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We can (and must) afford both CRL & new network infrastructure

Former ARC Councillor Joel Cayford has recently criticised the City Rail Link as being unaffordable in the near future – largely it seems because of the need to invest in a number of pieces of bus infrastructure to support the new PT network that’s being rolled out over the next few years. Here’s his key point:

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland’s transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.

So it needs to be right. It is more important that it’s planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.


This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black) NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it’s a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to “start CRL in 2016″ (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be “world class”, but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.

We know from page 96-99 of Regional Public Transport Plan that various pieces of infrastructure are required in the near future to ensure that the new network can launch successfully in 2016. Items identified as essential include:

  • Integrated ticketing (completed)
  • Electric trains rollout (already funded)
  • Integrated fares (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • City Rail Link (for the 2022 networks rather than the 2016)
  • Bus stop and shelter programme ($30m programme completed by 2015/16)
  • Otahuhu interchange (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • Te Atatu bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Westgate bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Wynyard bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2015/16 year)
  • Other city centre bus infrastructure (funded over three years up to 2016/17 year)

There are others but either they’re desirable rather than essential or they’re fairly small. Joel says all up this comes to about $200 million and that might be roughly in the ballpark from what’s in the RPTP. We really do need to do these projects – and a bunch of bus lanes – to make sure the new PT network is implemented in a successful fashion. Its connected design relies upon good quality interchanges and a much larger bus lane network to ensure services run quickly and reliably. So I am in full agreement with Joel that we can’t let funding CRL (or AMETI, East-West Link, Penlink, Mill Road or any of the other big projects sitting in Auckland Transport’s future work programme) get in the way of funding these other projects.

But where I disagree with Joel is the extent to which the “new network infrastructure” outlined above really conflicts with funding CRL. Timing-wise, it seems that most of what’s listed above will be completed by 2016 or 2017. Almost by definition the projects have to be done by then in order to roll out the network successfully. No Otahuhu interchange means no new southern network, no Te Atatu bus interchange means no Western network rollout. These projects are top of the current priority list – with many funded in the 2014/15 Annual Plan (see page 198 of this document). Further there has been mention of the need for this investment in the draft Government Policy Statement.

GPS 2015 (draft) will enable:

  • completion of improvements to metro-rail services, integrated ticketing and public transport network changes intended to increase patronage, including transfer and interchange facilities
  • provision for targeted infrastructure improvements that improve transfer facilities across the network and address emerging bus capacity constraints in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

In contrast, we know that even if construction of the City Rail Link begins in 2016, the serious investment in its construction will be after 2017 once the main tunnelling and construction of the three new stations gets underway in earnest. Early construction – particularly for the section under Britomart and the Downtown Shopping Centre, is around $250m, leaving plenty of available funding for the new network infrastructure, given that Auckland Transport plan to spend $825 million on transport projects in the 2014/15 year by way of example.

Therefore it seems that there’s little conflict between successfully implementing the new bus network and building the CRL. Put simply, they’re two different things happening in different timeframes – bus stuff in the next 2-3 years and then CRL’s serious investment after that. I wish Joel would spent more of his time criticising the bigger risks for improving public transport in Auckland – like the limited PT funding available in the Government Policy Statement, the refusal by treasury to fund the Northern Busway extension to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor package, NZTA’s willful disregard of the need for a Northwest Busway, government blowing billions on unneeded state highways, the potentially over-sized East West Link project, the expensive and unnecessary Penlink project and many more.

More bus lanes required – Mt Eden Road

Mount Eden Road is one of our premier isthmus bus corridors, now having a very high frequency. Between 7am and 9am 36 buses depart Three Kings, or nearly one every 3 minutes. Half of all Airbuses also use this corridor giving an extra 3 per hour each way. During the busiest hour there are 22 buses along the corridor, while latest traffic count figures (2006) show there were 1600 cars. With about 50 seats a bus, that means buses carry at least 1100 people, so buses are carrying about 40% of the people in the northern part of Mt Eden Road. Generally in the peak hour these buses are packed with standees, so buses maybe well be carrying half the people in the corridor. Then north of Esplanade Road, Dominion Road buses (except expresses) join Mt Eden Road too, giving an extra 23 buses between 7am and 9am. This suggests the corridor should have full bus lanes the whole way from Three Kings into town. I have already covered the big issues with bus congestion at Newton in a previous post, so I will now focus on the corridor between Mount Albert Road and Newton.

