The Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) is an important statutory document that lays out how public transport will develop and operate in the region. It includes Auckland Transport’s vision, goals, policies, plans for PT as well as a description for all services they intend to run and the frequencies they will run at, over a 10-year period. While it is a 10-year document, it is typically updated more frequently than that. The current version was signed off in 2018 and so AT are in the process of updating it, with a view to adopting it later this year.

Previous RPTPs have been quite important towards improving PT in Auckland. The 2013 plan represented something of a revolution, introducing the ‘new network’ and zonal fare structure we have today – while the current 2018 version presented a major evolution of that, by hoping to significantly expand the reach and quality of the rapid and frequent parts of the network.

Attached to the agenda of Council’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee meeting last week was a presentation from a workshop AT held with councillors in December about what this latest update involves – and unfortunately there are quite a few concerningthings in it.

The first thing that stands out is a graph of how AT is tracking compared to the focus areas they set themselves in 2018. In many of these, they’ve met their aims, or are on track to meet the actions they set themselves – with the notable exception being the most important: expanding and enhancing rapid and frequent networks. Some of this has obviously been outside of AT’s control, thanks to the pandemic and more recently issues like driver shortages and rail network meltdowns.

AT’s report also highlights how Aucklanders use and perceive PT. There are some interesting insights, such as that the pandemic has reduced the frequency of trips people make but not the types of trips they’re making. I do worry, though, that AT take the wrong lessons from this data.

For example, they note that most trips on PT are for  access to jobs and education, predominantly in the city centre, with trips to other areas or for other reasons being more occasional. In the past, AT’s approach has therefore been to simply further improve PT for trips to the city at peak times – rather than question why people aren’t using PT for those other types of trips and work out ways to make PT more competitive and convenient for those trips.

A slide called “Opportunities for the 2023 RPTP” notes what the updated plan will cover:

  • AT’s vision for public transport over the next 10 years (2024 onwards)
  • Funding levels, including what we are currently funded to deliver and our aspirations beyond that
  • Contracting (PTOM) reform and the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework
  • Decarbonisation and electrification, building on the low-emission roadmaps
  • The implementation of the Climate Action  Targeted Rate (CATR)
  • The opening of the City Rail Link and related train service changes
  • Labour shortages and the impact this has on delivery of services
  • Council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) and the government’s Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP)

Funding is shaping up as being a big issue. Most concerningly, it could mean – at worst – reducing existing service levels while also redirecting funding from the Climate Action Targeted Rate that was specifically intended to improve service.

The improvements the CATR fund is meant to provide, which are now in jeopardy, cover routes across most of the PT network.


The second major concern is that AT plans to treat climate change as a “nice to have”, or something for someone else to have deal with. Putting the implementation of council and government plans in the too-hard basket is a completely unacceptable approach in 2023.

Ultimately, AT says:

While we considered a more aspirational approach, given the potential funding challenges and existing issues facing our public transport network (including driver shortages and up-coming closures of the rail network), we have decided to focus on a ‘fundable’ RPTP.

This is a bit like slowing a bus timetable down because you’re not running it properly and then celebrating how great you are that buses now run on time – which is something AT also does. Without an aspirational approach, there will be nothing to encourage AT to make improvements. As the saying goes, it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

AT says it’s taking a three-phase engagement model, which began with key stakeholders in December last year (I wonder who they included there). There will be some early public engagement in March, followed by full public consultation in June, with the final plan to be approved and released in September.

I hope that by the time it gets to public consultation that AT is a bit more aspirational for how PT could develop.

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  1. Out of interest, is this an NZ problem or a Auckland Transport / Council problem, e.g are any other councils doing well, progressing PT etc or all in the same boat?

    1. It is New Zealand wide problem. Public Transport through out the country is hap hazard, uncoordinated and not user friendly due to lack of a dedicate national public transport agency to set the national planning and operational standards.

  2. Thanks, Matt.

    The funding is available to have the RPTP aligned with the TERP.

    When planning any system that needs to transition, you don’t just keep on trying to add good stuff onto an old paradigm plan; that will always cost too much and the old items in the plan will undermine the new. Instead, you have to actually cull the bad stuff.

    In AT’s full programme there is lots of bad stuff to cull.

    The AT Board can choose from at least two options to get AT on track. They can:
    – do their due diligence. Get international experts to comment. Read the material that advocates have laid out for them. Think. Or:
    – be outcomes focused, and tie the CEO’s employment to achieving the goals. Replace the CEO until there’s one who is achieving the goals. This would force the CEO to make the changes to the ELT and to the planning, or be forced out.

