Will driverless cars make things better, or worse?

There continues to be a lot of hype and excitement around driverless cars, with the first vehicles hitting roads in Britain recently and the NZ Herald running an opinion piece by Paul Minett earlier this week that was generally good, although perhaps a bit excitable about the need to stop all current investments in roads and public transport.

One of the big promises of driverless cars is that they will significantly reduce congestion, as their computer-controlled driving will enable much closer following distances between vehicles, alongside much more efficient operation of intersections. But how will this play out in practice? One of the most detailed pieces of analysis was undertaken by the International Transport Forum (part of the OECD), which modelled in quite a lot of detail what might happen under different scenarios involving the uptake of driverless cars.

Two types of “driverless vehicle” were analysed:

  • Taxibots – self-driving cars that can be shared simultaneously by several passengers
  • Autovots – self-driving vehicles that pick-up and drop-off single passengers sequentially

The analysis used Lisbon, Portugal as the case study city for the analysis. The different scenarios also looked at whether high-capacity public transport would be available or not, as well as how things would work at 50% and 100% penetration levels of these new vehicles. Some of the results of the analysis are pretty interesting.

Firstly, looking at mode-share, in scenarios where high-capacity public transport is retained the driverless vehicles actuatlly result in an increase in PT mode share, although it seems that they replace all “not high-capacity” PT. This makes a lot of sense, driverless vehicles could make for great first/last mile solutions and for replacing those routes that wind through the suburbs designed primarily to provide coverage. Interestingly walking & cycling mode share is projected to decline from 18% in the baseline scenario to 8% with the new vehicles.


Next, if we look at fleet-size, the projections are pretty sensitive to the different scenarios – varying from a situation where nearly 90% of the private vehicle fleet is no longer required, to other situations where there would actually be more vehicles than the baseline. Once again the existence of high-capacity PT seems to make a big difference to the totals, as does the level of penetration (it seems that most people are expected to hold onto their private vehicles until there’s very high penetration).


Perhaps the most interesting finding relates to projected overall traffic volumes, which increase under all the modelled scenarios (although to very different extents). Scenarios without high-capacity public transport are projected to see substantial increases in car kilometres travelled, from both modal shift away from PT and also the empty “re-positioning” trips taken by the vehicles.


The study highlights that while scenarios with slight increases in travel would be manageable (due to the vehicles themselves being able to travel more efficiently), scenarios with much higher increases are not likely to be manageable at all. Some further detail is provided about the extent of travel increase at different times of the day:


The most interesting trend in the above graph is that the “AutoVots without high-capacity PT” scenario’s greatest increase in vehicle km occurs at peak times, which would be when the transport system is least likely to be able to cope with such an increase. Furthermore, the greatest level of travel increase seems to be on local roads (not motorways), which is probably where we would least want it to happen:


The study then looked a bit closer at where, under the “TaxiBot plus high-capacity PT” scenario, travel increased or decreased. Obviously this would vary depending on the city, but it is interesting to see that most increases are in more peripheral areas rather than central areas. The study itself also highlights that volumes stayed constant or declined on major routes and bottlenecks, with increases mainly confined to local networks (presumably for more local trips?)


Finally, scenarios with full vehicle penetration saw significant reductions in the number of parked vehicles, although once again the reduction was far lower at 50% penetration and actually increased in a couple of scenarios:


There are a few key takeouts from this study that are really important to keep in mind when it comes to discussing driverless cars and how they might change the transport system in the future:

  1. High capacity public transport remains crucial. Scenarios without high capacity PT saw really big increases in travel demand, especially at peak times. We can rest easy that our current and future rapid transit network investments will continue to provide value in the future – even with a gigantic shift to driverless vehicles.
  2. Ride-sharing and car-sharing results in very different outcomes. A system based around “car-sharing”, where the driverless vehicles are for individuals, results in a huge amount of travel and large number of re-positioning trips. It also needs a much larger vehicle fleet than ride-sharing.
  3.  All driverless vehicle future suggest a massive reduction in the amount of land required to park vehicles. This could be truly transformational for our urban areas as this land can be repurposed into housing, businesses or open space.

The big take-away though is to note that the introduction of driverless vehicles could play out in a variety of different ways in the future. Some could be really good, others disastrous. It’s pretty important that we get it right.

Do Government Powers of Compulsory Purchase Help or Hinder Urban Development?


How do legal institutions interact with economic outcomes? I think it’s fair to say that legal institutions often don’t register on economists’ radars, mainly because life is simpler when you assume the law is exogenously determined by factors beyond your control. 

While such assumptions are valid for many types of economic analysis, legal institutions are not exogenously determined factors, at least in the long-run. By engaging with legal institutions, economists may be able to identify ways they could be improved. Of course reforms of legal institutions are slow to implement, but they do occasionally happen. Recent amendments to the RMA being a case in point. By engaging with legal institutions, economists can improve our analyses and help to identify possible opportunities for reform = Win-win.

The high-level question I want to answer in this post is whether these powers help or hinder urban development. My interest in these matters was prompted by the Productivity Commission’s recommendation for Auckland to establish an Urban Development Authority (UDA) with powers of compulsory purchase. That is, the UDA should have the power to expropriate privately-held property for the purposes of urban development. I think it’s fair to say the idea of an UDA with compulsory powers of purchase has attracted interest from across the political spectrum, including the Government (source).

In this post I consider why government’s need powers of compulsory purchase and, second, how should such powers be exercised. This post does not present conclusions or recommendations, mainly because I haven’t formed many yet. Instead, it seeks to identify some relevant economic and legal literature as a means of stimulating discussion.

I welcome your comments: Do you think Auckland needs an UDA and, if so, then should the UDA have powers of compulsory purchase? If yes, then what are the potential risks and how would you mitigate them? I’d also be keen to hear about possible alternatives. Enjoy.

Reference: The post that follows draws on an academic paper I am writing about government powers of compulsory purchase. In the interests of avoiding academic self-plagiarism, I should mention that the paper was written first, while this post was written second.


The historical development of most cities has been significantly influenced by government interventions. The Eixample of Barcelona, the boulevards of Paris, and the highways of New York are all noteworthy examples of government interventions that have left large and permanent marks on the affected cities.

