A few weeks ago, we shared a video explaining the new EVA, or ‘Essential Vehicle Area’ on Queen Street between Wakefield St and Wellesley St.

The block-long EVA restricts private vehicles from travelling through this section of Queen Street.  The stated goals of the EVA  are to reduce unnecessary traffic on Queen Street, make the street area safer for walking and cycling, and reduce congestion that holds up buses.

Planning Committee chair Councillor Chris Darby says the EVA will free up precious space along Queen Street for essential road users and make the area safer and more pleasant for Aucklanders returning to the city centre.

“Auckland’s city centre is the commercial powerhouse critical to the prosperity of Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa.

“Guided by the City Centre Masterplan, our goal is to regenerate the area to create a better connected, greener, and more prosperous place that we can all be proud of.”

“The introduction of the new Essential Vehicle Area for a small stretch of Queen Street is an important early step to make the Wai Horotiu Queen Street Valley more desirable for people who live, work, study and enjoy the city centre.

“It is a signal that Auckland is moving past the days of Queen Street being a congested, polluted drive-through to a go-to destination. Essential vehicles maintain their access but private vehicles will navigate alternative routes to park and get around,” Darby says.

At the start of this week, the EVA came into effect.

How does it work?

The image below shows the EVA in red, with mobility parking spaces also highlighted. Instead of continuing straight, general traffic heading along Queen Street will need to turn onto one of the perpendicular streets before they hit the Civic Theatre (if they’re driving from the north) or the Town Hall (if they’re coming from the south.)

The EVA zone is that strip of red in the middle of the drawing. It’s not clear what the green means. Image source: Our Auckland

Buses, people on bikes and mobility scooters (and presumably lime scooters), emergency vehicles, and essential goods delivery vehicles are all allowed to pass through the EVA. Taxis, ubers, and private cars aren’t.

Screenshot from AT’s information video, showing who’s allowed and who’s not allowed in the EVA.

If you’re a non-essential vehicle and you accidentally pass through the EVA, you will be sent a $150 fine.

Per AT’s response to a question on twitter today, the EVA is being enforced by cross referencing license plate numbers with Waka Kotahi’s vehicle registration information.This response also points to an AT website with information about driving in the city centre, from parking zones to short term pickup and drop-off areas, to the many projects that are affecting Queen Street at the moment.

Granted there will always be a period of bedding in but already there are plenty of images going around about the EVA being ignored.


A few Issues

Technically, there’s no reason the EVA shouldn’t do what it sets out to do. If the license place cross-reference system works, there will probably be a painful phase during which a lot of drivers get fines until they learn that the EVA really does mean they can’t drive there. Fewer private vehicles driving through this middle block of Queen Street will affect the traffic patterns on Queen Street and could lead to less traffic in the Wai Horotiu Queen Street Valley overall.

Restricted vehicle areas are a pretty common tool used in cities all over the world to reduce car-dominance while allowing essential services to still take place. I’m not opposed to the idea of an EVA in Queen Street, but there are a few issues with this one that jump out at me:

The zone is too short.

The City Centre Master Plan and A4E set the scene for a car-free Queen Street many years ago now. This EVA is another incremental step in a very slow creep towards that vision. But why is it only only a block long, that will make it ripe for confusion. Why not create an EVA on the whole northern half of Queen Street from Komititanga to Mayoral Drive?

It’s not the full car-free vision, but it would be a bigger step in the right direction without needing to create any new infrastructure other than some signs and cameras. It would also greatly simplify the messaging as it becomes easier to just say something to the effect of “You can’t drive on Queen St anymore

The EVA rules and signage are confusing.

A street sign with a paragraph of text on it will be really hard for drivers to read, unless they’re stopped at a red light and have a bit of time to process it. And by that point, they’re probably already in a lane that’s going to feed them into the EVA. The description of ‘essential vehicles’ is also a tricky one. What if everyone thinks their trip is essential so will qualify?

This sign went up in the weekend to warn drivers about the EVA.

The explainer video is good, with great positive messaging about public transport, walking and cycling being the best way to get to Queen Street. But there could be more information explaining the rules and effects of the EVA, like a circulation plan, to help drivers know how it affects them.

The bus lane begins and ends

In Tauranga, the conversion of a street into a having a bus-only lane section led to drivers incurring over a million dollars in fines and some angry town hall meetings. And that street conversion has a lot clearer signage than the Queen St one.