    As for shifting the CATR funding. That’s not what “targeted” means. This would be a weak and unimaginative response, and will work to turn the public off ever having “targeted” rates again. A cynic would think this is a deliberate ploy to stifle any future programmes of change.

  3. I don’t have a problem with the RPTP reflecting actual funding available, rather than being an aspirational document. Better to have certainty as to what will happen than approve an aspirational document that never stands a chance of implementation.

    The difficulty is that the RPTP is a ten-year document and funding decisions are made annually. That dooms the RPTP timeline to irrelevance as soon (Year 2?) as the funding envelope gets changed.

    1. Considering that (at least on CAPEX for things like walking and cycling) AT never seems to actually spend their budget (except on consulting and reconsulting, it seems), cutting back a programme to “currently committed” funding means the actual investment will be even lower.

      Where are the big “aspirational” roading projects being cancelled to deal with the funding pressure?

  4. There is a lot that can be said about this work, which essentially is a carefully worded giving up. Not least is how it is clear evidence of a general leadership failure, at all senior levels, and in particular the failure to drive any meaningful vision or strategy through the operation. The Strategy and Investment team are clearly out of their depth, or lost. To be pouring so much energy into managing down performance aims is at the very least shows unit misdirection, if not worse.

    In a private company they’d be gone yesterday, but in the public sector this reflex to manage expectations instead of performance is a well known risk, and one leadership has to be keenly live to and nipping it in the bud.

    Though it is hard to see a fix coming anytime soon. The bullying from those at the top of the new council allied with the almost Orwellian double-speak impossibility of the Mayor’s ‘Fix it by cutting it’ policy combination, means AT are essentially being told to further decline the agency’s performance by their shareholder (representing us all) while being insulted for it.

    Good PT design and delivery is not easy, it requires constant attention at all levels and a focus on many details minute by minute. Continuous improvement. Faith in a city’s services and intentions is a critical but fragile core of this, but so easily lost. It is well known from the disaster years of the late last century that declines in PT service performance are self fulfilling, users will give up after bad experiences and/or loosing faith in the provider’s care, launching a spiral of failure.

    The damage being done here is huge. To the whole city’s cost. The good will and hope built up through AT’s earlier years is all but gone. Leadership is vision and aspiration competently delivered and communicated. Where has it all gone in Auckland?

    1. This is a great comment.

      The Delivery function at AT also appears lost and out of its depth, unable to change, stuck. In the past

    2. To be honest, AT was mediocre at the best of times. Have you already forgotten Warburton’s times? He set up that agency to be the clay layer structure it is now. His successor as a CEO was not strong enough to break through that layer (or didn’t care enough, who knows), and now we have people in charge who are ultimately just drifting in their status quo.

    1. You would find the same message on a pro-roads Facebook page. Direct control of transport policy decisions by politicians might not result in the outcomes you want. Wayne Brown realises his support comes from people on the fringes of Auckland and that his voters are mostly against public transport.
      I suspect part of the answer is to get more development in suburbs where public transport is already strong. This will increase the constituency for public transport improvements.

      1. “Direct control of transport policy decisions by politicians”

        I had the same worries, but the reality is that what we have no is no better, and you can see how AT scurries to follow Brown’s wishes because they align, and stymies mayors / Councillors who want to do more walking / cycling / PT.

        Better to have an agency that actually CAN be controlled by whoever is currently ELECTED by people than a bureaucracy that basically is able to pick and choose whether or not to listen to the politicians.

  5. “Wayne Brown realises his support comes from people on the fringes of Auckland and that his voters are mostly against public transport.”

    Got proof of that statement, or is that made up by your imagination?

    1. A RNZ story says Wayne Brown failed to win the west and south:
      “Collins out-polled Brown in the west, from the Whau subdivision around Avondale and New Lynn, out to the Waitakere Ranges, and Henderson-Massey.

      The former Manukau ward councillor also won central city Waitematā, and the central and southern board subdivisions of Owairaka, Maungakiekie, Tamaki, Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Papatoetoe, Manurewa and Ōtara, as well as the small Aotea/Great Barrier and Waiheke Island board areas.
      When Brown won however, he won with sometimes huge margins, cleaning up on the North Shore, the eastern suburbs, and the northern and southern rural board areas, out-polling Collins by three votes to one in some areas.”
      I hope this helps. There was also the same story on stuff.

  6. In case we are in fact broke, the cheap thing to build are bike lanes. And well, how is that going. The note that for short trips it is not worth waiting for a bus is correct, these trips are always much faster by bicycle.