The powers of compulsory purchase governments use to appropriate private property in order to undertake these interventions is a perennially controversial topic. One U.S. presidential candidate, for example, recently described powers of compulsory purchase as: “… absolute necessity for a country, for our country. Without it, you wouldn’t have roads, you wouldn’t have hospitals, you wouldn’t have anything.” (Team Fix, 2016). In contrast to this effusive support, Justice O’Connor’s dissenting opinion in Kelo v. City of New London argued that contemporary legal interpretations of the scope of the powers mean “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party … beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power …” (O’Connor, 2005).

Given these divergent views, there would seem to be value in developing a clear understanding of the economic evidence on which the powers are based, certainly before we expand the number of government institutions that have recourse to these powers. In particular, I think there is a need to understand why governments need powers of compulsory purchase and how they should be exercised. The standard economic justification for the powers is that — in their absence — information asymmetries gives market power to landowners, leading to hold-out problems. This is where landowners refuse to sell so as to capture surplus associated with the government’s investment. By annulling landowners’ market power, compulsory purchase avoids hold-out problems and enables efficient levels of government investment. It’s important to note that private actors seeking to assemble property don’t face the same issues, mainly because they can negotiate anonymously to buy properties via third-parties.

Exercising powers of compulsory purchase is not without economic costs. Perhaps the most notable costs arise from involuntary transfers of property, which may result in welfare losses for affected landowners. To counter this issue, most jurisdictions require governments to demonstrate that the proposed intervention is in the public interest, and to pay adequate compensation to affected landowners. These legal requirements give rise to two additional economic questions: How should we define “adequate compensation” and “public interest”?

Neither definition is as straightforward as it first appears. Most jurisdictions define adequate compensation using market prices. Some scholars argue the value of property to its current owners, however, includes idiosyncratic attributes, such as sentimental attachment, which are not reflected in market prices (Nadler and Diamond, 2008). Other scholars argue that these idiosyncratic attributes are already accounted for in market prices, while noting that the landowner’s loss of autonomy is not (Lee, 2013).

Definitions of public use are similarly complex. In the U.S. the definition of public use has even been broadened to include wider economic impacts arising from private activities. Under this definition, governments have been allowed to use powers of compulsory purchase to appropriate private property, which is then transferred to private third-parties. The aforementioned opinion by Justice O’Connor in Kelo v. City of New London was prompted by precisely such a situation. Even where the resulting asset is publicly-owned, there are many situations where public access is restricted, for example by user-charges and/or regulations, which are on the surface not readily distinguished from private ownership. From an initial survey, the economics literature doesn’t seem to have a good answer to the question of how one defines “public use”.

Finally, the processes involved in determining adequate compensation and demonstrating public interest may generate non-trivial transaction costs. Imagine, for example, the resource cost of the recent Unitary Plan hearings, where many highly-skilled, well-paid people were paid to sit in a room for months if not years. Is it possible that the transaction costs involved in a particular legal process outweigh its benefits? I think so. At the very least, there seems to be a need to understand potential interactions between legal processes and transaction costs. It may, for example, be more efficient to offer more compensation early in the process, so as avoid transaction costs downstream.

Answers to such questions are not a trivial academic exercise. Evidence also suggests that protection of property rights affects the incentives facing governments and citizens alike, and impacts on long-run economic development (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2005). Powers of compulsory purchase may also have implications for social justice, with some studies finding that land owned by low-income households is more likely to be taken (Carpenter and Ross, 2009). Recent experiences in Auckland, whereby wealthy neighbourhoods successfully opposed the proposed Eastern Motorway across Hobson Bay, provide some indication of why such patterns may emerge. In the U.S., scepticism over the use of powers of compulsory purchase has given rise to significant opposition from across the political spectrum.

Initially simple questions are, upon closer inspection, revealed to be anything but. Understanding why governments need powers of compulsory inspection, and how these powers should be exercised, can contribute to more informed policies on Urban Development Authorities.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to an UDA having powers of compulsory purchase. Personally, I’ve always been attracted to the notion of a “New Zealand Place-Making Authority” (NZPA) to counter-balance the NZTA’s movement focus on movement. I think the potential benefits could be significant. Nonetheless, the powers such an institution should have is an open-question.

Gnawing in the back of my mind is the fact that powers of compulsory purchase have in the past been used to pursue questionable outcomes. The highways of New York promulgated by Robert Moses, for example, were justified under the auspices of slum clearances. One of the great urban thinkers of our time, namely Jane Jacobs, was spurred into action by a government body wielding powers of compulsory purchase. Would ignoring the risk such things happen again be indicative of the “fatal conceit”?


Acemoglu, D. and Johnson, S. (2005). Unbundling Institutions Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson. Journal of Political Economy, 113(5):949–995.

Carpenter, D. M. and Ross, J. K. (2009). Testing O’Connor and Thomas: Does the Use of Eminent Domain Target Poor and Minority Communities? Urban Studies, 46(11):2447– 2461.

Nadler, J. and Diamond, S. S. (2008). Eminent Domain and the Psychology of Property Rights: Proposed Use, Subjective Attachment, and Taker Identity. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 5(4):713–749.

O’Connor, J. (2005). KELO V. NEW LONDON (04-108) 545 U.S. 469 (2005).

Team Fix (2016). Transcript of the New Hampshire GOP debate, annotated.

Further reading

Blume, L., Rubinfeld, D., and Shapiro, P. (1984). The Taking of Land: When Should Compensation be Paid? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 99(1):71–92.

Burrows, P. (1991). Compensation for Compulsory Acquisition. Land Economics, 67(1):49– 63.

Kelly, D. B. (2006). The Public Use Requirement in Eminent Domain Law: A Rationale Based on Secret Purchases and Private Influence. Cornell Law Review, 92:1–66.

Miceli, T. J. and Sirmans, C. (2007). The holdout problem, urban sprawl, and eminent domain. Journal of Housing Economics, 16(3- 4):309–319.

Strange, W. C. (1995). Information, Holdouts, and Land Assembly. Journal of Urban Economics, 38:317–332.


The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.

This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:

  • Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
  • Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements



Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:

  1. The Green Link
  2. Aotea Station Public Realm

The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.

Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.

The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:

CEWT Preferred Option

Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:

CEWT Victoria St

Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:


Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.


Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those  that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.





So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:



In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.

The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:


And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and  how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:




The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.

And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.




Dear Phil

Dear Phil,

Congratulations on becoming Mayor. While the margin was a bit closer than some had expected, that’s what happens when you get such a low turnout – who actually votes ends up being a bit different to those who get polled. By the way, we really have to make progress on online registration and online voting to increase turnout. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Of course, I want to talk about transport and housing – Auckland’s biggest two issues.

