Tomorrow the Auckland Council’s Transport Committee meets and there are a few notable items on the agenda.

The meeting will have presentations about the Waitematā Harbour Connections Project and an interim Update Auckland Floods and Infrastructure Impacts but there are no reports yet for either of those. Of the two reports that are available

Auckland Transport Update

While this is titled an Auckland Transport update, the contents are almost entirely about the public transport network and the challenges it is facing right now.

The first interesting thing to note is that due to the floods two weeks ago, AT have decided to defer their plans to increase PT fares in mid-February. This is the right decision, though they should really just give up on them all together. Given the state of the PT network right now it is a case of rubbing salt into an open wound to then put prices up too.

These are the impacts they say the fare change would have

It is also worth noting that in some places, AT haven’t changed on-street parking prices since 2017 despite PT fares having increased by as much as 24% in the same period.

PT use had been starting to recover again at the end of last year and by the end of last year and the first few weeks of this year was at around 65-75% of pre-COVID levels. Putting aside the impacts from the recent emergencies, it wouldn’t surprise me if by the end of this year we were seeing this at the 80-90% range for some weeks/months – some cities I track at or even above this level already.

They also note

The recovery in Auckland is strongest in Central and West, which are both currently around pre-COVID-19 levels. Recovery on trains is currently lower due to the KiwiRail Rail Network Rebuild affecting patronage on the Southern and Onehunga lines while ferry patronage is now greater than pre-COVID-19 levels.

One stat I haven’t seen before, AT say “While around 12 per cent of trips at peak time are made by Public Transport, this reduces to less than 2 per cent at off-peak times and weekends

While we want both figures to be much higher, what I think they really highlight, and what AT don’t seem to fully grasp, is such a large discrepancy is in large part because off-peak PT is significantly less competitive than driving. In many cases the journey alone can take 2-3 times longer which can be hard to justify and that’s even before you consider that services run at a much reduced frequency during these times.

AT have been making some changes though, in part to help deal with the bus driver shortages but also to respond to things like changes in travel patterns as a result of COVID. It involves reducing peak frequencies on some routes, changing the timing of some trips but also improving inter-peak frequencies on some routes.

Peak services are the most expensive to run as they require extra drivers and buses which may only be needed for a couple of runs a day. As such, they say “reducing peak frequency and saving in the order of $4 million with minimal customer impact”.

As for the driver shortfall, Auckland is currently short 485 bus drivers and also 45 ferry crew. This is a 21% and 23% shortfall respectively. This is resulting in around 8 per centre of bus trips being permanently suspended and a further 8 percent being cancelled daily. On the water, services to Devonport are running at reduced frequencies. AT claim that Wellington and Christchurch are seeing similar levels of service cancellation.

There are some positive signs though, the bus driver numbers have improved by about 40 so far this year and since the government made some temporary changes to immigration settings for drivers, they say about 250 candidates have so far been recruited from overseas and are being processed by Immigration and the NZ Police.

Finally, I’m surprised it’s taken this long, especially following COVID and the number of assault incidents that have occurred recently, AT are working with one operator and unions to trial screens to protect bus drivers. I’m not sure what it will look like here but is is a fairly common sight on buses overseas.

ATAP by another name

The final item on the agenda is titled the Auckland Integrated Transport Plan, which the council describe it as

The Minister of Transport and the Mayor have agreed on the need for a broader plan to futureproof Auckland with a high-quality, joined-up transport system, which more closely integrates decision-making on cars, buses, trains, ferries, cyclists, pedestrians, freight and passenger rail and light rail. This includes considering steps to address immediate and pressing needs, as well as long-term city-shaping initiatives.

This is something Mayor Wayne Brown pushed shortly after being elected and was mentioned in the council’s Letter of Expectation to Auckland Transport. On the surface, and perhaps to some voters, this might sound like something new and welcome, and it is good that the government and council work on ensuring they have alignment, but don’t get too excited because as expected, the detail suggests this is really just new version of ATAP but with a different name.