Below is a map of the current bus lanes (green lines), and as you can see they are very erratic (zoom in on the map to see more detail).

View Mt Eden Bus Lanes in a larger map

While the corridor is 5km long, the sections going northbound only have bus lanes for 2km, while southbound there is only 1km of bus lanes. Therefore only 30% of the corridor has bus lanes, which is hopeless considering the frequency of buses along the corridor. Heading southbound there are none south of Balmoral Road, while northbound none south of Duke Street.

Work to move the corridor towards full bus lanes can be separated into quick wins, short term fixes and medium term fixes as in some areas capital works are required.

There are 2 obvious quick wins.

Mt Eden useless bus lane

Common sight around 6pm. Bus lane finished well before rush hour does.

The first quick win is the ridiculously short timing of the southbound buslane leading to Mt Eden shops. This a roughly 200m section starting at Batgar Road, and finishing where the shops start. It is only a buslane from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, then reverts to parking! This means that a bus leaving Britomart at one of the busiest times of 5.10pm would struggle to make it to Mt Eden before the bus lanes finishes! This should immediately be standardised to the usual time of 4pm to 6pm. However for bus lanes in general I would rather see at least 3.30pm to 6.30pm for evening lanes but that’s another discussion. The short operating hours result in crazy situations like this one taken around 6pm, with one car parked the brief bus-lane.

The second quick-win is regarding the clearways that exist through Mt Eden village (black lines in the map below). There is no reason why these should not be buslanes. The southbound clearway also has silly short hours of operation (4.30pm to 5.30pm again) so this should be extended as well. The northbound clearway is the standard 7am to 9am which is fine for the shorter morning peak. This change would help buses get through Mt Eden faster, and in and out of bus stops much easier.

Mt Eden clearways

The short term fixes (3 months to 1 year) are simple extensions of green paint along existing traffic and parking lanes.

Some of the issues encountered with current lengths of bus lanes were highlighted by commentator Steve N in my general bus lane post from February.

 “Mount Eden Road/Three Kings route: install inbound bus lane from Three Kings Terminus to Duke Street, to meet existing bus lane. After 0720ish, traffic backs up past Duke Street, including buses – completely negating 5 min frequency.”

So this suggests a northbound bus lane would really aide reliability and speed of the services the whole way north to the city. There is enough width within the kerbs for bus lanes to be added on both sides of the road from Mt Eden village to Three Kings. This bus lane would be very easy to install, as could be done with morning and afternoon parking restrictions and a coat of paint. In some areas the median may need to be narrowed or removed to fit bus lanes on both sides of the road. The only complication is the zebra crossing near Duke Street which may need to be removed. Zebra crossings are not seen to be safe roads with 2 lanes of traffic in one direction. So the only cost would be signalization of these pedestrian crossing, which AT have indicated costs around $100,000. 

Mt Eden bus congestion2

Common sight in the morning. Buses stuck in traffic as no bus lanes.

North of Mt Eden village things are a little trickier as the road is more windy and there are more intersections and pedestrian crossings to deal with. This means lanes need to be wider to accommodate vehicles. Northbound bus lanes can be easily added at least as far as Percy St (where southbound bus lanes start), just by narrowing the median. This looks to be the same for the section between Normamby Road and Mt Eden station. However some areas will require more complex works over the medium term.

The Normanby Road intersection is likely to require the biggest work. There are various islands and turning bays that narrow the road width here, so some capital works are inevitable. I suggest this intersection is in need of major upgrades for pedestrians too. Depsite this being opposite a playground (top right) and the northern entrance to Mt Eden, there are no pedestrian crossings at all. Coupled with the turning lanes, wide curving road and high speeds, this is a very dangerous spot for people crossing the road. I can see it being very difficult for cars to turn in and out Normanby Road at peak times too. Fixing the safety issues is likely to require signalization to add a safe pedestrian crossing point, so signalizing the whole intersection in conjunction with other work and kerbs and islands is likely to be the solution. Careful phasing to give limited priority to Normanby Road will ensure this intersection does not congest Mt Eden Road.

