network that is truly an “Open Access” environment, and, that the gate keeper to that network is no longer KiwiRail.

    2. Why stop the wires at Levin? Seems absurd to me. I know Palmy has the AC complexity to consider, but that is workable. It should be the end of an outer commuter/regional network – like the Newcastle or Wollongong lines in Sydney.

      And the journey needs to be far faster than the CC.

      1. Whats the distance from Levin to Palmy? Surely a Battery EMU can run on battery between them and then switch to wires?

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