Why is Len talking tolls again

Two weeks ago John Key confirmed that the government would cover half of the costs of the City Rail Link and allow for main works to start in 2018. Immediately questions began about how the Auckland Council would cover its share of the expected $2.5 billion cost. Equally quickly Mayor Len Brown was once again raising the issue of road tolling, suggesting it was needed to pay for it.

The government confirmed yesterday it would pay about half the cost of the project, allowing work on part of the project involving a tunnelling machine to begin earlier in 2018.

Mayor Len Brown believes he has the backing of most Aucklanders to introduce higher road taxes and impose tolls to pay for the city’s half of the bill.

But Mr Brown told Morning Report road tolls were part of a range of transport funding options, and in the long term could not be overlooked.

“We know that we don’t have enough money through rates and borrowings, even if we sold things like the airport shares or the port shares, it’s still not enough.

“It is a critical issue with the growth of the city with the transport investment needs that we have and the City Rail Link in the end, with the $65 billion we’ve got to spend over the next 30 years, is only a small part of it.”

Mr Brown said he could not see any other way of raising extra revenue than with a motorway toll.

Quite why Len is suddenly raising the issue of road tolls again is odd for a few reasons.

Long Term Plan

Last year the council spent a lot of effort discussing the Long Term Plan – the 10-year budget. As part of that process they presented Aucklanders with a binary choice of either a programme of works that would build:

  • a basic version funded out of rate rises of 3.5% but that built very little over the coming decades.
  • almost every transport project ever dreamed up requiring lots of additional funding and still saw congestion predicted to get worse than it is today. To pay for the up to $12 billion extra that would be needed the council proposed either:
    • road pricing on motorways
    • a combination of additional rates increases and regional fuel taxes

The important thing though is that both versions of the transport plan included the funding for the City Rail Link. That means the project was never subject to the alternative funding options like Len is suggesting now.

LTP Basic vs AP networks

To realise either of funding options for the Auckland Plan option it would have required government approval and that didn’t happen. So instead the council ended up implementing a three-year interim transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses with the money from it earmarked primarily for PT, walking and cycling projects. There is absolutely no reason why the transport levy couldn’t be continued in to the future which is enough to effectively fund a sensible middle option of something between the two original LTP transport plans.

Just coming back to the CRL, the council’s own LTP documents show the project already has funding budgeted for it over the next decade. It includes the expected contribution from the government – which the council correctly assumed would be on board by then.

LTP approved capital projects list

click to enlarge


As you know the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is currently going on and is reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland (the CRL and East-West link sat outside of this). In the Terms of Reference it specifically mentions road pricing, saying they will consider (I’ve underlined the important part)

all land transport interventions, including roads, rail, public transport, personal mobility services, walking, cycling, technology, network optimisation and demand management (including pricing for demand management purposes)

In other words, as part of the process they’re looking at what impact road pricing could have but not as a revenue gathering tool like Len wants but as a demand management one. The distinction between the two are important and would likely lead to quite different looking systems. As the name implies a demand management tool is really about trying to optimise the use of transport networks we have by using road pricing to keep roads from becoming congested. We’ve long suggested that if implemented it should be introduced in a revenue neutral way, lowering rates by the amount raised from the road pricing. In our view doing it this way would separate a potentially very useful tool from the more politically fraught issue of raising more money as by tying the two together it’s more likely neither will happen.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of road pricing is that it changes the question from how much traffic do we need to accommodate to how much do we want to accommodate. With it, it will almost certainly change the priority of many projects and it would kill off many projects altogether. For example, spending billions to widen or duplicate a motorway because an (unreliable) traffic model says vehicle volumes will increase in the future likely becomes a thing of the past. Every silly project that is no longer needed means a less extra funding that needs to be raised, easing pressure on Aucklanders and the government.

Of course to really implement road pricing we really need a much more complete range of good quality alternative options but if we know we’re going to do it in the future it should allow us to prioritise what is needed before that happens.


In conclusion, the council’s plans have the CRL clearly in the budget even if we had stuck with the no additional funding option. As such it seems that Len was perhaps trying to reignite the debate about road tolls from last year in a bit to push once again for a more build everything approach. But given the ATAP process is well under-way it seems the best option right now is to wait and see what comes from that.  The only other option for why he would suggest it is perhaps to keep the idea in the government’s head so they know the issue hasn’t gone away.

A brief CRL history in cartoons

It’s taken some time but last week the government finally came around to starting the City Rail Link in 2018. In the end they were effectively forced into the position as they could no longer ignore the rapidly increasing ridership . Hayden Donnell from The Spinoff put together a great list of statements mainly from the government’s past transport ministers which really highlight how much they’ve opposed the project in recent years. Rather than duplicating the work I thought I’d look at the recent history of the project through some of the cartoons that have been published.

17 March 2009 – NZ Herald – Not strictly about the CRL but commenting Joyce’s plan for rail in Auckland – at the time he had put the plans to electrify the rail network on hold.

Joyce on Auckland Rail

28 November 2010 – NZ Herald – Len Brown as the newly elected mayor of an amalgamated Auckland released the business case into CRL. The government and especially Transport Minister Steven Joyce were quick to pour cold water on the idea.