Drivers in Tauranga have racked up more than $1.4m in fines from driving down this now-closed street.
I can’t help but feel that drivers snagging fines unawares due to the poor signage or issues with being misidentified will lead to a storm of complaints and negative press and that risks putting the Wai Horotiu Queen Street transformation back even further. I can see the Herald headlines already.

A lack of a loading and servicing plan

I suspect part of the problem is that AT have dragged their heels on developing a proper loading and servicing plan for Queen St, something I know businesses and residents have been calling for for years. As such, lot of the focus with initiatives like the EVA seems to be based on trying to accommodate existing uses and vehicles, rather than questioning if we need to be actively trying to change that. For example, can deliveries be changed to be only at certain times of the day, can we encourage delivery companies to change the modes they use, such as shifting to e-bikes, or can we encourage more use of loading zones outside of Queen St?

Image credit: Urgent Couriers

Some Solutions

I think the key to getting the EVA right is the the signage and the messaging need to be kept simple. AT and the Council need to be bolder in telling the message that cars aren’t welcome on Queen St.

How about a permit system?

This is more a solution to the confusion problem, but what if the EVA’s basic rule was ‘Buses only, unless you have a permit’. Then, any goods/services vehicle that genuinely needs to use the EVA can apply for a permit from AT. That way AT would know exactly who is allowed to be there – and when.

It could work like bookable loading zones, which are already in use in other cities. It’s a simple system where you book a loading zone bay for the specific day, time and duration you need it for. Some organisations could be pre-approved so the approval can be automated and given in seconds, while other organisations may require a quick once-over by staff.

A loading zone booking app used in the USA.

When approved your plate details would go into the enforcement system with an exclusion for you from the time you specify (with a buffer window either side). Of course this would need to be tied to a pretty good communication campaign to let people know but most service and delivery companies could be engaged with before the controls are in place.

A system like this would give AT a lot more control and understanding over who’s using the space and when as well as being able to ensure the loading zones that exist don’t become overloaded.


The big picture

This kind of management of private vehicles is something that should be widely used all over the city. It’s a key tool in reducing traffic, reducing VKT, and making streets safer and easier for other modes.

What’s frustrating is that once again we’re seeing a good idea applied in a piecemeal and watered-down way. It almost feels like officials are deliberately trying to make it fail.

The big vision for Queen Street already exists in the Waihorotiu / Queen Street Valley move in the City Centre Masterplan and in Access for Everyone. The disruption of the CRL construction works over the last few years has created a series of opportunities to make steps towards that vision – but they’ve mostly been missed.

The problem with Queen Street sometimes seems to be that no-one’s quite ready to make a big move. One good outcome of this first EVA would be its rapid extension up the street to Komititanga, to create a substantial low-car area.


… and what about bikes?

One of the core goals for this project is increased safety for people walking and on bike. But with much of the street still accessible by general traffic, not to mention a range of unspecified goods and services vehicles, how is safety really being improved?

We got a taste of kerb-protected Covid bike lanes on Queen Street in 2020, only for them to be replaced by higher-spec footpath buildouts that terminate in vertical kerbs and large concrete planters. Provision for cyclists in particular is a glaring gap in Queen Street projects. In the information video, there are people on bikes travelling up and down the street – in the vehicle lane.

Is that the plan for Queen Street: that bikes ‘take the lane’? If so, it’s even more important to get the cars out.

Count the bikes in this image.

Updated 3.25pm: It appears that there is a loophole in the signage that’s large enough to drive several double-cab diesel utes through with impunity. As reported by Todd Niall on Stuff this afternoon:

Auckland Transport has confirmed the official designation of different types of vehicle means that utes – among the top-selling vehicles in recent years – are free to drive through.

The revelation about utes is linked to how Auckland Transport defined and will police which vehicles can drive through the area.

Cameras will log registration numbers and check them against Waka Kotahi’s database to see whether the vehicle is officially categorised as being allowed through.

“Goods vehicles” are allowed under Auckland Transport’s rules for the area. Under law, the council-controlled organisation cannot differentiate between types of vehicles classified by Waka Kotahi as goods vehicles.

Auckland Transport said most utes were classed as “goods vehicles” by Waka Kotahi, regardless of their purpose or ownership.

It was not keen on the loophole being highlighted “as it could have serious negative impacts on the functionality of the [area]”.

And, in related breaking news (especially given Queen Street’s status as Aotearoa’s ground zero hotspot for deadly black carbon), RNZ reports that nitrogen dioxide from diesel and petrol exhaust is killing thousands of New Zealanders a year:

The first-of-its-kind study has measured the health impacts of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas emitted by fossil fuel cars.

