Who’s slowing Auckland down?

The skirmish that has broken out between Mike Lee and Steven Joyce  could well herald the opening of an all out war.

Len Brown came into office on a platform (among other things) of advocating strongly for public transport investment, with a key project being the CDB rail loop to open up the ‘dead end’ that is Britomart, which will reduce the congestion in the inner city area that imposes significant cost on businesses as well as compromising the ability of people to get around quickly and easily.

The government routinely tells us that economic success in Auckland is critical to the wellbeing of the national economy, and yet they are resisting an investment that would offer a significant economic benefit, as well as future proofing the city against the inevitable rise in fuel costs associated with peak oil and our response to climate change.

To say that the investment in the CBD loop must wait until an annual operating deficit is ‘resolved’ differs remarkably from  the government’s approach to funding new roads.  Is the minister suggesting that the direct return on investment in road building  is positive, and therefore we can continue spending freely on any roading project that grabs his fancy?  That’s a set of figures I would very much like to see!

Rodney Hide’s primary excuse for inflicting his Supercity model on Aucklanders was that having multiple local authorities led to fragmentation, stalled decisions, and no progress on key regional infrastructure, especially transport.  Now we have a newly elected mayor with a massive popular mandate, who campaigned on developing rail, and it is central government that is finding excuses not to engage in a meaningful way to advance a necessary and otherwise well supported project.

Couldn’t possibly be sour grapes that the ‘wrong’ mayor won, could it?

33 Comments Posted

  1. In transport terms its success depends largely on the fact that Perth is a series of town strung out along a coastline. A linear city.

    I think you just described Auckland pretty well too.

    As for the argument that rail should pay its way, as NZTA have calculated that each peak time rail trip in Auckland creates $17 in benefits for road users through decongestion, I don’t see why train rider have to pay for all the benefits they’re creating for car users.

    Overall, road users get back around $4.40 in decongestion benefits for every dollar NZTA spends on subsidising public transport. A pretty good return I reckon.

  2. TEchnically yes but the centres hug a strip along the coastline compared to many cities which are more like a disc.
    Also population density is not that important – its centres of employment that count (otherwise New York rail would not be success it us), The string of beads configuration helps because passengers travel in both directions at peak hours and keep the whole of day loadings up.

  3. Well actually Owen it is a three axis City. Along the Swan and the coast North and South. It must also be particularly low density. Land was so cheap that when a factory was past its use by date they would just build another and more housing further up or down the coast.
    I was there often when the public transport system was revamped. One of the main drivers of usage was all day tickets on all modes at a reasonable price.

  4. Perth is an interesting success story.
    In transport terms its success depends largely on the fact that Perth is a series of town strung out along a coastline. A linear city.
    In financial terms it was built in the days when consulting and engineering firms were honest and the contract estimates and ridership estimates were honest and reliable.
    The sector is now dominated by ticket clippers keen to get their foot in the public door and then crank up the costs.

  5. I have lived in Manhattan and wouldn’t own a car there either.
    But given that Manhattan is a recognised outrider in every respect by every US analyst what on earth does Manhattan have to do with Auckland?

  6. BJ,

    Rising waters may mean that the Auckland waterfront PLUS the CBD’s may well be moved to more suitable locations.

    Planning for rail, road, sewerage, water, electricity must thus take into consideration that move, hence the dead end rail terminus at Auckland is not such a bad thing.

    Why bother with a central loop if the CBD moves to say Pukekohe and the harbour to Marsden Point (Kerry will love that one!!). Rising tides mean existing marginal harbours such as Marsden Point become viable.

    So cancel any notion of a Auckland central loop and invest the money into the NAL to provide a modern and efficicient rail link to the new port in the North.

  7. Owen, here is a tale that you need to consider.

    Back in the 1980s, the rail system of Perth was an embarassment. Patronage was less than ten million per annum, and was about two-thirds the patronage of Adelaide’s rail system and was a third the patronage of Brisbane’s rail system. The rolling stock consisted of a mix of DMUs, some dating to the mid 1950s. As we all know, they electrified the system and got new rolling stock.

    At the time they were making all those decisions, there was a considerable level of discussion about what should be done to provide a public transport option for the people of the Northern Suburbs of Perth. It was either going to be a busway (these were the rage at the time, don’t forget that Adelaide built the O-Bahn at about that timme), or a suburban railway (and there had been few new suburban railways built in Australia since the Second World War, and all but two of them had been built in Sydney, with one being the rebuilding of a previously existing line). According to all the experts, as a railway line, it would be a failure, but the state government decided to go ahead with the rail option.

