Not including a rapid transit solution to the northwest while the motorway was being widened less than a decade ago, after we’d already seen the success of the Northern Busway, is arguably one of Auckland’s biggest transport mistakes. It’s certainly the most recent big one.

The process of fixing that mistake is not going to be quick or cheap but in a couple of months, the first stage to that will finally launch – the interim bus improvements on to the Northwest. This will see a bus service (the WX1) running along SH16 from Westgate to the City, making stops only at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd where buses will exit the motorway at some fairly basic stations to interchange with local buses, then carry on with their journey.

From 12 November, Auckland Transport (AT) will launch a new flagship bus route, the Western Express (WX1), along with a range of other improvements to bus routes in the area.

The bus route changes are partnered with over 7km of new bus lanes, new bus interchanges near the motorway at Lincoln Road and Te Atatū and over 40 new bus stops.


“The new WX1 and 11 routes will combine to provide buses between Westgate, Lincoln Road, Te Atatu and the City Centre in both directions every six minutes, from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

While this is an improvement on what exists now, it’s far from the quality of the Northern Busway with it’s dedicated corridor and proper stations.

I’ve had fears that our transport agencies would claim this interim solution as “job done” and that we wouldn’t see any progress on a permanent solution for a long time.

Happily, this appears not to be the case and now with now strong cross party support for a proper solution, last week Waka Kotahi announced they were kicking off the work to deliver it.

A project to determine the future of safer, faster and more reliable public transport for Auckland’s northwest is underway.

The project is responding to the rapidly growing population in the northwest and the increasing demand for fast and frequent public transport which contributes to a healthier and more connected city.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is working in partnership with Te Kawerau ā Maki, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and other iwi partners and plans to release a short-list of options later this year so the community can have their say.

Randhir Karma, Regional Manager System Design says that there’s an increasing need to provide better public transport options for people who live in and move around the area.

“We know that the solution is to shift towards a more sustainable, healthier and more equitable land transport network. The transport sector presents huge opportunities to make meaningful contributions to better protect the environment, more rapidly adapt and to support the move to a more resilient world.

“A rapid transit solution along State Highway 16 from Brigham Creek to the city centre would make it easier for people to move around the northwest and beyond while also contributing to a more climate resilient transport future.

“Having choices about how we travel will help make the world a more thriving, better connected and safer place both for ourselves and for our future generations” says Randhir Karma.

Work is underway to investigate options. The findings are planned to be released later this year as part of the community consultation on the short-list of options.

This announcement and the map above is that is only looking at the route from Brigham Creek to the city because the route between Brigham Creek and Kumeu is being designated as part of the Supporting Growth work.

Interestingly the map also highlights well the torturous route that tunnelled light rail is expected to take, both on the North Shore and through the isthmus. And will Kingsland get the zoning needed to justify having three rapid transit lines passing through it?

There’s still a lot we will need to wait to find out, such as where will stations be, what happens when it gets to the city centre, which side of the motorway will the route sit, what impact will it have on the ecologically sensitive areas along the causeway and what happens about previous discussions about having light rail to the Northwest.

I attended a session on Friday where Minister of Transport David Parker expressed some interesting views about a few of these.

  • On the issue of the causeway, he was very keen on Waka Kotahi to look at accommodating the busway within the existing motorway corridor rather than further expanding it into the harbour. He even explicitly said that consideration should be given to taking lane space away from cars to be able to provide the busway.
  • Any rapid transit solution will obviously be staged and that won’t necessarily be from the city outwards. That can make it difficult for a mode like light rail, however, the minister said he was keen for Waka Kotahi to explore options to make conversion to light rail easier. He even suggested they look at whether tracks could be embedded in the surface as they go so that once all of the sections are connected up it’s much more straightforward to then convert.

Senior Waka Kotahi managers were also present at this session and they also mentioned how as part of their work they’ll be looking closely at what needs to be done to make it easier to get to any potential stations and also to supercharge the NW Cycleway by adding more connections to it.

As for where route will sit, work in the past, including some preliminary designs in 2010 have suggested that at least from Te Atatu to Westgate, the corridor would sit on the southern/western side of the motorway. I believe AT actually purchased some of the land between Royal Rd and Westgate to accommodate this.

Looking south from the Westgate pedestrian/bike bridge

It will also be important to ensure that the cycleway isn’t compromised and where possible, enhanced. It would be particularly good for example to get underpasses at Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd

The designs from 2010 were mainly just for stations and included Te Atatu Rd, Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd.

