Auckland Unleashed Or Tied Up?


The prime minister came away from today’s Auckland summit talking up the Puhoi to Wellsford highway, re-affirming the Government is totally committed to it and repeating the claim it will get more motorists using it in a day than use rail.

Some marketing guru tried to add glitz to today’s all-day summit on Auckland’s spatial plan by renaming it Auckland Unleashed as if it were a new energy drink.
But while there is no shortage of ideas and predictable cliques about how to make Auckland what Mayor Len Brown terms “the world’s most liveable city,” sadly it feels more like Auckland is not being unleashed but is getting tied up in political knots.

The prime minister arrived back in Wellington to tell Parliament in answer to a question about the Spatial Plan and Auckland’s transport future:

“Let us take the Pūhoi to Wellsford road, which the Government has committed to. It is a highway of national significance. On that road on any one given day, 27,000 people use it. When it comes to commuter rail in Auckland on any one given day, 24,500 people use it. So it looks to me like the Government has its commitments and its priorities in the right place.”

And he again made it clear the projects committed to already in Auckland – roading and the electrification- will still happen but in a veiled reference to the CBD link, he said projects that he did not think stacked up in terms of benefit cost ratio, won’t happen.

“We intend to honour the commitments we have made, and that was one of the things I said to Aucklanders today. It is also one of the reasons why we always have to be careful with promises we make, and make sure that whatever promises we make can be backed up in terms of funding and also with an appropriate benefit-cost ratio. I know that it is quite a foreign concept to the Opposition to have to find the money before one spends it, but on this side of the House that is what we do.”

Then answering this question from Labour’s new transport spokesman Shane Jones: Given his stated commitment to public transport in Auckland, why does he allow his Minister of Transport to be so antagonistic against the super-city mayor, Len Brown?

Key replied:

“He is not antagonistic. As I said earlier, I know that it is a foreign concept to Labour. I know it promised $1.3 billion worth of tax cuts with no idea where the money would come from. I know it promised $5 billion worth of spending with no idea where the money would come from. I know that when Labour members get the acid put on them, they say it is desirable. I can assure the member that the last time I saw the Minister of Transport and the Mayor of Auckland, they were in some sort of group hug. That is not antagonistic.”

Yesterday’s pre-summit release of the NZTA paper on the next Waitemata Crossing options was the last signal if we needed it that the Government and Auckland local government are not on the same page when it comes to public transport - ironical when Hide’s re-organisation was to bring Government and Auckland local government together. Ironical too that the only time I can remember all of the previous fragmented local government authorities being united was when they agreed harbour tunnels were the way to go.

Last year, AKT reported sources close to the government saying they wanted a bridge instead and some quite liked the ANZAC concept. So the rare show of local government unity was scrapped so that the government could revisit the options with a report that now gives the transport minister the ammunition he needs to both go with a bridge (because the tunnel option has got mysteriously more expensive) and put to sleep another of the Mayor’s crazy rail fantasies - plans for North Shore rail- by extending the North Shore Busway which will use the roads and the new bridge. Don’t even bother to mention getting rail to the airport.

So at today’s summit, the prime minister stayed on the message he and his ministers have been singing for the past few weeks.
Warning that Auckland had a “time-bomb” if money wasn’t spent on infrastructure but making it clear this was about roads of national significance. He made no mention of rail, including the CBD link other than saying the present electrification would be finished. He may think that gives the impression the government is not anti-rail but electrification is so far developed, It would be beyond belief that anyone would suggest that Auckland’s electric trains, already not happening until 2014, were delayed further.
On Monday Key had singled out the Waterview tunnel as an example of roading projects that would still happen, despite the fiscal pressures the quake has presented to the Government’s books. Today it was the Victoria Park tunnel and the Newmarket viaduct. It’s not surprising the words “Puhoi” were not added until he got safely to the confines of parliament in Wellington because he would have been warned of those in the Auckland audience who would hail mud and slogans of “Holiday Highway!”
So what did Key say today to the summit about transport in Auckland?

“There is a lot of work which has to be done in transport in Auckland, whether it’s the Victoria Tunnel or ultimately the complete replacement of the Newmarket viaduct. Those things are going to happen, as is electrification, as is new rolling stock for our rail network. This was a balancing act which needed to be put into perspective.

