A couple of years ago, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport found themselves in court over the 2021 Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP).

A non-profit alliance for transport decarbonisation, All Aboard Aotearoa, argued that among other factors, the RLTP was unlawful because it failed to give effect to the 2021 Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) which focused on reducing emissions and tackling climate change.

Ultimately, the legal challenge was not successful; the judge agreed with the core of Auckland Council and Auckland Transport’s case – which was that there was a relatively weak requirement for the RLTP to “give effect to” the scale of emissions reduction called for in various high-level plans and strategic documents, including the GPS.

In other words, AT successfully argued that the GPS wasn’t a biggie, that it could be regarded as a suggestion rather than an instruction, and could be worked around.

We haven’t yet seen the new Government’s update to the GPS but judging by their rhetoric and recent transport decisions, it will almost certainly be bad, and is likely to be very misaligned with important Council directions (not to mention persistent public feedback) around improving public transport, walking and cycling.

This will present Auckland Transport with an interesting challenge when preparing the RLTP, which needs to balance the policy direction of both the Council and the Government when developing a 10-year transport investment programme.

Knowing who some of the people are that are influential in developing the RLTP within Auckland Transport doesn’t fill me with much confidence. Especially given how hard they fought against meaningful transport climate action, back when there was strong and united political focus on this issue.

While the new GPS is yet to be released, rumours suggest those same Auckland Transport staff are champing at the bit, and keen to see the new government’s policy direction influence the RLTP as much as possible. This is quite a turnaround from their position on the previous climate-focused GPS, which put a greater priority on reducing emissions and giving more people more sustainable transport choices.

A recent briefing from AT staff to the Regional Transport Committee (essentially the AT Board) puts very strong emphasis on the importance of the GPS, saying how crucial it is to build enough time into the RLTP process to properly understand and reflect the new government’s new directions.

Those Auckland Transport staff have also taken a guess at what some of the policy priorities of the new government might be, and have fed them into a prioritisation methodology.

Note how the list of “emerging regional priorities” downplays reducing emissions and tackling climate change. The only mention is a vague 2050 emissions reduction target.

This ignores the much more relevant 2030 and 2035 targets in the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan and Council’s Transport Emissions Reductions Pathway, both of which are still in force. (The latter, adopted in late 2022, was described in urgent terms by then-Mayor Phil Goff: “We have a window of opportunity but it’s closing rapidly. We know we have to act now. And this TERP is the pathway to convert our plan into the action that we need, to meet our commitments, our responsibility, and to show leadership.”)

So here we are again, in the hands of Auckland Transport staff who have played silly games with the RLTP before, such as:

  • An absolute debacle in 2018, when the written policy sounded fantastic and was in line with the direction from the council and new government, but the detailed capital programme prioritised the opposite and resulted in AT’s board Chair having to issue a public apology to both the Mayor and Minister.
  • Then again in 2021, as mentioned, when AT was dragged through the courts for their weak-sauce approach to reducing transport emissions in the RLTP, in line with government direction to do so.

The current rush to align with the new government’s priorities certainly gives greater weight to the idea that at least some transport officials were deliberately delaying progress for the last six years to wait out the previous government – something we certainly heard a lot of talk about during that government’s first term.

With an increasingly rocky and difficult relationship between Auckland Council and the Government likely to continue over the next while – especially when it comes to transport – it seems like we are heading back to pre-2016 times, when they each got on and separately funded their own transport priorities.

A year on from suffering the brunt of climate-change weather events – and increasingly stuck in traffic with few meaningful options for getting out of it (no, another lane won’t fix it) – Aucklanders will quickly get impatient with petty and short-sighted politicking around transport policy. Auckland deserves much better and more far-sighted governance than this.

I get the feeling that Auckland Council might need to regularly remind Auckland Transport that it is a council-controlled agency, and not a government one.

Header image: a child in a Spider-Man helmet, on the cover of the Auckland RLTP 2021-2031. Where are they now, and do they have safe routes to ride? 

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    1. How many vile climate deniers will have to be slayed for these times to ‘pass’, though?

      How many of our young men (and children, and elderly, and other family members) sacrificed unnecessarily before these times ‘pass’?