Normanby Road intersection

Intersection of Mt Eden Road with Normanby Road and Puka St

On closer inspection some other areas will also require capital works, such as kerb realignment, especially at intersections such as Boston Road and Esplanade Road. When capital works are done this is a great time to add cycling infrastructure to the corridor as well. Unfortunately like Dominion Road it appears to be difficult to fit quality separated lanes in the corridor as well as bus lanes without major rebuilding works.

So to sum up the volume of buses on Mt Eden Road means it is in need of full length bus priority. Some of the improvements can be done very quickly, however others will need varying levels of capital works. Either way improvements on this corridor can be done for a fraction of the $66 million being spent on the parallel Dominion Road corridor. Auckland Transport needs to come up with a staged implementation plan, showing how Mt Eden Road can move from 30% bus lanes to full length bus lanes over the next 5 years. I would suggest we could could see a big improvement in under a year, and more expensive parts programmed in after that.


Last night we hosted Janette Sadik-Khan, the woman who transformed New York City’s notoriously contested streets as Mayor Bloomberg’s Transportation Commissioner 2007-13. We are extremely grateful that she found  time on her four day visit to Auckland to share her wisdom and experience with us advocates.


Despite arriving at 5am that morning JSK and her team gave us all a great deal of attention and engagement [colleague Seth Solomonow said of the flight: "why'd y'all have to be so far away?"]. JSK still works with Michael Bloomberg at his new not-for-profit post-Mayoral agency Bloomberg Associates. Here is the opening line their mission statement:

Bloomberg Associates, an international consulting service founded by Michael R. Bloomberg as a philanthropic venture, helps city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens.

So the first recommendation from JSK last night is that Mayor Brown contact ex-Mayor Bloomberg to see how Auckland get to see a whole lot more of JSK and here team to help improve our city in more detail.

Other soundbites from the night include:

  • Changing the Streetscape and adding to the movement options can hugely improve the economic vitality of the whole city as well as individual areas.
  • You have to try out radical changes to the streetscape cheaply, quickly, and temporarily.
  • Don’t just do part of what’s needed; be bold keep it cheap and temporary so whole areas can be done together.
  • Be prepared change it, or even change it back to how it was, if it isn’t working.
  • If half the city doesn’t hate what you’re doing you probably aren’t doing anything.

She also said the reason she made it a priority to meet with us was that groups like ours in NY had been hugely influential in enabling change. Particularly streetsblog, a clear role model for transportblog.

Also it was just a great night down at Imperial Lane:


We are now looking forward to her presentation at Auckland Conversations on Monday. And thanks to the Auckland Conversations team for hosting her visit, and in particular lending her to us for the evening.

Photo of the day: Bad Bus Lane

Bus lanes are generally fantastic in that they can allow buses carrying large numbers of people to move along a road without getting caught in congestion. The bus lanes added to Fanshawe St are a great example moving over 70% of all people on that road regardless of only accounting for 1/3 or less of the road space. I’m pretty supportive of bus lanes and want to see a lot more but this one surely has to be the stupidest in the city due to it being not wide enough for a car let alone a bus to use. As a result buses end up using the general traffic lane.

Mini Bus Lane

Submit on the K Road and Newton Area Plans today

As we mentioned last week, the Karangahape Road Area Plan is open for submissions, which close Wednesday 5pm. Generation Zero have been running a campaign to call for separated cycle lanes on Karangahape Road. The 8 Key reasons for this were included on the original post here.  So far the campaign has been very successful, gaining over 2200 signatures on a petition, and most importantly signing up 100 businesses in support of the cycle lanes. Showing business support is really important, as in some other corridors some vocal businesses have opposed cycling plans.

As usual the official Auckland Council form is a little overcomplicated, and it requires people to have a good understanding of the plan beforehand. So therefore to make things easier Generation Zero have come up with a handy quick submit form for people to have a say on the key points of the plan.

We just ask that people get them in by 10pm so we have time to forward them to the council by the due time.

Note the Newton Plan is also out for submissions too, which also close tonight. The plan highlights some exciting projects such as the potential for the removal of the awful Dominion Road flyover, and making Ian McKinnon Drive more like a street and less like an urban motorway. So this certainly deserves some support.


