A targeted transport rate?

An article in last Friday’s NZ Herald provided an interesting insight into where the investigations into additional transport funding options are at. This is the second phase of the project to close the supposed $12 billion funding gap over the next 30 years. The article highlights that effort has been focusing on analysing different forms of road pricing and is perhaps leaning towards a motorway charging scheme:

Evaluating road tolls and fuel-tax rises and traditional funding methods such as rate rises and targeted rates is the job of the group due to report to the council next month.

The Herald understands that the independent alternative transport funding group is leaning towards motorway tolls. It will also provide options for targeted rates and extra rates rises.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government’s pre-election position that there would be no regional fuel taxes or tolling of existing state highways in Auckland.

Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

I think tolling motorways could have some benefits but it also could have considerable downsides and we’ve outlined some of these before. The main problem with them is the potential for traffic diversion from motorways onto local roads. What also can’t be ignored is that a fairly high proportion of money raised from schemes like these goes into the administration of the system itself, this means it’s a fund-raising system that’s likely to be quite a lot less efficient than fuel taxes and rates. Some of the strongest proponents of motorway tolling has been the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and I suspect this is two fold,

  1. their members want to build, maintain and operate any tolling system
  2. their members want the additional funding that flows from the tolls to help build more infrastructure

One of the key problems with the alternative funding exercise right from the start has been the ignorance of whether we actually need to raise the additional funding for transport. The Integrated Transport Programme, which outlined the full transport programme over the next 30 years, included a huge number of incredibly costly and stupid projects included within its project list:

Knocking out $12 billion from the project list above is a pretty simple exercise – as we highlighted in our detailed analysis of the Congestion Free Network‘s financials. Therefore, based on the Integrated Transport Programme’s list of projects outlined above there is a very valid question about whether any form of additional funding is necessary. In addition even if a funding deficit still exists, if it was considerably smaller it might have allowed for some of the earlier dismissed funding options to be viable once again.

Another major flaw in many tolling proponents arguments that could have a significant impact on what projects get built is that any tolling or road pricing schemes are going to change demand substantially and as such it is likely to reduce or remove the need for many roading projects. Conversely it is likely to shift many PT projects up the priority ladder.

I guess the big question that we will all need to grapple with over the next few months, as the alternative funding group makes a recommendation to the Council, who then decides what they want to include in the draft Long Term Plan, is whether anything has changed since the ITP came out last year. It’s possible that two things have changed, which could mean a greater need for extra transport funding than we had previously expected.

  1. We know from the agendas for Auckland Transport closed board meetings that a lot of work has been going on to update the Integrated Transport Programme and the list of projects. Hopefully this means a lot of the crazier projects (like $665m on Albany Highway or around $900m on upgrading Great South Road) have been removed or the figures corrected.
  2. We know from the LTP Mayor’s Proposal that a lower level of rates increase means less money available overall for transport from normal funding sources compared to what’s in the current Long Term Plan. At first glance, it seems like most of the good projects can be funded over the next decade but there’s still no word on how much can be spent on things like walking and cycling, or the timing of various bus lanes and interchanges needed for the new network.

So given we know motorway tolling is an idea with many flaws and that the government isn’t going to approve new funding sources like this anyway, but there might be a need for a bit more money for transport, it seems sensible to be looking at other options. Which, returning to Friday’s Herald article, seems to be what’s happening:

Aucklanders could pay a new charge on top of rates to fund transport projects.

A “targeted rate” is one option being considered by an independent group looking at alternative funding measures to plug a $12 billion-plus transport funding gap over the next 30 years…

…Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

The National-led Government changed the law in 2009. Acting Mayor Penny Hulse said the $2.4 billion city rail link had been included in a new 10-year budget and did not need a targeted rate.

It will certainly be interesting to analyse the details of the transport budget as they emerge in the coming months, to see what can be afforded in the baseline transport programme and whether any additional money is required.

Recapping the Congestion Free Network

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy.  Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.

What is the Congestion Free Network?

The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.

As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.

cfn-implementationThe CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.

Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?

The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.

Congestion is predicted to get worse:

Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:

Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:

When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!

With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.

How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?

Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.

The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:

The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major  centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas.  It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.

But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.

How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?

A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:

  • Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
  • Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
  • Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
  • Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport

In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:

The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.


The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.

Making the CFN a reality

We were quite excited last week to see the Congestion Free Network essentially adopted by the Green Party as part of their Auckland transport policy for the upcoming election. The CFN was created with the express purpose of outlining a vision for Auckland’s transport future that was truly transformational, yet also more affordable than the oversize and ineffective Integrated Transport Programme prepared by Auckland Transport. We don’t think the CFN is aligned with any particular political ideology – after all we still include billions of roading improvements. Add to that one of the prime reasons for creating the CFN was because we thought the ITP was fiscally irresponsible by proposing to spend a huge amount of money and still let things get worse. Therefore we hope that, over time, it will be adopted and further developed by more and more political parties.