2010-11-28 - Buffers

1 December 2010 – NZ Herald – The former Auckland Regional Council chaired by now councillor Mike Lee had been the main supporter of the CRL for main years resulting in the business case getting under way in the first place. This carries on from the one above as Steven Joyce was the face of the opposition to the project.

I have a vision of a tunnel - 01.12.10

9 June 2011 – The Press – After one of the Independent Māori Statutory Board members suggested there was a Taniwha in the way of the CRL.

CRL Taniwha

5 July 2012 – NZ Herald – at times it seemed as if the government would never agree to the CRL

2012-07-05 - When Time Flies

18 December 2012 – NZ Herald – As part of the critique into the original business case the Ministry of Transport suggested that one of the ways the council could improve it was the “Development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternatives“. This led directly to the City Centre Future Access study which looked at almost 50 options for improving access to the city and was worked on by officials from local and central government. It found that the CRL was the best option yet despite central government involvement in the work Transport Minister Jerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss it.

Controlling the Loop - 18.12.12

9 March 2013 – NZ Herald – In response to the Auckland’s desire for more investment in public transport Transport Minister Brownlee would continue to talk up the government’s investment in roads.

More Roads

27 June 2013 – NZ Herald – The Prime Minster John Key surprised everyone by suddenly supporting the CRL – although not starting it till 2020. This was in stark contrast to the position Brownlee and his predecessor Steven Joyce had been taking not long before this. It is believed there were a couple of key reasons for the change in stance. One was polling showing Auckland voters were unhappy that the government appeared to be constantly fighting the council and wanting progress. The second was that the business lobby groups in Auckland were also unhappy with the lack of action and had made that clear to the government.

Love for a Rail Loop - 2013-06-27

28 April 2014 – NZ Herald – the day the first electric trains started running.

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

27 January 2016 – NZ Herald – John Key announces that the government now support the CRL starting in 2018 – even though it appears at this stage that their share of the funding still won’t kick in till 2020

last one on board cartoon

30 January 2016 – NZ Herald – The CRL is suggested to be a white elephant in a weekly wrap-up cartoon.2016-01-30 - CRL White Elephant

Bonus cartoons

28 May 2007 – It was around this time that the former Labour government signed off on electrifying the Auckland rail network so I assume it was in relation to that.

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

2 November 1954 – NZ Herald – lampoons the scuttling by the National government of a previous plan to build an underground rail link through Auckland. The bound and gagged figure depicts Auckland Mayor J.H. Luxford


CRL Certainty

Certainty is the word I’d use to describe the announcement by John Key yesterday that the government would support for the City Rail Link main works beginning in 2018. While it was widely expected it was an announcement that was both very low on specific details but also contained a lot of information.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

As readers may remember, the government had long opposed the CRL with former transport ministers at the time Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee seemingly taking great pleasure in dismissing reports at that time. That all changed in 2013 where in a similar speech Key announced the government would accept the CRL from 2020 onwards but entertained the idea of an earlier start/finish time if patronage doubled to 20 million earlier than expected and CBD employment grew by 25%.

While the government hasn’t put in place targets for any other project before (or after), having one for patronage isn’t too bad an idea but we were always very critical of the employment growth one for a number of reasons. In the end the employment target was irrelevant in the decision.

CBD employment levels are still some way from the 25 per cent growth threshold.

But strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means it will reach the 20 million annual trip threshold well before 2020.

It’s become clear that we need to provide certainty for other planned CBD developments affected by the Rail Link.

This means we see merit in starting the project sooner.


As we posted the other day, patronage on the rail network reached 15.4 million to the end of December, a 22.9% increase on the year before. The scale of the growth and that it has been sustained at around that level for a year are impressive and highlight just how quickly things can change. It’s meant that at current rates we would hit the CRL target up to three years early. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is the impact the business community have had on getting an earlier start date. There is a huge amount of development planned along the CRL route and much of it is premised on CRL happening. Providing a commitment which then allows the private sector to get on with investing billions makes a lot of sense.

Emmerson CRL John Key 2016.01.27

Emmerson in herald yesterday

In quite a shrewd move Key actually only confirmed the government share would arrive after 2020 which is in line with his original time frame from back in 2013 but just by having that commitment now means that the council can use it’s share to start in 2018.

So I can today confirm the Government will work with the Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020.

The Council has indicated this would allow construction of the Rail Link’s main works to start in 2018 – at least two years earlier than currently envisaged.

It would also allow the council to get on with negotiating contracts and providing certainty for investors in other important Auckland CBD projects.

By providing the commitment he has it’s likely he’s saved more than just the two-year gap. The big reason for this is it means that those at AT working on the project can get on with the tender process and engage with potential suppliers knowing that will definitely be there from 2018. That can allow them to optimise the built, possibly reduce the amount of time the main works will take and definitely reduce the overall amount of disruption the city will experience from the construction. It of course also means we start getting the transport and economic benefits sooner.


One quite interesting statement about the project was that the council and government need to sit down and work out just who will own and operate the infrastructure. I can’t imagine the council/AT paying for half of the project and then being keen on say Kiwirail owning it.

On the funding, Key confirmed in this interview with Duncan Garner that the money would come from the government’s consolidated account and not the National Land Transport Fund once again highlighting the issue that rail infrastructure is funded differently to other land transport. This is something that really needs to be changed. Also of note in that interview was him being quite positive about development around the rail network which is encouraging.

