With the year quickly drawing to a close it’s time for a quick wrap up the most important things that happened and WOW, what a year it’s been.
Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog and supported us in making Auckland greater.
City Rail Link
Despite the disruption from COVID, it’s been another big year for the CRL with the second tunnel being started and completed. The team have also finished the excavation of the stations and they’ve started the work to install tracks and other rail system in the tunnels. Recently I was lucky enough to get a visit to the Karanga-a-Hape station and wow, is it impressive. The COVID disruption along with global supply chain and now inflation issues are taking a toll on the project though, and we’re waiting to hear just how much more it will cost. That’s something to cover next year.
Rail Network Works
It’s been known for a while there is a heap of work to do to get the rail network ready for the CRL. in October, we learnt just how disruptive that was going to be, with Kiwirail announcing 2-3 years of rolling shutdowns to rebuild the foundations under the tracks. The first section to be worked on is the inner southern line, and a three-month shutdown starts next week. That will be followed by a nine-month shutdown of the inner eastern line, with the remainder of the network being done in 2024 and 2025.
Bus Driver Shortage
Disruption has also been a serious issue on the bus network this year: Auckland is short of over 500 drivers, resulting in thousands of bus services being cancelled every week. The issue is so bad that Auckland Transport has now removed many of the regularly cancelled buses from their timetables.
There has been some work to address bus driver shortages, with a series of announcements that will see average wages rise from $23.71 per hour to $30 per hour. However it appears that won’t be enough to fix the buses, as the Council looks to cut those services permanently in order to save some money.
Northern Busway Extension
One great piece of news this year was the completion in May of the Northern Busway extension to Albany, helping to make the NX buses faster and more reliable. However, it will be a few more years before we see the completion of the new Rosedale station.
We started the year with the government announcing they had picked tunnelled light rail as their preferred option. We think this is “the worst of both worlds” option, as it costs nearly $15 billion and doesn’t really provide that much additional benefit over a surface option.
As of the end of the year, we still seem no closer to this project even starting – when it would have been operating by now, had Labour not been distracted by the Superfund back in 2018.
Finally we’ve seen some movement on the long-running exception that meant Devonport and Waiheke ferry services were operated independently of the rest of the public transport network. Devonport has been brought fully into the standard contracting model. Waiheke will still be run independently, but will be subject to new minimum service levels.
Perhaps more interesting is this year we’ve seen the announcement of significant investment in new ferries. The government has funded two fully electric ferries and Auckland Transport will take over the procurement for five new hybrid ferries.
Usage of public transport has been severely impacted this year, initially by the effects of COVID restrictions and then by bus driver shortages. As a result, in recent months we’re still just tracking at about 65% of pre-COVID ridership.
Active Modes and Urban Realm
Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Stage 2
This year saw the completion of two major shared path projects. The first was Section 2 of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive project, a 2.65km section of path that runs between St Johns Rd and Meadowbank Station, mostly alongside the rail corridor. A final section will connect to Tamaki Drive, and complete over 7km of path from Glen Innes to the waterfront.
New Lynn to Avondale
The second major opening was a 2.9km path between New Lynn and Avondale, also a railway-adjacent path and including a new rail underpass. Both paths are useful additions to the network though there are some quite different levels of quality, and ongoing concerns about the pinch points and road crossings on the New Lynn to Avondale path.
This year saw the relatively rapid rollout of paving on Queen St, widening the footpaths to create more space for people. The results are certainly a big improvement on what we had before and it will be interesting to see if people gravitate to the new space.
I do feel our original criticism about not including a clearly defined cycleway still stands. Something has gone awry when you need videos, signage, artwork and now labels on the ground to help people understand how to use a path.
Another part of the changes involves making sections of Queen St only accessible for buses and other authorised vehicles. The implementation of this hasn’t been all that smooth though, and there are still far too many cars driving along Queen St.
It’s been a horror year on our roads. As of yesterday, 361 people have died on New Zealand’s roads. By comparison, as of the same time in the last two years just over 300 people had died; and around 340 had in 2019.