The announcement of the 2021 version of ATAP

The only real difference seems to be a requirement to use existing studies to “Provide commentary on implications of consolidating and moving the Auckland Port“.

Given there is also only three months for officials to deliver this plan and given we haven’t seen drastic changes to ATAP through successive governments and councils, we also shouldn’t expect anything drastic here. The reality is, by this stage these projects have been assessed and reassessed so many times not a whole lot will change, other than perhaps shuffling around the priority of a few projects.

What I worry about more is that:

  • Given this will essentially be a new version of ATAP, that like last time this will continue to be a plan that perhaps may have looked great in 2013 but doesn’t do enough to reflect the realities of the world in 2023. That it will still leave us with a plan to continue increasing emissions and congestion.
  • That despite the inevitable talk about how this is fully funded by the council and government, that agencies like Waka Kotahi will turn around and continue ignore it, like they have in the past.
  • That projects, despite being given a high priority, will continue to be put through unnecessary, Kafkaesque rounds of business case hell.

Whenever the plan is announced, I’m sure there the speeches will be wonderful but unless the plan is able to address these issues, it is unlikely to have a material impact.

Share this


  1. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Drivers conditions are absolutely 3rd world level employment right now in Auck. No wonder they have lost so many drivers. They shoot themselves in the foot every time. Also, decreasing peak transport is the oposite of what needs to happen. This will just drive people into thier cars more.

  2. One of the great problems in standard transport planning practice is the belief in demand as an objective reality, as opposed to very much being influenced by what is provided. As mentioned above AT’s off peak frequency and (for buses) priority is mostly so poor that low ridership is a given. Thus it is self-fulfilling.

    The same is the case for all sorts theories about who uses PT, the overlap of places with much better service and higher ridership is pretty obvious. Excuse making parts of agencies can be very creative in finding other reasons (wealth, race, gender), the alternative being the obvious need to improve all day and all areas to much higher standards.

    1. “the belief in demand as an objective reality, as opposed to very much being influenced by what is provided”

      I think most people in the industry and even the relevant decision makers know this. The fact however is that many key decisionmakers in politics and agencies really don’t care (about PT), respectively are not providing enough funding for more services (why: see first item).

      Status Quo is one hell of a drug.

    2. One of the great problems with transport policy is the belief that if you build it they will come. Where Kevin Coster spent his own money, the transport policy people want to spend other people’s money. “Dig a big hole under central Auckland with a benefit cost ratio of 0.6 you say?”. “Well yes let’s do that.” “What do you mean that money could be spent better on other projects?” “We will just collect more money off the suckers and spend on those other projects as well.”

      1. it’s interesting that low (or negative) BCR numbers are always highlighted on Public Transport works (and with the added issue that instead of supplying just cycle lanes for example, it ends up being a total road revamp – making the ‘simple’ cycle lane seem way more expensive and the BCR way lower than what is actually the case). BCR’s on highways and roads have never stacked up, but we have never let that be deterrent.

        1. Road B/Cs used to stack up until meddling governments (cough Helen Clark) corrupted the system so they could build whatever they wanted. (BTW whataboutism is a fallacy based on the Tu quoque method.)

  3. I have no confidence anything will change. Especially when I hear the mayor say all that is required is active lanes and bus priority at lights job done.

  4. AT were eager to do what Wayne Brown wanted without getting any formal direction from Council, so I’m guessing that same car-first prioritising may be expressed in the ATAP update as well. Mill Road on steroids, fewer pesky cycleways, etc.

  5. I’m sure the AT Board and the Minister will have gone through the experts’ critique of the last ATAP and RLTP process available in the documents from the legal challenge, and will together be guiding AT to use a completely different approach.

    Aha ha. Ha.

  6. Any thoughts of moving the port have been blown,washed, slipped away,(choose your metaphor,they all work). It needs to be removed from all council discussion, as it will become a distraction, both in time and resources.
    Our elected officials now have to pivot from what they “wanted to do” to what they “have to do”. For some this will be a minor change,for others ,it will require a major mind shift,my only hope is they all show some courage and leadership as they work through this.