This is a good time to become Mayor. Much of the hard work has been done: the rating systems have been pulled together, the City Rail Link just needs a few t’s crossed and i’s dotted – and a few years of exciting construction to follow. While you’ll have a few tricky Unitary Plan appeals to get through, the hard work has been done here as well. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sit back in cruise mode. Auckland has added the population of Tauranga over the past three years and it’s struggling to keep up. People are living in cars and garages, buses and trains are often overcrowded, motorways are jammed. Aucklanders are impatient to see progress so your honeymoon could be very shortlived. Here’s some advice to focus on over the next six months – mainly on transport but a few other things too:


1) Start working backwards from the 2018 Long-term Plan now 

You might not have been taking that much notice, but the 2015 Long-term Plan was nearly a disaster and only ended up being passed by a single vote. That said, it was really a triumph as it included a massive boost for walking and cycling funding, a major programme of bus upgrades to support the new bus network and – most importantly – the funding for early construction of the City Rail Link that helped in forcing government to come to the party on this key project.

As you put together the 2018 Long-term Plan you’ll need to continue this momentum – now bought into by the government through ATAP. City Rail Link will eat up a really big chunk of your available funding for transport so figuring out what’s also essential in the next three years will define your term. You’ll be pulled in all directions by the different Councillors and Local Boards wanting funding for their local ‘pet projects’ and you’ll need to sit on Auckland Transport to make sure the detailed work they do reflects your priorities and not just Central Government’s.

If we’re honest, you’d be crazy to remove the “interim transport levy” that has helped fund the current transport programme. The previous Council took the political hit over the levy to make your life easier – don’t give that away. Call it something else, change the way it’s calculated, whatever. But by keeping it, in some shape or form, you’ve now filled around $170 million per year of the $400 million funding gap. This puts the ball back into the court of the government.

You’ve got some hard transport funding discussions with the government to come. Have those conversations early, bring something to the table, remind government that there’s a general election next year that will be fought over Auckland’s housing crisis. Start planning it all now.

2) It’s time for a change at Auckland Transport

Auckland Transport has achieved some great things over the past six years. They’ve taken the CRL from a few lines on a map to a project that’s now underway. They’ve embarked on a complete revamp of the bus network that was decades overdue. They’ve introduced the HOP card in a reasonably (more on that soon) successful way and they’re starting to take cycling seriously.

But there’s still an awfully large amount of old-school thinking coming out of AT. Despite excited noises a few years back, the organisation still lacks of vision for how Auckland can be a different place in the future to what it is today. They also continue to struggle to take advantage of being a CCO to push through essential changes that annoy a noisy few (Tamaki/Ngapipi intersection is but one of many examples).

There are a lot of great people working in AT. Passionate people that are incredibly ‘tuned in’ to best practice around the world. But equally, there’s a massive amount of dead wood that just want to keep on doing that same thing they’ve always done, as is so perfectly evidenced by their stupid designs for city centre streets after the completion of the CRL. There’s far too much reliance on transport modelling, coupled with far too little focus on fixing up the models we have to reflect how the world has changed over the past decade.

You can’t be over all this detail, but you can make change where it matters. Refresh the board and senior management, update the Auckland Plan to give clearer strategic direction about what’s important (and equally importantly, what’s not), encourage a culture change to a braver and more courageous organisation that wants to help make Auckland better.

3) Get the small stuff right

There will be progress on a number of big, exciting transport projects over the next three years for the photo opportunities. The roll out of the new bus network in South Auckland starts at the end of the month. Walk the tunnel under Albert Street as it gets dug out, take the credit for the Northern Busway extension to Albany and kicking off the Northwestern Busway when government eventually agrees to fund it. But there’s also a few key niggles that, if you can sort them out, you will be thanked endlessly:

Sort out the slow trains. It’s crazy that after spending a billion dollars on electrification, our trains run slower than they did before. Don’t listen to Auckland Transport’s excuses – overseas cities run their trains much more efficiently. Demand shorter dwell times at stations, extra drivers to eliminate three minute delays at Newmarket for western line users. Speeding up the trains will not only make us passengers happier, it will also buy you more capacity on the network as train service cycles can repeat more quickly allowing more services to run as 6-car sets. You’re going to need every extra bit of rail capacity you can get.

Sort out HOP card blacklisting. The great hidden secret of the HOP card rollout is the enormous number of people who get their cards blacklisted due to expired credit cards. Get Auckland Transport to fix up their system so people are warned if a payment doesn’t go through. This shouldn’t be rocket science, yet even after months (possibly years) of complaints over this issue it still hasn’t been fixed up. Take the credit for Auckland Transport finally fixing it.

4) Get a better deal out of government

Over 186,000 people ticked your name to become Mayor of Auckland. No other politician in the country has a personal mandate of this scale. Use it.

Solving Auckland’s two biggest issues – housing and transport – is utterly dependent on working together with the government. It also requires government to change the way they do things when it comes to Auckland – which (as I’m sure you’ll know) is difficult for them. You’ll need to push hard to change government’s transport funding processes so they suit Auckland better – ATAP has given you a platform here to build on.

You’ll need to get government to ramp up building more housing in Auckland – the recent Northcote development seems like a great model to apply across Auckland. Get Panuku and Housing New Zealand sharing the same offices and planning where the next 1200 house development will go, and the next, and the next.

Depending on the results of next year’s general election, two-thirds of your term will either be with the current government or another lot that you will be pretty familiar with. Obviously you’ll need to be able to work well with either. Figure out which Ministers truly understand that Auckland isn’t just a larger version of other parts of the country, that it often needs completely different approaches and completely different solutions. John Key gets this – he’ll be your most important relationship.

5) Confirm your vision

One of the biggest pieces of work this term will be reviewing The Auckland Plan – the 30-year vision for Auckland. Naturally it will need to be updated to take account of developments over the last six years, such as the work on the Unitary Plan and ATAP, but there’s also a risk that the forces of dreary try to dominate it and remove visionary elements and targets. YOU CAN’T ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN.

Furthermore, it’s important you stamp your own vision on the region that is aspirational. A lot of cities are taking increasingly bolder steps to improve the cities and the lives the people that live in them. No area is this happening more than in the realm of transport and public urban space. It’s important Auckland does this too. Whether you keep the tagline of “The World’s Most Liveable City” or not, it’s important to have a high level goal to be able to point to and to assess the outcomes of projects against.