It remains to be seen how the council will pay for its share. Funding for it was already included in the Long Term Plan agreed last year for 2018 onwards however Len was also talking yesterday again about using road tolls to raise funding for it. Interestingly the government also appear to have softened their stance on this. Previously they’ve outright refused to even consider it but Key is now saying they will if there is a good case for it.

Phil Goff has called for the project to be treated like one of National Significance and be fully funded by the government.

The council yesterday released this short video of the change that that Albert St and the surrounding area is about to go though

Congratulations and thanks to Len Brown for is effort over the last 5 or so years in turning this project into a reality. At times it’s looked like it may never happen but the persistency has paid off and Auckland will be considerably better for it. There are a lot of others that need to be congratulated too and many of whom we may never know just how important of a role they played


Following on from Key’s announcement on the CRL there have been a few of frankly bizarre press releases from some politicians that are worth mentioning. Top of the list is the response from David Seymour who has used the announcement to call for more money to be spent on schools in his electorate and this statement. Odd as the government have already shown they are prepared to fund greater investment in schools to deal with changing roll sizes – such as this at the beginning of December.

“The reality is that we have a train looking for passengers, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Rail Link requires heavy intensification around Mt Eden Station, among others, to be viable.

“The Council has not considered the implications of changing land use on education in the area, where schools are already bursting at the seams. The Mt Eden Station development, for instance, will bring hundreds of new residences into already-full school zones.

Yes a train looking for passengers, I guess that’s why they’re often so full that people can’t get on. I haven’t checked but I’m also fairly confident the Ministry of Education would have submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan currently before an independent hearings panel.

In a separate release he also suggests the government should have blackmailed the council by withholding infrastructure funding until they allowed unfettered sprawl subsidised by existing ratepayers.

The Government has let Auckland Council off the hook, gaining no concessions on land supply or rate rises, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Writing a big cheque was the time to bring Auckland Council to the table,” says Mr Seymour, “but instead the Council got away with the money and the bag.”

“The Government could have set up ongoing incentives for the council to provide infrastructure. Instead, with no sign that the council will focus on core services, the largesse of the Len Brown era will continue.

Yesterday’s news is also not good for those that have spent their careers first telling us the project wasn’t needed and after being surprised at the government’s support in 2013, that the council shouldn’t do anything till that time. Chief among those was Cameron Brewer who used the news as an opportunity primarily to take a swipe at mayoral candidate Phil Goff.


Links: Key’s Auckland Infrastructure Annoucment

Shortly Prime Minister John Key will be delivering his State of the Nation address at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. It’s been widely expected that he’ll announce the government agreeing to start the main works on the City Rail Link in 2018 – in line with when the council/AT wanted to start them – instead of 2020 like they had announced when they supported the project in 2013. I’ll actually be at the event and trying my best to cover it live on social media so follow us twitter for the latest updates.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

But it won’t be the only announcement with Key saying:

“As New Zealand’s largest city, our biggest commercial centre and the main gateway for international tourists, we all need Auckland to succeed.”

He said the Government was already putting billions of dollars into Auckland as it grew and he would highlight some of the priorities for the year ahead.

“It’s a speech that looks very heavily at infrastructure projects, not just in Auckland, but it does look at those issues and gives the Government perspective on next steps.”


“We are spending billions and billions of dollars as a Government on infrastructure. So the announcements we make tomorrow will ultimately mean the Government increases even further its expenditure on infrastructure. We are doing that because that infrastructure underpins the efficiency and competitiveness of our economy. We are not doing this because we need to stimulate the economy per se.”

Mr Key said housing in Auckland was a focus for the Government, but it was not the main issue of his speech. “We are saying we need to build more houses faster. It is our expectation the demand in Auckland is going to continue, that the growth in the Auckland population is going to continue and we just need to build a lot more houses between now and the next five to 10 years.”

It’s also been rumoured that he’ll make comments on the East-West Link, Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and Penlink. Further while he says housing won’t be a main issue of his speech I suspect that other aspects of infrastructure provision such as funding for water infrastructure that would enable more housing to be developed more quickly might be.

I imagine we’ll see media reports of the announcement coming in fairly quickly after the speech so the main purpose of this post is for somewhere to discuss what’s announced – I’ll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow.

Of course with the CRL getting so much attention it begs the question how many times will the media or some media commentator refer to it as a loop, suggest it’s just about trains going around in circles or that it’s just about Len Brown wanting a toy trainset.

Anyway it should be an interesting few hours. Keep an eye on our twitter account for the latest updates.

Len Brown on the CRL

With less than a week to go till Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce an earlier start for the City Rail Link, Mayor Len Brown has written a fantastic op-ed on why the project is needed. One of the issues I’ve long thought the CRL has suffered from is that it’s part of the solution to a wide range of issues, not just transport ones. Len covers many of these well in his piece.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

You may be surprised to know how long the Herald has been speculating on when or if Auckland will get an underground train system. As is widely known, Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposal in the 1970s got axed but his wasn’t the first. It actually goes back almost a hundred years in Auckland’s history. In 1923, then Railways Minister Gordon Coates gave his support for a city-to-Morningside underground rail line.

Reading through old files of this newspaper and its then-rival the Auckland Star over the holiday break, I was intrigued at how many times the same arguments for and against have been aired and which sadly resulted in missed opportunities.