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It’s great to finally see something which is more substantive than a line on a map happening for proper rapid transit to the Northwest.

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  1. Does anyone reading this seriously believe this will happen if National lead the next government, and more particularly, if “Rare Misstep” Simeon Brown is the new Transport Minister?

    1. I don’t believe it will happen if National lead the next government. But I also don’t believe it will happen if Labour leads the next government either.

      1. If a Labour PM is held over a barrel by a very strong Greens caucus, then maybe – just maybe

        Chippie’s useless but his prospective coalition partners will push him in the right direction. You know where Luxo’s coalition partners are going to push.

    2. Ah yes, my personal brand of inaction is superior to someone else’s. A cracker of a way to run a country. Into the ground, maybe.

      1. Certainly, here’s an edited version: “so commuters would be content to inhale concentrated and dusty motorway exhaust fumes while waiting for the bus.”

    3. I think this has actually reached the totally screaming obvious level and will happen, quickly no but it will be progressed. Like the CRL it is so obviously desirable and necessary that no government can ignore it for fear of annoying a significant portion of Auckland.

      1. “Like the CRL it is so obviously desirable and necessary that no government can ignore it for fear of annoying a significant portion of Auckland.”

        CRL took over a 100 years since first mooted. Or, arguably, in the current iteration, over 10 years to get started, and 15+ to be opened.

        So where are we in that timeframe with NW Rapid Transit?

    4. It’s hard to say with so many potential coalition partners involved, however I think it is much more likely than light rail for example.

      It has reasonably broad public support, we’ve had previous success with busways, it doesn’t have the stigma that has become associated with light rail and most importantly it can be staged relatively easily.

      It’s easy to forget that the previous National government kicked off the countries biggest ever infrastructure project – the CRL.

      1. I think it is important to remember that it was former-PM John Key, in a rare moment of enlightenment, who kicked-off the CRL project. He did this seemingly against the wishes of two of his Transport Ministers Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee, neither of whom were supportive of the CRL at all. I suspect that had Mr Key not done this, and had the CRL decision been left to the rest of the 2008-2017 National cabinet and caucus, the CRL would not have happened. I also doubt that Labour would have made the decision to proceed either, had it been their call. So at least some kudos to John Key for this. However real thanks should go to former AK mayor Len Brown who seriously championed the CRL and was probably instrumental in getting John Key to support it.

        1. Yes, Len Brown and John Key deserve a lot of credit but also Labour for making sure it didn’t fall victim to value engineering.

          I think Luxon, Willis and Bishop are pretty aware that you can’t be a credible government without at least one addition to the rapid transit network in 6 – 9 years in office and NW is the simplest. That’s two more senior figures than the previous National government.

      2. I wouldn’t say that it was National that did the kicking over CRL, so much as received the kicking. But thanks to John Key for actually doing it.
        And then they also kicked the NW rapid transit into touch, when inclusion in widening at the time of Waterview Tunnel would have got land cheaper and wouldn’t have built more of the NW car dependency.
        Both main parties have some history to be proud of and some they would rather forget.

    5. I think it will as National will be keen to show they can deliver what Labour couldn’t. More likely under National then Labour IMO.

      1. National will probably include it in some massive lane-increasing scheme for the Northwestern. I.e. “you get your bus lanes, and while we are at it, it only makes sense to add one more car lane each”.

  2. If WK are actually series at improving walking and riding access to the NW cycleway and the WX routes maybe Te Whau pathway will actually get built. With the reluctance to provide bus priority on Te Atatu Rd it will be more important than ever.

  3. Kumeu desperately needs some kind of bus lanes to Westgate, either shoulder running or just peak direction in the median.

    Traffic is basically backed up from the end of SH16 into Kumeu from about 6am onwards.

  4. Did we get confirmation of whether or not WK had taken bus priority off a load of the offramps for the new NW services?

  5. These interim ” improvements ” are a bit like allowing people to cling to the side of the bus to increase capacity( third world). I guess though,that you should never underestimate the capacity of planners and politicians to totally fail to represent their fellow citizens.
    The sport now will be ,watching the politician’s “dance around ” “improving ” the PT options,without more road building. The appetite for that (road building)has completely gone,there’s no money for it anyway, keenly awaiting the re-enlightenment of all involved.