CFN 2030A

The non-ideological nature of the CFN was picked up by commentator Bob Dey on Monday, where he talked at length about the Green Party’s transport announcement and responses to it:

The alliance of alternative thinkers which has begun to lead debate on how people travel – the Congestion Free Network, a collaboration between the TransportBlog, Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport – hasn’t just made an ideological proposal. They’ve said the country should apply the best means to the task, and that adding superhighways to fix congestion isn’t it.

They’ve said improving many other road connections would help, but the primary gains would come from increasing the off-road network. That includes providing off-road corridors for buses, and expanding the rail network in Auckland.

The minister’s response was that 97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – and therefore road is best, not that that proportion might be better reduced.

Mr Brownlee said major roadworks around Auckland had reduced congestion, and completion of the western ring route would reduce it even more. Recent works, such as taking traffic off the Victoria Park viaduct by building the northbound tunnel, have given temporary respite, but congestion quickly resumed growing.

The Auckland peak traffic periods are longer than they’ve ever been because workers know they can’t make the job without leaving home in the dark, and the return is just as slow because all along the way there are exit bottlenecks.

What the transport network needs is considered – and transparent – evaluation, not ideological slagging.

As for ideology, you would have to wonder why travel needs to be ideologically based at all, but it is. Using the private car to drive to work equates to personal freedom. Providing mass transport that is comfortable & provides amenity (such as WiFi) could be even more personally uplifting, especially if it gets you to your destination more quickly & less harassed.

As we have said on numerous previous occasions, it is frustrating how politicised the transport debate can be at times and how good ideas can often be dismissed for spurious ideological reasons. This is one reason why we have gone out of our way to ensure the CFN focuses on delivering the right solutions in a value for money way. That is why so much of the plan is actually busway improvements and extensions, that’s why we’ve retained significant funding for roading projects we think are actually necessary, and that’s why we’ve highlighted the key role of the CFN in taking people out of congestion so they’re able to experience fast and reliable travel times.

Another key element of making CFN happen relates to its financials and how they show what appears at first glance to be a pretty unaffordable and expensive programme is actually much less expensive than our current transport plan. For those who want to scrutinise the financial details of the CFN, we welcome the analysis and today we make available the excel worksheets used to calculate the cost of the CFN and the remaining other major projects we think are worth funding between now and 2030. This information goes right down to our best guess about how much might need to be spent on each project in each particular year:


The overall level of investment in major transport projects over each of the next 16 years is also an important consideration here, especially in relation to making sure the CFN is affordable. We’ve worked hard in the timing and sequencing of different projects to keep the annual total expenditure to not much more than one billion in any particular year:

CFN-total-annual-costOf course we still need to fund smaller things like walking and cycling projects as well as operating costs and renewals, but given there’s around $3.5 billion a year available from the National Land Transport Fund, plus significant extra funding from Auckland Council to complete this network, we don’t think a total annual cost for new transport infrastructure of around this level is unrealistic. Furthermore, it’s significantly less than the Integrated Transport Programme would require.

Our spreadsheets also make a detailed comparison between the CFN and the ITP. Firstly, we cut around $12 billion away from unnecessary road spending proposed in the ITP over the next 16 years:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - roads


What’s interesting in the above are the roading projects that you’re still getting. The Western Ring Route is still completed, Mill Road is still built (though to a lower standard than the proposed semi-motorway), you still even get Penlink, although not until the mid 2020s and only as a two lane road. Most of the reductions come from fixing cost errors, removing a stupidly high proposed level of spend in greenfield areas, getting rid of the idiotic Additional Harbour Crossing Project and down-scaling a number of projects to a more reasonable level of cost.

When it comes to public transport, perhaps the surprising thing is that we’re only proposing to spend around $2.9 billion more on public transport over the next 16 years than what’s in the ITP – and all of that extra (plus a bit) relates to providing rail to the North Shore, something which could probably be delayed until after 2030 if there was a squeeze on funding:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - PT


Overall, the contrast between the cost of the CFN and the ITP are pretty significant – as is the difference in the balance of funding between the two:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - summary


So not only is the CFN a more balanced programme than the ITP, it’s actually around $10 billion cheaper and sequenced in such a way as to ensure it’s affordable in the long run over the next 16 years.