      1. I punched a climate denier in the face when he called me stupid, although he’s still alive, so not sure if I can consider him slayed.

  1. It will be eternally frustrating for those of us who know exactly how to reduce emissions in our city; that the CRL is already on its way to achieving.
    But the obsession with the private motor vehicle which engulfs this land; almost as bad as the multiple cults that are loosely labelled religions to avoid tax; is not a topic that many are willing to confront.
    Efeso Collins was radical during his mayoral campaign and it cost him (although the fact he wasn’t a gold carded pale skin lizard man probably was the real reason he did not win).

    This government calculates life based on a tank of gas for a toyota hilux, or corolla. That is offensively specific, even if it ignores the fact that Japan is not the only provider of carbon farting units to our motu.

    I walk around downtown, as a resident, and struggle to understand why anyone would sit in a car. It seems claustrophobic and incredibly time consuming.

    Basic economics is always time versus money, and we know how much time is wasted in this city, due to congestion, and many have calculated the economic burden that adds to our city.

    Oil is a foreign asset, it does not benefit us, in any way, beyond shifting our ever fatter, frumpier bums from a garage to a shopping mall. An electric train can do the same thing to Sylvia Park, Commercial Bay, Westfield Newmarket, Lynnmall, Manukau etc. Saint Lukes is the only non train mall and that is probably because it was the first mall constructed, and built in our “trains are bad” period (and it is not thaaaat far from Morningside).

    Auckland Transport seems to benefit from tensions between bikes and mass transit, forgetting that we who ride bikes, also enjoy mass transit.

    This country is riddled with rail trails…for those with the time to ride a bike; while we who would not mind a functioning electric train network across the country are stuck blocking traffic driven by people who do not have the time or the financial freedom to reconsider their way of survival.

    So many acronyms, nut my favourite is FTB…Ferry / Train or Bus? Or in Te Reo…Waka!!!

    1. >I … struggle to understand why anyone would sit in a car. It seems claustrophobic and incredibly time consuming.

      > Basic economics is always time versus money…

      I think you answered your own question there. 20 minutes to drive to work vs. 2 hours on bus, train, bus. Oh that’s only if the train is actually running and the bus isn’t full…

      Buses get stuck in the same traffic as cars, except they also stop all the time and take a more circuitous route to their destination. And the trains don’t get stuck in traffic, but instead frequently stop running.

      1. You also have to question why people don’t choose to live/work within an easy commute. We have school teachers at our kids school that drive all the way from Albany to Roskill; why not teach in Albany? If they had to pay the full cost of driving they may think twice, but unfortunately we are subsidising them in multiple ways including our rates bill, and that subsidy is going to increase without the fuel tax.

        1. > You also have to question why people don’t choose to live/work within an easy commute.

          Are you serious?

          People take jobs where they can get them. People change jobs as their career progresses. You get made redundant and have to take whatever new job you can get, even if it’s on the other side of the city. You can’t move house every time you get a new job. Multiple people in the household will work in different locations. People can’t afford to live near their workplace. There is no suitable housing near many workplaces. Parents would rather commute a longer distance than move their kids from a school and community they are settled in. People like to live near their family.

          There are hundreds of reasons people can’t live next door to their place of work. The number of people who can live near their workplace, and near their kids’ schools, and near their family, and in a house they can afford, must be vanishingly small.

        2. “There are hundreds of reasons people can’t live next door to their place of work.”: sure, but I meet people all the time that seem to have very little reason, such as my school teacher example: there are schools in Albany.

        3. Quite a lot of teachers don’t like living near where they teach as they would constantly bump into students and parents

        4. Yeah I guess we have not reached the platonic ideal of a neoliberal society yet, where every worker is fungible, and everyone can just move to whatever job opens up.

          In practice you have this problem of people being people. There is a long list of things people don’t want to do if they take some other job. Like moving kids to another school. Moving away from friends or family, or from local clubs they are a member of. Or moving out of a neighbourhood where they know their way and where the good shops or restaurants are. Maybe they don’t want to separate from their spouse because their spouse happens to have a job somewhere else. And so on.

          This idea that you should just move close to whatever job sort of assumes a perfectly atomized society, where things like social connections do not exist. That is pretty bleak.

