Project Auckland: Public transport use on the rise

By Dr Lester Levy

Project AucklandAlong with housing, getting around Auckland is the biggest challenge our city faces, writes Dr Lester Levy
Public transport is the critical centrepiece and our biggest opportunity to solve the transport problems in Auckland, says Dr Lester Levy.
Public transport is the critical centrepiece and our biggest opportunity to solve the transport problems in Auckland, says Dr Lester Levy.

We live in exciting and challenging times in Auckland as we deal with an inherited legacy transport infrastructure deficit as well as unprecedented growth in our population. This provides us with some extreme challenges and has really put transport in Auckland under the spotlight.

Housing and transport are the critical issues in Auckland and have attracted a lot of attention from the public, government and council. This is not going to go away, there is no quick, simple fix, and as the population increases the pressure will remain on us to find new solutions.

Fifty five per cent of New Zealand's recent population growth has been in Auckland where the population will reach 1.6 million this year.

Fundamentally this means that Auckland will have grown by over 125,000 people in the past three years, effectively absorbing a city the size of Tauranga.

In this context, Auckland Transport is placing more emphasis on two of the board's key strategic priorities, which are public transport, and walking and cycling.

Public transport is clearly important because it has the capacity to move many people, quickly and effectively. The new electric trains, AT Hop and key rail station developments are already revealing their worth through record public transport use on the city's rail network.

Other public transport initiatives such as the deconstruction and reconstruction of the entire Auckland bus system through the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) are in an emerging phase, but have very significant potential to be "game-changers" within the Auckland transport landscape.

Bus generally does not get the same profile as trains but nonetheless is critical to transport in Auckland. In point of fact, bus is the backbone of public transport accounting for around 80 per cent of the total public transport use in Auckland.

The redesign of the bus service network is the biggest change for Auckland public transport in recent decades with the first stage implemented in South Auckland in October.

Along with simpler fares, the new bus network will offer for the first time a new value proposition for public transport in Auckland similar to successful overseas cities.

Within Auckland's public transport model, rapid transit stands out as the real opportunity. In Auckland people have already voted with their feet as shown by the annual compound growth of the northern network busway and the rail network.

An increasing share of our public transport network usage, and certainly our growth, is related to the rapid transit network. We plan to extend and enhance this network with the City Rail Link, the augmented Northern busway, the Ameti busway, the Northwestern busway, and a mass rapid transit solution across the isthmus and out to the airport.

Cycling and walking also have an important and growing role to play as part of the transport solution. Again there are obvious congestion benefits in getting people out of cars, as well as documented health benefits.

Safety has always been a barrier for people wanting to get around Auckland's busy roads on two wheels, which is why we are investing in more on and off-road cycleways, assisted by funding through the Government's urban cycleway programme.

This is another case of "if you build it, they will come" -- just last week the Quay Street cycleway, which was opened just a few months ago, logged its 100,000th trip. Thanks to initiatives like the 7km path between Glen Innes and St Heliers (the first section of which was opened by Mayor Phil Goff and the Minister of Transport Simon Bridges last week) commuter and recreational cycling numbers are at record levels.

While public transport is the critical centrepiece and our biggest opportunity to solve the transport problems in Auckland, realistically we aren't going to be able to build our way out of it, and infrastructure alone will not be the solution. We will need to turn to complementary measures such as demand management, which includes elements as diverse as parking strategies and road pricing.

However, demand management in itself will also not be enough so we will need to quickly adapt and rollout emerging technologies, many of which may seem like science fiction but are in fact an impending reality.

Here we are talking about driverless cars for example, which are an exciting and high-potential opportunity.

Ultimately the solution will be a thoughtful and considered mix of infrastructure development, a range of demand management techniques and intelligent transport technologies.

The rate at which new technologies and interventions can be introduced and taken up will determine the extent of infrastructure that will need to be developed.

New infrastructure will necessarily be part of the mix but these two other elements will play an increasingly critical balancing role.

- NZ Herald

Dr Lester Levy is Chairman of Auckland Transport.

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