It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.
This is Part 2 of a 2 Part scenario. Part 1 here.
Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:
- Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway.
- Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age.
- De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue.
Transport- the city shaper
CRL, LRT, Road Pricing, Carbon Tax, AMETI, Harbour Crossing battles, electric buses and ferries, the de-carring of the city, the Bike Boom. Transport, along with the housing reset, really has been the story of last decade
The momentum gained from the Alignment Process between the Council and the Government at the beginning of this decade helped lead to the doubling of PT trips to around now 160m per annum. This is around about 80 trips per capita, which is still at the low end internationally, so there is clearly still plenty of growth to come.
The big news was of course the long awaited opening of the CRL. The rail network was straining at the leash, the delivery of additional trains helped of course, but the critical limit at Britomart made for overcrowding issues and unmet latent demand, pax was struggling up against the 30m mark, and that was really only made possible by strenuous measures to shift movement to off peak trips by improving frequencies and span, and discounting fares. Ridership is now again growing at a meteoric rate, as expected, jumping 25% over the last two years to well over 40 million annual trips. It’s been like a dam bursting. Night trains, trams, and buses are proving popular too.
But perhaps even more important has been the uplift to communities connected to the rail system, especially along the Western Line. Places as diverse as Morningside, Avondale, and Glen Eden are buzzing with new building, business and activity as a result of the new accessibility and the freer rules around parking and density. And more than this it already clear that the greatest change brought about by the CRL has been a reinvention of the very idea of Auckland into a sophisticated multifaceted Metro-City of diverse but connected communities that is truly fresh and transformational. Of course this has not gone unnoticed around the world with Auckland now firmly on the must-include list of those breathless taste-setting magazine and blog sites that busy them selves with such issues. Auckland really is competing with much bigger and better placed cities now that the quality of its built environment is catching up with that of its natural one, and the great diverse quality of our society. No-one misses the old car-drenched City Centre; young people can barely believe what it used to be like. The continued tourism boom is a very real testament to this, especially the data showing constantly rising length of visitors’ stay in the city before out to see the beautiful rest of the country.
The recent completion of LRT-1: Dominion Rd right through the now gloriously car-free Queen St is also profoundly popular, like the CRL now it is open and booming, complaints around construction disruption and from the small number of drive-everywhere diehards has withered away and, like with the CRL, now it’s hard to find anyone who claims to have been against it; success has a million mothers. No wonder the plan to extend this system across the harbour and to the Shore has proved unstoppable and after an intense debate between tunnel or bridge, is now in the detailed design stage. The extreme cost, limited utility, and appalling environmental effects of the old road crossing plans having been shelved for now. Of course they may be revived but that is only likely once the whole of the fleet has been converted to EVs, a change that is underway, but that is taking longer than many hoped Even though the recent Carbon Tax is of course speeding that transition up.
Now that Light Rail from downtown to Albany [and Takapuna] is about to be underway the debate about the RTN to the Airport is getting more intense. The prospect of a LR line spanning Airport to Albany is of course proving popular north of the harbour, balanced by those that see the clear utility of connecting the power of CRL and the rest of the booming rail network through Mangere to this important anchor. Especially as the popularity of the first LRT line means the current vehicles are already often full without this longer extension. Resolving this is urgent however as everyone including government agrees connecting the country’s gateway with an RTN is urgent, and is agreed it will be the next major infrastructure work after the Light Rail Harbour Crossing in Auckland. The urban motorway building age is now firmly behind us.
And now that NZTA has taken over ownership of the nation’s rail lines making this one agency now truly responsible for all land transport and not just roads, a funding mechanism without arbitrary mode constraints has been created. The change to GPS-based time variable road charging and the transformation of the old Fuel Excise to a Carbon Tax has secured income to the National land Transport Fund. While also improving the price signals to all users of our transport systems, resulting in a sizeable increase in efficiency, especially the noticeable drop-off in peak time driving demand. I guess there really were a whole lot of journeys clogging our roads last decade that could easily be taken on another mode, or another time, or even not at all!
The transformation of the busy bus fleet to electric vehicles is gaining pace, and all the more urgent as the completion of the AMETI busway and the upgrade of the North-Western bus shoulders to busway status from Pt Chevalier west has driven the continued growth of bus numbers. Not building a dedicated Busway as part of the massive Western Ring Route works has now achieved ‘what were they thinking‘ status as people can’t believe the politicians, planners, and engineers were so stupid not to have built it when they had an easy opportunity to do so. It is now being worked on urgently to provide quality transit options to the rapidly growing areas of the North West. The only current issue now is when the busiest routes can be added to the Light Rail network, or converted to E-buses.
As in so many cities across the world the bike boom has of course been both sustained and welcome, squabbles over street space notwithstanding. Cycling and walking now make up more than 20% mode-share in morning peak to the City Centre, greatly straining cycleways and footpaths. Happily now shared paths are a thing of the past and both Active modes are being supported with their own routes. E-bikes are everywhere now, and there’s even a kiwi designed brand on the market. And of course the SkyPath is insanely popular and world-famous, like the Highline many cities globally are looking to copy this approach and attach similar additions to existing bridges. The duplication on the west side is now underway as well, the only debate being whether to separate pedestrians and cyclists as they do in Sydney, or to keep both as mixed-use but one-way. Property prices in Northcote are now matching St Marys Bay, as this new access especially to the hospitality centre of Wynyard Quarter proves just so valuable.
The Urban Cycleway Fund started by the Government in 2014 proved immensely successful and popular leading to successive governments extending and expanding on it. The completion of the trunk and city centre routes proved vital in building ridership and support for quality bike infrastructure to be expanded across the wider city and out through suburbs. The big issue is now many of our existing core routes are struggling with the demand and transport agencies are busy working to widen or duplicate them.
The ride-share business is of course booming, with the carshare free parking spaces and regulations to include them in all new developments with parking proving an important incentive. Uber, Lyft, and the expanding rental market is growing the proportion car journeys in non-privately owned vehicles. Car and licence ownership per capita continues to slide. Driverless technology has advanced impressively but the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles having run of our streets is proving to be endlessly stuck in legal tangles. The transition to Electric Vehicles is also taking longer to occur than many hoped, as the old fleet shows surprising persistence. Interestingly it is the fleet operators that are driving most of the demand in this area, especially truck and bus operators. The trial of freight lanes on the motorways also looks likely to be the most cost effective way to both increase safety and efficiency in the important freight and delivery sector, and prepare for higher degrees of automation of these machines.
The expanded ferry services across the harbour are also proving popular, especially with the new wharf at Wynyard Pt, as is the new private water-taxi business, giving anyone near a jetty or wharf a lift uber-like, just a tap of the App away.
Conclusion: Auckland 2025
The trials of growth and of becoming such a clearly desirable place to live continue to be the biggest problems for Auckland, issues of inclusivity, of access to the city for all in the broadest social sense are the major problems that balance an otherwise healthily diverse and largely socially mobile community, offering a considerably increased range of options for living, working, and playing in this changing century. It is riding the global shift to the urban services based economy, and proving adept at adapting to the technological and social pressures of our age. Auckland is becoming one of the most dynamic, successful, and beautiful small cities of the world. Auckland offers great access to the now more protected countryside, is still of course is made up of relatively low rise suburbia formed last century, now augmented better connected and more intense local centres, and the buzz of the vertical and newly peopled and vibrant Centre City. As has happen periodically in its short history, Auckland has taken another sudden jump and changed character, and in this case very much for the better: The sleepy seaside city has awaken, to take its singular place on the edge of the Pacific century.
NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions and made now and in the near future…discuss…
‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’