Evening walk from Newton to Kingsland

However it is weaker on the future form of Upper Symonds Street, which really is in need of a rebuild in the medium term to benefit pedestrians, cyclists and public transport by removing excess traffic lanes. North of Khyber Pass Road the corridor is an astonishing 35 metres wide, thanks to some unncessary 1990′s road widening. However this now gives a large amount of space for reprioritisation that could create a proper urban street.

This plan is also a great opportunity to call for urgent northbound bus lanes along Symonds St through Newton, which we covered on the blog in MarchJust to recap there are 180 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, and this area is a major source of congestion. For example it is not uncommon for buses to take 30 minutes to get from Mt Eden to the University, with most of that stuck in congestion around this area. Buses are also carrying at least 2/3 of the people along this corridor in the morning. With the success of the Fanshawe bus lanes, this is the next obvious place from Auckland Transport to get a quick win that will help thousands of commuters each morning. So therefore would be great to send a message to the council and Auckland Transport that this corridor is ideal for another quick win. 

If you want to submit on the Newton Area plan, the plan and the official council submission form can both be found here.

Fanshawe St Goes Green

Not a new flag design [not bad though]. No this is a some seriously significant tarmac for Auckland. Why so? FANSHAWE ST BUSLANES_8083 The 28th of April 2014 is proving to be a bit of a red letter day for the minor revolution that is sneaking up on Auckland: The revitalisation of Auckland as a Transit city. Of course it marks the beginning of our new electric trains in ordinary service, but also another, smaller, much cheaper, but arguably just as significant change begins today: Northbound bus lanes on almost all of Fanshawe St. How could anything as boring as buslanes; patches of garish green crystals on existing Macadam be so significant, especially compared to the arrival of the long awaited electric trains?

FANSHAWE ST red and green

Red and Green: what could be better?

Well because they represent a new nimbler Auckland Transport. Able to act fast on good ideas, willing to listen to suggestions from outside their usual processes, and one looking significantly more interested in serving all road users and not just those single occupant car drivers. Here’s a little history: Luke’s post from February this year started the ball rolling, caught the attention of many at AT, particularly the Chairman of the Board and, waddayaknow? Action. And now: Done.

Take a bow Auckland Transport.

And now we know quick fixes can be done, so we look forward to many more like this one, I’m sure our readers have many more in mind. To start I guess the obvious one is the need to link these new bus lanes in Fanshawe St with the ones on the Central Connector through Customs St……


Street crystal joy

Also this is a good opportunity to point out another good recent upgrade; what it says on the back of that City Link Bus: Higher frequencies to Wynyard Quarter, an increase in freedom now amplified by this increase in road priority on this route with the new bus lanes. Imagine anyone using the Onehunga Line to get Wynyard Quarter must be feeling triple the love from AT today!

Quick progress on Fanshawe Street bus lane proposal

In early February the blog set out to once again highlight Auckland Transport’s lack of progress on implementing any bus lanes, and highest priority we thought was fixing the Fanshawe Street westbound, which consisted of a few isolated and dysfunctional sections, but mostly had nothing at all. We proposed a quick, easy fix solution, just consisting of reallocating some general traffic lanes, so the 70% of people in buses would get a faster road home.

This post gained the attraction of several councillors, and was followed up by the Campaign for Better Transport. This resulted in the proposal gaining the attention of  Auckland Transport Board chair Lester Levy, who asked for further investigation, which found the idea was feasible. This was announced in early March, and then they said the timing would be about three months.

However this afternoon Auckland Transport have sent out a new press release, showing that detailed design has been completed, and the design sounds very similar to what we proposed.

Bus commuters heading home along Fanshawe Street are to get a new predominantly kerbside bus lane.

The shore bound bus lane will start from Albert St and connect to the existing bus lane beside Victoria Park to keep buses moving to the northern motorway through this key traffic corridor.

Auckland Transport public transport group manager Mark Lambert says Auckland Transport has weighed up options for implementing a bus lane and believes that a kerbside lane after Hobson Street is the optimal solution. Between Albert and Hobson Streets the bus lane will be in the second lane from the kerb to allow for the heavy volume of traffic that turns left to access the southern and western motorway entrances.

“Further along the route, there is a significant traffic movement left into Halsey St which requires additional queuing space to operate effectively,” says Mr Lambert.