We hope to see the CFN become a key topic of conversation in this year’s election because transport is such a big issue for Auckland and because we are confident that the CFN represents an affordable, realistic vision for Auckland’s transport future.

Learning from Singapore

Auckland Transport has definitely been improving some of their communications (not all) Late last year they released a new City Rail Link video which finally addressed many of the issues we had with how they were explaining the project in the past

And they did a good job with with the video for the new bus network.

The one downside with these two videos is that they do require someone to sit down and watch a few minutes of video – something not everyone will do, especially those with little interest in transport. So perhaps Auckland Transport could to do something similar to what has been done in Singapore to explain their new transport master plan and make a few quick and catchy images that explain what they are aiming to do. Note: they are also good for highlighting the diversity of the population in Singapore.

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 2

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 3

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 4

Of course they won’t get through to everyone – like this guy.

With AT reviewing their Integrated Transport Programme and it potentially being quite different to the current one then perhaps they could do something like this help explain it.


We know that Auckland’s transport plans are completely unaffordable, a more interesting question is “why?” Much of the answer to that questions comes from what I refer to as “overkill”. Essentially, a solution that’s vastly oversized compared to the problem it’s trying to solve. There are a large number of examples of “overkill” when it comes to transport projects currently being planned:

  • The East West Link is perhaps the most obvious example, where somehow a bit of congestion around a couple of intersections at each end of Neilson Street somehow led to NZTA and AT proposing a gigantic and enormously destructive motorway through one of the most densely populated and deprived parts of Auckland. Yeah there are certainly some transport problems in the area but the jump to a huge motorway solution is a classic example of overkill.
  • The proposed motorway to motorway connection between SH1 and SH18 at Constellation Drive. The problem here appears to be a pinch point northbound on SH1 between SH18 and Greville Road and constraints around the interchanges themselves. Yet again the solution is to jump to a gigantic motorway-to-motorway mini-spaghetti junction that likely to cost upwards of half a billion dollars. What about just adding another lane northbound, extending the Northern Busway to Albany and then seeing whether anything else is actually necessary?
  • Puhoi-Wellsford is another classic example of overkill. Yes there are congestion problems around Warkworth, yes there are major safety issues in the Dome Valley and at specific points south of Warkworth, but it’s quite a jump to suggest the only solution to those problems is a massive new motorway that’ll cost close to $2 billion. Operation Lifesaver highlights how most of the benefits from the motorway can be achieved at a fraction of the cost by truly focusing on the problem at hand.
  • The recently proposed Lincoln Road widening project once again responds to legitimate problems like a lack of priority for buses, localised congestion and safety issues. Yet the respond is again overblown – massively wide intersections, slip lanes everywhere, extra lanes all over the place etc. The outcome is not just an overly expensive project, but a corridor that gets wider and wider – further degrading the urban form around it.
  • Penlink is a massive project to satisfy locals when the real problem is further north at Silverdale and can be solved with other smaller alternatives.

It seems like good transport planning should flush out what projects are overkill and what projects aren’t. An interesting comparison against the above projects is the process that the City Rail Link has gone through over the past few years – especially in the form of the City Centre Future Access Study, which looked in detail at a range of “smaller options” for resolving issues with access to the city centre – outlining which of these would be necessary anyway, which could occur prior to CRL being built but also the point at which the ‘small scale’ interventions need to become so significant you might as well do the job properly – in this case by building CRL.

Throughout the ITP there are a vast number of projects which are obviously “overkill”. Examples include $665m on Albany Highway (surely a typo?), around $800m on a section of Great South Road, a $150m motorway bypass of Kumeu, the $240m Mill Road corridor project and many others. Strip back these overkill projects so they really focus on the problems they’re designed to resolve and we’ve probably gone a long way towards solving our future funding shortfalls.

ITP Major Projects

How the CFN fixes Council’s budget problems

Before last week’s distractions, there was an NZ Herald article which discussed key issues with Len Brown over the coming three years. Perhaps the most interesting part of that article was the focus that Len put on looking again at the Council’s budget.

You said your first focus was next year’s budget and taking on board some messages from the campaign. What were they?

The community embraces the need to genuinely address … under- investment in infrastructure and particularly transport, but they want to balance that against the issues of affordability and within a budget that is sustainable. One of the key concerns was to keep a real close eye on debt levels and how much we borrow to achieve that. I have got that message.

You have forecast to borrow $2.8 billion in your first three budgets and a further $2 billion in the next three years. Is that wise?

It’s important for everyone to take stock. We have just received the community’s view in terms of the outcomes. The budget is an important part of it. I will be assessing that first budget and need to present that to council on November 17 … I will certainly be reflecting on that. Secondly, we are down against projections on [capital spending] on this year’s budget, let alone the 10-year budget which is a crystal ball-gazing exercise, quite frankly, and we will be assessing our debt levels and budgetary management every month of every year.