Don’t forget you’re also going to need to communicate that vision well to get buy in from the public.

6) Pick a great Deputy Mayor

You’ll be sorely tempted to look for someone new as a “fresh start”, but remember that Penny Hulse has held this Council together over the past three years. She knows everyone and everything. You don’t have a hope in hell of finding a better Deputy Mayor. That’s a lot to give away for “fresh start”.


Good luck!

Confessions of an Auckland voter: Why I voted for Chlöe


Greetings from Amsterdam. A couple of issues relating to Auckland’s local government elections have exercised my mind of late, specifically:

  • Candidates for councillor in the Waitemata ward; and
  • Why I voted Chlöe Swarbrick for Mayor of Auckland.

Before I get started, I’d like to make a simple statement about democracy.

The refrain “democracy is not a spectator sport” rings true to me for several reasons. The first is that my grandmother used to regale me with stories about how her grandmother would walk to work past Parliament’s gates, where women protesting for the right to vote would be chained. Every election, my grandmother would then ask me questions about politics, and emphasize the importance of voting. Her favourite line was “I don’t care who you vote for, just so long as you vote.”

The second reason is that I think effective democracy is an important determinant of long-run socio-economic success. You only have to look at the sorts of situations currently playing out in the U.K., U.S., and elsewhere to get a feel for what happens when people don’t pay attention to democracy. In particular, when a large proportion of the electorate is uninformed and/or disengaged and/or disenfranchised, then democracy tends to come back and bite society on its ass.

Now, before I get into the details of who I voted for, I feel compelled to summarize my own values – just so y’all know where I’m coming from. I’m not expecting others to share these values, of course, but it may help you understand some of the driving forces behind my voting decisions. I also think this is useful because my values don’t fit neatly into a left-right spectrum, but are instead something of a hybrid:

  • I am socially liberal, insofar as I think people should be free to choose how to live their lives, unless there’s good reasons for society to intervene;
  • I am moderately fiscally conservative, because I am aware that debt needs to be re-paid by future generations; the same generations who are facing the twin challenges of an ageing population and climate change. For these reasons, want to ensure we only incur debt to invest in things that will benefit future generations; and
  • I have a strongly-honed sense of justice, and want to live in a society where vulnerable people are cared for. That includes future generations.

In terms of local government, my top two priorities – in order of importance – are 1) housing and 2) transport. With regards to the former, I would like to see fewer restrictions on density, so that Auckland can intensify. While I appreciate “quality urban development”, I’m not prepared to sacrifice housing affordability at the altar of aesthetic values. Let’s build a lot of houses and figure out how to do it better as we go. As for transport, I would like to see funding prioritized to projects that are 1) strategic, in the sense they support policy objectives like sustainability and equity and 2) efficient, in the sense their economic benefits exceed their economic costs.

Finally, I should say that this post is not intended to encourage you to vote for anyone in particular, but simply to explain the thought process I myself went through in determining who I would vote for. And to stimulate debate. Onwards.

Waitemata: Where men people vie for our affections

Three men people are standing for councillor in Waitemata: Mike Lee, Bill Ralston, and Rob Thomas. I voted for the latter, such that most of what follows should be read as an explanation of “why” Rob appealed compared to the others.

I evaluate Mike positions in some detail, largely because I have voted for him in previous elections. My democratic divorce from Mike has been rather slow, but was nonetheless difficult. Reason being that Mike has achieved a lot of great things, e.g. advocating for investment in rail and changes to PT contracting. Ultimately, however, I’ve become increasingly disatisfied with his positions on housing, which has in turn become a more important driver of my vote – as I now explain.

If you go to Mike’s website and click “What Mike stands for“, then you will find the following bullet points (source):

  • Make sure the people of the inner city suburbs and Hauraki Gulf islands have a strong voice at the top table
  • Protect our environment and enhance our quality of life
  • Invest in the public transport Auckland needs
  • Keep Supercity costs and rates under control
  • Protect our unique heritage and encourage quality urban development
  • Support Auckland’s thriving arts and entertainment scene

No mention is made of “housing”, which I thought was odd (NB: .“… encourage quality urban development” is too vague for my liking, as it puts “quality” ahead of “development” and is not specific about the need for housing in particular). I thought this was odd not just because I think housing is important, but also because other parts of Mike’s web-site mention the “housing crisis”. It seems odd Mike would speak of a housing crisis, yet not identify housing as a key issue under what he stands for.

Turning now to transport, one of Mike’s bullet points does mention “Invest in the public transport Auckland needs“. On the surface, this sounds promising. So I dug a bit further, and did a key word search of Mike’s website by transport mode. First I started with “rail”, which highlighted the following issues (n=47):

  • Rail to the airport, where Mike appears to support a heavy rail option; and
  • Parnell Station; which Mike wants accelerated.

I support long-term planning for public transport to the airport, even if I don’t feel too strongly about technologies. I also support a station at Parnell, provided it’s 1) in the right location, 2) supported by up-zoning of land use activities; and 3) does not negatively impact on rail operations. While I suspect the issue of Parnell Station is more complicated than Mike makes out, this is only a minor quibble – provided he acknowledges the technical complexities involved. Indeed, train stations, like people, “are complicated creatures full of quirks and secrets“. To borrow a line from the fantastic Mr Dahl.

A key word search for “buses” returned n=6 hits, all of which involved Mike saying buses were horrible compared to trains. This was disappointing given the current and future importance of buses to many people who live in Waitemata, including myself. I personally would like to see a number of small and large bus improvements being accelerated, such as the hours of operation for bus lanes on Mt Eden Road, and was disappointed Mike didn’t advocate for bus improvements more strongly.

A keyword search for “cycling” returned zero hits, while “walking” returned only two hits – both of which involved Mike referring to instances where he was walking, rather than the need for investment in pedestrian facilities per se. Again I was disappointed, because investment in walking and cycling is good in-of-itself, and complements public transport.

Basically, the over-arching impression is that Mike likes trains, and doesn’t have much time or passion for other transport modes. As someone who walks and cycles as a first preference, and who uses public transport in general before thinking about modes in particular, this doesn’t pass grade.