Seventy per cent of the people who travel on Fanshawe St at peak are in a bus and there’s a bus about every 40 seconds.

Mr Lambert says Auckland Transport has given priority to installing a new interim bus lane for shore bound commuters while longer term plans continue to extend the Northern Busway to and from the city centre.



Multiple buses stuck behind a few cars will soon be a thing of the past here

What is really exciting is that a follow up email to their communications people revealed that the bus lane would be implemented between Easter and Anzac weekend, less than 2 weeks away! This is only just over 2 months since our blog post, and only one month since they agreed it was a feasible option. This is a very exciting development, as many of our frustrations with Auckland Transport relate to the speed at which they are able to implement their plans, and they do have plenty of decent plans around public transport improvements. Lets hope this is a sign of change within the organisation, and ensures they keep moving on implementing quick win projects, notably bus lanes, but also opportunities around walking and cycling infrastructure as well.


No more buses in the City Centre? Is light rail an answer?

An idea that crops up quite often is whether we can get rid of all the buses in the city centre. This idea is normally backed up with the suggestion that buses are dirty, smelly, noise loathesome things that have no place in a civilised city.

Now right up front I don’t agree with that suggestion. Modern buses are actually pretty clean and quiet, especially new hybrid and battery electric models. If we design our bus routes and infrastructure properly they can be very low impact and contribute nicely to the urban environment, but where we treat them like poor cousins or try and “paint the bus routes on afterwards” they can be horrendous.

But let’s ignore that reality for now and run with the premise: what would it take to get rid of buses from the city centre. I can see four general options:

  1. Stop all buses at the edge of town and make everyone walk in. I think this is a non starter, Auckland Central is just too big for this to work. Some people would be happy to walk a kilometre or two to get where they are going, but most want to get a lot closer than that. This idea also kills off any chance of connecting between buses to get across town.
  2. Stop all buses at the edge of town and transfer everyone to a light rail shuttle, tram loop or monorail circulator, etc. This I think is also a non starter. It overcomes the walk issue above but simply trades it for the inconvenience of a forced transfer on every trip. That’s not just unnecessarily inconvenient, it also requires some pretty massive terminus infrastructure to turn around hundreds of buses an hour at various points on the city fringe and get everyone over to some sort of shuttle thing. It also makes transfers across town awkward, although not impossible.
  3. Feed all buses into rail or busway tunnels and only have underground train/bus stations in the city. This is feasible, but would be very expensive. Given the current and projected bus patronage we would require two or three city rail links, or bus equivalents, to move the numbers. It also means you lose the easy street level access for more local trips, and would need to divert lots of local isthmus buses quite out of the way to link to connecting stations or bus tunnel portals. So without building something comprehensive, and expensive, like an underground metro network it’s hard to see how this could work, and indeed all the cities with the busiest metros still have masses of buses and trams running at street level.
  4. Convert all city bus routes to light rail, and only have light rail trams on city streets. This is the question I want to explore today, is it feasible to reinstall the Auckland isthmus tram system and only have light rail vehicles running on city streets?

Having only light rail on the streets is an appealing idea, people seem very fond of trams and the idea of an extensive tram network has little push back from architects and urban designers who are concerned with the look, feel and experience of the city. It’s hard to argue that trams aren’t nice to ride on, or that they don’t look cool. If done properly it would mean dedicated lanes for every transit route reaching the city, nice station style stops and permanent and legible ‘proper transit’ for a proper big city.

Light rail on street would have a few unique advantages too. One is that the corridors can be quite narrow given that the vehicles are stuck to their rails. The trams they use in Adelaide and Madrid, for example, are only 2.4m wide. This means a double tramway can fit in only 5m of road width, between stops at least. That could be very useful for our fairly narrow arterial roads, streets like Dominion Rd or Mt Eden Rd which are only 20m wide in total and where even basic bus lanes are difficult. Putting narrow trams in the middle might buy us enough space for cycle lanes, or a row of parking.

Skinny but capacious tram from Madrid.

So if we put aside the fact you can actually do much the same with buses, if you give them the same level of investment and attention, why wouldn’t we want this?