A few days before Christmas, I spoke at an iwi blessing for the start of work in Albert St, signalling the start of the City Rail Link against that history of missed opportunities. It was a hugely moving occasion.

The City Rail Link is not just a transport story. It’s also about growing business and creating jobs as well as promoting environmental sustainability. The economic growth that will result will occur well beyond the central city. I have championed this project since my first Auckland Council mayoral campaign because it will be transformational, not only to keep Auckland moving and also to boost the city’s economic and social life. It will rejuvenate many parts of wider Auckland as well as building a great heart for the city.

It is estimated about 120 premature deaths occur in Auckland each year due to air pollution. Vehicles are also the largest contributor to Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions, making up more than a third of the region’s total. The rail link will move more people out of their cars and into public transport resulting in cleaner air and water as well as promoting more active lifestyles. The move from diesel to electric trains has already reduced our CO2 emissions by 1 per cent.

Auckland’s city centre is New Zealand’s largest, fastest-growing and most productive employment precinct. Its focus is the fastest-growing part of our economy, the service sector – quality professional services, quality hospitality and quality retail. The service sector is people-intensive, so its growth means we need to move increasing numbers of people into and out of the city centre every day.

The number of people travelling to and from the city centre by car has been static for more than 15 years, and now 52 per cent of people commute by public transport. Public transport and walking and cycling are the only way to build the city workforce.

Some people suggest the way we should respond to this is by spreading the growth, and traffic, out to other parts of Auckland. This has been the failed plan for the past 60 years. There is certainly plenty of growth to go around and it is already being experienced in major metropolitan centres across Auckland.

Over the past two years, Auckland’s economy is growing at an extra $3 billion a year adding about 35,000 new jobs per annum. Concentrating certain types of employment in the city centre, however, is critical to maximising its economic value to all of Auckland. The private sector is planning and constructing new office developments able to accommodate 22,000 employees in the city centre over the next six years.

Great research has been done into urban economies over the past decade. One major finding is that whenever you increase the number of workers in an area, the productivity of individual workers goes up. This means that if you increase the number of workers by a certain percentage, you increase economic output by more than that percentage. This is because larger centres enable more specialisation and more interaction between people and firms. So providing for job growth in Auckland’s city centre is critical to its economic future. Public transport is the only way we can deliver the necessary workforce to the CBD.

Britomart station will hit train handling capacity this year. It can handle only 20 trains an hour.

The CRL allows us to increase this to 48 trains an hour. Building the rail tunnel will also divert more than enough passengers to the new Aotea Station to give Britomart enough capacity to handle decades of growth. To reach my vision of Auckland being the world’s most liveable city, we need this to happen and I expect it will soon get the needed additional financial support from the Government.

So while we all know transport and housing are the city’s biggest challenges, the issue dominating everything is that Auckland is on a roll and we are growing fast. In fact our population is growing at 3 per cent a year or more than 800 new people a week and immigrants are continuing to decide Auckland is their destination of choice.

The CRL is the heart of dealing with the growth, with propelling our economy, and creating a future Aucklanders want.

On a related note, interestingly today we also learn that Auckland will be hosting APEC in 2021. Albert St is in the process of being dug up and while the section north of Wyndham will be finished in 2018, about the time the main works are due to start which includes digging out the Aotea Station. I wonder if that section will be finished in time or if this section straddled by a few hotels will be one big construction hole.

CRL has officially started

Some great news with the first physical works to enable the City Rail Link kicking off following a dawn blessing yesterday

CRL Route

Preliminary work for Auckland’s largest infrastructure project, the City Rail Link (CRL) started today with a dawn blessing of the work site by Manawhenua.

About 80 people gathered in the still of the morning on the corner of Victoria and Albert Streets in the central city as kaumatua blessed the worksite between Swanson and Wellesley Streets where the first part of the $2.5billion project has begun.

CRL project director Chris Meale says the start of work was a great milestone for AT and the project team.

“Today was a celebration, but for most Aucklanders, the first piece of work will be largely invisible. A replacement stormwater pipe will be built under Albert Street so that the existing one can be removed when work on the CRL tunnels starts in the middle of next year.”

Those gathered, including Mayor Len Brown, acknowledged that it was a day that Aucklanders have been contemplating for almost a century.

“In 1923 Railways Minister Gordon Coates gave his support for a city-to-Morningside underground rail line that never happened. In the 1970s, Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposal met a similar fate,” says the mayor.

“Today’s blessing means that in the coming months, Aucklanders will see the CRL starting to take shape”.

Mr Meale says when the works started in earnest midway through next year, people would have to think about how they travel to and through the city.

“Public transport or active modes will be wisest but for those who don’t have that option, using parking buildings closest to city entry points will be sensible rather than driving through the city”, says Mr Meale.

It is my guess that even though the enabling works will only see the tunnel built as far as Wyndham St, from now on we won’t see the project stop until the entire thing is completed. I expect the government and the council will announce a funding deal in the new year that will see the main works start as soon as possible – which AT have suggested in the past is some time in 2018. The reality is that now they don’t have a whole lot of a choice about it, this is for a few reasons.

  • Patronage is growing so strongly that if current rates continue we’ll hit the target they imposed for an early start of 20 million trips by 2020 some time in 2017 – that is unless capacity constraints at peak times slow growth but that will create it’s own pressure.

