Update April 2017: This version of the Congestion Free Network has been superceded by “Version 2.0“.

Why a Congestion Free Network? | The 2015 Network | The 2020 Network | The 2025 Network | The 2030 Network | Financial Details | Ridership | Presentation to CouncilCampbell Live | How To Save 14 Billion How the CRL reduces Rail Operating costs
Auckland Map with Type size same

As hinted at here and here, the editorial team at TransportBlog, in collaboration with Generation Zero, believe there is a much better way forward for Auckland than the expensive, ineffectual and road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme identified in the Auckland Plan, and set out and analysed in the Integrated Transport Programme. This post describes how Auckland can build a world-class public transport network, which will be both affordable and envied by comparable cities worldwide. It describes how, in only 17 years, Auckland can leapfrog its rivals and transform from a very inefficient mono-modal auto-dependent city to a much more dynamic, multidimensional, effective and exciting place.

Our plans isolate the top layer of the Public Transport Network, and show how these can be expanded and connected while remaining integrated with the other layers of the public transport system (especially the Frequent and Local Bus Networks), forming a complete system to complement the existing and mature road network.

In order to show how we think we should do this, we have developed a staged process at five year intervals from 2015 to 2030, illustrated in four maps below.CFN_4_SMALLThis plan will not only lead to a higher quality and better functioning city, but is also more affordable than the ineffective Integrated Transport Programme. In fact, investing in the ‘missing modes’ in Auckland’s transport mix before further expanding the road network so expensively will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper and more efficient for the city and the nation, as well as actually being more in sync with the times. In particular, many of the most expensive and invasive road projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder to calculate but vital areas, such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form, and public health outcomes.

The networks we are showing are built on what we already have in Auckland and what is proposed in varying senarios by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, and other professional bodies, and are all predicated on maximising value from existing infrastructure. In other words these are all possible and realistic projects. They are buildable and fit into efficient operating models, as well as being focused on unlocking hidden capacity and other benefits which are latent in our existing networks. They are in sync with the proposed directions of Auckland’s future growth (both up and out), and have been selected with quality of place outcomes in mind, as well as likely changes in movement demand.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

Definitions and Qualifications

To qualify for the Congestion Free Network a Transit service needs to fulfil two conditions:

  1. It should have its own separate Class A Right of Way.
  2. And offer a high frequency service, the ‘turn-up-and-go’ rate of a ride at least every ten minutes or better.

In other words, these are the top of the line services from Auckland Transport and their partners. As we will explain we have taken some liberties with these two definitions out of necessity, with some services not quite fulfilling one of the criteria above for various reasons. Where we have opted to bend the definitions a little, there is good reason to believe that the deficiency can be fixed on the route in question, and in fact its inclusion on the CFN map is part of the process for showing why that should be the case.

There is a third condition that we are confident will be maintained on this network, and that is the quality of the vehicles themselves, along with important attractors such as free Wifi on board and at stations:


EMU painted 3

Notes and Queries.

There are a number of  differing options in many parts of these schemes, all with various advantages and disadvantages, and many have been debated (sometimes fairly vigorously) amongst those of us working on the maps. These conversations are still ongoing, so the maps as they are now should not be considered some kind of final position by the members of either TransportBlog or Generation Zero, but certainly do represent the areas of focus with top contenders for the best solutions. For example, here is an alternative city extension of the North Shore Line:Auckland Map with Type size same

There also is much to be discussed around the detail and the timing of these projects, and we look forward to your views on all of that. To finish it’s probably worth reminding everyone that what is shown here in all these maps are only the best-of-the-best Class A, fast and frequent Transit services that sit at the very top of the public transport pecking order. Below them sit other much more widespread services that will also be running and linking up with these new flash routes (and also improved over what they are today). Here is the official Auckland Transport map of the bus system for 2016, which includes services on our Congestion Free Network but also the wider Frequent Network. Of course there even more local services beneath these:

New FTN Network

Mode Selection and the Conceptual Foundation of the Network.

We know there is a lot of attachment to various transport modes by experts and laypeople alike; we experience this everyday in TransportBlog’s comment section. There is a tendency for people to focus on the advantages of their favoured modes in a way that expresses their general priorities: some feel spending less on capital works is always the most important issue, and others value the quality of the ROW and the permanence of the investment above all else, thereby taking a longer view on the costs. We have sought to balance all these considerations when deciding on the most appropriate technology for each corridor. We know that train fans will be disappointed by the amount of bus routes above, and that the budget-obsessed will be appalled by what they will see as lavish spending on ‘expensive’ rail. And of course the road lobby will see no need for any of this, especially as we wish to downscale, delay, or delete many of their pet motorway projects in order to fast-track the Congestion Free Network and reduce the disbenefits of reinforcing auto-domination and auto-dependency on Auckland.

We have also ignored the current government’s particular obsession with only using the National Land Transport Fund for road investments. This is because, as we have just seen, governments are capable of changing their policies, and also because the public are more than capable of changing governments, and will have at least five such opportunities to do so between now and 2030.

Comparing the Congestion Free Network with Auckland Transport’s 2016 Frequent Network map above, it’s clear that a number of the new routes on our maps are current or planned bus routes that we are picking to deserve a greater level of quality as time goes by. It may not be possible to justify the upgrades of these routes as early as we propose them by demand alone, but when seen in the context of this new conceptual reading of the city that is The Congestion Free Network, we believe there is additional value in completing parts of this network occasionally ahead of demand (especially where it is more cost effective to do so). The CFN is a city-shaping tool as well as a movement programme. As, of course, all transport networks are. This is, in many ways, the most critical point about the changes required in Auckland now. Transport funding decisions must not remain siloed in the transport sector, or worse be captured by institutionalised mode bias as has been the case for most of the last 60 years. Urban transport is, after all, simply a means to an end. And that end is the quality of life for all those in the city and beyond. These involve much wider issues than we have been considering in Auckland in the recent past. It’s time we got more sophisticated.

In many cases, especially towards the edges of the city, the best way to achieve completion of the network is simply to upgrade the quality of existing bus routes, by improving the physical separation of the routes, the efficiency and frequency of their running patterns, and providing interchange stations. These routes tend to be further into the suburbs, usually where there is freer available road space (eg SH18), or closer in where because of new routes older roads have space that can be repurposed for transit (and cycleways), like Great North Rd through Grey Lynn.

However, in a few high-profile cases the demands and conditions are different. On these routes, there could be demand for a very high capacity system but no spare road space (the CRL), or there could already be a rail RTN that is worth extending or improving (the CRL, Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, and the Mangere/ Airport Line), or a combination of the two plus a unique physical barrier (the North Shore Line). In these cases we have, on balance, agreed that the particular characteristics of rail provide solutions that justify the higher capital cost.

It is also worth noting that the three major rail investments, one in each of the three time periods, are the ones that Mayor Len Brown campaigned on to become the first leader of a unified Auckland. So we know they are popular, but their inclusion here is not just because of that. They are here because they are the rational choice when all issues are considered. The same cannot be said for the congestion-promoting motorway projects that Len Brown has subsequently signed up for in some kind of Faustian tradeoff as expressed in the ITP. Part of this campaign is to get the Mayor, in his second term, to get his transport thinking ‘back on track’.

So, let’s leave the last word to Len Brown from his inauguration speech in 2010:

it is time to stop imagining how to improve Auckland’s transport system and other infrastructure and time to start acting.”


Note: the maps can be accessed in PDF form by clicking on the titles above each one- feel free to download, print, distribute, draw on, set alight, decorate your room, or re-blog….