          And being able to take a job that is not in your direct neighbourhood is the entire point of having cities with functional transport networks in the first place.

        5. Its also not easy to move in this housing market.

          If you a renter….good luck finding a new one.

          If you are an owner, the equity built up in an endlessly growing market doesn’t really help when you have to move and pay an extortionate amount in the next suburb, if not more than the value of your current house.

          I’d argue the above more than anything locks people into their current residential area. So they upskill and find a better job elsewhere, but they really don’t have any choice but to commute. By car.

        6. Well instead of move to where your job is, why not get a job where you live? Sure not always possible for many careers, but schools all over Auckland are crying out for teachers, so a cross town commute does seem an odd choice.

      2. You also have to question why people don’t choose to live/work within an easy commute.

        …is this a serious question? Why not ask why the people who live in poor areas simply not be poor?

        1. Or ask the relatively wealthy to rub shoulders with the poor.

          Why is there so little per capita public housing provision in the East and North of Auckland?

          I suspect it isn’t that KO tenants are turned off by the bays…

    2. Many including myself have to use a car, I use a company car and need to transport ladders and tools for my job, I spend many extra hours in traffic every week, most people like myself would say “why not just add an extra lane” it’s the obvious solution for those stuck behind the wheel in heavy traffic, but very few are aware of the poor state of public transit in Auckland, you need to come on web sites like this to see it.

      1. Your necessary use is why it is so important to provide other people with alternatives so that they don’t need to block your way between jobs.
        “Just” an extra lane is plainly unaffordable and can never happen, so you might want to rethink your approach to how you can be productive – I won’t suggest ladder on shoulder on a bike; lots of people do need car/van for work purposes – they are the people who need less congestion, not more as the GPS is likely to mandate for Auckland.

        1. I saw an electrician recently on a cargo bike, complete with toolbox on the bike. Does a roaring business. In Wellington.

        2. Yes exactly,
          My point was just to depict the the problem transit advocates face, I usually advocate for higher quality rapid transit, as I know transit needs to do more then just exist to be successful, successful to me means less congested roads.
          Unfortunately things are looking to get a whole lot worse.
          I might need to significantly shorten my day to get around peak hours traffic.

      2. Just imagine if all those drivers in your way, carrying nothing but a sandwich and a laptop, could take transit instead. You’d be a happy chap.

        1. Totally, I see most people look like they are just off to the office for the day, but I shouldn’t judge as my unsuspecting station wagon has no ladder tied to the roof or sign on the back, many would look at me and assume I’m just another office worker, but I carry 3 ladders including a heavy 14ft transformer ladder.

  2. AT regularly cancels (sorry “puts on pause to review”) projects that they say aren’t in line with an incoming govt or incoming Council’s policies.

    Funny how the type of projects that gets put on hold is always the same. If it’s walking, cycling or PT, it’s always at risk.

    1. Quite a few road projects have been cancelled too.
      Basically everything is always cancelled or to be started next year, these documents are just very expensive dreams.

  3. Does it really matter what is in these documents? AT have no money and the government will just build whatever they feel like depending on who is elected.

    1. Correct. Look at the Light Rail treatment in ATAP: It’s urgent. OK, it’s not urgent but we should start it soon-ish. This decade. Actually next decade. You know what, let’s circle the wagons and rethink our approach. Actually let’s not do it at all.

      As far as I am concerned, these documents became worthless the government was allowed to completely to fail to uphold their end of the bargain with no penalty or remedy offered to Auckland to make up for the years lost and long-term damage to the prospect of rapid transit in areas that are already congested and having thousands more people added every year.

      Tick box, move on. In a few years, do it all again add another few years to all your delivery timelines and continue to get paid regardless of whether anything ever happens or not.

    2. This is nothing new. The ARC and ARA before them were forever knocking out worthless documents. People made whole careers out of this sort of crap. Now AT does them.

  4. In some European countries, public transport subsidies are now being paid to carpoolers, as long as the route they are traveling is not served by more traditional PT. In this way, traffic is reduced. During short periods when traditional PT is full on a route, it might be a lower cost solution to extend these subsidies to carpools on those routes rather than add more PT service. The subsidies could be increased when the carpool is in an electric vehicle, further decarbonising transport.