2015-11 - Rail vs Govt Target

  • We’re hearing a lot of the business and development community are pushing for the government to get on with it. Albert St is undergoing almost a complete makeover over the next few years with a number of new buildings due to be under construction and almost all of the rest of the buildings undergoing renovations. They want the upgraded streetscape that comes after the project and the last thing they want is to still have a hole outside their shiny new doors with noisy construction work still going on.
  • Given the points above I don’t think they’ll want their lack of commitment to the project becoming a festering sore in the local body elections.

While I expect the project to be brought forward I suspect the nature of the funding may be different. Perhaps through a deal such as the council paying it’s share upfront with the government’s share being paid during the second half – which would be around 2020 meaning the government could still claim it wasn’t funding the project till then.

I’m looking forward to works really getting underway on the tunnels themselves which is due to start around May next year.

2015 – Auckland’s Watershed Year

The more I look at the events and data of 2015 the clearer it becomes that this has been a profoundly significant year for Auckland. It is my contention that this year the city reached a critical turning point in its multi-year evolution back to true city pattern. I have discussed this change many times before on this forum, most notably here, as it is, I believe, an observable process that has been building for years. Generally it has been gradual enough, like the growth of a familiar tree, as to easily pass unobserved, but now I think it has passed a into a new phase of higher visibility. The group who see it most clearly are people returning from a few years overseas. Many ex-pats express surprise and wonderment at the myriad of changes in quantity and quality they find here on returning.


Changing City: New apartments with views over the city and harbour, a Victorian school and park, 20thC motorways, and the new LigthPath.

Below is a summary of evidence for 2015 being the year Auckland returned as a city, in fact the year it crossed the Rubicon onto an unstoppable properly re-urbanising path. Later I will add another post on how 2016 and beyond is certain to see the city double-down on these trends, and why this is very good news. This transformation is observable in all five keys areas:

  • Demographics
  • Transport
  • Development
  • Economy
  • Politics

DEMOGRAPHICS. New Zealanders returning in big numbers are one of the key metrics of 2015. Along with new migrants and natural growth, the other change driving Auckland’s demographic strength is fewer people leaving, all of which, of course, are a vote of confidence in the city as a place to want to live and to likely fulfil people’s hopes for a better future. Population growth for the year was at 2.9%, the strongest rate since 2003, the strongest in the nation, and biggest raw number on record. See here for Matt’s [Population Growth in 2015] and Peter’s [Why is Auckland Growing?] posts on these issues.

Auckland LB Population Change - 2015 2And importantly for my thesis many more people are moving into the centre, particularly into new apartments. This is a evidence that the The Great Inversion is happening in Auckland as it is all over the developed world; the return of vitality to centre cities all over. Auckland’s urban form is reverting to a centred pattern; with proximity to a dense centre as a key determinant of value.

City Centre Population - 1996-2015 2

TRANSPORT. The huge and sustained boom in rail ridership way in advance of population growth is the headline transport news of 2015, and is the result of the upgrade in quality, frequency, and reliability of the service brought by the new electric trains. Sustained growth of over 20% is very strong; this year every four months an additional million trips have been added to the running annual total; 13 million in March, 14 million in July, 15 million in November. I am not overstating it to say that these numbers change a great deal: They change the argument for further investment in rail systems in Auckland, and significantly they change growth and development patterns across the city:

2015-11 - Rail Patronage


Elsewhere on our Public Transport systems the news is great too; The New Bus Network is just beginning, and is already showing huge growth in the few areas it is in effect. This year we have also seen new ferry services, including a new private Waiheke service that means there is much more like a real turn-up-and-go service there [started late 2014]. Ferry modeshare is holding its own at 7% which is a strong showing given the explosion in rail and bus numbers.

Importantly AT is now routinely rolling out long overdue bus lanes across the city. And now that they are doing this confidently and more consistently, surprise and anguish about this more efficient re-purposing of roadspace by car drivers has fallen away to nothing- there surely is a lesson there.

So total PT ridership cleared 80 million annual trips this year, for an overall growth of 8.1%, a rate running at nearly 3x population growth, evidence of a strong shift to public transport at the margin. Growth that is certain to continue despite capacity issues becoming pressing at peak times on both buses and trains.

2015-10 - Total Patronage

HOP card use also became strongly embedded this year [except on the ferries] which is another sign of a maturing system.

2015-09 - HOP Use

More population and a growing economy of course means more vehicles and more driving on our roads, [see: What’s Happening to VKT?] but because of the powerful trend to Transit outlined above the per capita number is flat to falling. This is a historic shift from last century when the two tended to move strongly in lockstep.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT + Pop

Another discontinuity from last century is that GDP and employment growth have also separated from driving VKT, as shown in the following chart from Matt’s post linked to above. Another sign that the economy too is shifting on the back of public transport, and not driving as much as it was last century:

2014 VKT - AKL Econ 2

So whereas investment in the rail network has been answered by an extraordinary boom in uptake the multi-year many billion dollar sustained investment in driving amenity has not led to massive uptake. It is hard to not conclude from this that 1. We are far from discovering the latent demand ceiling for quality Transit; only the degree of investment will limit it. And 2. Driving demand in Auckland is saturated; this mode is mature, well served and not the area to invest in for new efficiencies or growth.

