Sins of the Fathers – The Decline and Rise of Rail Transit in Auckland
Presented to the Urban Rail 2010 Conference in Melbourne, 5th May 2010
Auckland, New Zealand notable for its superb geographic setting on two harbours and the magnificent Hauraki Gulf is also known as ‘the City of Sails’. Considered one of the finest recreational boating centres in the world, the city of nearly 1.4 million where nearly one third of New Zealanders live is also notorious for urban sprawl and chronic traffic congestion.
Auckland is also, as Melbourne academic Paul Mees has dubbed it, the ‘City of Cars’. Problems with traffic congestion go back as far as most Aucklanders can remember – that is nearly sixty years. Conventional wisdom, citing Aucklanders’ deep attachment to the private motor vehicle asserts ‘You will never get Aucklanders out of their cars’. However this paper reveals, rather surprisingly, that up until the mid 1950s, reputedly car-loving Aucklanders were most diligent public transport users and, in terms of per capita patronage Auckland was one of the best public transport cities in the world. A curtain of collective amnesia hangs over this critical mid-century period when far reaching decisions were made by a transit-hostile central government and conservative city fathers.
These decisions, taken consciously radically altered the development and shape of the city for years to come. Auckland’s move from transit to individual cars is not unique – especially in Australasia – but Auckland is one of the most extreme cases of this mid-20th century phenomenon. A trend which Melbourne successfully resisted.
This paper will review the dramatic decline of public transport patronage in Auckland though the second half of the 20th century. The paper will conclude however on an optimistic note – reporting a significant upturn in public transport contemporaneous with growing infrastructure investment by local, regional and central governments which have enabled the beginnings of a renaissance of rail in Auckland.