He added that this “does not mean that as a result of the spatial plan, we cannot fund different objectives over time.”  Over time means in the next 100 years, during which time it’s possibly some loopy Labour-Greens coalition, may have a brief three-year time in power and toy with new rail projects. Over time does not mean in the 20-30 years that the Spatial Plan covers.
Brown’s election cornerstone, the CBD rail link, has continued to be his goal, a cause fully supported by the release of a strong business case which got support from his own Council and Auckland Transport.
The government, which needs to contribute financially into such rail schemes to make them happen, now, ahead of the RWC 2011 distraction and a general election, seems to be making no pretence that Auckland’s future is all about roads and nothing else.
The only glee the government can derive from the financially-crippling Christchurch quake is that it can use it to claim the moral high ground in having an excuse to knock back a rail loop that its key ministers - Key, Joyce and English- see as a leftie flight of fantasy from a Mayor who is not one of their own. Their last piece of the re-organised Auckland local government jigsaw was intended to have former National Cabinet Minister John Banks returned as Mayor, someone they had publicly endorsed at their party conference. With a frustrated Banks still floating around political circles supposedly looking for an opening, it is not in National’s interests to guarantee Brown is returned to power by letting him have his main election pledges achieved.
If Banks is not the political right’s Mayoral candidate next time especially because of his age and having lost twice, there are numerous other options - even the young energetic Jami-Lee Ross (aged 25) who will have had a couple of years inside Parliament as National’s new Botany candidate by then, has already had council experience and has no love for Mr Brown (presently aged 54).

At the summit, the Mayor released his discussion document on his vision to guide the future development of the city for the next 20 to 30 years.
He talked up a vision that Auckland becomes a powerful economic powerhouse of the nation.He spoke of the whole of Auckland being what Bob Harvey’s Waitakere pioneered - an eco city.
His views on public transport are widely known and he articulated to the summit how exciting to considered his 3 rail projects -CBD, airport and North Shore-  were and he is excited about the overall vision for the city.

As the Greens put it so well in summing up today:

“The Auckland discussion document envisions a city where people can easily and safely walk and cycle, or use modern, efficient buses and trains to get to vibrant town centres. It proposes ways of saving money and energy with greener services like composting organic waste, and widespread uptake of solar energy options.

“Contrast this with the Government’s vision for Auckland as more of the same: a sprawling, car-centric mess with bad traffic congestion and few opportunities to walk, cycle or take a bus or train as petrol prices continue to spike. This is old fashioned 1950s thinking. More motorways and sprawl have made Los Angeles one of the most congested and expensive cities in the world. Meanwhile, their local government is going broke and not even able to maintain the roads. “It’s not too late for Auckland to grow differently. The Government must allow Auckland to put in place the sustainable urban design and 21stcentury infrastructure they voted for.”

What can we do about this depressing situation on a day we should be joyful and positive about Auckland’s future?
We can continue to look in horror at the vision of better public transport plans torn up in Wellington but the reality is that National is confident enough as it continues to ride high in popularity and will win the next election.
I’m not a political watcher or associated with any parties but I know this: Labour has failed miserably to articulate any clear alternative policy course, its leader remains unconvincing and his offer to get into coalition with Winston Peters repeals most people outside Peter’s core 60-plus following. The latest spot of bother involving a senior MP is not a good look, whatever the police outcome. Key has wide appeal because of his easy public manner which means many Kiwis would welcome having a beer over a BBQ with him compared to the arrogant stiff clenched- fist politically correct manner they perceived of top Labour politicians in their dying days in power.
But this is not about national politics but about being pro-Auckland and so pro-the Mayor’s rail projects.
This is a time for the Mayor to show his leadership qualities. He must unite the council, rally the public that voted him in, thump the table in Wellington and demand his right to his vision and make it happen. He also needs to communicate what is going on in those talks with Government so that the public (that includes us) can tell the Government what we want for Auckland and show support for his schemes, enough to make some impact in National’s private polling on issues.
But clearly, the masters in Wellington are no longer listening. And that’s going to be an enormous problem.




  1. Nick R says:

    “When it comes to commuter rail in Auckland on any one given day, 24,500 people use it.”

    Actually that is the daily average over the 365 days of 2010. On any given weekday the figure would be up over 30,000, and climbing.

  2. [...] And a March 23 update: PM reconfirms finances available for expressway projects, at least in Auckland [...]

  3. Patrick R says:

    I’ve yet to see any reason why I should rejoice at Shane Jones getting the shadow transport gig…. quiet isn’t he? Is his heart in it? There is such low hanging fruit all around the country in this portfolio…. come on Shane get on top of the issues and land some blows…. There’s a heap of votes in it.