Somewhat strangely, he then goes off to discuss how we apparently need the completely idiotic $5 billion Additional Harbour Crossing project, but let’s leave that issue aside for just a minute or two.

During the first term as Mayor there was obviously a lot of pressure to ensure that rates didn’t increase very much – particularly as combining the rates system was always going to mean serious winners and losers (funny how we only ever hear about the losers). Yet there continued to be some big spending items: fixing up the electric trains deal after the government got rid of the regional fuel tax, getting started on AMETI and many other non-transport projects. It seems like the “out” in the equation for the first three years was for the Council to increase its debt levels – taking advantage I suppose of the greater financial muscle the new combined Council now has.

If there is an increased desire to limit the growth of Council’s debt during the next three years, some pretty tough calls will need to be made around what projects happen and what projects don’t (since it’s capital expenditure rather than operating expenditure that is funded from debt). While that applies to all types of Council spending, as we know transport is by far the largest area of Council capital expenditure.

This is where the Congestion Free Network comes in. We first created this network because we were horrified by how expensive the transport plan outlined in the Integrated Transport Programme is and by how badly it missed achieving the goals and targets set by the Auckland Plan. Remember that for $68 billion in the current plan you get:

More Congestion:

A heap more transport greenhouse gas emissions (rather than the sought decline):

Basically no increase in the proportion of people catching public transport into the City Centre:

Nowhere near the PT, walking and cycling modeshare target set in the Auckland Plan:

I could go on but this is getting boring. The basic story the Integrated Transport Programme tells is that if you spend a lot of money on stupid projects, you don’t actually achieve what you want to achieve.

As we explained recently, the real beauty of the Congestion Free Network is that because you’ve provided a complete rapid transit network that is free of congestion, you can stop wasting money on unnecessary roading projects which aim for (but of course never deliver thanks to induced demand) reductions in congestion. This means you can build the Congestion Free Network and still save at least $10 billion from what’s in our current 30 year transport plans.

$10 billion of course sounds like a LOT of money. And it is. Surely ripping $10 billion out of a transport budget – even over 20 years – is going to hurt due to what can no longer be done? Well only if your transport budget isn’t full of excessive projects to begin with. The table below outlines our initial thoughts about how you can reduce the spend on new roading projects over the next 20 years from $21.6 billion to $7.0 billion:

To show the savings a bit clearer it’s quite useful to look at them in pie chart form:


As you can see the biggest chunk of the savings just comes from not doing a project that’s not only a waste of money but will actually make things worse. Then we shave money off big slush funds highlighted for motorways to sprawl that won’t be required (unless someone truly is planning to build the Karaka-Weymouth bridge) or widening arterial roads which don’t need to be widened (they probably just need a bus lane). Puhoi-Wellsford gets chopped back to Operation Lifesaver, AMETI’s cost gets fixed so it doesn’t double-count the East-West Link, we scrub out the unnecessary six laning of the Northern Motorway between Albany and Orewa (why would you six lane when you’ve just built a busway?) and many other projects which are generally not completely stupid ideas but where the solution proposed is vastly bigger than the problem that exists (e.g. East West Link). I suspect the only people who really want everything on that list built are the NZCID and their members who stand to benefit hugely from it all.

The scary thing about ripping nearly $15 billion out of the roading budget was just how easy it was. We barely felt mean at all with many of the cutbacks. We’re still proposing Penlink to happen some time before 2030, we still propose to spend money on widening the southern motorway south of Manukau, we’re still spending $1.3 billion on AMETI, we’re still completing the Western Ring Route, we’re still grade separating the Kirkbride Road/SH20A intersection, we’re still spending $800 million on upgrading arterial roads, $700 million on new arterial roads in greenfield areas, $350 million for rail grade separations – the list goes on.

Auckland Transport is supposed to be preparing a second version of the Integrated Transport Programme in the upcoming months – including consideration of the Congestion Free Network as one of the scenarios looked at in this process. We await with great interest to see whether the Mayor’s enhanced focus on the budget extends to chopping out some of the extraordinary waste of money proposed in the first version of the ITP.

How to fund the CFN and save $14 billion

On the topic of the Congestion Free Network, we frequently get asked what we would do about the roading network, and what projects we would change to go along with our proposal. We have said before that we think there is still a need for some roading projects during the same time period, and that we think there will be plenty of budget (over and above what we are spending on the CFN) to allow for the best parts of the roading network to be built. However, with this post, I want to take this further and see just what we could pare the roading aspects back to.