    So, what happened in the end? The Joondalup Line was opened in 1993 to much fanfare, and today carries something like twenty million passengers per annum. It achieves fare recovery of 75%, which makes it one of the highest fare recovery rail services in the whole of Australia. Yes, there have been some epic rail failures and we need to learn from them, but there have also been some rail success stories, and we should also learn from them (similarly, we should learn from bus success stories as well, because they do exist too). Anecdotally, the Eastern Suburbs Line in Sydney was on the verge of achieving full fare recovery in the 1980s, and this is on a system where all trains have a minimum of two staff, and where the stations have seemingly millions of workers.

  8. 1.4 to 1.7 meters globally.

    I am not concerned with the past but with the future.

    Global is not local.

    I say a 100 year life for the trains that counts from after their completion and at that point things could be getting interesting on the Auckland and Wellington waterfront. Sometime in the 2nd hundred years it will be rising faster . I am pretty sure I qualified all of that pretty well… and finally, engineering is about preparing for worst cases, not happy faces.


  9. Owen

    I’m from NY, and no self-respecting native of Manhattan would use a car for their principle means of transportation. It is slower than popping into the subway and popping out somewhere else. It is also harder to insure, harder to park and no more comfortable unless you’ve reached the limousine class and someone else is doing the driving.

    Which is another reason public transit often takes a beating… rich people don’t use it.

    Since you can run those skinny trains with all the capacity of a motorway, in the space of a two lane road it makes sense in terms of space and volume.

    Since you don’t need batteries to electrify them, don’t need to build a million new cars to replace a million dinosaur burners to achieve that electrification, there is a rather pronounced capital advantage.

    Of course the folks who have plenty of money object to funding anything so plebeian as public transport… but there is a level of surreality to the idea that we are going to replace the cars with more cars and the new ones will each have a massive battery and they’ll all plug in at night and the electric lines crossing NZ will look like toaster coils from orbit.

    …and the folks who can’t afford the new cars will do what exactly?

    That’s a part of the issue you see. We can do the electric trains and everyone is served, or we can do the electric cars and only those who can afford them are served. The cost of the transportation infrastructure is borne by the individual citizens in that second case… but is unlikely to be bearable.


  10. Have to start somewhere. Electric cars for commuting and trains for the routes where there are enough numbers to justify it, are possible with today’s technology. More importantly they may be politically possible in the medium term.
    There is also the distinct economic advantage of reducing the bill for fossil fuels. About 7 Billion annually at present.
    There are also export advantages with being one of the first countries to mass produce cheap electric vehicles.
    An interesting Norwegian proposal for electric cars which combine into a train for longer trips on busy routes.
    I think in the not to far distant future a fossil fuel car would be something you rent for the occasional long trip to a remote destination. I.e. for a special holiday.

    Higher sea level rises are definitely possible as no one knows what the tipping points are for global warming. The IPCC models so far have proven to be optimistic.

  11. Only ten years ago the web was barely in existence. When I went on the web there were only 70,000 of us.
    Technologies can move quickly when the demand is there.
    Also there are a host of new technologies which will all play their part.
    Electric cars can be charged off the mains at home overnight or while sitting at the parking metre – using Dr Boys technology.
    Motorways only occupy about 3% of urban road space. Most roads are the roads that have been built for thousands of years – like the ones the Romans built. And we can build roads over existing roads and indeed this seems to be the preferred mode for HOT lanes.
    Also the self drive cars mean that the maximum volume per lane increases six to eight fold.
    And what do you think will generate the extra electricity required for rail systems at peak hour?

    If the next generation of cars can do two of three hundred km per gallon that increased efficiency compensates for a lot of increased cost for fossil fuel.

    Then Swedish Avego type systems turn every private car into a public transport vehicle using its spare capacity. A car with two people is fifty percent loaded and is much more efficient that a bus or train especially as it goes point to point. This is the only effective way to deliver public transport into the country towns and rural areas.

    And when the Oakland rail link will require a subsidy of 102 dollars US per ride who is going to pay that?

    I am not sure where bjchip gets his high sea level rises from. The NZ govt official estimate is only 300 ml to 500ml by 2100. And in parts of NZ the sea level is falling because of tectonic plate shifts.

    The rail network will not be complete within 20 years and by then half of Auckland may have decamped for more congenial locations just as Californians are fleeing in droves.

