Are high frequency shuttles the solution for Auckland’s congestion problems?



Guest Post

Auckland transport and reducing road congestion


  1. Auckland’s population is growing at historically fast rates; circa 120,000 in the 2014-2016 period, with mid-range growth assumptions forecasting a population of 2.2 M by 2030 (currently 1.7M est.)
  2. The region’s vehicle fleet is growing by around 100 (net) additional vehicles per day, or 40,000 annually
  3. Unlike Sydney, Melbourne and London (as examples), which have symmetrical, ‘circular’ urban topography, Auckland has a rectangular central isthmus, with long narrow ‘outliers’ to the north and south
  4. The topography in these cities (identified above), lends itself to a ‘bike wheel’ rail network, with lines radiating out from the centre, coupled with ‘circular’ supplementary lines which ‘link’ the ‘spokes’ .
  5. As a result, the majority of residents are no more than a 10 minute walk from efficient public transport networks. They work, are well supported and for the majority of commuters, are their ‘default urban travel option’
  6. The OPPOSITE is the case in Auckland


Auckland City’s credit rating is likely to be downgraded from its Aa2/AA levels if extensive additional borrowing was to be taken on to fund major infrastructure projects. That said, I read with interest Auckland Chamber Head Michael Barnett’s recent Herald piece outlining alternative capital raising/funding options.

Barriers to utilisation of public transport in Auckland

  1.  Geographical, distance and time barriers to the principal networks as identified above
  2. The rail network from the south is limited to 1 line. 1 line to the west (plus the Onehunga trunk) with none north of the bridge (alternative is the busway)
  3. To utilise these networks and materially reduce roading congestion requires vast numbers of commuters to:
    1. Drive to their train or bus station
    2. Find a park
    3. Pay for the park (in some instances)
    4. Assume the risk of damage or theft of their vehicle whilst parked
    5. Wait for the service
    6. Pay for the service
    7. Walk or taxi from where they exit the train or bus to their final destination
    8. Brave the ‘elements’

And then REPEAT this laborious process for the return journey

The barriers to ‘system’ utilization are simply too great for the vast majority of Auckland commuters to consider public transport as currently configured, a viable, convenient, reasonably priced or efficient alternative to the comfort and independence their private motor vehicle represents.

Until such time as the above criteria are satisfied, it would be manifestly ‘unjust’ to impose congestion charging or make it a top priority in policy terms.

And my contention is it will do little to reduce congestion, which one assumes, is its raison d’etre?

The solution – an additional element to current policy mix

High Frequency Shuttles to reduce commuter traffic volumes on major arterial networks

‘In suburb’ shuttles as ‘feeders’ to the main networks:

  1. Researched overseas
  2. ‘Market tested’ in Auckland
  3. Pilot, including funding model, designed; including extensive focus group consultation and robust measurement of ‘before and after’ commuter traffic volumes
  4. Piloted in 1 suburb initially, followed by further pilots in an additional 2 suburbs with high density commuter populations for a minimum period of 12 months.
  5. Learnings adopted into a policy ‘final design’
  6. Policy roll out
  7. Time frame for design, pilot and roll out 2017 – 2022

‘Operating concept’

  1. 8-12 seater shuttles deployed in ‘commuter land’
  2. Circulate at 5-10 minute intervals at peak times; 5.00 – 9.00 am and 3.00 – 7.00 pm
  3. At 30 minute intervals outside peak times.
  4. ‘Surplus capacity’ to then operate ‘Uber like’ within the wider transport network
  5. Pick up points no more than 5 minutes’ walk from any residence
  6. When full, deliver passengers to the main train/bus networks and/or passenger destinations.
  7. Details of specific solutions may vary somewhat suburb to suburb dependent upon the needs of each community. For example the needs and solutions in the inner suburbs will be somewhat different from those of outlying suburbs.
  8. Replicated in key ‘destination’ zones
  9. Off peak to operate at, say 50% of peak capacity

Bearing in mind the principle objective of this proposal is to reduce congestion within the region’s primary roading networks

This approach takes a meaningful approach to overcoming the key ‘barriers to utilisation’ identified earlier and therefore stands a real chance of materially improving travel times around the Auckland region 

Other comments

  1. Capital costs are low – $50,000 per vehicle at, say a fleet of 5000 units, is $250 m. Life span 7-10 years. Plus storage and servicing infrastructure (the private sector and or individually contracted drivers will mitigate the latter) A private contractor ‘model’ is an option to mitigate capital cost.
  2. Compare $250m against conventional public transport options. $Millions become $billions in the ‘blink of an eye’
  3. Operating costs are high, yes. 5000 drivers at say $50,000 annually is $250 m plus ancillary costs, but I expect revenues to accelerate quickly
  4. However, to fully assess the ideas true ‘cost effectiveness’, requires a ‘cost of travel time and inconvenience of the status quo’ (let alone in 5-10 years’ time) be included in the financial model.
  5. Financial justification will quickly follow to supplement materiality of congestion mitigation.

High Frequency Shuttles (HFS’s) capacity assumptions and impact to private commuter vehicle volumes during morning and afternoon peaks 

  1. 5am – 9am .75 trips per hour = 3 x 10 passengers = 30 passengers
  2. X 5000 shuttles = 150,000 passengers accommodated per morning peak
  3. Passenger vehicles volumes @ 1.5 passengers each reduced by 100,000 for morning and afternoon peaks
  4. Data assumptions replicated for 3pm – 7pm afternoon peak
  5. Note; amending the ‘trips per hour’ assumption in point 1 to 1 trip per hour increases passenger utilization to 200,000 and reduces commuter vehicle volume by 133,000 for each peak period.

Arterial road user charging for peak time travel to then be introduced to dissuade commuters from reverting to private motor vehicle usage 

Any government, local or national, would be most unwise to dismiss this idea out of hand simply because it either: 

  1. Threatens current investment in existing public transport networks (principally large buses South and West of the harbour bridge)
  2. Hasn’t been thought of, or doesn’t fit neatly into the current ‘solutions paradigm’


  1. Sadly, current policy and strategic thinking, will deliver unacceptable outcomes for current and future generations of Aucklanders’
  2. Principally because their philosophic underpinnings are rooted in ‘more of what we have done in the past’ rather than a looking outside the square and adopting a ‘customer (commuter) mind-set’
  3. Failure to a greater or lesser extent is guaranteed under current policy settings.
  4. The consequences of continuing to fail are significant. Principally, significant drag on PRODUCTIVITY GROWTH, coupled with a growing deterrent to business investment.
  5. Without productivity growth, our ability as a nation to meet the ever growing expectations of our citizens to provide 1st world living standards and services, will be unnecessarily constrained.

I am happy to be a part of a process in the early phase/s that critiques, tests and improves this proposal


-Matthew Newman – Karaka 

Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.

As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.