Our financial analysis of the Congestion Free Network notes that the CFN will cost about $10b to construct between now and 2030. However, that’s actually slightly less than 40% of the $34 billion that the Integrated Transport Programme proposes to spend on new transport projects over that same time period. Here are the projects and associated costs outlined in the ITP:

The colour coding is also important, because the ITP looks out to 2040 whereas the CFN only relates to what happens up to 2030 (for now).

We have worked through the project list outlined above to suggest what changes could be made to this package of projects to better align with the CFN. At this stage, our analysis is just at a very preliminary level for many projects. However, for a number of key projects, our analysis is based on many of the posts made on this blog in recent months and years, which have commented on the merits of different transport projects. As noted in what we’ve said previously about the CFN, our intention is to suggest a realistic alternative to what’s in the ITP, and also to ensure that we optimise all kinds of projects to ensure that they deliver value for money. For example, we’ve made some big savings from doing rapid transit to the airport differently to what’s in the ITP.

What becomes quite clear from this process is that there are extremely few occasions where we have completely removed a project from what’s in the ITP. Instead, we have often decreased the amount of money we think should be spent on that particular project – because what has been suggested is ‘overkill’ for the problem actually faced. Doing Operation Lifesaver instead of Puhoi-Wellsford is perhaps the best, but certainly not the only, example of this.

A few other important things to consider are:

  • The ITP numbers appear to have made a couple of pretty massive numerical errors – in relation to the costing of AMETI and the Albany Highway upgrade. We have noted these and would love Auckland Transport to provide us with the correct figures – we’ve taken a bit of a ‘stab in the dark’ in the absence of this information.
  • For “Auckland wide” projects, we’ve had to think about the extent of what’s in the ITP that would be spent before 2030. Our feeling is that a fairly large chunk of the greenfields expenditure would be post 2030 and a reasonable proportion of the “other urban arterials” would as well. For greenfield areas, this is based on the assumption that the Auckland Plan did not expect much growth in these areas until after 2020 (as there are areas like Flat Bush & Hobsonville to develop in the meanwhile and planning completely new areas does take time), plus our general belief that changing demographics and trends may mean less demand for living on the urban periphery than has been anticipated. For other urban arterials, we note that many arterial upgrades are specifically identified in the project list, so the “general” fund appear likely to come as a next phase of projects. Nevertheless, to be conservative, we’ve suggested that 65% of region-wide project expenditure will occur by 2030.

So let’s start with the roading projects:

ITP - CFN roading projects 1

The headline figure is that we’re able to get expenditure on roading projects down from $21.7 billion to $7 billion – a pretty massive decrease. But perhaps what surprised us the most in doing this exercise was just how easy it was. Often we really don’t even think we’re being harsh in many ways – for example:

  • We still do Penlink, although only two lanes and not four lanes;
  • We still do AMETI as currently planned;
  • We do an even more significant version of the Lake Road upgrade (to enable high quality bus provision);
  • We still do the key parts of the SH1 upgrade south of Manukau;
  • We still do many of the smaller arterial road upgrade projects as planned (e.g. Pukekohe Eastern arterial, Tiverton-Wolverton, Albany Highway and many others).

The main areas where we’ve saved money come from a variety of locations, where we really think that we’re cutting out the poor value aspects of many projects yet still doing what makes sense:

  • Only grade separating the SH20A Kirkbride Road interchange, and not widening all of SH20A. With a railway line to the Airport we certainly won’t need to widen the motorway – plus the Airport’s own roads seem like the choke point here. Almost $200m saved here.
  • Not four-laning from the Airport to Manukau via SH20B. As per above, if we build rapid transit (we suggest a busway, costs in the PT section to come) along this route then we don’t need to widen the existing road. This saves $235m.
  • Pulling the ‘East West Link’ back to being a more sensible project, rather than the community-destroying monstrosity options being looked at right now. Truck lanes on Neilson Street and a few clever tweaks to motorway access for around $150m are likely to deliver most of the benefits of a much more expensive project. This saves close to half a billion dollars.
  • Doing Operation Lifesaver instead of Puhoi-Wellsford. This saves about $1.4b.
  • Building rail to the North Shore instead of the stupid road crossing. This saves nearly $2b.
  • Suggesting some significantly cheaper options for upgrades to Great South Road. Goodness knows why we supposedly need to spend nearly a billion dollars on three sections of this road between Penrose and Manukau. This saves nearly $800m.
  • Significant savings from greenfield areas and other arterials – as described above for greenfield areas, and also because we think that based on the huge numbers for Great South Road projects the other arterial costs are also likely to be overblown.