    When do NZ and or Auckland start to consider such sensible cost-reducing strategies?

    1. Which countries would that be and how would you check for carpooling? How to distinguish genuine carpools from parents driving their children to work?
      T3 lanes offer a great incentive for carpooling already btw. So if we subsidized carpooling by more enforced T3 lanes (and, thus, saved time and time = money) and not direct financial reward, it could actually work.

      1. My place of work has carpooling entitlements (better carparking spots, discounted car parking etc). You and the other car-poolers need to all register and carpooling cars are watched by CCTV cameras to ensure any piss-taking is correctly punished.

    2. Carpooling is fine when it happens naturally, but is not worth developing or funding assistance from government or even from employers. Research shows there are many other ways to use such funding that are more effective.

      The downsides with carpooling as a policy lever include that it doesn’t enable true freedom of movement for the passengers, it doesn’t shift them out of car dependent thinking, and that it is not ‘sticky’, that is, that almost any change in situation shifts the passengers back to driving in a single occupant vehicle. Real modeshift is far more ‘sticky’ – funding of active and public transport improvements give real benefits and lead to modeshift of all the other trips the people involved do in their lives, not just their commute.

      It’s easy to see why people promote carpooling; the simple calculation of more people per car is attractive. Unfortunately, it’s too simple; the real world situation is more complex. In New Zealand, higher car occupancy indicates a transport system where chauffeuring is required because it’s too unsafe for non-drivers to get around independently.

      1. Hi Heidi
        You said: “Research shows there are many other ways to use such funding that are more effective.”

        I would sure like to see that research. Please could you send me a link?

        Every trip travelled as a passenger (rather than as a driver of a fossil-fuelled vehicle (FFV)) reduces emissions. FFV are going to be with us for a long time, and if we want to reduce emissions we need to figure out how to reduce their share of trips even while they are sitting in the driveway.

        1. Hi Paul, Here’s an article about Seattle that mentions the large campaigns, employer schemes and HOV lanes (read: investment) that was insufficient. (And it links another article showing that carpooling has dropped not just in Seattle, but nationally.)


          Excerpts follow:—————————————-

          Large campaigns encouraged people to carpool, and HOV lanes were installed. Employers gave preferential parking spaces to carpoolers, among other incentives.

          All these things still exist, but for most of us, it’s just not enough…

          In the era of time-strapped dual-income households, carpooling doesn’t provide the flexibility that many families need, Hallenback says.

          “Now when both adults in the family are wage earners, you have to do all those extra trips somehow in your harried life … We call it ‘trip chaining,’?” he said. “Instead of going to work and turning around and coming home from work, you drop a kid at day care, go on to work, stop at the grocery store on the way home, pick up the kid from day care, then go home.”

          The introduction of flexible hours in many workplaces has helped people structure their complex personal schedules. But with fewer of us working the same shifts, it’s also reduced the opportunity to form carpools.

          And Hallenback notes that the time commuters save in the HOV lane — carpooling’s biggest benefit — can be eaten up by the time lost in picking up and dropping off fellow passengers, especially on increasingly congested suburban roads. “This is a problem for those of us trying to promote carpooling,” he said.

        2. Hi again Paul. I’m splitting my reply so that no comment is too long. My thinking on carpooling was influenced strongly by a 2014 presentation I found, by Ed Hillman, on a 1993 – 2007 programme promoting carpooling in the state of Washington. After those 14 years, they concluded they had tried carpooling for long enough, and it hadn’t worked. They then consciously shifted to marketing to switch from driving and to switch from carpooling to more successful modes.

          The links to it online seem broken now, unfortunately, but I’ll summarise it from what I still have in my notes:

          The research was a long study of ~570,000 state employees in 9 of the most-populous counties in Washington State. The original focus was on trying to reduce vehicle km travelled by reducing the drive-alone rate and the number of vehicle trips. Between 1993 and 2007:
          – The drive-alone rate decreased from 70.9% to 65.6% (a reduction of 8.2%)
          – VKT per employee increased from 17.1 km to 17.2 km (an increase of 0.8%)
          – But, the average length of the commute increased from 21.6 km to 24.6 km in 2005 (an increase of 13.8%)

          So they weren’t seeing the reduction in VKT that they wanted. However, different counties had markedly different results; 9 counties reduced their VKT by more than 13%. This gave the researchers a chance to explore what the differences were, and what worked.

