Public Transport is facing a crisis

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By Greg Presland

Recently I did something that I have never done before.  I spent over $90 on gas filling up my highly fuel efficient Toytoa Prius.  This should last me a couple of weeks but for those who do not own fuel efficient cars things must be hurting.

Public transport use has exploded.  Over the past 12 months public transport trips in Auckland increased by five million.  Train use is significantly up (18% more trips February this year compared to February last year) as is bus use.  Out west the annual increase in train trips is 25%!  The North Shore bus way is performing very well and its construction has resulted in a significant reduction in congestion on the Harbour Bridge.

Car parks around train stations are full to capacity.  A friend recently reported that for the first time ever the Sunnyvale carpark was full before 9 am.  And I have noticed that the car parks around Glen Eden are full from a very early time each week day.

There is this forlorn hope that through a technology discovery we will be able to go back to our car centric ways but there is no sign of such a discovery.  Even if such a technology discovery is made it is likely that the rare earth metals required will mean that a new peak resource milestone will be imminent.  I believe that we should plan for the worst.  I am convinced that we are entering or have entered into a peak oil phase, where the supply of cheap oil is finished and all that we can look forward to is a dwindling supply of more and more expensive fuel.

Urgent action is required.  Over the past 10 years a lot of work has gone into upgrading Auckland’s public transport systems but this must continue.  We must be ready for a world where more and more trips are going to be made by Train or Bus.

Cuba offers a glimpse of what this future may look like.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s Cuba’s supply of cheap oil ended and it faced dramatic upheaval.  Its leadership responded by making fundamental changes to its society.  Car use plummeted.  Faced with the prospect of food shortages a number of community gardens were established based on organic techniques.  There were a number of immediate benefits.  General health improved dramatically as people walked more and ate better quality fresh food.  Cuba survived and arguably improved.

As a society New Zealand must prepare for a similar upheaval and the experience of Cuba gives us a good idea of what should happen.

I believe that the following needs to occur urgently:

  1. Greater provision of park and ride carparks around train and bus stations
  2. Secure lock up facilities for bicycles both at train stations and in our towns and village areas.
  3. Improvement of the cycleway system and an analysis of the road system to make sure that it can be optimised for cycle use.
  4. Current planned or proposed extensions to the rail system have to occur.  Electrification is a must.  The inner city rail loop is needed so that the system capacity is doubled and capacity does not peak in a few years time.
  5. The Northern bus way should be repeated out west.  There should be a new bus way constructed alongside the North Western Motorway starting at Massey.
  6. Locally we need to plan for community gardens now.

Political leadership should be all about looking into the future and planning.   The end of cheap oil means that it is more important than ever that future planning is done now.




  1. Great post Greg. I live and work within close proximity of the Northwestern and Southern Motorways, and it perplexes me that there is no realistic (and affordable) public transport option. In order for public transport to succeed, it needs to be fast, cheap and reliable. Auckland’s public transport system (even with the price of petrol through the roof) meets none of these.

  2. Luke C says:

    Great Post. However I have to a disagree with you about park and rides. A small expansion is OK but the real focus should be re-orientating local bus services to be rail feeders. Not too much available land near stations, and the marginal cost of providing extra parks increases very quickly.

    A huge problem with PT in Auckland has been the market knows best approach, and this results in perverse outcomes with bus competing against rail, when they should be complimentary.

    Having better local feeders to stations will also benefit locals who do not use the train, as the West is lucky that the local shops and the station are often the same place.

  3. Gordon F says:

    Greg, I was amazed to hear that the Northern busway had removed the equivalent of two lanes of cars from the North Shore to CBD commute daily.
    To extend this out West would be, in my opinion, the next logical step.
    Keep up the good work!

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