2015 also saw the launch of the Urban Cycleways programme; a multiyear government led investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling. This, like the Transit boom is another shape changing departure from the past. Although the active modes are not well counted [what a culture counts shows what it values] it is clear that the shift back to the centre is also accompanied by a growth in active mode transport. This is one of the great powers of Proximity; the best trip is the one that isn’t need because the potential traveller is already there, or near enough to use their own steam:


DEVELOPMENT. All over the city investment is going into building projects of various kinds, the retirement sector is particularly strong, as is terrace house and apartment buildings, all three at levels not seen for a decade and together support the argument that Auckland is not just growing but also changing shape into a more more city-like pattern, as John Polkinghorn has kept us up to speed on all year on the Development Tracker:

Auckland Dwelling Consents to Sep 2015

Significantly there is also renewed investment into commercial projects especially in the City Centre, led by Precinct Property’s 600 million plus Downtown rebuild and tower, and Sky City’s massive Convention Centre and Hotel project between Hobson and Nelson. Additionally Wynyard Quarter is also moving to a new level soon with a mix of Hotel, Residential, and Commercial buildings. Somewhere in the region of 10 billion dollars of projects are underway or close to be in the City Centre. And as Peter clearly illustrated recently this is in no small part due to improved regulatory conditions [The High Cost of Free Parking].

ECONOMY. Cities exist simply because of the advantages for humans to be in close proximity to each other for transactions of all kinds; financial, cultural, social, sexual. And Auckland is beginning to show real possibility of opening up an agglomeration advantage over the rest of the country now that it is really intensifying. The latest data on Auckland’s performance shows a fairly consistent improvement over the last five years

GDP Growth Dec 2015 AKL

POLITICS. Two major political programmes begun this year will have profound impacts on Auckland for decades to come. The first is the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. Something we haven’t discussed on the blog because we are involved in it and are awaiting the first public release of information which will be soon. Then we will certainly be discussing the details of this ongoing work. But the importance of this process is already clear; it is a reflection of a new found acceptance but the government that Auckland’s economic performance matters hugely to the nation and that transport infrastructure investment is, in turn, critical to that performance. We are of course striving to make the case for a change in the balance of that investment in Auckland away from a near total commitment to urban highways now that motorway network approaches completion [post Waterview and Western Ring Route] and that the evidence of success from recent Transit improvements, particularly to the Rapid Transit Network, is so compelling. There are hurdles here in the momentum and habits of our institutions and politics but also huge opportunities to really accelerate our cities’ performance across a range of metrics through changing how they are treated.

The other political shift is another we are yet to cover in depth but soon will, and that’s the agreement in Paris on Climate Change. This does indeed change a great deal. The city and the nation will have to ask the question of all decisions around urban form and transport how they fit with the new commitment to reduce our carbon intensity. This will clearly lead to a further push for higher density and greater emphasis on Public and Active Transport, as these are current technology and long term fixes to this global challenge. Unleashing further the urban power of proximity and agglomeration economies. So much of the conversation around New Zealand’s carbon intensity is around the agricultural issue and this tends to ignore the opportunities our cities offer, particularly Auckland, and particularly the Auckland transport systems, to this problem.

Cities are emerging as the key organising level that are most able to react to this problem as discussed here in The Urban Planner’s Guide to a Pst-COP21 World:

In many ways, Melbourne’s experience represents a coming-of-age of the urban sustainability movement. The private sector is listening to cities and responding. Now it’s up to cities and national governments to continue the conversations that began at COP21 and continue the evolution.

“The commentary for a long time has been ‘nations talk and cities act.’ We’ve been part of that dialogue too. That’s changing now,” said Seth Schultz [director of research at C40 Cities]. “National governments are coming to organizations like ours and saying ‘help us. We get it.’ I want to change the trajectory of the conversation. Cities are a vehicle and everyone should be getting in that vehicle and joining in for the ride.”

So in summary 2015 has seen:

  • Completion of Electrification of the Rail Network and the New Trains
  • The start of the New Network
  • New Interchange Stations
  • New Buslanes
  • Improvements to Ferry services
  • Start of the Urban Cycleways Programme
  • CRL start
  • ATAP
  • Paris COP 21

I will follow this post with another looking ahead to what is going to be a huge 2016/17. Here’s a short list to start with:

  • Fare Integration
  • Further Interchange Stations
  • Western Line frequency upgrade
  • New Network rollouts
  • Queen St Buslanes [so overdue]
  • More Cycleways
  • SkyPath underway
  • CRL seriously underway
  • Huge city developments begin
  • ATAP concludes
  • Council elections
  • Progress on Light Rail [it could be closer that many expect]

For all the frustrations and compromises that we’ve highlighted over the year I think it’s very clear that there are many very hard working and dedicated people in AC, AT, NZTA, and MoT and their private sector partners and it is their collective efforts in a very fast moving and changing field go a long to making Auckland the dynamic and exciting city it is fast becoming. I am keen to acknowledge their efforts. Onward.

I also want to personally thank my colleagues here at the blog, as it has been another big year for us, Matt, Peter, Stu, Kent and John, from whom I continue to learn so much, it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to give this up anytime soon…

Also I would like to shout out to colleagues over at Bike Auckland, our sister site, they’ve had a fantastic year, so cheers to Barb, Jolisa, Max, Paul, Kirsten, Ben, Bruce and the rest.

