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The Great Auckland Public Transport Conundrum


Written by Evie Richardson (she/her) | @evi3m4y | Contributing Writer

Illustration by Ann Mariya (she/her) | @yourloveannnn | Contributing Artist

Dismantle, repeal, abolish!

Current political commentary suggests that we’re living in a time of disillusionment. More or less - what the hell is going on? The current government has come in hot, dismantling and abolishing policies made by the previous Labour government.

The media has been saturated with examples of this, particularly as the incoming coalition government rushed to tick off all 49 items of their 100-day plan. Every single of those 100 days, it felt as though there was another item in the news relating to transport. Not something that I often find myself feeling thrilled about - but as an avid bus taker, I was curious.

The list included disbanding the Auckland Light Rail (ALR) project, removing fare discounts on public transport and a new transport policy plan (which in short terms is very road heavy and rather light on environmental outcomes). For a city where two million bus trips are being made by commuters weekly, the moves seem strange.

Surface Light Rail and Auckland Light Rail are TOTALLY different (well, slightly different)

Despite a move in the opposite direction by the government, 70 percent of Aucklanders are calling for investment in mass rapid transit (things like light rail, trams on the roads, more trains). They’re backed up by more than half of the local boards.

Despite this, in that new transport policy plan (which I referred to earlier) released earlier this month, no alternative to the recently axed light rail project was suggested. So, one group is aiming to change that. Surface Light Rail for Auckland is a new group lobbying for a stripped back version of the initial light rail plans.

Co-founder of the group, Rachel Bate, says they started the project to combat the persistent problems of congestion and emissions in Tāmaki Makaurau. Bate says the government has been aware of a need for mass-rapid transit in Tāmaki Makaurau since 2015.

“The problems that mass rapid transit would have addressed are still there. We still have congestion in the city. We still have buses overcrowded, and buses so full they drive past you.”

It may seem strange that the group is pitching something that sounds extremely similar to the ALR project that just got slashed. Bate herself says the same, but the key difference is that Surface Light Rail is all about being simple. The group is pitching trains on the surface (on or alongside roads).

When talking about the axed ALR project, Bate said everyone had got really ahead of themselves, diverging from trains on the surface and expanding their plans to tunnels. And because of this, everyone I’ve talked to about the idea of light rail has told me the same thing. ALR was really really really expensive.

Bate says the simplicity of their project drives her optimism that it will avoid the same fate. “Our plan is to return to the original plans for light rail. Essentially, it’s a tramline on the surface of the road. Auckland roads are already built for surface light rail, they used to have trams running down them, so why not use that?”

Buses are expensive with a capital E

Beyond the government stats and transport policy plans, it’s strikingly clear that public transport in Tāmaki Makaurau is failing to provide for everyone.

I spoke to councillor Macron for Waitakere, Shane Henderson, to hear what the council has to say about the whole conundrum. Shane hit me with the hard facts. If you live a mere 15 km from the city centre (which is blank number of the suburbs in Tāmaki Makaurau) you are paying some of the highest public transport costs in the entire world. Simply put by Shane, “That’s not right.”

Public transport is not only a necessity for Aucklanders to live their day-to-day lives, but also a key player when it comes to improving environmental outcomes. As Shane Henderson put it, Tāmaki Makaurau is undoubtedly a “car-centric” city, something that’s not ideal for our climate.

“There are places that are beautiful jewels in the crown of Auckland but you have to drive and contribute to climate change to get to. We see climate action as our duty and we have goals that we have to meet in terms of our emissions profile.”

Bate talked about those same environmental outcomes. “We have obligations under the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions and I don't like our chances of meeting those, especially if the only viable way to get around Auckland is to drive.”

More than 80 percent of us are worried about the impacts of climate change. Nearly two million trips are being taken on public transport in Tāmaki Makaurau a week. These issues are affecting an entire city. So what can be done?

Put down this article - it's YOUR turn (actually, don’t put it down until you read this paragraph)

There’s long been preconceived ideas that local government may not be exciting. This was highlighted in 2022’s local body elections, where less than 30 percent of 18-25 year olds actually voted. Admittedly it may not have the same glitz and glamour of the general election, and there’s certainly no controversial comments from Winston Peters to keep things exciting. But the truth of it is, those lengthy council meetings are where the real stuff happens. The ground up, community organised and driven action.

Surface Light Rail for Auckland has pitched to the council multiple times, most recently on their long term plan. The long term plan comes around every three years and is open for submission each time. This means it’s a place for Aucklanders to tell the council exactly what changes they want to see in their city over the next three years.

Bate and Henderson put it the exact same way. If people want something and fight for it - it’s 100 percent more likely to happen. If these issues rile you up, you can have your say to the council.

Head to to see which projects are open for submissions and feedback. Or join the People's Panel to take speedy surveys and spill all your opinions on topics that are affecting Auckland currently. Or sign the Surface Light Rail for Auckland petition. Or just do all three! Your options are endless.


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