It’s Friday and we’re still waiting to see if we’ll have a government. In the meantime, here are some things that caught our attention this week.

This Week in Greater Auckland

On Monday Matt covered the launch of the new Western Express

On Wednesday looked at the latest next steps for congestion pricing

Congestion Pricing Next Steps Approved

We’ll start our roundup with the two items we covered this week. First up, yesterday the council approved for Auckland Transport to move to the next steps on congestion pricing.

Auckland Council is pressing on with developing a system to charge motorists using key routes into the city centre, possibly from 2026 onwards.

Detail work will include whether exemptions and discounts can be offered, and how to minimise the financial impact on those least able to pay.


An exasperated-sounding mayor Wayne Brown said: “I want this underway as soon as possible”.

“This is urgent, don’t expect to be voted in next time if we haven’t got this,” he told councillors.

AT officials said there would be public consultation on the details of the scheme.

A nine-member “political reference group” including the mayor, senior councillors, and a member of the Independent Māori Statutory Board to oversee the work.

Councillors voted 19-2 to endorse the ongoing programme, with Ken Turner and Wayne Walker opposing.

Western Express?

Stuff’s Todd Niall has been doing some great reporting this week on the Western Express. He lives in the North West and has long written about the issues with public transport in the area.

Important elements in Auckland’s new western “pop-up” busway won’t be built for another six months, and long stretches of motorway shoulder will remain out-of-bounds to buses on safety grounds.

Bus priority lanes are still to be built at both the western and city ends of the “interim” busway – a $100 million upgrade of the motorway shoulders, with new bus interchanges.

Congestion delaying buses getting onto the upgraded motorway at Westgate on Tuesday, caused waits of more than 20 minutes at the Te Atatu interchange for the new 10-minute frequency WX1 service.

Waka Kotahi said it expected construction of a bus priority lane on the Westgate onramp to be completed by May 2024, with similar dates for the Newton Road onramp for westbound services.

A Day One test of the Western Express by Stuff on Monday also highlighted the extent of motorway shoulder on which buses are not allowed to travel, pitching them back into often slow-moving traffic.

And at one point, buses have to leave their priority lane and merge with general traffic, shortly before taking the Te Atatu offramp.

Most of the stretch from Waterview to Newton Rd has no bus priority even though there is space.

Some early ancedotal evidence suggests the bus is popular.

Some other bus speed improvements

And another great article from Todd on some of the low-hanging fruit to speed up buses that were missed from AT’s PT Recovery Plan.

Millions of dollars and a lot of expensive time is being invested in making bus journeys through Auckland faster and with more reliable travel times.

Bus priority is the buzzword, with even mayor Wayne Brown pushing for buses getting priority at traffic lights.

In the quest for trimming minutes from a journey, is Auckland Transport missing some simple ideas that bus users and motorists could make happen for them?

His suggestions included

  • Using the backdoor to exit the bus rather than letting people push past people boarding
  • Use all-door boarding on busy routes
  • Campaigns to let buses exiting bus stops go first

Speaking of Todd, sadly for all of us he announced that he is retiring at the end of the month. Todd has been fantastic at covering Auckland over his long career so his retirement will be a big loss for both journalism and Auckland.

Downtown Carpark to Commercial Bay 2.0

As the council get ready to make a decision on whether to sell the Downtown Carpark to Precinct Properties for redevelopment – with predicable opposition from people who want a car-first city centre – images of what Precinct plan have leaked and it looks fantastic.

Twin towers and a laneway weaving its way from Britomart to the Viaduct are proposed if Auckland councillors agree to sell the Downtown carpark building to Precinct Properties.

A pack of confidential images leaked to the Weekend Herald reveal Precinct’s plan to expand its portfolio of office towers on the Auckland waterfront from Commercial Bay to the Viaduct.

To pull it off, Precinct plans to buy and demolish the carpark building and develop the prime 0.625ha waterfront site where the plain, but functional seven-storey building with 1944 spaces has provided affordable parking since it was built in 1970.

Central to Precinct’s plans are two slim skyscrapers nearly 40 storeys high towering above the M Social hotel on Quay St that will have a mix of office space and apartments with spectacular views of the Waitematā Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf.

At ground level, the laneway through Commercial Bay from Te Komititanga Square will be extended across lower Albert St, weaving between Aon House and HSBC Tower before passing the two new towers to Lower Hobson St. There are also plans for a park on part of Sturdee St.

Comments in the pack show Precinct Properties is keen to remove the Hobson St flyover to open up and refurbish lower Hobson St, saying that keeping the flyover will prevent access to the Viaduct, reduce the visibility of a podium development and compromise the overall quality of the project.

The cost of the project is not known, but likely to be well in excess of $1 billion, which was about the cost of Precinct’s 180m-tall PwC Tower housing the Commercial Bay shopping centre at the bottom of Queen St.

Let’s hope the councillors approve the sale.

Middlemore Station Upgrade

Auckland Transport and Kiwirail have finally released some details about the Middlemore Station upgrade to accommodate the new third main that is being built.

Middlemore Station will remain open during construction of the upgrades, including access to the lifts and pedestrian bridge.

KiwiRail will also temporarily extend Platform 1 to ensure that trains can continue stopping at Middlemore Station. More information about travelling to and from Middlemore during construction is available below.

KiwiRail have worked collaboratively with Te Whatu Ora and Auckland Transport to ensure the upgraded station can meet the needs of everyone, including public transport users and hospital staff, patients, and visitors.

The upgrades to Middlemore Station include:

  • A new platform to serve the Third Main Line
  • A new pedestrian bridge at the northern end of the station
  • An extension of the existing pedestrian bridge
  • A new gate line for the new platform
  • A new entrance for Te Whatu Ora staff via Rosella Road
  • Accessibility improvements for pedestrians and vehicles

Trains will still stop at Middlemore during the work and construction is expected to last till early 2025.

My main concern with all of this is that they don’t appear to have designed with with a fourth main in mind – which is something our rail plans now say we will need.

Night Train Renaissance

Night Trains continue to rise in popularity and recognition. Here’s a great article on it by CNN.

Night trains have been making a resurgence across Europe after decades of decline, raising the prospect of more sustainable ways of crisscrossing the continent as travelers look to find alternatives to flying.

There’s nothing quite like an overnight train. The excitement before an evening departure. The sense of adventure. The cosmopolitan mix of international travelers. And the timeless cultural appeal that inspired “Murder on the Orient Express” and “From Russia With Love” or legendary songs by the likes of James Brown, David Bowie and Ray Charles.

And then there’s the journey itself – retiring to bed as you clatter out of a big city and waking up in a new city, or even a new country, can create memories to last a lifetime.

At least that’s the theory – and why the new wave of night trains are being touted as one way to replace short or even medium-haul flights across Europe and the US.

So how’s that going?

Even before their renaissance, night trains could be a pleasant, memorable and sometimes economic way to cover long distances – but luck has always been a big factor.

Wrong end of the per-capita chart

New Zealand seems to love pointing out how well we often perform at things on a per capita basis. We can’t do that with road safety though.

What’s worse is that this figure is based on the end of 2021, a year which was severely disrupted by covid lockdowns. Based on the the end of 2022 we were sitting at 7.3 per 100,000 people which would put us even lower down the list.

Coromandel Reconnected Sooner

Some impressive work by Waka Kotahi and their contractors means SH25A will be open again this year – after a slip washed away a huge part of the road during the weather events earlier this year. That they’ve been able to deliver this so quickly is testament to the workers but also to using standard designs and being able to work at all hours of the day. Also great is that they’ve used the closure to get other maintenance tasks on the road done.

State Highway 25A between Kōpū and Hikuai will reopen to traffic in time for Christmas – a full three months earlier than anticipated.

The news brings a welcome economic boost to the beleaguered Coromandel Peninsula, an area heavily reliant on tourism, which has suffered severe economic downturn on the back of last summer’s cyclones and weather events.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency regional manager of infrastructure delivery for Waikato/Bay of Plenty Jo Wilton says the route will re-open by 20 December 2023, now that the decking is complete on the new 124-metre viaduct bridge, which spans the abyss that severed the highway in late January.

“Our team has done an amazing job, not only constructing the new bridge in record time, but at the same time we’ve invested an additional $25 million to enable multiple crews to clear slips, replace the original undersized culvert, and undertake crucial road maintenance work along the rest of the length of SH25A to ensure the whole corridor is up to scratch, safe and more resilient,” Wilton said.

“Getting this maintenance work completed now also means we can avoid further work and disruption for drivers during the busy summer period.”


“With the build beginning in June, getting it open in less than seven months is a huge achievement given a bridge of this type would normally take 12 to 14 months to construct.

“We’ve built the bridge in record time by accelerating our work programme, with teams working 24-hour shifts both onsite and offsite at Eastbridge in Napier, where the steel girders were manufactured.

“In addition, we used a bridge design we already had and repurposed steel plates which had been purchased for the Minden Bridge on Tauranga’s Takitimu North Link project, meaning we didn’t have a lengthy wait for steel to come in from overseas.”

Have a great weekend.

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  1. I see Norway has the safest roads. Fine for going 25 km/h over the speed limit, using a phone while driving, or running a red light – $1500. The speed limit on undivided highways (which is most of them) is 80, as it should be here, as indeed it used to be here.

  2. re”Downtown Carpark to Commercial Bay 2.0″

    I thought there was a plan to build a bus terminal near the area. Is this not going ahead anymore?

    1. If you removed more car lanes in the area, there’d be enough space for a good bus terminal on the surrounding roads!

      1. I hope the night train renaissance makes it to NZ, AKL – WGT the obvious route. I have fond memories of travelling on the Northerner sleeper train from the late ’70s through the ’80s with family. We lived in CHC and would regularly go to see relatives in AKL. Picton Express in the morning, 2pm Ferry across Cook Straight, on to to the Northerner and arrive in Auckland the following morning. 24 hours city centre to city centre. OK, so not as quick as a flight, but it was a good travel option to have between our two biggest cities and I think it’s a tragedy we don’t have it now.
        Funny to think in the late ’70s there were two sleepers trains between AKL and WGT, the Silver Star and the Northerner, plus the Silver Fern during the day.

  3. Middlemore can’t possibly be being designed without the 4th main in mind, that would be totally insane/totally normal NZ transport planning foresight

  4. Don’t see much about bus priority in that downtown carpark proposal. NZs largest and busiest bus area and there’s no 24/7 bus lanes. Hopefully that will be a condition of any new development. But great to get rid of the eye sore car park and flyover.
    Pictures seem to have a lot of multi lane roads though with private cars..

    Should be a great area to link to viaduct through Britomart, queen, etc.

    1. Architects rarely think that much about traffic in their concept drawings and artist’s impressions. I often even see them show these gigantic driveways without even seeming to consciously realise – they just replicate what was historically done in NZ, in a specialty that’s not theirs, but that is shown in the background and on their plans. As long as the transport engineers come in early enough – and have enough awareness themselves – that can always be changed.

      But all that said, it’s often a bugbear of mine too, when the building visuals look like car commercials about “Drive free in the heart of your city with your new [car brand name]”.

  5. Opposition to the redevelopment of the Downtown carpark site from existing CBD building owners is predictable.
    Simply, any project that creates more premium lettable, and saleable space in the CBD creates more competitive pressure to their own investments.

    Especially a redevelopment that removes effectively subsidised carparks.

    (Subsidised to at least the extent that their return is less then the alternative market value of the land occupied)
    These carparks are an amenity to nearby buildings, An amenity that the owners of these buildings are currently recieving for free.
    Loss of these carparks is a loss in value of existing buildings nearby.

    Hence the opposition.

    If storing cars in the CBD was as lucrative as providing commercial and residential space, then a rational market would respond by building more car parking buildings.

    The decline in off street car parking reflects that this car storage is generally a commercially a poor use of a very restricted resource.

  6. Re State Highway 25A, Waka Kotahi have found the formula for road repair,it involves closing the road fully,and avoiding the costly both in time and money of trying to maintain traffic flow. There was a local scenario in Onehunga,where more resources were tied up in traffic management ,than the reason for it. The road could have easily been closed,there are plenty of alternatives.
    The watermain went through here in 2015 ,road closures during the day ,no roadside parking,no car access to properties for a couple of weeks as digging progressed,the sky did not fall in.
    In trying to maintain “traffic flow “, everyone looses.

    1. Progress seems to be being made on this issue in Auckland at least. Meola Rd will be closed to vehicles from 15 December to early February, which will speed things up considerably.

      I hope AT will monitor the effects (traffic, walking and cycling, public sentiment) each time they do so, as this will form a rich data set to help with planning and communication.

  7. State Highway 25A – who knew Labour and Waka Kotahi could actually get sh*t done?

    Well, we know why. Because their heart was in it. It wasn’t in Light Rail, SkyPath, or even widespread median barrier installation. But new roads and road bridges! Their hearts sing, the wallets open, and stuff gets DONE.

    [I am well aware how crucial this connection is to the Coromandel – I got family living and working there. Not saying it shouldn’t have been done, or that it wasn’t a great feat to get it done. But gosh, the only time ever I saw Waka Kotahi go at a active modes project with similar gusto was Lightpath. Long ago now.]

    1. And the reporting around it is always so positive and celebratory. Not like the bus way “was it worth the money” type headlines

      1. Yep. The olde “Walking, cycling, PT are luxuries! Can we really afford them at this time!” versus the “Roads are basic necessities, and spending tons of money on them is good for the economy!”

  8. Middlemore station being rebuilt without 4th main in mind is pure and utter stupidity.
    So in a decade they’ll spend millions to rip it out and then millions more to rebuild again to accommodate a 4th line with huge disruption rather than just doing it now. Madness.

  9. It is possible that a new 4th main would go on the eastern side of the present tracks, so the present southbound platform at Middlemore would also become an island platform. If so then the changes proposed for the western side of the station would not need to factor-in the 4th main. Presumably Papatoetoe will also get another platform but what about Puhinui?

    Puhinui already has a 3rd main track passing it, but no platform for stopping. This means that Te Huia services cannot use the 3rd main as they require to stop at Puhinui. Once the CRL opens and the more-intensive timetable begins, it will be highly desirable to separate Te Huia from the metro service by putting it on the 3rd main. But I have heard nothing about Puhinui getting this extra platform.

    1. Puhinui has space for the 4th main already, the layout would be:
      – Side Platform
      – Track
      – Track
      – Island Platform
      – Track
      – Track
      – Side Platform

      Neither of the side platforms have been built yet. There was an amount of work done on base formation for both of the outer tracks (the ones not yet created and expected to be the 3rd and 4th main)

  10. On Bus Priority – we moved to Auckland from Christchurch in 2006. One of the first things I noticed up here was how slow bus drivers pulled out of stops. In Auckland they typically give way or wait for a gap – in Christchurch they pulled into the traffic and made a space. It worked well as every bus driver did it and the car drivers were a bit less aggressive than what I see most days here in Auckland. Dual boarding and tag on at busy stops seems like a no brainer too.

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  12. This Commercial Bay 2.0 looks great from what I can see. Bring it on.
    Good to see Middlemore plans finally.
    Yes night trains and trains in general could really do us well in the coming decades. Funny how such an old technology as such has become an important thing again with climate change.
    re SH 25A yes amazing what 24/7 and commitment can get done (no houses near the area I presume helps). Have family down that way suffering through this outage.

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