          They concluded they should concentrate to :
          – Switch modes not just from drive-alone but also from carpooling to higher-occupancy modes, or from any motorized mode to non-motorized modes (including telework and alternative schedules)
          – Concentrate switching among longer-distance commuters
          – Reduce distance from home to work (including errands)

          So for the authorities, it’s about investing in active and public transport and better land use planning. Plus (something I hadn’t thought about) it was important for employers to incentivise employees to live close to work, and when designing relocation assistance packages, to prioritise accommodation in close proximity in work.

  5. I read this tonight from a guy named Seth Godin – you may of heard of him.
    I sadly think most of AT are in the first group whereas we want them not to be invested in the status quo at all……

    The four cohorts of the status quo
    The first group cares about the policy. They benefit from it. They’ve organized themselves around it.
    The second group cares about stability. They have limited bandwidth, and they’re not particularly interested in reconsidering everything, all the time.
    The third group doesn’t care that much.
    And the fourth group is harmed by the policy, either directly or indirectly.
    Change happens slowly because the first three groups have power, inertia and communications on their side.
    Change happens when the fourth group can create the conditions for the third group to care, and then these two groups move the urgency up the agenda.
    It makes no sense to argue with the first group.


    1. The opposite can happen too. If the fourth group block a road then the third group hate them and everything they stand for.

      1. And a strategy for the fourth group forced to do something they don’t want to, is to gold plate what they do produce.
        This is successful, in that it swallows the budget on a few projects thus limiting the quantum of projects a given amount of budget can achieve.
        And it provides political fodder to curtail further like projects.

        Personal, and sponsors objectives achieved, never wanted them built anyway.

  6. Any new RLTP rewrite is doomed to fail. It will suffer like it’s predecessors in implementation

    Currently the paramount interests of our Government are to meet the objectives of motoring vested interests.
    That road space exists almost only to make motoring faster and less stressed.
    For moving and storing private motor vehicles.

    We have elected a government beholden to protect the substantial existing business interests, thus limiting progressive transition business opportunities to lighten our load on our environment.
    The sale of commuter bicycles, or season transport passes, suppresses new car sales. Enabling and enhancing more commuter voyaging by bike and public transport likewise. For these businesses growing alternatives to private motor vehicle voyaging is an existential threat, comparable to the threat of anti smoking measures are placing on the tobacco industry. So fightback here using methods comparable to those employed by big tobacco are completely expected.

    And we now know our Government’s stance towards the tobacco industry.
    It is demonstrably even more concerned about the health of the tobacco industry then it is about the health of our population.

    Expect our road toll to rise faster then our population growth, with the wind back of both the regulatory and engineering speed containment measures.
    Expect also further ramping up of impediments to walking, cycling, and public transport improvements because improvements here manifest themselves in less demand for new motor vehicles and motoring services.
    Expect our transport emissions to maintain current high levels, in fact even increase, inspite of rapidly mounting detriment to our whole worlds environment.
    Expect ongoing public subsidies and land use regulation to ensure that loss of carparking provision is minimised.
    Car sales and asphalt sales and tobacco sales, are now far too an important part of our current political processes.

    So you have to be cynical of an RLTP process when its outcomes are rendered meaningless by short term Government populism and expediency.

  7. There are councils happy to show the coalition where they want to go,the Far North Council have pressed ahead with their speed reduction plans,and Nelson/Tasman area seem to be doing something similar. Locally l noticed some “bike lanes” appear on Coronation Rd,end of Nga Hau Mangere Bridge, bi directional,and swapping sides of the road,even has plastic protectors ,all the stuff that says “yes l want to ride my bike here,but ,you know another couple of
    hundred meters added to Auckland’s rapidly expanding cycling network.

  8. AT and numerous other Council’s found the last GPS too difficult to follow and try to implement. Since National was elected hundreds of transport projects have been ‘put on hold’ to wait for the new GPS …
    It certainly wasn’t like this when Labour got elected in 2017 and a ‘new GPS’ was being drafted.

    Hamish Bunn needs to retire. He has way too much influence in AT.

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