It found 3300 people were dying yearly because of air pollution, and it was mostly because of cars.

That meant as a whole, 10 percent of the people who died each year in the country were dying because of air pollution.

Exposure was also sending more than 13,000 people to hospital for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and giving the same number of children asthma.

The social cost of these health impacts was estimated to be $15.6 billion.

The study, Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand, was conducted by New Zealand experts in air quality, health, and economics.

It was the study’s third instalment since 2012, but for the first time, pollution data from vehicles was measured.

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60 comments

  1. So what is a bus.
    By law a passenger services vehicle with 9 or more seats is classified as a bus, so if that is that case can a taxi company switch some of its fleet to larger vehicles and continue as normal?

    1. They could, but then the drivers would also require licensing to operate buses (Passenger Service Vehicles) rather than taxis. The mixed fleet and differently applicable regulations are probably something to be avoided.

      1. Turns out you don’t, I can’t drive down their in my Nissan Leaf but big Dave can trundle thorugh in his Ford Ranger.

  2. “Auckland’s city centre is the commercial powerhouse critical to the prosperity of Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa.”
    Sorry Chris Darby ,the patient died a long time ago,please turn the life support and let us bury the corpse(RIP Queen St).
    The cynic in me,has me wondering whether AT would really like Leo for Mayor,this stuff is cannon fodder for him.

  3. There are no accesses on Darby St so it could easily have gone to Victoria Street. It is several years since I have been in the CBD so I have no idea if Durham St West is still needed to access that block or if the CRL money mulching operation has moved on.

    I guess they have to roll this out one block at a time so AT can maximise confusion and revenue take.

    1. I actually think it is quite good. A lot of cars on Queen Street are probably heading to/from K Road, this will encourage alternative routes. Its almost like turning Queen Street into a cul-de-sac.
      Obviously closing the street to traffic completely would make more sense, hard to know why they don’t just do that.

        1. Ohhh tricky one…Via Bowen, Waterloo Quadrant, Symonds St, City Rd, top of Queen St , then K’Rd. Upper Queen if the top of Queen St is off grounds.

  4. I don’t think AT or Waka Kotahi really care about the economy, congestion, emissions and the harm it is doing to families who are living on the far outskirts.
    The benefits of living in a more densely populated city are clear.
    Reducing our huge oil import bill and encouraging more active transport helps the economy.

  5. It must be a bit disheartening for the staff in AT who probably have to battel against all kinds of inertia, bureaucracy, common law rights, deficient legislation, and strongly argued self interest from the majority of the public to put some good new thing in place just to get cyberbullied for it on Greater Auckland Blog.

    I would imagine this would have been more difficult to achieve than it appears on the surface. To start with you have the fact this is a legal road and the common law right for anyone to pass and repass on it (including with a motor vehicle) can only be overridden with directly relevant legislation. So you immediately have the problem of what legislative power can you use to cut out private cars, ubers and taxis but still let buses, delivery vehicles and tradies through so that the buildings along here can be serviced – not everything is going to be delivered on a bike in NZ for a very long time.

    The pedestrian mall powers give them the ability to define the classes of vehicles they will allow – it could probably even do a permit scheme. But AT seem to have an issue with how they can enforce parking in a pedestrian mall and would have to rely on the police to enforce any moving vehicle breach if they went that way. Do we want the police wasting time pulling over drivers who breach the EVA instead of dealing with speeding or gang shootings – I don’t think the police would be able to make this a priority so it wouldn’t get enforced and would be ignored.

    Looks like AT came to the same view that it would be better use something they can enforce – a special vehicle lane. But while the law gives them a broad power to invent new types of special vehicle lanes they again would struggle to enforce them unless Waka Kotahi will agree to invent new signs and markings to support this. You can see in the gazette notice from earlier this year that AT must have managed to get some movement on this from Waka Kotahi https://gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2022-au756 . There was no goods vehicle lane option until this happened but now there is and maybe if it works well here it can be used on more of Queen street and in other places.

    I think its good that they have managed to push their was through the obstacles to get this far. Lets thank them for it; see how well it works; and then encourage them to spread it.

    1. I tend to agree. Not sure they should allow mopeds. They are a menace in the Netherlands for bike lanes, let’s discourage them while we can.

    2. Sums up Transport in New Zealand. Be thankful fo the pitance you get and if you speak up about it, well that’s bullying.

      Just close the f*** street to cars as in the plans that have been aprroved for several years now.