  7. I wonder if commuting patterns are so different after Covid after all. People in my office probably work from home less than 20% of the time and busses are packed during peak hours and the CBD and arterial roads are clogged with cars as well. It does not seem to me that huge amounts of people work from home and reduce the burden on the commute.
    Judging by the amount of masks still around, people don’t care about Covid anymore either. So there is also no argument for safety from germs by using private transportation either.

  8. Since 1984 the railway has been improving the lines. Every other weekend and long weekends trains do not run…. wonder why there is low usage in weekends. I live in Papatoetoe and work on the shore since 2005. I catch a train and 2 buses… 1.5 hrs each way. Sometimes the times line up others not so much. I break my trip by having dinner in town… not so much an option over the last 3 years. There are reasons why PT does not work. Ask the commuters and not ppl who do not catch PT. Regular commuters can have insight but are often ignored. 1/3 of sth akl works on the shore so think about that traffic. Lately I catch an Uber in the morning to work $65 but I get there in less than an hour and I know it is turning up to take me to where I need to go….. AT has a long road ahead to remedy the problems… start by cutting middle mgt who believe we should catch PT and then hatchet the PT we need to get to work. The nthn XpressMusic to Britomart between 5 and 6pm needs a review. More out of service go past to bring ppl back to the shore whilst all nx1 to britomart are cancelled. We need to get home too…. oops on a rant but….

    1. Yes, I think the constant weekend rail closures have whittled away any semblance of reliability they ever had. When a potential customer feels they have to check if the trains are even running before considering to use them, something has gone very wrong.

  9. “It is also worth noting that in some places, AT haven’t changed on-street parking prices since 2017 despite PT fares having increased by as much as 24% in the same period”

    Tells you everything you need to know about AT’s priorities, right there. Oh, and cyclists contonuing to die in the same high risk locations, despite Coroner’s reports that these should be fixed.

    Answerable to no-one.

    1. Yep. It is free money that AT is choosing not to take, instead making their current dog breakfast of PT system less accessible.

  10. Stuff has an article on the new transport agreement with the government.
    Apart from the major, “Auckland politicians on the council’s steering group are John Watson, Christine Fletcher, Desley Simpson, Richard Hills, Ken Turner, Andy Baker and a member of the Independent Māori Statutory Board.” Of these individuals only Richard Hills would seem to be sympathetic to favouring public transport and active commuting.

    1. “.. the timeframe doesn’t allow public consultation, but “stakeholders” will take part.”

      Trucking companies, petrol retailers, taxi owners..

  11. Chris N made a good comment above. The problem with low ridership is that you get all the car drivers moaning that all the buses are empty and clogging up “our roads”. All those people also scream and yell to Talkback, Council, AT etc. It’s a self-perpetuating vicious circle that someone (doubt in would be the mayor and at least half the current councillors) with some real balls to stand up to them and put PT ahead of cars

  12. “It is also worth noting that in some places, AT haven’t changed on-street parking prices since 2017 despite PT fares having increased by as much as 24% in the same period.”

    Yep, AT and Council are just intransigent, inept or incompetent (possibly any or all of these) when it comes to pulling the levers to facilitate mode shift.

    It is also part of the reason that AT is in a financial hole. An organisation that only focuses on the expenditure side will always struggle.

  13. Really interesting meeting, a bit rushed at times due to extensive flood related items on the agenda. The Mayor and Minister of Transport have committed to finalising the Auckland Integrated Transport Plan by May this year! Some transport related items from yesterday:

    Item 5.2 Public Input from 13:20 minute mark:

    Item 10 Update on Waitematā Harbour Connections Project and upcoming consultation:

    Item 12 Auckland Integrated Transport Plan

    1. Interesting links thanks. Didn’t appreciate the local board member presenting in a personal manner against raised speed tables further on on that first link. Cherry picking 2021 as a year with no deaths for peds on any zebra crossing….and what about serious injuries?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *