Auckland Transport (AT) has been investigating the future public transport needs of the North Shore, as part of better understanding the role and options for the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) in future cross-harbour transport plans.
Project status: Investigation
Project zone: North
Over the coming decades, population growth and land-use development (both on the North Shore and regionally) will fuel growth in patronage on the Northern Busway and push bus operations to their limits. This growth, and the success of the Northern Busway, is driving the need to plan for a longer-term rail solution, which will require some form of new Waitematā Harbour crossing.
AT is investigating ways to extend the operation and performance of the Northern Busway, so that it can serve the North Shore, as it grows, for as long as practical.
It is also recognised that there is a need for a longer-term solution and AT is continuing to investigate future rail options. This includes light rail (planned for an airport link) or heavy rail (already operating south of the harbour), how rail could serve the North Shore and best to tie in with the rest of the Auckland transport network.
Recent and current studies
Land use and transport planning have developed rapidly over the past 10 years. With an increasing demand for cross-harbour travel, there have been numerous studies into an additional harbour crossing.
North Shore Rapid Transit Study
The North Shore Rapid Transit Study was undertaken in 2016. It was designed as a pre-scoping study to investigate North Shore public transport needs and inform the NZ Transport Agency’s Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing (AWHC) route-protection planning. These investigations used updated travel demand forecasts, assessed the operational performance of the Northern Busway, and based on these, outlined preliminary options for the future North Shore RTN.
Summary of findings:
- The Northern Busway is likely to reach operational capacity sometime during the 2030s. This is due to increasing demand for bus travel and capacity constraints for buses in the city centre and on other parts of the busway.
- Bus-only public transport is unlikely to be the sole long-term solution for growing North Shore cross-harbour travel demand.
- Although no rail option has been chosen, the initial assessment identified that light rail is likely to be the most flexible and stage-able transport mode. It is a proven technology and could be integrated into a wider network (such as the airport link).
- Heavy rail comes with larger costs and more limited staging potential compared to other options. However, it has the potential for high capacity and allows for wider long-term connectivity with the regional rail network.
As a planning requirement, these investigations are brought together into the Business Case Approach. The first component of this, the Strategic Case, outlines the continued and growing need to provide for North Shore rapid transit, in the context of Auckland's population growth and land development.
Programme business case
The North Shore Rapid Transit Network Programme Business Case was completed in early 2018. Following this an Addendum was required to provide an updated understanding of how this project aligned with the new Government Policy Statement on Land Transport and the revised Auckland Transport Alignment Project, this work concluded in 2018.
A summary of the major changes since the completion of the Programme Business Case include:
- Light Rail.
- The preferred option for Northwest and City Centre to Mangere rapid transit ATAP 2018 recommendations for:
- Bus shoulder lanes to Orewa and possible extension of RTN to Grand Drive.
- Road Pricing.
- Bus priority improvements on Fanshawe Street.
- Additional general vehicle harbour crossing by 2048.
- Light rail between the City Centre and North Shore (by the mid-2030s) New Network bus service implementation.
The detailed assessment of the Programme Business Case and confirmation through the Addendum recommended a two-staged programme that aligns with the growth in demand be taken forward. The two stages are:
- Firstly, to increase the capacity and performance of the existing Northern Busway.
- Secondly, to start planning for the implementation of a new, higher capacity rapid transit mode to meet growing demand.
Detailed business case
Auckland Transport (AT) completed the Northern Busway Enhancements Detailed Business Case in mid-2021, following the first recommendation of the Waitematā Harbour Connections (AWHC) business case. The business case has developed a programme of interventions to enhance the capacity, improve bus travel times and reliability of the Northern Busway.
The detailed business case recommends improvements over four stages, with the initial focus being on stages one and two.
Stage one will provide immediate relief for some of the current challenges at stations and stops across the busway - including platform and bus stop extensions, widening, signal optimisation on Fanshawe Street to help bus reliability, and minor bus priority on SH1.
Overall journey time is expected to reduce by approximately five minutes.
Stage two will see station upgrades and new infrastructure to better enable circulation changes at the busway stations
Implementation of the Northern Busway enhancements is indicatively planned for the period between 2028/29 – 2030/31. If funding is available earlier some of the enhancements may be delivered before that timeline.
To find out more read the Northern Busway Enhancements Detailed Business Case
Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency are working in partnership to investigate more resilient, reliable and efficient transport options across the Waitematā Harbour. This will help connect the growing number of people, goods and services moving between the North Shore, Auckland City and beyond.
A key finding from this business case is the urgent need to enhance the Northern Busway and AT is now progressing that investigation with a Detailed Business Case. The outputs of this work will involve ways of upgrading the Northern Busway over the next few years to increase its capacity, reliability and overall service quality into the future.
The AWHC business case builds on previous work by Waka Kotahi exploring the feasibility of a tunnel crossing, as well as work AT undertook into developing the North Shore Rapid Transit network.
The findings of this business case phase will inform and help guide future planning work to provide more clarity about potential future connections. Although details are not yet confirmed, the long-term solutions being investigated would likely be New Zealand’s biggest transport investment, costing billions of dollars and would be expected to take more than 15 years of design and construction work. This mid-2030s completion date is consistent with Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) recommendations, although upgrades to the busway will in the meantime to help keep up with growing patronage.
Implementation of the Northern Busway enhancements is indicatively planned for the period between 2028/29 - 2030/31. If funding is available earlier some of the enhancements may be delivered before that timeline.
We will continue to work closely with Waka Kotahi on the investigations into a North Shore rapid transit network and an additional harbour crossing.