And of course to y’all, the reader, you are what really makes this thing work, so if what we do here makes any kind of difference, ultimately that’s because of you.

Kia ora tatou…


RBNZ: Spend more in Infrastructure in Auckland

Last week the reserve bank dropped the official cash rate to its lowest ever level in a bid to spur growth and keep inflation within its target band of 1-3%. What is unusual is the RBNZ Governor also took the step of calling for the government to increase spending on infrastructure in Auckland.

“A lot of the focus tends to be on monetary policy to work out price output splits for an economy to try to get some demand growth and output growth and also maintain low inflation,” Wheeler said.

“One of the issues is what role can fiscal policy play,” he said.

“One could mount a case for saying there’s the potential to have more infrastructure spending around Auckland.”

Wheeler said the economy was generating output worth NZ$230 billion a year.

“So some capex expenditure by the government could well be helpful to try and reduce excessive capacity in the economy and, from our point of view, reduce the output gap and build inflation pressures, so that would be something that would be helpful.”

He also talked about it on Radio NZ’s Morning Report on Friday

Or listen here

So basically we need infrastructure and policy changes to unlock capacity and make it easier to increase the supply of housing in Auckland. It’s an interesting move from the RBNZ as I can’t recall seeing them making such a suggestion ever before. Infrastructure is quite a broad area and includes things like schools, hospitals, emergency services facilities etc. but of course one of the most crucial areas highlighted is Transport.

Even if the government agreed and decided to increase spending on transport infrastructure actually doing anything is likely much more difficult. Many of the projects that may want to accelerate suffer from the same problem, they’re nowhere close to being ready for construction. Many of them are just ideas on paper and haven’t been consented actually been designed. Take the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing as an example even if the government decided to fund it as soon as possible it would still be years away before any sod is turned as the project hasn’t even been designated yet. By the time they got to the point of getting the diggers out we’re likely to be in a different stage in the economic cycle.

Combined with the fact the government is already accelerating a number of motorway projects this means any focus would likely need to be on projects that can be designed and consented quickly or projects which are almost shovel ready. To me this means any spend up on transport infrastructure is likely to be focused on quick things like cycleways – which implementation teams are already going to struggle to use all the funding currently available – or other small local road projects.

That leaves large projects and currently there aren’t too many of those in Auckland’s plans that are close to being shovel ready – but there do happen to be a few interesting ones. The first is of course the City Rail Link which already has consent, the first stage is underway and design work is ongoing for the main works which still needs construction funding approved.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

Another big exception I can think of is likely to be Auckland Transport’s light rail plans. This is because for the most part the light rail proposal uses the existing road corridor and is just a reallocation of road space so I suspect that the consenting – if any is needed – would be much faster and easier.

Bringing forward both of those projects would make for welcome announcements.

Commercial Bay

Precinct Properties have confirmed that they’ll proceed with the $681 million redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre – which includes the construction of a 39 storey office building – after reaching their target of having 50% of the development pre-leased.

Tower 1

Precinct own the current mall, along with the HSBC, Zurich, PWC and AMP towers and are grouping them all into a precinct they’re calling Commercial Bay which is the name originally given to the area before the land was reclaimed. Combined they say the area will be occupied by 10,000 workers. The new tower itself will be named PWC tower with PWC moving from the tower across Albert St.

Commercial Bay workers

The project includes

  • 39,000 m2 of commercial office space including a 1,400m2 sky terrace on level 7
  • 18,000 m2 of retail space over three levels with ~100 retailers – they are saying they have a big name international retailer not currently in NZ already lined up.
  • Along with the CRL tunnels there will be additional parking which I imagine will be primarily used by commercial tenants as there 278 carparks all up.
  • There is a 6m wide east-west lane through the development located on centreline of Britomart. It will be open 24/7 and link the train station to the new bus interchange being built on Albert St.

Work is due to start on demolishing the current mall in June and they will build this section of the City Rail Link through the site – linking it to the separate works along Albert St and at Britomart. They say they expect the retail to open in October 2018 and the office tower will be completed in mid 2019

Here are some more images they’ve provided

Corner of Queen and Customs Streets

Combined with the CRL Lower Queen St outside Britomart will be pedrestrianised. With the development occurring over QE Square which was sold by the council.

Lower Queen Street - public space and facade

The retail part of the development certainly has a boxy feel to it.

Lower Queen Street - East-West Laneway

And a video of it all.

CRL Market Sounding

With the work to get the CRL built as far as Wyndham St now effectively under way, it appears that Auckland Transport are starting to shift their focus on the rest of the project. They will obviously want to get as much of the planning and design work done as they can so that construction is able to start as soon as possible after the government confirm funding – as there’s a lot to do AT have said in the past that the earliest works could start on rest of the project is 2018.

As part of their preparation, AT are looking to develop their procurement strategy so they can get the best value for money and to do so they’re now sounding out the industry to help work out the best way of doing things. This means considering what type of procurement model they’ll use, what kinds of contracts they’ll use, how they’ll split up the project – if they do so at all and probably a range of other things.

They have broken up the CRL into 10 distinct packages of work and published information on their website about what each entails. In doing so it gives us a better understanding of just what will be involved in the project and how much each package is likely to cost. The packages are shown below with numbers 1, 2 and 3 being the ones part of the early works.