Well the simple answer is that it would cost a lot of money, money that might be better spent improving frequencies and adding new services rather than changing the existing ones from rubber tyres to steel wheels. So the question is how much would it actually cost, so let’s see. To work out this cost, I have taken the bus network published in the Regional Public Transport Plan and identified all of the routes that end in or pass through the city centre. I then grouped those together into bunches that run on the same corridor in town, giving six groups:

  1. Quay St: Tamaki Dr to Jervois Rd/Pt Chevalier, plus the Inner Link loop
  2. Symonds St: routes from Remuera Rd, Great South Rd and Manukau Rd
  3. Queen St: Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, New North Rd
  4. Albert St: Great North Rd, and Richmond Rd
  5. The Northwestern Motorway
  6. The Northern Busway


Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

One thing to note here, I tried to be conservative with the track and make stuff as small as possible. To that end I’ve not replace some of the smaller bus routes that enter the city at all, I guess the idea is they would terminate at somewhere like Newmarket, Ponsonby or Parnell and people would have to swap to the trams.  This might not be the best way to run things for the network, but it seems to be a simple way to do it.

Adding these corridors up, we arrive at the following figures for the total track required (the total route length is longer because the routes share tracks near the City Centre).

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

For the city routes I’ve applied a cost of $12m per kilometre for track, power and roadway reconstruction. That’s a mid range estimate taken from review of recent light rail projects in Australia. I’ve also allowed for one pair of platform style stops for every 500m of track, costed at $500k each. On the Northern and Northwestern routes I’ve allowed for the addition of tracks to busway and motorway shoulders, and in the case of the Northwestern, some new stations at $10m each. This does assume that we can simply run light rail tracks on the busway, motorway shoulders and over the general lanes of the harbour bridge, probably in mixed traffic. Again that might not be the best way to do it, but it’s the cheapest. In addition, we’d need a maintenance depot and some stabling yards, total of $100m allowed there.

Finally, I worked out what would be required for a peak frequency of one tram every five minutes on each street level route (giving better frequency where they overlap), while I allowed for one every three minutes on the Northern and Northwestern corridors. Overall that requires 94 light rail vehicles, each costed at $5m.

All together that adds up to 152 route-kilometres operating on 119.7 kilometres of double track electrified tramway, with 119 stations served by 94 vehicles running every five minutes at peak times. That would leave Auckland in a sort of Melbourne like position. Heavy rail for the main trunk routes from most of the region, light rail filling in some other radial corridors, the inner suburbs covered in street level tram lines and buses relegated to feeder and crosstown routes well away from the City Centre.

So, what is the magic number to get rid of buses by building a light rail network covering all routes entering the City Centre? Add it all up and we get an estimate of $2.36 billion dollars (I actually think that is a bit light, not for the street level stuff but I fear the Northern and Northwestern motorway based ones could in practice get very expensive indeed).

The question is, is it worth it? Could we do better with that money?

Well at a service level it’s really no better than what we will have with the New Network buses, at least in terms of frequency and accessibility. Spending that money would buy us a lot of reliability, assuming that the tram tracks would be closed to traffic for the most part and the trams could run without interference at any time of day. However we could do the same with an aggressive programme of bus lanes for a lot cheaper. Likewise with the new station style stops, the corresponding street upgrades, the modern cool looking and comfortable vehicles. We’d get all that, but the question remains could we not do the same with our bus stops and save a whole lot of money in the process. Another point is this would deliver a multi-billion dollar transit boost to the isthmus and the North Shore… which are, excluding the CBD and parts of Glen Innes, precisely those areas that see the least allowance for development in the Unitary Plan.

I’d love it if some minister turned up with two and half billion for such a project, and I do believe Auckland would be an amazing place if this were done. But is it really something to aim for, or can we do better with our money?

Curiously the cost of an isthmus tram network is about the same as the CRL, so should we do that instead? I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, the CRL would need to come first, or at least at the same time, before we look at anything like this. I can see two reasons for that stance.
Firstly a light rail system wouldn’t actually add that much capacity, because it is simply replacing the buses we already have. There would probably be some boost to speed, capacity and reliability, but not that much if it is a case of just changing vehicles and guideway on the same corridors. By most estimates the CRL gives us the ability to run about 48 trains an hour in total, or an extra 28 over current capacity. Twenty-eight full size EMUs is equivalent to about eighty-four light rail trams an hour, or 420 buses!… and that’s new capacity.
The second point is that the CRL really supercharges the regional rail network, which focuses on the suburbs outside the isthmus more than anything. As noted above it’s the rail served suburbs of the west and south that really have the potential to grow under the unitary plan, not the isthmus, so we should build the transport they need first.