  4. Matt L says:

    That 27,000 figure given for P2W seems to have mysteriously climbed in recent months from around 20,000 sometime last year to 24,000 later in the year to the new figure today. Perhaps they realise that it is getting rail is getting better so have to keep making up new figures.

  5. Nick R says:

    I would love to see the average weekday on the highway vs. the average weekday on the rail system this coming March.

    If they want to talk about peak figures, then lets just pick a Friday when the rugby is on!

  6. richard says:

    If the inefficient fare collection method on the trains is the figure used for the numbers i suggest they could be several thousand out for train usage.

    Perhaps some independent party should place vehicle counters across the Northern Highway at say Puhoi Valley and Dome Valley to get some figures for the road. The result would be much higher at Puhoi than people going to northland that the Dome Valley would show, so you can’t just give a blanket figure for the highway.

    The old story, you can make statistics do what you want them to do!!

  7. Spartan says:

    Just been looking at Queensland rails web site. Queensland rail city (QR city train) carried 65.1 million passengers last year due to a shift from cars to public transport, the city system map is divided into four areas - depressed yet?

  8. Geoff says:

    Demand growth in Auckland rail is far greater than for Puhoi-Wellsford. Furthermore, Auckland’s “vision” is about changing demand of each mode, not catering for it, as current demand is a result of being forced upon people who have little travel choice options.

    The government held onto state highways and rail within Auckland, instead of handing them over to AT, so that they could continue to control Auckland transport habits.

    It’s time to get militant about the government interfering here. Auckland needs to protest, and withhold taxes if need be, and also start to seriously look at setting up the region as an autonomous economy. Make our own decisions and set our own spending, and leave government to look after the rest of the country.

  9. Spartan says:

    Until the government place public transport at a higher priority then it has been for decades I don’t hold much hope. Look at how Wellingtons network was left to rot until only recently when spending has been forth coming. I agree that Auckland need to go it alone now as we have all been waiting to long. We should be looking at extending an already built network and be on our second generation of trains at least not making sure (hoping) that the first piece of electrification is built and electric rolling stock is delivered. C’mon it cannot be this hard, seriously it’s such a given why does it take so much lobbying for something that is so logical and so beneficial to thousands of people. Sigh!

  10. Luke says:

    got Joyces figures on this today. Joyce may have been OK with using it last year, but Key is lying using it now. The 27,000 people a day is obtained using average vehicle occupancy figures of 1.7 for cars, and 1.4 for others.

    However the 24,000 for rail is now an outdated figure.
    Using November rail patronage of 869,555 daily use is 28,985. With likely March patronage of 1.05 million thats an average of 35,000 people a day.

    The 24,000 comes from the 9 million trips taken year ending Sept 2010.

  11. GJA says:

    I just watched a section on 3news, seems like Len Brown wants to build a “rail loop”. (Reminds me of the waterfront tram line, just going round and round in circles.

    Serioulsy Auckland Council needs a marketing agency or something to sell the tunnel for what it is. Since without the tunnel we cannot do anything. Also why are they going on about the North Shore line, since we have NOTHING out in south east Auckland.

    We might have something by the time my kids retire :-(

  12. Jon Reeves says:

    It does make you wonder why John Key and his clique need to lie about the Puhoi-Wellsford Holiday Highway?

    Why lie if it is “so good”?

  13. DanC says:

    Who bases figures on current numbers? Trend analysis & forecast of cars vs rail passenger numbers please!

  14. GJA says:

    DanC, this is the problem I have with Labour. They do not have the b@lls to take SJ on, in this case. All the figures are there, but will they do it? No, they are too weak, and heaven forbid the become the next government in their current form (excl Darren Hughes)

  15. Owen Thompson says:

    Have just worked out that photo is of Grafton Bridge & the motorway.

  16. Tim A says: , where do the numbers come from? if NZTA publishes different numbers for the same roads?

  17. Cam says:

    GJA - dead right Labour need to grow a pair and confront SJ with all of the misinformation he’s spreading. They wont though because they are after RTF handouts as well. They are pathetic.

  18. LucyJH says:

    I think it’s impt to remember that even if the average passenger volume on the whole akld rail system is slightly more than the number of people using the puhoi to wellsford road, most people would not find that an impressive statistic. Indeed, they would probably think it provided an argument for why not to invest in rail.

