Regional Public Transport – Greater Auckland

This is a guest post by Paul Callister.

Featured Image: The Southerner service at Dunedin Station, via Save Our Trains on Twitter.

In November 2021, over 100 elected officials representing local and regional councils from Northland to Bluff sent a open letter to the Minister of Transport, Michael Wood. This letter highlighted their concerns about the lack of investment in public transport in the regions and their wish that this be taken into account in the 2022 budget.

The letter stated:

As representatives of the provincial heartland of Aotearoa in New Zealand, we want to be part of a better future where we have friendly, affordable and convenient public transport so that we stay connected without costing the earth. The Emissions Reduction Plan Discussion Paper highlights the concerns that many of us have about the impact of climate change on our planet and the place of mode change in transport as a key element in significantly reducing emissions.

Some change requests have been made:

We seek low fares for all and an expansion of free transport for community services and gold card holders, students and apprentices. We want to increase the frequency of routes and hours of operation so that it is easier for people to choose the bus without having to coordinate a schedule with long wait times, services that stop at 6 p.m. or that don’t work on weekends. We want the ability to take buses, both within and between our provincial towns and rural communities, and connect to our major cities. In the past, many of our cities had rail services to fulfill these roles. They still should. But where this is not possible in the short term, we need convenient and affordable bus services as soon as possible.

While focusing on buses, the letter’s authors also highlighted the need for other changes to facilitate low-emission travel:

We also need massive upgrades to railways and protected cycle lanes and other non-transport solutions to combat climate change, but improving our buses right now is fundamental as we face the abandonment of our biggest cities.

On March 14, 2022, Michael Wood responded positively. Nicola Patrick, Regional Advisor for Horizons, tweeted part of her response:

“I support in principle the need to invest more in public transport in the regions.”

“Public transport shapes people’s lives, the ability of our regions to connect and thrive, and plays a vital role in tackling climate change and reducing damage caused by transport.”

Nicola in his tweet thread noted, “Then later that day we had the fantastic news of half price buses for three months.”

While what happens in our biggest cities is obviously important, solutions for decarbonisation, security and the provision of affordable options to keep all members of society connected are vital for all communities in New Zealand, whether whether big or small. New Zealand’s small, and not-so-small, communities have been left behind.

Improving regional public transport has two components. First, there is public transport and other decarbonisation and mobility measures in cities and small towns and, secondly, transport between towns and cities.

Public transport and cycling in regional New Zealand

Through a mixture of history, geography, size, demographic differences, council decisions and various other factors, the use of buses, trains, bicycles and walking varies widely across New Brunswick. Zeeland.

The following table shows some examples of the different means of transport used to get to work in the towns and cities of the North Island. In each location, but not shown, driving is by far the most important category.

Main means of commuting to work in selected regions, 2018 Census, % in each category
Region Bus Bike Walk Form
Plymouth New Quarter 0.5 1.7 4.4 0
City of Tauranga 1.6 2.3 2.9 0
Taupō District 0.1 1.3 4.3 0
East Te Kuiti 0.0 1.0 6.5 0
North Town of Palmerston 1.6 3.4 6.8 0.1
Wanganui District 0.4 2.8 4.2 0
Kapiti Coast District Council 0.9 1.6 3.4 12.7
Horowhenua District 0.1 1.3 5.1 0.8
Auckland region 7.1 1.0 4.3 3.0
New Zealand 4.2 2.0 5.2 2.0

Source: New Zealand Statistics

For communities without public transport or with poor transport services, reducing fares or making them free does not help. Cycling is limited by the amount of safe cycling infrastructure provided.

Adding to the challenge, small towns like Levin have significant pockets of deprivation. While locals can afford cars, they are often older, unsafe and less fuel efficient. Few people can afford new electric cars, even with discounts.

Small towns often have much older populations than large cities. This is one of the reasons Gray Power supported the letter to the minister.

Yet public transport and cycling infrastructure are lacking in many of the places that need it most. Take Levin for example. It’s flat and the streets tend to be wide, and the whole town is a short bike ride from the main shopping center and the train station. However, local buses and safe cycle paths are virtually non-existent. Although some small changes are underway, general attitudes and infrastructure still discourage cyclists and walkers.