Turning now to Bill Ralston, I searched his website but couldn’t find much mention of housing. That essentially ruled him out of contention for my vote. In his transport policy, Bill argues we need to fix traffic congestion because it costs us $1.8 – 2.0 billion p.a. This figure is bogus: The costs are closer to $500 million p.a., as explained in this NZTA research report by Ian Wallis. To his credit – and in contrast to Mike – Bill does express support for buses and cycling (source):

More bus-ways – the Shore’s Northern Bus-way shows how well that can work, more bus-lanes, phased lights for buses, bike lanes and bike paths and while the CRL is not the silver bullet to solve the city’s transport issues – it will help. Get on with it.

All up I found Bill’s policies too light on detail. And, like Mike Lee, there were a few too many “grumpy man” statements. I don’t have a problem with grumpy old men per se, provided their gruffness is self-effacing and humorously applied. Like these guys.

Finally, we turn to the person who ultimately won my vote: Rob Thomas. Initially I didn’t expect to even consider Rob. I was, however, impressed by Rob’s statement in the candidate booklet, and even more impressed when I went to his website. There, he makes prominent mention of climate change upfront (source):

Climate Change is the biggest issue facing Auckland and our planet today. Temperature increases, sea level rise and the acidification of our oceans are just some of the issues that will impact Auckland over the next 50-100 years.

I agree. And while I’d like to see more central government leadership on the issue of climate change, I think it’s important that its strategic significance is also embodied in policies at the local government level.

In terms of housing, Rob was – from what I could tell – the only candidate to state explicitly on their website the need to “Build more homes in Auckland“. While light on details, the high-level sentiment is at least there – and that won him bonus points, especially when compared to the other candidates. On the transport side, Rob’s website mentioned the need for better public transport and cycling.

In a nutshell, I voted for Rob because his priorities aligned most closely with my own. If I hadn’t voted for Rob, then Mike would have been in second-place, and Bill in third.

Chlöe for Mayor

I voted for Chlöe for Mayor for two reasons. One is that she is passionate about democracy itself, which is extremely important to me. And I don’t mean “passion for democracy” in an airy-fairy, hand-wavy sense; I mean Chlöe seems keen to engage people with the nitty-gritty, gnarly issues that frequently arise in local government, and which ultimately have a significant influence on our quality of life, as discussed in this video.

The second reason I voted for Chlöe was because of her policies. The preamble to her housing policy, for example, reads as follows (source):

Auckland is in the midst of a housing crisis. The median property price is now ten times the median income. So too are rents rising, and our population of homeless and rough sleepers increasing. Reports of families sleeping in cars or garages are not uncommon, and have broken international news. Young families are unlikely to be able to realistically aspire to own a home in this market.

In this TVNZ interview, Chlöe makes it clear that she’s talking about bringing down property prices, which she considers to be a point of distinction from the other candidates, and something that is important to me. I’d like to see a 20-30% decline in property prices over the next 10 years, which basically means holding them constant in nominal terms and letting inflation eat away at the real value. Achieving such an outcome will require that we change expectations about future capital gains, which is where explicit statements – like Chlöe’s – about the need to reduce property values can be rather useful.

The preamble to Chlöe’s transport policy is similarly direct (source):

There is a lot of money ($1.4billion in 2015 alone) spent on transport in Auckland. But we’re not seeing that cost reflected in choice.

Choice is the freedom to choose how you, as the people of Auckland, navigate our city. Currently, many parts of our city are automobile-dependent, because the alternative options (public transport, cycling, or walking) are impracticable or inaccessible.

This lack of choice forces more people onto our roads at an exponential rate, as 800 new cars are registered for Auckland roads each week. More blind investment in roading projects at the expense of alternative transport results only in more cars to fill up those new, wider, shiny roads. This is why, in our 2013 Census, we saw that 74% of Auckland drove to work in their own private cars (70% driving by themselves).

To see our roads function properly, we need to invest in projects to get people – especially those people who don’t actually want to be there – off of those roads.

As your Mayor, I will advocate for a bold shift in focus: I will see that Auckland’s public transport system is a real, viable, and efficient option to get where you’re going. I will see Auckland thrive by becoming walkable, and cycleable.

Righto. If you read further down the page then you’ll find some explicit mention of the sorts of public transport (rail and bus) and walking/cycling improvements that Chlöe would like to prioritize. Generally mode-neutral, and focused on improving the effectiveness of our transport spend, rather than just increasing the spend itself. This subtle emphasis is important to me.

If you don’t know who Chlöe is and what she’s about in general, then I’d also suggest watching this video, which I think gives good insight into where she’s coming from and also some inner mettle.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t vote for Phil Goff. I must say that Phil ran a very close second. I thought Phil had excellent policies on housing affordability, for example, and his transport policies were also nicely balanced. Phil even mentions GPS-based road pricing, which many of you will know is close to my heart. If we had an STV voting system, then Phil Goff would have received my second ranking.

The main reason I didn’t vote for Phil Goff is simply because when I am relatively indifferent between two candidates, then I tend to vote for the candidate that brings more diversity to the table. In this case, Chlöe wins out. Notwithstanding my own vote for Chlöe, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Phil was to win.


There you have it. Even if you don’t agree, please just take the time to vote. And encourage your friends and family to do the same. I suspect low voter turn-out in local government elections is something that can only be addressed through a combination of electoral reform (online voting, ditching FPP for STV) and cultural change. Addressing the latter really begins by acknowledging that we have a problem, and starting a conversation about how it might be fixed.

Finally, some of you may be wondering what I do when I’m not pondering how to exercise my democratic right. The answer, my friends, is that I’m cycling around Amsterdam. Safely. And with an emergency potato in my pants. Tot ziens.

September 16 AT Board Meeting

The monthly Auckland Transport Board meeting is on again next week so I’ve take a read through the main reports to pull out the bits that interest me.

Closed Session Agenda

Some of my thoughts about them in italics.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • CRL – PTA & QS Contracts
  • Road Stopping
  • Execution of Deed of Lease of Land
  • Route Protection for Roading Projects
  • CPO – Surrender of LRT Easements – Britomart was designed so it could also have light rail but our existing network has been too successful so is not a possibilty now
  • Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG) Programme Business Case – Business cases are now needed to support all of the projects needed to support the sprawl enabled as part of the Unitary Plan
  • AT designations for the Unitary Plan

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Rail Infrastructure
  • MRT/Light Rail Update – I see AT are already using the Mass Rapid Transit name from ATAP
  • Rail Development
  • Bus Services March Capacity – A hint about what this is later in the post.
  • ATAP Update

Business Report

Things that interest me in the order they appear in the report.