    People don’t necessairly understand that trips on rail are more valuable than local trips around Rodney because trips on rail are long trips that generally reduce peak time congestion.

  19. Matt says:

    Luke, where’d you get your rail patronage numbers from?

  20. Luke says:

    OIA request to Auckland Transport.
    total bus rail
    Sep-10 5,589,202 4,366,083 893,048
    Oct-10 5,450,029 4,275,080 780,265
    Nov-10 5,577,773 4,302,952 869,555
    Dec-10 4,385,759 3,378,244 571,709
    Jan-11 3,912,500 2,986,129 462,635

    any clues about why October was low?

  21. Matt says:

    At a guess I’d say October was low because of uni exam leave. Second semester finishes mid-October, and most exams don’t happen until November.

  22. Matt says:

    I take it the same request gave you the indicative 1.05m for March? Given the rail patronage growth I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, I can’t help but think that if it’s a projection from February it could be on the low side.

  23. Matt says:

    Given that those figures include the two quietest months of the year, and about three weeks of total network closure, an average daily patronage of 23,848 is pretty damn impressive.

  24. Luke says:

    that 1.05million is just my (low end) guess based on recent growth, and highlights that John Keys figures will be far from the truth, especially this month.

  25. Nick R says:

    March is always the busiest, wouldn’t be surprised if we see weekday figures of 40,000+

    What is the normal weekday traffic flow on the highway once we exclude the long weekends I wonder?

  26. Matt says:

    Nick, I believe it’s about 15k vehicles to Warkworth. For obvious reasons there is no absolute knowledge of the number of people, only guesses based on extrapolating from vehicles and estimates of occupancy.

  27. Patrick R says:

    Matt; Wellsford, 2009, 8960 vehicles av per day

  28. Matt says:

    Patrick, yes, your point? It drops off a lot between Warkworth and Wellsford.

  29. Luke says:

    they won’t need to build a motorway to Wellsford at any forseeable time, not even worth investigating.
    A $100 million package of Dome Valley improvements was in the pipeline a couple of years ago, but this has now be canned and we will see no decent improvement to this dangerous stretch for 20 years.

  30. Patrick R says:

    Thats the data I could find. Doesn’t Puford go to Wellsford, isn’t that the ‘ford’ in it’s name?

    And yes that failure to upgrade SH1 is a crime, it’s what we, and the people of Northland need, along with an fix and shunt to the port of the rail line.

    Those two things would return much more to the economy of Northland and for less.

    Puford is like 2billion pissed off a viaduct. How can it do so much when it only offers an incremental improvement to an existing service for so much spent?

  31. Patrick R says:

    Actually the Wellsford figures really are the point. Because the claimed economic worth of this project is Northland/Auckland freight, not Mr + Mrs Warkworth driving to the shops.

    Count the trucks north of Warkworth: that’s what this project is for.

  32. Matt says:

    Haven’t you noticed that they’ve mostly stopped talking about Wellsford? Even if Joyce can’t be persuaded that the entire road is a criminal waste of money, he’s at least got the message that the Warkworth-Wellsford stretch is not worth the cost of the upgrade. So the figures to Warkworth are very definitely relevant.

    Plus, Key is getting his 27k using the Puhoi-Warkworth stretch because it’s the only part of the road where they might even get close to that. So if he’s going to play that game, we need to be arguing on his terms. The best way to lose against BS artists like Key and Joyce is to try and stick to your predetermined argument instead of countering their new facts, especially when the new facts can be destroyed just as easily as the old ones.

  33. Russell says:

    why not communicate to the masses which price of oil the cost benefit analysis is based on? And a sensitivity analysis around predicted future prices of oil and how that impacts the cost benefit analysis?
    They like numbers (and cars & trucks) more than ‘livability’ perceptions and people.

    GJA - trains out east? Absolutely and yes more important than to the airport via Mangere. 40,000 people going into Flat Bush with no land set aside for a future rail corridor? Train from Panmure across the bridge to Pakuranga, Botany Downs, Flat Bush and into Manukau to link up with the southern line at Wiri junction. Then push through to the airport along a cheaper to buy not built up route.
    Again, price it up based on oil at $120+/barrel

  34. Matt L says:

    Russell - the problem is oil price isn’t even considered when they do their BCR’s. They have just assumed it will always be what it always has been which is pretty short sighted.