      1. Fair call KLK – wish I hadn’t said that now – clearly a distraction. But isn’t it interesting that this was the bit you focused on instead of the analysis and critique.

        1. “wish I hadn’t said it now… But isn’t it interesting that this was the bit you focused on”

          “I’m sorry. Not sorry.”

          We can cope with your commentary of excuses. But calling it ‘analysis and critique’ while dismissing Matt’s post as ‘cyberbullying’ is arrogant mud-slinging.

          A4E and CCMP should have progressed way beyond where they have. A few key people are the reason it hasn’t, not legal excuses.

    3. Not sure why the delivery issue is seen as such a big one. Absolutely nothing is delivered by vehicle to most stores in Sylvia Park and the distance to the nearest delivery truck park is often much further than this short stretch of Queen St.

      That’s a long bow to suggest that any comments on here are cyberbullying of AT staff. They’re generally just criticism of something a public agency has done.

    4. I agree with you Translex, its easy to blame AT but the law seems to be a bit ridiculous. Why not let the councils/AT do what they feel like in terms of closing roads, reducing speed limits, etc, and if people don’t like it they will be voted out. Why should a motor vehicle have any rights?

      1. The laws that apply to powers of road controlling authorities has language in it that dates back to the Municipal Corporations Act 1910 without much change – it just isn’t sexy law for politicians to focus on fixing so it jumbles along with incremental incoherent development rather than a major refresh

        1. What work has AT done to advocate to govt for laws to be changed that they believe are preventing them from good outcomes. I’m guessing none because it’s useful tool for AT to hide behind and be able to blame others for ATs own inaction.

    5. It’s interesting how AT staff always blame laws and regulations for not doing things that every other council in NZ are able to do and that Waka Kotahi say is not an issue (i.e. AT have interpreted it wrong).
      Even worse are the times they blame bylaws that they have the power to change themselves.

      1. And AT are completely risk adverse legally, sometimes it’s useful for a case to be challenged in court. Even if AT loses it might help highlight to politicians the need for change. A case of being better to try and fail than not try at all

        1. However they aren’t risk averse with our lives. They have zero appetite for risking that even the most absurd interpretation of the law may get tested in court were they do something sensible, but have endless appetite for risking more people dying through their inaction. For example; why have those murderous parking spaces on Manukau Rd not gone already?

          Good risk management is not legalism, it is focussing on real world outcomes; specifically acting to prevent tragic ones through common sense in the public’s interest.

    6. Maybe AT needs to second some staff to other Councils to learn how to make changes (which they used to know how to do).

    7. “So you immediately have the problem of what legislative power can you use to cut out private cars, ubers and taxis but still let buses, delivery vehicles and tradies through so that the buildings along here can be serviced”

      The legislation used to restrict vehicle use is commonly used all over the country, your problem was solved decades ago. You don’t need to let delivery vehilces or trade vehilces through at all. You just have to allow deliveries and tradies. Somehow tradies and deliveries manage to get to every shop in a mall even though they can’t drive right past the front of the shop.

    1. First time I saw that sign I figured it didn’t have a diagonal red stripe like Ghostbusters so it must mean I could drive down that street.
      Three other drivers figured they were allowed to follow. The cobblestones in Haworth were incredibly rough to drive over. A nice policeman stopped me and got me to turn off the main street and told me where the parking area for the Bronte museum was.

  6. The booking system idea sounds interesting, there is also the option of automatic bollards, just get a swipe card or ANPR for authorised vehicles https://youtu.be/Okb63flApDY

    Changing one block of Queen street seems so inconsequential. Has AT shown how they will assess the effects of this change, and what the next steps might be for their softly-softly approach?

  7. The sign should say:

    NO PRIVATE VEHICLES

    $150 AUTOMATIC FINE

    [bus icon, cycle icon, delivery icon]

    I bet there were five meetings about the current sign, it’s appalling.

  8. Thanks for the heads-up (I would’ve thought “GV” stands for General Vehicle and driven through).

  9. And now the truth that Utes are defined as Good vehicles, and thus can legal avoid the restrictions,

    “Goods vehicles” are allowed under Auckland Transport’s rules for the area.
    It said most utes were classed as “goods vehicles” regardless of their purpose or ownership.