Albany Highway – This project is nearly complete and expected to be completed in October

Glen Innes/Tamaki Shared Path – Section 1 is due for completion at the end of October. Section 2 and 3 got resource consent and section 3 will start construction in October

Franklin Rd – Works are now starting on services, although there will be no works around Christmas when the annual lights are on. The actual road works start in March next year. They say the design of the catenary lighting system has been completed and materials ordered. The lights will have a clearance above the ground of 7-8m so shouldn’t have issues with overheight trucks. They also say the lighting system is estimated to cost $900,000. I wonder what an aspiring Councillor standing on a platform of capping rates might say about that.

Franklin Rd Impression

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St) – AT are hoping for mediation with the Cowie St Residents in early October and if that fails an environment court hearing before the end of the year.

Parnell Station – Kiwirail have building consent and works are due to start on the foundations so the old Newmarket railway station can be moved to the site. AT also say they’re working on the design of ticket gates but that they won’t be in place in time for opening due to long lead times for them. They’re also working on getting a footpath connection down through Carlaw Park finished in time for when the station opens in March 2017 (with limited service).

Parnell pic June15

Manukau Bus Station – AT will be issuing the construction contract early next month and say the station is due to be open in early 2018, this appears to have been delayed as previously they were saying late 2017. Oddly later in the same report it once again says late 2017.

Manukau Bus Station 1

Otahuhu Interchange – This is on track to open on 29 October, just before the new network goes live. Ticket gates will be installed in the second quarter 2017 “due to a delay in receipt of the gates from the supplier

Otahuhu Interchange Sep-16 1

Bus Lanes – AT are planning on building 19.1km of bus lanes this financial year but later on they say 26km is planned. This image is from August but it still accurate.

2016-08 - Bus lane Programme

AT Parking App – Earlier this year we saw a glimpse of a mobile app to pay for parking (from 3:05). It’s currently in a live trial till the end of the month and is expected to be launched later this year

AT Park is an account based parking payment system, which will go live later this year. Customers can pay for parking directly from their phone without using a parking meter, significantly improving customer convenience through mobile payment and parking location/availability maps. Other features of the new service are: start and stop a parking session with an interactive voice recording, start stop session with texting and also with the call centre. This innovation will enable customers to pay with ease and therefore increase compliance across the network

PT Services

Supergold Cards – AT are going to transition blue HOP card holders to gold HOP cards and a campaign for it is due in November

Ferries – AT currently has a tender out for the non-commercial ferry routes – like they’re doing with buses. I understand this will likely include some additional services on some routes too. Interestingly this will also include Stanley Bay services as Fullers has advised they’re not going to run it commercially anymore. This will leave only Devonport and Waiheke as commercial routes exempt from PTOM contracts.

March Madness – It appears AT might have finally got the message about March Madness.

Every March there is a spike in patronage which results in insufficient capacity on main corridors. In order to provide sufficient capacity and an enhanced customer experience for next March, new timetables and capacity increases have been developed for main corridors. The expectation is that no customer will have to wait for more than 10 minutes (depending on advertised frequency) to be able to board a bus. This will see an approx. +6.6% peak only bus capacity increase implemented progressively between November and February.

Double Decker NEX – The Northern Express goes from strength to strength and now Ritchies are boosting capacity again with the number of double decker buses used to operate the service going from 18 to 29 in October. That will leave just 2 standard buses at peak times and all off peak services will be run by double deckers. Extra trips are also being added in Jan & Feb ahead of March.

Speeding up trains – AT say a reduction in turn back times at Papakura from late October will free up one train set enabling them to boost another peak Southern Line service in the morning and afternoon. A good example of why they need to focus on speeding up our trains.

New Network – The new bus network in South Auckland is due to go live on 30 October while new buses for the new operators have been arriving. Ritchies/Murphys buses have been arriving from China while the Go Bus buses being built mostly here but also in Malaysia have been arriving.

Station Gates – In addition to completing designs for gating Henderson, Manurewa, Middlemore and Papatoetoe, AT say they’re also now planning and designing gates for Glen Innes, Papakura and Parnell.

Click and Collect – A 6-month trial got underway this week allowing for deliveries to made to one of four AT Metro locations and one park & ride (Orakei I believe). This is positive to see and I only wonder why they didn’t trial it years ago.

Forward Programme

An indication as to what’s coming up to the board and board committees in the next month so an indication of things to keep an eye out for.

  • Northern RTN Programme Business Case
  • Roads & Streets Framework
  • Clonbern Road Carpark Redevelopment proposal
  • Bus Patronage Analysis
  • Train Capacity
  • PTOM West Tenders – the preferred tenderers were announced last week.
  • Manukau Road T3 Operational Impacts
  • Future of HOP
  • Digital / Technology impact on transport

Anything you’ve seen in the reports that I’ve missed?

Should we spend more on infrastructure… or less?

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) report, which was released last week, identified the need to spend more money on transport infrastructure in Auckland. ATAP estimates that we need to spend $24 billion on new transport infrastructure over the next decade, around $4 billion of which would not be funded by current transport budgets.

While $4 billion is a sizeable gap, it’s smaller than previously assumed, due in part to ATAP’s recommendation to defer costly projects like the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. But meeting it will mean raising fuel taxes, fares, rates, general taxes, or implementing congestion pricing to manage demands until funding is available.

ATAP’s obviously identified a need to spend more money on transport infrastructure in the Auckland context. But is spending more money on infrastructure in general a good idea? In other words, should any additional spending in Auckland be balanced by proportionately higher spending everywhere else in the country?

Two prominent American economists, Larry Summers and Ed Glaeser, recently took contrasting views on this question. Summers is most well-known as a policy advisor to Democratic administrations and (in recent years) an advocate of fiscal policy as a cure for long post-GFC recession. Glaeser, on the other hand, is best known for his work on urban economics, including his great book Triumph of the City.

Summers lays out the case for spending more (in the Financial Times). His key argument is that low interest rates signal an underemployed economy where the “opportunity cost” of paying people to build more stuff is relatively low, and that infrastructure spending is a good way to do this as it can enhance a country’s long-run productive potential:

There is a consensus that the US should substantially raise its level of infrastructure investment. Economists and politicians of all persuasions recognise that this can create quality jobs and provide economic stimulus without posing the risks of easy-money policies in the short run. They also see that such investment can expand the economy’s capacity in the medium term and mitigate the huge maintenance burden we would otherwise pass on to the next generation.