    Also for the Airport, it is still better to go via Onehunga as it allows new stations through Mangere. In fact most of the projected patronage from the line is from those stations not the airport so just building a line from Wiri doesn’t actually achieve much.

  35. Matt says:

    Russell, a train link to the airport will be a lot cheaper and easier to achieve. There’s a corridor that’s minimally developed, there’s a spur at each end, and there’s a huge employment catchment along the way.

    A full south-eastern line will cost billions just to get a right-of-way established, because there’s heavy residential development across the area. The exception would be to run a line out to Flat Bush, but dead-end lines are really bad as a general policy because they tie up services and don’t link to anywhere else.

  36. Matt says:

    Matt L, not only is it not considered, right now we have a Minister of Trucks and a Minister of Wasting Money who don’t think the cost of petrol matters to how people travel. They’ve both said as much in the House, in response to direct questions. So nothing’s going to change until the regime changes.

  37. Russell says:

    Matt, it shouldn’t be about which is the easiest way to get rail to the airport. It should be about where is the greatest need or population densities and reducing their need to use cars to get to the CBD / city fringe.
    Congestion isn’t a linear relationship to the number of cars on a road, so if we get 50-70% of CBD/city fringe people onto mass PT we will decongest the arterials for commercial traffic and cross-towners.
    Buying the land for any mass PT system for the east is only going to get more expensive than it is today, not cheaper. Or, perhaps the cost of the land makes tunneling viable as that area is less volcanic?

  38. Matt says:

    Russell, the easiest way to get rail to the airport is also through the area with the highest population.
    Going to the east has nothing to do with getting rail to the south-west, and will take much longer and cost much more. Better to go for the easy wins at this point.

  39. Russell says:

    Matt, why build a new town of 40,000 people in Flat Bush, so close to the Manukau spur, with no train link? Why abandon all of Auckland east of the Tamaki river? The numbers of potential users out there vastly exceed the numbers that the airport will service and will take more cars off the road.
    Project Ameti looks awfully like stage one of a future attempt to bring John Banks’ eastern motorway back through to the bottom of the CBD which the car addict will flock to, further undermining the potential for an eastern rail loop.
    Look also at where the people who live between Mangere Bridge and the airport work? How many come into the CBD or out to the airport Vs how many travel cross town to our industrial areas?
    I have also heard, but can’t verify, the more of the 5000 airport area workers live out east than what live in the catchment of the current proposed airport train route.

  40. Patrick R says:

    Russell all true, but it’s not West versus East, it’s build the easier to get financed Western line so as to increase the likelihood of getting the Eastern Line as well. I agree Manukau to Botany looks like a great extention, but much , much more likely when Manukau is already connected through the Airport /Onehunga and the city. So you can sell it has linking the Southeast to the airport as well. Have a look at this for a plan:

    There’s a bunch of options there. Agree about AMETI but at least the busway Panmure to Botany fits with the South Eastern rain plan.

  41. Russell says:

    Patrick R - the map looks good. The question is when to buy and set aside the land? And which order to build it in?
    SH20 is going where it is because the land we bought / set a side for rail many many decades ago. Originally the rail there was going to follow your line as part of a plan of state housing along the route so that there was lots of workers in affordable accommodation within walking or cycling distance of a train station. The state houses are all there, but somewhat ghettoised now (particularly where I used to go to school).
    Unfortunately we don’t seem to have the sense anymore to buy the land in advance for future routes before the land becomes fully built out eg around Flat Bush

  42. Luke says:

    The airport line is much cheaper than an Eastern line, the main problem with the airport line is the Onehunga bridge, the rest of it follows the motorway corridor, and there is space most of the way.
    An eastern line would have to be large lengths of tunelling making it very expensive.
    I agree it is a terrible disaster no corridor has been left for rail in the eastern suburbs. We should be investigating the line now as well, so it can be played off vs the shore line for the 2030ish construction timeframe after CBDRL in 2020 and airport/SW rail in 2025.

  43. Patrick R says:

    Of course all of this planning and reserving of land should have happened years ago… but it wasn’t. And it wasn’t because there were people in charge Nationally and locally who think like Joyce and Hide and actively sought to prevent anything other than roading ever being able to be built..

    So we urgently need to catch up. And pay for the sins of our fathers. [Not mine as it happened- he was against this at the time]. And protect these routes. With regard to the Southeastern Line it’s a question of timing… perhaps the best time to push for this is once we have at least the CBDRL underway…? Dunno?


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