Auckland consistently ranks highly in lists of the world's best cities but is never number one. So what would it take to turn Auckland into a first-class city? This week the Herald continues its 10-day series examining some of the biggest hurdles Auckland faces, from housing and transport to entertainment and education. We look at what we are doing, what we need to do, and why Auckland's success matters to the rest of the country. In part six of the series we look at transport.

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WORLD CLASS AUCKLAND - SERIES OVERVIEW

Auckland's grand plan for the next 30 years has been lambasted by a Massey University researcher for giving too big a nod to roads ahead of better public transport.

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Imran Muhammad, who is examining the region's transport politics in a three-year project funded by a $345,000 Royal Society Marsden Fast-Start grant, says a "paradigm shift" is needed to make any real impact on travel behaviour - rather than the balanced approach of the 2012 Auckland Plan.

The plan includes an indicative spending ratio of 57 per cent for roads, 40 per cent for public transport and 3 per cent for walking and cycling to achieve "a single system, integrated transport network for Auckland over the next 30 years."

As well as the $2.5 billion City Rail Link, the plan includes the $1.3 billion Ameti package of roads and a busway in East Auckland, a $1 billion highway to improve freight movements between East Tamaki and Onehunga, and another Waitemata Harbour traffic crossing which Transport Minister Simon Bridges has said could cost up to $6 billion.

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But Auckland Transport acknowledged in 2013 that even if a desired $59 billion could be raised to pay for all projects listed in the plan, traffic congestion could become an all-day affair towards the end of that period, by which time up to a million more residents are expected in the Super City.

Dr Muhammad says that is only to be expected unless spending on more roads is severely curtailed, to force big enough changes in travel behaviour to secure Auckland's future as a "liveable" city.

"Simultaneous investment in both modes will only promote roads and cars," he says in one of the first research papers to emerge from his project.

He says the plan's target of doubling public transport patronage to 140 million annual passenger trips by 2022, ambitious though it may seem, is unlikely to promote a transformational shift away from "auto-dependence".

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Aucklanders discuss public transport throughout the region.

He notes that 84 per cent of trips in Perth, with a population of 1.74 million people, similar to what Auckland's is expected to rise to by 2022, are still made by car even after an increase in annual public transport patronage to 180 million passenger boardings by 2010.

That compares with 79.25 million trips in the year to June 30 on buses, trains and ferries in Auckland, where 73 per cent of people who travelled to work on Census Day in 2013 said they did so in private vehicles.

Dr Muhammad pointed the Herald to the example of the South Korean capital of Seoul, which demolished a four-lane elevated freeway into the heart of the city in 2003 and created a spectacular 9km greenbelt along a resurrected Cheonggyecheon River, which was concreted over when the road was built in the 1970s.

Although the road carried more than 120,000 cars a day, it has been replaced by a busway in a move which won strong popular support, other than among the 3000 street vendors reputed to have made their living selling snacks and other wares to motorists snarled in traffic jams.

The greenbelt, nurtured by 120,000 tonnes of water pumped into its channel each day from another river, has been credited with cooling central Seoul by an average of 3.6C at the height of summer.

A further 15 of Seoul's freeways have since met the same fate, as have several in the United States, including in Portland, San Francisco and Milwaukee.

Dr Muhammad said he was keen to return to Seoul to see where all the traffic had disappeared to, and expected to find ample proof that "if there's no supply there's no demand".