The case for infrastructure investment has been strong for a long time, but it gets stronger with each passing year, as government borrowing costs decline and ongoing neglect raises the return on incremental spending increases. As it becomes clearer that growth will not return to pre-financial-crisis levels on its own, the urgency of policy action rises. Just as the infrastructure failure at Chernobyl was a sign of malaise in the Soviet Union’s last years, profound questions about America’s future are raised by collapsing bridges, children losing IQ points because of lead in water and an air traffic control system that does not use GPS technology.

In particular, Summers argues that priority should be placed on funding deferred maintenance, which is a major problem in the US:

What is the highest priority? The fastest, highest and safest returns are likely to be found where maintenance has been deferred. Maintenance outlays do not require extensive planning or regulatory approvals, so they can take place quickly. And they tend naturally to take place in areas where infrastructure is most heavily used.

Glaeser sets out a considerably more skeptical perspective in the City Journal. Contra Summers, he argues that infrastructure spending isn’t a particularly efficient way of getting unemployed people back to work, and that the political incentives facing decision-makers tend to mean that additional funding is misspent in declining areas like Detroit or on projects that don’t do much good:

While infrastructure investment is often needed when cities or regions are already expanding, too often it goes to declining areas that don’t require it and winds up having little long-term economic benefit. As for fighting recessions, which require rapid response, it’s dauntingly hard in today’s regulatory environment to get infrastructure projects under way quickly and wisely. Centralized federal tax funding of these projects makes inefficiencies and waste even likelier, as Washington, driven by political calculations, gives the green light to bridges to nowhere, ill-considered high-speed rail projects, and other boondoggles. America needs an infrastructure renaissance, but we won’t get it by the federal government simply writing big checks. A far better model would be for infrastructure to be managed by independent but focused local public and private entities and funded primarily by user fees, not federal tax dollars.

Glaeser takes more specific aim at the notion that infrastructure investment inevitably generates broader economic returns:

Infrastructure spending is a form of investment: just as building a new factory can boost productivity, laying down a new highway or opening a new airport runway can, at least in principle, generate future economic returns. But the relevant question is: How do those future returns compare with the costs? Just because infrastructure is a form of capital doesn’t mean that spending a lot on it is always smart. When a firm estimates the rate of return for a new factory, it can calculate the expected net profits and compare those with the expense. The analog for, say, new or improved roads is to estimate the benefits to users from reduced travel times, add the likely modest spillover benefits to nonusers, and then subtract the spending needed to construct and maintain the infrastructure. The results can differ significantly across projects. A well-known 1988 Congressional Budget Office survey found that spending to maintain current highways in good shape produces returns of 30 percent to 40 percent—but that new highway construction in rural areas showed a much lower return. A clever study that used firm inventories estimated that the rate of return to new highways was sizable during the 1970s but sank below 5 percent during the 1980s and 1990s.


The existence of plausible transportation alternatives and the law of diminishing returns have also tended to reduce the benefits of infrastructure investment over the past two centuries. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1821 brought enormous value because the inland transportation options at the time were dismal. In the early nineteenth century, it cost as much to ship goods 30 miles over land as to send them across the entire Atlantic Ocean. Yet the very existence of canals, as much of a breakthrough as they represented, reduced the benefits of the later rail system, as Nobel economist Robert Fogel has shown. The returns for new transportation infrastructure in places with terrible roads, such as much of Africa and India, will be much higher than in the United States, which already enjoys an impressive, if under-maintained, array of mobility options.

While Summers and Glaeser take different views on the value of spending more money on infrastructure, there are some important points of agreement, such as:

  • Prioritising maintenance spending to replace or upgrade run-down infrastructure
  • Better cost benefit analysis to ensure that money is being spent in more beneficial ways
  • Where appropriate, funding new infrastructure more from user charges and fees, rather than general taxes.

Lastly, it’s worth asking whether these issues look different in New Zealand than in the United States. I don’t have a complete answer to this, but in previous posts I have looked at the issue of infrastructure spending from a variety of perspectives. For instance, I’ve asked:

On balance, I’d say that those posts present a moderately skeptical view of the case for significantly ramping up transport investment – ie more in line with Glaeser’s view than Summers’. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t spend a bit more, but any additional spending should be backed by robust analysis.

What do you think about infrastructure spending? More or less?

ATAP: The right answers to the wrong questions

So the long-awaited final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released yesterday. This is the third “deliverable” from the project, building on the “Foundation Report” in February and the “Interim Report” in June. The Final Report isn’t dramatically different from what was reported in June, although there’s a lot more detail – particularly around the timing of major projects. I’ll get onto that soon. First if you want to watch the announcement from Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown you can do so below thanks to Auckland Transport filming it.

Overall, ATAP appears to have landed at a pretty sensible overall strategy for Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years and see’s the government agree to something fairly close to the council’s Auckland Plan. For example, the report highlights:

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Here’s the strategic approach in a nutshell, it seems very similar to what we’ve seen in existing Auckland plans:


Of particular interest is, of course, the timing of projects – especially what’s “brought forward” into being a first decade priority. The first decade is the key as it’s difficult to project what will happen much more than that – something the report acknowledges. The major projects are summarised in the table and map below:


There are a few interesting things in here:

  • Northwestern Busway – a project we’ve long been calling for and should have been included as part of the current SH16 works – has been brought forward into the first decade. Remember this was a third decade project in the Auckland Plan.
  • With the exception of some improvements to the existing rail network, there seems to have been an allergic reaction to the term rail for any new lines. Instead the report uses the phrase Mass Transit instead.
  • There seems to have been a compromise on isthmus light-rail, with it now being a second decade priority. On the positive side, this project wasn’t officially in any of the plans before ATAP.
  • The Early Rail Development Plan priorities include Pukekohe electrification and a third-main between Westfield and Wiri. I wonder if this means government is agreeing to fully fund these?
  • A “mass transit” upgrade of the Northern Busway is now officially in the plans as a longer-term priority. Presumably this means to some sort of rail in the future.
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is not seen as required before the third decade (around 2040). Given that NZTA had previously been talking about it needing to be in place by 2030, this is quite a major shift.

The major projects shown above are only those on the ‘strategic networks’ and there are a lot of smaller projects that sit below that. The strategic networks have also been shown in a schematic form too.