    The agency was not keen on the loophole being highlighted “as it could have serious negative impacts on the functionality of the [area]”.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/climate-news/129169141/loophole-allows-diesel-utes-in-central-auckland-lowemissions-zone

    1. Should probably send them notices anyway and let them challenge them individually. Use bureaucracy for good.

      1. @logan – your comment is all that is wrong with NZ and why the majority of people dont like the militant cycling/green lobbyists

        1. What’s using a Goods Lane got to do with cycling or someone that cares about the Climate (shoudn’t that be everyone??)

    2. Barring a definition change in the law (which surely should be done) then sounds like it’s a good idea to have a booking/permit system as Matt suggested. Add in the automatic bollards while at it.

  10. Closing Queen St while Albert St is closed for CRL construction is surely jumping the gun?
    AT website talks about the East-West connections but it the North-South options that are now very limited. People queuing through intersections is already bad. How many hours per day is acceptable for the CBD to be gridlocked?
    Makes using the bus a real pain and cycling through an area where cars and trucks are doing stupid things is dangerous.
    Why is it taking so long to implement CBD congestion charging?

    1. North-South people are meant to go round, not through the CBD. And East-West is going to be the same sooner rather than later when they start closing lanes for Victoria St’s park/turning Wellesley St into bus only.

      Reason CBD congestion charging is taking so long is partially inertia, but also that they’ve radically increased the area they’re planning to charge for. From the originally planned/semi accepted inside the motorway cordon for the CBD, they’ve decided to go out to Newmarket/Parnell/inner city suburbs, as the first stage of a plan that charges from Massey to Takanini to Albany…

      The smarter call would’ve been just to do the CBD as the 1st and only stage, then if necessary do other bits later, but instead they’re going to just piss enough people off that it’ll be continually delayed and unpopular.

      1. If they just did the CBD, then everyone would avoid it more so and just shop at Albany & Sylvia Park etc.
        Agree though on avoiding driving through the city centre.

    2. I thought the recentish data was that private vehicle trip times haven’t really changed through the city center much ~30 seconds or something. More that there are also less people driving through it.

  11. Just another reason to avoid the city centre, as the buses will be gridlocked behind confused drivers

  12. ‘Loophole allows diesel utes in central Auckland low-emissions zone’

    I mean its not a low-emissions zone, Todd Niall from Stuff..but this is what happens when you do half arsed jobs rather than what’s actually in an approved plan. It really is getting to the point where I’m ready to tap out of Auckland. Had high hopes 10 years ago but we are almost going backwards compared to other Cities around the world.

    1. I tapped out about a year ago. As a tip the regions aren’t where it go if you’re looking for successful urbanism. However, you at least get cheaper houses and less traffic with the same car centred policies, just don’t expect to be able to catch a bus home if drinks finish after 6pm.

  13. Notwithstanding how poorly implemented this has been, is there any reason why it is not Phase 1 of the complete transformation of Queen St?

    There is a lot of effort that has gone into this, and a lot of barriers, so wouldn’t the effort have been better spent on a more aspirational approach which aligns with the CCMP and A4E?

    It seems to me that they will have to do this all over again for the remainder of the street, although I can already see it falling over and putting back the transformation a few more years….

  14. “‘…Queen Street’s status as Aotearoa’s ground zero hotspot for deadly black carbon…”

    Seems to be making a case for self driving cars, and avoiding the area entirely.

  15. Couldn’t we just put the White Lady across Queen St to close it off to cars, leave space for bus, bike and walkers.

  16. The messaging is bonkers. GV Lane = EVA ?

    not confusing at all is it?

    Can someone tell me why the EVA lane is not indicated by a sign saying EVA Lane? Or why a GV Lane is not called a GV Lane?

  17. Wow, so AT is moving on from car-centric cities to ute-centric cities (only utes allowed). Which is the kind of progress we want.

  18. All this muck around to save 20 delivery drivers from walking 50m with a sack cart. Seriously AT, this should be buses and bikes only.

  19. Extreme predatory delay, and when you think about today’s post on air pollution, there’s just no excuse. With the funding from the city centre residents and businesses they should’ve finished Queen St years ago and moved onto fixing Nelson St / Hobson St and all the other areas where traffic is making people sick.

    Unconscionable, and they’ve all been at fault: AT, Council officers, and Councillors.

  20. I can imagine this will play well into Leo Molloy’s hands, as this does come across as policy-makers out of touch with the needs of business and the general public, despite the well intended environmental outcomes.

  21. Just a got a ‘warning’ notice. First I had heard of this bureaucratic lunacy. I was traveling at night – did not notice the very, very unclear signage.
    Theese idiots could not organize a drunken night in a brewery.

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