Let us know what you think, I hope to see lots of juicy debate on this one!

Why bus lanes are so important

This morning we received the excellent news from Lester Levy that within the next three months, for the first time in Auckland Transports history it will have created a new bus lane. The purpose of this post is a bit of a reminder as to why investing in bus lanes is so critical for us to do as a city. 

This issue has been one we have focused on for some time and when there is such a huge focus on improving public transport, increasing patronage and investing in alternatives to driving everywhere – the complete lack of progress on bus lanes is utterly bizarre. The other part of the reason why we focus so much on bus lanes is that they’re just so fantastic. With the use of just a bit of green paint and a few signs, a fast, reliable, high quality and attractive public transport route can be created. In many situations this can vastly increase the capacity of the roading corridor as people take up a whole lot less room when on a bus than they do one person to a car. There are many different versions of this image around but it is a good way of highlighting the efficiency that buses provide.


Locally we can see just how much of an impact buses have on roads into the CBD from the annual screenline studies that take place. Take a look at how many more people travel along Karangahape Road, Symonds Street and Fanshawe Street by bus than do by car:

Given that all three streets mentioned above are pretty packed out for cars at peak times, if it wasn’t for the buses carrying so many people each street would need to have twice the number of lanes it currently has. This has also been seen on the Harbour Bridge where the number of people crossing at peak times has continued to rise while the number of vehicles hasn’t, in large part due to the improvements in bus infrastructure on the North Shore making buses more attractive. Before the Northern Busway only 18% of those crossing the bridge in the peak did so on a bus, now that number is up over 40%. The image below is a bit old now but highlights the trend that has been occurring and that has continued to occur.


But maximising capacity is not the only reason why we should consider putting in bus lanes. Even where less than 50% of people moving along a corridor are on the bus, there’s still a big benefit of bus lanes providing a fast, reliable congestion free travel option. We haven’t shown all streets that should have bus lanes on the congestion free network maps, but in a way we should – because as long as the bus lanes are continuous (often they aren’t), have sufficient hours of operation (which often they don’t) and are supported by traffic signal phasing tuned to maximise public transport efficiency (something that happens overseas but generally not here), bus lanes can often provide a really good level of service for low-to-medium demand routes.

No congestion in this lane!

Furthermore, bus lanes should help improve operational efficiency of the bus network. The longer a bus takes to get from A to B, the more buses that are needed on that route to keep frequencies at the same level. During peak hours not only are more buses often required because of increased demand, but as buses get stuck in congestion and take much longer to complete their routes, even more buses are needed on the network to limit the gaps between services. And a whole pile of buses used only at peak times means a very expensive system to run. By taking the buses out of the congestion, not only will the service attract many more people (and their fares), fewer buses will be required to maintain the desired frequencies because the buses will be travelling so much faster.

So why aren’t we seeing more bus lanes? Of course the real beauty of bus lanes is also their greatest challenge: because they don’t need to require building more road space, they do involve taking that space away from other uses. Usually either peak hour private vehicle capacity (if there’s a clearway or other parking restriction) or on-street parking. Both of these uses are notoriously difficult to reallocate to bus lanes – even when there’s an utterly compelling argument. Over the past few years – while we haven’t been building any bus lanes – there certainly have been numerous arguments over the ones we have. This has led to things like a farcical number of signs around Grafton Bridge and the winding back of the Remuera Road bus lanes to T3 lanes.

In summary, we know that often there are compelling arguments for bus lanes based on logic – whether that’s maximising the capacity of the road corridor, significantly improving the quality of public transport along a route or improving operational efficiency. Or all three. However, we also know that implementing bus lanes can be tough due to petty politics and intense local debates over things like on-street parking. This situation reminds me of quite a bit of discussion in the past couple of weeks around the Council’s upcoming review of the Council-Controlled Organisations – of which Auckland Transport is the largest. Quite a lot of the arguments in favour of CCOs is that they’re able to operate a ‘step away’ from day-to-day politicking that can hold back progress. That they’re able to make the right decisions based on the greater good, rather than be held back by the vocal few. This is something that Lester touched on in his letter this morning.

