We’re only a few days away from the end of the year, so it’s time for a quick wrap-up of the most important things that happened in 2023.
Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog and supported us in making Auckland greater.
Before delving into mode-specific highlights and key projects of 2023, two significant events are impossible to ignore, and affect everything we discuss on this blog.
Climate Change is demonstrably here…
This year Tāmaki Makaurau had a first-hand glimpse of the dramatic and unpredictable impacts of a changing climate – starting in January, with major and deadly flooding, which put the spotlight on both our preparedness and how we manage stormwater. Then, shortly afterwards, came Cyclone Gabrielle, which buffeted Auckland and points north, and went on to devastate the East Coast.
Well beyond the immediate damage, those two weather events alone will continue to exert a huge long-term impact on our city, as thundreds of millions of dollars of planned capital expenditure had to be diverted towards recovery efforts instead. (This is a very literal manifestation of the vague “fiscal and economic storm” we were being threatened with at the end of 2022.)
What this means is many projects – including those essential for helping to fight against climate change – are being deferred. Given Auckland was already the back foot in future-proofing things like transport, this thrusts the city into a highly challenging cycle of delay-and-find-out.So a major question for 2024 is: can we rapidly plan-and-catch-up?
…and so is a new government
Right near the end of the year, we got a new government, an National-ACT-NZ First coalition which has already had immediate impacts on transport. So far, these include:
- ending the Clean Car Discount,
- ending half-price public transport fares for young people,
- and cancelling funding for a slate of (shovel-ready) active and public transport projects, with impacts already reverberating around the motu as communities start to realise what’s been canned.
And this government’s stated policies will likely have much bigger implications in the years ahead. Although it remains to be seen how this approach lands, e.g. with local governments which increasingly see the links between transport, climate, pot holes and resilience. And with people looking for cost-effective alternatives to driving, in a cost-of-living crisis.
Notably, even before the change in government, Labour – misreading the frustration towards their lack of delivery– had shifted their transport policy to largely copy National’s. Not, as it turned out, a winning strategy.
And on the topic of governance, one thing that has been a bit of a surprise has been Mayor Wayne Brown’s position on many urban issues, such as light rail. Some of these were highlighted in his Auckland Manifesto, released prior to the election and hopefully he can help push the new government on some of these.
This year has seen public transport use really start to recover from the disruption brought about by COVID. In the 12 months to the end of November, just over 78.2 million trips were taken on buses, trains and ferries. This is compared to around 55.6m at the same point in 2022, and just over 103m in November 2021.
So across the year, we’re back at around 76% of pre-COVID levels – and the more recent months have been at or just above 80%.
With the bus driver shortage now resolved, and the Eastern Line rail closure about to be a thing of the past, we should see usage continue to rise – though there’s still plenty of disruption to the network out there.
Wellington has been doing even better: as of the end of October, it was sitting at around 88% of pre-COVID levels with recent monthly results often greater than 90%.
These results have come despite the mid-year removal of half-priced fares that had been introduced by the then-Labour government in March 2022, to address cost of living pressures.
City Rail Link ploughs on
The CRL team have continued to make great progress this year, including laying track and building stations that are really starting to look like train stations.
It hasn’t been all good news though, with confirmation in March that costs had increased, to an estimated $5.493bn, up $1.074bn on the 2019 price estimate. The announcement noted some of the reasons for the rise, e.g. significant cost increases on raw materials.
As well as costing more, it’ll be longer before passengers can start using the CRL. Construction and initial testing is due to be completed by November 2025; however, more testing and training will be needed after the project is handed over to Auckland Transport and Kiwirail. As such, it seems unlikely we’ll see passenger services till late 2026. Pop it in your diaries.
One positive bit of CRL-related news was Auckland Transport’s proposal for the streets around the Karanga-a-Hape Station, including closing part of Mercury Lane. As planned, this was part-funded by Transport Choices, so it’s not clear if the project is at risk due to the new transport minister’s cancelling of CERF funding. Maybe Mayor Brown could have a word with Minister Brown?
After being meant to be a “shovel-ready” project in 2020, the Western Express was finally launched just over a month ago. It already seems popular but it’ll be some time before we get a good comparison.
Light Rail is shunted aside?
The project continued to get even more off track during 2023, including at one point suggesting a massive four-track trench through Onehunga. The new government is looking to cancel the project, which represents a massive failure for both Labour and those tasked with delivering it – especially as, at the time of the 2023 election, it was further away from happening than it was in 2017 when Labour were elected.
AT’s Con Job throws in the towel
Auckland Transport’s massive flagship programme Connected Communities was cancelled this year. Launched in 2018, it was intended to deliver walking, cycling, public transport and safety improvements along 12 key corridors in the region, later downgraded to just six.
A large part of the reason for the cancellation was down to extremely poor project/programme management, as highlighted in some scathing reports from KPMG.
Great North Rd and Pt Chev upgrades under way
After a pre-emptive pause in 2022 – hot on the heels of the mayoral election, at the behest of just one councillor, and despite huge public support over years of multiple consultations – in June this year, Auckland Transport finally confirmed they would go ahead with the Gt North Rd and Pt Chev upgrade projects. Works are currently under way, including on Meola Road which is getting a full rebuild over the summer.
Glen Innes local cycling links roll out
Meanwhile, on the other side of town – and way less politicised and publicised – AT has been busy at work on 7.3km of safe local cycling links around and to Glen Innes town centre. This local network includes a cycling-inclusive roundabout, which shows we can, indeed, have nice things.
Hendry Ave is upgraded
A small but vital project, part-funded by the regional fuel tax, this added several safety treatments to what has long been a tricky gap on a very steep bit of the cycle network.
Puhoi to Warkworth opens
The last of the previous National government’s Roads of National Significance was finally opened in June this year.
Penlink gets going
The biggest roading project now underway in Auckland is Penlink, and after starting right at the end of 2022, there’s still a lot of work do.
In one surprise, given the way they backed down on so many other policies, Labour confirmed the road would be tolled.
AWHC – still no alternative Waitematā Harbour crossing
It wasn’t just Light Rail that has seen crazy outsized proposals: Labour’s approach to the other big Auckland project – an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – also got the super-size treatment.
Somehow Waka Kotahi managed to dream up a crossing option that’s now estimated to cost a whopping $56 billion. It includes road tunnels and a light rail tunnel to Albany via Belmont and Glenfield – and it seems Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and even the Ministry of Transport don’t want it. It’s also looking increasingly like the light rail option was included specifically so it could be dropped, and we end up with just another road crossing.
Notably, this is one project that the new government haven’t yet said much about.
Labour ignored evidence and action
I mentioned earlier how Labour had shifted their transport policy to one that appeared to be a copy of National’s. This began before well before the election, and included scaling back on its road safety plans despite the evidence of what we should do, with road deaths in NZ being some of the highest per capita in the OECD and far more than even Australia. Auckland Transport has continued to roll out safer speed though which is positive.
Similarly, Labour also shied away from making our transport system more fair by simply refusing to update parking fine rates, which have been unchanged for around a quarter of a century. Because the rates are so low, In Auckland it’s often not worth Auckland Transport’s time to conduct enforcement and that has contributed to bad parking across the region.
Labour also sat on its hands on Accessible Streets. Widely consulted in 2020, this policy package aimed to address critical safety issues for pedestrians, disabled people, and those using bikes and micromobility, by updating the rules to reflect reality.
This included e-scooters, electric mobility assistance, and other wheeled devices that currently fall between the regulatory cracks – and the paradox of footpath cycling, a necessary life-hack while most streets remain unsafe for most people to ride, but currently only legal for posties and people on teeny-tiny wheels.
Will the new government pick up the slack and make up for lost time? Let’s see.
Level Crossing Removal
As part of their long term plans to make full use of the City Rail Link, Auckland Transport wants to remove all level crossings from the Auckland network, including four crossings around Takanini. The concern is that these have turned into eye-wateringly expensive projects, with the Walters Rd crossing alone expected to cost over $200 million, and all crossings combined likely around $650 million. There’s also concern about what closing the crossings means for active modes access.
There’s been a couple of big developments in the city centre.
Downtown Carpark sale
Just over a month ago the council agreed to sell the massive Downtown Carpark to Precinct Properties. They plan to demolish it and build an impressive new development that will integrate with their existing sites in the area, including Commercial Bay
There was good progress on two key mid-town projects this year, both of which will help support the City Rail Link once it opens.
In the middle of town work also finally started on Te Hā Noa – the Victoria St Linear Park.
And the AT board approved the proposal to improve Wellesley St, including making the section between Albert St and Queen St bus only.
Top Read Posts
It’s been another huge year for Greater Auckland, and I thought I’d share the top 10 most viewed posts:
- Leaked emails reveal plan to turn light-rail into a road tunnel
- The motorways are finished
- The Mayor on Light Rail
- Is Auckland Light Rail getting even more off-track?
- New train stations for the Upper North Waikato?
- The options considered for the Onehunga Line
- It’s finally time to properly reform KiwiRail
- It’s time to shine a light on Golden Triangle rail
- Removing the Takanini Level Crossings
- The Western Express is here
There’s so much more we could have included here. What were your local highlights of 2023?
This will be our last post for the year, so once again thanks for reading and supporting us. Meri Kirihimete, have a happy and safe break, and best wishes for the New Year.