    I have my own post about aspiration on PT networks —
    And yes I think for PT to be in general useful and not just some last resort, it needs quite a lot of expansion. But if we can’t afford it then so be it.

  7. Wow. They’re really saying they may fail to even achieve 2022 levels of service, due to a funding shortfall? That’s just putting more costs on individuals.

    Our family have been wasting our days waiting for public transport; missing appointments; electing not to bother with certain trips; and paying several times a week to catch Ubers, when buses don’t arrive, to avoid being late to essential appointments (orthodontists, sports games, courses, etc.). The kids are also getting to school late and having longer days which sap their energy.

    For families with a car, they’ll have given up a long time ago…and when you add them all up, that’s causing even more delays to everyone, because it’s adding to the overall traffic. Even the AA is pointing out that traffic is worse because PT is bad:

    “This year’s traffic squeeze has been exaggerated by disruptions to the public transport network.”

    “The southern line [upgrade] is a big one because the southern motorway is by far the busiest motorway network. The number of people who catch is the train is relatively small, but it doesn’t take much to tip the balance when you’ve already got lots of traffic…And the alternatives that Auckland Transport are putting out, so-called rail buses, don’t work for a lot of people, just in terms of reliability, frequency and travel times.”

    So, any further cutting of spending on PT will mean an increase in misery and cost for everyone, far out of proportion to any direct cost savings to Auckland Council. A dollar spent on rates to fund PT is surely a ten-dollar saving on the transport and opportunity costs that would arise from not spending it?

    1. Maybe it’s feedback on AC budget proposals that can answer the PT problem. RPTP is too confined in scope and depends on wider budgets and Plans. The idea for RPTP to adjust after Climate plans and funding enable that may be the best RPTP can cover, but Aspirations could reach into that space with more on “what if its funded and linked to other plans?”

    2. I just listened to the podcast I linked to (I was quoting the article summary before). It’s quite good. Someone should approach the interviewee to write an article for Greater Auckland. It’s Martin Glynn, policy director of motoring affairs at the AA. He’s clearly trying to get the message out that fixing PT is required to fix congestion.

    1. LOL. “The species is currently considered vulnerable…due to the possibility of rats or other predators reaching the two islands it survives on”.

  8. JJ says -I tried to get usage data after on a – hour walk from Milford to Takapuna- I was passed by BIG empty or single passenger busses! Rubbish responded! Why are we not buying electric small bus/vans (like many cities internationally do) and looking at varying routes to suit consumers? Why big empty busses? Uneconomical!

    1. I am not quite sure what all of this means but I think it is copied and pasted from a discussion a while ago. Big busses are needed during peak hours. If there were small busses for off-peak travel, AT would have to buy both and could not effectively reduce the number of big busses. Now more busses would have to be stored somewhere and drivers would need to change busses (or even more drivers would be necessary). And what would it fix? Slightly less fuel consumption for the busses during off-peak hours might be compensated by additional trips to the depot. Congestion is also not an issue off peak.

      1. We also see this comment about empty buses in on-line forums when buses are running empty to be repositioned for a run into the city in the morning. Some people don’t seem to realise that flows in and out of the centre of a city are not equal.
        Empty roads are also potentially uneconomic. It is a pity the space cannot be reallocated outside peak hours for housing.

        1. To be fair, you see people sleeping in places that are quite busy areas during peak hours. Not sure if we want to have this as a widespread behaviour though…

    2. Buses are sized to their maximum demand. If they went with smaller buses people would be left behind in peak hours.

      If they used the big ones during peak, and had a whole extra fleet of smaller buses for other times, that would work out more expensive than just using the big ones all the time. You still have to own the same number of big buses, and would have to own a heap of small ones on top of that, which you have to store somewhere on expensive land, maintain, wash, pay interest on etc. And a lot of the operation costs are fixed or don’t change much, drivers aren’t cheaper in a smaller bus. HOP costs are the same. Fuel might be marginally cheaper, but they could also just buy electric buses to solve that one.

      Sounds like a good idea over a bbq, but it’s not cheaper for most routes.

  9. We live in Titirangi & my son works for Watercare, situated by the airport. He drives his car to work because PT doesn’t have a cross town network. Watercare has its own dedicated funding from water so it can plan & control its own development unlike AT. Cycling where I live on Scenic Drive is for the intrepid but my cousin in TeAtatu used his e-bike to drive to work at AUT most days. Build it & they will come! In Lobdon I used buses, the underground & trains all the time. I hear Robbie sighing when people discuss the cost of light rail. I prefer the above ground version because its cheaper, will be built more quickly & images of the flooded metro in NY post Sandy scare me.

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