    1. These interim improvements were also how the northern busway started. Constellation and Albany Stations were built first and buses ran on the shoulder for 3 years before the busway opened in 2008

      1. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time or money for the design, land purchase and construction of “final” interchanges at Lincoln or Te Atatu. These are both interim interchanges until a finished design can be produced, by which time it will be more important to stage the links rather than spend in advance on the stations.

  6. A cycle underpass at Carrington Rd would be nice too.
    I’m not sure what is meant by “supercharge the NW Cycleway by adding more connections to it”. Does this mean additional cycle routes? I struggle to think of where it is lacking actual connection points to communities, as its at least connected to all major roads it crosses with many other connections to more local areas. Many of these connections have poor visibility and are real risks for collisions.

    1. I assume they are meaning routes to it, currently there are few “all age and ability” connections. Henderson Creek path is one but Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd (from South) are certainly not for anyone but the brave.

  7. I like the idea of reducing car capacity on the motorway to allow rapid transit. The current transport mess exists only because, for decades, we have given the private car absolute priority. That has to change. What has been car first, and always, must become car last, if ever.

  8. Clearly this is a positive interim remedy for a previous error.

    If we could learn to accept errors, and aim to correct them within a decade, we might all be better humans?

    Naming WX1, does not seem to coincide with NEX1 and NEX2. Should it not be WEX1?

    To simplify the so called rapid transit bus routes (temporary solutions to lack of light rail), the naming of these should be simplified. If they all connect to the city centre, then they are all running to either North Shore / North (NEX) Westgate / West WEX) Botany / East EEX.

    South Auckland already has a train and Mangere will have light rail eighty years ago or eighty years from now, so we won’t have the need for a SEX line.

    Just as well given the conservatism of the current political narratives!

    And we can still make jokes about the untrained, off track, ram raiders that just need to sit down and enjoy the ride, as any ex CEO of an airline could tell you; it clearly cost him his hair!!!

    1. I’d simplify it even more. We use 3 digits for regular buses and 2 for frequent, lets use 1 for rapid transit.

      1 – NX to downtown
      2 – NX to Wellesley
      3 – NX to Ponsonby
      4 – WX
      5 – WX with alternative termini
      6 – EX

      1. Nah, the NX1/2 and the future WX will make finding your route easier in my opinion. And the NX is currently hard to miss, so it would be stupid to remove a well established brand name just for the sake of it. Kind of like that Twitter/X thing.

    2. They dropped the E from the NEX name in 2018 with the launch of the new network, which also saw the introduction of the midtown route. So now it’s the NX1 and NX2. So WX1 fits that naming convention

  9. I’m glad that a better solution than currently being build pretend busway is being considered. But I’m also not sure what the idea behind the consultations is supposed to achieve. As we’ve learnt from the light rail consultations – voice of the community, even overwhelming can be easily ignored.
    The reality is until there is some actual money committed it’s just the usual pre-election promise, which feels very much like bait-and-switch

    1. You’d think there was enough consultation and feedback ignored before, to do it all over again.

      However, agree that both major parties seem aligned that the NW is overdue for a RTN solution, and the current plans aren’t it.

  10. Can’t the buses run in the shoulder, take the offramp in their own dedicated lane, get some special traffic light priority at the top to go straight ahead, and then take the onramp again in their own lane? That would be almost as good as a busway wouldn’t it?

    1. They can only run 30kmh faster than the traffic using shoulder lanes, which often means they can only run at 30 – 40kmh at peak.

      Also that requires inbound and outbound platforms to be completely separate, and makes it hard to have stations like Sunnynook and Smales Farm that do not align with an off-ramp, it’s definitely an interim solution.

  11. Honestly, why can’t you just do an outer loop service that goes from Britomart, through Mission Bay Botany, Pakuranga, Puhinui, Manukau, Onehunga, New Lynn, Henderson, Westgate Albany and the Harbour bus stations and back into the city as a loop. Boast a 15-25min turnaround. That would be like the city and airport links and connect all the major points except Sylvia Park, Eden Park, Newmarket… Which can be linked in through the other arterial links 70, outer, Inner, City and Airport Links.

  12. I was present at the opening ceremony of the state highway 16 widening project, Lincoln Rd to Westgate and heard both the Mayor of Auckland and the Minister of Transport promise the chair of Bike Auckland that there would be underpasses coming with the Northwest bus route

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