So clearly we’ve saved a lot of money out of the future roading budget. But how much of that do we shift across to public transport and how much is just “not necessary” – and therefore can go towards closing the supposed ‘funding gap‘?

ITP - CFN PT projects 1

At a high level, the CFN proposes to spend just over $1 billion more on public transport before 2030 than what is proposed in the ITP. It’s just a little more on things like a SH16 busway, and a little less due to changes like a busway instead of rail between Manukau and the Airport.

Now let’s put these all together for a comparison:

ITP - CFN Totals 1

So, overall, the CFN is nearly $14 billion cheaper than what’s outlined in the ITP over the same time period – and this is with North Shore Rail included. If you were to push North Shore rail out to beyond 2030, (which we’re reluctant to do but agree it’s one of the latest parts of the CFN built) then the CFN is $17 billion cheaper than what’s in the ITP. Which means the funding gap is gone.

The CFN also has more of a balance between funding public transport and roading – with a 42% roads, 58% PT funding split. This compares to the ITP proposing to spend 72% of its capital on roads and only 28% on public transport. I guess the key point is that we can actually afford a high quality PT system and it can be done without having to drastically cut against road building. Instead, the roading programme would focus on smaller network tweaks, rather than road projects which are massive in scale. It’s also worth noting that this is just one suggested approach to dealing with the problem; some of you might have different ideas and would like to see certain projects at the expense of others.

Rudman on the Congestion Free Network

There was a great article yesterday by Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald – and not just because it seems that he’s a fan of the Congestion Free Network. He starts off by arguing that the year of work and the $1 million+ spent on the Auckland transport funding Consensus Building Group has actually achieved relatively little:

What an egregious waste of $1 million of ratepayers’ money that was. Set up a “consensus building group” to develop a formula for squeezing an extra $12 billion of transport funding out of Aucklanders, which the Government had already signalled it would reject.

The cash would have been better spent on a giant fireworks display. At least we’d have got a bang or two for our bucks.

In October last year before the CBG first met, the Government made its opposition clear. The Ministry of Transport and the Transport Agency fell into step and refused to partake. How can you pretend to have a consensus when the people with the ultimate power of veto boycott the process?

Not only does the CBG report propose devices such as regional fuel taxes and “road pricing” tolls that the Government opposes, but it also proposes rates increases, which the mayor is against. It also demands that any agreement reached would have to bind future governments and councils for the next 30 years. This has echoes of the much-criticised backroom deal the Key Government has just come to with SkyCity over pokie machines and the international convention centre.

Personally I think that it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. It got a lot of important different groups around a table to discuss transport issues in Auckland and I’m sure that influenced associations like the Chamber of Commerce and the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development to place pressure on the government to change its opinion of the City Rail Link. That alone was worth the exercise in some respects. Furthermore, it also probably led to one of the more intelligent discussions about road pricing and its benefits that’s been had in Auckland – with the majority of people providing feedback supporting some sort of road pricing scheme ahead of increased fuel taxes and rates.

Yet, of course, the elephant in the room issue was that members of the Consensus Building Group weren’t able to question the merits and make-up of the transport package that they set out to fund.

Instead of agonising over how Auckland is going to fund the $59 billion integrated transport programme of the 30-year Auckland Plan, we should be readdressing the efficacy of the programme itself, asking the key question, will it ensure Auckland’s traffic is flowing smoothly in 2041?

The CBG failed to confront this, saying it was not part of its remit, but did admit in the opening paragraphs of the final report, released on Monday, that “even with a significant increase in investment, the forecast performance of key parts of the transport system will be worse from 2031 than it is today”.

A confession that even if their proposals for extracting an extra $12 billion out of Aucklanders are accepted, things will be worse than now. Its draft report, released in late March, was even more candid, admitting that “even with the fully funded programme, road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

In other words, it’s a plan that if successfully completed is doomed to fail.

In a nutshell, the argument seems to be that if we spend $12 billion more on transport over the next 30 years compared to what we can afford, things will still be much worse than today – but not quite as bad as if we didn’t spend that money.

congestion-levels-by-decade-differenceIf we look at AM peak congestion levels, the ITP seems like it’s trying to argue that we should spend $12 billion to reduce the percentage of excessive congested travel from 30% to about 27%. That’s four billion dollars for each percentage point of lower congestion!

As we have discussed many times in the last few weeks, it is this crazy situation that led us to create the Congestion Free Network. The ITP clearly tells us that we can’t build our way out of congestion – so the answer is to ensure that people have a choice of avoiding congested travel.