One of the most salient messages that I took from Jarrett’s work is that bold initiatives, require courage and commitment (and perseverance) to ensure the benefits are in fact delivered. I was very interested in Jarrett’s point of view that what is in the greater public interest is not going to be in everyone’s interest. I happen to agree with Jarett and it is very important for Auckland Transport now and into the future not to jump and react to every issue raised, but rather to clearly define its direction and priorities, hold true to them and then focus on excellent and rapid implementation.

Progressing bus lanes is a great way for Auckland Transport to prove its worth.

A note from Lester Levy

Lester Levy has asked me to publish this note from him in full.

Hello Matt

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Transport Blog, Generation Zero and Cycle Action Auckland for taking up my invitation to present the Congestion Free Network concept to our recent Auckland Transport Board meeting. The Congestion Free Network is a thoughtful and constructive concept and I thought it important that the Auckland Transport Board and Senior Executives had the opportunity to engage with your group directly, on this concept. The presentation was very clear and perfectly articulated by Patrick Reynolds.

It will be interesting for Auckland Transport to now examine the Congestion Free Network in more detail with you, but without a doubt this is a concept that helps create an environment of both more contestable ideas and generative thinking.

I believe that Auckland Transport needs to be more open to examining ideas from outside the organisation, a good example is the suggestion from Luke Christensen regarding bus lanes on Fanshawe Street, westbound from Albert Street to Nelson Street and on to Halsey Street. As many of your readers may know, there is currently a more comprehensive piece of work being undertaken to develop a potential busway from Beaumont Street, along Fanshawe Street to the downtown area, with a bus station on Fanshawe Street – but this solution is certainly some time away from delivery, so any interim and pragmatic relief is very sensible.

I asked Auckland Transport management to examine Luke’s suggestion (which was supported by the advocacy of Cameron Pitches from The Campaign for Better Transport) and management have concluded that it is possible to provide bus lanes over this section suggested, and that these could remain in place until an ultimate solution is provided. The City Centre Integration Group will coordinate this work with Auckland Transport and look to put it in place as soon as practicable. As always, there is a process around designating bus lanes, but I understand this can happen reasonably quickly.

Auckland Transport management had themselves been progressing a number of opportunities in respect of pragmatic interim solutions, but Luke’s suggestion was not on that early programme. I am very pleased with management’s response in that they quickly reviewed their programme and concluded that there would be value in doing the Fanshawe Street westbound bus lane improvements as soon as practicable. Once the planning regulatory processes have been resolved it is possible that we could have a solution in place within three months.

I have also noted that there is a subsequent transport blog item proposing more bus lanes on the Symonds Street corridor. Interestingly our team have been considering this already and there are some fairly significant infrastructure issues to overcome before we implement the solution there, but we are programming work to achieve this.

Increasingly we need to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place whilst we work towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is an exemplar of this type of approach. Thanks to Luke and Cameron and Auckland Transport’s management – an excellent virtual team.

You may recall that late last year I invited Jarett Walker (“Human Transit – How Clearer Thinking About Public Transit Can Enrich our Communities And our Lives”) to make a presentation to the Auckland Transport Board. Like the proponents of the Congestion Free Network, Jarett is a clear thinker and an articulate advocate for public transport. I was pleased with his positive view of what we are doing, in particular with the roll-out of the new, high frequency bus network (starting in South Auckland).

One of the most salient messages that I took from Jarrett’s work is that bold initiatives, require courage and commitment (and perseverance) to ensure the benefits are in fact delivered. I was very interested in Jarrett’s point of view that what is in the greater public interest is not going to be in everyones interest. I happen to agree with Jarett and it is very important for Auckland Transport now and into the future not to jump and react to every issue raised, but rather to clearly define its direction and priorities, hold true to them and then focus on excellent and rapid implementation.

Finally, I take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the Transport Blog and all its contributors for adding – mostly constructively – to the vitality of discussion around how we are taking transport in Auckland forward.

Kind regards


Dr Lester Levy
Auckland Transport



Our presentation is here.