Perhaps more concerning is that within those numbers we can see a lot more deaths of people who were simply out walking or riding their bikes.
In Auckland, that included 19 year old Levi James who died near Royal Oak roundabout, in a location that cyclists told Auckland Transport was unsafe when a recent redesign was considered. AT ignored this information, and nine months later still have made no changes whatsoever to the road.
Upper Harbour Drive
One of the programmes from Auckland Transport we’ve been the most excited about was adding protection to around 60km of existing painted cycleways. This programme was announced last year, but the first treatments were rolled out this year. Most locations have been installed with no issues. But Upper Harbour Drive, one of the first to hit the ground, became the subject of community opposition after a number of drivers crashed into the barriers – thus proving the need for them.
As something of a conclusion to this, earlier this month AT announced they’d be changing the road laoyout to create a bi-directional cycleway on the eastern side. On the one hand, this shows the limits of a quick-protection programme when there’s local pushback, but it also shows how adaptable approaches can help reveal and solve issues at a particular location.
Despite having supposedly a public-transport-friendly government and council (at the time), the biggest transport project to start in Auckland this year was the $830 million Penlink, a 7km road linking the Whangaparaoa Peninsula to SH1. It officially got under way earlier this month.
One thing we’re particularly concerned about with this project is that despite the cost, the active modes facilities are sub-Vision Zero standard, and far from safe. The project includes a shared path, and walkers and cyclists using the path will be forced to cross intersections at-grade.
Puhoi to Warkworth
A bit further north, one of the last of the previous government’s Roads of National Significance is getting close to completion.
And, south of Penlink, the Northern Corridor Improvements project is also getting closer to completion. I still find it somewhat surprising that the busway has been finished before the motorway works.
Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing
In addition to light rail, the government also announced they were bringing forward work on another harbour crossing. Other than a survey last month about whether we want public transport and cycling options, there has been little additional information about the project. That will likely change next year.
Fuel Tax and PT Fare discounts
Inflation is running rampant across the world right now. In March, the government moved to cut fuel taxes by 25c per litre, and to halve public transport fares. Initially, this was meant to only be for three months but it has been extended a number of times – most recently last week, meaning it will be in force till the end of March 2023.
Some research by Waka Kotahi estimates this has resulted in about a 10% increase in PT ridership in Auckland, which isn’t bad considering the impacts of driver shortages and reduced timetables, not to mention changes in travel patterns with more people working from home.
New Mayor and Council
October brought the council elections. With Phil Goff standing down, we were always going to see a new Mayor. Wayne Brown won fairly easily in the end, and has already set about stamping his mark on the council and Auckland Transport.
The council wwasere required this year to respond to the government’s mandated housing changes. In April, they released a draft consultation, finally giving us an idea of how they would choose to interpret factors such as walking distances to rapid transit stations, etc. In August, they then formally notified the changes.
For us. there were two main issues with the plan:
- Council planners spent all their time walking the streets (both physically and virtually) using a deeply flawed methodology to try and justify retaining as much special character zoning as possible – thereby limiting development in most of the high-amenity/high-demand areas close to the city.
- They left a massive void through the central isthmus due to uncertainties around light rail. Where this is most egregious is the walking catchments surrounding the existing train stations.
It’s been another huge year for Greater Auckland, and I thought I’d share the top 10 most viewed posts:
- The Upper Harbour Options
- Concerning news coming out of Auckland Transport
- Unitary Plan 2.0 Pre-consultation
- 2022 Council Election Results
- Flashback Saturday: Why AWHC is the stupidest transport project ever
- Public transport in Auckland is beyond a joke right now
- Penlink To Start
- Sooo… Tunnelled Light Rail
- Switching sides: Sweden did it, should we?
- Flashback Saturday: Auckland Transport’s Parking Nonsense
We’ve had over 14,500 comments on posts this year – and thank you to all those who do genuinely engage with our work.
There’s so much more we could include here. What were your highlights of 2022?
This will be our last post for the year, so once again thanks for reading and supporting us. Have a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.