When the latest Auckland transport plan was announced back in March, there was much fanfare about record-breaking levels of investment.
Much less was said about the benefits that the plan was actually going to deliver – which is, of course, what matters most.
Sadly, that part of the plan doesn't make great reading. It turns out that, over the coming decade, congestion levels are going to increase by around 10 per cent during the morning rush hour and by significantly more in the middle of the day.
The reality is likely to be even worse, because the forecasting by Auckland Transport (AT) overestimates the potential for people to switch from cars to buses and trains (and any congestion relief that might bring) and underestimates the amount of driving that Aucklanders will do.
Auckland's transport network operates so close to capacity that any increase in demand, even a small one, will hit hard.
As far as the Auckland Business Forum is concerned, this is not a good enough result – it will mean a whole lot of extra stress, disruption and cost for the bulk of people using the transport network and will undermine goals of liveability, climate-friendliness and productivity. Aucklanders deserve much better.
AT has just wrapped up consultation on its Draft Regional Land Transport Plan 2021-2031, and our feedback was that AT needs to fundamentally change its approach if it is going to deliver the transport outcomes our city needs.
Here are three changes we want to see:
Each year, Aucklanders travel 20 billion kilometres in private vehicles, versus 1bn on public transport, and the ratio isn't going to fundamentally change any time soon.
Increased investment in public transport, walking and cycling is badly needed, so that they can carry more of the load, but we still have to invest adequately in the parts of the network that do the heavy lifting.
Right now, that's not happening. AT is putting all its faith – and most of its money – into mode shift (getting people out of cars and on to public transport, walking and cycling) in the hope that this will hold congestion more or less steady. The results of that approach speak for themselves.
A bolder approach to congestion
AT must aim far higher when it comes to tackling congestion. That doesn't mean trying to eradicate it – in any growing, successful city, a degree of congestion is inevitable. Instead, it means doing everything possible to reduce congestion to levels that most Aucklanders would consider tolerable.
The target for Auckland should be a similar-sized Australian city, such as Brisbane. Currently, our congestion levels are on par with cities like Sydney and Melbourne (which have three times as many inhabitants).
Invest to get traffic moving
This will require a much greater focus on projects aimed at improving efficiency for general traffic, alongside investment in PT and active modes. On the supply side, that means scaling up and bringing forward new road projects (large and small scale) on the outer parts of the network, targeted widening of additional sections of the motorway network and smaller-scale projects aimed at getting better performance for general traffic and freight out of the existing network – peak-period clearways, dynamic lanes (including on motorways) and smart traffic lights.
On the demand side, the key step AT can take is to push forward the public debate around congestion charging. There's little doubt that this can deliver the step-change that Auckland needs – the challenge now is to put together a case that's compelling enough to win over Aucklanders.
Less congestion also means less emissions and AT needs to recognise that much of what it's proposing now will do more harm than good for climate change objectives.
• Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Business Chamber and chair of the Auckland Business Forum, a group of business organisations formed to advocate for greater urgency around the planning and delivery of the Auckland transport programme.