  12. Sea level change has been 2mm a year for the last 10 or so years…

    So I don’t see a 20cm higher sea level stuffing up the CBD loop in a hundred years time…

  13. “there is a limit to the amount of space you can put into roads on a narrow isthmus.”

    only the rich will be able to afford to drive soon, Janine, so this won’t be a problem. The important thing is we get the taxpayer to build all the roads now while it seems (to some) like it’s in their interests because fuel is still so very cheap…

  14. “The point is that the assumption that cars will be unaffordable and trains affordable seems hard to sustain”

    I am very hopeful that large scale transition to electric cars will be viable, but I have my doubts that this will be the case rapidly enough to make a difference. Do you know how many FF powered vehicles there are in the world? the answer is lots! lots and lots.

    to replace these will require some pretty huge shifts which don’t appear to have any real chance of taking place. think of the infrastructural change required for charging stations, the materials required for batteries. such a major paradigm shift, let alone the amount of work, has no show of taking place quickly enough to offset peak oil and the costs of it will dwarf the relatively modest figure we’re talking about for rail.

    even with such cool technologies coming on stream (and that is cool technology you linked to) I think you are overly optimistic about the likelihood of it being available on the necessary scales quickly enough to make a difference. the rail loop is a far more immediate and concrete solution than waiting for magic/technology to save us. I think.

  15. Lots of electric cars won’t really solve the Auckland traffic jam problem – and there is a limit to the amount of space you can put into roads on a narrow isthmus.

  16. BTW Owen… it is not really that much easier to cope with the rising water if you have a bridge. For the tunnel, you make sure you build it with an entrance that is far enough up the hill that it is immune for the extra expected rise, and then you don’t worry about it any more. For the bridge you have to cope with the ship traffic…


  17. A Tsunami is a temporary problem. People move back into the area once the water is drained. Maybe they make some alterations in the arrangements of buildings and the location of houses, but overall the issue is temporary and the repairs are possible.

    The PERMANENT loss of use of infrastructure is not limited to rail, but the regions it serves. I note that much of the NYC subway system runs below sea level, and is not greatly threatened by changes to that level until the water rises above the level of the station entrances and ventilators.

    Doesn’t really matter much, I was really observing that Auckland itself (as does Wellington) has some massive and expensive problems on time spans longer than a century. The loss of all the rail infrastructure is not a foregone conclusion, just (if they use the same designers as gave us Britomart as a stub instead of a part of a loop) a little too damned likely for my taste. Britomart is too low and not well protected, the plaza above it will leak like a sieve, but that goes with the rest of the flawed planning.

    It is little wonder to me that New Zealanders are somewhat put-off by their rail systems. The design and implementation leave me absolutely gobsmacked when I consider what is coming, what the planners knew (and they didn’t need any brief about warming on this count) and what they failed utterly to do. Still Britomart cannot be judged a complete failure as-is. It can always serve as a splendid negative example.

    That doesn’t excuse us from doing a better job.

    I don’t think our tectonic rising will keep up with the ice flow. I’m expecting 1.4 – 1.7 meters this century and another 3 in 200 years. It gets worse faster as the feedbacks start to kick in… or more to the point, if it DOES move faster the likelihood of a volcano taking out the port is improved at the same time.

    … as the ice shifts off the poles and the rebound gets to changing the shape of the Geoid.


    Some road, some rail, but a priority to electrification and to creating a loop that allows the trains to move through more quickly. As it is, the system could never sustain the ridership it needs to be successful. There’s no way to get the people on and off the trains.


  18. Of course I knew bjchip was referring to the connection between global warming and sea level rising.
    My point is that such sea level rising counts against tunnels below sea level rather than in their favour.
    Given the current activity on the Pacific plates this seems a strange time to be considering tunnels below sea level for rail OR for roads. The projected sea level rising for the East Coast of NZ are so low that we can probably manage that as easily as the Dutch expect to manage their dykes. When things happen slowly they can be dealt with. A tsunami is a different matter.

    Also I made a serious typo, or the moderator thought I had made an error, because part of an earlier message reads:

    “The rail link to Oakland airport will require a subsidy of 1-2 dollars per ride and that is in addition to the fare.”

    Such a low subsidy would be a world beater. The real subsidy is 102 dollars a ride – nine times the projected subsidy. This is a very recent escalation and the Oakland Airport rail link is not even finished yet.

    This is why Steven Joyce is being coy about cost overruns and op-ex overruns.
    He has good cause to be worried. These multinational engineering and consulting firms are proving to be a bunch of crooks.

  19. The factual error I referred to is the claim that you didn’t know that bj was referring to global warming as the reason for sea level rise over the next few centuries in Auckland. A small point for some, perhaps, but I believe you understood very well what he meant.

  20. Valis, please identify the factual errors before resorting to personal abuse.

    Have you looked at the official projected sea level and land movements around New Zealand lately?
    The global average sea level is a statistical artifact which tells us nothing about what is happening at any particular point on the globe at any time.

  21. bjchip wrote:

    “Of course, if we wait long enough, enough of the city will be underwater to make it a moot point. Figure that we’ll get a century of useful life out of it before the ocean starts making the lowest bits into an elaborate fishtank… or it might be designed well enough to avoid that for 2 centuries, wouldn’t be all that expensive to do that at the start.”

