Who pays the Ferryman? Auckland's Transport Woes

Date: 17/10/2018

Auckland is a public transport mess. The very serious transport failures that are occurring daily in Auckland display the extreme difficulties and frustrations that travellers face: frequent breakdowns causing serious motorway delays, bus and rail services not coping or cancelled. The introduction of regional taxes, fuel surcharges, reduced speed limits in the CBD, stopping red light running and whatever other measures not yet even conceived are just ad hoc sticking plasters that are unlikely to make much impact on the short term problems.

There is a stunning silence on how long this situation may continue whilst planned upgrades to road and rail are being constructed, but it is certain that the distress the Auckland travelling public will have to endure is years of waiting and even when completed the planned upgrades are likely to be severely stretched due to population growth.

Auckland is a “water” city, a city that physically is extremely unsuited to land based transport systems, being long and skinny, but conversely has excellent access to harbours and waterways. Similar and much larger cities around the world such as New York, Hong Kong, Sydney and San Francisco amongst many other “water” cities all operate excellent ferry services that are growing, are constantly under review and are being extended by public demand. Ferries are not, and cannot be, the remedy for all transport problems but they certainly offer a considerable contribution to ease the glitches and frustrations of land based travel. When asked by the author, the Director of NY City Department of Transport Planning, Carl Weisbrod (now retired) said: “Ferry services are always an important and integral part of our public transport planning and services”.

Auckland Transport statistics regularly confirm that ferries have the highest reliability and punctuality rating of all public transport modes. In the environmentally conscious world of today and in the future the impact of water ferries is likely to be much less than that of road and rail transport systems.

In recent years since 2016, and as part of, the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan (ATAP) the potential for developing ferry services as a fundamental part of the Auckland public transport system has been badly neglected, to the point of being barely mentioned. Ferries were not even included in the ATAP terms of reference.

Compared to other “water” cities the deficiency of developing ferry services in Auckland is both a mystery and censure of the planning process: more importantly, the Recommended Strategic Approach document derived from the ATAP, in 48 detailed pages contains no reference whatsoever to ferry services, only investment in road and rail. The proposed upgrade expenditure of $28 billion is a massive investment; in the interim funding tranche of some $16.5 billion announced in June 2018, only $50 million was tagged for ferries, less than 1% of the total amount; at the same time some ferry essentials, such as funding for future terminal development, were specifically excluded.

The widespread failure of Auckland MPs, Auckland Councillors and Auckland local boards to question what has happened is an indictment in itself, and their apparent ready acceptance of the planning situation is likely to be to the detriment of those who elected them in good faith. In this criticism must be included Phil Goff as the Mayor of Auckland and Simon Bridges, Minister of Transport in the previous National government, who jointly signed off the original Auckland Transport Alignment Plan.

The most basic question remains, and must be: if so many similar other cities can successfully operate ferry services, why can this not be done in Auckland?  READ MORE: click to download PDF

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