The road version shows that while map above looks busy, there’s not a heap of new major roads on the horizon. The black arterial roads should also be AT’s basis for a bus lane network map.


By comparison the strategic PT network shows that a lot of development is needed – and the government has agreed with this, also does it look familiar?



I’m sure we’ll have plenty more posts to come on the details of ATAP as we sift through them over the coming days. But what’s perhaps most interesting is how ATAP has landed at a reasonably good overall approach, even though it seems to have come at the issue from a pretty “old school” predict and provide approach. Firstly, the project objectives are very focused around congestion – even though we know that higher or lower levels of congestion are a pretty poor indicator of whether a city is succeeding or failing. Secondly, the analysis (which is described in much more detail in the “Supporting Information” report) is very demand-led, predict and provide. It is the result of a massive reliance on transport modelling that we know has traditionally not done well, especially in the face of transformative change that projects like Britomart, rail electrification and the Northern Busway.

We would have preferred to see a strategic, top-down, outcomes focused approach that focused on the jobs we might want different parts of the transport system to do. I guess the challenge with this approach is that it would have required all of those involved to actually agree to a vision for the city.

Despite this, ATAP has still landed in broadly the right place – which in a way makes it even stronger. Even if your focus is very old-school, predict and provide etc. the evidence shows that the best solution for Auckland is a major expansion of the public transport network and a shift to managing demand. Of course ATAP isn’t perfect:

  • There are a lot of major roading projects in there which seem unnecessary if you were to bring in smarter pricing, something the report even acknowledges in this section about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles

This could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity

  • Some of what’s said about arterial roads is quite worrying as there’s a really strong push for those to have more of a movement focus when many of these are also places where we want a lot of development to occur – a balance between place and movement is required
  • I think some major public transport projects will probably need to be brought forward – if for nothing else, to respond to massive demand

One thing you may have noticed is missing from the report is active modes. This is in part because our transport models are hopeless on active modes and because “the views of central and local government are already well aligned on the priorities and likely level of future funding”. Hopefully that means more initiatives like the Urban Cycleway Fund are expected.

Overall it’s a pretty big step in the right direction, especially in terms of having something the government has signed up to. At the briefing yesterday the representatives from the business and infrastructure lobbies were fairly dismayed at the outcome of the report, perhaps a sign it’s on the right track. They want to more built sooner but have also separately said they don’t want to pay more rates to enable that.

The next challenge is of course how we fund it. ATAP estimates that over the next decade we’ll need to spend $24 billion but based on current budget trends, that will leave a $4 billion funding gap (mostly in the later part of the decade). With leading mayoral candidates promising to cap rate increases, it will make for an interesting few years while this issue is addressed.


Full post is to come tomorrow morning – just a few links and key diagrams for now.

The Final Report – Recommended Strategic Approach

Supporting Information

Questions and Answers

The “indicative package”:


City Rail Link and ATAP imminent

This week is shaping up to be an important one for the future of transport in Auckland with updates expected on both the government’s funding of the City Rail Link and the final Auckland Transport Alignment Project report due to be publicly released. Both issues are understood to have been discussed in the government’s Cabinet meeting yesterday. Tomorrow the council will hold a special meeting of the governing body behind closed doors to get updates on the decisions made so a public response can be made when the information is released, expected to be Thursday.

This meeting has been called to consider progress with central government on the City Rail Link and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.

The above reports were not available at the time of going to print as the content is contingent on cabinet consideration that has yet to take place. The reason for urgency is to enable the council to respond quickly following that cabinet consideration.

While we wait for the Thursday, here are a few questions and thoughts I’ve had and will be keeping an eye on when the announcement happens.

City Rail Link

  • Will the government fund 50% of the project?
  • As we know the council are already funding ~$250 million for the early works on the project which will see cut and cover tunnels dug from Britomart to south of Wyndham St. This was needed in part so developments like Commercial Bay on the old Downtown mall site could proceed. Will any government funding commitment cover the entire project including a share of the early works or will it only apply to the rest of the project?
  • If a formal funding announcement isn’t made, does that leave it up to the next council to agree on the outcome. Does that create a risk that if enough incoming Councillors are hostile to the project we could see delays?
  • Will any funding be announced for other improvements to the rail network to enable the CRL to operate better, for example for more trains, more cross-overs, signalling enhancements, the much needed third main or a number of other potential upgrades.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Auckland Transport Alignment Project

The Foundation and Interim reports have given us a good idea of the kinds of things ATAP is looking at so I’m not expecting anything too radical to appear but you never fully know.

  • Focus on the first decade – ATAP breaks future projects down by the approximate decade they will be needed. Given how rapidly things can change, the modelling gets more inaccurate the longer in the future something is so any project more than a decade out might as well be ignored. An exercise like ATAP is probably needed ever 5-10 years to ensure we’re on the right track and those projects can be reviewed and re-prioritised then.
  • Road Pricing – Prior to ATAP, discussions around road pricing have existed solely as a way to try and raise additional revenue. Yet it can also be used to encourage people not to drive at certain times which can in turn have a big impact on congestion. The results in the interim report were very positive and as a result we saw the first signs the government were softening on the issue – Newshub reports this softening has continued. I don’t expect we will see specific details about any road pricing scheme but an indication of when one may be needed is likely. I also expect this will be the area most focused on by the media.
  • Future Technology – whether it be the likes of Uber or autonomous vehicles, almost daily there is talk of role technology could have in changing transport in the future. ATAP has been looking at the potential impacts and the Interim Report noted there are potentially quite positive impacts, but the big uncertainty will be how much and when those impacts might be seen. I don’t expect this report to answer that question and again why this exercise is probably needed on a set basis.
  • Government Funding the plan – Funding the CRL is one thing but with both the council and government finally expected to be on the same page around Auckland’s transport priorities, attention is going to have to turn to how we fund it. ATAP should give a better indication of both the quantum and timing of the funding needed. I hope we’ll see an initial response from the government at the same time as the report is released.
  • Mayoral candidate response – The Mayoral hopefuls are out promising projects to voters. How will Vic Crone respond if ATAP says an additional harbour crossing isn’t anywhere near a priority or what about Phil Goff if light rail is in the same boat? Whoever is elected mayor is likely going to need to come up with additional funding to help pay for the projects needed. How will this sit with candidates promising to cap or cut rates?

What are the things you’ll be looking for with both the CRL and ATAP are made public?