Market Sounding Map of CRL Packages

Further below I’ve included the information from the AT website explaining what is in each package but first the things that stood out to me.

  • At Aotea there is the possibility for future connections to Sky City and the planned NDG tower but I’m surprised they haven’t allowed for connection direct to the Council building. They are also future proofing for a possible rail line under Wellesley St – presumably this means by not piling/foundations in the way.
  • With lots of line closures and moving of lines the works at Mt Eden are going to be very disruptive for Western Line users.
  • I’m glad that they’ll also reconfigure Britomart. After the CRL is complete platforms 2, 3 and 4 will not be used as much as now and at present platforms 1/2 and 4/5 get very busy. Making the commonly used platforms wider will help deal with the masses of people that will use the station.
  • The expected cost of packages 4-9 is $1.89 billion while the enabling works add an extra $280 million. That means all up the tunnel itself is expected to cost just under $2.2 billion.

And the full list mentioned above. For most readers the majority of the details are not likely to be a surprise.

4. Aotea Station

  • Two-level underground station.
  • 150-metre platform directly under Albert Street between Wellesley and Victoria Streets.
  • Underground levels (mezzanine concourse and platform) will connect via lifts and escalators with entrances from street level at both ends.
  • Possible future connections from concourse level to Sky City and the future NDG building on the south-east corner of Albert and Victoria Streets.
  • Provision for future property development (circa 17-storey building) above the southern entrance on the south-east corner of Wellesley and Albert Streets.
  • Passive provision for a future line under CRL in Wellesley Street.
  • A number of plant rooms above the running tunnels north of Victoria Street ensure the station effectively extends from Wellesley Street to the enabling works contract at the corner of Albert and Wyndham Streets.
  • Provisions will be made to withdraw the tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) at the southern end of the station.
  • Cut-and-cover construction envisaged with heavy strutting or top-down construction. Vehicle and pedestrian access maintained to businesses on both sides of Albert Street.
  • Works area located in the Auckland Council carpark on Mayoral Drive between Wellesley and Myers Streets.
  • Intersection of Wellesley and Albert Street and Victoria and Albert Street cannot be closed at the same time.
  • Value of works: circa $300 million.

Aotea Station Design Exploded View
5. Karangahape Station and mined tunnels

  • A deep (circa 30-metre) station.
  • 150-metre platform from Mercury Lane entrance with provisions for a future entrance at Beresford Square (not in CRL project).
  • Inclined escalator shafts and lifts access.
  • Platform tubes (circa 11-metre diameter) mined from access shafts in Mercury Lane and Pitt Street. Work areas located on Mercury Lane and Hopetoun Alpha carpark (corner Beresford Square and Hopetoun Street).
  • Provision for a future property development above the Mercury Lane entrance.
  • Twin-bore tunnels (circa 7-metre diameter) will join with Aotea Station and the Western line.
  • Tunnels likely to be constructed by a tunnel-boring machine (TBM).
  • Boring will likely be downhill towards the north because the back-up area is at the southern end.
  • TBM likely to be extracted from the southern end of Aotea Station after the first drive and the second drive repeated (starting at the Mt Eden end).
  • Station and tunnels will not be constructed in separate contracts due to the critical interface between the running tunnels and the station platform tubes.
  • Value of works: circa $700 million.

K Rd - Full Station Cut Away

6. Connections with the Western line and Mt Eden Station

  • East and west, up and down line connections will be fully grade separated.
  • Reconstruction of existing Western line from Dominion Road to Lauder Road. Commuter rail and freight operations will be maintained.
  • Multiple blocks of lines required, relocation of track, overhead line and signalling.
  • Multi-staged construction including reconstruction of Western line platforms and a new Mt Eden station on the CRL line.
  • Station will be constructed by open cut with lift, escalator and footbridge pedestrian connections between the Western line and CRL platforms.
  • A new access road will be formed.
  • Significant number of properties have been purchased to create the works area around Mt Eden Station.
  • Value of works: circa $300 million.

Mt Eden Station Plan

7. Linewide systems

  • Consisting of trackwork, overhead-line, signalling, control systems, tunnel ventilation, communications systems, high voltage power and trackside auxiliaries.
  • Value of works: circa $250 million.

8. Britomart east

  • Rearrange trackwork in the “throat” area where the twin tunnels meet Britomart Station (between Britomart Place and Tangihua Street).
  • Reduce the number of platforms from 5 to 4 and widen the 2 existing outside platforms (1 and 5).
  • Provision of additional vertical access at the eastern end of the station from widened platforms with changes to the upper 2 levels of the station.
  • Work to be completed after CRL has opened and Britomart is operating as a through rather than terminating station.
  • Very significant interface with the operational railway.
  • Value of works: circa $40 million.

9. Station architectural finishes and building services

  • Architectural finishes such as floors, ceilings, walls and column cladding, builders works, low voltage power, escalators, lifts, station ventilation, hydraulics, fire protection, building management system, lighting.
  • Value of works: circa $300 million.

10. Client-supplied items

  • Ticket machines.
  • HOP card readers.


  • Packages 4 and 5 may be combined pending review during market sounding. Package 9 may be combined with the station contracts, pending review during market sounding.
  • It is likely that contractors responsible for delivering packages 4 to 9 will also be responsible for the design.