    Tsunami are a greater risk to the infrastructure of Auckland than rising sea levels. They could happen tomorrow with little warning. The areas most at risk of both Tsunami and Rising sea levels (such as they are) are tunnels under sea level. Elevated highways are least at risk and provide escape routes as established in New Orleans.
    Also when underground electric stations are flooded the failure is catastrophic. People drive their cars through flooded roads every day. The other problem is psychological but very real. During a disaster such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption people are reluctant to drive into lengthy tunnels underground and especially under the sea.
    So I do not understand your point at all.

  22. Yes, these price estimates are always subject to changes in currency. So it will cost Americans more but Indians may pay less.
    The point is that the assumption that cars will be unaffordable and trains affordable seems hard to sustain given recent pricing trends both in the cost of cars and the operating expenses, and the cost and operating expenses of urban rail.

  23. The China three wheeler will sell in the US for $600.

    This at least, is unlikely to be true, or have you been watching the dollar vs renminbi struggle that is unfolding? The Trillion dollar injections of dollars in the global economy? The displeasure of the Chinese?


  24. I think you have to get a grip on what is affordable and what is not.
    The rail link to Oakland airport will require a subsidy of 1-2 dollars per ride and that is in addition to the fare.
    See my earlier post. And it isn’t even finished yet. That is spreading the costs over 35 years.
    On the other hand Audi have produced an electric car that does 300 miles on a single charge.
    And both Volksawagen in China and Ford in the US are about to produce cars that do over 300 km per gallon.
    The China three wheeler will sell in the US for $600.
    So what is affordable and who pays?

  25. A station like that at the end of a commute into the city??? I look at Wellington which has (by memory) at least 9 platforms and a broad switchyard feeding into them, and I wonder at Auckland with 3x the population and less than a fifth the capacity.

    Or even for that matter, Adelaide’s Station which has eight platforms and something like eight approach tracks, and which used to have its passenger stabling yard right next door.

  26. John-ston

    When I arrived in NZ I arranged to take the train from Auckland to Wellington, having decided to settle in Wellington.

    When I went down into the Britomart station which was pretty new at the time, I remember being astonished, that it was a dead-end station in the heart of the city, and I wondered a little at it, but didn’t have any history or knowledge of the network it was part of. It just seemed “odd” and I wondered where the rest of the trains went.

    A station like that at the end of a commute into the city??? I look at Wellington which has (by memory) at least 9 platforms and a broad switchyard feeding into them, and I wonder at Auckland with 3x the population and less than a fifth the capacity.

    Yeah… someone definitely made a serious mistake.


  27. If we wait UNTIL it is obvious that we need it, it will cost more and be harder to build.

    As it is, we can only thank the recession that we still have this opportunity. If the recession hadn’t occurred, then a Westfield Tower would be under construction blocking the route.

    Basically, the case for the CBD Loop is simple – we made a cock-up when we built the current station by failing to adequately future proof it through having four approach tracks instead of two and now the station has hit operational capacity (it hit the magic 18 trains per hour in September). Now we have to spend $2 billion fixing up that mistake because some people could not muster the extra $100 million that might have been necessary.

  28. Its a bit ridiculous to keep building more & more roads, when in the not too distant future, people wont be able to afford to drive on them. Time to get with the program.. public transport.. the way of the future ?? I think so.. Kia-ora

  29. I wish that were true, bj, but with global warming itself, they do claim to be on our side by talking up the ETS as an all sectors inclusive price on carbon. In most punter’s minds, the fact that it will be almost entirely ineffective at reducing gross emissions is unknown.

  30. Owen, I doubt that even you could make the case that a decent inner-city rail loop in a fossil-fuel impaired economic system, which we WILL have, is going to be short of riders. If we wait UNTIL it is obvious that we need it, it will cost more and be harder to build.

    Of course, if we wait long enough, enough of the city will be underwater to make it a moot point. Figure that we’ll get a century of useful life out of it before the ocean starts making the lowest bits into an elaborate fishtank… or it might be designed well enough to avoid that for 2 centuries, wouldn’t be all that expensive to do that at the start.

    I am really tired of the rail being rubbished for the ruinous costs while the roads are rammed through at ruinous cost but without actually providing for any future vision except business as usual… when we know damned well that BAU is the least likely possible outcome of the combination of AGW and peak-oil.

    This government has already made its commitment to BAU clear. It is wedded to the growth model that BAU requires. More roads, roads which nobody wants where nobody wants them ( on the Kapiti coast… and the people there are pi55ed off to be sure ), and fixing rail? Lets see… how can we delay this until…

    The only thing good about this government is that it doesn’t pretend to be on our side.


  31. It’s all very well to campaign on providing public transport for all.
    But when it is likely to come with a twenty billion dollar price tag it is reasonable for government to ask for either some sound analysis to back up the vision or to spell out that the government will not fund cost overruns or make up the deficit for ridership shortfalls.

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