After describing the Congestion Free Network concept in excellent detail, Rudman concludes by noting the following:

It’s the sort of radical thinking that Mayor Len Brown and his transport planners should be engaged in. Producing a plan that isn’t programmed to fail.

We’re ready to help!

CFN 2030A

Congestion Free Network: Where To From Here?

I think I speak for everyone on the blog by saying that the response to the Congestion Free Network has been beyond our wildest dreams. On Tuesday there were over 11,000 views of the blog – a new record eclipsing the day the government finally decided they could no longer oppose the City Rail Link. The main Congestion Free Network post has been viewed over 10,000 times (beyond people looking at it on the main page) already and we’ve had thousands upon thousands of visits via Facebook in particular pointing towards that post.

Radio NZ did a story on the Congestion Free Network (CFN) on Morning Report yesterday morning, including a couple of soundbites from me talking about the network.

Even Kiwiblog has picked up on the CFN, highlighting that while David Farrar doesn’t agree with every bit of the network, he appreciates the effort we’ve put into the CFN. In particular, he highlights a potential next step:

It would be good for an appropriate agency to independently cost their proposals, and estimate what impact on congestion their proposals would have.

Ultimately what pushed us to work with Generation Zero and create the Congestion Free Network was our despair at the Integrated Transport Programme, its gigantic cost and its utterly terrible outcomes. Remember, $60 billion over the next 30 years for this result: 
When we dug into the modelling results of the ITP in more detail (aside from making us more sceptical about modelling than ever before), the key cause of this congestion in 2041 seemed to be that the public transport system was still comparatively rubbish:

The critical issue behind the results above seem to be that for most trips public transport is getting stuck in the same congestion as everyone else, plus the added time of walking to the bus/train/ferry, waiting for it and then stopping to pick up other passengers all the time. Hence the need for a congestion free alternative: to make public transport the fastest option – good enough to really encourage people out of their cars and by consequence ease pressure on the roading network.

What we want is to have the Congestion Free Network included as an option when Auckland Transport do their next iteration of the Integrated Transport Programme. We think this fits pretty well with Auckland Transport’s approach to the next ITP – as highlighted in their presentation to the Transport Committee in April:itp-transport-committeeAs Matt’s post this morning about roading projects that’ll still happen highlighted, in many respects the Congestion Free Network isn’t radically different to what’s in current long term transport planning documents – it just shifts forward some projects that provide really good improvements to public transport at relatively low cost (especially busway and bus priority projects), suggests a lot less gold-plating of many proposed motorway projects and suggests that we avoid projects which do more harm than good. Rail to the North Shore and Light-Rail along Dominion Road are really the only big projects in the Congestion Free Network which aren’t in the Auckland Plan and the ITP. And perhaps most importantly it shows how a vision of Auckland that is completely unlike any most of us have thought possible before, an Auckland with a vital piece of the jigsaw that we know makes other great cities great and enables them to function well, is completely within reach if only we work towards it clearly.

So we’re going to take the Congestion Free Network to the Council’s Transport Committee and to the AT Board over the next few months to really push for the CFN to be included as an option for testing in the next ITP. We’re also going to continue to promote the concept in innovative and exciting ways. And we’re always open to suggestions about how to refine the CFN further – we are certain that the  idea is vital, we think the detail is pretty good, but we know it’s not perfect.


Over the next few weeks GenZed and ATB will try to get straight answers out of every candidate in the local elections on where they stand on the CFN and related transport, urban form, and environmental issues.

We will report back with some kind of list that should act as a voting guide for these issues.

CFN 2030A

The Congestion Free Network doesn’t mean no roading projects

Since the launch of our Congestion Free Network and how much it will cost we have had a few questions around what it means for the funding of improved roads. To try and clarify, we are not against funding going towards road improvements and our estimated budget for The Congestion Free Network is just over 40% of what is currently planned to be spent on transport over the same time frame. That means there is still scope for worthwhile roading projects to occur. In saying this  government agreed too, are overkill and are akin to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. So in this post I thought I would cover the projects we think should be considered to be built alongside the Congestion Free Network – Note: some of this is similar to what we discussed the other day following the government’s announcement.

State Highway projects

There are a number of state highway projects either already under way, or being talked about that have useful components.

Waterview and WRR – This is obviously already under way and in my mind is the piece that finally “completes the motorway network”, despite the goal posts for that target being a consistently moving target. One of the massive benefits to this is that it provides an alternative for vehicles travelling north to bypass the central motorway junction and the Harbour Bridge. It is also for this reason that we need to hold off on any plans for another road based crossing of the harbour as the WRR really needs some time to settle in and have its impacts felt before moving ahead with the harbour crossing project. The causeway upgrade also provides for some improved bus lanes which will be useful as part of our Congestion Free Network.


