Welcome to 2023. After wrapping up 2022 before Christmas, here’s a look at some of the things we can expect to see and will be watching for this year.
Public Transport Disruption
Disruption to our PT network dominated much of last year, first with the driver shortages then with news of the planned rail network shutdowns, the first of which is now underway. Getting Auckland’s PT networks ‘back to normal’ as much as possible is critical if we want people to really start using it again. A few key things we’ll be keeping an eye on are:
- How well will Auckland Transport and the bus operators resolve the bus driver shortage? Last year the council and government made some progress on raising driver wages, but will we see that make a difference this year? And if it does ….
- Will AT reinstate full services? The council’s budget proposal out for consultation this year proposes to lock in the existing service cuts in order to lower the anticipated rates rise.
- How well (or not) Auckland Transport can mitigate the impact of the rail shutdowns.
- And will Kiwirail be more efficient than originally expected, resulting in the first tranche of work being completed faster than planned? Later this year we will hear about the plans for the rest of the network, to be done in 2024/25.
City Rail Link
In just a few months the major civil works on the CRL will be completed, and the project will shift to fitting out the tunnels and stations. It will be exciting to see actual stations starting to emerge.
We’re also waiting with interest to learn the full impact of disruption caused by COVID, global supply chain issues and inflation. Keen to hear your thoughts in the comments on just what the final cost and completion date will be.
Northwest Bus Improvements
The biggest new addition to the PT network this year will be the Northwest Bus Improvements. This will see the WX1 introduced along SH16, and use of the motorway interchange bus stops. A big concern here is the quality of these interchange stops will make people wonder just how much of an improvement the project is actually delivering.
This year should see the start of the next stage of the Eastern Busway, from Pakuranga to Botany. This comes after the government recently announced they’re putting an additional $200 million into the project. However, the first sections under construction won’t be the busway itself – but are related to the Reeves Rd Flyover.
Last year saw completion of the Northern Busway Extension from Constellation Dr to Albany. Later this year the other component of this project will start construction, the new Rosedale Station. It is not expected to be completed till 2026.
Will we see any real progress on light rail this year, or will it be another year wasted?
The big thing we’ll be watching for at the start of this year: will AT be able progress the long delayed Inner West Street Improvement projects? Or will those delaying the work find ways to delay them even longer? And if the delay continues… what happens to the funding?
This work has been ready to go for some time, and at this point constitutes a log jam for the wider programme. Given some of the comments from the new Mayor and some councillors last year, will we even see any other active mode projects breaking ground this year?
(That’s quite an astonishing question to write, three years into an official climate emergency, with other cities managing fine, and buckets of government climate response funding ready to pour into nimble rollouts… but here we are.)
There are a couple of big motorway projects due for completion this year. These are:
- Puhoi to Warkworth
- The Northern Corridor Improvements – due in September.
The other big road (and PT) project we’ll be keeping an eye on is the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, which the government is bringing forward work on. Some of the major things to look for: decisions on whether to favour a bridge or tunnel, and whether the road, public transport and active modes are combined in a single project or able to be delivered separately.
A huge question this year is whether the council (and AT) can show they can rise above the fear and ignorance of a few vocal opponents to progress, and just do what their own well-evidenced strategies say to do.
And if they can’t and don’t: will they go through the process of changing the strategy, or just ignore it completely, in either case wasting years of work to this point?
Who benefits when council gets bogged down, or reverses course? Or to put it another way, what’s the smartest and most beneficial way to move forward, without wasting further energy and resources?
Later this year will be central government elections. which could – on current polling – go either way. If there’s a change of government, we are almost certain to see a change to transport policy.
Say government leans right, would it shift towards a massive roads-first policy as National’s rhetoric has been suggesting, or something else? If Labour claws their way back in the polls and wins a third term, but needs to govern with the Greens and perhaps others, what would that mean for transport policy?
The two potential paths seem starkly divergent. Or are they? What does this fork in the road mean in climate terms, and for the chances to keep growing transport choice and humanise our streets?
There are a couple of housing-related issues will be watching closely this year:
- What happens with the changes to the Auckland Unitary Plan that were notified last year?
- What changes will we see in the light rail corridor that was left out of the changes last year – and what impact will the changes at council have on that?
- Last year saw building consents for houses reach record highs. With the economic uncertainty that exists, what impact will that have on consents in 2023?
It’s worth noting that while writing this post, Cyclone Hale is making landfall on Auckland, and will be adding more rain to already rain-soaked areas. The “Week in Flooding” section of our Friday roundup, which started on a whim, is now a regular feature and closer to home each time, and the seas are warmer this summer – and not in a good way, as RNZ reported this week:
The warmer water is good news for holidaymakers, but will cause problems for marine life and also result in more rainfall on land.
Will we continue to see this sort of one hand/ other hand approach in everyday reporting, policy-making, and leadership? Or will 2023 be the year everyone finally joins the dots on how we live now, and how we’ll live in future?
The year unfolds ahead of us. Tell us: what are you most looking forward to, concerned about, and would add to the watchlist?