Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy. Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.
What is the Congestion Free Network?
The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.
As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.
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.
The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.
The CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.
Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?
The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.
Congestion is predicted to get worse:
Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:
Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:
When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!
With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.
How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?
Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.
The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:
The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas. It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.
But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.
How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?
A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:
- Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
- Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
- Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
- Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport
In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:
The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.
The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.