Upper Harbour Upgrade SH1/SH18 interchange through to Greville Rd – Improving the SH1/SH18 junction does seem like a good idea but I’m not sure we need the full motorway to motorway ramps as proposed in the most recent study we have seen. There are also a few other small sections in the area that could be addressed, such as the small single lane section westbound between Paul Matthews Rd and Albany Highway. However general widening of the section between Constellation and Greville should really wait until after the busway has been completed through to Albany and we see the impacts of that investment.


Do we really need this motorway to motorway interchange?

SH1 Manukau to Papakura widening – Once again there are some aspects to this project that make a lot of sense, in particular upgrading the Takanini interchange (especially the northbound onramp) and addressing the number of lanes southbound between Manukau and Takanini. At this stage I’m not convinced that widening Northbound or the section between Takanini and Papakura is needed. Again it would also be worthwhile waiting to see what impacts the PT projects have first before embarking on wholesale widening.

SH20A upgrade –  Once again there are some parts that seem to make sense, particularly around the grade separation of Kirkbride Rd however the ITP seems to suggest that the road would also be widened, something I don’t see as needed once that interchange is addressed. With the Kirkbride intersection sorted out, the Montgomerie Rd intersection could be cheaply closed. The other advantage to this project is it could be tied in with the proposal to extend the rail network to the airport.

There is one other State Highway project that I am aware of – that isn’t on the ITP list – which may have some value during this time and that is the additional northbound lane between Penrose and Greenlane. The Ellerslie station was narrowed last year to make way for this project. Other State Highway projects on the ITP, like the Additional Harbour Crossing and widening SH20 from Mangere to Puhinui should be at least moved back till after 2030.

Local Road projects

There are some fairly sizeable local roading projects in the ITP, again some are worthwhile or at least have worthwhile components while others or specific parts of them make little sense.

AMETI – AMETI is one of those projects that improved with age, morphing from a version of the eastern highway proposal into a much more multi modal project. Crucially many of the roading elements of the project tend to focus on providing new road connections rather than just larger existing ones. They strongly focus on moving through traffic away from town centres, giving them a chance to develop more people friendly environments. The focus on new connections and bypassing town centres is a good thing and a strategy I will touch on more in later comments.


East-West Link – This is a project that we have looked at a recently. We definitely agree that some improvements are needed in the area, just not to the scale proposed. Instead smaller scale improvements should be considered first such as the ones below.

  • Truck lanes on Neilson Street?
  • A signalised intersection providing access into Metroport from Neilson Street?
  • Widening the Neilson Street bridge over the railway line?
  • Smaller scale interchange improvements at Onehunga?
  • South-facing motorway ramps that link into the Southeast Arterial?
Do we really need a $600m mini motorway between Onehunga and East Tamaki?

Do we really need a $600m mini motorway between Onehunga and East Tamaki?

Other Local Road Projects in the ITP – The ITP also contains other local road projects, such as widening Lake Rd on the North Shore. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in the area that would love to see it however in almost all instances I think we should avoid widening unless the new lanes are at least limited to T2/3 initially. This way there are still benefits that can be accrued from the works however not doing so in a way that undermines the bus network by encouraging more people to drive.

Other Local Road Projects outside the ITP - As mentioned earlier, focusing on providing new connections and bypassing town centres is a good strategy compared to just continually widening existing roads. As such I feel that there are a number of road projects not currently on the ITP should be considered instead of some of the overblown widening projects like what is being proposed for Mill Rd. We have highlighted some of these before including a long talked about bridge across the Whau River between the Rosebank Rd and Hepburn Rd which would provide a real alternative to either the Gt North Rd or Te Atatu Rd interchanges.

Whau River Crossing

Or this route in Pakuranga between Hope Farm Ave and La Trobe St which would amongst other things, allow for a logical third main bus route from the east to pierce right through the middle of the wedge of housing in the area while also providing substantial benefits for drivers, cyclists and walkers.

Hope Farm Ave Crossing

Now you will notice that I haven’t set costs or timeframes for these projects like we have with The Congestion Free Network and that is for two reasons. The first is that we simply don’t know what some of our suggestions for scaling back projects would cost. As for the timeframes, we are happy for these road projects to be prioritised based on need to fit in with the funding available. There are also bound to be some other local road projects that we would potentially support so please don’t consider this an exhaustive list. Ultimately these projects need to go through a robust analysis, something they won’t all pass and as such may be dropped or scaled back further.

I guess the key point from this post is simply to point out that we are not opposed to roading projects that stack up but that the key is ensuring that the roads we do build are actually what we need.