Levin Mall Parking Lot

If safe and connected bike paths could be rolled out quickly, Levin would be an ideal place to offer subsidized, or even free, services. electric bikes.

In Levin, if you can get to the station, there is only one daily weekday service to and from Wellington on the aging and slow Capital Connection. Ironically, much of the trip overlooks the vast highway being built on the coast, with more planned between Otaki and Levin.

There is, however, some hope that rail services will be improved.

Connect communities

In New Zealand, it is the plane and the car that connect cities and communities. It is difficult to estimate the impact of driving on regional emissions, but New Zealand ranks Fourth for domestic aviation emissions per capita – just ahead of Canada, although Canada is forty times bigger than us. John Vidal, the former environment editor of the Guardian, promotes passenger rail as an environmentally superior alternative to domestic flights in the UK and Europe. But passenger rail is not an option in New Zealand because most of our long-distance passenger rail network has been dismantled. More recently, this has included the discontinuation of Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific services.

Providing fast, safe, affordable and low-carbon inter-regional travel has already been explored by Greater Auckland (GA). In 2016 GA promoted the idea of ​​a fast train linking Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Instead we had a slow train, not even reaching central Auckland initially, in the form of the infrequent Te Huia service.

Greater Auckland has also considered reviving long-distance rail services, including the reintroduction of an overnight train between Auckland and Wellington. Currently, there is no train service, even during the day, to connect New Zealand’s two largest cities and towns and villages in between. Instead, government-owned KiwiRail is studying the development of a New Zealand Orient Express for wealthy tourists, but without planning additional, more affordable options. Indeed, KiwiRail has abandoned ordinary New Zealand families.

Under the title Better long-distance coaches – design, regulation and community public health, Greater Auckland looked at the remaining coach services that still connect smaller towns. These coaches are not considered public transport as they are operated by a private company. This means that half-fares do not apply to them even if a person is only traveling a short distance in an area.

The onboard and offboard experiences of New Zealand coaches are often poor. For example, traveling to and from regional New Zealand to central Auckland, passengers must pass through a substandard intercity bus depot.

Norway is often cited as an example of a country that has supported the switch to electric cars. But Norway also has an extensive intercity rail network (62% of which is electrified compared to only around 13% in New Zealand) and a high-quality long-distance bus system. Yet Norway has a relatively small population (5.5 million) and difficult terrain. Additionally, Norwegian intercity coaches all contain on-board toilets, a feature appreciated by an aging population and those traveling with children.

An intercity bus in Norway

In an article on regional access, we asked readers to imagine a New Zealand where you can…

  • stop working and get away from the city for a long weekend, without having to drive on dangerous roads, cloudy eyes after a week of work…
  • growing old in your hometown, knowing that even if you become too disabled to drive, getting to the nearest major center for a visit to the doctor is not a transportation chore…
  • take the overnight train to Wellington for business, so you can stick to your no-fly undertakings without it eating away at your work week…
  • getting to regional tournaments safely by public transport (while teammates are still gaining experience as pilots)…
  • visit grandkids in other regions traveling in high-quality buses equipped with on-board restrooms and fast Wi-Fi, enjoying vegan and gluten-free options at refueling stops…
  • have seamless door-to-door travel between cities and small towns using a mix of trains, buses and electric vehicles, with the help of accessible technology…

Unfortunately, in New Zealand, such possibilities can only be imagined. The system is broken and we need to design and build a national public transport network.

There are a number of groups supporting this concept, an example being the Public Transport Forum through its Connecting Communities 2030 initiative.

This is the kind of vision that the more than 100 elected officials asked Transport Minister Michael Wood in their open letter. We hope that the 2022 budget will have money to start this recovery process. But one budget alone will not solve the problem. We need a comprehensive transformation of our transport systems across New Zealand if we are to meet our emissions reduction targets, improve safety and create an integrated system that provides all New Zealanders with mobility choices , both locally and regionally.

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